Most of us know that the discovery of penicillin, the invention of fireworks, and, let’s face it, probably your very existence, were all caused by an accident -- but what about the great moments in film history? Well it turns out that, not unlike how many of us owe our lives to cheap boxed wine and even cheaper birth control devices, a number of classic movie moments were also created thanks to random screw-ups, such as how …


The Iconic Scream Mask was Randomly Found in A Random House

Before nearly every horror movie was about deconstructing how goofy horror movies are, Wes Craven’s Scream stood as a true original. It was smart, funny, and featured one of the great slasher movie villains: Ghostface. Although their true identity varies from movie to movie, the iconic costume always stays the same – with the exception of Rian Johnson’s in-universe Stab reboot. 

It’s hard to imagine Scream without the Ghostface mask, which resembles either the Grim Reaper, or Skeletor finding out that there’s no Santa Claus. But, amazingly it wasn’t always a part of Scream. The original screenplay only describes it as “a ghostly white mask” -- which could be anything from a hockey mask, to a mask of late soul legend Barry White. This left the film’s design team to try and come up with a mask for the killer, and most of what they came up with was … not great.

Dimension Films

Dimension Films

While the filmmakers were toying with making Scream’s villain look like the underside of a 13-year-old’s skateboard, location scouts were visiting an elderly woman’s house to see if it would be an appropriate spot for teenagers to have sex and murder each other in. There they randomly came across the Ghostface mask in her son’s bedroom (possibly because he was secretly a serial killer).

Dimension Films

They took the mask and they tried to make their own legally-dissimilar version, but since even that effort turned out looking like it was designed by Hell’s county fair cartoonist, they ended up ponying up the money to just pay the original costume company. Of course, had they randomly found a different Halloween costume in that house, Scream might have been even more terrifying.

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The Lightsaber Sound was Discovered Thanks to a Broken Microphone Cable

As Obi-Wan Kenobi notes, the lightsaber is an “elegant weapon for a more civilized age” – a sentiment only slightly undercut by the fact that he uses one to amputate a dude in a dive bar later that same afternoon. 

The task of creating the sound of the laser-sword fell to Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt-- he’s the guy who came up with the blaster sound by hitting cables with a hammer, and Chewbacca’s growl by recording a live bear! You’d think the most ubiquitous sound effect in one of the all-time great movies wouldn’t have come from a silly mistake -- but it totally did. 

According to Burtt, he was carrying a tape recorder with a “broken mic cable… the shielding had come off of it.” Luckily, instead of merely electrocuting himself (which would presumably then allow him to read women’s minds) he inadvertently stumbled upon the sound of your childhood. 

As he walked past the TV in his apartment, it “picked up the hum from the picture tube directly into the broken wire” and like a twelve pack of Miller Lite, it “made a buzz”. Burtt thought the buzz sounded appropriately dangerous and used it as the basis for the lightsaber effect. He probably could have gotten some sweet sound effects for the Emperor’s electro-powers by bathing with a toaster, but thankfully he never took things that far. 

The Beautiful Ending of The Last Temptation of Christ was a Camera Screw-Up

Long before Mel Gibson took a stab, a beating, and several thousand lashes at the story of Jesus Christ, legendary director Martin Scorsese made The Last Temptation of Christ -- which was controversial at the time, mostly because of its depiction of Jesus as a mortal man susceptible to desire, but also due to the heavy implication that Pontius Pilate was secretly The Goblin King in disguise.

One of the most memorable parts of Last Temptation is the ending, in which Christ’s death is conveyed in a hauntingly beautiful final shot;. as Jesus overcomes the temptation of a mortal life, he fulfils his destiny on the cross, and as he closes his eyes, the image gives way to a flickering ethereal light … Spoilers?

It turns out that the poignant ending was actually a camera screw-up, and the film was “exposed by mistake.” According to one report, no one realized what had happened until they were back in New York editing the movie at which point Scorsese had to convince his editor that leaving the mistake in actually made for an awesome ending.

Modern Movie Violence was Created by a Faulty Hose

Legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa sure got ripped off a lot-- from having to sue over the unauthorized Western remake of his Yojimbo, to Star Wars, which was basically just The Hidden Fortress set in space. One of the biggest contributions Kurosawa’s had to modern movies, though, is gratuitous violence. The final duel of Sanjuro (the sequel to Yojimbo) culminates in an aggressive gush of blood, in a way that had never been seen before. That “Super Soaker” approach to violence would end up being copied in many ensuing Samurai movies, a slew of spaghetti westerns, and the work of Quentin Tarantino, who as we all know uses stylish movie tropes the same way a wedding DJ uses ABBA mp3s. 

The original effect, though, was totally unintentional. There was supposed to be blood, sure but just not the crazy geyser of blood that flooded out of the actor like his kimono was the elevator at The Overlook Hotel.

Apparently the compressor hose attached to the actor blew a coupling, and the blast was so crazy strong it almost lifted him off the ground -- meaning Kurosawa nearly revolutionized movie violence and invented those dumb hydro jet-packs.

The Acclaimed Ending to The Graduate was an Outtake Where the Director Forgot to Yell “Cut”

The Graduate is proof that even the skeezy story of a guy hooking up with his girlfriend’s mom can become a cherished classic when paired with the dulcet melodies of Simon and Garfunkel. It’s one of the all time great movies -- and a big reason why it works so well is the ending, in which Benjamin breaks up Elaine’s wedding, thumbing their noses at the establishment as they run off together, barricading the church with a crucifix. 

The key moment comes when the two hop on a public bus; after a moment of elation, the shot lingers, revealing the awkwardness and uncertainty of their future beyond that moment.

The ambiguity and melancholy of the ending is what makes the movie -- but it wasn’t scripted that way. Originally, the movie was going to end with Elaine taking Benjamin’s hand and the final shot was of a gang of irate wedding guests congregating outside the church, presumably while shaking their fists and vowing to get revenge on that meddling kid.

United Artists

According to an interview with film historian and wife of The Graduate’s editor, Bobbie O’Steen, this was a total accident. Her husband, Sam O’Steen, was asked by director Mike Nichols to stand in for him on the bus, and essentially be the director for that scene. Since O’Steen was an editor and “wasn’t an experienced director, he forgot to yell ‘cut.’” 

Naturally Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross “didn’t know what to do and they weren’t going to break character so they just kept sitting there.” So while the ending was interpreted as two young people not knowing what to do with the rest of their lives, it was really two actors wondering why the scene was over but they were still stuck in the back of a smelly bus. It wasn’t until the director and editor saw the dailies that they realized they’d inadvertently crafted a moment of cinematic genius.

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Thumbnail: Dimension Films/Lucasfilm

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