The Bizarre True Story Behind the Weirdest '90s Movie Ever Made

Theodore Rex, the weirdest of weird '90s movies, is a $33 million direct-to-video buddy cop movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and a wisecracking dinosaur. (Take as much time as you need to wrap your brain around that sentence. We understand.)


Theodore Rex wasn't an attempt to tie into the dino-fever that swept the nation’s youth in the early '90s; it was a genuine attempt at making a gritty sci-fi film about a detective and her dinosaur partner. That’s right. Legendary EGOT-winner Whoopi Goldberg and a Talking Man-Sized Dinosaur teamed up for a cop film and they demanded to be taken seriously. (The 90s were a very strange time.)


Even though the film is a complete nightmare, things behind the scenes of Theodore Rex were much worse. As weird as it sounds, we can’t stress this enough: nobody had fun on this Whoopi Goldberg/Dinosaur joint.

  • Whoopi Goldberg Was Forced By Law To Be In This Movie

    Whoopi Goldberg did, at one time, want to be in Theodore Rex and agreed to play the lead for $5 million and a share of the profits, but she quickly changed her mind and tried to back out (good instincts, Whoopi!). Goldberg had to learn the hard way that it’s just not that easy to simply walk away from expensive movies starring talking dinosaurs (a lesson we all could learn from). Because she had agreed to do the movie, the producers sued her for $20 million when she tried to back out. After an answering machine recording of Goldberg surfaced where she said she was "100% committed" to the project, she was forced to choose between appearing in the film or paying out the nose for a dinosaur detective movie that she agreed to appear in. There’s a famous saying in Hollywood: “The only thing worse than appearing in a terrible dinosaur movie is paying $20 million NOT to appear in a terrible dinosaur movie,” so Whoopi opted to appear in the terrible dinosaur movie.

  • Whoopi Hated Literally Everyone Involved in the Movie

    While she was sort of forced by law to star in the film, there’s no law saying she had to enjoy it or anyone she worked with! After litigation, she took to referring to producer Stefano Ferrari as "motherf*cker" every time she saw him and eventually banned him from the set entirely. (Fun Fact: Ferrari eventually came to call the movie “an actual piece of sh*t.”)


    Richard Abramson, another producer, also suffered Whoopi Goldberg’s wrath. When Goldberg and Abramson met with mediators and lawyers to discuss their legal issues, the first thing Goldberg said was: "Just for the record: I hate your guts. Maybe in ten years, you and I can have a cup of coffee and laugh about this. But you’ve made my life a living hell and I hate your f*cking guts.”


    But producers weren’t the only ones to get chewed out by Goldberg. She also went after the puppeteers, but she had good reason... 

  • The Animatronic Dinosaurs Barely Worked

    We're no budget experts, but if you're spending $33 million on a movie and your star is only getting 5 of that, the rest of your budget better go to a dinosaur that freaking WORKS. Unfortunately, the team at Theodore Rex disagreed.


    In an interview with Slash Film, the movie's head puppeteer Bruce Lanoil admitted that the animatronic dinosaur he was piloting didn't work and when Whoopi found out, she was pissed.


    He said that on the first day of shooting, nothing was working and the producers were "just yelling at me to keep going. So Whoopi looks right at me and she shouts: 'IS THIS F*CKING THING GONNA WORK?' She’s staring right at me and I just wither and say 'we’re trying.' And she goes: “IT BETTER,” then she storms off the set."


    So Whoopi hated everyone and most people didn’t enjoy working with her. That’s a lot of headaches that could have been avoided, especially considering...

  • Whoopi Was Never Supposed To Be In This Movie

    If you've watched Theodore Rex, then you know that Whoopi Goldberg plays the tough as nails detective. (Also, if you've watched Theodore Rex, what on earth is wrong with you and where did you find a working VHS player??) Originally, the part was written for someone with a little more machismo. Someone who was used to getting into Big Trouble and dealing with The Things while Escaping from New York. That's right, before Goldberg took on the meaty role of Katie Coltraine, the producers wanted Kurt Russel to take the part.


    Unfortunately, before the producers were able to nail down the '80s action daddy, they came to the conclusion that a bigger star would help them increase the budget. Ferrari told Slashfilm, "We were thinking of someone like Kurt Russell. But then the budget for the film grew a little bit and what happened was Richard realized that in order to really raise the money for this film, we needed to get a star. And eventually he came up with the idea that Whoopi Goldberg would be very good for this.”

  • The Funding For This Movie Was... Pretty Shady

    It might seem hard to believe, but no one in Hollywood wanted to film this futuristic dinosaur buddy cop movie that also featured robots. Without an option to get proper funding, writer/director Jonathan Betuel and producer Richard Abramson had to seek out international funding, which they found through the son of a pharmaceutical magnate, Stefano Ferrari. The Italian-born Ferrari didn't love the pharmaceutical life so he moved to Hollywood to be a big-time film producer. (Eventually and as a direct result of the failure of this movie, Ferrari left the film industry to return to his roots in pharmaceuticals, where he’s been very successful.)


    We don’t necessarily want to make any direct references to the mafia or anything, but in the great oral history of Theodore Rex over at SlashFilm, whenever the topic of funding comes up, producer Richard Abramson just ominously refers to "the Italians." When discussing Theodore Rex's infamous court case with Whoopi, Abramson says "at this point, the Italians weren't happy with me because I was the guy who had gotten them into this thing." So the law is forcing an angry Whoopi Goldberg to make this movie and the vaguely menacing Italians are angrily pressuring the producers. That's the formula for a great movie if we ever heard one!

  • It Was So Bad It Set Records

    There's no wrong way to set a new record, right?


    (There are, actually, there are several and Theodore Rex did a few of them.)


    As far as failures go, Theodore Rex can at least say that it's one of the biggest failures that ever existed. The overall cost for this buddy cop film set in an alternate future where dinosaurs are both a) alive and b) occasionally detectives, was a cool $33.5 million, the most expensive budget for a direct-to-VHS movie at the time.


    Not content with setting just one bad record, Theodore Rex was also the first (and as of this writing only) direct-to-VHS movie to be nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award, the awards dedicated to truly horrible moments in film.