CLOSE
Original image

4 Fictional Apocalypses That Shattered the Box Office

Original image

Whether it's an alien attack in the 1953 adaptation of War of the Worlds, waves of famished George Romero-style zombies or blindness-inducing killer plants in the 1962 cheez-fest Day of the Triffids, moviegoers have always loved watching the world be reduced to rubble -- and discovering the grim new reality that rises from its ashes. Let's take a look at four end-of-days flicks that destroyed more than the world -- but box office records, as well.

1. Independence Day

independence_day_ver3.jpgReleased on July 2, 1996, Independence Day grossed a whopping $816,969,268 worldwide, which at the time made it the second highest-grossing film ever. Legend has it that director Roland Emmerich conceived of the film while on a press tour for his 1994 sci-fi blockbuster, Stargate, when producer Dean Devlin wondered aloud why the aliens in Stargate would've traveled light years from their world just to hide in ours. Why are the aliens in movies always lurking in cornfields and barns and the middle of remote desert testing facilities, they wondered? According to the DVD commentary, Devlin asked a report to imagine "what it would be like to wake up one morning and discover that 15-mile-wide spaceships were hovering over the largest cities in the world" -- and that was the birth of the idea for Independence Day.

While not exactly wowing the critics (Kenneth Turan dubbed it "The Day the Script Stood Still"), audiences couldn't part with their money fast enough. It was the highest-grossing film of 1996, breaking Jurassic Park's then three-year-old record. Critics did give it props for its amazing special effects sequences, however, and even Turan wrote that the movie did "an excellent job conveying the boggling immensity of [the] extraterrestrial vehicles [...] and panic in the streets" and the scenes of the alien attack were "disturbing, unsettling and completely convincing." It won an Oscar for visual effects.

Of course, impending doom is a great excuse to give inspirational speeches, and Bill Pullman's in Independence Day ranks with the best of 'em (in the cheesiest sense imaginable):

2. I Am Legend

This is a movie with quite a pedigree: the original novel by Richard Matheson ranks among the greats of sci-fi literature, and is one of the first in which a plague of zombies destroys the world as we know it. It was adapted to film three times: as 1964's The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price, in 1971 as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and in 2007 as the Will Smith starrer I Am Legend.

I have a particular fondness for its most recent filmic incarnation (save its off-key ending) -- especially the first act, which explores in gritty, hyper-realistic detail the landscape of an empty, gone-to-seed Manhattan. (I was reminded of the book The World Without Us, which points out that in just a matter of months, NYC's subways would flood, collapsing the streets above them and creating rivers where, say, Lexington Avenue used to be. Jungle would reclaim much of the city within a few decades.)

Add to that mix a healthy colony of robust, sunlight-hating vampiric zombies, and I'm a kid in a cinematic candy shop. Other moviegoers clearly felt the same way: earning some $584 million worldwide, it's one of the top 50 highest-grossing films of all time. Rumor has it that a sequel is in the works, with a release slated for 2011.

Just for the sake of comparison, here's the trailer for the 1964 version:

... and the 1971 version:

... and the 2007 version:

3. War of the Worlds

Speaking of adaptations and remakes, few stories have been told as many times, or as many ways, as War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells' 1898 science fiction novel has been adapted no fewer than twenty-two times, as a radio play, a film, a staged musical, a TV series, a cartoon, a comic book, a board game, a theatrical production and even a series of trading cards. In addition, a number of authors have written unauthorized sequels, including more than one positing the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson during the alien invasion of London.

Some think that Wells' story tapped into pre-WWI paranoia about invading armies -- but rather than soldiers of the terrestrial, European type marching through the streets of foreign cities, Wells conjured a race of highly-evolved blood-sucking Martians. Ironically, they could wipe out thousands of Earthlings at a time while sustaining relatively few casualties themselves, but it was a tiny bacterium -- an alien pathogen -- against which they could not defend. If that sounds familiar to students of colonial history, it should -- aliens rampaging through the streets of London could easily have been inspired by European army regiments machine-gunning columns of spear-armed Africans -- and then succumbing to malaria or yellow fever. Wells himself broaches this theme in his introduction to the book:

And before we judge [the Martians] too harshly, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished Bison and the Dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

Steven Spielberg's 2005 film adaptation was received in a generally positive light, raking in $591,745,540 worldwide to make it the fourth highest-grossing film of its year. Its opening weekend tally of $65 million was a record for studio Paramount -- and a personal best for star Tom Cruise.

Check out this trailer for the 1953 film adaptation, the narration of which makes it sound like a movie about a Nazi invasion: "a super-race from Mars!" ... "is there nothing that man stop the alien death machine?!"

4. 28 Days Later

28 Days may not have shattered the box office in a traditional sense, but considering it cost less than $10 million to make, its $82 million take was a stunning success. It still ranks as one of the most viscerally scary films I've seen, and the realism with which they were able to create an eerie, almost-deserted London -- on a tiny budget -- is amazing.

Also amazing is the fact that it was shot primarily on consumer-grade Canon XL1 video cameras -- one of which I owned at the time -- giving it a gritty realism which works perfectly for the subject matter (and certainly helped keep costs down). It also reinvented the zombie film, which previously had been the province of slow-moving, dim-witted George Romero-type zombies, who could be picked off like cattle in a field and were only dangerous in close quarters or great numbers. Days' zombies were motion-blur fast, savage, and their insane, berserker-style behavior was itself viscerally frightening in a way that made the old-school zombies seem like bedtime story characters.

Another primary difference between Days and other zombie films: this wasn't a zombie apocalypse, it was a viral apocalypse; it played on the new paranoia of the 21st century, when we were just starting to get used to terms like "ebola" and "H5N1 virus." These infected zombies don't even have to bite you to do you in -- just a drop of their blood or saliva will do the trick just as well, both of which they're constantly spattering around in liberal quantities.

Frightening indeed. Enjoy the NSFW trailer:

* * * * *

Original image
Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
Original image
Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
How to Carve a Pumpkin—And Not Injure Yourself in the Process
Original image
iStock

Wielding a sharp knife with slippery hands around open flames and nearby children doesn't sound like the best idea—but that's exactly what millions of Halloween celebrations entail. While pumpkin carving is a fun tradition, it can also bring the risk of serious hand injuries. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH), some wounds sustained from pumpkin misadventure can result in surgery and months of rehabilitation.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to minimize trauma. Both ASSH and CTV News have compiled safety tips for pumpkin carvers intended to reduce the chances of a trip to the emergency room.

First, it's recommended that carvers tackle their design with knives made specifically for carving. Kitchen knives are sharp and provide a poor grip when trying to puncture tough pumpkin skin: Pumpkin carving knives have slip-resistant handles and aren't quite as sharp, while kitchen knives can get wedged in, requiring force to pull them out.

Carvers should also keep the pumpkin intact while carving, cleaning out the insides later. Why? Once a pumpkin has been gutted, you’re likely to stick your free hand inside to brace it, opening yourself up to an inadvertent stab from your knife hand. When you do open it up, it's better to cut from the bottom: That way, the pumpkin can be lowered over a light source rather than risk a burn dropping one in from the top.

Most importantly, parents would be wise to never let their kids assist in carving without supervision, and should always work in a brightly-lit area. Adults should handle the knife, while children can draw patterns and scoop out innards. According to Consumer Reports, kids ages 10 to 14 tend to suffer the most Halloween-related accidents, so keeping carving duties to ages 14 and above is a safe bet.

If all else fails and your carving has gone awry, have a first aid kit handy and apply pressure to any wound to staunch bleeding. With some common sense, however, it's unlikely your Halloween celebration will turn into a blood sacrifice.

[h/t CTV News]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios