Julie Vrabelova/Syfy
Julie Vrabelova/Syfy

20 Facts About Syfy's 12 Monkeys

Julie Vrabelova/Syfy
Julie Vrabelova/Syfy

Beginning June 15, 12 Monkeys—the epic Syfy series that sent characters James Cole (Aaron Stanford), Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), José Ramse (Kirk Acevedo), Teddy Deacon (Todd Stashwick), and Dr. Katarina Jones (Barbara Sukowa) through basically every era of time you can imagine as they tried to save the world from the Army of the 12 Monkeys—will begin its final season. Mental Floss chatted with co-creator and showrunner Terry Matalas and stars Schull and Hampshire to bring you fun facts and behind-the-scenes stories about the show.

1. IT DIDN’T ORIGINALLY HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE FILM.

The TV version of 12 Monkeys began as a writing exercise for co-creator and showrunner Terry Matalas. “I’d always wanted to do a serialized time travel show,” he tells Mental Floss. “So I sat down at my kitchen table and started writing this thing called Splinter.” After penning the first three acts, he handed the script off to his writing partner (and eventual co-creator) Travis Fickett, who wrote the back part of what would become Splinter's pilot episode. The reactions to the sample were enthusiastic, and eventually, it ended up in the offices of Atlas, the production company that made Terry Gilliam's film version of 12 Monkeys.

Atlas told Matalas and Fickett they’d been trying to turn the movie into a show for years and thought they could do it by reworking the Splinter spec script. Matalas suggested that, rather than rewriting the pilot entirely, they change some of the characters’ names—“it was always about a woman named Cassie who was a virologist, but his name wasn’t Cole, I think it was Max,” he says—and mention the Army of the 12 Monkeys at the very end of the episode, then go from there. “That just seemed like a really exciting way to reboot,” Matalas says. “Having the intellectual property gave us an opportunity to expand that world [from the film], but at the same time, we could write it in the tone of what Splinter was. And so the rest is history.”

2. THE SHOW TOOK SOME INSPIRATION FROM HBO’S TRUE DETECTIVE.

Tom Noonan as The Pallid Man in '12 Monkeys.'
Gavin Bond/Syfy

In addition to the characters’ names, fans of the 12 Monkeys movie will find little nods to the film in the show—Jennifer Goines wears a yellow sweatshirt, as Brad Pitt does in the film, for example, and the mental hospital J.D. Peoples is named after the film's screenwriters (Janet and David Peoples)—as well as to the short film the movie was based on, Chris Marker's La Jetée. But there are influences beyond those sources, including the first season of HBO’s True Detective.

“Some of the weirdness of True Detective found its way into the Army of the 12 Monkeys,” Matalas says. “I always felt that, even though it was a science fiction time travel show, there was also a supernatural/horror aspect to it—that the Army of the 12 Monkeys needed to be weird, mysterious, and scary, and have a sort of visceral apocalypse that they wanted to bring about.”

3. THE CO-CREATORS RESEARCHED REAL THEORIES OF TIME TRAVEL FOR THE SHOW.

Matalas and Fickett made a number of changes to adapt 12 Monkeys for television. They began with the fact that in the film, time is a closed loop—its characters can’t make any changes to the past. “That just doesn’t seem like a great goal for a long series,” Matalas says. “To never see a change made in causality is a missed opportunity for the longer narrative.” Though Matalas and Fickett looked into actual scientific theories about time travel—they used an Einstein-Rosen bridge as one of the inspirations for how the machine sends people through time, for example—they didn’t necessarily apply all of that information. “You get into quantum theory and quantum universes and then you can lose yourself real quick,” Matalas says.

The duo leaned into the idea of paradoxes—that an object coming into contact with a version of itself from another time would create an explosion—and built a grand mythology for the show, including the Red Forest, the Messengers, Titan, the Witness, and, of course, Primaries: the humans who are entwined with the very fabric of time. If enough of them are paradoxed, they could destroy time—which is the ultimate goal of the Army of the 12 Monkeys.

“There’s the easy sci-fi version of this: The Army of the 12 Monkeys goes back in time and sets off ‘time bombs,’ and we have to stop the time bombs from going off,” Matalas says. “It just seemed kind of hokey.” But they had a breakthrough in the writers’ room when they started talking about the evolution of man—and of time, which, of all the species on earth, only man seems to be aware of. “Even though time is this force of nature, the introduction of man could have changed its evolution. Could we have evolved with it in some way?” Matalas says. “So we created a network of people—Primaries—that were a part of time because of this evolution, and it suddenly became personal, so it felt right.”

4. AARON STANFORD AUDITIONED TO PLAY RAMSE.

Aaron Stanford as James Cole in '12 Monkeys.'
Kurt Iswarlenko/Syfy

Stanford—who Matalas had worked with on Nikita—sent in a taped audition for the role of James Cole, but it got lost. So when he came in to audition, he read for José Ramse, Cole’s best friend. “We were at a situation where we really needed to find our two leads, so we did a chemistry test with him and Amanda [Schull],” Matalas says. “The second the two of them walked in together, [we] just knew.”

When auditioning actors for the role of Deacon—who is at first the leader of the post-apocalyptic gang the West VII before eventually becoming a traveler himself, and was described in the casting call as "a young Ed Harris type"—“we saw every young Ed Harris type there was in Los Angeles and New York,” Matalas says. “And then in came Todd ... and he was like, ‘F**k this. I’m not going to be that guy. I’m going to be this guy who’s really charming.’ And it was like, ‘it’s him.’”

Matalas says they got exactly who they wanted for their entire cast. “Barbara [Sukowa] for [scientist Katarina Jones] was the only Jones. We read some really great people, well known people, but there was just something perfect about it—and she did it on her iPhone,” Matalas says. “Same thing with Jennifer Goines. We saw a lot of people, but the only one I ever sparked to was Emily Hampshire.”

Throughout the whole series, Matalas only wrote two characters for the actors who ended up playing them. “The first was Hannah Waddingham, who played Magdalena,” Matalas says. “I think we said ‘Hannah Waddingham type from Game of Thrones’ [in the casting call], and then we got her. And then the only one I ever considered for Athan was [Battlestar Galactica's] James Callis.”

5. AFTER LANDING THE ROLE OF JENNIFER GOINES, EMILY HAMPSHIRE SPOKE WITH A PSYCHOLOGIST.

Emily Hampshire as Jennifer Goines in '12 Monkeys.'
Gavin Bond/Syfy

On the advice of a director she knew, Hampshire didn’t watch the movie version of 12 Monkeys before she auditioned for the role of Jennifer Goines. It turned out to be the right move: “Terry [told me], ‘We cast you because you didn’t do an impression of Brad Pitt. You did your own thing,’” Hampshire tells Mental Floss. “I felt like I really connected with the Jennifer that was on the page—like I totally understood this logic. It actually felt easy for me, which nothing ever does.”

After she was cast, the show brought on a psychologist to make sure Jennifer’s dialogue was authentic and to discuss the role with Hampshire. “He said that a lot of people with mental illness don’t have that filter that we have in society—they just say the truth, like children,” Hampshire says. “That’s kind of what I always felt with Jennifer—that she was a truth teller. Whether you think this is mental illness or not, it is, to her, just the truth. So that’s mainly what I got from it.”

6. AMANDA SCHULL RESEARCHED VIROLOGY AFTER SHE WAS CAST.

Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly in '12 Monkeys.'
Kurt Iswarlenko/Syfy

Like Hampshire, Schull didn’t watch the movie before she auditioned. “I had seen the movie years prior and then I didn’t watch it again before I got the role because I didn’t want [Madeleine Stowe’s] performance to influence me,” she says. But once she booked the role, Schull rewatched the movie—and did a lot of research into virology. “I studied journalism in college, so I like to have all of the information, even if it doesn’t necessarily have an effect on the superficial,” she says.

For episode three, where Cassie is in Haiti fighting a virus outbreak, “I was researching all these different viruses and the side effects and what would happen and how we should take off the gloves—which was helpful—but the other things weren’t really going to have any effect on performance or the dialogue. Maybe it’s good to know, but then we sort of veer off into this total fictitious world with a fictitious virus that is very different from any other virus. So I tried, and then I realized that I needed to pave my own way.”

7. HAMPSHIRE’S MOST CHALLENGING DAY WAS HER FIRST ONE.

The first day on a new set can be nerve-wracking for any actor. Typically, Hampshire says, productions will schedule easy things—“stuff like walking across the street”—on that day to help the actors get comfortable. Not so on 12 Monkeys; on Hampshire’s first day, she had to film complicated dialogue and threaten a tied-down Stanford with a scalpel for the episode “Mentally Divergent.”

Hampshire had never worked on an hour-long drama before. “I was used to doing these little indie movies, and this was the fastest pace I’d ever been on,” she says. “To me, everything about Jennifer was how I moved. [The director] wanted me to do a walk and talk with Cole—you start the thing here and you end up here. I f**king couldn’t get out all my dialogue in that time. I was just trying everything not to cry and I ultimately did end up crying but trying not to show I was crying.”

Eventually, Matalas took her aside and encouraged her to do things her way. “It was a horrific day but also a big learning curve for me,” she says. “I learned everything in that day of doing the TV show like that.”

8. THE TIME TRAVEL CHAIR WAS, IN SCHULL’S WORDS, A “DEATH TRAP.”

Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly in '12 Monkeys.'
Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

Most of the main cast members of 12 Monkeys, at one point or another, have had to run up the stairs and fling themselves into the time travel chair in order to splinter. It was, according to Schull, a precarious affair: “Every single one of those stairs had a teeny tiny little lip that was imperceptible to the naked eye but very capable of catching your foot going up or down,” she says. “The stairs were all graded and so when Cassie was running up or down in heels in an urgent way—as one does coming to or from a disaster where time travel is necessary—my heels would always get caught. Also, the railing going down the side was a chain, so you’d go to grab it to steady yourself and you’d go flying off the side. I caught my calf and the edge of my pants and shin bone every single time I got in or out of that chair with urgency.”

The chair itself was no picnic, either. “When you got into it for the first time, you’d go flying backwards—you wouldn’t realize that it was going to stop,” Schull says. “There are tufts of my hair forever stuck in the headrest of that chair. It was a death trap.”

9. THE COSTUME DEPARTMENT FACED A NUMBER OF CHALLENGES.

Aaron Stanford as James Cole and Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly in '12 Monkeys.'
BEN MARK HOLZBERG/SYFY

“Like the people on our show, we’re always battling time,” costume designer Joyce Schure told Mental Floss when we visited the set last year. Depending on the era, the department had to go shopping for pieces (often at thrift stores) or source outfits from costume houses. But for the leads, they’d often have to design and make multiple versions of elaborate costumes not just for the actors, but for stunt and photo doubles, too. Shooting outside meant having to line the costumes with felt or fleece so the actors would stay warm. And, of course, they needed to be able to move. “Cassie’s dresses needed to be beautiful but she also needed to be able to high tail it after a bad guy—and that goes for the shoes as well,” Schull says. “Every single fancy ball gown was met with a series of challenges.”

Even though there was a constant time crunch, the department never skimped on the details. One of Schull’s 1940s costumes from the fourth season had a low-V back with “this beautiful body chain across the back and then a single pearl dangling down,” Schull says. “When I ran or I moved, the dress fanned open with gold and cream art deco paneling in the front. It’s really, really intricate and beautiful.”

In a post-apocalyptic world, no clothing could ever look brand new—so clothes that were supposed to be from 2043 went to the breakdown department, which used techniques from putting kidney beans in the pockets of clothes and sanding them to get texture to washing leather to age garments. For most of the series, they did each piece by hand, but while filming the fourth season, the department discovered a time-saving breakdown technique when they had to age a lot of clothes quickly: “We found out you can get a cement mixer, fill it with rocks, and throw all that in, and it will beat up everything,” Schure said.

Each character has an established costume look, and there will be nods to that style in all of the costumes, no matter what time the character is in. “For example, in Jennifer’s case, she’s always a double sock girl—she always wears tights with double socks,” Schure said. Sometimes the actors even got to weigh in on their looks: Hampshire collaborated with Schure on her 1920s costumes, one of which was inspired by the poster for Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid.

10. HAMPSHIRE FILMED A SCENE WITH A RAT—AND IT POOPED IN HER MOUTH.

Initially, the production team wanted to use a spider for a season one scene where Jennifer is being tortured by the Army of the 12 Monkeys—but Hampshire is terrified of spiders, and Jennifer, in her own way, had to be having fun. So when the assistant directors emailed her asking how she felt about spiders, Hampshire responded, “‘I feel like this is never going to happen. No. I’m also deathly allergic!’ Which I wasn’t, but whatever.” They offered her a scorpion and a rat, and she agreed to both: “I was totally cool with everything but spiders, just to make sure that I wouldn’t get spiders!”

Hampshire had a meet-and-greet with the whip-tail scorpion—which is “basically the most spider-looking scorpion of all scorpions”—in an office conference room, and though they filmed a scene with it (which you can see here), they instead ended up using footage of the rat … which, Hampshire notes, pooped in her mouth as they were rehearsing the scene. “The wrangler was like, ‘This was his first thing ever and he was nervous,” she says. “I just spit it out. I feel like I had to go into this other kind of zone [for that scene].”

It wasn’t the last time an animal she was working with pooped in her presence: Terry the tortoise, Jennifer's pet in 2043, “sh*t the bed in his first scene,” Hampshire says. “They had to change all the sheets in Jennifer’s tent!”

11. SCHULL LEARNED TO RIDE A HORSE TO GO TO THE WILD WEST.

The fourth and final season of 12 Monkeys sends Cassie, Cole, and company back to the Wild West—which meant that the actors had to saddle up. Schull trained on one horse but had a different one the day of shooting. “My horse was really not into me,” Schull says. “It’s easy to look tense and horrible on a horse, so I was trying to look as cool as I possibly could and my horse was doing everything he could to totally bomb that for me.”

Schull tried to get on his good side by slipping him some snacks (with permission from one of his handlers), but all that did was make the horse hungrier. “There’s a scene that we shot immediately following that interaction,” Schull says. “I think Aaron and I are sharing a thermos of water and discussing what we need to do, and the horse was in the background—he was supposed to just be still, but he became ravenous because I’d broken the seal and given him carrots and celery. He was eating a tree in the background and nobody could stop him.”

As the day went on, the horse got tired, and therefore easier to control, but it was still a stressful situation: “If we had had all the time in the world it probably wouldn’t have been so stressful, but when you’re light dependent and there are so many scenes that you have to get done, it is stressful,” Schull says. “You just want to try to be the cowboy that you’re there to be, but it doesn’t always work that way with animals.”

12. THERE WERE ON-SET PRANKS AND GIGGLE FITS.

Monkeys is a serious show, but the cast and crew had plenty of fun in the breaks between shooting on long days. “The lighting setups were really long—longer than any show I’ve ever done because the lighting is almost another character,” Schull says. “Nobody ever left to go be on their own in their own trailer. Everyone stayed and talked.” They’d also do silly dances and singing; sometimes they made up their own games to pass the time. And sometimes, they’d play pranks on each other.

Schull once swiped Hampshire’s stuffed animal and snapped pictures of it—with Hampshire’s phone, which she also snagged—on adventures around the set. Hampshire says that Matalas would put his gum wrappers and pistachios shells in her shoes and purse: “There’s not a day that I didn’t go to put on my shoes where there wasn’t garbage in them. That stuff keeps you going.”

Generally, Schull says, the cast really kept it together, even when they were getting loopy from shooting for so long. But not always. Once, when Cassie was supposed to be performing an operation, Schull realized she didn’t have enough surgical props to make it look like she knew what she was doing. Sukowa and Hampshire started to make fun of her—"Barbara said it looked like I was digging a hole in [the patient'] stomach"—and before long, they were all laughing too hard to continue. “Production had to come to a halt—we had tears streaming down our faces," Schull says. "Makeup had to be called in to wipe it all up.”

Another time, when they were shooting a key season three sequence at 4 a.m., Schull cracked “a really vulgar joke” that set Sukowa off. “Barbara’s laugh is so contagious," Schull says. "The two of us started to laugh so hard and every once in a while after that she would look at me, repeat the joke, and just start laughing.”

13. ORPHAN BLACK’S TATIANA MASLANY GAVE HAMPSHIRE ADVICE FOR HOW TO PLAY OPPOSITE HERSELF.

#happybirthday @tstashwick from an old friend.#hermadnessty #12monkeys

A post shared by emily hampshire (@emilyhampshire) on

Throughout the show, Hampshire plays Jennifer in both 2016 and 2043, and turning her into old Jennifer took as long as five hours. “You could never pay me enough to be a Klingon,” Hampshire says, because the prosthetics—which were glued to her face—“were so itchy and uncomfortable, and then taking them off is hard. But for the experience of being Old Jennifer, it was definitely worth it.”

For scenes where young Jennifer had to interact with old Jennifer, Hampshire got some advice from Tatiana Maslany, who won an Emmy (and scored a Golden Globe nomination) for regularly playing multiple versions of herself on Orphan Black. “The best advice she gave me was to do the character that is driving the scene first,” Hampshire says. “Once the pace of the scene is set, it’s done—you have to match that. So make sure you try out one side and do the next and then start with the character that’s driving the scene.”

14. TERRY MATALAS HAS ALWAYS KNOWN WHAT THE LAST SCENE WOULD BE—BUT NOT NECESSARILY ALL THE DETAILS OF HOW THEY’D GET THERE.

Alisen Down as Olivia/The Witness in '12 Monkeys.'
Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

“I would say, in the first half of season one, we knew the whole season one arc, but we didn’t really know the whole entire series,” Matalas says. “It wasn’t really until season two—when Cassie was pregnant and we knew we were at the midpoint—that the rest of it played out. At that point we had to figure out the rest because we would get caught with our pants down if we didn’t. I knew enough to know, yes, Cassie is pregnant, but is the kid the Witness? I knew that couldn’t necessarily work, that there had to be some other element to it.” He loved the idea of having Olivia (Alisen Down), the leader of the Army of 12 Monkeys, go from “hating the Witness, only to discover that she is the Witness,” he says.

Once season two was finished, Matalas and the writers pulled out the white boards to map out the rest of the show—and the last scene was exactly what Matalas had envisioned all along.

15. THE CHASE THROUGH TIME FROM SEASON THREE WAS DONE IN EIGHT HOURS.

In one incredibly cool season three sequence, Cassie and Cole chase their son, Athan, down the same street over three different time periods. At first, pulling off the sequence seemed impossible, both from a time and a budgetary standpoint. But the cast and crew did it in one eight-hour shoot. “We write with our production team so that we can absolutely stretch the boundaries of what our coin allows us to do,” Matalas says. “In this case, we had to dress [the area] in three different time periods, but we kept progressing the street forward—so you didn’t have to redress as much of it as you would think. And then we just shot at different times of night. It’s all about producing smart.”

16. ONE CUT SET PIECE FROM SEASON FOUR WOULD HAVE SENT CASSIE TO SPACE.

Yes, you read that right. “It involved splintering Cassie for 45 seconds to a post-apocalyptic International Space Station to get some data off the hard drive,” Matalas says. “It was really cool, and it made sense, and it would have been scary, knowing people had died up there and it had been decades.” Ultimately, time constraints meant the sequence had to get the axe: “I think if we had two more episodes [in Season Four] we could have pulled it off.”

17. THERE ARE, ON AVERAGE, 60 TO 75 VISUAL EFFECTS SHOTS IN EACH EPISODE OF 12 MONKEYS.

“Some episodes are as high as 100 to 125 shots, while others can include as little as 30,” Sébastien Bergeron, founder and VFX supervisor at Folks VFX, wrote last year. “The bulk of the work is creating unseen environments, but there’s a variety of other work, too: environment work, big futuristic cities, a time-traveling city, twinning of characters when they meet themselves in the past, destruction, explosions, all sorts of FX and particles—pretty much everything.”

One shot from the season three premiere required Folks to create a post-apocalyptic Times Square. “We did a crane shot in a field with a blue screen where James Cole steps onto a rusty, old bus on his side to finally discover an overgrown Times Square,” Bergeron wrote. “This one was particularly challenging as everything in there was CG.”

18. DIFFERENT TIME PERIODS ARE SHOT DIFFERENTLY.

“With multiple time periods, you get to change the look of your show entirely,” Matalas says. “The ‘70s can feel like a Polaroid. And then you’re going to a rich, saturated 1940s”—his personal favorite time to visit. “It’s pretty cool.” The show has been nominated for multiple cinematography awards, both in the U.S. and Canada; Boris Mojsovski, who came on board during the show’s second season, recently won an American Society of Cinematographers Award for the season three episode “Thief.”

19. HAMPSHIRE AND COMPOSER STEPHEN BARTON WROTE A SONG FOR THE FINAL SEASON—AND RECORDED IT AT ABBEY ROAD.

Jennifer's recording at #abbeyroad #JHBond #12monkeys

A post shared by emily hampshire (@emilyhampshire) on

In the second episode of Season Three, Jennifer Goines (as J.H. Bond) puts out a song called “Jones, Pourquoi C’est Si Long?” (or: “Jones, What’s Taking So Long?”). Hampshire improvised a bit of the song, which made it into the episode—and became an on-set earworm. “Everybody started singing it,” Hampshire says, “so then Terry was like, ‘I think we’re going to have to write Jennifer a song.” Hampshire penned the lyrics (in French) and Barton wrote the music for the song, which was recorded at Abbey Road with period instruments; it will debut in the fourth episode of season six, along with another Jennifer musical number. “It’s a surprise who wrote her second song,” Matalas says. “I can’t tell you about it, but it’s a pop hit.”

20. SCHULL AND HAMPSHIRE TOOK HOME A NUMBER OF PROPS AND COSTUMES FROM THE SET.

Schull has all of Cassie’s coats—“I don’t think her coats got nearly enough recognition; the downside is that I live in Los Angeles where I get to wear none of these things”—and a Raritan National Laboratory plaque that she took from set. “But the thing that was given to me that means the most is Cassie’s watch with the original scratch,” Schull says.

Hampshire has a number of Jennifer’s costumes as well as the E.T. and chestburster alien from Jennifer’s star turn as J.H. Bond in 1920s Paris. But her favorite item isn’t a prop: It’s a sock monkey made for her by the costume department, a nod to Jennifer’s double-sock costume motif. “Inside it’s stuffed with pieces of all her costumes,” Hampshire says, "with fur ears and buttons that came from her costumes.”

And though the time machine itself is gone, Matalas has the most important part of it: The chair is stashed in his garage, right next to the Delorean from Back to the Future that Matalas restored.

The final season of 12 Monkeys starts on June 15. Syfy will air three episodes each Friday from 8-11 p.m. EST for three weeks before a two-part series finale on Friday, July 6 from 9-11 p.m. EST.

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35 Movies Roger Ebert Really Hated
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When Roger Ebert hated a film, he didn't mince words. On what would have been the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer's 76th birthday, here are some movies he absolutely loathed (including a couple of surprises) and his dry assessments of their value.

1. ARMAGEDDON (1998) // 1 STAR

“The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained. No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out. ... Armageddon reportedly used the services of nine writers. Why did it need any? The dialogue is either shouted one-liners or romantic drivel. ‘It’s gonna blow!’ is used so many times, I wonder if every single writer used it once, and then sat back from his word processor with a contented smile on his face, another day’s work done.”

2. THE BROWN BUNNY (2003) // 0 STARS

"I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny."

When the movie’s director responded by mocking Ebert’s weight, Ebert said, “It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of The Brown Bunny."

3. JASON X (2001) // HALF STAR

"'This sucks on so many levels.' Dialogue from Jason X; rare for a movie to so frankly describe itself. Jason X sucks on the levels of storytelling, character development, suspense, special effects, originality, punctuation, neatness and aptness of thought."

4. MAD DOG TIME (1996) // 0 STARS

"Mad Dog Time is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time. Oh, I've seen bad movies before. But they usually made me care about how bad they were. Watching Mad Dog Time is like waiting for the bus in a city where you're not sure they have a bus line  ... Mad Dog Time should be cut into free ukulele picks for the poor."

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) // 1.5 STARS

"Once again, my comprehension began to slip, and finally I wrote down: 'To the degree that I do understand, I don't care.' It was, however, somewhat reassuring at the end of the movie to discover that I had, after all, understood everything I was intended to understand. It was just that there was less to understand than the movie at first suggests."

6. DEUCE BIGALOW: EUROPEAN GIGOLO (2005) // ZERO STARS

"[The title character] makes a living prostituting himself. How much he charges I'm not sure, but the price is worth it if it keeps him off the streets and out of another movie. Deuce Bigalow is aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes ... Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."

7. MR. MAGOO (1997) // HALF STAR

“Magoo drives a red Studebaker convertible in Mr. Magoo, a fact I report because I love Studebakers and his was the only thing I liked in the film. Mr. Magoo is transcendently bad. It soars above ordinary badness as the eagle outreaches the fly.”

8. SPICE WORLD (1997) // HALF STAR

"Spice World is obviously intended as a ripoff of A Hard Day's Night which gave The Beatles to the movies ... the huge difference, of course, is that the Beatles were talented—while, let's face it, the Spice Girls could be duplicated by any five women under the age of 30 standing in line at Dunkin' Donuts."

9. GOOD LUCK CHUCK (2007) // 1 STAR

"There is a word for this movie, and that word is: Ick."

10. FREDDY GOT FINGERED (2001)// 0 STARS

"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."

11. CORKY ROMANO (2001) // HALF STAR

Corky Romano is like a dead zone of comedy. The concept is exhausted, the ideas are tired, the physical gags are routine, the story is labored, the actors look like they can barely contain their doubts about the project.”

12. CHARLIE'S ANGELS (2000) // HALF STAR

Charlie’s Angels is like the trailer for a video game movie, lacking only the video game, and the movie.”

13. MANNEQUIN (1987) // HALF STAR

“A lot of bad movies are fairly throbbing with life. Mannequin is dead. The wake lasts 1 1/2 hours, and then we can leave the theater. Halfway through, I was ready for someone to lead us in reciting the rosary.”

14. EXIT TO EDEN (1994) // HALF STAR

“I’m sorry, but I just don’t get Rosie O’Donnell. I’ve seen her in three or four movies now, and she generally had the same effect on me as fingernails on a blackboard. She’s harsh and abrupt and staccato and doesn’t seem to be having any fun. She looks mean. ...  What were your first thoughts the first time Rosie turned up in the leather dominatrix uniform? Did you maybe have slight misgivings that you were presiding over one of the more misguided film projects of recent years?”

15. HOCUS POCUS (1993) // 1 STAR

“Of the film’s many problems, the greatest may be that all three witches are thoroughly unpleasant. They don’t have personalities; they have behavior patterns and decibel levels. A good movie inspires the audience to subconsciously ask, ‘Give me more!’ The witches in this one inspired my silent cry, ‘Get me out of here!’”

(What can we say? Ebert was occasionally wrong.)

16. TOMMY BOY (1995) // 1 STAR

“No one is funny in Tommy Boy. There are no memorable lines. None of the characters is interesting, except for the enigmatic figure played by Rob Lowe, who seems to have wandered over from Hamlet. Judging by the evidence on the screen, the movie got a green light before a usable screenplay had been prepared, with everybody reassuring themselves that since they were such funny people, inspiration would overcome them.”

17. THE VILLAGE (2004) // 1 STAR

“Eventually the secret of Those, etc., is revealed. It’s a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It’s so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don’t know the secret anymore. And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we’re back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.”

18. THE LOVE GURU (2008) // 1 STAR

“Myers has some funny moments, but this film could have been written on toilet walls by callow adolescents. Every reference to a human sex organ or process of defecation is not automatically funny simply because it is naughty, but Myers seems to labor under that delusion. He acts as if he’s getting away with something, but in fact all he’s getting away with is selling tickets to a dreary experience.”

19. SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL (1989) // 0 STARS

“What planet did the makers of this film come from? What assumptions do they have about the purpose and quality of life? I ask because She’s Out of Control is simultaneously so bizarre and so banal that it’s a first: the first movie fabricated entirely from sitcom cliches and plastic lifestyles, without reference to any known plane of reality.”

20. SUMMER SCHOOL (1987) // HALF STAR

“You see it, you leave the theater, and then it evaporates, leaving just a slight residue, something like a vaguely unpleasant taste in the memory.”

21. CLIFFORD (1994) // HALF STAR

“It’s not bad in any usual way. It’s bad in a new way all its own. There is something extraterrestrial about it, as if it’s based on the sense of humor of an alien race with a completely different relationship to the physical universe. The movie is so odd, it’s most worth seeing just because we’ll never see anything like it again. I hope.”

22. NORTH (1994) // 0 STARS

"I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."

Alan Zweibel wrote this film, and he got a chance to confront Ebert about the review. In a bathroom.

23. 200 CIGARETTES (1999)// HALF STAR

"Maybe another 200 cigarettes would have helped; coughing would be better than some of this dialogue."

24. DEATH TO SMOOCHY (2002) // HALF STAR

"In all the annals of the movies, few films have been this odd, inexplicable and unpleasant."

25. SAVING SILVERMAN (2001) // HALF STAR

"Saving Silverman is so bad in so many different ways that perhaps you should see it, as an example of the lowest slopes of the bell-shaped curve."

He included a critique of Neil Diamond, who makes a guest appearance in the movie: "As for Neil Diamond, Saving Silverman is his first appearance in a fiction film since The Jazz Singer (1980), and one can only marvel that he waited 20 years to appear in a second film, and found one even worse than his first one."

26. THE JAZZ SINGER (1980) // 1 STAR

From rogerebert.com:

"Diamond's whole presence in this movie is offensively narcissistic. His songs are melodramatic, interchangeable, self-aggrandizing groans and anguished shouts, backed protectively by expensive and cloying instrumentation. His dramatic presence also looks over-protected, as if nobody was willing to risk offending him by asking him to seem involved, caring and engaged.

"Diamond plays the whole movie looking at people's third shirt buttons, as if he can't be bothered to meet their eyes and relate with them. It's strange about the Diamond performance: It's not just that he can't act. It's that he sends out creepy vibes. He seems self-absorbed, closed off, grandiose, out of touch with his immediate surroundings."

27. ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (1994) // 1 STAR

"Most of the people look as if they would rather be in other movies. The movie basically has one joke, which is Ace Ventura's weird nerdy strangeness. If you laugh at this joke, chances are you laugh at Jerry Lewis, too, and I can sympathize with you even if I can't understand you. I found the movie a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot. Kids might like it. Real little kids."

28. STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (1992) // HALF STAR

"Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! is one of those movies so dimwitted, so utterly lacking in even the smallest morsel of redeeming value, that you stare at the screen in stunned disbelief. It is moronic beyond comprehension, an exercise in desperation during which even Sylvester Stallone, a repository of self-confidence, seems to be disheartened."

29. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (2005) // 1 STAR

"Of course you don't have to be smart to get into The Dukes of Hazzard. But people like Willie Nelson and Burt Reynolds should have been smart enough to stay out of it. Here is a lame-brained, outdated wheeze about a couple of good ol' boys who roar around the back roads of the South in the General Lee, their beloved 1969 Dodge Charger. As it happens, I also drove a 1969 Dodge Charger. You could have told them apart because mine did not have a Confederate flag painted on the roof."

30. GODZILLA (1998) // 1.5 STARS

"Going to see Godzilla at the Palais of the Cannes Film Festival is like attending a satanic ritual in St. Peter's Basilica. It's a rebuke to the faith that the building represents. Cannes touchingly adheres to a belief that film can be intelligent, moving and grand. Godzilla is a big, ugly, ungainly device to give teenagers the impression they are seeing a movie."

31. THE BUCKET LIST (2007) // 1 STAR

"The Bucket List is a movie about two old codgers who are nothing like people, both suffering from cancer that is nothing like cancer, and setting off on adventures that are nothing like possible. I urgently advise hospitals: Do not make the DVD available to your patients; there may be an outbreak of bedpans thrown at TV screens."

32. DIRTY LOVE (2005) // 0 STAR

"I would like to say more, but—no, I wouldn't. I would not like to say more. I would like to say less. On the basis of Dirty Love, I am not certain that anyone involved has ever seen a movie, or knows what one is."

33. BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000) // HALF STAR

"This movie is awful in so many different ways. Even the opening titles are cheesy. Sci-fi epics usually begin with a stab at impressive titles, but this one just displays green letters on the screen in a type font that came with my Macintosh. Then the movie's subtitle unscrolls from left to right in the kind of 'effect' you see in home movies."

34. THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS (2000) // HALF STAR

"This is an ideal first movie for infants, who can enjoy the bright colors on the screen and wave their tiny hands to the music."

35. PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) // 0 STARS

"John Waters' Pink Flamingos has been restored for its 25th anniversary revival, and with any luck at all that means I won't have to see it again for another 25 years. If I haven't retired by then, I will. ... Note: I am not giving a star rating to Pink Flamingos because stars simply seem not to apply. It should be considered not as a film but as a fact, or perhaps as an object."

Reviews via RogerEbert.com.

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10 Big Facts About Last Action Hero
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Last Action Hero was a funky disaster. What began its life as an homage to the absurdity of '80s action movies called Extremely Violent became more or less a live-action cartoon starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as an action movie character who learns he’s an action movie character before saving the real world. There are golden tickets that let people and fictional beings cross over from one world to the next, a slew of intentional errors to remind us that we’re watching a movie, and an animated police detective cat voiced by Danny DeVito. Somewhere in the filmmaking process, it devolved into a spoof in the envelope of a love letter.

It was a hard-charging flop that’s earned back some cult appeal for audacity, with all of its fun-loving potential on screen next to all the eyebrow-raising nonsense. Here are 10 facts about the action movie too insane to succeed.

1. THE PRODUCTION ITSELF GOT META EARLY ON.

Original screenwriters Zak Penn and Adam Leff wrote what would become Last Action Hero as a film that would work both as an adrenaline-fueled action ride and as a goof on adrenaline-fueled action, but the sources they drew inspiration from soon invaded the project. Action icon Jack Slater’s name was originally Arno Slater as a nod to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who then took the role of Arno Slater. Penn and Leff studied all of Shane Black’s scripts (the Lethal Weapon movies and The Last Boy Scout) to get the satirical rhythm right, but then Black was hired to rewrite their script. They also used Die Hard and other John McTiernan-directed movies as a baseline for the movie’s style, and then McTiernan was hired to direct their movie. Their comedic love letter was taken over by titans of the very genre they were mocking, who were then put in charge of mocking themselves.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE SIMPSONS.

Beyond the Schwarzeneggerific action flicks, Penn and Leff launched the project because of an unlikely source: Matt Groening’s irreverent cartoon. “The weird thing is that The Simpsons inspired it in the first place,” Penn said. “We thought, ‘if this show can destroy genres even as it embraces them, why can’t we do it in live action?’” By the time Last Action Hero hit theaters, The Simpsons was already spoofing Schwarzenegger and his action movies with muscle-headed Rainier Wolfcastle, the star of far too many McBain movies, and the show that gave Penn and Leff the creative license to write their film later roasted Last Action Hero directly. In “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” Bart Simpson tells Wolfcastle his last movie sucked, Wolfcastle admits there were script problems, and Chief Wiggum quips, “I’ll say. Magic ticket my ass, McBain!”

3. CARRIE FISHER, WILLIAM GOLDMAN, AND LARRY FERGUSON ALL DID REWRITES.

Penn and Leff were replaced by Black and David Arnott, who were replaced by novelist and Oscar winner William Goldman (The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). Goldman earned a hefty $1 million fee which, according to Black, was to provide a safety net for producers. If it flopped, they could claim they did everything they could, including hiring a world-class writer to whip the screenplay into shape. Turns out they’d need all the excuses they could marshal. With Schwarzenegger and the studio still unhappy with the script, they called in other voices to polish the dialogue, including Carrie Fisher and Larry Ferguson, who was fresh off of The Hunt For Red October. The studio then tried to rehire Black to punch up some action sequences, but he refused. “It just made people breathe easier throwing money at this enormous behemoth,” Black said. The multitude of writers was a major reason the movie ended up so disjointed.

4. THE SCHEDULE DOOMED THE MOVIE FROM THE OUTSET.

Regardless of any problems finding the right script (rewrites are common on all big movies), the movie had almost zero chance because there simply wasn’t enough time to make it. From the greenlight to Columbia Pictures’s expected release date of June 18, 1993, McTiernan and company had a bit over nine months to put together a wannabe blockbuster with a massive budget, lots of explosions, and a ton of VFX.

Robert Greenberg, who was hired to do the CGI, said, “I don’t think a production of this scope has been pulled together on such a short schedule,” echoing a sentiment McTiernan (and others) would have later while explaining its failure.

As the project barreled toward a release date that the studio refused to change (even after a disastrous public feedback screening they claimed was “absolutely sensational”), the crew was working 18-hour days, six days a week. It got so bad they had to bring in a masseuse, and the final cut was done mere days before they had to ship prints to theaters. Last Action Hero was also released a week after Jurassic Park, which was … not so good for it.

5. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER GOT AC/DC TO WRITE A SONG FOR IT.

Last Action Hero was the first movie Schwarzenegger executive produced, and he had approval on every detail—right down to the marketing. Knowing that Jack Slater would need an explosive, memorable anthem, Schwarzenegger personally sought out AC/DC, but instead of asking for the rights to one of their hits, he asked them to write something new. Thus, “Big Gun” was born. It’s an uncomplicated, face-melting rock song and the most memorable element of the entire movie. With all the other miscalculations over the movie’s tone, the production schedule, and the release date, at least Schwarzenegger got this one right.

6. THEY HIRED A CHEAPER VERSION OF ALAN RICKMAN.

Charles Dance in 'Last Action Hero' (1993)
Columbia Pictures

Just as Schwarzenegger was the model for the beefy, gun-toting hero, the villainous Benedict was based on Alan Rickman’s steely Hans Gruber from McTiernan’s Die Hard. The young boy (played by Austin O’Brien) who travels into the world of Jack Slater’s movies even breaks the fourth wall by referring to Benedict as Rickman at one point in the script. So, naturally, the production tried to bring Rickman on board, but he turned them down. They hired Charles Dance for the role instead, and when Dance discovered he was a less expensive second choice, he showed up to set wearing a shirt proclaiming, “I’m cheaper than Alan Rickman!” which almost definitely fit with the meta vibe of the production.

7. THERE WAS AN OVERWHELMING NUMBER OF CAMEOS IN IT.

Schwarzenegger also called in a lot of favors from co-stars and connections he’d made while ascending to the very top of global Hollywood stardom. Sharon Stone shows up as her Basic Instinct character alongside Robert Patrick as a Terminator 2 T-1000 in a background shot. Schwarzenegger’s then-wife Maria Shriver appears as herself, Danny DeVito voices the police cat, and Joan Plowright plays a teacher showing a class her real-life late husband Laurence Olivier’s version of Hamlet (“You might remember him as Zeus in Clash of the Titans”). Plus, Leeza Gibbons played herself doing celebrity interviews, Tina Turner plays the mayor of Los Angeles, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jim Belushi, and Chevy Chase are in the audience for the premiere of Jack Slater IV. Tony Danza, MC Hammer, Little Richard, and James Cameron also pop up. There are even more, but the best is Ian McKellen playing Death, emerging from the screen from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

8. THERE IS ALSO AN OVERWHELMING NUMBER OF REFERENCES TO OTHER MOVIES.

References are to be expected with any spoof, but Last Action Hero smothers you with them. IMDB lists 68 references, which means there’s a reference to another movie every two minutes. They range from King Kong to The Wizard of Oz to Serpico to E.T., but of course the bulk of the callbacks evoke movies from Schwarzenegger, Black, and McTiernan. There are nods to Commando, The Running Man, Die Hard, Total Recall, Raw Deal, and an advertisement for Terminator 2 (with Sylvester Stallone starring instead of Schwarzenegger). But the sharpest homage comes after Frank’s (Art Carney) house blows up when a black cop says with resignation, “Two days to retirement,” referencing Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon.

9. IT WAS BOTH ART CARNEY'S AND TORU TANAKA’S FINAL FILM.

Carney got his start in radio in the late 1930s before becoming a star on The Honeymooners and winning an Oscar for Harry and Tonto in 1974. In Last Action Hero, he plays Jack Slater’s favorite second cousin, whose death he’s avenging in Jack Slater IV because he’d avenged all his closer relatives in previous films. It was his last movie, and his last line was, “I’m outta here.”

It was also the last credited appearance for Toru Tanaka (a.k.a. pro wrestling’s Professor Tanaka), who appeared in action movies in bodyguard and warrior roles. His inclusion in Last Action Hero as “Tough Asian Man” might also be considered a callback to The Running Man in which (spoiler!) Schwarzenegger also fights and kills his character.

10. IT WAS THE FIRST MOVIE TO BE ADVERTISED ON A NASA ROCKET.

The advertising campaign for Last Action Hero was boisterous to say the least. There was the four-story-tall Jack Slater/Schwarzenegger inflatable at the Cannes Film Festival (which they also erected in Times Square), but they went even bigger by painting the movie’s logo on an unmanned NASA rocket. The first attempt at space-based advertising reportedly cost $500,000 and literally didn’t take off. As with everything else in this doomed project, the COMET rocket that was set to launch in May to promote the June release of the movie was delayed for technical reasons and didn’t head for the stars until after the movie had flopped.

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