The 1996 bowling comedy Kingpin is a certified classic, but it wasn't always a hit with audiences. Here are 15 facts about the little bowling movie that could.

Woody Couldn’t Bowl

Kingpin Woody Harrelson

MGM

While their on-screen characters were expert bowlers, Bill Murray and Woody Harrelson were not bowling at nearly the same skill level. While Bill Murray had a natural knack for the game, Harrelson was notoriously terrible. Harrelson was even assigned a bowling coach which turned out to be no help, so a stand-in was used for his shots.

The Origin Of The Rose Bowling Ball

Kingpin Bill Murray

MGM

Peter Farrelly told Thrillist, “We shot most of the bowling stuff in the Pittsburgh area. There are tons of old bowling alleys around Pittsburgh -- in the Midwest, they bowl! But they'd never been changed, so they were just beautiful. Every town had one! We were scouting for the bowling alley and there it was, on a shelf. I said, we have to get his for Big Ern, so we bought it from them. When I first saw it, it looked like art, man. But did bowl with it, of course. The minute we handed it to him he was just tickled. And there was only one ball. Now it lives in Kings Alley in Boston, Massachusetts. They have a Kingpin wall."

Peter Farrelly And Woody Harrelson Were Roommates

Kingpin Woody Harrelson

MGM

When Peter Farrelly first moved to L.A. his roommate was Woody Harrelson. Farrelly remarked about his former roomie, “I remember when I met Woody, I thought, ‘Poor guy, he’ll never work,’ before Harrelson got his breakthrough role on Cheers and eventually starred in Farrelly's film.

A Sequel May Be In The Works

A 2021 Collider article revealed that a Kingpin sequel was officially in the works with the Farrelly brothers reprising their positions as directors for the film. Not much has surfaced about this mysterious sequel since Collider broke the news over a year ago, so is it possible it's still a possibility?

Bill Murray Actually Bowled His Turkey

Kingpin Bill Murray

MGM

Bobby Farrelly explained, "When we got to the final part and Bill had to get three strikes in a row, I figured it could take 10 to 15 rolls. It's gonna take a while for him to get three strikes. But I explained the situation to the audience: 'It's the last frame, he needs a turkey here. And so on the first one, you guys clap big, and then the second one, you clap bigger, and on the third one, you explode because he needs all three.' Of course, Bill gets up there, first one, strike. Everybody goes nuts. Second one, strike, the place goes crazy. Third one, strike. Three in a row. They were really blown away. Like, Bill just threw three strikes in a row when he had to and they erupted. It was not fake at all."

The Movie Bombed In Theaters

Kingpin Woody Harrelson

MGM

The movie, which was expected to make $18 million dollars its first weekend ended up only making a sad $5 million initially. The directors blame the poor performance on the lack of ads for the film, as the studio didn’t advertise the movie at the 1996 Olympics like the directors had asked and instead only aired ads on bowling channels

Bill Murray Improvised Nearly Every Line For Big Ern

Kingpin Bill Murray

MGM

Co-director Bobby Farrelly said “Ernie was a great idea on paper, but he didn’t really have the lines until Bill showed up. Bill had nothing to work with, it was kind of a thankless role as written, and he turned it into just a beautiful character. Bill just threw all the pages away and just said, ‘I get it, trust me,’ and we did and every line he came up with was better than the line that was scripted. ‘You’re on a gravy train with biscuit wheels.’ Like, where the f*ck did that sh*t come from? It was genius. You can’t really tell Bill how to be Bill because he’s gonna do it better than you can come up with. He’s a world-class improviser.” 

Siskel and Ebert Loved The Film

Kingpin Bill Murray

MGM

While the film was not an initial success at the box office, Peter Farrelly describes Siskel and Ebert as giving it their “best review of any movie, ever.” Farrelly recalls the reviewers saying, “We’re talkin’ to the filmmakers now: thank you. Because you have no idea how many times we go to these comedies and never laugh. And here we just howled and we’re grateful. Thank you for giving us this movie.’ 

Randy Quaid is The Reason Bill Murray Is Big Ern

Kingpin Ishmael

MGM

The Farrelly brothers were having trouble finding the right actor for Big Ern, until Randy Quaid suggested his friend Bill Murray. Quaid called Murray and the comedy star agreed, without the Farrelly brothers even having his contact information. Peter Farrelly said, "We were three weeks into production by the time Bill came along. So we had this fear that he wouldn't show up but sure enough, seven o'clock on the day he was supposed to arrive, we were shooting that night, he suddenly just comes walking in."

Kingpin Led To There’s Something About Mary

Theres Something About Mary

Fox

Despite the film not being a box office hit, a “big wig” at Fox met the directing team and told them he loved the film and that it would have been a big success if they had let Fox produce it. Because of this, they pitched him their idea for There’s Something About Mary, which he agreed to produce immediately. 

For exclusive ComedyNerd content and more, subscribe to our spiffy newsletter:

Top Image: MGM

Forgot Password?