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‘Big’ Tom Hanks Controversy: Is the 1988 Classic Inappropriate Today?

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox / Moviefan2 / MovieStillsDB and Giulio Marcocchi / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox / Moviefan2 / MovieStillsDB and Giulio Marcocchi / Getty Images

Widely accepted as the lighthearted comedy it was intended to be, the 1988 film Big, featuring Tom Hanks as a young boy thrust into the body of his older self overnight, has recently come under some heat. Despite being a fan favorite, some question whether the romantic storyline portrayed in the film is inappropriate. David Moscow, who played the younger Josh in the film, weighed in on the matter.

Big’ was a hit when it was first released

When Big hit theaters in 1988, it was apparently exactly what audiences were looking for. The fantasy/comedy film about a kid whose wish to be ‘big’ miraculously comes true earned a whopping $8.2 million in its opening weekend, only to go on and gross $151 million worldwide. Big made history by becoming the first feature film directed by a woman to gross over $100 million.

Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia playing a floor piano, a group gathered behind them.
Big was a hit at the box office. (Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox / Zayne / MovieStillsDB)

Audiences and critics thoroughly enjoyed the playful nature of the film, especially Hanks’s ability to seamlessly convey the personality of a child while in a grown man’s body. The New York Times wrote of the film that it “features believable young teenage mannerisms from the two real boys in its cast and this only makes Mr. Hanks’s funny, flawless impression that much more adorable.”

The film went on to earn two nominations at the Academy Awards, one for Best Actor (Hanks) and one for Best Original Screenplay. While it didn’t take either Oscar home that year, it did earn two more nominations at the Golden Globe Awards, one for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and one for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, which Hanks took home.

Moscow almost didn’t get the part

One of the most important elements of the film is the believability of young Josh transforming overnight into the body of older Josh. Before the cast was finalized, Robert De Niro was slotted to play older Josh. As such, they needed a kid who sort of looked like him to play his younger counterpart.

Jared Rushton and David Moscow holding an award together
Child actors Jared Rushton (L) and David Moscow (R). Moscow originally auditioned for the role of ‘Billy,’ but landed the part of ‘younger Josh’ instead. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

When Moscow went to audition for the film, he originally tried for the part of Billy, Josh’s best friend. His 11-year-old self didn’t really look like De Niro, and when he didn’t hear back from the audition for months, he and his family thought that was that. However, that changed when De Niro dropped out of the film and Hanks stepped in to play older Josh. The casting agents felt Moscow fit the look of a younger Hanks, so they gave Moscow a call back to audition for the role of younger Josh, and he got the part.

The film catapulted Hanks to stardom, and Moscow himself even felt the effects of the film’s success. “It was completely transformative,” Moscow explained much later in life. “I don’t think my parents or I knew anything like this would happen. It was just like, I showed up, I read lines and people liked what I did and I got it. But it was huge. I couldn’t walk down the street.”

Moscow doesn’t think the film would fly these days

Despite the film being labeled a classic of the 1980s, in recent years it has come under fire as problematic. This is because of the awkward relationship the film portrays between Josh, who is technically still a minor despite his outward adult appearance, and Susan, an adult woman. In the film, it is implied that the two sleep with each other, leading some people to question whether the film took an opportunity to romanticize statutory assault.

Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins sitting at a table laughing together
Some feel that older Josh and Susan’s relationship in the film is inappropriate. (Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox / kasari / MovieStillsDB)

Others believe the film should be taken as exactly what it is – a childhood fantasy. In that respect, a 12-year-old boy’s dream of being a grown-up is likely to include some kind of intimate exploit with a woman.

Moscow gave his own input on the controversies over the film during an interview in 2018, admitting that Big couldn’t be made the way it was today. “I think people would jump on it,” he said. “If they did make it, the press, before it even came out, would be ripping it to shreds. The religious fanatics would be out there talking about it. People would be demonstrating.”

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If the film were to be remade these days, Moscow said that the entire relationship between Josh and Susan would either have to be changed or scrapped altogether. “That would go,” he explained. “It would be sort of like the other body-switching comedies where it was more about the father and the son flipping,” like in the 1988 film Vice Versa.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!