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14 Big Facts About Little Miss Sunshine

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Riding around in an old VW bus with a motivational speaker, an angsty teen, a depressed Proust scholar, and a surly grandpa sounds like a terrible time. But Little Miss Sunshine managed to turn the Hoover family road trip into a delightful experience. In honor of the indie darling’s 10-year anniversary, check out these facts about the movie’s Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired screenplay and numerous Breaking Bad references.

1. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER SPARKED THE IDEA.

The Terminator himself accidentally inspired the Little Miss Sunshine screenplay. Screenwriter Michael Arndt was struck by a speech that Arnold Schwarzenegger gave to a bunch of high school students which included the lines, “If there’s one thing in this world that I hate, it’s losers, I despise them.” As Arndt explained at a 2007 bookstore appearance, “I thought, there’s something just so wrong with that attitude. There’s something so demeaning and insulting about referring to any other person as a loser, and I wanted to … attack that idea that in life you’re either going up or you’re going down.”

2. THE SCREENWRITER WAS MATTHEW BRODERICK’S ASSISTANT.

Before Arndt wrote Little Miss Sunshine, he held down a job as Matthew Broderick’s personal assistant. He eventually quit to focus on his writing, and it paid off big time. After winning an Academy Award for his very first script, he went on to pen the screenplays for Toy Story 3, Inside Out, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

3. A MARRIED COUPLE DIRECTED IT.

Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are partners both professionally and personally. The couple met as college students at UCLA in 1980; he was a film major, she was into dance. They married eight years later and decided to collaborate on some short films. Throughout the 1990s, the pair directed music videos for the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Smashing Pumpkins (like this one). But it wasn’t until they read the Little Miss Sunshine script in 2001 that they made the leap into features.

4. IT TOOK FIVE YEARS TO MAKE THE MOVIE.

Little Miss Sunshine languished in development hell for half a decade. After several rounds of failed pitches, the producers managed to sell Focus Features on the project. But two years of arguing with the directors over the shooting location and cast took its toll on the studio and they eventually dropped the movie. Luckily, producer Marc Turtletaub intervened. He bought the rights back from Focus and financed the project himself. By 2006, it was finally completed and ready to screen.

5. BILL MURRAY AND ROBIN WILLIAMS WERE CONSIDERED FOR ROLES.

Since the movie was in production for so long, many Hollywood names were discussed before the final cast was confirmed. Robin Williams, Alec Baldwin, and David Duchovny were all considered for the part of Richard Hoover, which eventually went to Greg Kinnear. Donald Sutherland almost played grouchy grandpa Edwin at one point (Alan Arkin won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the part), and Bill Murray was the leading choice for Frank (Steve Carell’s character).

6. THE DIRECTORS DREW ON A 1973 PBS REALITY SHOW.

In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Dayton and Faris cited the PBS series An American Family as one of their inspirations. Considered the first reality show, this 1973 documentary series followed the Loud family over seven months. Its frank portrayal of family life often cast the Louds in a harsh light, but that’s what attracted Dayton and Faris. “That’s another story of horrible characters that you end up rooting for,” Dayton said. “We may not be able to identify with a gay Proust scholar, but what you can always relate to is someone who has passion in their life.”

7. DWAYNE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A MOHAWKED BEEFCAKE.

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Cheryl’s sullen, silent son Dwayne was a little different in the original casting notes. The Los Angeles Times described this Dwayne as a “Mohawk-sporting bodybuilder.” But Dayton and Faris cast skinny, floppy-haired Paul Dano in the role instead because the then-22-year-old actor was too good to pass up. “His Mohawk was a feeling, not an external statement,” Dayton joked.

8. REAL CHILD BEAUTY PAGEANT CONTESTANTS APPEARED IN THE MOVIE.

The directors spent several months attending child beauty pageants as research for the film. So when they were finally ready to shoot, they asked actual contestants they had met to play Olive’s rivals in the fictional “Little Miss Sunshine” competition. Those contestants included eight-year-old girls like Maliah Hudson, who had been a fixture of the pageant circuit since she was an infant.

9. ABIGAIL BRESLIN REALLY WAS LISTENING TO MUSIC IN THE BUS SCENES.

Foul-mouthed Edwin Hoover has no qualms about dropping F-bombs in front of his young granddaughter, because Olive always has music blasting from her headphones. It turns out Abigail Breslin did, too. Because Alan Arkin was concerned about saying some of his cruder lines in front of the young actress, the crew made sure Breslin’s Discman was loaded with Kelly Clarkson tunes at all times. She really didn’t hear a word Arkin said until she watched the completed film.

10. THERE ARE SEVERAL CONNECTIONS TO BREAKING BAD.

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Little Miss Sunshine dropped in 2006, a full two years before AMC premiered its meth empire masterpiece Breaking Bad. Oddly, the movie seemed to anticipate the critically-acclaimed series with a slew of unintentional references. Little Miss Sunshine and Breaking Bad share the desert backdrop of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Show stars Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris both appear in the movie, with Cranston as Stan Grossman and Norris as a pervy state trooper. Oh, and that current Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul? The actor who played Marco in season one also acted in the Little Miss Sunshine ensemble as Officer Martinez.

11. THE FILM IS DEDICATED TO THE PRODUCER’S NIECE.

Producer Peter Saraf’s niece Rebecca Annitto played an extra in the movie, but she sadly never got to see the final print. The teenager died in a car accident before Little Miss Sunshine was completed. But the editors included a sweet shout-out to her in the end credits that reads, “In loving memory of Rebecca Annitto, a true beauty inside and out.”

12. IT SOLD FOR A RECORD AMOUNT AT SUNDANCE.

When Little Miss Sunshine screened for audiences at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, it sparked wild standing ovations and a four-studio bidding war. In the end, Fox Searchlight Pictures emerged victorious—and it paid a pretty penny for the distribution rights. Little Miss Sunshine sold for $10.5 million, a record Sundance sum that was only surpassed this year when Fox Searchlight bought Nate Parker’s upcoming Nat Turner historical drama, The Birth of a Nation. Its price tag? $17.5 million.

13. GREG KINNEAR PLAYED GLOCKENSPIEL WITH THE MOVIE’S MUSICIANS.

Dayton and Faris asked the Denver-based band DeVotchKa to contribute 10 of the 14 tracks on the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack. Each cast member received an iPod loaded with DeVotchKa albums during production, and Greg Kinnear apparently really dug their sound. The actor became such a fan that he visited the band in subsequent recording sessions. “He came by the studio a couple times while we were recording,” DeVotchKa frontman Nick Urata told Rolling Stone. “He even played some glockenspiel on a couple tracks.”

14. FOX SEARCHLIGHT HOSTED A SPECIAL SCREENING FOR VW BUS OWNERS.

In deference to the Hoovers’ canary-yellow Volkswagen bus, Fox Searchlight put together a screening at the Vineland Drive-In movie theater in City of Industry, California, especially for VW bus owners. By the looks of it, the cars were in slightly better shape than Richard and Cheryl’s.

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
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Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
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In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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