6 Hilariously Improbable Events That Resulted In Huge Movies & Shows
Hey, remember that Final Destination franchise from all the way back in 2011? You know, it's the one where a clowder of hapless teens get hunted by Death through a series of overly elaborate, Rube Goldberg-style horrors. Well, it turns out that sometimes this same over-the-top domino effect can be applied to how films get made (including Final Destination, which started as an X-Files spec script). A butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing, and Jeff Goldblum ends up shirtless on a table in Hollywood, basically.
Some films end up creating a gigantic ripple of success and artistic inspiration ... all from a single unassuming start. Here are such times when the road to the cinematic immortality was paved with random nobodies, stupid coincidences, and just plain dumb luck...
The Alien Franchise Exists Because Of Literal Nightmares
From the creature design to the directing, the first Alien has always been a poster child for the unspeakable horrors you can accomplish through collaborative effort. With that in mind, none of it would have been possible without writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett first coming up with the story. They are the face-huggers to Alien's uh... alien. This was O'Bannon's second film as a screenwriter, one that would have never existed without the frustrating failure of his first.
"Bombed" is absolutely right.
Dark Star was a John Carpenter sci-fi comedy about people exploding planets in space, and O'Bannon hadn't simply written it, but also designed and supervised the special effects. It was this (not his writing) that got the attention of weirdo director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who at the time was working on an ultimately shelved Dune film. O'Bannon was brought on Dune's production where he met a creepy Swiss artist working on the film's set and character design. His name was H.R. Giger, and you might find his work on Dune a bit familiar.
To put this guy in perspective -- upon their initial introduction, H.R. Giger immediately offered O'Bannon opium. And when asked why he himself took it, Giger bleakly responded "I am afraid of my visions." If Werner Herzog had night terrors, it would be personified in H.R. Giger's ghastly Scandinavian gaze. His paintings are what Satan uses to get an erection.
Dune was sci-fi failure #2, and after production was closed down O'Bannon found himself running out of work, and consequently money (which is commonly a thing you get in exchange for work). In what was no doubt an act of pre-hooking desperation, he and Shusett dug up yet another old failure -- a story about monsters attacking a WWII bomber (which later became a segment in the 1981 animated "film" Heavy Metal -- a series of events we've previously discussed).
Like some kind of mad scientist, O'Bannon spliced this story with another failed horror script about bug monsters, added a re-written scene from Dark Star, and somehow churned out Alien. Meanwhile, H.R. Giger was developing a terrifying artistic portfolio based on his childhood nightmares -- one example being a painting called "Necronom IV."
Apparently "Dick-Headed Nightmare Goblin Man" was taken.
That's one of two nightmares that will come into play, this first fruition appearing in an H.R. Giger art book that O'Bannon gave to Ridley Scott while developing Alien. Nightmare number two came from Shusett who, after a day of writing, woke up in the middle of the night with the idea that the alien could impregnate a crew member through their throat -- meaning that nearly every aspect of these creatures was quite literally the stuff of nightmares.
This is why you keep a dream journal, folks.
You Can Thank The 2003 California Gubernatorial Recall Election For HBO's Westworld
In the early 2000s, California underwent an energy crisis, presumably after everyone left their tanning bed on overnight. As bills tripled and the anger grew, a representative named Darrell Issa donated two million dollars to a small group collecting signatures for a gubernatorial recall. It was this money that boosted their efforts in a historic moment for the United States: a new Westworld TV show.
We should probably explain.
"Yes, please. I don't know what the fuck's going on in this show." -- Anthony Hopkins
See, after successfully reaching enough signatures, it was the actually historic recall of Governor Gray Davis that sparked one of the weirdest elections ever -- eventually boiling down to this veiny cup of whatever Austrians drink instead of water:
And by "ever" we mean "before 2016," of course.
Arnold Schwarzenegger threw his hat into the governor ring and came out with a whopping 48.6 percent of the vote. This was in October of 2003, and along with shaping the future of California, it panicked a butt-ton of producers who had previously attached the hulky destroyer to upcoming films. One such producer was Jerry Weintraub, who had cast Arnold as the Yul Brynner role in an upcoming remake of that enduring '70s sci-fi cowboy classic, Westworld. As we're sure you can guess, this did not end up happening, and the project was shelved indefinitely -- or in producer-speak, "until someone big enough shows interest in it." That took two years.
"We'll begin shooting in 2008 with Heath Ledger, Bernie Mac, Anna Nicole Smith, and President Gerald Ford."
In 2005, Weintraub once again set his sights on this ridiculous film -- this time with the director of The Cell attached. This, unsurprisingly, did not make Westworld the exciting filmmaking opportunity that studios were scrambling over, and so Jerry moved on to another project while letting his baby degrade on the back burner. That project was a little TV movie about Liberace starring Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, and Matt Damon's glittery thong.
In the biggest plot twist yet, the HBO-made Douglas/Damon smooch-fest was a hit... causing Weintraub to turn to the network for a Westworld series. The rest is excessively naked history. And hey, Schwarzenegger is finally available now, so maybe they can throw him a bone and cast him as a background extra or something.
We Wouldn't Have The Entire Marvel Cinematic Universe If It Wasn't For Superman: The Movie
It turns out a DC Comics movie is responsible for Marvel's current cinematic dominance, but not in the way you're probably thinking. This long goddamn journey starts with a producer named Lauren Shuler Donner, whose husband you might recognize as Richard Donner -- director of such insanely diverse hits as The Goonies, The Omen, and of course, 1978's Superman: The Movie.
Not to be confused with Superman: The Mopey.
Superman was a hit, but this didn't instantly result in every single over-pantsed defender getting his own movie -- remember, it would take over a decade for even Batman to get one. However, the Donner flick did nab the attention of a five-year-old named Kevin who, like five-year-olds tend to do, became enamored with this genre of mighty punchers. His fandom eventually turned into a job at the Donners' Company as Lauren's assistant. As she puts it, "one of the main reasons Kevin managed to get himself an intern position at our company was because of Superman: The Movie, [that freaking nerd]."
Lauren went on to make a few disaster films, like Volcano and the harrowing You've Got Mail, before becoming inspired by her husband's action background and buying the rights to the X-Men franchise in 1994. Feeling his intense ray of nerdiness, she gave her then-assistant Kevin a producing role on the first X-film, where he instantly became "a walking encyclopedia of Marvel." Usually that just makes you very good at internet message board arguments, but in Kevin's case, it led him to this:
Guess you could say he's sort of the Lex Luthor of Marvel Corp.
That's right. It's Kevin Feige -- not Bacon as you were all no doubt guessing. Having been inspired by that first Superman film, Feige beelined directly to the Donners before getting thrown into X-Men and scooped up by Marvel. It was there that he continued to read an endless number of comics and work closely with directors making Spider-Man, X2, and Daredevil until 2005, when Marvel decided to make their own studio. In 2007, Kevin was named the chief of that studio and began to develop what would go on to be this jumbled mess of media:
He accounts for half of your debt.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe gave way to an entirely new method for making movies, now being applied to Star Wars, Lego, and even the goddamn The Mummy. It's completely changed franchises and made a once-bankrupt Marvel Studios the hottest goddamn game in town... all ironically thanks to a fucking DC Comics movie. Thanks a bunch, you sulky jerks!
A Mailing Error By A Fresno Librarian Kicked Off The "Brat Pack" Era
All you Val-speaking, Atari-playing, AIDS-epidemic-ignoring '80s kids no doubt perk up at the mention of the "Brat Pack," but in case you're scratching your supple 20-something heads, we're referring to a group of young actors who swarmed Hollywood around the early 1980s. Luminaries like Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, and all those The Breakfast Club motherfuckers were birthed from this era. The phrase "Brat Pack" was coined in a New York article, and became the soil in which a lot of pretty careers were cultivated.
Also, it was started by this lady:
Anthony Michael Hall has aged better than we predicted.
Her name is Jo Ellen Misakian, and back in 1972 she was hired as a librarian aide at the Lone Star School in Fresno, California. While there, she noticed that the naturally reading-averse students all loved the same book, so she helped them start a petition to turn it into a movie. After attempting (and failing) to contact the author, Jo Ellen decided to just take a shot in the dark and mail the book to a known director instead. The book, by the way, was The Outsiders -- the basis for the very first of the Brat Pack films, which kicked off the stellar careers of actors like Cruise, Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, that other guy, and that other other guy.
What's his name...? Ah, right: Mickey Mouse.
And this never would have existed as a film if it wasn't for Mrs. Misakian, her plucky kid pals, and the fact that she totally fucked up mailing their petition.
You see, after deciding Francis Ford Coppola should direct the movie, Misakian found his New York address in the reference section of the Fresno library and mailed a copy of the petition there -- but Coppola was living in Los Angeles at the time. The New York address was outdated and unused... and, consequently, got very little mail. However, it just so happened that Coppola was in New York that week, and was able to personally see the letter for that reason.
"P.S. If you do a third Godfather we'll break your fucking legs."
According to a producer there at the time, "It was lucky for the kids that we were in New York when it was sent over." Eventually, Coppola read the attached book, optioned it, and then began production on the film, all while maintaining a correspondence with the librarian who first sent it to him.
"P.S. Thanks for the idea, sucker."
In the end, the film was attributed to Misakian and her class -- the closing credits saying, "The film The Outsiders is dedicated to the people who first suggested that it be made -- librarian Jo Ellen Misakian and the students of The Lone Star School in Fresno, California." The Brat Pack was born, and like a thousand careers started... all because a librarian sucked at tracking down someone's more-current address.
Jurassic World And The New Star Wars Got Their Director From A Silly '90s Magazine Ad
After culturally blue-balling us with talking raptors, the Jurassic Park franchise re-exploded the box office with Jurassic World's $1.6 billion dollars in ticket sales. World will go on to get a sequel (obviously), and the director is now working on Episode IX of Star Wars. And oddly enough, it was back in the decade when the first Jurassic Park became a hit (and we all thought Star Wars prequels would be, like, the raddest shit ever) that an author named John Silveira was inadvertently shaping all these events, like a secret John Hammond.
Back in the '90s, Silveira would occasionally submit content for Backwoods Home Magazine. His job was to fill in gaps of the magazine's classified section with whatever joke bullshit that came into his head. It was a fun gig with a specific and sparse readership, by definition.
It's mostly that one guy with the red cap (if he isn't dead yet).
Then, one day in 1997, Silveira was asked to contribute right before a deadline (what kind of backwoods magazi-- oh, right). Without any prepared jokes, he remembered the opening lines to an old unfinished novel he had been working on years back. With the clock ticking, John spun the words into a fake classified ad and submitted the following:
Yes. That ad. Silveira had created what would later become a meme that would inspire Colin Trevorrow to make an indie film called Safety Not Guaranteed, about a dude looking for a time-travel partner. Not long after, director Brad Bird was being approached by Disney and Lucasfilm to direct the next Star Wars film -- and in turning it down for Tomorrowland (yikes), Bird recommended they watch Trevorrow's little movie.
In short, two major sci-fi franchises ended up being completely dependent on an indie comedy director who was inspired by some joke-writing weirdo in Southern California. And speaking of stuff Spielberg once touched...
Like Schindler's List And The Coen Brothers? You Can Thank The Evil Dead For That
It's not exactly controversial to say that the Coen Brothers are two of the most influential and iconic directors of this era. We also probably won't get any hate mail for praising Liam Neeson's performance in Schindler's List, or really any of his subsequent roles. What will sound insane, however, is that all of these things are of direct result of the 1981 horror film The Evil Dead. You know, the one where a woman gets fucked by trees before turning into a Kandarian basement demon.
It's a lot funnier than it sounds, I promise.
It was on this film that a young Joel Coen was working as an assistant editor while trying to make his debut with a script he co-wrote with his brother. While there, director Sam Raimi convinced the Coens to shoot a fake trailer for their script, which subsequently led to them finding investors for the movie -- eventually called Blood Simple. You might recognize this as the pivotal moment leading to decades of amazing films like The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, The Hudsucker Proxy, and certainly not Garfield ( common mistake).
Meanwhile, while casting Blood Simple, the brothers went to see a play called Crimes Of The Heart. It featured Holly Hunter, who they immediately wanted to cast... but couldn't, for scheduling reasons. However, Hunter went home from the audition and mentioned the film to her roommate: Frances McDormand. Frances, of course, would go on to kick ass in the role, marry Joel Coen, and play one of the most badass baby-ovens to ever point a gun at Peter Stormare.
And it gets weirder. Because while Holly didn't get the role in Blood Simple, she would later move into a Silverlake home with both Coen brothers, McDormand, and Raimi -- who at the time was writing Evil Dead II on the porch. Cut to a few years later, and a young actor named Bill Paxton got a phone call from his friend James Cameron asking if he had heard of Evil Dead II. When Paxton said no, Mr. Titanic rushed him to a local showing, as any loyal friend would. After falling in love with Raimi's slapstick horror style, B-Pax auditioned for the director's follow-up, Darkman. You with us so far?
According to Paxton (who later worked with Raimi on A Simple Plan), while he got super close to landing the role, he "made the mistake" of informing another friend about the movie as well. It was Liam Neeson.
Who has always looked precisely 45, no matter the decade.
Neeson got the role and killed it as the titular rubber-faced rage goon in Darkman, which was then seen by a stage actress named Natasha Richardson. At the time, Richardson was putting together a production of Anna Christie, and thanks to Darkman, she pursued Neeson to play a role. Not only would his performance in the show end in a marriage with Richardson, but it would grab the attention of a director in the audience... who at the time was casting an upcoming film called Schindler's Fucking List.
See? Even in the '40s.
YEP. Liam Neeson's entire career exploded because Bill Paxton was dragged to a screening of Evil Dead II and fell in love. Consider this yet another reason he's going to be deeply missed. RIP, you ultimate badass.
David is an editor and columnist for Cracked. Please direct all your goddamn "hellos" to his Twitter account.
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