14 Surprising Facts About Empire Records

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

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.

15 Fascinating Facts About Schindler’s List

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

In 1993, Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List brought to the screen a story that had gone untold since the tragic events of the Holocaust. Oskar Schindler, a Nazi party member, used his pull within the party to save the lives of more than 1000 Jewish individuals by recruiting them to work in his Polish factory. Here are some facts about Spielberg’s groundbreaking film on its 25th anniversary.

1. The story was relayed to author Thomas Keneally in a Beverly Hills leather goods shop.

In October 1980, Australian novelist Thomas Keneally had stopped into a leather goods shop off of Rodeo Drive after a book tour stopover from a film festival in Sorrento, Italy, where one of his books was adapted into a movie. When the owner of the shop, Leopold Page, learned that Keneally was a writer, he began telling him “the greatest story of humanity man to man.” That story was how Page, his wife, and thousands of other Jews were saved by a Nazi factory owner named Oskar Schindler during World War II.

Page gave Keneally photocopies of documents related to Schindler, including speeches, firsthand accounts, testimonies, and the actual list of names of the people he saved. It inspired Keneally to write the book Schindler’s Ark, on which the movie is based. Page (whose real name was Poldek Pfefferberg) ended up becoming a consultant on the film.

2. Keneally wasn't the first person Leopold Page told about Oskar Schindler.

The film rights to Page’s story were actually first purchased by MGM for $50,000 in the 1960s after Page had similarly ambushed the wife of film producer Marvin Gosch at his leather shop. Mrs. Gosch told the story to her husband, who agreed to produce a film version, even going so far as hiring Casablanca co-screenwriter Howard Koch to write the script. Koch and Gosch began interviewing Schindler Jews in and around the Los Angeles area, and even Schindler himself, before the project stalled, leaving the story unknown to the public at large.

3. Schindler made more than one list.

Liam Neeson, Agnieszka Krukówna, Krzysztof Luft, Friedrich von Thun, and Marta Bizon in Schindler's List (1993)
Universal Pictures

Seven lists in all were made by Oskar Schindler and his associates during the war, while four are known to still exist. Two are at the Yad Vashem in Israel, one is at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and one privately owned list was unsuccessfully auctioned off via eBay in 2013.

The movie refers to the first two lists created in 1944, otherwise known as “The Lists of Life.” The five subsequent lists were updates to the first two versions, which included the names of more than 1000 Jews who Schindler saved by recruiting them to work in his factory.

4. Steven Spielberg first learned of Schindler in the early 1980s.

Former MCA/Universal president Sid Sheinberg, a father figure to Spielberg, gave the director Keneally’s book when it was first published in 1982, to which Spielberg allegedly replied, “It’ll make a helluva story. Is it true?”

Eventually the studio bought the rights to the book, and when Page met with Spielberg to discuss the story, the director promised the Holocaust survivor that he would make the film adaptation within 10 years. The project languished for over a decade because Spielberg was reluctant to take on such serious subject matter. Spielberg’s hesitation actually stopped Hollywood veteran Billy Wilder from making Schindler’s List his final film. Wilder tried to buy the rights to Keneally’s book, but Spielberg and MCA/Universal scooped them up before he could.

5. Spielberg refused to accept a salary for making the movie.

Though Spielberg is already an extremely wealthy man as a result of the many big-budget movies that have made him one of Hollywood’s most successful directors, he decided that a story as important as Schindler’s List shouldn’t be made with an eye toward financial reward. The director relinquished his salary for the movie and any proceeds he would stand to make in perpetuity, calling any such personal gains “blood money.” Instead, Spielberg used the film’s profits to found the USC Shoah Foundation, which was established in 1994 to honor and remember the survivors of the Holocaust by collecting personal recollections and audio visual interviews.

6. Before Spielberg agreed to make the movie, he tried to get other directors to make it.

Part of Spielberg’s reluctance to make Schindler's List was that he didn’t feel that he was prepared or mature enough to tackle a film about the Holocaust. So he tried to recruit other directors to make the film. He first approached director Roman Polanski, a Holocaust survivor whose own mother was killed in Auschwitz. Polanski declined, but would go on to make his own film about the Holocaust, The Pianist, which earned him a Best Director Oscar in 2003. Spielberg then offered the movie to director Sydney Pollack, who also passed.

The job was then offered to legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who accepted. Scorsese was set to put the film into production when Spielberg had an epiphany on the set of the revisionist Peter Pan story Hook and realized that he was finally prepared to make Schindler’s List. To make up for the change of heart, Spielberg traded Scorsese the rights to a movie he’d been developing that Scorsese would make into his next film: the remake of Cape Fear.

7. The movie was a gamble for Universal, so they made Spielberg a dino-sized deal.

When Spielberg finally decided to make Schindler’s List, it had taken him so long that Sheinberg and Universal balked. The relatively low-budget $23 million three-hour black-and-white Holocaust movie was too much of a risk, so they asked Spielberg to make another project that had been brewing at the studio: Jurassic Park. Make the lucrative summer movie first, they said, and then he could go and make his passion project. Spielberg agreed, and both movies were released in 1993; Jurassic Park in June and Schindler’s List in December.

8. Spielberg didn't want a movie star with Hollywood clout to portray Schindler.

Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson auditioned for the role of Oskar Schindler, and actor Warren Beatty was far enough along in the process that he even made it as far as a script reading. But according to Spielberg, Beatty was dropped because, “Warren would have played it like Oskar Schindler through Warren Beatty.”

For the role, Spielberg cast then relatively unknown Irish actor Liam Neeson, whom the director had seen in a Broadway play called Anna Christie. “Liam was the closest in my experience of what Schindler was like,” Spielberg told The New York Times. “His charm, the way women love him, his strength. He actually looks a little bit like Schindler, the same height, although Schindler was a rotund man,” he said. “If I had made the movie in 1964, I would have cast Gert Frobe, the late German actor. That’s what he looked like.”

Besides having Neeson listen to recordings of Schindler, the director also told him to study the gestures of former Time Warner chairman Steven J. Ross, another of Spielberg’s mentors, and the man to whom he dedicated the film.

9. Spielberg did his own research.

In order to gain a more personal perspective on the film, Spielberg traveled to Poland before principal photography began to interview Holocaust survivors and visit the real-life locations that he planned to portray in the movie. While there, he visited the former Gestapo headquarters on Pomorska Street, Schindler’s actual apartment, and Amon Goeth’s villa.

Eventually the film shot on location for 92 days in Poland by recreating the Płaszów camp in a nearby abandoned rock quarry. The production was also allowed to shoot scenes outside the gates of Auschwitz.

10. The little girl in the red coat was real.

Promotional image for 25th anniversary rerelease of Schindler's List.
Universal Pictures

A symbol of innocence in the movie, the little girl in the red coat who appears during the liquidation of the ghetto in the movie was based on a real person. In the film, the little girl is played by actress Oliwia Dabrowska, who—at the age of three—promised Spielberg that she would not watch the film until she was 18 years old. She allegedly watched the movie when she was 11, breaking her promise, and spent years rejecting the experience. Later, she told the Daily Mail, “I realized I had been part of something I could be proud of. Spielberg was right: I had to grow up to watch the film.”

The actual girl in the red coat was named Roma Ligocka; a survivor of the Krakow ghetto, she was known amongst the Jews living there by her red winter coat. Ligocka, now a painter who lives in Germany, later wrote a biography about surviving the Holocaust called The Girl in the Red Coat.

11. The movie wasn't supposed to be in English.

For a better sense of reality, Spielberg originally wanted to shoot the movie completely in Polish and German using subtitles, but he eventually decided against it because he felt that it would take away from the urgency and importance of the images onscreen. According to Spielberg, “I wanted people to watch the images, not read the subtitles. There’s too much safety in reading. It would have been an excuse to take their eyes off the screen and watch something else.”

12. The studio didn't want the movie to be in black and white.

The only person at MCA/Universal who agreed with Spielberg and director of cinematography Janusz Kaminski’s decision to shoot the movie in black and white was Sheinberg. Everyone else lobbied against the idea, saying that it would stylize the Holocaust. Spielberg and Kaminski chose to shoot the film in a grimy, unstylish fashion and format inspired by German Expressionist and Italian Neorealist films. Also, according to Spielberg, “It’s entirely appropriate because I’ve only experienced the Holocaust through other people’s testimonies and through archival footage which is, of course, all in black and white.”

13. Spielberg's passion project paid off in Oscars.

Schindler’s List was the big winner at the 66th Academy Awards. The film won a total of seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director awards for Spielberg. Neeson and Ralph Fiennes were both nominated for their performances, and the film also received nods for Costume Design, Makeup, and Sound.

14. Schindler's List is technically a student film.

Steven Spielberg gives a speech
Nicholas Hunt, Getty Images

Thirty-three years after dropping out of college, Spielberg finally received a BA in Film and Video Production from his newly minted alma mater, Cal State Long Beach, in 2002. The director re-enrolled in secret, and gained his remaining credits by writing essays and submitting projects under a pseudonym. In order to pass a film course, he submitted Schindler’s List as his student project. Spielberg describes the time gap between leaving school and earning his degree as his “longest post-production schedule.”

15. Spielberg thinks the film may be even more important to watch today.

In honor of the film's 25th anniversary, it's currently back in theaters. But Spielberg believes that the film may be even more important for today's audiences to see. "I think this is maybe the most important time to re-release this film," the director said in a recent interview with Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News. Citing the spike in hate crimes targeting religious minorities since
2016, he said, "Hate's less parenthetical today, it's more a headline."

Additional Sources:
The Making of Schindler’s List: Behind the Scenes of an Epic Film, by Franciszek Palowski

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2015.

The Most-Searched Holiday Movie in Every State, Mapped

iStock.com/chrispecoraro
iStock.com/chrispecoraro

Do you live in a Gremlins state or a Home Alone state? StreamingObserver is here to tell you. The streaming-industry site recently used Rotten Tomatoes and other public data sources to figure out the most popular Christmas movies in each state. Spoiler: It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t quite the Christmas classic you thought it was.

The list takes some liberties with what might be considered a “Christmas” movie. Die Hard (a favorite in Missouri and Wisconsin) made the list, as did Batman Returns (California’s most-searched movie) and Edward Scissorhands (popular in Nevada and Arizona). They aren’t quite the traditional Hallmark holiday fare, but they each include at least some nod to the Christmas season.

Then there’s the more standard Yuletide entertainment, like A Christmas Carol (Tennessee’s favorite) and Frosty the Snowman (South Dakota's pick). Christmas in Connecticut, oddly enough, is Montana’s favorite (unclear whether that’s the 1945 film or the 1992 TV movie), while Connecticut’s favorite is the 1983 Eddie Murphy film Trading Places. The Apartment, The Snowman, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Best Man Holiday also make an appearance. Seven states list Gremlins as their favorite, while six chose Home Alone and three chose Scrooged.

The data is based on Google searches, rather than surveys, so it's possible that the movie at the top of each state's list isn't so much beloved as it is curiosity-inspiring. It's possible that all these people are Googling Gremlins, then deciding not to watch it. But we feel fairly confident saying a lot of people will be watching Die Hard this Christmas season. (Tip: You can't stream it on Netflix right now, but you can rent it on Amazon.)

The 2018 results are fairly different from StreamingObserver's 2016 data, which you can compare here. Do you agree with your state's preferences?

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