These stories about classic films sound like something your weirdo cousin would make up just to get attention. Well, the joke’s on your weirdo cousin (as always); Hollywood’s a strange place, and sometimes, strange stuff happens during a film’s production.
Granted, it’s sometimes hard to separate myth from reality, but occasionally a weird story actually turns out to be true. We’ve said it before, but we’ve never meant it quite so hard: You just can’t make this stuff up.
1. The terrifying sound that velociraptors make in Jurassic Park is actually a recording of two tortoises mating.
We were terrified of velociraptors when we saw the original Jurassic Park; if we’d known that their guttural groans were, ahem, guttural groans of a different nature, we probably would have laughed through the entire movie.
Gary Rydstrom, the sound designer on the film, spilled the beans in a 2015 interview with SFGate. He noted that he had trouble capturing the sound—tortoises aren’t exactly graceful lovers.
“The male tortoise would go up, and then fall off, and then go back again,” he said. “My memory is [that recording took] hours. It was probably minutes. But then the mating happened, and it barked.”
We should note that Rydstrom didn’t plan on using the tortoise noises for the raptors; that was a happy accident.
“We had no idea a mating tortoise would make that sound,” Rydstrom said. “We recorded koalas that sounded like T-Rexes. Like I said, we had no idea. The main element for the T-Rex roar was a cute little baby elephant that they brought out. I thought I’d get the best stuff from the big elephant, but this baby elephant made the best sounds.”
Wait, back up. He had no idea that the tortoise would make those sounds—so why was he setting up microphones around a bunch of lovesick reptiles?
Hey, when you’re dedicated to your craft, you do whatever you need to do to get results.
2. The real artist in Titanic isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio; it’s James Cameron.
The director drew the famous sketch of Rose in the diamond necklace, but he didn’t stop there. Cameron reportedly filled Jack’s sketchbook himself, adding in the character’s initials for an added sense of realism.
Of course, that’s not especially surprising when you know that the movie itself was basically just an excuse for Cameron to ride around in a submarine. At the time, the director was obsessed with deep-sea diving, and he convinced producers to fund his exploration to the “last unexplored frontier of our planet” as a part of the film’s production. Titanic actually cost more to produce than the original passenger liner cost to build, as the clip below explains.
Given that he was willing to film an entire blockbuster movie just to go to the bottom of the ocean, it makes sense that Cameron saw the famous sketch scene as an opportunity to practice one of his other hobbies. In any case, Cameron’s artistic ability apparently attracted some fans; in 2011, the famous Kate Winslet sketch sold for more than $16,000 at Premiere Props’ memorabilia auction.
“People will pay this kind of money for celebrities,” Martin Nolan, executive director of another auction house, told ABC at the time. “It’s about the love for the movie, the entertainment in saying you own this, and for love of art itself.”
3. Danny Trejo wrote the most famous line from Machete.
This one definitely sounds made-up…until you consider that it’s the ultimately meme-able Danny Trejo we’re talking about. During the filming of Machete, director Robert Rodriguez reportedly told Trejo to text him about some subject rather than calling.
“My phone still has a dial,” Trejo told MTV. “That line came from a real conversation because I was trying to get a hold of Robert Rodriguez because I had some ideas for Machete and he wouldn’t answer my call. He said, ‘Danny, every time you call me, I’m in a meeting. Just text me.’ I said, ‘Machete don’t text,’ and he laughed and put it in the movie.”
Rodriguez quickly added the iconic line to the script, and internet fanboys quickly added it to the pop culture phrasebook. Trejo, by the way, has embraced the meme.
Machete Don't Text pic.twitter.com/SBbdbN1PXq
— Danny Trejo (@officialDannyT) August 27, 2017
4. Gone With the Wind created a burning Atlanta with real fire—and real buildings.
The famous “burning of Atlanta” scene in Gone With the Wind didn’t rely on special effects or burning miniatures. For a movie this epic, they had to burn real stuff (well, maybe it wasn’t required, but it’s way more fun to burn real stuff). To make that happen, the film needed a lot of space cleared out on the MGM lot.
In order to create that space, producers burned old sets. They filmed the conflagration with seven Technicolor cameras—the only seven that existed at that time. Filmmakers shot this scene before they had even cast their stars.
That would have made things really awkward if the film had been canceled.
“Well, we had to shelve the film,” someone would have presumably said, “but at least we got to burn down Atlanta in effigy.”
5. God gets thanked frequently in Oscar speeches, but he’s not No. 1.
You’ve probably seen enough Oscar award acceptance speeches to know the format: feigned shock and deep emotion, followed by a heartfelt thanks to the actor’s friends, family, coworkers, and the Lord Almighty.
According to a study published in Forbes, though, God is actually only in the middle of the pile of people thanked during these tear-filled speeches. Steven Spielberg comes in first with a total of 42 thanks.
Disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein, Titanic director James Cameron, and Star Wars creator George Lucas have also received more acknowledgments than God, who, believe it or not, has only been thanked 19 times.
6. Count Orlok blinks exactly once during the entire runtime of Nosferatu.
If you’ve seen one classic silent film, it was probably this one. F.W. Murnau’s classic horror flick hit theaters in 1922 and immediately changed vampire lore forever, introducing some of the common myths we associate with the creatures of the night. For instance, Nosferatu’s Count Orlok is eventually defeated by the rays of the sun; ever since, most movies have portrayed vampires as susceptible to sunlight.
That’s not to say that the film was flawless. It basically plagiarized Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Stoker’s widow promptly sued the studio that produced the horror classic. A judge ruled in her favor and ordered that all copies of Nosferatu be destroyed, but fortunately for us, some survived.
Today, the film’s just as terrifying as it was in 1922, and that’s largely due to the performance of German actor Max Schreck, who played the aforementioned Count Orlok. Shreck committed to the role, wearing gruesome prosthetics and resisting the urge to blink when the cameras were rolling. He only blinks once in the entire film, towards the end of the first reel.
Today, Nosferatu is in the public domain, and you can find it online for free. However, we’re fans of the Synergy Entertainment release, which has a deliciously wicked organ-driven score.
7. You might burn some calories watching Nosferatu, but to really melt those pounds away, go with The Shining.
A University of Westminster study on the effects of horror films found that a 90-minute scary flick can cause viewers to burn up to 113 calories. That’s not as effective as a long, sweaty workout, but it’s pretty good for sitting on your couch.
“Each of the 10 films [in the study] tested set pulses racing, sparking an increase in the heart rate of the case studies,” Richard Mackenzie, professor of cell metabolism and physiology at the University of Westminster, told Clinical News.
“As the pulse quickens and blood pumps around the body faster, the body experiences a surge in adrenaline. It is this release of fast-acting adrenaline, produced during short bursts of intense stress (or in this case, brought on by fear), which is known to lower the appetite, increase the basal metabolic rate, and ultimately burn a higher level of calories.”
In other words, horror movies burn calories, and The Shining burns the most at 184 calories. Jaws burned 161 calories, and The Exorcist can melt away 158 calories. For reference, there are 210 calories in a Hershey’s chocolate bar, so eat one of those while you watch two horror films in a row, and you’ll still come out ahead. That’s one heck of a diet plan.
8. You can watch Malcolm McDowell almost drown during a scene in A Clockwork Orange.
It was never easy to act in a Stanley Kubrick film. The legendary director made performers do an astonishing number of takes; the baseball bat scene in The Shining, for instance, took an astonishing 127 takes.
Still, that doesn’t compare to what young Malcolm McDowell had to go through while filming A Clockwork Orange. While filming one violent scene, McDowell had to hold his head underwater for a very, very long time. The crew fitted the water tank with an oxygen tank, but McDowell couldn’t always find it in time.
“It was just luck that I happened to glom onto it,” he said in an interview with MTV. Even worse than the lack of oxygen was the temperature of the water.
“They couldn’t use warm water because it was so cold out it would steam,” McDowell said. “If you dunk your head in cold water, you can’t stay under for more than five seconds.”
Somehow, he completed the scene, but McDowell wasn’t finished suffering for his art. During the production, Kubrick discovered that his star had a fear of reptiles; the director promptly added a scene that put McDowell in bed with a large (but non-venomous) snake.
“I knew the snake was harmless,” McDowell told IGN in 2012. “But who likes snakes? I mean, he was just joking with me, really. But let me tell you, I put that snake in the drawer under my bed, and when I opened the drawer to take him out, the snake wasn’t there. You have never seen a room clear so fast. The crew, the wimps that they were—Kubrick included—ran for it. So how he has the nerve to do this, thinking I’m scared of snakes?”
Maybe we don’t want to be a famous Hollywood actor after all.
9. If you’re a fan of films with flushing toilets, you have Alfred Hitchcock to thank.
Hitchock’s Psycho was the first major film to feature a flushing commode. We decided to preface that with “major,” since we imagine there’s some early footage of a toilet floating around a silent film vault somewhere.
While the thriller’s bloody shower scene created the most controversy upon its 1960 release, it broke another taboo by showing a toilet…doing toilet things.
“[Toilets were] thought to be offensive,” film historian David Thomson said in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: A Casebook, “and Hitchcock said, ‘well, this is silly,’ and he got away with it.”
However, the aforementioned shower scene was enough to get Hitchcock banned from Disneyland. The legendary director wanted to film a scene at the amusement park, but was turned down by Walt Disney because he made “that disgusting movie Psycho.”
We’re going to assume that Disney objected to the blood rather than the flushing toilet, but he wasn’t specific.
10. Sigourney Weaver is either incredibly lucky or part-xenomorph.
She actually made the behind-the-back basketball shot in Alien Resurrection, otherwise known as “that Aliens movie that you forgot existed.”
In the film, Weaver’s character is a clone of her character from the previous Alien films, and she’s got a hefty dose of alien DNA. As a result, she’s able to perform amazing feats of strength and dexterity. She showcases her new abilities in a pick-up basketball game, culminating in a half-court behind-the-back shot.
The plan was to have Weaver take the shot, but to digitally edit the video to make the ball go in. As it turned out, the CGI trickery was unnecessary.
“I wasn’t even thinking getting it in, because I was so demoralized,” Weaver said of the moment. “And, you know…nothing but net… It was, like a wild thing. I don’t think my feet touched the ground for about 10 days.”
The crew was dumbfounded. Unfortunately, actor Ron Perlman was a little too amazed, as he immediately broke character by cracking a large smile. That’s why the shot quickly cuts to a (separately filmed) reaction shot.
11. Alan Rickman knew the ending of Harry Potter years before Rowling wrote it.
If you’ve somehow missed the Harry Potter film series, the late Alan Rickman perfectly played the role of Severus Snape, an apparently villainous professor who regularly torments Harry and his friends. In one of the story’s biggest twists, Snape defies the true antagonist, Voldemort, revealing that he’s been working on behalf of Harry. Throughout the series, Snape has been spying on Voldemort on the orders of Professor Dumbledore.
But to play Snape correctly, Rickman needed to know about that twist. Author J.K. Rowling clued him in early in the film series’ production, sharing what Rickman called “one tiny, little, left-of-field piece of information.”
I told Alan what lies behind the word 'always'. https://t.co/NHTJ5J6kxb
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 18, 2016
“[It] helped me think that he was more complicated and that the story was not going to be as straight down the line as everybody thought,” the actor told HitFix in 2011. “If you remember, when I did the first film, she’d only written three or four books, so nobody knew where it was really going except her. And it was important for her that I know something, but she only gave me a tiny piece of information which helped me think it was a more ambiguous route.”
To this day the best plot twist in the entire Harry Potter franchise was learning that Snape was the bravest most loving one of them all that last scene is heartbreaking 😩
— Sadé (@1Sade_) September 3, 2018
Of course, that “tiny piece of information” turned out to be a jaw-dropping plot point for fans.
12. The children’s movie Babe was banned in Malaysia.
The reason? The film featured a talking pig—and censors were reportedly concerned that the character would offend the country’s large Muslim population. Some Muslims consider pigs to be haram, or forbidden, based on Quranic law. Eventually, the ban was reversed, although the film’s sequel, Babe: Pig in the City, experienced similar treatment prior to its release on VHS.
It’s worth noting that Malaysia’s censors are notoriously strict, as they also postponed the release of the Walt Disney’s 2017 musical Beauty and the Beast until the company cut out a “gay moment” from the final cut.
While we’re on the subject, if you re-watch Babe, you might notice that the pig sounds oddly familiar. He was voiced by the late Christine Cavanaugh, a prolific voice actor who also portrayed Chuckie Finster in Nickelodeon’s Rugrats and Dexter in Dexter’s Laboratory.
And in case you think Babe was a lighthearted, sort-of-dumb kids’ flick, it had an apparently profound effect on Cavanaugh’s co-star, James Cromwell, who played Farmer Hoggett. His experiences on set compelled him to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
“[I was] working with a lot of animals and animal trainers,” Cromwell told TakePart. “I cared about their welfare and then, of course, you have lunch and it’s all there in front of you, and I thought, I should go the whole hog, so to speak. So I made that decision [to be vegan] and kept that during the shooting. When I came back, I got involved with PETA, and of course, the film opened and it was very successful.”
— Vivian Lee (@vivianwmlee) August 23, 2017
It was a worldwide hit—just not in Malaysia.
13. Casablanca does not contain the line “Play it again, Sam.”
Close your eyes, and you can hear Humphrey Bogart saying, “Play it again, Sam,” followed by the opening notes of “As Time Goes By.” That never actually happens—it’s a sentence deeply ingrained in pop culture, but it’s not in the script, nor is it in the actual film.
Bogart comes close, saying “Play it” at one point, but the closest any character comes to uttering the iconic phrase is when Ingrid Bergman’s character says “Play it, Sam.”
Why, then, do we remember the misquote? Remember, people didn’t have YouTube back in the 1940s. Moviegoers had to rely on their memories to quote their favorite films, and at some point, the misquote became more popular than the actual dialogue. It’s the same reason that we remember Darth Vader saying, “Luke, I am your father” in The Empire Strikes Back. The actual line, of course, is “No…I am your father.”
Of course, regardless of what Bogart said to Sam (played by Dooley Wilson), he probably couldn’t actually play anything. Wilson was a drummer, not a pianist, so he mimicked hand movements in Casablanca. A second man named Elliott Carpenter sat off camera and actually played the piano parts.
14. The code from The Matrix is actually made of sushi recipes.
When The Matrix hit theaters in 1999, fans were delighted by its stellar special effects, intricate plot, and clever use of Keanu Reeves saying, “Whoa.”
Of course, The Matrix was followed by a few sequels, which…well, the less we say about those, the better. The point is that the original film was an instant sci-fi classic. Its opening frames perfectly introduce the high-tech plot; lines of green code stream down the screen, giving audiences an early indication of the film’s premise.
That code, by the way, is a sushi recipe. Production designer Simon Whiteley told CNET that he scanned the characters from one of his wife’s cookbooks to create the iconic sequence.
“I like to tell everybody that The Matrix’s code is made out of Japanese sushi recipes,” Whiteley said. “Without that code, there is no Matrix.”
Granted, he scrambled the hiragana, katakana, and kanji characters, so if you were hoping to go frame-by-frame to reconstruct a sushi recipe, you’re out of luck. Still, it’s crazy to think that one of the coolest opening shots in film history is basically a set of indecipherable instructions for folding fish.