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10 Fascinating Facts About Thunderball

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We’ve seen 20 (21 if you count the unofficial Never Say Never Again) James Bond films since the release of Thunderball 50 years ago, but it still hovers over Bond fandom like few other entries in the franchise can. It’s not necessarily the best movie in the ongoing spy saga (a lot of fans would give that honor to Goldfinger), nor is it the most expensive (that’s the recently released Spectre), but it is one of the most iconic Bond installments, a film that came along at exactly the right time and courted fans in exactly the right way. So, to celebrate its enduring legacy five decades after its release, here are 10 fascinating facts about the fourth big-screen James Bond adventure, from its odd origins to its wild stunt work.

1. IT STARTED AS A FILM, THEN BECAME A BOOK, THEN BECAME A FILM AGAIN.

In 1959, Bond creator Ian Fleming began considering a film version of his character, and collaborated with producer Kevin McClory and writer Jack Whittingham on a screenplay treatment. Fleming eventually tired of the movie business, and went back home to Jamaica to write his next Bond novel, Thunderball. McClory later sued, claiming the novel used elements from the film they’d worked on together. The suit settled out of court, but McClory was granted certain rights to Thunderball in the process, and ultimately served as a producer on the movie. Nearly two decades after Thunderball was released, he served as an executive producer on Never Say Never Again, a Bond film that saw the return of Sean Connery in the title role for the first time in more than a decade (produced by Warner Bros. and not Bond’s home studio of MGM). The plot is in many ways identical to Thunderball.

2. TERENCE YOUNG WAS NOT THE ORIGINAL DIRECTOR.

Producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman originally wanted Guy Hamilton—fresh off the success of the third Bond film, Goldfinger—to direct Thunderball, but Hamilton didn’t feel he had the energy.

“I was drained of ideas,” Hamilton said in an interview for The Making of Thunderball. “I was very fond of Bond, but felt that I had nothing to contribute until I’d recharged batteries.”

Producers then turned to Terence Young, who’d directed both Dr. No and From Russia with LoveThunderball would be his final Bond film. Hamilton later went on to direct Connery again in Diamonds Are Forever, and Roger Moore in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun.

3. HUNDREDS OF ACTRESSES WERE CONSIDERED FOR THE ROLE OF DOMINO.

The role of Domino Derval was set to be the most complex Bond Girl yet, and producers looked at hundreds of actresses for the role. Among the biggest names were Julie Christie, Raquel Welch, and Faye Dunaway, but the role eventually went to Claudine Auger, a former Miss France. Even Thunderball co-star Luciana Paluzzi auditioned for the role, but was actually overjoyed when she found out she’d be playing villain Fiona Volpe instead.

4. THE JETPACK REALLY WORKED, BUT THE PILOT WOULDN’T FLY WITHOUT A HELMET. 

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The Bell Rocket Belt used in the film’s opening sequence was a real working jetpack, and two qualified pilots were flown to France to operate it for the moment when Bond lifts off. Bill Suitor, who flew the jetpack on camera, was initially asked if he would mind flying without a helmet so that Bond could look cooler. Suitor refused for safety reasons, which is why Connery wore a helmet in the final film.

5. A CHASE SCENE NEARLY KILLED A STUNTMAN.

For the scene in which Fiona Volpe uses rockets launched from a motorcycle to blow up Count Lippe’s car, stuntman Bob Simmons was tasked with driving the car, then leaping out after the explosion took place. Simmons leapt out as the car crashed into a ditch, then seemed to disappear. As the crew frantically searched for him, Simmons walked up behind director Terence Young and asked him if he’d done the scene right. Footage from another angle later showed that Simmons had actually tried to stand up in the ditch and fallen backwards into the flaming car before escaping the scene.

6. THE BRITISH MILITARY THOUGHT BOND’S MINIATURE OXYGEN TANK WAS REAL. 

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Early in the film, Q gives Bond a tiny breathing apparatus that allows him to survive underwater for several minutes, and Bond puts it to good use when trapped in a closed pool with a bunch of sharks. The scene was so convincing that a member of the Royal Engineers called chief draftsman Peter Lamont and asked him how long the apparatus actually worked. Lamont replied “as long as you can hold your breath.” When the engineer countered that Bond was underwater for several minutes onscreen, Lamont replied it was “the skill of the editor.” The engineer eventually hung up.

7. THREE PEOPLE NARROWLY ESCAPED SHARK ATTACKS.

The scenes involving villain Emilio Largo’s shark-filled pool proved difficult for a number of reasons. Stuntman Bill Cummings, for a shot in which Largo throws someone into the pool to be devoured, asked for 250 pounds of hazard pay because he was actually being asked to leap onto a live shark (he survived). For the scenes in which Bond himself was trapped in the pool, things got trickier. Sean Connery was wary of swimming unprotected with live sharks, so production designer Ken Adam constructed an underwater partition made of Plexiglas, with one problem:

“What I didn’t tell Sean was that I could only get so much Plexiglas,” Adam later said.

So, there was a four-foot gap in the partition, and sure enough, one of the sharks managed to find it, leaving Connery with just enough time to escape the pool.

For a shot in which a shark swims toward Bond as he’s exiting the pool, missing him by inches, the crew decided to use a dead shark pulled by wires to reduce the danger. Special effects coordinator John Stears got in the pool to control the shark, surrounded by other live sharks, and as they began to shoot it became clear the shark wasn’t really dead. As it began moving, other sharks took notice, and a feeding frenzy ensued, leaving Stears in the middle of a bloodbath. As Stears yelled “Get me out of here!” Young shouted “Turn the cameras!,” hoping to capture the scene on film. Stears survived, and went on to win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects for Thunderball (he won a second Oscar in 1978 for a little film called Star Wars).

8. THE FILM’S CLIMACTIC EXPLOSION WAS BIGGER THAN ANYONE EXPECTED.

For the scene in which Largo’s yacht, the Disco Volante, crashes onto rocks and explodes, Stears turned to U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Charles Russhon, who’d also helped the Bond crew gain access to Fort Knox for Goldfinger. Russhon provided the production with experimental rocket fuel to help with the explosion, and Stears­—having no idea how powerful the stuff really was—loaded the yacht with it. The resulting explosion was so huge that it launched the boat into the air, almost causing it to land on the crew.

“I said ‘I don’t want to worry you guys, but the boat is coming down on top of us,’” Stears later recalled.

When the crew returned to Nassau after shooting the scene, they discovered the power of the explosion had also shattered windows all along Bay Street. They were 30 miles away from Nassau when the explosion occurred.

9. THE ORIGINAL THEME SONG WAS VERY DIFFERENT.

For the film’s theme, composers John Barry and Leslie Bricusse initially wrote a tune called “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” (which is why there’s a location called the “Kiss Kiss Club” in the film), and asked “Goldfinger” vocalist Shirley Bassey to sing it. Dionne Warwick later re-recorded the song, and producers were initially going to include it in the film, as long as the lyrics began after the title Thunderball appeared onscreen. Eventually, though, fearing there would be confusion if the theme song didn’t include the movie’s title in the lyrics, the song was pulled. Barry and lyricist Don Black then wrote “Thunderball,” performed by Tom Jones in the final film.

10. SEAN CONNERY DID NOT GO TO ANY PREMIERES BECAUSE FANS WERE TOO ENTHUSIASTIC.

Thunderball was a massive success, and the film’s release was met with an incredible reception. Some theaters stayed open 24 hours a day to keep screening the movie, and cast members attended various premiere events around the world (Molly Peters, who played Patricia Fearing, believes she saw the movie 16 times that year). One actor who didn’t go to the premieres, though: Sean Connery. Why? Because the Goldfinger premiere in Paris had been so huge that a female fan climbed into the car he was driving, prompting him to shy away from the Thunderball attention.

Additional Source: The Making of Thunderball and The Thunderball Phenomenon (1995)

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC

At its best, San Diego Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.

1. MAN IN HARRY POTTER T-SHIRT STABS ANOTHER MAN IN THE FACE—WITH A PEN

In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.

2. MEMORABILIA THIEVES INVADE NEW YORK

Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’s Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."

3. CATWOMAN SAVES THE DAY


John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox

Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”

4. MAN POSES AS FUGITIVE-SEEKING INVESTIGATOR TO GET INTO VIP ROOM

The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of 2016 and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Just a few months later, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

5. MAN WALKS 645 MILES TO COMIC-CON, DRESSED AS A STORMTROOPER, TO HONOR HIS LATE WIFE


Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.

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