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5 Famous Movies Rescued by the Last Person You’d Expect

Celebrities — they provide us with entertainment, and in return, we fill the unfillable holes in their hearts with attention and adoration. Sometimes they even entertain us without realizing it — and we’re not talking about whenever Gary Busey starts talking about magic trees or whatever. In fact, weirdly random celebs are responsible for accidentally altering pop culture forever with sudden bursts of benevolent entitlement. For example …

5

George Clooney’s VHS Pirating Helped Get South Park Made

South Park feels like it’s been around forever, and not just because it looks like it’s drawn by early hunter-gatherers. But once upon a time, the show was nothing but the faintest of ideas dreamed up by two lovable a-holes — and it would have stayed that way if they had not found a stalwart champion in the nipplest of Batmen.

While today, most cartoons are developed through the process of shipping Seth MacFarlane’s cocktail napkin doodles to South Korea, South Park began in 1992, when Trey Parker and Matt Stone were in college and made the rough animated short The Spirit Of Christmas, in which Jesus fights Frosty the Snowman in front of some (now-familiar) children. The pair showed the video to a friend who worked at Fox, who then “asked if the short could be made into an animated Christmas card” — not the greatest of starts.

Comedy Central ProductionsWhich is saying something for a show whose pilot was “Cartman Gets An Anal Probe.”

Rebuffed, Parker and Stone let go of their dreams of turning their short into a show. Meanwhile, it was attracting a bit of a cult following. But since the internet had still barely gone beyond being a glint in Al Gore’s eye, the only way people could share obscure geekery with each other was to make VHS copies and physically pass them around like the girl from The Ring was about to crawl out. The Spirit Of Christmas got passed around so much that Parker and Stone once went to a party where the tape was shown and the host refused to believe they were the ones who made it. But to everybody’s surprise, South Park‘s biggest fan wasn’t some random nerd complaining on ICQ about plot incongruities on the TV show Sliders, but Hollywood’s hottest up-and-coming handsome man, George Clooney.

NBCNo one man should be entrusted to wield that much mullet.

Rumor has it that the future husband of Amal Alamuddin copied the tape 300 times, circulating it through Hollywood the way most actors circulate headshots and/or venereal diseases. Because of this, the tape became so well-known in elite Hollywood circles that people actually began impersonating Parker and Stone to get meetings. Eventually, the real Stone and Parker were able to use their underground success to land a TV deal, and the rest is history. The pair thanked Clooney by giving him a guest starring role as Stan’s gay dog.

Comedy Central Productions

Comedy Central ProductionsWhich, to be fair, was still more dignified than how most celebrities are treated on South Park.

4

Star Wars Got Made Thanks To Grace Kelly Being All Like “Ehhh”

It’s kind of a miracle that Star Wars ever got made. Imagine having to sell the idea of an epic space fantasy with zen laser wizards and Bigfoot mechanics to a room of ’70s suits — and this was the version where Luke punches Princess Leia in the face. In fact, Lucas was chased out of plenty of studio offices before finally being picked up by 20th Century Fox, where the story of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia was rescued by a real-life princess: Grace Kelly.

Hans Peters/Anefo“Into the garbage chute, flyboy.”

There are obviously a lot of people to thank for the greatness of Star Wars, from Lucas to artist Ralph McQuarrie to Sir Alec Guinness for somehow suppressing a “What the hell am I doing here?” look while the camera was rolling. But it was Grace Kelly who managed to push Fox to spend millions on the movie equivalent of watching a manchild playing with action figures in his mom’s shag-carpeted basement. Kelly, the former Hollywood star who had become Her Most Well-Lit Majesty Princess Grace of Monaco, joined the 20th Century Fox board of directors in 1975. This, according to biographers, allowed her to “get away from her oppressive husband and back to Hollywood as often as possible.” However, the crushing royal atmosphere she had married into had given her one new skill she used to change cinema forever: staying quiet.

LucasfilmPre-Game Of Thrones Hollywood had no idea how crappy royal life could be.

With the board of directors “bitterly divided” over Star Wars, according to Alan Ladd Jr., who greenlit the movie, Kelly really didn’t give a crap. As the board was in a deadlock, it was basically up to her to shut down funding. However, the princess was “fairly quiet about the whole thing.” As men had a tendency to do back then, they considered her silence consent, and this would “tilt the scales” toward funding the divisive movie. But her tacit bravery was not left unrewarded. Out of gratitude for not killing the project in order to act like a big shot, Princess Grace was given the first-ever Star Wars figures to take back to Monaco.

3

Everybody Hated Night Of The Living Dead (Until Andy Warhol Didn’t)

The original 1968 Night Of The Living Dead was a milestone. It featured shocking violence and a black protagonist, and it singlehandedly created the rules for the modern movie zombie (mainly because they didn’t have the FX budget for alien cannibals). But like any other classic, it took a while for regular folk to figure out how great George A. Romero’s work was. So it makes sense that at first, the movie’s only champion was the era’s most far-out dude.

As seen in the documentary Birth Of The Living Dead, George Romero’s zombie classic was originally panned. The New York Times gave it a mere three-sentence review, stating that it looked like “nonprofessional actors … besieged in a farm house by some other nonprofessional actors.”

The New York TimesBut they also didn’t like 2001: A Space Odyssey, so who’s going to listen to this “New York Times,” anyway.

Variety even questioned the morals and integrity of the filmmakers, which no one should do with any film that doesn’t star Kirk Cameron.

First Run Features“We can confidently say this will never become a pop culture phenomenon, as surely as print media will thrive forever.”

A big part of Night Of The Living Dead‘s failure was that movie theaters didn’t know how to properly show the movie. At the time, most horror movies were goofy and shlocky affairs, so they were predominantly screened at grindhouses or … children’s matinees. Meaning that kids used to more sanitized horror pictures got this shoved in their impressionable eyeballs one Sunday afternoon:

Continental Distributing

Continental DistributingPfft, they saw Wile E. Coyote get way worse than that.

Oddly, having to watch a movie surrounded by screaming kids might influence reviewers’ opinions. Roger Ebert too crapped all over the movie because he saw it at a matinee full of traumatized children who “left the theater with tears in their eyes.” Thankfully, the movie was eventually seen in a whole new light, thanks in part to pop artist Andy Warhol.

Jack Mitchell“What? You thought I just did soup cans?”

Warhol’s brand-new, super-hip magazine Interview reviewed the movie, and gave it an entirely new context: an art film.

First Run FeaturesHe may have also been simply making a statement of fact.

This was followed by positive reviews in Europe, and eventually a screening at the Museum of Modern Art. According to Romero, everyone hopped on the “bandwagon” after that. Even Ebert reversed his opinion, changing his review to 3 1/2 stars after the screams of children subsided.

2

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Probably Wouldn’t Exist Without Dolly Parton

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the greatest TV show of all time (once you omit any misguided magic beer-themed episodes), began as a movie starring Kristy Swanson. The movie is fun, but not exactly perfect. Thankfully, someone saw the concept had a lot of room for improvement, and that person was country singer / savvy TV entrepreneur Dolly Parton

20th Century Fox“I kinda wish y’all had more stabbin’, you know?”

A few years after the movie had been released, Buffy was rebirthed as a TV series, albeit with a different cast and other smart changes, which included abandoning Buffy’s superpowered ability to sense encroaching evil with menstrual cramps. Which is strange, because usually they only make TV shows out of successful movies. That’s why we got shows like M*A*S*H and Fargo, and not, say, Gigli: The Animated Series. But Buffy wasn’t super-well received and didn’t make a lot of money. So how did a mediocre teen vampire comedy get turned into one of the most beloved TV series of all time? Because a Hollywood power player really liked sassy blondes.

Famously, Buffy screenwriter Joss Whedon wasn’t happy with the movie, even walking off the set because Donald Sutherland was “a prick,” but he knew there was an amazing story buried underneath all of the debris. However, after the movie performed poorly, the hopes of a Buffy show were scrapped. Yet there was one other person that believed Buffy would succeed as a TV show. An executive at Sandollar, a production house which co-produced the movie, convinced the company to spend money acquiring the television rights. And when we say Sandollar’s money, we mean Dolly Parton’s money.

RCA RecordsExhibit A: an American hero

A few years before Buffy hit production, Parton co-founded Sandollar with her manager in order to get in on the money side of her acting career. When Clueless became a massive hit, the wave of awesomely snappy blondes was something Parton’s company knew exactly how to ride. And that’s when its CEO remembered they already had the rights to a property that was pretty much Clueless, but with the unholy dead feasting on the blood of the innocent, and also the occasional magic ventriloquist dummy.

20th TelevisionIf it’s good enough for Goosebumps, it’s good enough for you, Whedon.

Due to Whedon’s original contract, Sandollar was obliged to offer him first crack at writing the pilot, which he eagerly accepted. And the rest is history. So don’t forget that Whedon owes his entire career to the same person who wrote the world’s greatest song about crashing a wedding and throwing rocks at the bride because she stole your man.

1

If It Wasn’t For Chevy Chase Being A Dingus, Home Alone Would Have Been Way Different

Home Alone might be the perfect Christmas movie. It has something for everyone, from Culkinesque antics for the kids to the sadistic torture of two petty criminals for your weird law-and-order uncle. And Home Alone almost turned out to be a completely different film, but it was saved by a force as inevitable and inexorable as the ebb and flow of the tides: Chevy Chase being a grade-A malcontent.

Sony Pictures TelevisionKnown to young people as Dan Harmons Angry Dad.

In the ’80s, a young Chris Columbus, screenwriter of Gremlins and The Goonies, was given a big break by legendary director John Hughes, who offered him the gig to direct National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. For Columbus, it was a dream come true … until he met his leading man, Chase. They immediately got off on the wrong foot, with Chase assuming Columbus was his assistant at first and barely changing that attitude after finding out he wasn’t. And it only got worse from there.

According to Columbus, Chase treated him “like dirt.” After three “humiliating” meetings, he’d had enough and quit the movie. In a testament to Hughes’ generosity (or at least his innate understanding of how unlikable Chase is), he didn’t blame the young filmmaker, and as a way to patch things up, asked him to direct his other Christmas comedy, Home Alone.

Columbus had some unique ideas on how to make this family movie. Thankfully, they were what turned Home Alone into the classic it is today. For example, Columbus came up with the creepy, intimidating man who turns out to be kind and heartwarming — which is one way to process your feelings about Chevy Chase, we guess.

20th Century FoxAlternatively, he may have been speculating that Chase was serial killer.

And it was Columbus who hired cinematographer Julio Macat, because of his work on an iconic McDonald’s Christmas commercial. As seen in Macat’s notes, the pair shaped the movie as we know it, making the world look big and bright, like we’re looking through Kevin’s eyes …

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox“Can we also include a furnace scene that will even give adults the creeps?”

… or to make the McCallister house a physical embodiment of Christmas, full of reds, greens, and gold …

20th Century Fox

20th Century FoxThe reds also helped to mask all the bloodstains.

… or to make the violence “bold … like a cartoon,” giving the wanton brutality a zany Looney Tunes feel:

20th Century FoxHa! Third-degree burns. Classic.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter, or check out the podcast Rewatchability.

Don’t sit around waiting for someone to save your movie idea, get a move on it with a guide to scriptwriting from Celtx.

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