15 Slam-Dunk Facts About Space Jam

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

More than two decades after Space Jam opened at the top of the U.S. box office, the fan favorite is finally getting a sequel, produced by Ryan Coogler and starring LeBron James. In the original live action/animated movie hybrid, Michael Jordan gets recruited by Looney Tunes characters to assist in a basketball faceoff between the Tune Squad and the alien Monstars. The kooky film didn't take itself too seriously, playing on its star's failed attempt at a baseball career following his first retirement from the NBA in 1993, and introduced a new generation to Danny DeVito. Before the sequel heads into production in 2019, look back on 15 ways the family-friendly classic hit 'em high.

1. THE CONCEPT BEGAN AS A COMMERCIAL.

One year before Space Jam hit theaters, Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny faced off in a game of one-on-one for a “Hare Jordan” Nike commercial. Jordan’s longtime agent David Falk saw the concept’s big-screen potential and brought the idea to Warner Bros. His timing couldn’t have been better: The studio was searching for the perfect way to re-launch the Looney Tunes franchise—and Space Jam was born. "I am forever astonished that any commercial I did was popular, let alone have a movie made from it,” Jim Riswold, the brains behind the commercial, told the Chicago Tribune.

2. MICHAEL J. FOX, JASON ALEXANDER, AND CHEVY CHASE TURNED IT DOWN.

The sports film was one of the first of its kind: a combination of animation and live action. To add to the challenge, taking a role in Space Jam would mean working with cartoon characters and an athlete with no acting credits to his name. As such, director Joe Pytka said he had problems casting the role of Jordan’s publicist, Stan Podolak. Michael J. Fox, Chevy Chase, and Jason Alexander all passed. Alexander's Seinfeld co-star, Wayne Knight, eventually took the job.

3. WARNER BROS. BUILT JORDAN HIS OWN GYM.

When the studio signed Jordan, there was an understanding that their lead actor would also be focused on laying the foundation for a championship run with the Chicago Bulls. They accommodated his day job by sticking to a strict production schedule (Pytka made sure that Jordan started at 9 a.m. and left no later than 6 p.m. with a two-hour break for lunch and a workout) and by building a temporary, indoor mini-gym on the lot, which Pytka christened the “Jordan Dome.

4. IN BETWEEN TAKES, JORDAN ORGANIZED PICKUP GAMES.

Jordan, known for his intense work ethic, made sure his free time didn’t go to waste. He gathered his co-stars for pickup games and extended the invite to anyone. Actor Keith Gibbs, who was an extra on the film, told Grantland, “I walk in, and it's Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Alonzo Mourning, Charles Oakley. Grant Hill shows up. Jerry Stackhouse shows up. Now, all of a sudden it's an NBA All-Star pickup game. Every night.”

And Jordan was just as generous with his trash-talk as he was with invites to the games: “Jordan hit a 35-footer on me," said Gibbs. "I mean, it was ridiculous: leg out, tongue out, all that stuff … hit a 35-footer on me and goes, 'Get the f**** off the court.'"

5. HE TEED OFF AGAINST BILL MURRAY AND LARRY BIRD.

In some ways, a game of golf set the stage for the entire film. Jordan only meets Bugs and joins the Tunes world after he gets sucked down a golf hole. So it only makes sense that the game played a role off-screen as well: bonding time for some of the actors, Murray revealed on Grantland’s Pop Culture podcast in 2014. “That was really a lot of fun,” he said.

6. THE MOVIE WAS FILMED ALMOST ENTIRELY WITH A GREEN SCREEN—AND ACTORS WEARING GREEN SUITS.

With the input of 150 animators, Cinesite created a world of live action and animation. But to bring that world to theaters, Jordan needed stand-ins for the cartoon characters. The studio brought in a troupe of comedic actors who donned all green and ran around on their knees. The result: Jordan was able to simulate the correct eye level, as if he were actually looking at Bugs and friends. The movie was one of the largest visual effects film of its time, according to its VFX supervisor, Ed Jones.

7. IT INTRODUCED BUGS BUNNY’S GIRLFRIEND.

Lola Bunny sashayed onto the scene with blonde bangs, a feminist catchphrase (“Don’t call me doll”), and impressive game on the court. It’s no wonder that audiences fell in love with her even before Bugs. She would go on to make appearances in DC Comics’ monthly Looney Tunes comics, the webtoon Dating Do’s and Don’ts, and The Looney Tunes Show (where she was voiced by Kristen Wiig).

8. IT FEATURED A LOT OF NBA TALENT.

It pays to have friends in talented places. Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson, Shawn Bradley, Del Harris, Vlade Divac, Cedric Ceballos, Paul Westphal, Danny Ainge, Alonzo Mourning, A.C. Green, Charles Oakley, Derek Harper, Jeff Malone, Anthony Miller, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Luc Longley, Brian Shaw, Bill Wennington, and Scottie Pippen were among the dozens of pro ballers and coaches who made credited and uncredited appearances in the movie.

9. RESIDUAL CHECKS FOR APPEARANCES ARE STILL BEING DOLED OUT.

If you don’t remember spotting Jim Rome in Space Jam, you’re probably not alone. The sports radio host makes a tiny cameo in the beginning of the film—and his stint continues to pay off, ever so slightly. In 2014, the sportscaster shared a snap of his residual check:

10. CRITICAL OPINION ON THE FILM WAS MIXED.

Roger Ebert may have called the movie “a happy marriage of good ideas” and awarded it three-and-a-half stars, but critics were divided on the film. The Washington Post’s Rita Kempley wrote that director "Pytka brings the attention span of the average gnat to the project, which lacks both coherence and cohesiveness," while Variety’s Todd McCarthy dubbed it “generally amusing rather than outright funny."

11. IT’S THE HIGHEST GROSSING BASKETBALL FILM OF ALL TIME.

The hoops-focused film racked up more than $90 million in theaters, toppling the previous record-holder, 1992’s White Men Can’t Jump.

12. THE MOVIE KNEW HOW TO DELIVER A PUNCH LINE.

If it has been a while since you’ve gone down memory lane with Jordan, you might have forgotten a few of the film’s jabs at both its stars and its rivals. Charles Barkley tries to bargain with God for his basketball skills, promising that he’ll “never go out with Madonna again.” It was a reference to rumors of a 1993 romance with the "Like A Virgin" singer. In another scene, all of Jordan’s endorsements get name-checked, in a nod to his many, many promotions. There’s even a diss aimed at Disney: After Daffy suggests the team go by "The Ducks," Bugs Bunny responds with "Please! What kind of Mickey Mouse organization would name their team the Ducks?" (Disney's The Mighty Ducks had been released four years earlier, in 1992.)

13. THE FILM’S ORIGINAL WEBSITE IS STILL UP AND RUNNING.

In 2011, we wrote about how the website was still running in all its mid-'90s glory, complete with a coloring book section and original character sketches. Seven years later, it's still there. Created during a time when putting a URL on a movie poster was still a new concept, the promo site is like a beloved time capsule of Hollywood history. Take a look here.

14. AN EARLIER SEQUEL WAS STARTED, BUT QUICKLY HALTED.

In 2015, LeBron James teased fans with the possibility of a Space Jam sequel after he announced his plan to work on projects with Warner Bros., which owns the rights to both Looney Tunes and the Space Jam name. But it wasn’t the first talk of a follow-up to the film: In 1997, it was impossible for studio executives to resist trying to repeat the box office success of the first film. So when a producer confirmed that Jordan was in for a sequel, the studio jumped on the opportunity.

Pytka returned to direct and the studio began gathering other key players, according to animator Bob Camp. The screenplay wasn’t fully completed, but Warner Bros. knew they wanted to pit a renowned comedy star against their all-star athlete. The studio hoped that Mel Brooks would voice their planned villain, Berserk-O!. Unfortunately, before the studio could get a commitment from Brooks, they got bad news: Jordan wasn’t actually on board. An unnamed producer “was saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, Jordan is on,’" said Camp. "But he was lying. The guy didn’t have Jordan hooked up with the project." So the studio immediately shut down Space Jam 2.

15. IT LAUNCHED A SOUNDTRACK THAT WENT PLATINUM.

R. Kelly’s Grammy Award-winning track “I Believe I Can Fly” buoyed the soundtrack to second place on the Billboard 200 chart and introduced a new generation to R&B. The memorable album was certified as double platinum less than two months after its release. By 2001, it had reached platinum status, six times over.

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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