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. 

Disney Enterprises, Inc.
9 Things You Might Not Know About National Treasure
Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Released in 2004 to mixed critical reviews but a positive audience response, director Jon Turteltaub’s National Treasure has grown into a perfect rainy-day film. Stumble upon it on a streaming service or a cable channel and the fable about historian-slash-codebreaker Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) excavating the truth about a reputed treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence will suck you in. Check out some facts about the movie’s development, its approach to historical accuracy, and why we haven't seen a third film.


Originally planned for a summer 2000 release, National Treasure—based on a concept by Disney marketing head Oren Aviv and DreamWorks television executive Charles Segars—had a Byzantine plot that kept it in a prolonged pre-production period. Nine writers were hired between 1999 and 2003 in an attempt to streamline the story, which sees code-breaker Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) pursuing the stash of riches squirreled away by Benjamin Franklin and his Freemason cohorts. Filming finally began in summer 2003 when Marianne and Cormac Wibberley got the script finalized. Turteltaub, who spent three years in development before finally starting production, told Variety that “getting Cage was worth [the wait].”


Nicolas Cage and Justin Bartha in 'National Treasure' (2004)
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Fact and fiction blur considerably in National Treasure, which uses history as a jumping-off point for some major jumps in logic. While it’s not likely the Declaration of Independence has a secret treasure map written on it, Franklin and other Founding Fathers were actually Freemasons. Of the 55 men who signed the document, nine or more belonged to the society.


It can be tricky to secure permission to film on government property, which is why producers of National Treasure probably considered themselves fortunate when they discovered that Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm fame had built a perfect replica of Independence Hall on his land in Buena Park, California back in the 1960s. The production used it for a scene requiring Cage to run on the Hall's roof, a stunt that was not likely to have been approved by caretakers of the real thing.


One of Cage’s cryptic clues in the film is reading a time of 2:22 on the clock depicted on the image of Independence Hall on the $100 bill. Bills in circulation at that time really did have an illustration that pointed to that exact hour and minute, although it was changed to 10:30 for the 2009 redesign. There’s no given reason for why those times were picked by the Treasury Department, leaving conspiracy theorists plenty to chew on.


Speaking with The Washington Post in 2012, guards and escorts for the National Archives reported that the National Treasure films have led visitors to ask questions that could only have been motivated by seeing the series. One common query: whether or not there really is a secret map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. “I call it ‘that’ movie,” guard Robert Pringle told the paper. “We get a lot of questions about the filming.”


Both Cage and director Jon Turteltaub attended Beverly Hills High School in the late 1970s and shared a drama class together. While promoting a later film collaboration, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Cage revealed that Turteltaub had actually beat him out for the lead in a stage production of Our Town. Cage was relegated to two lines of dialogue in a bit part.


Nicolas Cage and Diane Kruger in 'National Treasure' (2004)
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

On a press tour for the film, Cage told reporters that he and co-star Diane Kruger bonded by going out at night and singing karaoke. “We’d go and karaoke from time to time and sort of blow it out and be completely ridiculous, which helped, I think,” he said. “I think it was some Rage Against the Machine, AC/DC and some Sex Pistols.”


Popular films often have the residual effect of drawing interest to the real-life locations or subject matter incorporated into their plots. Mackinac Island, site of the 1982 romance Somewhere in Time, has become a perennial tourist spot. The same influence was true of National Treasure and its 2007 sequel, both of which apparently contributed to an uptick in attendance at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.


It’s been over a decade since National Treasure: Book of Secrets hit theaters, but Cage is still optimistic fans of the series could see another installment. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 2016, the actor said a third film was in development, with the convoluted writing process slowing things down.

“I do know that those scripts are very difficult to write, because there has to be some credibility in terms of the facts and fact-checking, because it was relying on historical events,” Cage said. “And then you have to make it entertaining. I know that it’s been a challenge to get the script where it needs to be. That’s as much as I’ve heard. But they’re still working on it.”

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How Accurate are Hollywood Medical Dramas? A Doctor Breaks It Down
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

Medical dramas like Grey's Anatomy get a lot of things wrong when it comes to the procedures shown on the screen, but unless you're a doctor, you'd probably never notice.

For its latest installment, WIRED's Technique Critique video series—which previously blessed us with a dialect coach's critique of actors' onscreen accents—tackled the accuracy of medical scenes in movies and TV, bringing in Annie Onishi, a general surgery resident at Columbia University, to comment on emergency room and operating scenes from Pulp Fiction, House, Scrubs, and more.

While Onishi breaks down just how inaccurate these shows and movies can be, she makes it clear that Hollywood doesn't always get it wrong. Some shows, including Showtime's historical drama The Knick, garner praise from Onishi for being true-to-life with their medical jargon and operations. And when doctors discuss what music to play during surgery on Scrubs? That's "a tale as old as time in the O.R.," according to Onishi.

Other tropes are very obviously ridiculous, like slapping a patient during CPR and telling them to fight, which we see in a scene from The Abyss. "Rule number one of CPR is: never stop effective chest compressions in order to slap or yell words of encouragement at the patient," Onishi says. "Yelling at a patient or cheering them on has never brought them back to life." And obviously, taking selfies in the operating room in the middle of a grisly operation like the doctors on Grey's Anatomy do would get you fired in real life.

There are plenty of cliché words and phrases we hear over and over on doctor shows, and some are more accurate than others. Asking about a patient's vitals is authentic, according to Onishi, who says it's something doctors are always concerned with. However, yelling "We're losing him!" is simply for added TV drama. "I have never once heard that in my real life," Onishi says.

[h/t WIRED]


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