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Behind-The-Scenes Stories From The Set Of The '80s 'Flash Gordon'

Updated May 16, 2019 228.3k views14 items

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 releaseFlash 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.

  • Italian Translators Are To Blame For The Weirder Scenes

    If you've seen Flash Gordon, you know the dialogue is weird at best and borderline incoherent at worst. This is because the screenwriter had initially composed the script in English, then had it translated to Italian for the foreign crew to read. Lastly, a non-native English speaker translated the screenplay back to its original language. 

    According to screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr., known for works like Batman (1966) and King Kong (1976), the entire situation was surreal:

    [Producer Dino De Laurentiis] reads English better than many people realize, but translates all of his scripts into Italian. We were living in Nantucket at the time, and his translator was a woman whose name I forget. She could barely translate the scripts; if it said, "The tall, beautiful woman walked into the room," she'd say, "Oh, what a beautiful cat."

    When Semple told De Laurentiis the translations were off, the producer reportedly didn't care. Semple said, "I told him the translator was horrible, her translations aren't any good; he said, 'I do not want to be fooled by the words; I do not want to be fooled by written words. I want to know the story.'"

  • Kurt Russell And Arnold Schwarzenegger Were Considered For The Lead Role

    Imagine a world where either Kurt Russell or Arnold Schwarzenegger played the role of Flash Gordon. Unfortunately, neither castings ever came to pass - both for completely different reasons. Russell got offered the part, but he thought the role was too one-dimensional - and this was before he became world-renowned.

    Producers tossed around Schwarzenegger's name for the role, but De Laurentiis said no one would understand the Austrian's thick accent. Instead, they hired Sam J. Jones after he appeared on The Dating Game. When discussing his casting, Jones said:

    I went on, and lost the date but got the job! Dino... I should say Mr. De Laurentiis, or a member of his family, was watching. They called me, and the next morning I went in with my manager for an interview to meet Dino and his staff.

  • Producer De Laurentiis Wanted Pink Floyd To Record The Score

    Flash Gordon is wild, over-the-top fun, so who better to score the film than Queen? Initially, producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted psyche-rockers Pink Floyd to create the soundtrack for the movie, which would have changed its tone significantly. Pink Floyd ultimately passed, but the members of Queen were on board the moment they heard the tale of a Flash Gordon movie in pre-production. 

    Supposedly, when the band's manager met with De Laurentiis and suggested the group score the film, the producer asked, "Who are the Queens?" When De Laurentiis finally listened to the group, he was impressed and signed them on to write the music for Flash Gordon.

  • Freddie Mercury Designed The 'Flash Gordon' Logo

    In keeping with the freewheeling production of Flash Gordon, the film's famous logo got designed by none other than Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury. The singer studied graphic design in college and created Queen's logo, so this task was right in his wheelhouse. 

    It would be strange to hear about a composer like Hans Zimmer drawing the logo for The Dark Knight, but with Mercury and Flash Gordon, this pairing makes sense