Flash Gordon is a ridiculously trippy, bombastic movie full of heart and over-the-top action. It's arguably one of the most inventive films ever made. As offbeat and campy as the finished product is, the most genuinely wild tales happened behind the scenes. It might seem silly - even now - to adapt a 1930s serial into a movie, but producer Dino De Laurentiis struggled for nearly a decade to bring the project to life. In that time, he went through a series of famous directors and somehow ended up with the beloved mishmash of a film.
After its 1980 release, Flash Gordon became a cult hit and guilty pleasure movie, but it never received the recognition De Laurentiis thought it deserved - a few factors likely influenced its reception: the script didn't make much sense; the sets were built on an as-needed basis; and the producers cast the film's star following his short appearance on The Dating Game. With all of that it is most likely the best movie in the Flash Gordon franchise.
None of this may sound like the makings of a good movie, but these countless missteps and inconsistencies helped create one of the best "bad movies" ever made. Moreover, Queen provided a mesmerizing score that elevated the movie's often-cheesy material. The unlucky few who have never sat down to watch Flash Gordon are missing out.
The Creators Made The Film Up As They Went Along
The biggest problem with Flash Gordon's production was that the crew lacked a day-to-day filming schedule. This became such a prominent issue that director Mike Hodges called Flash Gordon, "the only improvised $27-million movie ever made." The filmmakers reportedly conceived the famous football-styled squabble during production. Actress Melody Anderson explained:
In the beginning scene, all these people are bringing gifts, and one group brings these eggs. Sam Jones was saying, "Flash Gordon was supposed to be a quarterback, so why don't I use one of these as a football?"
Then I thought, "Well, I'm the All-American Girl, shouldn't I be a cheerleader?" It was very funny... that's how the whole film went because there was no time to prepare. We would just create and throw things in as we went along.
Hodges decided to roll with this style of impromptu filmmaking, telling Empire:
So I had a producer who spoke mangled English and a production designer who spoke none at all. Both, like Ming, seemed to have arrived from another galaxy. Once I realized the film was in many ways out my control, I relaxed and made it up as I went along. I loved it.
Sam Jones Left The Set One Day And Never Returned, Only To Later Sue De Laurentiis
It's well documented that lead actor Sam Jones took off during Flash Gordon's Christmas break and never returned. Though he hasn't elaborated on the rumors, Jones apparently kept getting into tussles during filming, which was a nightmare for the crew - specifically because they had to ensure Jones's face was consistent with continuity.
When it became clear Jones wasn't returning to the set, producer De Laurentiis told director Hodges, "We'll keep going, with the very best stand-in you can find." Later, Jones sued De Laurentiis for breach of contract because the producer did not honor his contractual agreement to produce two Flash Gordon sequels.
The Cast And Crew Played The Movie Straight
As high camp as the film appears, the cast never hammed it up for the cameras. It was their goal to play everything as straight as possible even though they were aware that the film was ridiculous.
According to director Mike Hodges, producer Dino De Laurentiis was the only person who didn't realize the movie was kitschy:
That's why the movie's so funny, because we didn't try to make it campy. In fact, I'm surprised that (people) are laughing, because we weren't out to make a funny film. In fact, De Laurentiis was very upset when he showed the film and people started to laugh, because he thought they were laughing at it and not with it. In fact, he re-did the cheerleading scene. He wanted it to be serious.
Flash Gordon's Lines Are Mostly Dubbed
After principal photography for the film wrapped, actor Sam Jones disappeared and kept his whereabouts a secret. When the second-unit crew reconvened to shoot the CGI-heavy scenes, they had to finish the film without Jones, which included finalizing the audio.
The team had to perform voiceover work, as Director Mike Hodges explained:
After Christmas, I came back and did all of the second unit stuff, too. For instance, I had to do the shots with the flying men and that sort of thing - what passed as special effects back then. So I also had to shoot a whole bunch of other stuff with a stunt double for Sam, and I had to re-voice the occasional line of dialogue, too. Not much but some - and I got somebody to impersonate Sam's voice. You would never know it wasn't him.