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15 Things You Might Not Know About Con Air

The story of Cameron Poe, a recently paroled ex-Army Ranger who must battle psychopaths who have hijacked a prison transport plane, is the story of all of us. That's why Con Air has been an action favorite since it was released 18 years ago, on June 6, 1997—that and the lunatic performances by Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, and a plane full of others. Before your next viewing, put the bunny back in the box and enjoy these behind-the-scenes details you may not have heard before.  

1. It was director Simon West's first film, but you'd probably seen his work before.

In fact, you've probably seen at least one thing West directed against your will. The Englishman directed many TV commercials for A-list companies like McDonald's and Pepsi. Before that, he made the video for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," the first few seconds of which have been viewed by anyone who's ever been Rickrolled.

2. The transport system the movie is about was pretty new at the time.

The Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (or JPATS) was formed in 1995. It combined and simplified systems that were previously run by the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and was immediately nicknamed "Con Air." Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg tagged along on a few flights for research purposes, and evidently survived the experience. Though he did note that "it was very unsettling, and a bit terrifying."

3. It was nominated for two Oscars!

Con Air scored Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song ("How Do I Live") and for Best Sound, but lost 'em both to Titanic, like everything else that year. Oh, and the song was also nominated for Worst Song at the Razzies (but lost there too, to the entire score from The Postman). Con Air did win the Razzie for Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property—quite an achievement, considering Volcano, Turbulence, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Batman & Robin were also nominated.

4. Dave Chappelle improvised most of his lines.

Actually, that's probably not surprising to anyone who has seen his comedy. But he confirmed it on Inside the Actors Studio in 2006. 

5. Someone died while making the movie.

On the set in Wendover, Utah (where the desert scenes in the second half of the film were shot), a 39-year-old welder named Phillip Swartz was killed when a plane he was working on fell over on him. The closing credits include a mention in his honor. 

6. John Cusack and Steve Buscemi's characters were written with them in mind.

The screenwriter, Scott Rosenberg, was friends with the actors, and he always wanted Cusack for the U.S. Marshal and Buscemi for the serial killer

7. That was a real Las Vegas casino they smashed up at the end of the movie. 

The film's memorable climax, which has the Con Air plane landing in Vegas and crashing through the front of a casino, benefited from real-life serendipity: the Sands Hotel was about to be demolished. The filmmakers simply had to persuade the hotel's owners to wait a few weeks and let them help with the destruction. They only got one take, obviously. Good thing they nailed it. (The plane hitting the giant neon guitar at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino was accomplished using models, though.)

8. The director's semi-serious idea for a sequel would be set in space.

Simon West told an interviewer in 2014 that he would do a sequel "if it was completely turned on its head. Con Air in space, for example—a studio version where they're all robots, or the convicts are reanimated as super-convicts, or where the good guys are bad guys and the bad guys are good guys. Something shocking. If it was clever writing, it could work." The best thing about this idea is that it's clearly not too insane for Nicolas Cage to say yes to it.  

9. Nic Cage did most of his own stunts. 

In a making-of TV special, Cage said: "Whether I wanted to or not, I did most of my own stunts in this movie. There were explosions five feet behind me, flaming helicopters dropping right behind me, ball-bearing bullets over my head. So there was a level of intensity, fear, you might say."

10. It was the first movie Jerry Bruckheimer produced after the death of his long-time collaborator Don Simpson. 

Hollywood uber-producers Bruckheimer and Simpson made 11 movies together—including Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, and Days of Thunder—before Simpson's drug-related death on January 19, 1996. Their final project, The Rock, was in production at the time, and Bruckheimer had already declared his intention not to work with the troubled Simpson anymore after that. 

11. Most of it was filmed in Utah. 

The Oakland Airport and the U.S. Marshals' hangar were actually at Salt Lake City International Airport. A smaller airport in Ogden, Utah (about 40 miles north of SLC), stood in for Carson City, where the prisoner exchange happens. And the abandoned airstrip supposedly found in Death Valley was actually in the vast salt flats of western Utah, near the small town of Wendover that straddles the Utah/Nevada border. West said he chose that location "because it looked like the surface of the moon."

12. The Las Vegas climax was originally set at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bruckheimer said one version of the script had the plane crashing into the White House. "I said the guys would really rather crash into Las Vegas," Bruckheimer said—which makes more sense anyway, as Vegas is much closer to the plane's starting point of Oakland.

13. It inspired a very unusual bit of customer service at a San Antonio hotel.

Earlier this year, when the concierge at San Antonio's Hotel Indigo texted a guest after check-in to ask if she needed anything, she jokingly requested "a framed picture of Nicholas [sic] Cage in Con Air on my bed by 6." (Some fan she is, not knowing he spells it without the "h"!) Sure enough, the hotel staff delivered exactly that, and followed up on subsequent Cage-related requests as well. 

14. As of this writing, the three men who shared the Oscar nomination for best sound have 41 Oscar nominations among them—and no wins.

Greg P. Russell has 16 noms (including Skyfall, Spider-Man, and Pearl Harbor); Art Rochester has five (including The Conversation and Clear and Present Danger); and Kevin O'Connell has 20 (including Dune, Top Gun, A Few Good Men, and Transformers). O'Connell is actually the record-holder for most Oscar nominations without a win. Someday, Kevin! Someday ...

15. Cage helped flesh out his character, including the idea of the stuffed bunny rabbit.

When an interviewer guessed that the bunny had been Cage's idea, he copped to it: "I'm proud of that. The whole bunny thing was mine ... I wanted that to be symbolic of all the pain and loss he had gone through just for protecting his pregnant wife—protecting her too well, and getting thrown into prison." Cage said he also contributed the detail of Cameron Poe being a Southerner ("they have a strong sense of chivalry when it comes to women").

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10 Fun Facts About Spice World
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In 1996, the Spice Girls took the world by storm when they released the song “Wannabe” from their debut album, Spice. Their mantra of “Girl Power” inspired a generation of young women to “Spice Up Your Life.” After Spice sold 31 million copies worldwide, the inevitable next step was the Girls starring on the big screen. So 20 years ago, on January 23, 1998, Columbia Pictures unleashed Spice World on American moviegoers.

In their film debut, the Girls—Melanie Brown (Scary Spice), Melanie Chisholm (Sporty Spice), Emma Bunton (Baby Spice), Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice), and Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice)—played comical versions of themselves. The plot revolved around them trying to perform their biggest show yet, at London's Royal Albert Hall, while a tabloid newspaper reporter spied on them. And their best friend went into labor. And Ginger Spice kissed an alien.

Director Bob Spiers recruited several British luminaries to cameo, with Roger Moore, Bob Hoskins, Elvis Costello, Jennifer Saunders, and Elton John among those who appeared in the film. The Spice Girls were so popular that Prince Charles and his sons, Princes William and Harry, attended the Spice World premiere.

The movie, budgeted at $25 million, grossed a robust $100 million worldwide, despite Roger Ebert giving it a half-star rating and writing that the Girls were “so detached they can’t even successfully lip-synch their own songs.”

Spice World was nominated for seven Razzies, and won one: Worst Actress, an honor shared by all five Girls. In a 2007 UK poll, it was voted the worst film ever made. But over the years the film has endured. Esquire suggested it was better than The Beatles’s A Hard’s Day Night, and the podcast How Did This Get Made? spent more than an hour debating the film’s ridiculous plot.

Though the best-selling girl group of all time disbanded in 2000, Spice World remains a relic of Spice Mania. On its 20th anniversary, here are 10 fun facts about the film.

1. IT TOOK ONLY A YEAR FROM THE IDEA TO THE FINISHED FILM.

Prince Charles and Prince Harry pose with Spice Girls Victoria Beckham Mel C
WALTER DHLADHLA, AFP, Getty Images

Barnaby Thompson, one of the film’s producers, started a production company with Annie Lennox’s husband at the time, Uri Fruchtmann. Lennox and the Girls shared the same manager, Simon Fuller. Over lunch, Fuller, Fruchtmann, Thompson, and Fuller’s brother Kim decided they’d make the movie. "We finished it within a year of that lunch," Thompson told The Telegraph. "That lunch was on November 1, 1996 and we delivered the film exactly a year later, November 1, 1997."

2. THE GIRLS STOPPED TRAFFIC IN FRANCE.

By May 1997, the Girls had four number-one singles in the UK, and were one of the most popular music groups in the world. To create anticipation for Spice World, the producers took the women to the Cannes Film Festival, even though the film hadn’t been shot yet. "We put out a photo call notice," publicist Dennis Davidson said. "The traffic on the Croisette came to a standstill, there was a screaming crowd, people hanging out of the windows, it was totally insane." An estimated 5000 to 10,000 people showed up to see the pop stars. The film shot around London between June and August of 1997.

3. RICHARD E. GRANT’S DAUGHTER FORCED HIM TO DO THE MOVIE.

Richard E. Grant attends 'Their Finest' after party during the 60th BFI London Film Festival at on October 13, 2016.
John Phillips, Getty Images for BFI

Richard E. Grant’s 9-year-old daughter was a fan of the Spice Girls and when he was offered the part of the Girls’ manager, Clifford, she told him he had to do it, despite his concerns about “my acting credibility.” “And she’d say, ‘No, no, you have to. You have to because I want to meet them,’” Grant told Vulture in 2014. “So I did, and she was so thrilled. I had school playground credibility for about two semesters and then of course you dip into the other side when they go, ‘No, I was never a Spice Girls fan!’ Now that generation has all come back around again going, ‘Yeah, we love the Spice Girls!’”

4. SHAKESPEARE HELPED CAST ALAN CUMMING.

Alan Cumming played a less-than-Shakespearean role in the movie as a paparazzo-like guy named Piers Cuthbertson-Smyth. Ginger Spice was the one who suggested him to the casting department. “I remember seeing Alan Cumming performing as Hamlet [at the Donmar Warehouse],” she told The Telegraph. “When it came to Spice World, however many years later, it came to casting and we were going through pictures and I was like, ‘Let’s pick him, I saw him in Hamlet.’ It was brilliant to have that caliber of actors to be in our funny movie.”

5. YOU CAN VISIT THE SPICE BUS.

The Spice Girls arrive atop a double decker bus for a screening of their new movie 'Spice World' in New York.
HENNY RAY ABRAMS, AFP, Getty Images

The 1978 British Leyland Bristol VRTSL3 double decker bus, covered with the Union Jack on the outside and a swing on the inside, made its debut in the movie. Though a bomb destroyed it at the end of the movie, in real life it was saved. However, after filming ended the bus fell into disrepair, until the Island Harbour Marina, located on the Isle of Wight, purchased the beauty and restored it to its original state. They put it on permanent display in July 2014. The only thing the bus is missing is Meat Loaf driving it.

6. WITHNAIL AND I CONVINCED ELVIS COSTELLO TO MAKE A CAMEO.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Elvis Costello said he loved Richard E. Grant’s film Withnail and I. “You know, I thought, ‘If I go to IMDb, I’m only a couple of clicks away from Withnail!,’” he said. Costello, who plays a barman in the movie, said he found his role to be “ironic.” “I’d only quit drinking a couple of years before, so I think the idea of being a barman was sort of ironic in my mind.”

7. THE PRODUCTION MADE SURE THE GIRLS DIDN’T READ THE SCRIPT.

Kim Fuller wrote the script (with additional writing from Jamie Curtis), which was originally titled Five. He knew the Girls might not like the script, or even read it. He gathered the ladies in a hotel in London. “I went in and said, ‘Look, turn your phones off, this is serious. I’m going to read you the story,’” he said.

They liked the story, and Ginger Spice contributed script ideas, even when she was in Bali. “I was spending hours on the phone trying to get it all sorted out and make sure that it was right,” she said. “By the time that we started, it was almost perfect.”

8. BUT THEY DIDN’T STICK TO THE SCRIPT.

Fuller said he gave them daily script pages and then they rehearsed it. “You needed to catch them at the right moment, when the energy is there,” Fuller said. “They’re not going to do 20 takes of one line, you know, so you had to think quickly on your feet.” In the Spice World documentary, Mel B confessed that she and the Girls interpreted the script. “We contributed our own little sparkle on top of it,” she said. “There were some times when we’d say the lines wrong just to make us laugh,” Baby Spice added. But those improvisations caused the script supervisor to almost quit.

"The script lady went beserk and nearly resigned because we kept changing everything," Fuller told The Telegraph. "There were a lot of flowers and we consoled her for a while and everything was fine after that."

9. THE GIRLS RECORDED AN ALBUM WHILE FILMING.

Their first album was such a massive hit that they needed to record their sophomore album to keep up the momentum. In order to fit in filming the movie and recording Spiceworld (one word), they had a mobile studio on set. They ended up writing some of the album’s—and movie’s—songs during production.

“It was quite good doing the album at the same time as the film because we were always hyperactive after a day on set and that meant we could go in the mobile studio and vibe off each other,” Posh told The Telegraph. They managed to film during the day and record at night. Virgin Records released the album on November 3, 1997, and most of Spiceworld’s songs made it into the movie, which meant there was an unofficial soundtrack.

10. MEL C LOVES THE MOVIE.

Melanie Chisholm (Sporty Spice) at the premiere of 'Spice World'
Brenda Chase, Getty Images

Mel C told The Telegraph that the film was difficult for her to watch, but when her daughter and friends wanted to watch it at a birthday party, Mel changed her mind. “I sat down with them and I actually really enjoyed it,” she said. “I laughed out loud. It brought back so many memories, and I think enough time has passed for me to be able to watch myself. You know in a way, it is brilliant. It’s very tongue-in-cheek, very silly. And the thing that I really realized was there was so much of us in it. It was very, very real.”

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Here's The Full List of 2018 Oscar Nominations
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

There are only two things that can get Hollywood’s biggest stars out of bed at 5 a.m.: an early call time or Academy Award nominations. The nominees for the 90th annual Oscars were announced on Tuesday morning, and represented a great year in movies.

Guillermo del Toro’s merman-meets-woman love story The Shape of Water leads this year’s nominees with a total of 13 nominations, followed by Martin McDonagh’s divisive Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which received nine nominations.

Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig both made some Oscar history with their nominations for Best Director: Peele is the fifth black director to compete for the statuette (joining John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, and Barry Jenkins—none of whom have won the award) while Gerwig is the fifth woman to be nominated for the prize (in 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first female Best Director winner with The Hurt Locker).

The Academy Awards will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel for a second time, and will air on March 4, 2018. Which movies will you be rooting for on Oscar night?

BEST PICTURE

Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

LEAD ACTOR

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

LEAD ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

DIRECTOR

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

ANIMATED FEATURE

The Boss Baby, Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
The Breadwinner, Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
Coco, Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
Ferdinand, Carlos Saldanha
Loving Vincent, Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman

ANIMATED SHORT

Dear Basketball, Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
Garden Party, Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
Lou, Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
Negative Space, Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
Revolting Rhymes, Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory
The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Logan, Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out, Jordan Peele
Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema
Mudbound, Rachel Morrison
The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman
Faces Places, JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda
Icarus, Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan
Last Men in Aleppo, Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jepersen
Strong Island, Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Edith+Eddie, Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Frank Stiefel
Heroin(e), Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon
Knife Skills, Thomas Lennon
Traffic Stop, Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

DeKalb Elementary, Reed Van Dyk
The Eleven O’Clock, Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
My Nephew Emmett, Kevin Wilson, Jr.
The Silent Child, Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
Watu Wote/All of Us, Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

FILM EDITING

Baby Driver, Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
Dunkirk, Lee Smith
I, Tonya, Tatiana S. Riegel
The Shape of Water, Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jon Gregory

SOUND EDITING

Baby Driver, Julian Slater
Blade Runner 2049, Mark Mangini, Theo Green
Dunkirk, Alex Gibson, Richard King
The Shape of Water, Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

SOUND MIXING

Baby Driver, Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
Blade Runner 2049, Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
Dunkirk, Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
The Shape of Water, Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Beauty and the Beast, Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
Blade Runner 2049, Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola
Darkest Hour, Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
Dunkirk, Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
The Shape of Water, Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

ORIGINAL SCORE

Dunkirk, Hans Zimmer
Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood
The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat
Star Wars: The Last Jedi, John Williams
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Carter Burwell

ORIGINAL SONG

"Mighty River" from Mudbound, Mary J. Blige
"Mystery of Love" from Call Me by Your Name, Sufjan Stevens
"Remember Me" from Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
"Stand Up for Something" from Marshall, Diane Warren, Common
"This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

MAKEUP AND HAIR

Darkest Hour, Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
Victoria and Abdul, Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
Wonder, Arjen Tuiten

COSTUME DESIGN

Beauty and the Beast, Jacqueline Durran
Darkest Hour, Jacqueline Durran
Phantom Thread, Mark Bridges
The Shape of Water, Luis Sequeira
Victoria and Abdul, Consolata Boyle

VISUAL EFFECTS

Blade Runner 2049, John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick
Kong: Skull Island, Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus
Star Wars: The Last Jedi,  Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlon
War for the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

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