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Top 15 Kurt Russell Movies

 

With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 coming out soon, I thought it would be a good idea to list my favorite top 15 Kurt Russell movies. He’s definitely one of my favorite actors and has so many good roles over the years.

15 – Used Cars (1980)

Now leading up to the release of this film, Kurt Russell was a Disney name. My brother and I were 10 years old when this film was released and Kurt was our favorite Disney actor, so of course, my Mom took her twins to see Used Cars as soon as it came out…only to walk out of the theatre halfway through, shocked…she never realized it was rated R. Definitely not a Disney film. I have seen it since as an adult, and I can appreciate the film now, but back then, not so much. I am glad that he did this film early on as he had to break the Disney mold somehow, otherwise he would have never done some of his later great films as an adult.  This film was shot in and around Mesa and Scottsdale, Arizona, and we moved there when we turned 15 years later and recognized many of the locations. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis and executive produced by Steven Spielberg. The movie is about the owner (Jack Warden) of a struggling used car lot, who is killed. His hot-shot car salesman (Kurt Russell), wanting to keep the car lot going and to save his job, steps in to save the property from falling into the hands of the owner’s ruthless brother and used-car rival.

14 – Elvis (1979)

Shot the year before by director, John Carpenter, Elvis would be the first pairing for the director and Kurt Russell. They would go on to make four more movies together. Kurt Russell made his initial film debut in It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963) which starred Elvis Presley. According to Russell, Presley was 27 years old when he did “…World’s Fair” and Russell was 27 years old when he did this film.

13 – The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)

This is part of the series of films Kurt Russell did for Walt Disney, playing a character named Dexter Riley, which my brother and I love. I’ll just mention this one as the first and best one, but they are all fun family films. They include Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972), The Strongest Man in the World (1975), and we’ll throw in The Barefoot Executive (1971), because he pretty much plays the same character in that one too. Kurt Russell’s co-star in these was Joe Flynn, a very under-rated character actor that is hilarious in all of these movies. Joe Flynn played Dean Higgins of Medfield College, where student Dexter Riley goes to school. The name of the educational institution, “Medfield College” is also the setting featured in other Disney films such as this movie’s sequels Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World as well as the earlier The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and its sequel Son of Flubber (1963) where Professor Brainard (Fred MacMurray) teaches science.

Side note – these 4 films were written by Joseph McEveety, who also wrote Disney’s Superdad (1973), No Deposit, No Return (1976), and Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978). He’s the brother of directors Bernard McEveety and Vincent McEveety, who would go on to direct for Disney, the films; The Bears and I (1974), Napoleon and Samantha (1972), One Little Indian (1973), and Donovan’s Kid (1979) for Bernard and Menace on the Mountain (1970), The Million Dollar Duck (1971), The Biscuit Eater (1972), Charley and the Angel (1973), Superdad, The Castaway Cowboy (1974), The Strongest Man in the World, Treasure of Matecumbe (1976), Gus (1976), The Ghost of Cypress Swamp (1977), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979), The Watcher in the Woods (1980) and Herbie Goes Bananas (1980) for Vincent. These 3 brothers were very effective at driving a lot of the Disney films in the 1970’s.

12 – The Art of the Steal (2013)

A little known film about Crunch Calhoun, a semi-reformed art thief, who agrees to get his old gang back together to pull off one last heist. Kurt Russell plays Crunch. This is a great heist film with some fun twists, written and directed by Jonathan Sobol. Cool cast includes Matt Dillion, who I think is an under-utilized actor. He should be in more movies than he is.

11 – Follow Me, Boys! (1966)

This is a fantastic movie and simply the best film ever done that features the Boy Scouts. It’s about Lem Siddons, who is part of a traveling band who has a dream of becoming a lawyer. Deciding to settle down, he finds a job as a stockboy in the general store of a small town. Trying to fit in, he volunteers to become scoutmaster of the newly formed Troop 1. Becoming more and more involved with the scout troop, he finds his plans to become a lawyer being put on the back burner, until he realizes that his life has been fulfilled helping the youth of the small town. Kurt Russell plays a boy that Lem reaches out to help and the main boy in the movie. It was Kurt’s first movie for Disney and it established him for the next 12 years in the studio. He would go on to star in 9 more Disney movies as well as numerous Disney TV shows.

10 – Breakdown (1997)

This movie was Taken, before Liam Neeson came around. Not really but technically the same story, but with his wife instead of daughter. Kurt Russell has starred with J.T. Walsh three times before, in Tequila Sunrise (1988), Backdraft (1991), and Executive Decision (1996). Kurt Russell has killed J.T. Walsh twice in a movie. In Tequila Sunrise he shoots him. In this film, he throws him off the bridge, and Amy puts the truck in neutral, causing the truck to land on him.

9 – Executive Decision (1996)

When terrorists seize control of an airliner, an intelligence analyst accompanies a commando unit for a midair boarding operation. The real surprise in this movie happens about 20 minutes into the film when Steven Seagal, who you think is going to be a major character, dies. It was the first time in a movie, where Steven Seagal’s character gets killed. It would happen again in Machete (2010). Kurt enjoyed the script as soon as he read it. He said later, “When I read Executive Decision, it was a real page-turner. I read scripts for the stories more than I do for the characters. I’ve read lots of characters I’d like to play, but I didn’t enjoy the movie itself that much. I liked the fun of Executive Decision, you know, I feel when an audience sees my name attached to a film, they think it’ll probably be a pretty good movie. The movies I do, if we make them well, will be fun to watch. They may not be the best movie of the year, and I may not be your favorite actor, but people come up to me all the time and say, “I like the movies you do”.

8 – Escape From New York (1981)

This movie has an incredibly unique premise; in 1997, when the U.S. president crashes into Manhattan, now a giant maximum security prison, a convicted bank robber is sent in to rescue him. That man of course is Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). He reprises the role again in Escape From LA, but that movie is really cheesy. I mostly like cheese, but that sequel is too much at times. Kurt Russell has stated that this (the first one) is his favorite of all his films, and Snake Plissken is his favorite of his characters. Snake Plissken’s eyepatch was suggested by Kurt. Clint Eastwood was considered for the role of Snake Plissken. Kurt based his performance on Eastwood, in his westerns. The line “I thought you were dead” was probably borrowed from Big Jake (1971). Every time John Wayne tells someone his name, the standard response is “I thought you were dead.” Which would mean that parts of this film were inspired by two legendary western stars, or their films; John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Snake, being based on Clint, has the added irony that Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef were in several “spaghetti westerns” together, who also stars in this movie.

7 – Stargate (1994)

An interstellar teleportation device, found in Egypt, leads to a planet with humans resembling ancient Egyptians who worship the god Ra. In a magazine interview, James Spader said that he found the original screenplay “awful” but also that it was so bad it actually intrigued him. He then met with Roland Emmerich, was inspired by the director’s passion for the project, and decided to make the movie because he felt the energy and craziness of making such a film would translate into an exciting final film.

6 – Backdraft (1991)

Ron Howard directed film about two Chicago firefighter brothers, who don’t get along, who have to work together while a dangerous arsonist is on the loose. Kurt Russell, Kevin Casey, Scott Glenn, and William Baldwin did a lot of their own stunts, and the Stunt Coordinator Walter Scott was so impressed by their performances, that he credited them as stunt performers in the credits. William and Kurt went to a firefighter “boot camp” to learn the ropes. They even slept at a Chicago firehouse for about a month. Ron Howard described Kurt’s approach was “aggressive, but entertaining, and totally honest.” Kurt was originally considered for the lead role of Connor Macleod in Highlander (1986), which was written by the same writer of this film.

5 – Overboard (1997)

A cruel but beautiful heiress screws over a hired carpenter, who later is the first one to find her when she gets amnesia. Looking for a little revenge he convinces her that she’s his wife. Great romantic comedy by Garry Marshall and also starring Goldie Hawn, Kurt’s real life love. As of 2017, this is the third and last of three movies that real-life couple Goldie and Kurt appeared in together as co-stars. Their earlier collaborations were Swing Shift (1984) and The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968). Looking back on the film, Garry Marshall thinks that it’s “still one of the funniest pictures I ever made,” he said later.

4 – Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

An All-American trucker, Jack Burton, gets dragged into a centuries-old mystical battle in Chinatown. Kurt Russell confessed on the DVD commentary that he was afraid of starring in the movie, because he had made a string of movies that flopped at the box-office. When he asked John Carpenter about it, he told Kurt that it didn’t matter to him – he just wanted to make the movie with him. It did flop at the box office initially, but became a huge hit on video and DVD years later. Now it’s considered a cult classic. John and Kurt explain on the audio commentary that the first test screening was so overwhelmingly positive, that both of them expected it to be a big hit after they made it. However, 20th Century Fox put little into promoting the movie, and it ended up being a box-office bomb. According to John and Kurt in the DVD commentary, the story was originally written as a western, but Carpenter decided to set it during modern times. They even mention that instead of Jack Burton’s truck being stolen, it was originally his horse. Kurt Russell turned down the lead role of Connor MacLeod in Highlander to appear in this film. Both movies were made and released by 20th Century Fox. An interesting side note, in the scene where Kurt is attempting to infiltrate the brothel, he is wearing the same outfit that he wore in Used Cars.

3 – Tango and Cash (1989)

The original idea for this film was to get Rambo and the Terminator together for a buddy cop film. They couldn’t get Arnold Schwarzenegger back then so it became a Rambo and Snake Plissken film. Not really, but it had Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, two action stars in one movie. Kurt was originally considered and offered the role of Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon (1987), but he turned it down, and it went to Mel Gibson, with whom he worked on Tequila Sunrise. His character in this film is loosely based on Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon.

2 – The Thing (1982)

It’s no secret that I love this movie. I write about it in a blog post: http://brothers-ink.com/2016/02/the-thing/

It’s the finest horror film ever made and is about a research facility in Antarctica that comes across an alien force that can become anything it touches with 100% accuracy. The members must now find out who’s human and who’s not before it’s too late. John Carpenter has stated that of all his films, this is also his personal favorite. John Carpenter’s film is a much more faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell, Jr.’s original novella “Who Goes There?” than The Thing from Another World (1951). For example, the 1951 version introduced female characters including a “love interest” for the hero. This film, like the original story, has no roles for women. Also, the use of a hot needle, to check the blood of the characters to see if they were still human or not, was taken directly from the original novella, and was not used in the 1951 movie. When the crew are all discussing what the alien spacecraft might be, one of them explains it by saying “Chariots of the Gods.” This is a reference to the famous 1968 book by Swiss-German author Erich von Däniken entitled “Chariots of the Gods?” which hypothesized that many of the world’s great historical monuments, such as the Egyptian Pyramids, were built with the aid of technologies and religion provided by extra-terrestrial beings, who were treated as deities by ancient peoples.

1 – Tombstone (1993)

I mention this film as the top film for a list for Val Kilmer as well in a post from our blog: http://brothers-ink.com/2016/12/top-15-val-kilmer-movies/

It’s the best film you can find about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the fight at the OK Corral. Unbelievable cast with Kurt, Val, Bill Paxton, Sam Elliott, Powers Booth, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Dana Delaney, Charlton Heston, and Michael Biehn. In an interview with True West magazine in October 2006, Kurt admit that after original director Kevin Jarre was fired, he directed a majority of the picture. According to Russell, George P. Cosmatos served merely to make things run smoothly. Also, in the True West interview, Kurt stated that the film was nearly cast with Richard Gere as Wyatt Earp, and Willem Dafoe as Doc Holliday.

Top 15 Monster Movies

 

The new blockbuster movie season is almost upon us, so I’m going to take this opportunity to name and talk about my favorite top 15 monster movies over the past 100 years at the movies. Now, in the cases of series, or numerous remakes of the same monster, I’ve taken the liberty of just listing it once on the list with my favorite movie in that series and that film in essence, represents the monster. Also, if I felt that it was more of a horror film instead of a monster movie, because most can be both, I didn’t mention it on this list, although it could be one of my all time favorite movies.  The Thing comes to mind, I love that movie, but I consider it to be a horror film way more than it is a monster movie, so I didn’t include it on the list. A good way of thinking of this is if they could fall under the Universal Studios monsters group of movies.  They concentrate on adventure over horror. The best monster movies aren’t that scary at all, but truly fun and thrilling, although most will have some scary moments or moments that make you jump out of your skin.

15  I, Frankenstein (2014)

This was a very under-rated movie and one that seemed to get no marketing when it was released but actually was a rather good movie. My favorite so far of all the different Frankenstein movies that are out there. A big reason is Aaron Eckert, who plays the Frankenstein monster in this one. He’s great. It’s interesting to note, that in the original screenplay, “I, Frankenstein” and its hypothetical sequels were to take place in the same universe as the “Underworld” series (placed #14 on my list) which is from the same producers and shares actors Bill Nighy and Kevin Grevioux. Kate Beckinsale was rumored to be making a cameo as Selene. Ultimately none of these ideas were used. Since the movie didn’t make much money, it’s unlikely that any sequels will be made, making the matter moot, but boy this could have been cool.

14  Underworld (2003)

Would have to go with the first one in the series as the best one. I don’t think that’s always the case. Kate Beckinsale is the reason this series is worth watching. It’s also fun to see Vampires and Werewolves going full on war. The movie was initially pitched as “Romeo and Juliet for vampires and werewolves”. It’s interesting to see the prequel and sequels of the series, also to see how things began and finish. They have gone back and changed the original, however, as for the 2017 4K High Definition remaster of Underworld, the scene where Michael sees flashbacks into Lucian’s past/Sonya’s death was actually replaced with the 2009 scenes in Rise of the Lycans instead of the 2003 flashbacks.

13  Dracula Untold (2014)

Another version that didn’t seem to do well, or wasn’t marketed properly, but that I found to be much superior than any of it’s previous movies based on Dracula. Luke Evans plays Dracula in this version, and he’s very intense.  Dracula Untold was in production before Universal decided to build a cinematic universe. The producers caught wind of it just in time to independently add a present-day epilogue that Universal could use if they wanted to, but it was ultimately decided that Dracula Untold would not be the first entry in the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe. That first film of the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe is the new The Mummy film coming out in 2017, which features Tom Cruise in the starring role and also Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll to set up his stand alone film for the new Jekyll and Hyde remake.

12 Godzilla (2014)

It’s pretty obvious by now that 2014 was a pretty good year for monster movies, you just may not have known it. It’s mainly because now technology has made it a lot easier to do special effects than ever before. The technology has finally caught up with the creative in this area. This is the latest Godzilla movie to come around and I like it because after the film gets rolling, Godzilla becomes somewhat of a hero in the film rather than the creature out to destroy everything that he was presented as at times. It’s also the first in a new set of films set in the same “universe”, the 2nd being Kong: Skull Island that just came out, the 3rd being Godzilla: King of Monsters set to be released in 2019 and the last being King Kong vs. Godzilla in 2020. On this film, according to Bryan Cranston, Gareth Edwards was inspired by the shark film Jaws (1975). “The film does not immediately show the beast, but rather build up to its appearance while still delivering an eerie and terrifying off-screen presence.” In homage to Jaws, the main protagonists have the name of Brody, after that film’s protagonist.

11  Deep Blue Sea (1999)

The sharks in this film do have a tendency to grow and shrink in size depending on where they are in the film, but if you can turn your brain off of that fact, this is a pretty cool movie.  Renny Harlin directed it and he has said that it was the hardest film he’s ever made. Samuel L. Jackson happily signed on for the film, as he had enjoyed his experience working with Renny Harlin on The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996).  Renny Harlin admitted that the idea of abruptly killing off Samuel L. Jackson’s character at two-thirds of the movie was borrowed from the similar fate of Tom Skerritt in Alien (1979). Both men were the natural leaders of their respective groups, leaving the remaining survivors in utter despair, and both were the best-known actor in the cast at the time, thereby making their premature demise extra shocking and unexpected. The impact of Jackson’s sudden death scene was intensified by making his preceding speech somewhat long and corny. After watching the scene with an audience for the first time, and hearing them scream in horror and fear, Harlin said that this scene paid off for the entire movie. Just a side-note, the three sharks in this movie are killed in the same ways as the three sharks in Jaws (1975), Jaws 2 (1978), and Jaws 3-D (1983): blown up, electrocuted, and incinerated respectively.

10  Deep Rising (1998)

DEEP RISING, Treat Williams

Now this film is the best in a series of films that are about creatures from the ocean like Leviathan, Virus, Deep Star Six and The Rift. This is actually a really great film, but no-one seems to know about it. Probably because of the lower budget. Originally, Harrison Ford turned down the role of Finnegan. The production’s budget was then downsized. Stephen Sommers, the writer-director, would become known for his monster movies, and this is one of his best. He would go on to direct The Mummy, Van Helsing and The Mummy Returns. Stephen began writing this script, then called “Tentacle”, when he worked at Hollywood Pictures in the mid-90s. Go out a rent this movie, it’s a blast.

9  Lake Placid (1999)

Another film that nobody knows about.  Seemed to go straight to video, but it’s a great movie. This one has a very strange pedigree as it was written by David E. Kelly famous for Law Firm TV Shows like Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, LA Law, Picket Fences and The Practice! Then it was directed by Steve Miner, famous for giving us the real Friday the 13th killer Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2 and Friday the 13th part 3, as the first movie’s killer was his mother, Mrs Voorhees! This movie is funny but has plenty of scares to go around. It’s about a giant crocodile living in Lake Placid. The size of the crocodile in the movie is actually much larger than anything ever recorded in real life. The current largest crocodile in captivity (Guinness book of records, 2015) is 5.48 metres (about 18 ft), and although there are (unverified) reports of sightings over 20 feet in length, nothing is as large as the 30ft quoted in the movie.

8  The Fly (1986)

Now, for some reason a running theme in monster movies is the use of science to explain how a monster has been created or come about. This one has the best use of science (except for movie #2) to help build the tension for any of the monster movies. In a 1987 interview on Sinister Image (1987) Vincent Price revealed that when this remake was released, star Jeff Goldblum wrote him a letter saying, “I hope you like it as much as I liked yours.” Price was touched by the letter, he composed a reply and went to see the film, which he described as “wonderful right up to a certain point… it went a little too far.” David Cronenberg met with some opposition when he announced that he wanted to cast Jeff Goldblum in the lead role. The executive at Fox who was supervising the project felt that Goldblum was not a bankable star, and Chris Walas (Make-up) felt that his face would be difficult to work with for the make-up effects. Both, however, deferred to Cronenberg’s judgment. Cronenberg himself later had reservations when Goldblum suggested Geena Davis, his girlfriend at the time, for the other lead role, as he did not want to have to work with a real-life couple. Cronenberg was convinced after Davis’s first reading that she was right for the role. Producer Stuart Cornfeld suggested that they audition more actresses saying that it’s the “script that is brilliant”. Cornfeld relented after “nobody else even came close”. The famous tagline, “Be afraid, be very afraid!”, originated in this film as dialogue spoken by Geena Davis.

7  Tremors (1990)

If you’ve ever watched Dune and thought the best thing about it was the sand worms then this movie is for you. Writer S.S. Wilson said that he got the idea for the film while he was working for the US Navy in the California desert. While resting on a rock, he imagined what it might be like if something underground kept him from getting off the rock. Tremors was the first film directed by Ron Underwood, who would go on to direct City Slickers, Speechless, Mighty Joe Young, Heart and Souls, and tons of TV Shows.

6  Gremlins (1984)

Written by the amazing Chris Columbus and directed by Joe Dante, this was my favorite film from 1984, at the time, although since then Terminator, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Dreamscape, The Last Starfighter, Romancing the Stone, The Philadelphia Experiment, Top Secret!, All of Me, Runaway, Ghostbusters, and Beverly Hills Cop have since topped that movie in that year, for me. But at 14 years old, Gremlins was my favorite. But now that I look back, that may have been one of the most incredible years for films…I mean, wow, what a list of films all released in the same year. The set for Kingston Falls, the location this movie is set in, is the same one used for Back to the Future (1985). Both movies were filmed in the Universal Studios backlot, and you could see the set for many years afterward if you went on the Universal Studios Tram Tour. Steven Spielberg had a great working relationship with Chris Columbus on this film, and he produced the next two films Columbus scripted–The Goonies (1985), based on an idea Spielberg had, and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), which was Columbus’ idea. Altogether, three years was spent working on those three films.

5  King Kong (1933)

Now the new film, Kong: Skull Island is pretty fun stuff, but the original is just too iconic not be on the list. It is effectively the model for almost all of the monster movies that have followed since. The other King Kong movies are pretty great too, but the original is just one of those films, especially at the time, that people’s jaws just dropped and everyone went…wow. It’s amazing, back then and today. The project went through numerous title changes during production, including “The Beast” (original title of draft by Edgar Wallace in RKO files), “The Eighth Wonder”, “The Ape”, “King Ape” and “Kong”. Art drawn for the press book for the original release of the film was contributed by Keye Luke, who was a highly regarded illustrator before he became an actor and whose works have appeared in films themselves, such as The Shanghai Gesture (1941), and who acted in such classic films as the number 1 son of Charlie Chan in a slew of films and as the old Chinese shop owner in our #5 film, Gremlins.

4  The Mummy (1999)

Great remake, much better than the original, even though I love Boris Karloff. The remake is a great mix of monster movie and adventure movie…just brilliant. It was originally planned to open the film with the old black and white Universal logo that had been used at the beginning of The Mummy (1932) which would dissolve into the blazing desert sun. Would have given a really cool connection to the old style Universal monster movies. Brendan Fraser was cast due to the success of George of the Jungle (1997). Stephen Sommers also commented that he felt Fraser fit the Errol Flynn swashbuckling character he had envisioned perfectly. The actor understood that his character “doesn’t take himself too seriously, otherwise the audience can’t go on that journey with him”. Before Brendan Fraser, the role of Rick’ O’Connel was offered to Sylvester Stallone. That would have been a very different film. I’m glad that Stephen Sommers stuck to his vision of the film. Stephen Sommers described his vision of the film as “as a kind of Indiana Jones or Jason and the Argonauts (1963) with the mummy as the creature giving the hero a hard time”.

3  Aliens (1986)

This one almost didn’t make my list as it literally scared me half to death when I first saw it. It’s hard not to think of it as a horror film, but what James Cameron brought to this franchise is so good and so ground-breaking that it literally transcends many genres. Sigourney Weaver had initially been very hesitant to reprise her role as Ripley, especially because Cameron had cut the scene where Burke had brought Ripley the news of just missing the death of her character’s daughter (which Weaver felt would have completed the circle of the mother-daughter bond with Newt) she had rejected numerous offers from Fox Studios to do any sequels, fearing that her character would be poorly written, and a sub-par sequel could hurt the legacy of Alien (1979). However, she was so impressed by the high quality of James Cameron’s script – specifically, the strong focus on Ripley, the mother-daughter bond between her character and Newt, and the incredible precision with which Cameron wrote her character, that she finally agreed to do the film.

2  Jurassic Park (1993)

Harrison Ford was offered and turned down the role of Dr. Alan Grant, as he felt that the part just wasn’t right for him. After seeing the film, he says that he had made the right decision. James Cameron has stated that he wanted to make the film, but the rights were bought “a few hours” before he could interview with Crichton. Upon seeing Jurassic Park, Cameron realized that Spielberg was the better choice to direct it as his version would’ve been much more violent (“Aliens (1986) with dinosaurs”) which “wouldn’t have been fair” to children, who relate to dinosaurs. The special effects were directly influenced by Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Originally, Michael Crichton’s agents circulated the book to six studios and directors. Warner Brothers wanted it for Tim Burton to direct, while Columbia Pictures was planning it for Richard Donner. 20th Century Fox was also interested, and was intending the project for Joe Dante, while Universal Pictures wanted Steven Spielberg to direct. Crichton was reluctant to submit to a bidding war. He instructed his agents to put a set price on the film rights and he could decide who was more likely to actually get the film made. After interviewing all the prospective directors, he agreed to sell the rights to Universal and Steven Spielberg, who was already his first choice.

1  Jaws (1975)

Kind of fitting to me to have a Universal Studios film as my number 1 monster movie of all time, but probably not the one people would instantly think of as a Universal monster movie…Jaws. It  is, although one of the few that was a highlight on the Universal Studios Tram Tour, but not the reason why it’s number one on my list. It’s just a fantastic movie. Is it iconic that Steven Spielberg directed both of the top two films? It’s also interesting that each of these films were based on books, bought before the books were released into stores. Peter Benchley’s novel was first discovered in galley form at early 1973 by then Cosmopolitan Magazine editor and producer David Brown’s wife Helen Gurley Brown who was to be excerpting part of the novel to be published in an upcoming issue. Brown saw it by accident, having read it then a few days brought it to the attention of his partner Richard D. Zanuck, subsequently obtaining the rights to the book at the end of the year. Director Steven Spielberg said that when he first read the novel, he found himself rooting for the shark because the human characters were so unlikeable. There was a lot of sub plots in the book that was cut from the screenplay and even Peter Benchley eventually liked how cutting the subplots from the novel allowed for the characters to be fleshed out properly. Steven wanted the movie to be different. Because the film the director envisioned was so dissimilar to Peter Benchley’s novel, Steven Spielberg asked Richard Dreyfuss not to read it. Steven Spielberg always considered Jurassic Park a sequel to Jaws, but on land. People saw differences though, where the latter focused on character development as much as on its creature, while the former only used the dinosaurs to sell the film, and not the characters. As far as monsters go, the shark in Jaws is pretty scary, as it has kept whole generations from going into the ocean for decades. The shark was ranked the eighteenth greatest villain on the AFI’s list of 100 Heroes and Villains.

Ruckus or First Blood

 

Here is the plot for a movie:

Kyle Hanson is a Vietnam veteran whose traumatic war-time experiences have left him unable to rejoin mainstream society. When Kyle, unkempt and in dirty fatigues, stops in a small town for some food, the local bullies can’t wait for an opportunity to harass him. After Kyle uses his Special Forces training to escape the bullies, he becomes the subject of a community-wide manhunt. Only Jenny Bellows, a local girl whose husband was declared missing in action in Vietnam, is willing to give Kyle a chance.first blood

You may be thinking that it’s the movie, First Blood, only all the character names are different, but you’d be wrong. It’s actually the plot listed for the movie Ruckus, made in 1980, two years before First Blood was released. Just to share the plot of First Blood as listed on IMDB.com:

John Rambo is a Vietnam Veteran, winner of the Medal of Honour for serving his country in the Vietnam war and the last surviving member of the unit he was in. Rambo arrives in a small town, where he is arrested by the abusive local Sheriff Will Teasle for refusing to leave town. Rambo is mistreated and he relives his painful memories of being tortured in a prison camp, which goes too far and Rambo escapes from police custody. Rambo is pursued by Teasle and the local police into the woods and Rambo begins a personal war with Teasle, and uses his combat skills and hunts down Teasle and his men. Rambo’s former commanding officer Colonel Samuel Trautman arrives believing Teasle and his men don’t stand a chance with Rambo, and tries to put Rambo’s personal war to a end, as Teasle wants Rambo dead.

Now the history may go back even further than that. First Blood was originally written by David Morell and published in 1972. He started the book in 1968. In 1972, Morrell sold the film rights to First Blood to Columbia Pictures, who in turn sold them to Warner Bros. This trend continued for ten years. The story passed through three companies and eighteen screenplays. Finally, Andrew G. Vajna and Mario Kassar, two film distributors looking to become producers, obtained the film rights.Morrell_First_Blood

Now during the development time of 10 years, word of mouth on productions can spread and several competing projects at various studios can begin based on similar ideas or the same idea or subject. That’s pretty common and as long as the same script is not used, it’s not usually a problem or a copyright issue, as you can’t copy an idea, just a script or novel or treatment can be copyrighted. But similar elements pop up all the time in the movies.  Just look at 3 movies all released in 1989 by different studios that all have similar elements:

Leviathan:  An American deep-sea mining colony stumbles upon a sunken Soviet vessel hiding a horrific secret.

Deep Star Six:  At the bottom of the ocean, the DeepStar Six has just discovered a new and deadly alien menace.

The Abyss:  A civilian diving team is enlisted to search for a lost nuclear submarine and face danger while encountering an alien aquatic species.Max KLeven

Now, in the case of Ruckus, the man behind the picture is Max Kleven, a stuntman/second unit director of over 25 years at this point with work on movies such as Rollerball, Silver Streak, Charlie Varrick, Never a Dull Moment, just to mention a small few and TV Series such as Star Trek and Streets of San Francisco, and many more. He wrote and directed the film Ruckus and it was his first film as director and was produced by independent production company International Vision and distributed by Indie favorite New World Pictures. It was the only film produced by International Vision, which tells me the company was probably formed to produce this one film only, which is very common in independent filmmaking.ruckus

Now the APEX of where the two meet, could have been F.I.S.T. (1978), which just happens to have been written and starring non-other than Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote the screenplay and stars in First Blood. Max Kleven was the Stunt Coordinator for F.I.S.T. and was looking to move over into directing his first film. Now I’m not sure if David Morell’s book was on the set somewhere and both happened to see it, or if either Max or Sylvester was having discussions with each other or other people regarding the book or the idea or what, I’m not sure, but there seems to have been something that happened somewhere to give each an idea that culminated in their two films.ruckus dirk benedict

Regardless, Max Kleven made it to the screen first. He hired an actor straight off a huge TV Series, Battlestar Gallactica, Dirk Benedict and an actress famous for The Exorcist and was deemed as a young up-and-comer, Linda Blair and even hired an ex-stuntman Richard Farnsworth (in fact I write about him as a stuntman for the movie Wells Fargo HERE) in a key role, who was nominated for an Oscar for acting in 1978 for Comes A Horseman.  All the elements seemed to indicate this could be a BIG hit, but it wasn’t! There was a key element missing and that element simply was Sylvester Stallone. I liked Ruckus and saw the film in theaters when I was a child. My brother and I enjoyed it very much, but it’s no First Blood. First Blood is amazing and became the standard in a slew of films that would come after.first_blood

A lot of people have thought over the years that since Ruckus came out first that First Blood ripped it off, but with the extra knowledge about David Morrell and the fact that both screenwriters were key members on F.I.S.T., I would have to say that First Blood has a case that they were the ones ripped off. Now if Ruckus had been a HIT, I’m sure they would have gone after them in court, but since it wasn’t and they moved forward with their own production and became the big HIT, then I think it all worked out. With this said, Ruckus is a fun little film and should be watched if you get the chance.firstblood sylvester stallone

Just a side note, in his commentary, author David Morell cites the inspiration for John Rambo as being World War 2 hero and later Hollywood actor Audie Murphy. We have another great blog post about him here.

 

 

Simon Crane and Cliffhanger

 

Cliffhanger (1993) is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the costliest aerial stunt ever performed. Sly Stallone paid $1m out of his own pocket for stunt man Simon Crane to slide between two planes at 15,000 feet – making it the most expensive aerial stunt ever. Funnily enough, though he managed it perfectly, he couldn’t get inside the second plane so the end result is down to clever editing.Cliffhanger-Airplane

In an interview in 2001, Crane said, “I was gonna be a lawyer, actually,” he recalls. “[I spent] Two years at law school, hated every second, so I joined the circus. I was in the circus for three years doing acrobatics. In England, you need to be an instructor in six sports to get into stunts, so I did that. Then I got into stunts with all that. And I’ve been very lucky, you know I went from stuntman to stunt coordinator to now, Second Unit Director.” In terms of the many sports he mastered before entering the world of stunts and stunt coordinating, Crane covered the bulk of the extreme ones and a few of the more graceful ones, to boot. “I did gymnastics, parachuting, scuba diving, high diving, karate, fencing, I did nine in all ’cause it took me a long time to get my union card. So I did hang-gliding and others.”Cliffhanger8 Simon Crane has been a staple in the stunt world for decades working on several of the biggest action films and franchises in movie history, including several Bond films, Aliens, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman, Superman 4, Terminator 3, X-Men 3 and Men in Black 3.  Cliffhanger was directed by Renny Harlin for CarolCo.CLIFFHANGER STALLONE

Things to look up (go to IMDB):

  • Simon Crane
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Renny Harlin
  • Cliffhanger
  • CarolCo Pictures

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Sylvester Stallone: The Ultimate Underdog

 

Sylvester Stallone, American icon, one of the most well-known actors in Hollywood’s history, was once unknown and broke.  He was so broke, that he sold his beloved bull mastiff, Butkus, for $50.  That same dog appeared in Rocky, the movie that launched his career.  How?

Stallone did what all wannabe actors/writers wanted to do and still want to do today; he was able to negotiate the deal of a lifetime and got to star in the first movie he wrote.  He was able to beat out stars the likes of Burt Reynolds (coming off a box-office hit in The Longest Yard) and Ryan O’Neal (coming off an Academy Award nomination for What’s Up, Doc?).  He received $35,000 for writing Rocky, then went back to the guy he sold Butkus to, and bought him back for $3,000!

Oh, about that little-known film, Rocky, there are many accounts of the underdog actor making it big.  Here’s another.  Stallone was working odd-jobs, attempting to keep his dream alive, even with a pregnant wife at home.  He was determined.  He was able to land a highly-coveted meeting with a producing duo that were at the top of their respective games, Irwin Winkler (not Fonzie) and Robert Chartoff.    If you’re scoring at home, their movies have combined to win 12 Oscars and 40 nominations.

He pitched them the story about a Philadelphia club fighter vying for the heavyweight championship of the world.  They loved the ending.  Even when United Artists (one of the hit-making studios of the time) offered him over $250,000 just for the script, he stood his ground.  Nope, “Bob Chartoff and Irwin Winkler promised me I could star in it, and I believe in them.”

Good choice.  Score one for the underdog.

The Expendables – And One Tough SOB

 

I have a strict rule that I won’t cite the best movie stunts for any given year to any film that has had any deaths or serious injuries due to stunts. I don’t believe the production can be deemed a success if any of these occur, even though I do know that sometimes accidents do happen regardless of all the safeguards that are put in place to prevent them. With that in mind there are some productions where there are accidents and the stunt team and performers keep pushing on and in many cases without complaint or even without much Hullaballo…just bandage up and move on. Regardless, those productions usually have a key member on the team that sets such a heavy pace and keeps everyone in grand spirits and moving forward. That in my book is the definition of “heart”. That is what Sylvester Stallone shows his team on this production. Just watch the making of this movie and you will see what a truly tough bastard he is. He’s got heart.Syvester Stallone Jet Li dolph lungren faceoff

This was a production like no other, as for the first time multiple “action stars” came together to join a team. With different backgrounds, styles, training and experience, it was quite a feat to bring all this together for the stunt team. Overseeing all the stunts were David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the well-known team of second unit directors and stunt coordinators behind “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “300” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.” To that end, the pair assembled a team of two martial arts choreographers and eight other experts from their action design company 87Eleven, “who then worked with the 80 other stunt guys on the film,” Stahelski explains. “It was a huge job.”sylvester stallone jason stratham randy courture

Stallone and the others “were very involved in their stunts — especially Stallone, who’s the most hands-on of all. He shows up in workout gear, super-motivated, and he’s very practical in his approach. He wants his fans to see it’s really him in a fight scene, so he will rehearse, but he doesn’t rely on doubles and camera tricks. He wants to do it all himself.” By contrast, Statham is “all about prep,” Stahelski notes. “His background is martial arts. So he likes every move to be meticulously choreographed. … Jason’s a rehearsal nut and he likes working with doubles and stunt guys, and there’s no room for improvisation. It’s all very precise.” Li is “somewhere in the middle,” Stahelski adds. “He loves to prep, but also keep it loose on the set, to suit the environment. And true to his Hong Kong style, he’ll come up with an idea and gradually piece it together, and then change it as needed on the day.”sylvester stallone jason stratham giselle itie

Stallone’s penchant for improvising within action scenes frequently gave Stahelski “a faint heart,” he admits. “He’ll change the moves on the day, but he does rehearse them first. He doesn’t just make stuff up oncamera, which isn’t safe to do.” Austin, who plays one of the villains, has a slightly different take on it: “Sly improvised a punch to my groin,” he recalls with a laugh. “He didn’t give me a cup-check question first, and I’m damn glad I had one on.”jasonstratham in the nose of a plane

Stahelski says Stallone “took quite a beating” during production, and suffered multiple injuries, including damaging his neck, head and ankle when he was thrown against a brick wall in a climactic fight scene with Austin. “We shot the scene in an old underground tunnel in New Orleans, and it was very carefully choreographed,” Austin says. “I spent three weeks rehearsing it with Chad and the guys. But on the day, when the fight started off being very technical, Sly just changed it on the spot. He wanted it to be far more brutal and kick-ass, and he kept amping it up, and when the director tells you to kick his ass, you gotta kick his ass.”jason strantham

The result? “We did a vicious headbutt the moment we started,” Austin says, “and he was bleeding and I had a huge bump on my forehead. And it’s not a good thing to bump heads with your star, as it tends to be your fault. So Chad had to change a few things, and much later, I found out that Stallone had also hurt his neck badly, but he never complained or stopped, and we fought all-out for two days.” The body count escalated from there. “A couple of stunt guys got broken ribs from being thrown into poles, a few had black eyes, there were tons of bruises and ripped skin from rolling around on cement with sand everywhere. And Randy Couture smoked a few guys,” recalls Austin. “It was pretty crazy, as everyone wanted their fight scenes to be the best. When you get a bunch of macho tough guys like this together, no one’s holding back.”

The Expendables was directed by Sylvester Stallone for Millennium Films.

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page or Website):

Sylvester Stallone

Randy Couture

Steve Austin

David Leitch

Chad Stahelski

Jet Li

Jason Statham

Millennium Films

Mexican Standoff as defined by Wikipedia:

A Mexican standoff is a confrontation between at least two parties in which neither party can proceed nor retreat without being exposed to danger. As a result, all participants need to maintain the strategic tension, which remains unresolved until some outside event makes it possible to resolve it. Mexican standoffs need not have only two participants, however. If a standoff involves three or more parties, the tactics for resolving it will be substantially different from those for a duel, where the first to shoot has the advantage. In a confrontation among three mutually hostile participants, the first to shoot is at a tactical disadvantage. If opponent A shoots opponent B, then while so occupied, opponent C can shoot A, thus winning the conflict. Since it is the second opponent to shoot that has the advantage, no one wants to go first. The situation further changes with the degree and type of armament each party possesses; a 3-person Mexican standoff with dual wielded pistols for each party skews the outcome in favor of whomever shoots first, with the presumption that both shots are fired simultaneously, as both opposing parties are eliminated.

In popular usage, the term “Mexican standoff” is sometimes used in reference to confrontations in which neither opponent appears to have a measurable advantage. Historically, commentators have used the term to reference the Soviet Union – United States nuclear confrontation during the Cold War, specifically the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The key element that makes such situations “Mexican standoffs” is the equality of power exercised among the involved parties. The inability of any particular party to advance its position safely is a condition common among all standoffs; in a “Mexican standoff,” however, there is an additional disadvantage: no party has a safe way towithdraw from its position, thus making the standoff effectively permanent.

In financial circles, the Mexican standoff is typically used to connote a situation where one side wants something, a concession of some sort, and is offering nothing of value. When the other side sees no value in agreeing to any changes, they refuse to negotiate. Although both sides may benefit from the change, neither side can agree to adequate compensation for agreeing to the change, and nothing is accomplished.

The Mexican standoff is now considered a movie cliché stemming from its frequent use as a plot device in cinema.