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Behind-The-Scenes Stories From ‘Death Becomes Her’

Updated August 5, 2019 155.7k views11 items

Given their prestige in the film industry, it seems improbable that Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, and Bruce Willis would all appear in a crass, gory film like Death Becomes Her. Yet here we are, and we’re better for it. 

Straddling the line between horror and comedyDeath Becomes Her is a genre-bending delight. It tells the story of two women, Madeline Ashton and Helen Sharp, as they grapple with jealousy and the illusion of youth. The fallout from their rivalry bears grisly consequences, and the film remains one of Streep and Hawn's most morbid performances to date. It's also taken on a new life in gay media - a RuPaul’s Drag Race runway challenge was based on the film for a reason! 

Industrial Light & Magic’s use of cutting-edge CGI technology in Death Becomes Her won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1992. The company went on to use this same technology to produce Jurassic Park and Forrest Gump, which won the same awards in the two years that followed. 

While it is more of a cult classic than the aforementioned blockbusters, Death Becomes Her more than holds its own among its 1990s comedy contemporaries. It also has a storied production history.

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  • They Used Practical And Digital Effects To Make Goldie Hawn Look Larger

    In the film, after Helen's husband leaves her for her rival Madeline, she becomes deeply depressed and nearly doubles in weight.

    Given Goldie Hawn's lithe frame, the transformation would be difficult to pull off convincingly, but a combination of prosthetics, makeup, and digital effects allowed the actress to look authentically much larger than she actually was.

  • Bruce Willis Unsuccessfully Tried To Change The Film’s Name

    While the movie was still in production, Bruce Willis had a couple of ideas for new titles. He campaigned for “It’s Death, Baby” and “My Man Death,” but producers nixed them both. 

    The spirit of death and immortality are distinctly feminine in the universe of Death Becomes Her, and “My Man Death” just wouldn’t have had the same effect. Sorry, Bruce. 

  • Meryl Streep Shared An Unintentionally Intimate Moment With A Crew Member

    While the film did an exceptional job of meshing practical and digital effects, some problems can only be solved with a hands-on approach. When Madeline first takes the youth-restoring potion, her breasts and butt suddenly perk up - to comedic effect.

    A bra with a pressurized lifting device was built for the scene, but its movement did not look realistic. Instead, Streep's dresser stood behind her and pushed her breasts into position.

  • The Film Is Littered With Subtle And Not-So-Subtle Easter Eggs

    For those paying attention, Death Becomes Her is sprinkled with references to other films, literature, and the classic stars of Old Hollywood. For example, Helen takes the immortality potion on October 26, 1985, which is the same day that Marty McFly hopped into the DeLorean in Back to the Future (another Robert Zemeckis film).

    There are numerous allusions to Frankenstein, which become increasingly apt as the film reaches its conclusion. In the finale's party scene, there are also brief cameos from Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jim Morrison, Andy Warhol, and Greta Garbo.