Pop quiz! What was the highest-grossing film in the world in 1992? You guessed it—Aladdin! But the second-highest, ahead of Home Alone 2, Basic Instinct, Sister Act, and Batman Returns, was The Bodyguard, earning $411 million worldwide and giving pop superstar Whitney Houston another chance to sell millions of albums. (Which she did.) Kevin Costner was already one of the world’s top movie stars (it’s true!), and The Bodyguard added to his fame.
As the film turns 25 years old, let’s celebrate that quarter-century by diving into the origins, production, and aftermath of one of Hollywood’s most successful romantic dramas.
1. IT’S FROM THE WRITER OF THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK AND RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
Lawrence Kasdan wrote The Bodyguard in the mid-1970s, before he came to prominence as the screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Return of the Jedi (plus The Big Chill, Body Heat, Silverado, The Accidental Tourist, and more). The Bodyguard would have been his first produced screenplay if it had been, you know, produced...
2. IT WAS INTENDED AS A STARRING VEHICLE FOR STEVE MCQUEEN AND DIANA ROSS.
Warner Bros. bought Kasdan’s script (after many other studios rejected it) back in the ‘70s, intending it as a vehicle for Diana Ross and Steve McQueen—the Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner of their day! (OK, not quite. McQueen was well past his prime by then. The Ross/Houston comparison is reasonable, though.) But the production never got off the ground. The story is that neither Ross nor McQueen would accept second billing under the other, which is plausible given what we know about them, but we can’t find any firsthand sources for it. Whatever went wrong, WB tried again a few years later with Ryan O’Neal and Diana Ross, but that fell through, too.
3. THE INTERRACIAL ROMANCE WAS A COINCIDENCE.
Considering that Ross and McQueen were originally going to be cast, and that Houston and Costner eventually were cast, you might think the script calls for the pop star to be black and the bodyguard to be white. But there’s actually no mention of race one way or the other in Kasdan’s screenplay, and the finished film doesn’t make an issue out of it, a detail praised by many critics.
4. THE SOUNDTRACK IS STILL A BESTSELLER.
Twenty-five years later, The Bodyguard is still the bestselling soundtrack album of all time, with more than 17 million copies certified worldwide. Only Michael Jackson’s Thriller, AC/DC’s Back in Black, and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon have sold more copies.
5. RACHEL’S MANSION ONCE HAD A HORSE’S HEAD IN IT.
The estate where Whitney Houston’s character lives was built in the 1920s and once belonged to William Randolph Hearst. It was also seen in The Godfather as the home of film producer Jack Woltz, who woke up one morning to find a horse’s head in his bed.
6. “I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU” WAS COSTNER’S IDEA.
Houston was originally going to record a cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” as the soundtrack’s lead single, but that was scrapped when the filmmakers learned that the same song was being featured in Fried Green Tomatoes. According to Dolly Parton, it was Costner (who was also acting as producer) who loved her 1973 song “I Will Always Love You” and asked if Houston could record it for the film. He was passionate, later saying, “I didn’t care if it was ever on the radio. I didn’t care. I said, ‘We’re also going to do this a cappella at the beginning. I need it to be a cappella because it shows a measure of how much she digs this guy—that she sings without music.’”
7. A CREW MEMBER DIED DURING FILMING.
Bill Vitagliano, a 33-year-old worker in the film’s transportation department, was crushed between two lighting-equipment cranes when one of them malfunctioned in an L.A. parking garage.
8. THE DIRECTOR TOLD HOUSTON NOT TO TAKE ACTING LESSONS.
The Bodyguard marked the singer’s debut as an actress, and she was self-conscious about her abilities. A few weeks before shooting began, she asked director Mick Jackson if she should take lessons. His reply: “No, that’s the last thing you should do.” He wanted her performance to be natural. She evidently did as she was told and did not learn how to act.
9. THE SECRET TO HOUSTON’S PERFORMANCE: JUDICIOUS EDITING.
Costner, in his capacity as producer, was protective of Houston and had promised to make her look good. His contract also stipulated that he could have the film re-edited if he didn’t like the director’s cut. Well, the director’s cut apparently didn’t do Houston any favors, and test-screening audiences rejected it. The director himself is quoted in a Houston biography as saying, “There was no chemistry” between Houston and Costner. “They looked like a couple of pals passing the time of day instead of the torrid lovers they were supposed to be.” Another round of editing eliminated some of Houston’s longer speeches and emphasized close-ups on her face.
10. IT WAS TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL.
The live version used the songs from the film plus eight other Houston hits (including “So Emotional” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”) and debuted in London’s West End in 2012. The show subsequently toured around the world, including a current U.S. leg that will end in April 2018.
11. IT HAS NODS TO AKIRA KUROSAWA.
Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan loved Kurosawa and named the film after one of the Japanese master’s classics, Yojimbo (English translation: The Bodyguard). He also included a scene where Rachel and Frank actually watch Yojimbo, and he wrote the lead role for Steve McQueen, who had starred in the remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven.
12. THERE WAS ALMOST A SEQUEL—WITH PRINCESS DIANA.
In late 1997, Costner said that at the time of Princess Diana’s death just a few months earlier, he’d been negotiating with her to star opposite him in a Bodyguard sequel. The New York Post reported that the role would have been “loosely based on her life,” quoting Costner as saying, “She said, ‘Look, my life is maybe going to become my own at some point. Go ahead and do this script, and when it’s ready I’ll be in a really good spot.’” Costner got a second draft of the script three days before Diana’s death.