- Audience-Alienating Premise: Hanks has addressed this in interviews, talking about how his casting was a deliberate step to get people too see "the movie about a lawyer with AIDS over the big puppet show" or some other less intense option.
- A number of the previews made it clear it was a legal drama but gave no hint whatsoever of the actual subject matter of the movie.
- Crowning Music of Awesome: Streets of Philadelphia. In both the music video and the opening of the movie, Springsteen shows the city in all its aspects — both the bright, shiny downtown landmarks, and the poor areas — minority, homeless, urban blight, and decay. And he ties it all together with this song. Streets of Philadelphia, indeed.
- Fair for Its Day: Inverted, in that the film's main flaw is that Beckett is pretty much sanctified simply for having Aids.
- Played straight in how it's gay But Not Too Gay. It was still a huge step forward for queers in the media.
- Rule-Abiding Rebel
- Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: Similar to the Captain Planet episode that also dealt with this issue (albeit in a cleaned-up manner, as it is a kids' show), this movie drops the anvil that gay people and people with HIV or AIDS are no different from anyone else (a lesson that needed to be dropped back in the early 1990s, as a lot of people still had misconceptions about homosexuality and dealing with HIV and AIDS).