10 Towering Facts About The Iron Giant

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

When Brad Bird's feature directorial debut hit theaters on August 6, 1999, the film was a critical success. But due to misdirected marketing from Warner Bros., that positive reception didn't carry over into the box office. The Iron Giant would have to wait until the next millennium to achieve its cult status as a modern animated classic. Here are 10 facts worth knowing about the beloved cartoon.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TED HUGHES NOVEL.

Nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes—and his mother, Annie Hughes—both share a name with the British Poet Laureate who wrote the children’s book the film is based on. Published in 1968, Ted Hughes penned The Iron Man to comfort his children after the suicide of his wife, Sylvia Plath. 

The novel tells the story of a mysterious metal monster who befriends a young boy and becomes the world’s most unlikely hero, but its similarities to the film end there. When Hogarth first encounters the Iron Man in the book, he tricks him by leading him to a covered pit and burying him alive. The robot remains buried for months, eventually digging himself out in time to save the planet from an extraterrestrial invader dubbed the "Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon." The alien later reveals that it had been drawn to the planet by the warfare it witnessed there. The Iron Giant’s anti-war sentiments are slightly more straightforward, with the Giant (spoiler) protecting the world from a nuclear bomb instead of an interstellar dragon.

2. THE SCRIPT RECEIVED PRAISE FROM THE AUTHOR.

Sadly, Hughes passed away a year before the movie was released. He did, however, live long enough to read the script. Despite its departure from the source material, Hughes was impressed. He expressed his approval in a letter to the studio: "I want to tell you how much I like what Brad Bird has done … He’s made a terrific dramatic situation out of the way he’s developed The Iron Giant. I can’t stop thinking about it."

3. IT WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO BE A PETE TOWNSHEND MUSICAL.

Before The Iron Man was reimagined as an animated children’s film, it was adapted by The Who guitarist Pete Townshend into a solo concept album of the same name. The 1989 rock opera feature such tracks as "Man Machines," "A Friend Is A Friend," and "I Eat Heavy Metal." In the early '90s, Townshend relaunched his musical concept as an onstage production. This attracted the attention of Warner Bros., and the studio secured the rights with the intention of turning it into an animated musical. 

But Townshend’s rock opera vision never did make it onto the big screen. After Bird signed on to direct, he scrapped the musical numbers and reworked the script, further removing the story from both the rock album and the children’s book it was based on. Townshend remained credited as an executive producer, and after seeing the movie he reportedly commented, "Well, whatever, I got paid."

4. IT WAS BRAD BIRD’S FIRST FEATURE.

As the director of two beloved Pixar films, The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007), Bird—a two-time Oscar winner—is considered one of the most respected figures in the animation biz. But it was The Iron Giant that proved his directing chops and instinct for story to John Lasseter and the rest of the Pixar team. 

Before directing his first feature for Warner Bros. animation, Bird got his start at Disney. He sent an animated short to the studio and Disney legend Milt Kahl was so impressed that he took on a teenaged Bird as his protégé. His first animation job was working on The Fox and the Hound (1981), and a few years later he was offered his first shot at writing and directing for the Steven Spielberg series Amazing Stories. Bird really began to receive recognition in the industry after joining The Simpsons. He directed the classic episode “Krusty Gets Busted," which paved the way for him to direct his first feature. For a while that was shaping up to be Ray Gunn, a retro-futuristic film noir inspired by a misunderstanding of a B-52s lyric. He was developing the script for Turner when the studio merged with Warner Bros., and they transferred him to work on an in-development project called The Iron Giant instead.

5. THE TITLE CHARACTER WAS COMPUTER GENERATED.

Despite being considered one of America’s last great traditionally animated films, The Iron Giant’s title character was created entirely with a computer. The creators took careful steps to make sure the Giant blended in seamlessly with the hand-drawn world. They even went so far as to develop a computer program to make the character’s lines wobble slightly, producing a crude, hand-drawn effect. 

6. IT FEATURES A PRE-FAST AND FURIOUS VIN DIESEL.

Before making a name for himself as an action star, Vin Diesel provided his voice to the towering robot in The Iron Giant. Not counting groans and grunts, the Giant utters a grand total of 53 words in the entire film. When Diesel returned to feature voice acting 15 years later for Guardians of the Galaxy, he played Groot, a character whose vocabulary is even more severely limited. 

7. THE DESIGN WAS INSPIRED BY THE ART OF NORMAN ROCKWELL.

The Iron Giant takes place in an idyllic Maine town in the 1950s—a perfect contrast to the themes of McCarthy-era paranoia the film explores. To give the setting more of a wholesome, Americana look, the creators drew inspiration from the art of Edward Hopper, N.C. Wyeth, and Norman Rockwell. Even the fictional town’s name—Rockwell—is a nod to the iconic American artist. 

8. BRAD BIRD REJECTED THE COMPARISONS TO E.T.

It’s easy to see how a movie about a misunderstood boy who befriends a visitor from outer space, hides him from the government, then says a tearful goodbye following a climactic aerial chase scene would draw comparisons to E.T. CNN’s review mentions the "charming E.T.-like friendship between the boy and the intimidating but apparently benign metal giant," while Roger Ebert said, "Imagine E.T. as a towering metal man, and you have some of the appeal of The Iron Giant." While these comments aren’t exactly negative, Bird apparently didn’t find the comparisons too flattering. He told Salon, "E.T. doesn't go kicking ass. He doesn't make the Army pay. Certainly you risk having your hip credentials taken away if you want to evoke anything sad or genuinely heartfelt."

9. IT INCLUDES CAMEOS FROM TWO DISNEY ANIMATORS.

Though the film was produced by Disney’s historic rival Warner Bros., Bird managed to slip in cameos from two of the studio’s greatest animators. The train workers Kent interviews at the train crash scene are voiced by and modeled after Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Bird’s mentors during his early years at Disney. They also make an appearance at the end of The Incredibles.

10. IT GAINED A CULT FOLLOWING AFTER IT LEFT THEATERS. 

By the time Warner Bros. realized they had something special on their hands with The Iron Giant, it already was too late. The film was criminally under-marketed and performed poorly at the box office as a result. The studio had learned its lesson when it came time to promote the movie’s home video release. They partnered with big-name brands like General Motors, Honey Nut Cheerios, and AOL, and even distributed $2 off coupons at screenings of Pokémon: The First Movie. Then in 2000, the rights to the film were sold to Cartoon Network and TNT. Cartoon Network started airing Iron Giant marathons on Independence Day and Thanksgiving, and as more children (and adults) were introduced to the film it eventually gained a devoted fanbase.

13 Great Rockumentaries Every Music (and Movie) Fan Should See

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

More people are watching documentaries these days, which likely means that more people are rocking their faces off with nonfiction. Far from Ken Burns’s soothing tones, these music-filled films demand amplification and an unseemly amount of perspiration.

Rock documentaries are tricky beasts. Though they often have the built-in advantage of following around famous people, they aren’t immune to boredom and eye-rolling faux depth. Keeping it simple by showcasing the music can be good, but it’s no way to be great. The best of the best manage to deliver a stellar soundscape, offer a backstage pass to the real humans who make it, and hold our ears even if we aren’t already devoted fans. If a little history gets made in the process, even better.

Grab a seat next to Penny Lane on the bus. Here are 13 of the best documentaries that every music—and film—fan should add to their Must Watch list.

1. WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE U.S.A. (1964)

A singular piece of filmmaking where nonfiction talent met transcendent musical genius on the threshold of gargantuan stardom, this is the best Beatles documentary ever produced. Directed by legendary documentarians Albert and David Maysles, the film captures the band’s first frivolous jaunt through America, where they raised the screaming decibel level in The Ed Sullivan Show theater and goofed off in hotel rooms. It’s an explosion of youth before they changed music forever.

2. DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)

Another marriage of style, skill, and subject, Don't Look Back helped shape how the rockumentary genre could provide insights into the people who shape our popular culture. That so many iconic moments emerged from D.A. Pennebaker’s watershed work, which strolled with Bob Dylan through England in 1965, is a testament to the legendary musician's infinite magnetism. The cue cards, singing with Joan Baez in a hotel room on the edge of breaking up, the Mississippi voter registration rally, and on and on. Since it portrayed fame’s effect on the artist, the art, and the audience, most every other rock doc has been chasing its brilliance.

3. GIMME SHELTER (1970)

The rockumentary has evolved to be as diverse as the sonic landscape itself, which is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can send up the current scene just like This Is Spinal Tap! did in the 1980s. Still, 1970 feels like the year that defined the rockumentary. Another Maysles joint, this profound doc captured The Rolling Stones touring at a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world and only getting bigger. The music is powerful and immediate, and the film closes with their appearance at the Altamont Free Concert, which turned deadly when—after a day of skirmishes between concertgoers and the Hell’s Angels acting as security—a fan with a gun was stabbed to death when he tried to get on stage during “Under My Thumb.”

4. WOODSTOCK (1970)

The other 1970 film that helped define the genre allowed thousands to claim they’d been to the biggest concert event of the generation without actually going. If rock ‘n’ roll emerged from unruly teenage years into conflicted young adulthood in the 1960s, nothing stamped that image in henna ink better than Woodstock and the documentary that accompanied it. The bands that appear are legendary: Crosby, Stills & Nash; The Who; Joe Cocker singing The Beatles; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and many more. It’s a fly-by of the three days of peace and music that you could play on repeat with summery ease.

5. ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973)

Rock doc royalty D.A. Pennebaker captured David Bowie’s final performance in his red-domed sci-fi persona at London's Hammersmith Odeon with a flair that captures the frenetic energy of the room. The crowd is as much a part of the moment as the band is, as the camera places you in the middle of a transitional moment in music history. To see Bowie that close up now is a wonder. And, naturally, the music is out of this world.

6. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)

Instead of following the famous, Penelope Spheeris’s debut dug its nails deep into the Los Angeles punk scene at the turn of the decade. Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and other bands your parents have never heard of perform mosh pit-sparking anthems and show off their living conditions like a grungy proto-version of MTV Cribs. There’s a purity here missing from most music docs—a chronicle of people whose passion far, far outweighs their paychecks, and a screening that led the LAPD to request that the movie never be shown in LA again.

7. SIGN "☮" THE TIMES (1987)

Having Prince at the center of your concert doc is a shortcut to ensuring it’s one of the best of all time. There’s the music, of course. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look,” and Sheila E. beating the hell out of her drum kit. There’s also The Purple One's inexhaustible energy and stage presence. As a bonus, the film jumps between concert footage and (instead of candid hotel conversations) a sci-fi narrative where we get to go to Prince Planet. It’s a rocky, disorienting experience that could have only been held so tightly together by a master showman.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991)

It might be hard to explain to a younger audience just how dominant Madonna was as an artist coming out of the 1980s or the kind of landmark event this film represented because of her status. The travelogue of her Blonde Ambition Tour was like peeking into the insane world of the ultra-famous—not least because Madonna was dating Warren Beatty at the time and part of the film involves her hanging out with Al Pacino, Lionel Richie, and more. There are threats that the Canadian police will arrest her for simulating masturbation in her show, the Pope trying to get the tour canceled in Italy, and a slightly awkward return home to see family. All par for the course for someone whose personal life was carved up for public consumption.

9. RHYME & REASON (1997)

An unparalleled look into the lyricism and lifestyle of rap musicians from the genre’s rise through its global domination of the 1990s, the concert and party footage is fantastic, and the number of interviews is staggering. Peter Spirer spoke with more than 80 rap and hip-hop artists to craft a snapshot of what life was like for a group of musicians who discovered their voices could echo across the world as well as those who followed after to even greater success. Instead of going deep on one person behind the music, it’s a historical document of the culture itself as seen through the eyes of those at its very center.

10. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005)

For those who don’t know Daniel Johnston’s music, this doc is a crash course not only in its stripped-down, anti-folk vibes but the head it all comes spilling out of. Instead of romanticizing or ignoring his bipolar disorder, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie engages with it directly, drawing beautiful gems from a troubled mind. An absolute masterpiece, it’s less a vision of a musician giving glimpses into his real life than it is a vision of a human being who makes music.

11. AWESOME; I F*CKIN’ SHOT THAT! (2006)

Rockumentaries follow two major formats: the raw concert doc that’s like a ticket to a show you couldn’t attend, and the profile where artists drop quotables in between performances. They’re safe and familiar, which is probably why the Beastie Boys gave both styles the middle finger in favor of a grand experiment. A year before YouTube launched, the rap trio gave 50 fans in their Madison Square Garden audience camcorders to capture the concert. The result is a genuine, fans’-eye-view of the experience, and a chaotic mashup of perspectives.

12. THE PUNK SINGER (2013)

It’s astonishing how much time and ground Sini Anderson’s portrait of Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna covers. It’s so much that labeling her Bikini Kill’s leader is woefully reductive. Artist, pioneer, feminist, activist, and a dozen other titles swirl around Hanna’s sweat-covered brow as we get to know her both as an artist and as a person. It’s also a punk fever dream of riot grrrl greatness, featuring incendiary archival footage and excellent talks with members of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and Julie Ruin, as well as Carrie Brownstein and the Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz (who is also Hanna’s husband).

13. JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015)

A fairly recent addition to the pantheon, Amy J. Berg’s doc is a stirring tour of archival footage of the gravel-throated songstress. Narrated by musician Cat Power, instead of losing perspective to the fog of history, a blend of modern conversations and ghosts from the past offer fresh eyes and ears to create a heartsick celebration of one of music history's most beloved artists, whose career was cut woefully short.

20 Memorable Elvis Presley Quotes

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More than 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n' roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. Here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.

ON AMBITION

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

ON MAINTAINING YOUR VALUES

“It's not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it's who you are.”

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”

ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”

“I've never written a song in my life. It's all a big hoax.”

“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to.”

ON THE ARMY

“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.”

“The army teaches boys to think like men.”

ON TRUTH

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.”

ON THOSE LEGENDARY DANCE MOVES

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.”

“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.”

ON KEEPING POSITIVE

“When things go wrong, don't go with them.”

ON STARDOM

“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”

“I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.”

“The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.”

ON LOVE

“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.”

ON THE PITFALLS OF HOLLYWOOD

“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”

ON GETTING OLDER

“Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”

ON LEAVING A LEGACY

“Do something worth remembering.”

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