Road Warrior

22 years later, 'Sleepless' still a sure bet for Seattle tourists

Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC

When it was released in theaters in June 1993, film reviewer Roger Ebert described Nora Ephron's "Sleepless in Seattle" as a romantic film that was "as ephemeral as a talk show, as contrived as the late show and yet so warm and gentle" that he "smiled the whole way through."

The now-iconic chick flick, which starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as star-crossed lovers brought together by call-in radio, a mischievous son and fate, still makes people smile. Nearly 25 years after it grossed more than $100 million domestically, the movie is still making money—just not for Hollywood.

In the scenic Emerald City, now more closely associated with the lovelorn doctors of "Grey's Anatomy," the Hanks vehicle is a goldmine for tour operators and shop owners, contributing to the nearly $5 billion the city generates in travel spending annually.

"What's crazy is that the movie is so old, yet it's still such a popular part of our tour," said Jeremy Gonzalez, spokesperson for Ride the Ducks, a popular land and water sightseeing tour. During the 90-minute excursion, captains of the amphibious tour vehicles drive into Seattle's Lake Union to give tourists a clear view of the floating home used in the film, which recently sold for more than $2 million.

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"We keep a respectful distance. Close enough to get a clear view, but far enough away not be intrusive," said Gonzalez. "We play a song from the movie and the captain will talk about the pivotal scene where Tom Hanks is standing on the pier, or boardwalk, in front of the house with his son."