Catch Me If You Can (2002)


Catch Me If You Can (2002)

A true story about Frank Abagnale Jr. who, before his 19th birthday, successfully conned millions of dollars worth of checks as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and legal prosecutor. An FBI agent makes it his mission to put him behind bars. But Frank not only eludes capture, he revels in the pursuit.
IMDb   8.1 /10
Metacritic   75 %
TheMovieDb    7.9 /10
FilmAffinity   7.3 /10
Release Date2002-12-25
Runtime2h 21mins
GenreBiography, Crime, Drama
Content RatingPG-13 (PG-13)
AwardsTop Rated Movies #189 | Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 16 wins & 44 nominations.
CompanyDreamworks Pictures, Kemp Company, Splendid Pictures
CountryUSA, Canada
LanguageEnglish, French
Frank Abagnale Jr.
Carl Hanratty
Roger Strong
Paula Abagnale
Brenda Strong
Jack Barnes
Earl Amdursky
Paul Morgan
Special Agent Witkins
Assistant Director Marsh
Carol Strong

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can is a 2002 American biographical crime film directed and produced by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay by Jeff Nathanson and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. The supporting cast features Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye, Amy Adams, Jennifer Garner, James Brolin, and Malachi Throne. The film is based on the autobiography of Frank Abagnale, who allegedly, before his 19th birthday, successfully performed cons worth millions of dollars by posing as a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor, and a Louisiana parish prosecutor. The truth of his story is questionable.

Development for the film began in 1980 but dragged on until 1997, when Spielberg's DreamWorks bought the film rights to Abagnale's 1980 book of the same name. David Fincher, Gore Verbinski, Lasse Hallström, Miloš Forman, and Cameron Crowe were all considered to direct the film before Spielberg decided to direct it himself. Filming took place from February to May 2002.

The film opened on December 25, 2002, to critical and commercial success. At the 75th Academy Awards, Christopher Walken and John Williams were nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Score, respectively.


In 1963, teenager Frank Abagnale lives in New Rochelle, New York, with his father Frank Abagnale Sr. and his French mother, Paula. When Frank Sr. encounters tax problems with the IRS, the family is forced to move from their large home to a small apartment. Meanwhile, Frank transfers to public school and gets into trouble when he poses as a substitute French teacher on his first day there.

Shortly thereafter, Frank discovers that his mother is having an affair with his father's friend Jack Barnes. When his parents divorce, Frank runs away. Needing money, he turns to confidence scams to survive, and his cons grow bolder. He impersonates an airline pilot and forges Pan Am payroll checks. Soon, his forgeries are worth millions of dollars.

News of the crimes reach the FBI and agent Carl Hanratty begins tracking Frank. Carl finds Frank at a hotel, but Frank cons Carl into believing he is a Secret Service agent who is also after Frank. He escapes before Carl realizes that he was fooled.

Frank begins to impersonate a doctor. As Dr. Frank Conners, he falls in love with Brenda, a naive young hospital worker. Frank asks Brenda's attorney father for permission to marry her, and also wants his help with arranging to take the Louisiana State Bar exam. Frank takes the exam and passes. Carl tracks Frank to his and Brenda's engagement party, but Frank escapes through a bedroom window. Before leaving the party, Frank asks Brenda to meet him at the Miami airport two days later. At the airport, Frank sees Brenda, but also spots plainclothes agents and realizes she has given him up. Frank leaves Brenda and drives away.

Frank then re-assumes his identity as a Pan Am pilot and stages a false recruiting drive for stewardesses at a local college. He recruits eight women as stewardesses, conceals himself from Carl and the other agents walking through the Miami airport with the stewardesses, and escapes on a flight to Madrid, Spain.

In 1967, Carl eventually tracks down Frank in his mother's hometown of Montrichard, France. Frank is taken to a French prison, where he almost dies due to the poor conditions. Carl takes Frank on a flight back to the United States, and as they make their approach, Carl informs Frank that his father has died. Grief-stricken, Frank escapes from the plane and reaches the house of his now re-married mother. Later, Frank is convinced to surrender to Carl; he is eventually sentenced to 12 years in a maximum-security prison.

Carl occasionally visits Frank. During one visit, Carl shows him a fraud check from a case he is working on. Frank immediately figures out that the bank teller was involved in the fraud. Impressed, Carl convinces the FBI to allow Frank to serve the remainder of his sentence working for the FBI bank fraud unit. Frank agrees but soon grows restless of the tedious office work. One weekend, he prepares to fly as an airline pilot again and is intercepted by Carl, who allows him to carry on his act, assuring Frank that no one is chasing him.

As Frank returns to work and discusses another fraud case with Carl, a textual epilogue indicates that Frank has lived for 26 years in the Midwest with his wife, with whom he has had three sons, remains friends with Carl, and has built a successful living as one of the world's leading experts on bank fraud and forgery.


  • Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, a teenager who turned into a con artist.
  • Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty, an FBI agent who is based on Joseph Shea.
  • Christopher Walken as Frank Abagnale Sr., the father of Frank Abagnale.
  • Martin Sheen as Roger Strong, an attorney.
  • Nathalie Baye as Paula Abagnale, the French mother of Frank.
  • Amy Adams as Brenda Strong, a young hospital worker ("Candy Striper") and the daughter of Roger.
  • James Brolin as Jack Barnes, the friend of Frank Abagnale Sr. who had an affair with Paula.
  • Nancy Lenehan as Carol Strong, the mother of Brenda.
  • Thomas Kopache as Principal Evans, the principal of Frank's school who busts him for impersonating a substitute teacher.
  • Candice Azzara as Darcy
  • Malachi Throne as Abe Penner
  • Alfred Dennis as Ira Penner
  • Amy Acker as Miggy Acker, one of the eight women that Frank recruits to be his stewardesses.

Brian Howe, Frank John Hughes and Chris Ellis portray FBI agents Earl Amdursky, Tom Fox, and Special Agent Witkins respectively. John Finn portrays FBI Assistant Director Marsh. Jennifer Garner cameos as a call girl named Cheryl Ann. Ellen Pompeo, Elizabeth Banks, and Kaitlin Doubleday have supporting roles as Marci, Lucy, and Joanna. The real Frank Abagnale appears in a cameo as a French police officer arresting his onscreen counterpart.



Frank Abagnale sold the film rights to his autobiography in 1980. According to Abagnale, producers Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin purchased the film rights after seeing him on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Two years later, they sold the rights to Columbia Pictures, who in turn sold the rights to producer Hall Bartlett. Bartlett and business partner Michael J. Lasky hired Steven Kunes to write the screenplay, but Bartlett died before the project found a distributor. The rights were then sold to Hollywood Pictures, a division of Disney, and when the project went into turnaround, the rights were again sold to Bungalow 78 Productions, a division of TriStar Pictures. From there, the project was presented to Steven Spielberg at DreamWorks Pictures. According to Daily Variety, executive producer Michel Shane purchased the film rights in 1990 for Paramount Pictures. By December 1997, Barry Kemp purchased the film rights from Shane, bringing the project to DreamWorks, with Jeff Nathanson writing the script. By April 2000, David Fincher was attached to direct over the course of a few months, but dropped out in favor of Panic Room. In July 2000, Leonardo DiCaprio had entered discussions to star, with Gore Verbinski to direct. Spielberg signed on as producer, and filming was set to begin in March 2001.


Verbinski cast James Gandolfini as Carl Hanratty, Ed Harris as Frank Abagnale, Sr., and Chloë Sevigny as Brenda Strong. Verbinski dropped out because of DiCaprio's commitment on Gangs of New York. Lasse Hallström was in negotiations to direct by May 2001, but dropped out in July 2001. At this stage, Harris and Sevigny left the film, but Gandolfini was still attached. Spielberg, co-founder of DreamWorks, offered the job of director to Miloš Forman, and considered hiring Cameron Crowe. During this negotiation period, Spielberg began to consider directing the film himself, eventually dropping projects such as Big Fish and Memoirs of a Geisha. Spielberg officially committed to directing in August 2001. That same month, Tom Hanks was cast to replace Gandolfini, who had exited due to scheduling conflicts with The Sopranos.

The search for Sevigny's replacement as Brenda Strong lasted months, but Amy Adams was eventually cast. Spielberg "loved" her tape, and producer Walter F. Parkes commented that she was "as fresh and honest as anyone we'd seen," which was an important element in the role. Christopher Walken was cast as Frank Abagnale, Sr. following Parkes' suggestion. Martin Sheen played Roger Strong, as he had "intimidating presence". Spielberg wanted a French actress to portray Paula Abagnale to stay true to the facts. He asked for the help of Brian De Palma, who was living in Paris, and he did tests with several actresses such as Nathalie Baye. Spielberg had seen Jennifer Garner on Alias and offered her a small role in the film.


Filming was scheduled to begin in January 2002, but was pushed to February 7 in Los Angeles, California. Locations included Burbank, Downey, New York City, LA/Ontario International Airport (which doubled for Miami International Airport), Quebec City and Montreal. The film was shot in 147 locations in only 52 days. DiCaprio reflected, "Scenes that we thought would take three days took an afternoon." Filming ran from April 25–30 on Park Avenue, just outside the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Production moved to Orange, New Jersey and returned to Brooklyn for bank and courthouse scenes. Shooting also took place at the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Quebec City was chosen for its European character and French feel. Place Royale, within Old Quebec, stands in for Montrichard, and the church in the background of the arrest scene is Notre-Dame-des-Victoires. Filming ended on May 12 in Montreal.


The film's soundtrack was released on December 10, 2002 by DreamWorks Records. The original score was composed and conducted by John Williams.

Historical accuracy

Abagnale had little involvement with the film, but believed Spielberg was the only filmmaker who "could do this film justice," despite the various changes from real-life events. In November 2001, Abagnale said,

I am not a consultant on the film. I've never met nor spoken to Steven Spielberg and I have not read the script. I prefer not to. I understand that they now portray my father in a better light, as he really was. Steven Spielberg has told the screenplay writer (Jeff Nathanson) that he wants complete accuracy in the relationships and actual scams that I perpetrated. I hope in the end the movie will be entertaining, exciting, funny and bring home an important message about family, childhood and divorce.

The real Abagnale never saw his father again after he ran away from home, but Spielberg "wanted to continue to have that connection where Frank kept trying to please his father; by making him proud of him; by seeing him in the uniform, the Pan-American uniform." In a presentation for "Talks at Google" in November 2017, Abagnale commented extensively about the accuracy of Spielberg's film.

I've only seen the movie twice. So when the media asked me what I thought about the movie, and what was right and what was wrong, I said: First of all I have two brothers and a sister; he portrayed me as an only child. In real life, my mother never remarried; there's a scene in the movie where she's remarried, and has a little girl. That didn't really happen. In real life I never saw my father after I ran away; in the movie they keep having him come back to Christopher Walken in the film. That didn't really happen. ... I escaped off the aircraft through the kitchen gallery where they bring the food and stuff onto the plane; and there they had me escape through the toilet. ... I thought he stayed very close to the story, but pretty much all of that. He was very concerned about being accurate, first of all because it was the first time he made a movie about a real person living. Second the Bureau had an information officer on the set for all the shooting of the entire film to make sure that what he said about the FBI ... was accurate. ... And then of course, as he later said, 'I really got most of my information from those three retired agents.' ... So I thought he did a good job of staying very, very accurate at the movie.

In addition, the real name of the actual FBI agent who tracked and later worked with Abagnale was Joseph Shea; Abagnale has stated that because Shea did not want his name to be used in the film, the character was renamed as Carl and given the surname Hanratty, based on a football player of the same name.

Despite his claim that Spielberg "stayed very close to the story", records show Abagnale was in the Great Meadow Prison in Comstock, New York between the ages of 17 and 20 (July 26, 1965 to Dec 24, 1968, inmate #25367), and before that, he was in the United States Navy (December 1964 to February 1965). Six weeks after his release from Great Meadow, on February 14, 1969, he was re-arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was jailed locally, and in June 1969, he was convicted of stealing from a local family and small business in Baton Rouge. Abagnale did dress as a Pan American Airlines pilot for a brief period in the fall of 1970. He was arrested in Cobb County, Georgia on November 2, 1970. Federal court records associated with his conviction show he cashed only 10 personal checks dressed up with a Pan American Airlines logo, totalling less than $1,500 USD. The facts behind many of Abagnale's exaggerated claims, and their inclusion or omission from the film, have been the subject of media reporting in 2021. His claim that he passed the Louisiana bar exam and worked for Attorney General Jack P. F. Gremillion was debunked by several journalists in 1978. Journalist Ira Perry was unable to find any evidence that Abagnale worked with the FBI; according to one retired FBI Special agent in charge, Abagnale was caught trying to pass personal checks in 1978 several years after he claimed that he began working with the FBI.


Catch Me if You Can deals with themes of broken homes and troubled childhoods. Spielberg's parents divorced when he was a teenager, similar to Frank Abagnale's situation. In the film, Carl Hanratty is also divorced from his wife, who lives with their daughter in Chicago. "Some of my films have had to do with broken homes and people on the run from their sad pasts," Spielberg stated.

But there are those strands that got me to say: you know, there's something also about me that I can say through the telling of this kind of lighthearted story.

Spielberg also wanted to create a film that sympathized with a crook. He explained,

Frank was a 21st century genius working within the innocence of the mid '60s, when people were more trusting than they are now. I don't think this is the kind of movie where somebody could say, 'I have a career plan.'


I know that Hollywood has made a number of changes to the story, but I am honored that Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks participated in the making of the movie inspired by my life. It is important to understand that it is just a movie, not a biographical documentary.

—Frank Abagnale's reaction to the film

DreamWorks was careful to market the film as "inspired by a true story" to avoid controversy similar to that surrounding A Beautiful Mind (2001) and The Hurricane (1999), both of which deviated from history. The premiere took place at Westwood, Los Angeles, California, on December 18, 2002.

Game Show Network has aired the 1977 episode of the television game show To Tell the Truth that featured Frank Abagnale. Segments were shown on December 29, 2002, and January 1, 2003, as promotion.

Home media

Catch Me If You Can was released on DVD and VHS on May 6, 2003. It included special features including never-before-seen footage by director Steven Spielberg as well as interviews. A Blu-ray version was released on December 4, 2012.


Box office

Catch Me If You Can was released on December 25, 2002, earning slightly above $30 million in 3,225 theaters during its opening weekend on second place behind The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The film went on to gross $164.6 million in North America and $187.5 million in foreign countries, with a worldwide total of $352.1 million. The film was a financial success, recouping the $52 million budget six times over. Catch Me If You Can was the eleventh highest-grossing film of 2002. Minority Report (also directed by Spielberg) was tenth highest.

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a "certified fresh" rating of 96% based on 203 reviews, with an average rating of 7.90/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "With help from a strong performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as real-life wunderkind con artist Frank Abagnale, Steven Spielberg crafts a film that's stylish, breezily entertaining, and surprisingly sweet." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 75 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

Roger Ebert heavily praised DiCaprio's performance, and concluded "This is not a major Spielberg film, although it is an effortlessly watchable one." Mick LaSalle said it was "not Spielberg's best movie, but one of his smoothest and maybe his friendliest. The colorful cinematography, smart performances and brisk tempo suggest a filmmaker subordinating every other impulse to the task of manufacturing pleasure." Stephen Hunter believed DiCaprio shows "the range and ease and cleverness that Martin Scorsese so underutilized in Gangs of New York."

James Berardinelli observed, "Catch Me if You Can never takes itself or its subjects too seriously, and contains more genuinely funny material than about 90% of the so-called 'comedies' found in multiplexes these days." Berardinelli praised John Williams' film score, which he felt was "more intimate and jazzy than his usual material, evoking (intentionally) Henry Mancini." Peter Travers was one of few who gave the film a negative review; he considered the film to be "bogged down over 140 minutes. A film that took off like a hare on speed ends like a winded tortoise."


At the 75th Academy Awards, Christopher Walken and John Williams were nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Score. Walken won the same category at the 56th British Academy Film Awards, while Williams, costume designer Mary Zophres and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson received nominations. DiCaprio was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama. Williams also earned a Grammy Award nomination. Elements of the film were later parodied in The Simpsons episode "Catch 'Em If You Can".

Musical adaptation

A musical adaptation of the same name premiered at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Washington in July 2009, starring Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz. It began previews on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre on March 11, 2011 and officially opened April 10, 2011. The musical was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.