14 Slithery Facts About Snakes on a Plane
While the plot is hardly the point of Snakes on a Plane, we may as well mention that the 2006 movie starred Samuel L. Jackson as Neville Flynn, an FBI agent tasked with escorting the key witness in a murder trial against mob boss Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson) from Hawaii to California. It's Kim who is responsible for smuggling a bunch of poisonous snakes onto the aircraft on which Flynn and his charge are traveling, in an attempt to kill the witness (played by Nathan Phillips). The movie achieved a ton of internet buzz and was more transparently fan-sourced than any other film in history.
1. THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT WAS TURNED DOWN BY EVERY HOLLYWOOD STUDIO.
David Dalessandro, the associate vice chancellor of university development at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote a screenplay called Venom after reading a 1992 magazine article about Indonesian brown tree snakes climbing onto planes during World War II. His first two drafts were about one poisonous snake getting loose on a plane. After seeing Aliens, he realized he needed to have a lot more snakes and that they needed to be a deadly breeds like the Australian taipan. In 1995, the script was offered up to all 30 Hollywood studios—and all of them said no. Four years later, Craig Berenson—an executive at DreamWorks—remembered the script and pitched the idea to his colleagues over margaritas. Explaining the concept and then the title, Snakes on a Plane, the room reportedly "exploded with groans." He took that as a good sign. ''A visceral reaction is half the battle," Berenson explained. "That was gold as far as I was concerned.''
2. SAMUEL L. JACKSON AGREED TO STAR IN THE MOVIE BEFORE HE EVEN READ THE SCRIPT.
Jackson read in the trades that Ronny Yu was directing a movie called Snakes on a Plane. Intrigued, Jackson emailed Yu and asked him what the movie was about. "And he said, 'Poisonous snakes get loose on an airplane.' And I'm like, 'Wow, think I can be in that?' And he was like, 'You really want to be in it?' And I said 'Yes, I really want to be in it.'"
Though Yu eventually left the project (he was replaced by David R. Ellis), Jackson stayed on. Julianna Margulies (flight attendant Claire Miller) admitted that seeing Jackson's name attached to the ridiculous title "elevated" the project in her eyes. David Koechner (co-pilot Rick) also agreed to do the movie after hearing the title and that Jackson would be starring. When asked about the most outrageous lie he's ever read about himself, Koechner told MTV, "That I did Snakes on a Plane for free ... That was something on Wikipedia."
3. JACKSON ALMOST QUIT WHEN THE TITLE WAS CHANGED.
New Line Cinema changed the movie's title to Pacific Air 121, with the official explanation that the studio "didn't want to give too much away" about the movie. Jackson disagreed with that logic. ''I was like, ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR F***ING MINDS?! That's EXACTLY what you want to do!'' he told Entertainment Weekly. ''How else are you going to get people into the movie? Nobody wants to see Pacific Air 121. That's like saying Boat to Heaven. People either want to see this movie or they don't. So let 'em know: If you're coming to see this movie, you're going to see a plane full of deadly-ass snakes. That's what it should be called. Deadly-Ass Snakes on a Plane." Jackson forced New Line's hand by telling reporters that he was working on a movie called Snakes on a Plane. Jackson told TIME the title change to Pacific Flight 121 was "the stupidest damn thing I ever heard."
4. JACKSON ALSO GOT UPSET OVER THE INTENDED PG-13 RATING.
After insisting some R-rated versions of scenes should be shot in case New Line changed their minds about making Snakes on a Plane a PG-13 movie, the popularity of the 2005 R-rated comedy Wedding Crashers helped convince the studio president that Snakes "needed more intensity." They went back for re-shoots four months after filming wrapped to add to the viciousness, and, among other things, upgrade the bathroom make-out session to a full-on sex scene.
5. BOBBY CANNAVALE DIDN'T WANT TO BE IN THE MOVIE.
Earlier this year, Bobby Cannavale admitted that he ultimately trusts his gut when deciding on movie and television roles. The one time he listened to his managers was when they insisted he work on Snakes on a Plane, playing Special Agent Hank Harris. "I was like, ‘Guys, it’s called Snakes on a Plane!!!’ I remember this conversation," Cannavale recalled. "They were like, ‘It’s going to be huge! You should do it. Gotta do it. It’s gonna allow you to get cast in other things.’"
6. VEGAS GOT IN ON THE BUILD-UP.
One Las Vegas booking agency took bets on how many times Jackson would "utter his crude catchphrase during the 105-minute film."
7. THE DIRECTOR ORIGINALLY WANTED MORE DANGEROUS SNAKES.
David R. Ellis requested taipans and vipers and other lethal snake species. Snake wrangler Jules Sylvester insisted it would be too dangerous to use actual poisonous snakes on an airplane full of people and a camera crew. Instead, Sylvester provided a bunch of look-alikes: the harmless tiger rat snake rattles its tail like a rattlesnake to defend itself from potential enemies. The same went for a milk snake that doubled convincingly for the deadly Brazilian coral snake.
8. ALL THE STRIKE SEQUENCES WERE COMPUTER-GENERATED.
Only one third of the snakes were real. No more than 60 real snakes were on set at any one time. The snakes were regularly swapped out during filming because, according to Sylvester, "They get tired after 15 or 20 minutes, so we have to change snakes continuously."
9. THE SNAKES GAVE JACKSON HIS SPACE.
"I never even touched a snake while we were shooting," Jackson admitted. "My agents put into the contract: 'No snakes within 25 feet of Mr. Jackson.' They were more scared of the snakes than I was.''
10. THE "MOTHERF*CKER" LINE WAS WRITTEN BY A FAN.
Chris Rohan created an R-rated audio trailer for Snakes on a Plane, just off of the title. A Jackson sound-alike shouted, "I want these motherf*cking snakes off the motherf*cking plane!" Fans then vociferously claimed they wanted Jackson to say that in the real movie. During the R-rated re-shoots, Jackson and the studio obliged.
11. IT WAS DAVID R. ELLIS' IDEA TO NOT SCREEN THE MOVIE FOR CRITICS.
"The decision to not screen it for critics was mine," Ellis told The A.V. Club, "the reason being ... and it's the same reason that we didn't test the movie. The buzz on the internet because of all the fans has been so insane that to screen it—we did not want to kill the buzz." The movie is 68 percent fresh according to the 171 reviews tabulated by Rotten Tomatoes.
12. AUDIENCE MEMBERS TOOK THE TITLE TOO FAR AT ONE SCREENING.
"Pranksters" released two diamondback rattlesnakes during a Phoenix showing of the movie. Nobody was hurt. The snakes were later released into the desert.
13. IT ONLY DID OKAY AT THE BOX OFFICE, DESPITE THE HUGE BUZZ.
"With all the expectations, you have to say we would be disappointed," New Line's president of distribution said about the film's $13.8 million opening weekend. "But Snakes on a Plane did what tracking said it would, and it basically performed like a regular horror movie." Shot on a budget of $33 million, the movie made more than $62 million worldwide.
14. JACKSON HAS NO REGRETS.
“I still choose movies because they are movies I would go see when I was a kid,” Jackson explained. “So when people criticize Snakes on a Plane, I go, well, you know, ‘F— you,’ you know? That’s one of the movies I would have gone to see as a kid, and I am definitely glad to see me in it.”