Arnold Schwarzenegger became a bonafide action superstar in the 1980s with films like Commando, Predator, Terminator, and the Conan films. By the early 1990s, the former Mr. Olympia had established himself as a guy who could both pump iron and tickle funny bones, with box-office hits like Twins and Kindergarten Cop. But nowhere was Arnold ever as tough and funny as when James Cameron’s True Lies hit the big screen in the summer of 1994. The film turns 20 today, so let's celebrate with some fun facts about the movie.
1. The film is based on Claude Zidi’s 1991 French film comedy La Totale! The original film has plenty in common with Cameron’s feature, from overall plot to small character details—for instance, the character of Simon (played in Zidi’s film by Michel Boujenah, with Bill Paxton taking on the part in Cameron’s film) is a sleazy car dealer in both films.
2. There are, of course, some differences between the two features. In Zidi’s film, the bad guys are intent on blowing up a French football stadium, while Cameron’s villains set their sights on bombing downtown Miami.
3. True Lies was reportedly the very first film to have a production budget that exceeded $100 million.
4. Schwarzenegger almost died on the set of the film, when a horse he was riding during one of the film’s most memorable action sequences got spooked by a camera boom and started rearing up near the edge of a very steep drop (the actor estimates it was about 90 feet to the ground). Arnold managed to slip off the horse in time, and a stunt man pulled him to safety.
5. True Lies is actually an Oscar nominee: The film’s visual effects team (John Bruno, Thomas L. Fisher, Jacques Stroweis and Patrick McClung) were nominated for an Academy Award for their work on the film. They lost to Forrest Gump.
6. In 2010, a rumor spread that Cameron was interested in developing the film into a new television series, joining another long-standing rumor that Cameron and Schwarzenegger were planning a cinematic sequel. Neither has come to pass, and Cameron promises that he’s not working on anything new in the True Lies universe.
7. The film was the top-earning R-rated new release of 1994, making $146.2 million at the domestic box office. The film edged out Speed for the honor, which made $121.2 million in U.S. release, despite the fact that it was in theaters for an entire month longer than True Lies.
8. True Lies was number one at the box office for just one week. When the film hit theaters in July 1994, it bumped Forrest Gump from the top spot that the Robert Zemeckis film had earned just the week before, when it was first released in U.S. theaters. Gump was back in the top spot the following week.
9. Jamie Lee Curtis refused to let a body double film the scene in which her character (Helen) is dangling off of a helicopter over the ocean. The actress did the stunt herself—and on her birthday, no less.
10. Curtis didn’t just do her own stuntwork; she also brought her own wardrobe. The bra and underwear set she wears during Helen’s famous striptease scene were her own.
11. James Cameron’s voice makes an appearance in the film. During the car chase scene with Simon, Helen, and the helicopters, it’s Cameron who yells, "Yeah, she's got her head in his lap, yahoo!" when Curtis tries to hide her face.
12. Schwarzenegger may have been very comfortable with the action sequences, but he needed extra help in a different area—he had to take tango lessons prior to filming, to give his Harry Tasker all those smooth moves on the dance floor.
13. Although Schwarzenegger was always going to play Harry, Helen could have been someone quite different. Jodie Foster was originally cast in the role, which she had to turn down when she signed on for the lead in Nell.
14. Other Hollywood starlets who were rumored for the Helen part included Rosanna Arquette, Annette Bening, Geena Davis, Madonna, Sharon Stone, Lea Thompson, Debra Winger, Kim Basinger, Joan Cusack, Melanie Griffith, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Emma Thompson.
15. Three of the jets in the film are actual military fighter jets. Producers rented out three Marine Harriers (and their pilots) from the U.S. government for shooting. Total fee? Just over $100,000, figured from a $2410 hourly rate.