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16 Hardcore Facts About Full Metal Jacket

© Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
© Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

By the time The Shining had been released in theaters, Stanley Kubrick had already decided that for his next project he wanted to make a film that depicted what war was like. A little more than seven years later, he presented Full Metal Jacket to the world. Based on Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers, the 1987 movie—co-written by Kubrick, Hasford, and Michael Herr—left a lasting impact.

1. THE PHRASE "FULL METAL JACKET" APPEARS NOWHERE IN THE BOOK UPON WHICH THE MOVIE IS BASED.

While Kubrick was “enthralled” with Vietnam veteran Hasford’s The Short-Timers, he was concerned about using the book's title as the movie title as he feared audiences might think that the movie was about people who only did half a day of work. Kubrick discovered the phrase “full metal jacket,” which describes the casing of a bullet, in a gun catalog.

2. VINCENT D’ONOFRIO GAINED 70 POUNDS TO PLAY LEONARD "GOMER PYLE" LAWRENCE.


© 1987 - Warner Bros. Entertainment

In addition to the weight gain, D'Onofrio also shaved his head for the role, and was surprised by how much it affected him. ''It changed my life,'' D'Onofrio told The New York Times in 1987. ''Women didn't look at me; most of the time I was looking at their backs as they were running away. People used to say things to me twice, because they thought I was stupid.'' To this day, it's the most weight any actor has ever gained for a movie role.

3. AN ENVIOUS VAL KILMER WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR MATTHEW MODINE GETTING THE ROLE OF PRIVATE JOKER.

While innocently enjoying pancakes at a Sunset Boulevard diner with David Alan Grier, Modine noticed Val Kilmer giving him the stink eye. When Alan Grier introduced the two, Kilmer told Modine: "'Yeah, I know who you are. I’m sick of you,'" Modine recalled to Unframed. "I had been on this run of films—Birdy, Mrs. Soffel, and Vision Quest. And Val says, 'Now you’re doing Kubrick’s film.' When we finished our breakfast I called my manager. He didn’t know anything about it. I knew [Kubrick] was making a film with Warner Bros., so we asked [director] Harold Becker to send a print of Vision Quest, and we asked Alan Parker to send some dailies from Birdy. It turns out that maybe Stanley didn’t know anything about me and Val Kilmer might have been responsible for me getting the part in Full Metal Jacket."

4. ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL WAS OFFERED THE PART OF JOKER.

Kubrick originally offered the part of Joker to Anthony Michael Hall, but an eight-month-long argument about monetary compensation eventually ended the collaboration. "It was a difficult decision," said Hall of his departure from the project. "Because in that eight-month period, I read everything I could about the guy, and I was really fascinated by him. I wanted to be a part of that film, but it didn't work out. But all sorts of stories circulated, like I got on set and I was fired, or I was pissed at him for shooting too long. It's all not true."

5. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER AND BRUCE WILLIS TURNED DOWN ROLES.

Schwarzenegger claimed he was too busy to play Animal Mother (the part that eventually went to Adam Baldwin). Bruce Willis was offered a part two days before he was to start shooting the first six episodes of Moonlighting, so he had to say no, too. Denzel Washington wanted in, but didn’t like that Kubrick didn’t send out a script beforehand to audition.

6. R. LEE ERMEY CAME UP WITH 150 PAGES WORTH OF INSULTS ON HIS OWN. 

R.
LEE ERMEY CAME UP WITH 150 PAGES WORTH OF INSULTS ON HIS OWN. - See
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LEE ERMEY CAME UP WITH 150 PAGES WORTH OF INSULTS ON HIS OWN. - See
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© 1987 - Warner Bros. Entertainment

The former drill instructor started out as the technical adviser for Full Metal Jacket. Tim Colceri, who was originally cast to play Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, tired himself out after 30 minutes of yelling at extras during a videotaped rehearsal. But when Ermey stepped in and took over, his energy never let up. Colceri ended up playing the door gunner instead.

7. THE WHOLE MOVIE WAS FILMED IN ENGLAND.

England was the adopted home for the New York City-born Kubrick, who claimed to have a fear of flying. A British Territorial Army base doubled as the Marine boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina. An abandoned, set-to-be-demolished gas works on the Thames River doubled as Da Nang, Phu Bai, and Huế. To create the necessary jungle-like atmosphere, 200 palm trees were imported from Spain and plastic plants were shipped in from Hong Kong. A Belgian army colonel was such a big fan of Kubrick’s that he lent him four M41 tanks.

8. A NEAR-FATAL INJURY DELAYED FILMING BY FOUR AND A HALF MONTHS.

Late one night halfway through production, R. Lee Ermey broke all of his ribs on one side of his body in a car crash. His injury was part of the reason why it took almost a full year to shoot the movie—August 27, 1985 through August 8, 1986 to be exact.

9. JOKER HAD A NAME.


© Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

It was J.T. Davis. In 1961, Specialist James T. Davis was the first recorded American battlefield casualty in Vietnam.

10. MODINE KEPT A DIARY DURING FILMING.

It was to help him get into the mindspace of a reporter, like his character. Kubrick would occasionally tell Modine to read his diary out loud to everyone on set. In 2005, Modine published his Full Metal Jacket Diary.

11. THE ACTORS UNDERWENT REALISTIC BOOT CAMP TRAINING.

Ermey yelled at the actors set to play Marines in the film for up to 10 hours a day. They also had their heads shaved once a week.

12. MODINE AND KUBRICK HAD A STANDOFF AFTER KUBRICK INSISTED THAT MODINE NOT BE THERE FOR THE BIRTH OF HIS OWN SON.

When Kubrick insisted to dad-to-be Modine that he would just get in the way of the doctors, Modine took out his pocket knife and threatened to cut his hand open in order to get permission to go to the hospital. It worked.

13. STANLEY KUBRICK’S DAUGHTER WAS IN THE MOVIE.

Under the alias Abigail Mead, Vivian Kubrick was the woman holding a camera shooting the open casket. She also scored the film, shot a bunch of documentary footage which mostly never saw the light of day, and co-produced the mash-up "Full Metal Jacket (I Wanna Be Your Drill Instructor)."

14. KUBRICK HAD NEVER HEARD THE ROLLING STONES BEFORE FILMING.

He finally got around to listening to the legendary rockers when researching the top 100 Billboard hits from 1962 through 1968, and chose “Paint It Black” for the end credits.

15. A SCENE WHERE ANIMAL MOTHER DECAPITATES THE SNIPER WAS CUT.

Adam Baldwin, the actor who portrayed Animal Mother, was upset about that.

16. LT. JOKER WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO DIE.

At first, Full Metal Jacket was set to begin with Joker’s funeral in a flashback, but Kubrick felt it was wrong. Yet Kubrick continued to consider killing Joker off throughout filming, and kept asking Modine if he thought it was right for his character to die. Modine angrily told Kubrick that surviving the war and having to remember all of the horror for the rest of his days would be the most fitting ending of all for Joker and the movie. Once again, Kubrick backed off.

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Netflix's Most-Binged Shows of 2017, Ranked
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Netflix might know your TV habits better than you do. Recently, the entertainment company's normally tight-lipped number-crunchers looked at user data collected between November 1, 2016 and November 1, 2017 to see which series people were powering through and which ones they were digesting more slowly. By analyzing members’ average daily viewing habits, they were able to determine which programs were more likely to be “binged” (or watched for more than two hours per day) and which were more often “savored” (or watched for less than two hours per day) by viewers.

They found that the highest number of Netflix bingers glutted themselves on the true crime parody American Vandal, followed by the Brazilian sci-fi series 3%, and the drama-mystery 13 Reasons Why. Other shows that had viewers glued to the couch in 2017 included Anne with an E, the Canadian series based on L. M. Montgomery's 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, and the live-action Archie comics-inspired Riverdale.

In contrast, TV shows that viewers enjoyed more slowly included the Emmy-winning drama The Crown, followed by Big Mouth, Neo Yokio, A Series of Unfortunate Events, GLOW, Friends from College, and Ozark.

There's a dark side to this data, though: While the company isn't around to judge your sweatpants and the chip crumbs stuck to your couch, Netflix is privy to even your most embarrassing viewing habits. The company recently used this info to publicly call out a small group of users who turned their binges into full-fledged benders:

Oh, and if you're the one person in Antarctica binging Shameless, the streaming giant just outed you, too.

Netflix broke down their full findings in the infographic below and, Big Brother vibes aside, the data is pretty fascinating. It even includes survey data on which shows prompted viewers to “Netflix cheat” on their significant others and which shows were enjoyed by the entire family.

Netflix infographic "The Year in Bingeing"
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14 Fascinating Facts About Saturday Night Fever
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Paramount Pictures

We can tell by the way you use your walk that you're a fan of Saturday Night Fever, the 1977 blockbuster that made John Travolta a mega-star and brought disco into the mainstream. (Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.) To enhance your appreciation of what was the highest-grossing dance movie of all time until Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) and Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012) beat it, here's a groovy list of facts to celebrate the film's 40th birthday. Put on your boogie shoes and read! 

1. THERE WAS A PG-RATED VERSION OF IT, TOO.

Saturday Night Fever was an instant hit when it was released in December 1977, quickly becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. What's especially impressive is that it did this despite being rated R and thus (theoretically) inaccessible to teenagers, the very audience that a disco movie would (theoretically) appeal to. And so in March 1979, the film was re-released in a PG version, with all the profanity, sex, and violence either deleted or downplayed. This version took in another $8.9 million (about $30 million at 2016 ticket prices), bringing the film's U.S. total to $94.2 million. Both versions were released on VHS and laserdisc, though the R-rated cut didn't become widely available on home video until the DVD upgrade. 

2. IT WAS BASED ON A MAGAZINE ARTICLE THAT TURNED OUT TO BE SEMI-FICTIONAL.

"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," a detailed look at the new generation of urban teenagers by British journalist Nik Cohn, was published in New York Magazine in June 1976. The central figure in the article was Vincent, "the very best dancer in Bay Ridge," whose name was changed to Tony Manero for the movie. But years later, Cohn confessed: "[Vincent] is completely made-up, a total fabrication." The styles and attitudes Cohn had described were real, but not the main character. Cohn said he'd only recently arrived in Brooklyn, didn't know the scene well, and based Vincent on a Mod he'd known in London in the '60s.

3. THE BEE GEES HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

Most of the film had already been shot when music producer-turned-movie producer Robert Stigwood commissioned the Bee Gees to write songs for it. The brothers, only modestly successful at that point and hard at work on their next album, didn't know what the movie was about but cranked out a few tunes in a weekend. They also repurposed several songs they'd been working on, including "Stayin' Alive," a demo version of which was prepared in time to be used in filming the opening "strut" sequence. (You'll notice Travolta struts in sync with the music.) So if the movie's signature songs didn't come until later, what were the cast members listening to when they shot the dance scenes? According to Travolta, it was Boz Scaggs and Stevie Wonder. 

4. THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM BROKE ALL KINDS OF RECORDS.

With 15 million copies sold in the U.S. alone, Saturday Night Fever was the top-selling soundtrack album of all time before being supplanted by The Bodyguard some 15 years later. It's also the only disco record (so far) to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, and one of only three soundtracks (besides The Bodyguard and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) to win that category. It was the number one album on the Billboard charts for the entire first half of 1978, and stayed on the charts until March 1980, long after the supposed death of disco.

5. THE MOVIE EXTENDED DISCO'S LIFESPAN BY A FEW YEARS.

Disco had been popular enough in the mid-1970s to land multiple disco tunes on the Billboard charts, but by the end of 1977, when Saturday Night Fever came out, the backlash had started and the trend was on its way out. But thanks to the movie (and its soundtrack), not only did disco not die out, it achieved more widespread, mainstream, middle-America success than it ever had before.

6. IT HAS SOME ROCKY CONNECTIONS.


Paramount Pictures

First connection: It was supposed to be directed by John G. Avildsen, whose previous film was Rocky. Ultimately, that didn’t work out and Avildsen was replaced with John Badham a few weeks before shooting began. Second connection: Tony has a Rocky poster on his bedroom wall. Third connection: Saturday Night Fever’s 1983 sequel, Staying Alive, was directed by ... Sylvester Stallone.

7. TRAVOLTA WAS ALREADY SO FAMOUS THAT MAKING THE MOVIE WAS A HASSLE.

Saturday Night Fever made Travolta a movie star, but he was already a teen heartthrob because of the popular sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, where he played a delinquent teenager with the hilarious and timeless catchphrase "Up your nose with a rubber hose." Still, nobody was prepared for how Travolta's fame would affect the movie, which was to be shot on the streets of Brooklyn. As soon as the neighborhood found out Travolta was there, the sidewalks were swarmed by thousands of onlookers, many of them squealing teenage girls. (Badham said there were also a lot of teenage boys holding signs expressing their hatred for Travolta for being more desirable than themselves.)

Co-star Donna Pescow said, "The fans—oh, my God, they were all over him. It was scary to watch." Badham said, "By noon of the first day, we had to shut down and go home." Since it was nearly impossible to keep the crowds away (or quiet), Badham and the crew resorted to filming in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn. 

8. THE WHITE CASTLE EMPLOYEES WEREN'T ACTING WHEN THEY LOOKED SHOCKED. 


Paramount Pictures

In the brief scene where Tony, his boys, and Stephanie are loudly eating at White Castle, those were the real burger-flippers, not actors. Badham told them to just go about their business. He also told his actors to cut loose and surprise the White Castlers in whatever way they saw fit. The shot that's in the movie appears to be a reaction to Joey standing on the table and barking, but Badham said it was actually in response to something else: "Double J (actor Paul Pape) pulling his pants down and mooning the entire staff of the White Castle."

9. THE FEMALE LEAD GOT THE PART THANKS TO A SERENDIPITOUS CAB RIDE.

Casting the role of Tony's dance partner, Stephanie, proved difficult. Hundreds of women auditioned, but nobody seemed right. Meanwhile, 32-year-old Karen Lynn Gorney was looking for her big break into show business. As fate would have it, she shared a cab with a stranger who turned out to be producer Robert Stigwood's nephew. He mentioned that his uncle was working on a movie, and Gorney replied, "Oh, am I in it?"— her standard joke whenever she heard about a film being made. The nephew wound up submitting Gorney as a candidate, and the rest is history. 

10. TRAVOLTA’S GIRLFRIEND DIED DURING FILMING.

John Travolta stars in Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Paramount Pictures

Travolta met Diana Hyland on the set of the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, in which she played his mother. (She was 18 years older than him.) They had been dating for six months when Hyland succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 41, after filming just four episodes of her new gig on Eight Is Enough. Travolta was able to leave Saturday Night Fever and fly to L.A. in time to be with her before she died, then had to return to work. 

11. THE COMPOSER HAD TO SCRAMBLE TO REPLACE A NIXED SONG.

For Tony and Stephanie's rehearsal scene about 30 minutes into the movie, Badham had used the song "Lowdown" by Boz Scaggs, going so far as to shoot the scene, including the dialogue, with the song actually playing in the background. (That's usually a no-no, for exactly the reasons you're about to read about.) According to Badham, no sooner had they wrapped the scene than Scaggs' people reached out to say they couldn't use the song after all, as Scaggs was thinking of pursuing a disco project of his own. Badham now had to have the actors re-dub the dialogue (since the version he'd recorded was tainted by "Lowdown"); what's more, he had to find a new song that would fit the choreography and tempo of the dancing. Composer David Shire rose to the occasion, writing a piece of instrumental music that met the specifications, and that’s what we hear in the movie. 

12. THEY MADE UP A DANCE BECAUSE THE CHOREOGRAPHER DIDN'T SHOW UP.

In another rehearsal scene 55 minutes into the movie, Tony and Stephanie do the "tango hustle," which looks like a combination of both of those dances. This was something Travolta and Gorney invented as a matter of necessity: the film's choreographer didn't realize he was supposed to be on the set that day, and the actors didn't have any steps prepared. The tango hustle, alas, never quite caught on.  

13. TONY’S ICONIC WHITE SUIT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BLACK.

Travolta and Badham both assumed Tony's disco outfit would be black, as men's suits tended to be at the time. Costume designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein convinced them it should be white, partly to symbolize the character's journey to enlightenment but also for practical reasons: a dark suit doesn't photograph very well in a dark discotheque. 

14. TONY’S SUIT WAS LATER SOLD FOR $2000—THEN FOR $145,500.

Von Brandenstein took Travolta to a cheap men's clothing store in Brooklyn (swamped by teenage fans, of course) and bought the suit off the rack—three identical suits, actually, so they wouldn't have to stop filming when one became soaked with Travolta's sweat. Two of the suits disappeared after the movie was finished; the remaining one, inscribed by Travolta, was bought at a charity auction in 1979 by film critic Gene Siskel, who cited Saturday Night Fever as one of his favorite movies. He paid about $2000 for it. In 1995, he sold it for $145,500 to an anonymous bidder through Christie's auction house.

In 2012, after a lengthy search, curators at London's Victoria and Albert Museum found the owner (who still preferred to remain anonymous) and persuaded him to lend it for an exhibit of Hollywood costumes. It is now presumably back in that man's care, whoever he may be. (P.S. Badham says on the 2002 DVD commentary that the suit is on display at the Smithsonian, a tidbit repeated by NPR in 2006 and Vanity Fair in 2007. But they must be mistaken. The suit’s sale in 1995 and rediscovery for the 2012 museum exhibit are verified facts; the suit isn't in the Smithsonian's online catalogue; and finally, a 2007 Washington Post story about the Smithsonian lists the suit as one of the items the museum director wanted to get.)

Additional sources:
John Badham DVD commentary
DVD featurettes

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