United Artists
United Artists

5 Movies Made for Strange Reasons

United Artists
United Artists

Generally, filmmakers undergo the tortuous, years-long process of making a feature film for two reasons: They have something to say, and their financiers want to make money while they say it. Some movies, however, enter production owing to more unusual motivations. Take a look at five films that originated out of unique circumstances.

1. Raging Bull Got a Green Light from Rocky Balboa

In 2013’s Grudge Match, Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro cashed in the equity of their iconic roles as boxers to portray aging rivals getting in the ring for one last bout. But if not for the success of Stallone’s Rocky, De Niro may have never gotten his passion project, 1980’s Raging Bull, made.

De Niro met boxer Jake LaMotta after reading the embattled fighter’s autobiography and became obsessed with telling his story. He convinced director Martin Scorsese to join him; Scorsese had just finished a film, New York, New York with producer Irwin Winkler. Winkler had helped usher Rocky to screens in 1976 and had a deal with United Artists. Despite the talent assembled, UA wasn’t keen on a melancholic tale of an abusive pugilist. But Winkler had ammunition: He knew the studio was desperate for a Rocky sequel. In a slick move, Winkler told them the only way they’d be getting Stallone back in the ring would be to finance Winkler’s other, far less marketable boxing film.

“So we said to them, ‘Well, you want to make Rocky II?’” Winkler told National Public Radio in 2007. “'We'll make Rocky II, but you have to make Raging Bull.’ [B]ut the sad thing is that Raging Bull might never had been made and probably wouldn't have been made unless we took that position on Rocky.”

The studio bit: Rocky II made over $200 million in worldwide box office in 1979. Raging Bull followed in 1980. Though not nearly as profitable as Stallone’s crowd-pleaser, it earned De Niro a Best Actor Oscar and a regular spot on lists covering the best American films ever made.

2. A High School Class Convinced Francis Coppola to Make The Outsiders

S.E. Hinton’s novel of juvenile class struggle, The Outsiders, is said to have practically invented the young adult market. Circulating in classrooms since its release in 1967, the book has sold more than 10 million copies. But it was one school in particular that helped it achieve a first-rate feature adaptation.

In 1980, Jo Ellen Misakian, the librarian of a small Fresno, California grade and middle school, wrote a letter to director Francis Ford Coppola imploring him to consider making a film based on Hinton’s work. More than 100 students signed her petition; she included a copy, presumably to spare Coppola a trip to the bookstore.

“I feel our students are representative of the youth of America,” Misakian wrote. “Everyone who has read the book, regardless of ethnic or economical background, has enthusiastically endorsed this project.”

Coppola’s production company reviewed both the petition and the book: Producer Fred Roos flew out to Tulsa, Oklahoma to meet with Hinton. Coppola wound up optioning the novel, though Roos—in continued correspondence with the school—cautioned there might be rights issues with the title and even asked students to come up with alternatives.

The Outsiders shot in 1982 for a 1983 release: Coppola directed one of the most substantial casts in film history (Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, and Diane Lane). As a thank you, Warner Bros. sent a print of the movie and several of the actors, including Swayze and Ralph Macchio, to the school for a special screening, where students declared it “rad.”

3. Bill Murray Ghost-Busted On One Condition

Thanks to his stint on Saturday Night Live and hit movies like Stripes, Hollywood wanted to be in the Bill Murray business. One script virtually tailor-made for the actor was 1984’s Ghostbusters, co-written by SNL co-star Dan Aykroyd and actor Harold Ramis. But being an ensemble piece meant it was hard to attract name talent to the project; Eddie Murphy was among those who passed.

At the time Ghostbusters was being shopped, Murray had decided to try his hand at dramatic performing and became infatuated with filming an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. Leveraging his comedic celebrity, Murray told Columbia Pictures he’d agree to star in their big-budget comedy if they financed his pet project about a war veteran on a spiritual quest. They agreed, and while The Razor’s Edge failed to find an audience, Ghostbusters became one of the most popular comedies of all time. (These days, no amount of bartering seems able to convince Murray to do a second Ghostbusters sequel; he’s avoided the project for years.)

4. The Movie Inspired By a Classified Ad

In 1997, Backwoods Home Magazine published a bizarre classified notice. “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me,” it read. “This is not a joke … Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”

The ad was so peculiar that it eventually found a home as a meme, with people circulating it online and speculating as to its authorship. Screenwriter Derek Connolly thought it might make an interesting basis for a film and recommended it to his writing partner, director Colin Trevorrow, as a clever way of heeding their agent’s advice to pitch a film based on a pre-existing concept. The result, 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed—about a reporter who answers the ad and finds a man who may or may not be preparing to time-travel—garnered positive reviews and developed a cult following.

As for the actual ad? It was written by Backwoods staffer John Silveira because the magazine was running short that issue. Silveira says he received more than 1000 responses, some of which took his offer very seriously. “Dozens, in prison, asked me to go back in time and talk them out of committing the crime that put them away,” he wrote in 2010. “Others … were from people who begged me to go back and save a loved one from a tragic death. Those letters were so heartbreaking I almost couldn't read them and I felt a certain amount of shame for not anticipating the false hope I placed in so many hearts.”

5. The Lambada Movie Made Out of Spite

Producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were two Israeli cousins who made an unlikely impression in Hollywood during the 1980s via their Cannon production banner. Movies involving Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, and Dolph Lundgren helped populate video store shelves for much of the decade.

But the two eventually had a falling out; by 1990, they no longer shared office space. Globus, who remained with Cannon, decided to pursue an idea they had to do a film based on the then-popular lambada Brazilian dance craze. He teamed with Warner Bros. for the aptly-titled Lambada.

But Golan was not about to let his former business partner hoard the vast profits of fad-based dance films. After Globus had put Lambada in production, Golan announced The Forbidden Dance, a film written in just 10 days and distributed by Columbia. The former partners then circled one another, announcing one release date after the other in the hopes of arriving in theaters first.

Fittingly—or tragically, if one happened to be a moviegoer in spring 1990—their efforts wound up premiering on the very same day. Lambada won the box office duel with $4.8 million compared to Golan’s $1.8 million haul in fewer theaters. The two would later attend a 2010 retrospective of their filmography, their dance-movie rivalry presumably forgotten, before Golan’s passing in 2014. 

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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iStock
Hollywood's 5 Favorite Movie Villains
iStock
iStock

Movie villains are meant to bring out the best in a hero, but with the right script, director, and performer in place, these bad guys can sometimes steal the show from their clean-cut rivals.

Take any horror movie, for example—chances are you’re not watching Friday the 13th to root for the absentminded teenagers down at Camp Crystal Lake. And Steven Spielberg certainly didn’t become a household name by directing a shark movie titled Three Guys on a Boat Drinking Narragansett.

The Hollywood Reporter set out to celebrate these iconic agents of evil by surveying 1000 professionals in the entertainment industry (directors, producers, entertainment attorneys, etc.) on their favorite movie villains. A rogues' gallery of murderous AI, mafia bosses, and a diabolical fashion magazine editor all made the top 25 list as the worst of the worst, and while they’re all deserving, the top five are the gold standard. They include:

5. Nurse Ratched: Played by Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
4. The Joker: Played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Wicked Witch of the West: Played by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. Hannibal Lecter: Played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002)
1. Darth Vader: Played by David Prowse and James Earl Jones in the Star Wars movies (Prowse 1977-1983, Jones 1977-present)

That top spot might not come as a surprise to most, unless you’re still in your twenties: According to The Hollywood Reporter, survey respondents in that age group put Darth Vader in the sixth spot—behind Regina George from Mean Girls.

To check out the entire list, head to The Hollywood Reporter.

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