The sad truth about the film industry is that it’s never really been all that original. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing, but originality just isn’t its strong suit. Most movies are based on a book or based on real events or maybe based on a combination of many different things.
Along with every movie that comes, there is moment of inspiration. Maybe a filmmaker picked up a book and thought, “You know, this would make a great film.” Maybe they watched a classic movie and wanted to remake it or reinvent it for a modern audience. Sometimes there is a long and drawn out sequence of events that takes place in order to get a film concept realized. But we’re not interested in really any of these. We’re looking at the movies that were inspired by small identifiable moments, the smaller the moment, the better.
Often the inspiration for a film can tell you a lot about its motives, its concerns and its underlying currents. Sometimes it’s a funny little coincidence that inspired a filmmaker, while other times the inspiration came from something strange that they witnessed firsthand. Whatever the scenario was, we’re looking at the little things that led to big films. We’re really looking back and finding the pebble that first started the avalanche. Here are 15 massive movies and the tiny moments that inspired them.
15. The Blob – Real News Report
The campy horror-sci-fi film, The Blob (1958), featuring Steve McQueen in his first starring role, might seem like it was nothing more than the musings of a madman, but the real inspiration for this story came from 25 minutes of reality. In 1950, there was reports of an awfully strange happening that took place in Philadelphia that would later became the inspiration for this film. The reports suggest that two police officers were called to a site in which a large mass of purple… stuff… came down from the sky on a parachute. The purple stuff apparently had crystals of some sort on the inside. One of the officers’ first instinct was to jam his hand inside of the mass, a classic response to do with something you’re completely unfamiliar with. He said that it left a sticky residue on his hand but caused him no harm. After this blob, this substance, like the news story itself, lingered for a short while and then dissolved into thin air. Everyone forgot about this tale except for Irvine H. Millgate, who suggested that it would be a great film.
14. Kill Bill – Pulp Fiction Dialogue
The exact chronology of when the concept for Kill Bill truly came into fruition is a bit unclear. It’s said that during the making of Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman began drafting it. One thing all Pulp Fiction fans know, is that in the Jack Rabbit Slim restaurant scene, Mia Wallace (Thurman) relays to Vincent Vega (John Travolta) the story of the fictional Fox Force Five, which has the same basic plot as Kill Bill, almost 10 years before the film would come out. While the plot and the details would eventually change, there is a clear line of thinking here that no doubt inspired the Kill Bill films.
“Fox Force Five. Fox, as in we’re a bunch of foxy chicks. Force, as in we’re a force to be reckoned with. And five, as in there’s one, two, three, four, five of us. There was a blonde one, Sommerset O’Neal, she was a leader. The Japanese fox was a kung fu master. The black girl was a demolition expert. French fox’s speciality was sex. … Knives. The character I played, Raven McCoy, her background was she grew up raised by circus performers. According to the show, she was the deadliest woman in the world with a knife.”
13. Monsters – Fishing
If you haven’t seen Gareth Edwards’ 2010 film, Monsters, do yourself a favor and watch it. The film itself is essentially a road movie that is set within a half-forgotten “infected area,” a world infested with creatures that have become part of everyday life for those around the area. To the outsiders, they try to reconcile this new world, while the world back home keeps on living, like viewing war in a distant war-torn nation. Well, this neat little idea came to Edwards while he and his girlfriend watched some fisherman pull a net and the catch onto their boat. Edwards imagined that the catch was a monster and he loved watching the naturalness of the catch and the way it was handled by the fisherman. This “monsters as the norm” concept blew up into a wonderful little film.
12. Inception – M. C. Escher
To say that Christopher Nolan’s Inception, was wholly inspired by one thing or one person is a little disingenuous because he had the concept of a dream-heist film for many years. Yet, much of the dreamlike architecture and concepts within the world of the dream came about by looking at the works of artist M. C. Escher. Escher’s mathematically inspired works of conceptual architecture and geometry set the foundation for many of Nolan’s dreamlike settings, such as the building with the Penrose Stairs. The character of Maurice Fisher (Pete Postlethwaite) is even an homage to Maurits Cornelis (M. C.) Escher for being such a big help.
11. Jingle all the Way – Shopping For Power Rangers
When scriptwriter, Randy Kornfield, was out early morning shopping for his son’s Christmas present one year, he noticed a phenomenon that was gaining traction and becoming well-known to parents of young children in the 1990s. For popular toys, like the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Cabbage Patch Kids, human shoppers, normal moms and dads, would turn into savage animals trying to get the last available toys before Christmas. Instead of walking and showing civility, these beasts would run, push, climb and claw their ways to the displays, crushing anyone in their path, like Black Friday in Walmarts but with 90s hair. After this, Kornfield went home and wrote the satire on Christmas that would be named Jingle All the Way, a film poking fun at the extreme commercialization of the holiday. Teaming up with Christopher Columbus (Home Alone), a man obsessed with the dark side of Christmas, the two showed that they were a match made in heaven—giving us a great Arnold Schwarzenegger holiday classic.
10. Mad Max – Sydney Emergency Room
When George Miller was a doctor in one of Sydney’s hospital emergency rooms, he was confronted with different injuries and trauma that led him to envision and create the dystopic action film, Mad Max. Miller had also come face-to-face with the dangers of automobiles as a young boy in Queensland, losing three of his friends to car accidents. All of this sort of stewed in him until he got the idea to put it all together. Once a script was prepared, he and a friend, Byron Kennedy, produced the film, and the rest is history. Perhaps this isn’t a tiny thing that inspired it, but there must have been one moment on one particular day that it all came to a head. You know, that might make a decent movie.
9. Mars Attacks! – Mars Attacks Playing Cards
In 1962, Topps playing cards released a series of science fiction based trading cards that told the story of a Martian attack. Two different men, whether you believe it coincidental or not, came up with the idea to make a film based on these (Alex Cox in 1985 and Jonathan Gems in 1993). The idea was to build off of these given plotlines and use the cards as a focal point. From many of the events to the look of the aliens themselves, these cards would be the lifeblood of the film. Once Tim Burton came on board, the film script got a polishing and it was lights, camera, action. It should be noted that the cards were banned in the 60s for the gore, sexuality and violence. They weren’t much loved by the general public, but, like the film, they would have their admirers and have become extremely valuable since their run was halted.
8. Robocop – Blade Runner Poster
The story goes that the idea for Robocop came about when the screenwriter, Edward Neumeier, was walking by a Blade Runner poster with his friend. He asked his friend what the movie was about and was told that “it’s about a cop hunting robots.” From that terrible summarization, Neumeier came up with the idea for a robot cop. It turns out that someone else also had a similar idea. Michael Miner, a music video director, had previously drafted a script called “SuperCop,” which was about a police officer who was seriously injured and donated himself to a cybernetics project which rebuilt him. Together, the two men, Miner and Neumeier, combined their ideas and created Robocop as we know it today. Gotta say, sounds like Miner had the idea for Robocop here and Neumeier just rode his coattails.
7. Fast and the Furious – A Magazine Article
One day, as director, Rob Cohen, was reading Vibe Magazine, he came across an article written by Ken Li about the underground racing circuit in New York City. The article, titled “Racer X,” stuck with him and not too long after that, Cohen happened to watch an illegal street race in person in Los Angeles. Equipped with that, Cohen set out to make the Fast and the Furious film detailing this secret world. While many have drawn connections between this film and Point Break, its roots are firmly entrenched in the story told in that magazine article.
6. E.T the Extraterrestrial – A Character Subplot
While trying to draft a sequel for Close Encounters of the Third Kind that he didn’t want to do in the first place, Steven Spielberg created a story about more villainous aliens that pester and torment a rural family. Yet, in this batch of visitors, there was one particular alien that was different than the rest and he was drawn to the family’s youngest son. While this outcast alien, named Buddy, never did go anywhere in the film industry, he and the film itself, set to be called Night Skies, did apparently make an impact. Upon reading the script to screenwriter Melissa Mathison, on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Mathison completely fell in love with the character Buddy. She drew up a script that centered around him in a few weeks and not long after that, E.T. the Extraterrestrial was in production.
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street – Sleepless Khmer Refugees
The inspiration for the horror classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street, comes from newspaper reports about Khmer refugees who were haunted by horrible nightmares and refused to sleep in the 1970s. These reports focused only on men who had come over from Cambodia, fleeing the American bombing, who were afraid that they would die if they fell asleep. This fear stemmed from the apparent deaths of others among them, men who mysteriously died in their sleep. Today, these events are often categorized away as unexplained death syndrome or Brugada syndrome, but the cause of the deaths isn’t exactly known. This in combination with a few events from Wes Craven‘s childhood gave rise to A Nightmare on Elm Street and the massive franchise that surrounded it.
4. Finding Nemo/Monsters, Inc./WALL-E/A Bug’s Life – Lunchtime
Possibly more legend than reality today, there is a tale about one single lunch meeting that turned into some of the biggest films Pixar has made to date. Apparently, during the production of Toy Story, a group of important men took lunch at the Hidden City Café in California. Present at the lunch was John Lasseter, and writers Andrew Stanton, Joe Ranft and Pete Docter. The big question was, what’s next? Where do we go after Toy Story? This caused each of the men to start rhyming off ideas, eve writing and sketching them down on their napkins. The result was the ideas for several films, including A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and WALL-E. Not bad productivity for personal time.
3. Jerry Maguire – Disney Memo
Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) becomes disenchanted with the sports agent industry. The drive for quantity over quality and the desire for money and fame above all else leads Maguire to send out a memo to his company in the 1996 film, Jerry Maguire. This memo opens the movie up and starts the action in the film, everything that happens spawns from this one letter. Well, it turns out that this letter is grounded in reality. The memo itself spawns from an actual memo that, then head of Disney, Jeffrey Katzenberg, sent out to his colleagues. Similar in style and message, the memo spoke about the film industry and Disney and how they have lost sight of what’s important. Cameron Crowe saw this and decided to make a film centered around that very thing.
2. Little Miss Sunshine – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger is best known for his action, his voice and his biceps, but what he says is not usually something people think too hard about. Well, according to the screenwriter, Michael Arndt, it was a Schwarzenegger quote that inspired the idea for Little Miss Sunshine. During a motivational speech by the action hero, Schwarzenegger is said to have told the kids, “If there’s one thing in this world I hate, it’s losers. I despise them.” It was this needlessly competitive spirit that led Arndt to focus on child beauty contests, the ultimate useless competition.
1. Titanic – Diving Expedition
James Cameron never made the film Titanic because he wanted to make a movie. He made the film Titanic because he wanted Hollywood to pay for him to set up a diving expedition to see the Titanic wreckage for himself. An amateur diver and explorer, Cameron had all but given up on the sciences long ago in favor of movie-making, but he always had a lingering love of sea exploration and the Titanic in particular. When he felt that he had a limited amount of time to actually see the wreckage with his own eyes, he drew up a plan for a movie and several million dollars later, he was on the seafloor looking at the actual Titanic. Must be nice to be able to get a movie funded at the snap of your fingers.