Behind-The-Scenes Stories About Cult Comedies

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Cult films, particularly comedies, occupy a special place in the minds of many. There's something uniquely pleasurable about enjoying a film that was, for one reason or another, either reviled or overlooked at the time of its initial release.

Many of the best cult comedy films, appropriately enough, have fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, some of which have come to light many years after they were shown in theaters.

  • The Blues Brothers, regarded as one of the best comedies of the 1980s, stars Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in an adaptation and elaboration of a sketch they did on Saturday Night Live. Though obviously a comedy, it also is surprisingly touching, given it focuses on the characters’ efforts to save an orphanage. 

    Belushi caused a bit of trouble on set. Aykroyd described how, dissatisfied with the catering on-set, his co-star disappeared: 

    We lost John one night. But it wasn’t because he was high; it was because he was hungry and didn’t like what was available to eat on set. I couldn’t find him anywhere. Finally, I saw this path going through a parking lot and into a nearby neighborhood so I followed it. The neighborhood was dark except for one house. I knock on the door and say, “Excuse me, we’re shooting a movie and missing one of our actors.” The guy goes, “Oh, Belushi? He came in about an hour ago, raided my fridge and crashed on my couch.”

    136 votes
  • The Coen Brothers are known for crafting films with memorable characters, snappy dialogue, and sometimes incredibly ornate plots. Few of their films illustrate these tendencies more than 1998's The Big Lebowski, which, among other things, features the beloved actor Jeff Bridges as “The Dude,” a stoner and slacker who finds himself pulled into a kidnapping plot. 

    The irony of Bridges’s performance, however, lies in his decision to not get high during the actual filming of the movie. He said in an interview: 

    I’ll burn some herb occasionally, but for that film I decided, “This is such a wonderful script, and quite detailed.” While it seems very improvisational, it’s all scripted. It was all done exactly [as written]. If you add an extra “man” in a spot, it didn’t quite feel right. So I really wanted to have all my wits about me. I didn’t burn at all during that movie.

    He would, however, ask the brothers if the character was high before they filmed a given scene.

    140 votes
  • Few films have captured the ennui and cynicism of late 20th century white-collar life quite like Office Space (1999), about a group of disaffected office workers who scheme to defraud their company of a significant amount of money. 

    To make the film more marketable, the studio wanted to get a PG-13 rating. The cast, however, wanted the film to maintain its sharper, rougher edges. As David Herman, who played the character Michael Bolton, recalled: 

    I know that during the middle of the movie, somewhere there were rumors, mumblings that they were looking for a PG-13 rating. I was like, “I’m going to curse a blue streak every scene I have.” This is for people who are living this. That’s who is going to see this. I gotta have a hand in getting this at least an R-rating.

    123 votes
  • Wild, ridiculous, and wildly inappropriate, Airplane! was one of several films in the 1980s that lampooned established genres. As its title - a play on the successful Airport series of the 1970s - suggests, it gleefully sends up the disaster film. Anyone who has seen the film can attest to the enormous skill of its cast, particularly Leslie Nielsen. Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty also shine. 

    The directors, David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, have remarked on their fortune in getting their cast, particularly since the studio wanted to pursue bigger names. They wrote in The Guardian:

    The studio wanted Bill Murray or Chevy Chase, the reigning comic actors at the time. We loved them but they weren’t right. Lines like “I am serious - and don’t call me Shirley” would have been 50% less effective. [Caitlyn] Jenner read for Ted Striker, the ex-pilot, three times but wasn’t right. Sigourney Weaver and Shelley Long tried for Elaine, the air stewardess, and were both good, but Julie Hagerty was so strikingly different we knew she was the one.

    80 votes
  • Shaun of the Dead (2004), a mix of horror and comedy, succeeds in large part because of the extraordinary strength of its cast. Both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost deliver great performances, and their on-screen chemistry is palpable (which helps to explain why their partnership has been so successful across several films). The film is not, strictly speaking, a parody of zombie films. Instead, it is a biting bit of social satire, a commentary on the way modern life has turned many people into lifeless husks, even before they become true flesh-eaters. 

    As undead as some of the characters are, however, many of the cast members had some fun. As producer Nira Park recalled

    There were zombies getting off with each other. There were loads of zombie relationships. Two zombies got together on the pool table.

    94 votes
  • Director Mel Brooks’s 1987 parody Spaceballs spoofs everything from Star Wars to Planet of the Apes. Though not as successful as some of the director’s other takes on popular culture, it has become beloved. 

    The film is particularly notable for its wordplay and outlandish costumes, both exemplified by the character Pizza the Hutt. The costume had some complications, however. First, it was made of actual pizza toppings, as Rudy De Luca (who played Hutt’s servant) recalled. To make matters worse, the wire used to keep the cheese melted ended up burning actor Richard Karron.

    60 votes