By Benjamin F. Powelson, Swann Galleries, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Benjamin F. Powelson, Swann Galleries, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

15 Women Who Deserve Their Own Biopics

By Benjamin F. Powelson, Swann Galleries, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Benjamin F. Powelson, Swann Galleries, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

If the success of female-centric biopics like Hidden Figures has taught Hollywood anything, it's that there are riches to be found in the lives of history-making women. Well, as lovers of a good true story, we've got a slew of suggestions for heroines who deserve their own big biopics.

1. HARRIET TUBMAN // MOSES OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

How has there not been a prestige pic about the life and times of Harriet Tubman? After nearly 30 years of abuse and subjugation, Tubman followed the North Star to escape slavery. Such a trek might, on its own, be worthy of a movie. But Tubman, of course, did so much more. A year after she fled north, she risked her freedom and her life to return and try to rescue her sisters. Then again to save her brother. And again for her husband, who in the meantime took a new wife.

By 1856, she was a notorious outlaw with a bounty of $40,000 on her head. To evade capture, she stole masters' buggies, perfected escape strategies, and effected clever disguises. Over 10 years, she made 19 trips back into the South, freeing an estimated 300 people.

2. SADIE THE GOAT // PIRATE OF THE HUDSON

Sure, she's nowhere near as well known as Anne Bonny or Grace O'Malley, but Sadie's pirate story would make for a thrilling action-comedy. This petite thief was a tiny terror of 1860s New York, earning her nickname by head-butting those she mugged. But when a brutal brawl with a female bouncer named Gallus Mag ended with Sadie's ear being bitten off, she fled to the Hudson River with a makeshift crew. Sadie's summer was made up of swashbuckling, pillaging waterside mansions, and an eventual reunion with her ear. (Mag had preserved it in a pickling jar for her trophy collection.) What more could you ask for?

3. AMALIE “EMMY” NOETHER // THE WOMAN EINSTEIN CALLED A "GENIUS"

The Oscars love a good tale of overcoming adversity, so how about the story of this German Jewish mathematician? Today she is celebrated for her contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics, but in 20th-century Bavaria, Amalie Noether had to fight for every bit of education and academic achievement. Women were not allowed to enroll at the University of Erlangen, so Noether had to petition each professor to attend classes. She later found academic employment similarly unwelcoming.

Noether secured work as a teacher, but on the condition that she wouldn't be paid—a condition that lasted for 15 years! Still, she dedicated herself tirelessly to mathematics. She also fled the Nazis, and befriended Albert Einstein, whose eulogy for Noether would make for a marvelous introductory monologue: "In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

4. KITTIE SMITH // THE ARMLESS DYNAMO

For a stirring drama about the tenacity of the human spirit, consider the story of this sideshow performer. Smith rose to fame for her abilities to write, paint, sew, play piano, and even do woodwork—all with her feet. But aside from being beloved, she was inspiring. Smith's lack of arms came at the hands of her abusive father, who basically burned them beyond repair when she was just nine years old. However, Smith persevered, focused on her education and rehabilitation, and made a life for herself as a performer and author, penning a memoir in which she forgave her deeply flawed dad.

5. NAZIQ AL-ABID // THE SWORD OF DAMASCUS

The life of the "Joan of Arc of the Arabs" would make for a thrilling political drama. Abid was born into the lap of luxury, the educated daughter of an affluent Damascene aristocrat at the turn of the 20th century. But rather than spend her days reveling in wealth and its privileges, Abid became an outspoken and frequently exiled advocate, most notably for fighting for national independence and women's rights. But her biggest battle was a literal one: She fought against the French invaders in the the bloody Battle of Maysaloun, of which she was said to be the only Syrian survivor. In honor of her service, King Faisal made her an honorary general. But the French ultimately overthrew Faisal, forcing Abid into exile. She would return to Syria to help advance feminist causes. When she died in 1959, it was within the bounds of her homeland, which was now free as well as a place where women were thriving under the social changes Abid helped enact.

6. HEDY LAMARR // BRAINS AND BEAUTY


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Show biz comedy-meets-discovery drama in the life of Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood glamour girl by day, world-changing inventor by night. Her tale not only includes fame, but also an escape from a brutish, arms-dealing husband, and her quest to defeat the Nazis through applied science.

With the help of her friend, avant-garde composer George Antheil, Lamarr developed "frequency hopping," an advancement in torpedo systems that aimed to make them jam-proof. Though the Navy didn't take advantage of this tech until the 1960s, Lamarr's contributions to spread spectrum technology later won recognition from the science community as her discoveries preceded the widespread adoption of wireless communications, like cell phones and Wi-Fi. At 83, Lamarr was honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award as well as the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, also regarded as "the Oscar of Inventing." A celebratory biopic is long overdue.

7. STEPHANIE "QUEENIE" ST. CLAIR // THE QUEEN OF HARLEM

Want a good gangster tale? After emigrating to the U.S. in 1912, this woman of French and African descent made her home in Harlem. By the 1930s, "Queenie" St. Clair was not to be trifled with, running a crew that fiercely protected their neighbors. St. Clair got corrupt cops booted from the police force. And when Bronx crime boss Dutch Schultz tried to push in on her turf, she made alliances that helped lead to his assassination.

Memorably, she sent a letter to his deathbed that read, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." And yet St. Clair has only been a supporting character in films like Hoodlum and The Cotton Club.

8. KATE CHOPIN // WIDOW-TURNED-WRITER

Numerous works of this 19th century American author have earned screen adaptations, but Chopin's life is the stuff of compelling and heartwarming drama. In the 1880s, she was a happily married mother of six, living on a plantation in Louisiana. But when both her husband and mother died within the same year, Chopin fell into a deep depression. A doctor advised her to use writing as a tool to work through her grief. Chopin's short stories and essays proved not only to be a saving passion for her, but also a career that saved her family from financial ruin. Though her novel The Awakening was scorned when first published in 1899, it's now highly regarded as a masterpiece, and a landmark in early feminist literature.

9. OLIVE THOMAS // THE FLAPPER GHOST

Looking for a fanciful ghost story about the girl whose charm and fashion sense helped popularize the word flapper? This all-American ingénue made the leap from Ziegfeld Follies showgirl to Hollywood starlet, even marrying the brother of America's Sweetheart Mary Pickford. At 25, Thomas was gone too soon. Yet her story lived on, as rumors spread that her sassy ghost took up residence in her old haunt, the New Amsterdam Theater. To this day, stagehands keep this party girl happy by wishing her goodnight before they leave the theater.

10. SARAH BREEDLOVE WALKER // THE MILLIONAIRE HAIRDRESSER

Hollywood loves a tale of a self-made mogul, so why not tackle that of the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire? Walker came from humble beginnings, born to recently freed slaves on a cotton plantation in 1867. By 14, she was married. By 20, she was a widow and single mother. Yet Walker overcame, finding work in her brothers' barbershop as a washerwoman, where she noticed that her hair was falling out. She developed a tonic that helped re-grow her hair, and began marketing it across the country, and even into Latin America.

Rebranded as Madam C.J. Walker, she'd tour the U.S. selling her products and growing her empire. As her company expanded to factories and beauty schools, so did her philanthropic efforts toward the advancement of African Americans. Her story is not just one of personal success, but of drive, community, and advocacy.

11. BIG BERTHA HEYMAN // THE CONFIDENCE QUEEN

They called her "The Confidence Queen," and what better name for a crime-drama about this Prussian immigrant with a twisted take on the American Dream. In 1880s New York, Heyman repeatedly exploited people's thirst for wealth to line her own pockets. Not even arrest could cage her. She continued to scam from her prison cell, and repeatedly convinced the cops to let her leave for outings to the theater and carriage rides around Central Park.

12. TRIỆU THỊ TRINH // THE TITAN OF VIETNAM

Perhaps you'd prefer an incredible epic about an unparalleled warrior? Well, this Vietnamese heroine's legend is overflowing with flashy details. It's said the 20-year-old was 9 feet tall with a voice that sounded loud as a temple bell. Dressed in vibrant yellow and wielding two swords, she rode into battle on a war elephant as she fended off the relentless Chinese forces.

But best of all, Trinh delivered the kind of speeches made for big movie moments, like: "I only want to ride the wind and walk the waves, slay the big whales of the Eastern sea, clean up our frontiers, and save the people from drowning. Why should I imitate others, bow my head, stoop over and be a slave? Why resign myself to menial housework?" And the music soars!

13. JOSEPHINE BAKER // BLACK PEARL

You might know this Creole triple threat for her saucy dance routines and dazzling persona. But a biopic about Baker would be incomplete without an espionage angle. During World War II, Josephine Baker was recruited by the French Resistance to be a spy. Her acceptance is the stuff of great screenplays:

"France made me what I am. I will be grateful forever. The people of Paris have given me everything. They have given me their hearts, and I have given them mine. I am ready, Captain, to give my life. You can use me as you wish."

Baker's beauty and fame served as a great cover for her covert ops. Her international acclaim gave her access to high-ranking Axis officials, allowing her to secure information. In secret, she trained in karate, and supposedly became such a skilled marksman with a pistol that she could shoot out the flame on a candle. She hid her notes in her unmentionables, and delivered messages on music sheets using invisible ink. There was also a narrow escape from Nazi forces, a torrid romance with her intelligence contact, Jacques Abtey, a false report of her demise, and being decorated for valor by General Charles de Gaulle. And all the while, Baker kept her career as a performer. Not even James Bond could pull all that off!

14. THE NIGHT WITCHES

For a World War II adventure complete with edge-of-your-seat action sequences, turn to the tale of the all-female Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Air Forces. Over the course of three years, these young women (ages 17 to 26) flew 30,000 missions and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs on the invading Nazi forces. Even more remarkable, these fighter pilots favored the cover of night for their attacks, and flew planes made of plywood and canvas—all the better to silently sneak up on German bombers. It's for the soft whooshing of their planes and their nightly assaults that these patriots won their fantastic name.

It took two women, a pilot and a navigator, to man each of the Night Witches' planes—making for the perfect setting not only to explore the adventure of these fearless flyers, but also the sisterhood that helped the Soviet Union resist Nazi invasion.

15. MARY BLAIR // DISNEY LEGEND

A gifted painter with a vibrant imagination and influential use of color, Mary Blair was a concept artist whose works defined a generation of Disney animation, from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and Peter Pan to Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella. As a young woman she dreamed of going into the fine arts, but the Depression pushed her into animation. There, she ultimately channeled her passion for color and distinctive aesthetic into groundbreaking designs.

It's Blair who is credited with introducing Walt Disney to modern art, inciting a shift in his studio's aesthetic. Disney himself called her in to design the look of his iconic It's A Small World ride. Her rise through the Disney ranks to one of their official "legends" could be beautifully illustrated with the same kind of whimsy and color that her works were.

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35 Movies Roger Ebert Really Hated
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When Roger Ebert hated a film, he didn't mince words. On what would have been the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer's 76th birthday, here are some movies he absolutely loathed (including a couple of surprises) and his dry assessments of their value.

1. ARMAGEDDON (1998) // 1 STAR

“The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained. No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out. ... Armageddon reportedly used the services of nine writers. Why did it need any? The dialogue is either shouted one-liners or romantic drivel. ‘It’s gonna blow!’ is used so many times, I wonder if every single writer used it once, and then sat back from his word processor with a contented smile on his face, another day’s work done.”

2. THE BROWN BUNNY (2003) // 0 STARS

"I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny."

When the movie’s director responded by mocking Ebert’s weight, Ebert said, “It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of The Brown Bunny."

3. JASON X (2001) // HALF STAR

"'This sucks on so many levels.' Dialogue from Jason X; rare for a movie to so frankly describe itself. Jason X sucks on the levels of storytelling, character development, suspense, special effects, originality, punctuation, neatness and aptness of thought."

4. MAD DOG TIME (1996) // 0 STARS

"Mad Dog Time is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time. Oh, I've seen bad movies before. But they usually made me care about how bad they were. Watching Mad Dog Time is like waiting for the bus in a city where you're not sure they have a bus line  ... Mad Dog Time should be cut into free ukulele picks for the poor."

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) // 1.5 STARS

"Once again, my comprehension began to slip, and finally I wrote down: 'To the degree that I do understand, I don't care.' It was, however, somewhat reassuring at the end of the movie to discover that I had, after all, understood everything I was intended to understand. It was just that there was less to understand than the movie at first suggests."

6. DEUCE BIGALOW: EUROPEAN GIGOLO (2005) // ZERO STARS

"[The title character] makes a living prostituting himself. How much he charges I'm not sure, but the price is worth it if it keeps him off the streets and out of another movie. Deuce Bigalow is aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes ... Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."

7. MR. MAGOO (1997) // HALF STAR

“Magoo drives a red Studebaker convertible in Mr. Magoo, a fact I report because I love Studebakers and his was the only thing I liked in the film. Mr. Magoo is transcendently bad. It soars above ordinary badness as the eagle outreaches the fly.”

8. SPICE WORLD (1997) // HALF STAR

"Spice World is obviously intended as a ripoff of A Hard Day's Night which gave The Beatles to the movies ... the huge difference, of course, is that the Beatles were talented—while, let's face it, the Spice Girls could be duplicated by any five women under the age of 30 standing in line at Dunkin' Donuts."

9. GOOD LUCK CHUCK (2007) // 1 STAR

"There is a word for this movie, and that word is: Ick."

10. FREDDY GOT FINGERED (2001)// 0 STARS

"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."

11. CORKY ROMANO (2001) // HALF STAR

Corky Romano is like a dead zone of comedy. The concept is exhausted, the ideas are tired, the physical gags are routine, the story is labored, the actors look like they can barely contain their doubts about the project.”

12. CHARLIE'S ANGELS (2000) // HALF STAR

Charlie’s Angels is like the trailer for a video game movie, lacking only the video game, and the movie.”

13. MANNEQUIN (1987) // HALF STAR

“A lot of bad movies are fairly throbbing with life. Mannequin is dead. The wake lasts 1 1/2 hours, and then we can leave the theater. Halfway through, I was ready for someone to lead us in reciting the rosary.”

14. EXIT TO EDEN (1994) // HALF STAR

“I’m sorry, but I just don’t get Rosie O’Donnell. I’ve seen her in three or four movies now, and she generally had the same effect on me as fingernails on a blackboard. She’s harsh and abrupt and staccato and doesn’t seem to be having any fun. She looks mean. ...  What were your first thoughts the first time Rosie turned up in the leather dominatrix uniform? Did you maybe have slight misgivings that you were presiding over one of the more misguided film projects of recent years?”

15. HOCUS POCUS (1993) // 1 STAR

“Of the film’s many problems, the greatest may be that all three witches are thoroughly unpleasant. They don’t have personalities; they have behavior patterns and decibel levels. A good movie inspires the audience to subconsciously ask, ‘Give me more!’ The witches in this one inspired my silent cry, ‘Get me out of here!’”

(What can we say? Ebert was occasionally wrong.)

16. TOMMY BOY (1995) // 1 STAR

“No one is funny in Tommy Boy. There are no memorable lines. None of the characters is interesting, except for the enigmatic figure played by Rob Lowe, who seems to have wandered over from Hamlet. Judging by the evidence on the screen, the movie got a green light before a usable screenplay had been prepared, with everybody reassuring themselves that since they were such funny people, inspiration would overcome them.”

17. THE VILLAGE (2004) // 1 STAR

“Eventually the secret of Those, etc., is revealed. It’s a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It’s so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don’t know the secret anymore. And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we’re back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.”

18. THE LOVE GURU (2008) // 1 STAR

“Myers has some funny moments, but this film could have been written on toilet walls by callow adolescents. Every reference to a human sex organ or process of defecation is not automatically funny simply because it is naughty, but Myers seems to labor under that delusion. He acts as if he’s getting away with something, but in fact all he’s getting away with is selling tickets to a dreary experience.”

19. SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL (1989) // 0 STARS

“What planet did the makers of this film come from? What assumptions do they have about the purpose and quality of life? I ask because She’s Out of Control is simultaneously so bizarre and so banal that it’s a first: the first movie fabricated entirely from sitcom cliches and plastic lifestyles, without reference to any known plane of reality.”

20. SUMMER SCHOOL (1987) // HALF STAR

“You see it, you leave the theater, and then it evaporates, leaving just a slight residue, something like a vaguely unpleasant taste in the memory.”

21. CLIFFORD (1994) // HALF STAR

“It’s not bad in any usual way. It’s bad in a new way all its own. There is something extraterrestrial about it, as if it’s based on the sense of humor of an alien race with a completely different relationship to the physical universe. The movie is so odd, it’s most worth seeing just because we’ll never see anything like it again. I hope.”

22. NORTH (1994) // 0 STARS

"I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."

Alan Zweibel wrote this film, and he got a chance to confront Ebert about the review. In a bathroom.

23. 200 CIGARETTES (1999)// HALF STAR

"Maybe another 200 cigarettes would have helped; coughing would be better than some of this dialogue."

24. DEATH TO SMOOCHY (2002) // HALF STAR

"In all the annals of the movies, few films have been this odd, inexplicable and unpleasant."

25. SAVING SILVERMAN (2001) // HALF STAR

"Saving Silverman is so bad in so many different ways that perhaps you should see it, as an example of the lowest slopes of the bell-shaped curve."

He included a critique of Neil Diamond, who makes a guest appearance in the movie: "As for Neil Diamond, Saving Silverman is his first appearance in a fiction film since The Jazz Singer (1980), and one can only marvel that he waited 20 years to appear in a second film, and found one even worse than his first one."

26. THE JAZZ SINGER (1980) // 1 STAR

From rogerebert.com:

"Diamond's whole presence in this movie is offensively narcissistic. His songs are melodramatic, interchangeable, self-aggrandizing groans and anguished shouts, backed protectively by expensive and cloying instrumentation. His dramatic presence also looks over-protected, as if nobody was willing to risk offending him by asking him to seem involved, caring and engaged.

"Diamond plays the whole movie looking at people's third shirt buttons, as if he can't be bothered to meet their eyes and relate with them. It's strange about the Diamond performance: It's not just that he can't act. It's that he sends out creepy vibes. He seems self-absorbed, closed off, grandiose, out of touch with his immediate surroundings."

27. ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (1994) // 1 STAR

"Most of the people look as if they would rather be in other movies. The movie basically has one joke, which is Ace Ventura's weird nerdy strangeness. If you laugh at this joke, chances are you laugh at Jerry Lewis, too, and I can sympathize with you even if I can't understand you. I found the movie a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot. Kids might like it. Real little kids."

28. STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (1992) // HALF STAR

"Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! is one of those movies so dimwitted, so utterly lacking in even the smallest morsel of redeeming value, that you stare at the screen in stunned disbelief. It is moronic beyond comprehension, an exercise in desperation during which even Sylvester Stallone, a repository of self-confidence, seems to be disheartened."

29. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (2005) // 1 STAR

"Of course you don't have to be smart to get into The Dukes of Hazzard. But people like Willie Nelson and Burt Reynolds should have been smart enough to stay out of it. Here is a lame-brained, outdated wheeze about a couple of good ol' boys who roar around the back roads of the South in the General Lee, their beloved 1969 Dodge Charger. As it happens, I also drove a 1969 Dodge Charger. You could have told them apart because mine did not have a Confederate flag painted on the roof."

30. GODZILLA (1998) // 1.5 STARS

"Going to see Godzilla at the Palais of the Cannes Film Festival is like attending a satanic ritual in St. Peter's Basilica. It's a rebuke to the faith that the building represents. Cannes touchingly adheres to a belief that film can be intelligent, moving and grand. Godzilla is a big, ugly, ungainly device to give teenagers the impression they are seeing a movie."

31. THE BUCKET LIST (2007) // 1 STAR

"The Bucket List is a movie about two old codgers who are nothing like people, both suffering from cancer that is nothing like cancer, and setting off on adventures that are nothing like possible. I urgently advise hospitals: Do not make the DVD available to your patients; there may be an outbreak of bedpans thrown at TV screens."

32. DIRTY LOVE (2005) // 0 STAR

"I would like to say more, but—no, I wouldn't. I would not like to say more. I would like to say less. On the basis of Dirty Love, I am not certain that anyone involved has ever seen a movie, or knows what one is."

33. BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000) // HALF STAR

"This movie is awful in so many different ways. Even the opening titles are cheesy. Sci-fi epics usually begin with a stab at impressive titles, but this one just displays green letters on the screen in a type font that came with my Macintosh. Then the movie's subtitle unscrolls from left to right in the kind of 'effect' you see in home movies."

34. THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS (2000) // HALF STAR

"This is an ideal first movie for infants, who can enjoy the bright colors on the screen and wave their tiny hands to the music."

35. PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) // 0 STARS

"John Waters' Pink Flamingos has been restored for its 25th anniversary revival, and with any luck at all that means I won't have to see it again for another 25 years. If I haven't retired by then, I will. ... Note: I am not giving a star rating to Pink Flamingos because stars simply seem not to apply. It should be considered not as a film but as a fact, or perhaps as an object."

Reviews via RogerEbert.com.

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10 Big Facts About Last Action Hero
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Last Action Hero was a funky disaster. What began its life as an homage to the absurdity of '80s action movies called Extremely Violent became more or less a live-action cartoon starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as an action movie character who learns he’s an action movie character before saving the real world. There are golden tickets that let people and fictional beings cross over from one world to the next, a slew of intentional errors to remind us that we’re watching a movie, and an animated police detective cat voiced by Danny DeVito. Somewhere in the filmmaking process, it devolved into a spoof in the envelope of a love letter.

It was a hard-charging flop that’s earned back some cult appeal for audacity, with all of its fun-loving potential on screen next to all the eyebrow-raising nonsense. Here are 10 facts about the action movie too insane to succeed.

1. THE PRODUCTION ITSELF GOT META EARLY ON.

Original screenwriters Zak Penn and Adam Leff wrote what would become Last Action Hero as a film that would work both as an adrenaline-fueled action ride and as a goof on adrenaline-fueled action, but the sources they drew inspiration from soon invaded the project. Action icon Jack Slater’s name was originally Arno Slater as a nod to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who then took the role of Arno Slater. Penn and Leff studied all of Shane Black’s scripts (the Lethal Weapon movies and The Last Boy Scout) to get the satirical rhythm right, but then Black was hired to rewrite their script. They also used Die Hard and other John McTiernan-directed movies as a baseline for the movie’s style, and then McTiernan was hired to direct their movie. Their comedic love letter was taken over by titans of the very genre they were mocking, who were then put in charge of mocking themselves.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE SIMPSONS.

Beyond the Schwarzeneggerific action flicks, Penn and Leff launched the project because of an unlikely source: Matt Groening’s irreverent cartoon. “The weird thing is that The Simpsons inspired it in the first place,” Penn said. “We thought, ‘if this show can destroy genres even as it embraces them, why can’t we do it in live action?’” By the time Last Action Hero hit theaters, The Simpsons was already spoofing Schwarzenegger and his action movies with muscle-headed Rainier Wolfcastle, the star of far too many McBain movies, and the show that gave Penn and Leff the creative license to write their film later roasted Last Action Hero directly. In “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” Bart Simpson tells Wolfcastle his last movie sucked, Wolfcastle admits there were script problems, and Chief Wiggum quips, “I’ll say. Magic ticket my ass, McBain!”

3. CARRIE FISHER, WILLIAM GOLDMAN, AND LARRY FERGUSON ALL DID REWRITES.

Penn and Leff were replaced by Black and David Arnott, who were replaced by novelist and Oscar winner William Goldman (The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). Goldman earned a hefty $1 million fee which, according to Black, was to provide a safety net for producers. If it flopped, they could claim they did everything they could, including hiring a world-class writer to whip the screenplay into shape. Turns out they’d need all the excuses they could marshal. With Schwarzenegger and the studio still unhappy with the script, they called in other voices to polish the dialogue, including Carrie Fisher and Larry Ferguson, who was fresh off of The Hunt For Red October. The studio then tried to rehire Black to punch up some action sequences, but he refused. “It just made people breathe easier throwing money at this enormous behemoth,” Black said. The multitude of writers was a major reason the movie ended up so disjointed.

4. THE SCHEDULE DOOMED THE MOVIE FROM THE OUTSET.

Regardless of any problems finding the right script (rewrites are common on all big movies), the movie had almost zero chance because there simply wasn’t enough time to make it. From the greenlight to Columbia Pictures’s expected release date of June 18, 1993, McTiernan and company had a bit over nine months to put together a wannabe blockbuster with a massive budget, lots of explosions, and a ton of VFX.

Robert Greenberg, who was hired to do the CGI, said, “I don’t think a production of this scope has been pulled together on such a short schedule,” echoing a sentiment McTiernan (and others) would have later while explaining its failure.

As the project barreled toward a release date that the studio refused to change (even after a disastrous public feedback screening they claimed was “absolutely sensational”), the crew was working 18-hour days, six days a week. It got so bad they had to bring in a masseuse, and the final cut was done mere days before they had to ship prints to theaters. Last Action Hero was also released a week after Jurassic Park, which was … not so good for it.

5. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER GOT AC/DC TO WRITE A SONG FOR IT.

Last Action Hero was the first movie Schwarzenegger executive produced, and he had approval on every detail—right down to the marketing. Knowing that Jack Slater would need an explosive, memorable anthem, Schwarzenegger personally sought out AC/DC, but instead of asking for the rights to one of their hits, he asked them to write something new. Thus, “Big Gun” was born. It’s an uncomplicated, face-melting rock song and the most memorable element of the entire movie. With all the other miscalculations over the movie’s tone, the production schedule, and the release date, at least Schwarzenegger got this one right.

6. THEY HIRED A CHEAPER VERSION OF ALAN RICKMAN.

Charles Dance in 'Last Action Hero' (1993)
Columbia Pictures

Just as Schwarzenegger was the model for the beefy, gun-toting hero, the villainous Benedict was based on Alan Rickman’s steely Hans Gruber from McTiernan’s Die Hard. The young boy (played by Austin O’Brien) who travels into the world of Jack Slater’s movies even breaks the fourth wall by referring to Benedict as Rickman at one point in the script. So, naturally, the production tried to bring Rickman on board, but he turned them down. They hired Charles Dance for the role instead, and when Dance discovered he was a less expensive second choice, he showed up to set wearing a shirt proclaiming, “I’m cheaper than Alan Rickman!” which almost definitely fit with the meta vibe of the production.

7. THERE WAS AN OVERWHELMING NUMBER OF CAMEOS IN IT.

Schwarzenegger also called in a lot of favors from co-stars and connections he’d made while ascending to the very top of global Hollywood stardom. Sharon Stone shows up as her Basic Instinct character alongside Robert Patrick as a Terminator 2 T-1000 in a background shot. Schwarzenegger’s then-wife Maria Shriver appears as herself, Danny DeVito voices the police cat, and Joan Plowright plays a teacher showing a class her real-life late husband Laurence Olivier’s version of Hamlet (“You might remember him as Zeus in Clash of the Titans”). Plus, Leeza Gibbons played herself doing celebrity interviews, Tina Turner plays the mayor of Los Angeles, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jim Belushi, and Chevy Chase are in the audience for the premiere of Jack Slater IV. Tony Danza, MC Hammer, Little Richard, and James Cameron also pop up. There are even more, but the best is Ian McKellen playing Death, emerging from the screen from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

8. THERE IS ALSO AN OVERWHELMING NUMBER OF REFERENCES TO OTHER MOVIES.

References are to be expected with any spoof, but Last Action Hero smothers you with them. IMDB lists 68 references, which means there’s a reference to another movie every two minutes. They range from King Kong to The Wizard of Oz to Serpico to E.T., but of course the bulk of the callbacks evoke movies from Schwarzenegger, Black, and McTiernan. There are nods to Commando, The Running Man, Die Hard, Total Recall, Raw Deal, and an advertisement for Terminator 2 (with Sylvester Stallone starring instead of Schwarzenegger). But the sharpest homage comes after Frank’s (Art Carney) house blows up when a black cop says with resignation, “Two days to retirement,” referencing Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon.

9. IT WAS BOTH ART CARNEY'S AND TORU TANAKA’S FINAL FILM.

Carney got his start in radio in the late 1930s before becoming a star on The Honeymooners and winning an Oscar for Harry and Tonto in 1974. In Last Action Hero, he plays Jack Slater’s favorite second cousin, whose death he’s avenging in Jack Slater IV because he’d avenged all his closer relatives in previous films. It was his last movie, and his last line was, “I’m outta here.”

It was also the last credited appearance for Toru Tanaka (a.k.a. pro wrestling’s Professor Tanaka), who appeared in action movies in bodyguard and warrior roles. His inclusion in Last Action Hero as “Tough Asian Man” might also be considered a callback to The Running Man in which (spoiler!) Schwarzenegger also fights and kills his character.

10. IT WAS THE FIRST MOVIE TO BE ADVERTISED ON A NASA ROCKET.

The advertising campaign for Last Action Hero was boisterous to say the least. There was the four-story-tall Jack Slater/Schwarzenegger inflatable at the Cannes Film Festival (which they also erected in Times Square), but they went even bigger by painting the movie’s logo on an unmanned NASA rocket. The first attempt at space-based advertising reportedly cost $500,000 and literally didn’t take off. As with everything else in this doomed project, the COMET rocket that was set to launch in May to promote the June release of the movie was delayed for technical reasons and didn’t head for the stars until after the movie had flopped.

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