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14 Surprising Facts About Empire Records

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Nearly a quarter-century after its original release, Empire Records is in the news again. In early April, Deadline reported that a stage version of the 1995 cult hit is being developed for Broadway, with an eye toward a 2020 debut, to mark the film's 25th anniversary. The premise of Allan Moyle’s Generation X movie staple is pretty straightforward—a group of teenagers working in an independent record store try to combat a corporate chain from taking it over—but it connected with audiences in a deep (and lasting) way. Featuring rising stars Liv Tyler, Renée Zellweger, and Ethan Embry, the movie was released on September 22, 1995 to barely any fanfare. Somehow, years later, fans discovered it and have helped keep its memory alive. Here are some “damn the man” facts about the movie.

1. THE MOVIE FLOPPED IN THEATERS.

The film grossed just $293,879. Originally, Warner Bros. planned to release the film in 1250 theaters on September 22, 1995, but the studio wasn’t happy with the film, so they didn’t promote it in any way—no ad campaign, no big Hollywood premiere. The $10 million film, which only screened in 87 theaters, grossed $180,286 in its first week, but by the second weekend, it was practically out of theaters. (The film went wider in October but only grossed $16,645 more.) Out of 280 films released in 1995, Empire Records ranks as the year’s 236th highest grossing movie. It’s not the bottom, but it’s pretty close.

2. THE SOUNDTRACK FARED MUCH BETTER THAN THE MOVIE.

The soundtrack, which only featured 16 out of 50 songs used in the movie, cracked the top 100 Billboard charts and spawned two hit songs. The Gin Blossoms’s “Til I Hear It From You” was written by band members Jesse Valenzuela and Robin Wilson and musician Marshall Crenshaw. The song peaked at number five on the Billboard chart and was the Gin Blossoms’s first song to enter the top 20. Edwyn Collins’s “A Girl Like You” was also a hit, peaking at number seven on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart. On 2012’s Record Store Day, a vinyl edition of the soundtrack was released.

3. THE SOUNDTRACK VERSION OF “SUGAR HIGH” WAS NOT THE INTENDED MIX.

In the movie, Zellweger performed the song with Coyote Shivers. During an interview with Consequence of Sound, Shivers explained why the version he and Zellweger sang in the movie isn’t the one that appeared on the soundtrack. Apparently the record company didn’t want it on the soundtrack, and the music supervisor thought the song was too loud. But when the song’s producer declined to remaster it, the supervisor picked “the rough mix that was meant just for playback while filming. And the label put it as the last song on the record on the original pressing,” Shivers said.

4. ANGELINA JOLIE ALMOST PLAYED THE PART OF DEB.

In hindsight, it would have made sense for Jolie to play the shaved-head and suicidal Deb, a role that eventually went to Robin Tunney. Producer Alan Riche described Jolie as being “a force of nature,” and considered her for the other female roles but “she was just too much.” Which begs the question: Would Jolie have actually shaved her head like Tunney did in a scene?

5. TOBEY MAGUIRE WAS CAST IN THE MOVIE BUT DROPPED OUT DUE TO PERSONAL REASONS.

IMDb credits Maguire’s role as “Andre,” but the scenes he shot were cut. Empire Records filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina and director Allan Moyle forced all the actors to live in beachfront properties next door to each other to create real friendships. According to a BuzzFeed article:

“Maguire showed up, felt aimless, may or may not have consumed a psychotropic drug, and somehow ended up in the basement of Moyle’s beach house eating a giant bowl of cereal. Moyle found him there, they talked for several hours, Maguire asked to go back to Hollywood to figure his life out and write a screenplay. Moyle agreed to buy it; Maguire returned to Hollywood—and, as far as Moyle knew, never wrote the script. But two years later, he was the star of The Ice Storm; eight years later, he was Spider-Man.”

Ethan Embry remembered it differently, though. “I don’t remember him coming out [to North Carolina],” he told The Wrap. “I remember seeing him at an audition and I remember smoking a cigarette with him while we were both waiting to go in. I had totally forgotten that he was out there until people started talking about it again.”

6. COYOTE SHIVERS LIED ABOUT HIS AGE TO GET THE PART OF BERKO.

Originally, producers wanted Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day to play the role, but his touring schedule wouldn’t allow for it. Shivers, who at the time of casting was in his late 20s, got picked to play the teen Berko. In 2015, Shivers told Consequence of Sound he lied about his age because the producers wanted a teenager to play the role and “I looked young anyway.” Shivers said the producers later found out that he was Liv Tyler’s stepdad at the time (he is only 12 years older than Tyler), which exposed him for his real age. That, and him getting car insurance in North Carolina with the over-26-years-old rate.

7. ETHAN EMBRY HAD A CRUSH ON LIV TYLER ... AND SO DID EVERYBODY ELSE.

“I just remember having the biggest crush on [Liv]. Ever. Which was very difficult, because then we went to shoot That Thing You Do! and I still had a f***ing crush on her,” Embry told The Wrap. During a Rex Manning Day video message, Maxwell Caulfield relayed how everybody in the cast took to Liv. “Liv Tyler was at the center of it all,” he said. “Everybody was gravitating to this young, emerging swan.” 

8. RENÉE ZELLWEGER AND RORY COCHRANE WERE DATING AT THE TIME.

Renée Zellweger, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth and Liv Tyler in 'Empire Records' (1995)
Warner Bros.

The couple met on the set of Dazed and Confused (Zellweger had a brief cameo) two years prior to filming Empire Records. They also appeared together in the 1994 film Love and a .45. Cochrane (who plays the store’s night manager Lucas) encouraged Zellweger to audition for the film, and she got the part of store employee Gina. In the movie, the stoner logo from Dazed and Confused appears on a cash register.

9. THE STUDIO MADE ALLAN MOYLE TONE DOWN THE FILM.

At one point, the studio took the movie from the director and wouldn’t let him have final cut of it. “The studio was in a cocaine mentality, while we at the movie were in a pot mentality,” Moyle explained to BuzzFeed. Even though the script contained R-rated material, the studio wanted a PG-13 rating and rid the movie of much of its swearing and scenes of the teenagers smoking marijuana (eating pot brownies seemed to be okay, though).

10. THE SCENE WHEN MARK HALLUCINATES BEING AT A GWAR CONCERT WAS ACTUALLY FILMED DURING A GWAR CONCERT.

It wasn’t in the script, but Embry’s character Mark eats a pot brownie (Embry joked that the brownies were made with real pot) while watching a video of the band GWAR on TV, then imagines he’s in the TV. During filming in North Carolina, actor James “Kimo” Wills (Eddie) spotted a flyer for a GWAR show and told Embry about it. Moyle hadn’t heard of GWAR but let Embry concoct a scenario.

“Man, GWAR is coming to town and I think Mark should have a fantasy where’s he’s playing with GWAR, and they did it,” Robin Tunney, imitating Embry, recalled during a BuzzFeed LA Empire Records reunion, in August. “And then Allan let us take a camera to the GWAR concert and I drank Jägermeister with the bass player from GWAR,” Embry chimed in. He also talked to Vanity Fair about filming the concert. “We did a couple takes of it, and the audience was just standing there like, ‘What is going on?’—and then they continued with their show.”

11. TOM JONES INSPIRED REX MANNING’S WARDROBE.

Costume designer Susan Lyall told BuzzFeed how former 1980s pop idol Rex Manning’s over-the-top wardrobe came to be. She found the purple satin shirt at New York’s Trash and Vaudeville and then added fringe to it. She described the fashion as being “Tom Jones + Rod Stewart + Trash and Vaudeville.”

12. “REX MANNING DAY” IS CELEBRATED ON APRIL 8TH EVERY YEAR.

A flyer on a door in the movie announces Rex’s in-store appearance as “April 8th,” which is why it’s honored then. Maxwell Caulfield played the ridiculous singer Rex Manning, who shows up at Empire Records for an album signing. In 2015, for the film's 20th anniversary (and Rex Manning Day), Brooklyn's Rough Trade Records tricked out its storefront to look like the record store in the film, replete with actors Ethan Embry, Johnny Whitworth, and the band GWAR making surprise appearances. Caulfield was unable to make the event, but a tanned stand-in recreated the “Say No More (Mon Amour)” video and snapped photos with fans.

13. REX MANNING DAY IS A TRIBUTE TO KURT COBAIN.

A photo of Kurt Cobain performing with Nirvana.
Getty Images

Screenwriter Carol Heikkinen based the script on her time working at Tower Records, and keeping with the music theme, she slipped in an important date. “I was just talking to the writer [Carol], and she was saying it’s in one of the drafts,” Ethan Embry revealed to The Wrap in 2015. “April 8th is the same day they found Kurt Cobain’s body. It’s not the day he died. We shot that the same year they found him, so it represents the death of a rock star. Nobody ever says it in the movie. Nobody ever says April 8th.”

14. THE CAST HAD NO IDEA HOW POPULAR THE MOVIE BECAME.

In 2013, Embry and several of the other cast members attended an outdoor screening of the film in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood, which is when they realized just how much people loved the movie. “[It was] like, ‘Let’s just go and watch it and make fun of ourselves,” Embry told Vanity Fair in 2015. “And I took a picture of the five of us together, and it exploded on Twitter. And we all sat there wondering why.” The cast reunited again in July 2014 for a screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where 4000 fans came out for the film and a Q&A session. Some of the cast got together again for Rex Manning Day 2018.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Steve Martin
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Is there anything Steve Martin can't do? In addition to being one of the world's most beloved comedians and actors, he's also a writer, a musician, a magician, and an art enthusiast. And he's about to put a number of these talents on display with Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, a new comedy special that just arrived on Netflix. To commemorate the occasion, here are 10 things you might not have known about Steve Martin.

1. HE WAS A CHEERLEADER.

As a yellleader (as he refers to it in a yearbook signature) at his high school in Garden Grove, California, Martin tried to make up his own cheers, but “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs,” he later told Newsweek, did not go over so well.

2. HIS FIRST JOB WAS AT DISNEYLAND.

Martin’s first-ever job was at Disneyland, which was located just two miles away from his house. He started out selling guidebooks, keeping $.02 for every book he sold. He graduated to the Magic Shop on Main Street, where he got his first taste of the gags that would later make his career. He also learned the rope tricks you see in ¡Three Amigos! from a rope wrangler over in Frontierland.

3. HE OWES HIS WRITING JOB WITH THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS TO AN EX-GIRLFRIEND.

Thanks to a girlfriend who got a job dancing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Martin landed a gig writing for the show. He had absolutely no experience as a writer at the time. He shared an office with Bob Einstein—better known to some as Super Dave Osborne or Marty Funkhauser—and won an Emmy for writing in 1969.

4. HE WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE DATING GAME.

While he was writing for the Smothers Brothers, but before he was famous in his own right, Martin was on an episode of The Dating Game. (Spoiler alert: He wins. But did you have any doubt?)

5. MANY PEOPLE THOUGHT HE WAS A SERIES REGULAR ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Martin hosted and did guest spots on Saturday Night Live so often in the 1970s and '80s that many people thought he was a series regular. He wasn't. 

6. HIS FATHER WROTE A REVIEW OF HIS FIRST SNL APPEARANCE.

After his first appearance on SNL, Martin’s father, the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, wrote a review of his son’s performance in the company newsletter. “His performance did nothing to further his career,” the elder Martin wrote. He also once told a newspaper, “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.”

7. HE POPULARIZED THE AIR QUOTE.

If you find yourself making air quotes with your fingers more than you’d really like, you have Martin to thank. He popularized the gesture during his guest spots on SNL and stand-up performances.

8. HE QUIT STAND-UP COMEDY IN THE EARLY 1980S.

Martin gave up stand-up comedy in 1981. “I still had a few obligations left but I knew that I could not continue,” he told NPR in 2009. “But I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to, but I did have something to go to, which was movies. And you know, the act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show, and I wasn't up to it, especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around.”

9. HE'S A MAJOR ART COLLECTOR.

As an avid art collector, Martin owns works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper. He sold a Hopper for $26.9 million in 2006. Unfortunately, being rich and famous doesn’t mean Martin is immune to scams: In 2004, he spent about $850,000 on a piece believed to be by German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. When Martin tried to sell the piece, “Landschaft mit Pferden” (or "Landscape With Horses") 15 months later, he was informed that it was a forgery. Though the painting still sold, it was at a huge loss.

10. HE'S AN ACCOMPLISHED BLUEGRASS PERFORMER.

Many people already know this, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that he’s an extremely accomplished bluegrass performer. With the help of high school friend John McEuen, who later became a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martin taught himself to play the banjo when he was 17. He's been picking away ever since. If you see him on stage these days, he’s likely strumming a banjo with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. As seen above, they make delightful videos.

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Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
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Star Wars Premiered 41 Years Ago … and the Reviews Weren’t Always Kind
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

A long time ago (41 years, to be exact) in a galaxy just like this one, George Lucas was about to make cinematic history—whether he knew it or not. On May 25, 1977, moviegoers got their first glimpse of Star Wars, Lucas’s long-simmering space opera that would help define the concept of the Hollywood “blockbuster.” While we're still talking about the film today, and its many sequels and spinoffs (hello, Solo), not every film critic would have guessed just how ingrained into the pop culture fabric Star Wars would become. While it charmed plenty of critics, some of the movie’s original reviews were less than glowing. Here are a few of our favorites (the good, the bad, and the Wookiee):

"Star Wars is a fairy tale, a fantasy, a legend, finding its roots in some of our most popular fictions. The golden robot, lion-faced space pilot, and insecure little computer on wheels must have been suggested by the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. The journey from one end of the galaxy to another is out of countless thousands of space operas. The hardware is from Flash Gordon out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the chivalry is from Robin Hood, the heroes are from Westerns and the villains are a cross between Nazis and sorcerers. Star Wars taps the pulp fantasies buried in our memories, and because it's done so brilliantly, it reactivates old thrills, fears, and exhilarations we thought we'd abandoned when we read our last copy of Amazing Stories."

—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Star Wars is not a great movie in that it describes the human condition. It simply is a fun picture that will appeal to those who enjoy Buck Rogers-style adventures. What places it a sizable cut about the routine is its spectacular visual effects, the best since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001Star Wars is a battle between good and evil. The bad guys (led by Peter Cushing and an assistant who looks like a black vinyl-coated frog) control the universe with their dreaded Death Star."

—Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

Star Wars is like getting a box of Cracker Jack which is all prizes. This is the writer-director George Lucas’s own film, subject to no business interference, yet it’s a film that’s totally uninterested in anything that doesn’t connect with the mass audience. There’s no breather in the picture, no lyricism; the only attempt at beauty is in the double sunset. It’s enjoyable on its own terms, but it’s exhausting, too: like taking a pack of kids to the circus. An hour into it, children say that they’re ready to see it again; that’s because it’s an assemblage of spare parts—it has no emotional grip. “Star Wars” may be the only movie in which the first time around the surprises are reassuring…. It’s an epic without a dream. But it’s probably the absence of wonder that accounts for the film’s special, huge success. The excitement of those who call it the film of the year goes way past nostalgia to the feeling that now is the time to return to childhood."

—Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

"The only way that Star Wars could have been interesting was through its visual imagination and special effects. Both are unexceptional ... I kept looking for an 'edge,' to peer around the corny, solemn comic-book strophes; he was facing them frontally and full. This picture was made for those (particularly males) who carry a portable shrine within them of their adolescence, a chalice of a Self that was Better Then, before the world's affairs or—in any complex way—sex intruded."

—Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic

“There’s something depressing about seeing all these impressive cinematic gifts and all this extraordinary technological skills lavished on such puerile materials. Perhaps more important is what this seems to accomplish: the canonization of comic book culture which in turn becomes the triumph of the standardized, the simplistic, mass-produced commercial artifacts of our time. It’s the triumph of camp—that sentiment which takes delight in the awful simply because it’s awful. We enjoyed such stuff as children, but one would think there would come a time when we might put away childish things.”

—Joy Gould Boyum, The Wall Street Journal

Star Wars … is the most elaborate, most expensive, most beautiful movie serial ever made. It’s both an apotheosis of Flash Gordon serials and a witty critique that makes associations with a variety of literature that is nothing if not eclectic: Quo Vadis?, Buck Rogers, Ivanhoe, Superman, The Wizard of Oz, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table … The way definitely not to approach Star Wars, though, is to expect a film of cosmic implications or to footnote it with so many references that one anticipates it as if it were a literary duty. It’s fun and funny.”

—Vincent Canby, The New York Times

"Viewed dispassionately—and of course that’s desperately difficult at this point in time—Star Wars is not an improvement on Mr Lucas’ previous work, except in box-office terms. It isn’t the best film of the year, it isn’t the best science fiction ever to be translated to the screen, it isn’t a number of other things either that sweating critics have tried to turn it into when faced with finding some plausible explanation for its huge and slightly sinister success considering a contracting market. But it is, on the other hand, enormous and exhilarating fun for those who are prepared to settle down in their seats and let it all wash over them.”

—Derek Malcolm, The Guardian

“Strip Star Wars of its often striking images and its high-falutin scientific jargon, and you get a story, characters, and dialogue of overwhelming banality, without even a ‘future’ cast to them. Human beings, anthropoids, or robots, you could probably find them all, more or less like that, in downtown Los Angeles today. Certainly the mentality and values of the movie can be duplicated in third-rate non-science fiction of any place or period. O dull new world!”

—John Simon, New York Magazine

"Star Wars is somewhat grounded by a malfunctioning script and hopelessly infantile dialogue, but from a technical standpoint, it is an absolutely breathtaking achievement. The special effects experts who put Lucas' far-out fantasies on film—everything from a gigantic galactic war machine to a stunningly spectacular World War II imitation dogfight—are Oscar-worthy wizards of the first order. And, for his own part, Lucas displays an incredibly fertile imagination—an almost Fellini-like fascination with bizarre creatures.”

—Kathleen Carroll, New York Daily News

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