Do you know how your favorite movies came to be? A lot goes into making a film, but audiences aren’t usually aware of the creative process that leads to the entertaining final product. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering “where’d they get the idea for this?” while you’re watching a movie, then this is a gallery you can’t miss. We’ll learn where the inspiration for some big films came from and get a few fun behind-the-scenes facts too.
You’ll be touched by the real-life story behind one of the most famous alien movies ever made…
One, Two, Freddy’s Coming For You
Many people who grew up during the 1980s recall being terrified by the slasher classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. In the movie, some teenagers experience horrifying dreams in which they are hunted down and murdered by the disfigured villain Freddy Krueger. When the kids are killed in their dreams, they also die in real life.
Creator Wes Craven based Nightmare on real-life events that he’d read about in the newspaper. In 1981, the New York Times reported that 18 refugees from southeastern Asia had died in their sleep. One of the top theories investigators explored was that the victims had been “frightened to death by nightmares.” Also terrifying is that the Freddy Krueger character was based on an old man in Craven’s childhood neighborhood. Sweet dreams tonight!
How To Cope With Mean Girls
Many times, movies are autobiographical to some degree. People usually write what they know about, and elements of a screenwriter’s life are bound to end up in scripts sometimes. So you might guess that Mean Girls, the 2004 teen comedy written by Tina Fey, was a reflection of Fey’s own experiences.
Actually, Fey received inspiration for the movie about mean and cliquish high school girls from an unexpected source: a self-help book. Rosalind Wiseman’s book Queen Bees and Wannabes provides advice to parents whose children are suffering at the hands of bullies and mean kids.Also, the Cady Garey character, played by Lindsay Lohan in the movie, is named for Fey’s college roommate.
The next film had a real-life bully for inspiration.
An Unflattering Portrayal
Back to the Future, like many other films, was inspired by a book. But the 1985 comedy sci-fi classic wasn’t based on a novel. No, writer Bob Gale got the concept for Back to the Future by flipping through his father’s old high school yearbook while visiting his parents. He wondered, “Gee, if I went to high school with my dad, would I have been friends with him?” and the idea was born.
Another key inspiration for the movie was none other than the current president of the United States, Donald Trump. In a 2015 interview with the Daily Beast, Gale confirmed what many fans had guessed all along: that the movie’s mean bully Biff Tannen was based on Trump. Ouch.
When Believing In Ghosts Pays Off
The concept behind Ghostbusters, the 1984 film that blended supernatural elements with comedy, came from a real-life belief in ghosts. Actor and writer Dan Akroyd has had a lifelong interest in the paranormal. “It’s the family business, for God’s sake,” he told Vanity Fair in an interview.
Akroyd’s great-grandfather conducted séances at the family farmhouse. And his grandfather, who worked as a telephone engineer, tried to devise an instrument that would allow him to communicate with the dead. Even his father was in on the family hobby – he penned a book about ghosts. Dan Akroyd sat down and wrote Ghostbusters after reading an American Society of Psychical Research article about parapsychology. The film eventually launched a sequel, two animated series, video games, a popular remake, and more.
Surprisingly Dark Similarities
Adults and kids alike loved the Pixar-produced animated hit Ratatouille, about a rat who becomes a famous chef. Many chefs also praised the film for its realism – its creators were meticulous with their research and spent lots of time interviewing and observing real chefs at work.
It’s a common theory that the character of chef Auguste Gusteau was based on the real-life Bernard Loiseau, who owned the famous French restaurant La Côte d’Or. The similarities are pretty hard to ignore. For one, both chefs sold lines of frozen foods. Also, in Ratatouille, Gusteau dies of a broken heart after his restaurant loses one of its Michelin stars. Four years prior to the movie’s release, Loiseau’s restaurant lost its three-star status and he committed suicide. Kind of a bleak reference for a kids’ movie…
Prepare to be totally creeped out by the next slide.
A Real Psycho
Many of the films on this list were inspired by real-life events. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1960 psychological thriller Psycho is another. Hitchcock based Psycho on a book that was written about a notorious serial killer and grave robber named Ed Gein. The film’s antagonist, Norman Bates, shares many common traits with Gein.
Gein, who stored human organs and made clothing out of body parts, also had a domineering and controlling mother. Just like Bates, Gein kept a room in his home as a shrine to her and wore her clothing after she died. Gein has been the inspiration for many of filmdom’s creepiest characters and it’s easy to see why. Shudder.
The 1976 blockbuster hit Rocky has earned a permanent place in pop culture history and is frequently cited as an inspirational favorite. But many fans of the Sylvester Stallone film aren’t aware that it was based on a real person. Meet Chuck.
Chuck Wepner is the former heavyweight boxer who inspired the Rocky Balboa character. The film borrowed heavily from his life story. One of the most iconic scenes in the film, the stair run, was based on an activity that Wepner did frequently. “The running up the stairs they used in the films, that was all my life,” he told USA Today. Wepner also lasted an astonishing 15 rounds with the heavyweight champion, just like Rocky did in the movie.
It Sure Is Dusty In Here
Now a pioneering film director and three-time Academy Award-winner, Steven Spielberg did not have an easy childhood. “In high school, I got smacked and kicked around. Two bloody noses. It was horrible,” he once told the New York Times. He was so lonely that he invented an imaginary friend to make himself feel better, “[a] friend who could be the brother I never had and a father that I didn’t feel I had anymore.”
Spielberg’s imaginary friend was an alien – an alien who inspired one of the greatest science-fiction fantasy films ever made. Yes, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was based on Spielberg’s childhood experience. “E.T. reflects a lot of that. When Elliott finds E.T., he hangs on to E.T. and he announces in no uncertain terms, ‘I’m keeping him,’ and he means it.” Awwww. Knowing this sure makes that final goodbye in the movie that much harder to watch, doesn’t it?
Which Hollywood star inspired a movie about a serial killer?
Show Me The Crazy
In the 2000 horror/comedy flick American Psycho, we watch as actor Christian Bale becomes an eerily realistic yuppie who leads a double life as a serial killer. It turns out that he used a surprising model for his villainous character: fellow actor Tom Cruise.
Director Mary Harron shared details about Bale’s inspiration in a BlackBook interview. “We talked about how Martian-like Patrick Bateman was, how he was looking at the world like somebody from another planet, watching what people did and trying to work out the right way to behave,” she said. “And then one day he called me and he had been watching Tom Cruise on David Letterman, and he just had this very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes, and he was really taken with this energy.”
80s movie fans will enjoy the next entry.
Mice, Mice, Everywhere
Remember the 1984 film Gremlins? It was a weird mix of comedy and horror, and starred a bunch of unusual furry creatures that were cute when dry. But if a Gremlin got wet, watch out… they would turn into evil little monsters capable of causing major destruction.
Gremlins’ writer was Chris Columbus, who also wrote The Goonies and directed hits like Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. His inspiration for the Gremlins? The mice that inhabited his Garment District apartment in Manhattan. IndieWire reports that Columbus had this to say about his unwanted roommates: “By day, it was pleasant enough, but at night, what sounded like a platoon of mice would come out and to hear them skittering around in the blackness was really creepy.” It sounds like the mice must have gotten wet at night.
How Do You Like Them Apples?
Good Will Hunting, the dramatic film released in 1997, was famously written by two of its starring actors, lifelong friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Their reason for writing the screenplay is not as well-known. It turns out that when Matt was studying at Harvard, he had to complete one final assignment for a drama class. He turned in a 40-page script, which the two friends later turned into Good Will Hunting.
In 2016, Damon gave the commencement speech to M.I.T’s graduating class. In it, he shared a fun fact about the movie. “One of the scenes in Good Will Hunting is actually based on something that happened to my brother Kyle. He was visiting a physicist we knew at M.I.T. and he was walking down the Infinite Corridor. He saw those blackboards that line the halls. So my brother, who is an artist, picked up some chalk and wrote an incredibly elaborate, totally fake version of an equation. And it was so cool and completely insane that no one erased it for months. This is a true story.”
A Shark By Any Other Name
The 1975 Steven Spielberg-directed thriller Jaws started as a book that was written by novelist Peter Benchley. In it, a huge great white shark torments a Long Island beach town over the course of a summer. Benchley, who had been interested in sharks since he was a child, was inspired to write Jaws after reading about a two-ton great white that was caught in New York. The fisherman who caught it became the inspiration for the character Quint.
A bit of Spielberg trivia: he named the film’s mechanical shark “Bruce” after his attorney Bruce Ramer. The photo above shows Spielberg goofing around with Bruce while on set.
You won’t believe that the next film was based on a real event.
Indescribable! Indestructible! Nothing Can Stop It!
Even people who haven’t seen The Blob, the 1958 sci-fi horror movie, have probably heard of it or seen the hokey promotional posters for it. The movie’s plot sounds pretty silly – an unidentified alien “blob” crashes on Earth in a meteorite, then goes on a killing rampage. The blob dissolves everyone it comes into contact with and it grows bigger and stronger with each consumed victim.
Here’s the really weird part. The Blob was based on real newspaper stories. A 1950 New York Times article with the headline “A ‘Saucer’ Floats to Earth And a Theory Is Dished Up” goes on to say that four policemen in Pennsylvania had found a weird jelly-like substance. When they touched the goo it stuck to one of the officer’s hands and started to dissolve. Eventually it disappeared completely, but its story spawned one of the most beloved cheesy B-movies ever.
The Most Sensible Reason Ever To Make A Film
In the 1980s, writer Daniel Waters moved from Indiana to Los Angeles and got a job at what he described to Hollywood Interview as “the least cool video store” ever. He spent his shifts “[t]eaching poor children not to rent Zone Troopers just because it’s a new release, and to rent Alien instead.”
Surrounded by bad movies, Waters started writing Heathers while he worked. His reason was simple: “I just wrote Heathers because I wanted to see Heathers.” His screenplay turned into the 1988 dark comedy film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. Not bad for a video store clerk.
The classic movie that comes next had one of the most bizarre influences ever.
Hitchcock Was Inspired By Toxic Algae
The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror film, gave many a viewer nightmares about the feathered creatures. In the film, residents of Bodega Bay, California are terrorized by days of unexplained and violent attacks by birds of all different species. The film was based loosely on Daphne du Maurier’s book of the same name but also had real-life inspiration.
In 1961, hundreds of seabirds mysteriously started crashing violently into homes around Monterey Bay, California. Hitchcock included elements of this mysterious event in his film. Just recently, scientists solved the mystery of why all those birds suddenly went berserk: leaking septic tanks had released toxic algae. Any birds who ingested the nasty stuff were afflicted with confusion and seizures. Wonder what Hitchcock would think if he knew that one of his most famous works was partially inspired by sewage?
There’s No Place Like Home
The Coen Brothers’ 2000 comedy-crime film O Brother, Where Art Thou is set during the Great Depression. The story follows three convicts who escape from prison and head out on a journey to find treasure that one of the men claims to have buried years earlier.
Although there the film clearly references Homer’s The Odyssey, the epic poem was not the original inspiration for O Brother, Where Art Thou. Fifteen years after the movie’s release, Joel and Ethan Coen attended a Q & A and shared some details about its inspiration. “It started as a ‘three saps on the run’ kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, ‘You know, they’re trying to get home — let’s just say this is The Odyssey,” said Joel. “We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: ‘There’s No Place Like Home.’”
Beware of Pity
While in Paris, director Wes Anderson stumbled upon a copy of a novel called Beware of Pity while he was browsing in a bookshop. The title, by Austrian author Stefan Zweig, had been out of print for years. Anderson knew he’d found something special, and in an interview with Variety said “I think I read the first page in the store and thought, ‘OK, this is a new favorite writer of mine.’”
He liked the book so much, in fact, that he based his comedic 2014 film Grand Budapest Hotel on it. Zweig, once the world’s most translated writer, set many of his works in grand hotels. Grand Budapest Hotel pays homage not just to Beware of Pity, but to Zweig himself. The Academy Award-winning film’s first credit goes to the writer, who died in 1942.
Being rejected from the military inspired a screenwriter to create the next movie.
Heart Of Darkness
John Milius, the screenwriter for the Francis Ford Coppola-directed Apocalypse Now, has an obsession with war. Milius, who was given an Academy Award for his work on the 1979 film, says that he had tried to enlist in the Marines during Vietnam but was rejected due to his asthma. He went to college instead but his interest in war never left him.
In a lecture one day, Milius’ professor told the class that there had never been a “perfect” film version of the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness. Milius had the idea to write an adaptation of the novel, set in the jungles of wartime Vietnam instead of Africa. He later said, “[t]hat was the most important decision I made in my life as a writer.“ It certainly was an important moment in film history, as well.
A Variety Of Influences
Although the Jim Henson/George Lucas fantasy musical Labyrinth was not a huge success at the box office, it is now a cult classic and remains a fan favorite more than 30 years after its release. The film was inspired by a variety of artistic works.
The Wizard of Oz is the most prominent of Labyrinth’s influences, with the character Sarah’s experience mimicking that of Dorothy. And film critic Nina Darton told The New York Times that the movie’s plot “is very similar to Outside Over There by [Maurice] Sendak, in which 9-year-old Ida’s baby sister is stolen by the goblins.” Brian Froud, Labyrinth’s concept designer, says that David Bowie’s character Jareth was inspired by a slew of literary works, including Jane Eyre, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and Wuthering Heights.
A Lonely Existence
WALL-E is an animated Pixar Animation Studios-produced film that was released by Disney in 2008. The movie tells the story of WALL-E, a lonely robot on a deserted planet. He eventually finds another robot and develops a romance with her. Co-writer Andrew Stanton says that one of his main inspirations for creating this film was the 18th century novel Robinson Crusoe, which follows a man who lives in isolation for years after being shipwrecked.
In an interview with Newsarama, Stanton went into more detail about the development of WALL-E. He and his co-writers were almost done with Toy Story and needed to brainstorm new movie ideas. “We had no story. It was sort of this little Robinson Crusoe kind of little character. [Then we thought] what if mankind had to leave Earth and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off? I started to just think of him doing his job every day and compacting trash that was left on Earth.”