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33 Fun Facts About Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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On the genre-busting television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the heroine saved the world—a lot—over the course of seven seasons. Buffy premiered on the WB 21 years ago today; here are a few things you should know about the show. (And this is just the tip of the stake.)

1. THE SHOW IS A SEQUEL OF SORTS TO A MOVIE.

In the late ‘80s, writer Joss Whedon had an idea for a movie that would subvert the horror genre. “I had seen a lot of horror movies, which I love very much, with blond girls getting killed in dark alleys, and I just germinated this idea about how much I would like to see a blond girl go into a dark alley, get attacked by a monster and then kill it,” he said. “And that was sorta the genesis for the movie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The movie, penned by Whedon and directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui, hit theaters in 1992. It starred Kristy Swanson as Buffy, Donald Sutherland as her watcher Merrick, and Luke Perry as her love interest, Pike (David Arquette also starred as Pike's best friend-turned-vampire Benny). But the film was different from what Whedon had originally intended. “My original script for the movie was kind of dark and scary and it was comedic, but the final product was much more a broad comedy,” he said.

A few years later, the rights holders approached Whedon about making a TV show out of his creation. He wasn’t sure it would work, but “I started to think about it and I came up with the notion of playing all sorts of horror movies in high school and making them metaphors for how frightening and horrible high school is,” he said. “With the show, I kinda wanted to get back to the roots of genuine horror, but with a lot of comedy and a lot of edge and a lot of self reflective sort of examination of horror. But at the same time, get genuinely creepy and hopefully genuinely moving.” And the TV version of Buffy was born.

2. KATIE HOLMES AND RYAN REYNOLDS COULD HAVE STARRED ON THE SHOW.

Could you imagine Katie Holmes as Buffy and Ryan Reynolds as Xander? According to a 2000 biography, before she was Dawson’s Creek's Joey Potter, Holmes was offered the role of the slayer, but turned it down to go to high school. Reynolds refused the role of Buffy’s wisecracking sidekick. "I love that show and I loved Joss Whedon, the creator of the show, but my biggest concern was that I didn’t want to play a guy in high school," Reynolds told The Star in 2008. "I had just come out of high school and it was f***ing awful."

3. GILES WAS THE FIRST ROLE CAST.

According to casting director Marsha Shulman, “Anthony Stewart [Head] was the first person that got cast on the first day we started casting. He was just it.”

Many other actors who read for the part, Whedon said, made Giles too stuffy, but Head’s take was a little sexier. “Tony Head was one of the few people that we saw and instantly knew right away that nobody else was going to play that part,” Whedon said. “He embodied it perfectly.”

4. SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR AND CHARISMA CARPENTER SWAPPED ROLES.

Gellar auditioned for the role of Sunnydale High queen bee Cordelia Chase before eventually being cast as Buffy. “At the time, we were all trying to find our way to make the show something, its own thing apart from the film,” Schulman said in The Watchers Guide. “We didn’t think of Sarah as Buffy because we thought she was too smart and too grounded and not enough of a misfit in a sense, because Buffy was this outsider. How could Sarah be an outsider? She’s so lovely. So we brought her in as Cordelia, and she was fantastic as Cordelia. Then we went to the network, they knew that Sarah was a star from her previous work, and that she could be Buffy, and that we could do that Buffy.”

Carpenter, meanwhile, auditioned for Buffy before being cast as Cordelia. “I think that the way it turned out is the way it was meant to have turned out,” Carpenter told the BBC. “I’m extremely pleased that I wound up with the character that I have for a myriad of reasons. ... I don’t know that I would have been ready for that kind of fame if I’d gotten Buffy. So, I think [Buffy] went to the right person.”

5. WILLOW WAS RECAST AFTER THE PILOT WAS SHOT.

Willow, science geek and Buffy’s best friend, was an exceptionally tough part to cast. “We had actually cast someone else in the pilot. It just didn’t work,” Shulman said. “When we got picked up, we always felt that we were going to start again and look for another Willow.”

“I was determined that we wouldn’t have the supermodel in horn rims that you usually see on a TV show,” Whedon said. “I wanted somebody who really had their own shy quirkiness. While the network and I were looking for people, Alyson Hannigan slipped under our radar. She came in and we didn’t really know that she was going to be the guy, and then when she read for the network we were just blown away. She brings so much light and so much tenderness to the role, it’s kind of extraordinary.”

6. DAVID BOREANAZ WAS DISCOVERED BY THE CASTING DIRECTOR’S FRIEND.

Whedon, the network, and the casting director saw a number of guys read for Buffy's eventual boyfriend (and vampire!) Angel before David Boreanaz auditioned. “The breakdown said the most gorgeous, mysterious, fantastic, the most incredible man on the face of the earth,” Shulman said. “I think I saw every guy in town. It was the day before shooting, and a friend of mine and called me and said to me ‘You know, there’s this guy that lives on my street who walks his dog every day and I don’t know what he does but he has all the things you’re describing.’ And the minute he walked in the room, I wrote down on my notes: This is the guy.”

Still, despite the fact that Boreanaz gave “very good read,” Whedon wasn’t sold on him. “He wasn’t exactly my type,” he said. “I wasn’t sure we necessarily had the guy here until I asked the women in the room, who had turned into puddles the moment he walked in. I had to defer to them—they seemed to know better than me, and thank god I did, because David turned into a great star and a very solid actor.”

7. THE FIRST VERSION OF THE THEME SONG WAS A DUD.

Whedon wanted the credits sequence—which begins with “this scary organ and then devolves instantly into rock 'n roll”—to spell out for viewers exactly what the show was about: “Here’s a girl who has no patience for a horror movie, who is not going to be the victim, is not going to be in the scary organ horror movie,” he said. “She’s going to bring her own youth and rocking attitude to it.”

Dissatisfied with an early version of the theme, Whedon opened it up in a contest of sorts to local indie bands. It was Hannigan who suggested Nerf Herder; the band ultimately wrote and recorded the show’s theme. “They created the show and were filming the first season and the people there ... hired some fancy pants Hollywood guy to write the theme song and they didn’t like it; they wanted something more rocking, I guess,” Nerf Herder’s lead singer, Parry Gripp, said. “So they asked a bunch of local, small time bands who they could pay very little money to come up with some ideas and they liked our idea and they used it. And the rest is history!”

The band rerecorded the theme in the second or third season because the first recording was a hasty affair, and the song went off-tempo in the middle, Whedon said.

8. THE SHOW SHOT IN A WAREHOUSE—AND AT ACTUAL SCHOOLS.

In the beginning, Buffy didn’t have much of a budget, so instead of shooting on a soundstage, the crew used a huge warehouse in Santa Monica, California. “We were very much on a tight budget,” Whedon said. “This hall you’ll see a lot of in the first 12 episodes. It is the entire school. We only had the one hall, so we use it over and over again. It’s really kind of sad, actually.” The outside of the warehouse also doubled as the entrance to Sunnydale’s only club, The Bronze. “When we designed the club, we put the door to the club on the outside of the actual warehouse so that we could go in from the outside because that would give it real life and make it very realistic,” Whedon said. “And of course we did it just once, and then once more in the third season, because you have to wait until night to shoot, go in and out and light it, and it’s just enormously complicated.”

Torrance High School in Los Angeles subbed in for the exterior of fictional Sunnydale High. It’s a popular spot for film and TV; you might also recognize it from Beverly Hills, 90210, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, 90210, She’s All That, Not Another Teen Movie, and more. And when Buffy went to college, most of Sunnydale University was shot in the warehouse, but some parts of the first episode of the fourth season were shot at UCLA.

9. THERE WAS A REASON FOR THE VAMPIRES’ CREEPY FACES—AND THE "DUSTING."


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In the Buffy movie, the vampires looked like regular people with sharper teeth and paler skin. But for the show, Whedon wanted to increase the sense of paranoia by making the vampires resemble normal people until it’s time to feed—at which point, they transform into monsters. But there was another reason, too. "I didn't think I really wanted to put a show on the air about a high school girl who was stabbing normal-looking people in the heart,” Whedon said. “I thought somehow that might send the wrong message, but when they are clearly monsters, it takes it to a level of fantasy that is safer."

Getting into vamp mode—which required a prosthetic that fit from the forehead down to the bottom of the nose—took about an hour and 20 minutes. “It can be tedious,” David Boreanaz said in 1998, “and taking it off is the worst part, because you have to sit there and you just want to rip the damn thing off—but you can’t, because you’ll take a piece of your skin with you. It has to be removed very delicately. But the end result is definitely worth it.”

The film also had vampire bodies lay where they fell after they were staked. But Whedon had different ideas for the show. “It was a very conscious decision to have [the vampires] turn to dust, clothes and all, because I didn’t think it would be fun to have 15 minutes of let’s clean up the bodies after every episode,” he said. The show’s visual effects artists worked on and refined the technique over the seasons.

10. THE CREATORS DREW ON EXISTING VAMPIRE LORE FOR THE SHOW.


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But they didn’t use everything. Vampires don’t fly on Buffy or turn into bats  because the show didn’t have the money and Whedon thought it looked silly. Other elements of vampire lore, however, were used: Vampires don’t have reflections; they can’t enter a house unless they’re invited; they’re vulnerable to garlic, crosses, sunlight, fire, and holy water; and they can be killed by beheading or via a stake through the heart.

11. GELLAR HAD SOME PROBLEMS WITH THE DIALOGUE.

The show was famous for its “Buffyspeak,” which was partially inspired by California Valleygirl-isms and how Whedon and the other writers spoke. For Gellar, though, that dialogue sometimes was an issue. “Joss has his own sort of language that’s difficult for us mere mortals to understand,” she said in 1998. “I grew up in New York. We didn’t have Valley girls, and constantly, I’m asking him ‘What does this mean? I’m not quite sure.’ There’s a very funny story about [my audition] where the first line is ‘What’s the sitch?’ And there I go walking in, and my first [question was,] ‘What does this mean?’ No idea it meant situation. Talk about blowing a job instantly.”

12. HERE’S WHERE YOU’VE SEEN SEASON ONE’S BIG VILLAIN BEFORE.

Underneath all of the Master’s vampy makeup is actor Mark Metcalf, who has appeared in Animal House (he played Doug Neidermeyer) and Seinfeld (he played The Maestro), among many other films and television shows. “Most of the guys we read came in and gave us villain villain villain in a very unimaginative way,” Whedon said. “Mark’s not that character, he’s just sly. He undercut all of the villainousness with real charm.”

13. THE CAST AND CREW HATED THE LIBRARY SCENES.

Head delivered much of the show’s expository dialogue in the library—and cast and crew alike came to dread those scenes. “He’s brought so much to all these really tough speeches, giving them life where they had very little because they’re full of so much information,” Whedon said. “When we finally blew up the school at the end of season three and were in the library for the last time, everybody breathed a great sigh of relief because these became the bane for us when we were filming, to go back into this space and talk yet again about what the peril was going to be.”

14. DARLA WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE IN THE SECOND EPISODE.

The vampire (played by Julie Benz) was supposed to expire at the end of “The Harvest” after Willow doused her with holy water, but Whedon kept her alive because he thought Buffy and Angel's romance would be more interesting if it was a triangle; Darla, of course, was Angel’s sire. She was eventually killed in episode seven, but would continue to pop up in other episodes—and in the spin-off show, Angel—from time to time.

15. GELLAR AND BOREANAZ WOULD EAT GROSS STUFF BEFORE KISSING SCENES.

In a 2002 interview with The Independent, Gellar called love scenes “the unsexiest thing in the world.” What she and Boreanaz did beforehand couldn’t have made it any sexier. “[We] were the worst,” she said. “We would do horrible things to each other. Like eat tuna fish and pickle before we kissed. If he had to unbutton my shirt or trousers I would pin them or sew them together to make it as hard as I could. Once I even dropped ice cream on him.”

16. THE SHOW BUILT ITS OWN GRAVEYARD.

In the first season, Buffy shot in a graveyard in Hollywood. “It meant going out all night, until sunrise, a lot of times,” Whedon said. “That was back when we had the energy for that kind of thing.” Starting in the second season, they created their own graveyard in the warehouse’s parking lot. “It made our lives a whole lot easier, but it doesn’t give you the scope that you get from [the Hollywood graveyard],” Whedon said. “It’s a really beautiful place. Looks great.”

"We poured in kerb, back-filled it with dirt and planted grass and lots of trees and stuff and that’s our graveyard set," production designer Carey Meyer told the BBC. "The majority of our cemetery stuff actually takes place in that little tiny parking lot. At night, with a couple of headstones in the background with all the trees and such, you can really cheat to make it look quite large."

17. WHEDON HAD AN INTERESTING NICKNAME FOR GELLAR.

At a cast reunion in 2008, Whedon revealed—to Gellar's surprise—an odd nickname for her, borne from the fact that she dealt with so much pain on screen. "David [Greenwalt] and I used to crow, when we realized what Sarah could do," he said. "We used to call her Jimmy Stewart, because he was the greatest American in pain in the history of film." Gellar laughed and said, "I never knew that!"

18. AT LEAST TWO ACTORS PLAYED MORE THAN ONE VILLAIN.

Brian Thompson, who played vampire Luke in the first two episodes, returned in the second season to play The Judge. “Quite frankly, we were in a hurry,” Whedon said. “We already had his face cast and we knew he could put makeup on and give us a good performance.” Camden Toy, meanwhile, played a number of villains, including one of the Gentlemen in “Hush” (season four), a skin-eating demon called Gnarl in “Same Time, Same Place” (season seven), and Ubervamp Turok-Han (throughout season seven).

19. THE WRITERS HAD THEIR OWN TERM FOR PLOT-MOVING DEVICES.

It was coined by writer David Greenwalt. “A lot of this stuff is based on myth and horror movies, and a lot of it made up for our convenience,” Whedon says. “At one point, when we were trying to figure out exactly what Buffy would be trying to do [in the first episode], Greenwalt just shouted out ‘For God’s sake, don’t touch the phlebotnum in Jar C!’ We have no idea to this day what it was supposed to mean, but it became our word for the vague mystical thing—such as the master’s cork in the bottle theory—so phlebotnum is our constant on the show.”

20. WHEDON WROTE THE LARGELY DIALOGUE-FREE EPISODE “HUSH” TO CHALLENGE HIMSELF.

Season four’s tenth episode, “Hush,” features creepy villains called The Gentlemen, who come to Sunnydale and steal the residents’ voices ... so that no one can scream when the monsters cut out their hearts. There are only 17 minutes of spoken dialogue in the 44 minute episode. Whedon wanted to do a largely silent episode because he felt like he was phoning it in. “I had fallen into the ‘people a-yakkin, I can sort of do this without really thinking about it’ style of directing, and I wanted to curtail that in myself,” he said. “On a practical level, the idea of doing an episode where everybody loses their voice presented itself as a great big challenge because I knew that I would literally have to tell the story only visually, and that would mean that I couldn’t fall back on tricks. I wanted to do something harder.” Though Whedon was terrified that he wouldn’t be able to pull off the episode, it was well received by critics, and is a favorite of fans and the series’ stars alike.

21. THE GENTLEMEN WERE INSPIRED BY A DREAM.

A version of Buffy’s creepiest villains first appeared in a dream of Whedon’s; they floated toward him while he was in bed. “What I was going for was very specifically a very Victorian kind of feel, because that to me is very creepy and fairytale-like,” Whedon said. He created a drawing, which he delivered to makeup supervisor Todd McIntosh and John Vulich at Optic Nerve, the special effects house that created the prosthetics for the show. “I was drawing on everything that had ever frightened me, including the fellow from my dream, Nosferatu, pinhead, Mr. Burns—anything that gave that creepy feel,” Whedon said. “We get into a lot of reptilian monsters and things that look kind of like aliens, and what I wanted from these guys was, very specifically, fairy tales. I wanted guys who would remind people of what would they were scared of when they were children.”

Whedon’s ultimate hope was that kids of a certain generation would be as traumatized by the Gentlemen as he was by the Zuni Doll from Trilogy of Terror. The team cast mimes and actors who had done creature work—like Doug Jones—to play the Gentlemen.

22. THE HARDEST CHARACTER FOR WHEDON TO KILL OFF WAS BUFFY'S MOM.

One of Buffy's most critically acclaimed episodes is season five's "The Body," in which the slayer's mom, played by Kristine Sutherland, dies of natural causes. Whedon said in a 2012 Reddit AMA that Joyce was the toughest character for him to kill. He did the episode, he said in DVD commentary, because "I wanted to show not the meaning or catharsis or the beauty of life or any of the things that are often associated with loss, or even extreme grief, which we do get in the episode. But what I did want to capture was the extreme physicality, the almost boredom of the very first few hours. I wanted to be very specific about what it felt like the moment you discover you’ve lost someone. And so what appears to many people as a formal exercise—no music, scenes that take up almost the entire act, if not the entire act, without end—is all done for a very specific purpose, which is to put you in that moment of dumbfounded shock, that airlessness of losing somebody."

The moments after Buffy discovers her mother dead on the couch were done in a single take, which Whedon had Gellar perform seven times (the actress has called the episode one of her favorites). "The cameraman had the camera on his shoulder the whole time and was running around," Whedon said. "It wasn’t a steadicam—he had no harness because I wanted that urgency of handheld, that you’re in the moment of it. It’s an extraordinary piece of acting from Sarah ... to go from the extremity of first finding her, the helplessness of not knowing what to do. All the things that Sarah had to go through in this, she had to go through many, many times. And every take was extraordinary."

23. ONE SHOT IN "THE BODY" WAS INSPIRED BY DIRECTOR PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON.

One shot in "The Body" follows the coroner after he examines Joyce's body out to where Buffy waits with her friends in another single take. "I am a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan," Whedon said, "and I had been watching Magnolia excessively before I shot this. So these endless tracking shots probably owe something to that. What can I say, I’m a hack. But what I was really trying to get at here was, again, the reality of the space. I wanted to see Joyce very clearly, and then I wanted to walk all the way over to where Buffy was, where her loved ones were, so that you understood she was down the hall, she was really there. We weren’t on a different set." Whedon gave kudos to production designer Carey Meyer for building sets that would let him get those long takes.

24. GELLAR KNEW WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IN SEASON FIVE WELL IN ADVANCE.

Several moments in the final episode of season three foreshadowed two major events in season five: Namely, that Buffy would get a sister (Dawn, played by Michelle Trachtenberg) and that the slayer would die at the end of season five. "I’ve actually known the [plot of the] entire last season for about three years," she told the BBC. "There was a dream sequence that Buffy had with Faith. Faith had a riddle, and it was something like 'Little Miss Muffet, sitting on her tuffet,' counting down from whatever the numbers were, and I went to Joss to ask what it meant. That’s when he explained to me that I was going to have a sister, that Dawn, the character of Dawn, would be coming on the show. I think that’s exactly when I became aware also of what the future plans were."

Why manufacture a sister out of thin air? "Part of the mission statement was, let’s have a really important, intense emotional relationship for Buffy that is not a boyfriend," he told Salon. "Because let’s not have her be defined by her boyfriend every time out of the bat. So, Season 5, she’s as intense as she was in Season 2 with Angelus, but it’s about her sister. To me that was really beautiful."

25. SEASON SIX WAS THE TOUGHEST FOR GELLAR.

After the fifth season, Buffy moved from the WB to UPN and resurrected its heroine for the sixth season—which was darker in tone (and more controversial) than any season before it. "It was definitely tough for me," Gellar said at a Paley Center event in 2008. "It's so hard to separate myself from her, so it was tough for me to see these situations and say 'But Buffy wouldn't do this.' ... I know Joss and Marti both had to talk me off a ledge a couple of times because it just felt so far removed from me at the time, and maybe that was the point. Maybe I was struggling the same way she was struggling to find out who she was. It just felt so foreign to me. ... We love her, and I think it was hard for all of us to watch her suffer. ... It was a tough time. And I think that's what came through in the end, and that was great. When Buffy herself resurfaced, we sort of found our voice again."

26. WRITER/PRODUCER MARTI NOXON HAS A CAMEO.

She’s the lady with the parking ticket in “Once More, With Feeling.”

27. GELLAR CALLED THE MUSICAL EPISODE “DAUNTING.”

“I’m a perfectionist, I come from a long line of lots of preparation, and certainly that was not the case with this,” she said. “If I had my druthers, we would have gotten it about two years ago and been in classes for a year and a half, maybe six weeks of rehearsals? Instead of four days.” At a Paley Center event in 2008, Gellar admitted to “begging” to be let out of it. “I begged for Buffy the rat,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘Bring the rat back.’”

28. STONE TEMPLE PILOTS’ LEAD SINGER WAS A FAN.

Scott Weiland reportedly became a fan while watching the show in prison. Gellar, who later appeared in the band’s music video for “Sour Girl,” had a theory about why the show was so popular among prison inmates: “Hot chicks doing battle. It's like acceptable porn.”

29. GELLAR KNEW THE SHOW WAS OVER BEFORE THE REST OF THE CAST.

In the March 7, 2003 Entertainment Weekly cover story, Gellar announced that Buffy was coming to an end after seven seasons. "I love this job, I love the fans," she said. "I love telling the stories we tell. This isn't about leaving for a career in movies, or in theater—it's more of a personal decision. I need a rest. Teachers get sabbaticals. Actors don't." The rest of the cast found out the day the story hit stands. “I was devastated," Hannigan said in 2013. "I was just very shocked.”

30. BUFFY’S ADVENTURES CONTINUE IN COMIC BOOKS.

A number of writers who worked on the TV show have also worked on the comics. Even James Marsters, who played vampire Spike on the show, wrote a comic about his character. "I was at the San Diego Comic Con and I was describing an idea that had been kicking around my head for a long time to [artist] George Jeanty, who draws a lot of the Buffy comic books," Marsters told io9. "And he thought that it was a fabulous idea and that I should definitely get in touch with [Dark Horse editor] Scott Allie. He made the phone call and then I pitched it to Scott over the phone and Scott liked it a lot. It's a story that was going to try to be made into a Spike movie years and years ago."

31. THERE WAS TALK OF AN ANIMATED SERIES.

Whedon and the show's other writers produced seven scripts for an animated Buffy series, which would have taken place during the show's first three seasons and been voiced by the cast. Sadly, no one wanted the show. "They were really fun to write," Whedon said. "We could not sell the show. We could not sell an animated Buffy, which I still find incomprehensible."

32. THE SHOW SPAWNED ACADEMIC COURSES...

A number of colleges and universities offer courses on the show; they're called "Buffy Studies." People have written books and held conferences dedicated to discussing the themes of the show and presenting papers on it. According to the Los Angeles Times, attendees at a 2004 Buffy conference "were presenting 190 papers on topics ranging from 'slayer slang' to 'postmodern reflections on the culture of consumption' to 'Buffy and the new American Buddhism.' There was even a self-conscious talk by David Lavery, an English professor at Middle Tennessee State University, on Buffy studies 'as an academic cult.'"

An informal study conducted by Slate in 2012 showed that, when it comes to pop culture in academia, Buffy is number one: "More than twice as many papers, essays, and books have been devoted to the vampire drama than any of our other choices—so many that we stopped counting when we hit 200."

33. ... AND A BOOK OF SLANG.

Publisher's Weekly called Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon "a strange marriage of a fan guide and a linguistics textbook." Said The Kansas City Star: "If you're curious about the word 'ubersuck,' or just want to remember which episode you first heard it in, this is the place to look. As Buffy would say, it is not uncool."

BONUS: RARE BEHIND-THE-SCENES FOOTAGE

During the second season, Pruitt filmed behind-the-scenes footage of the cast goofing off and getting into makeup, the stunt crew at work, and some of the show’s most iconic sequences. You can watch it above.

Additional sources: DVD commentary; The Watcher's Guide.

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted.

This piece originally ran in 2014.

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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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