15 Facts About The Blues Brothers

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star in The Blues Brothers (1980).
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star in The Blues Brothers (1980). / Universal Studios Home Video

The Blues Brothers just won't quit. It has been 40 years since John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd brought their Saturday Night Live characters Jake and Elwood Blues to the big screen with The Blues Brothers, a loud, money-making, car-smashing love letter to both Chicago and rhythm and blues.

The Blues Brothers made more than $115 million in theaters worldwide after it was released on June 20, 1980—even though director John Landis and the crew couldn’t identify whether the movie was a comedy, a musical, a classic, or an expensive disaster. Here's a look back at the hit comedy.

1. Dan Aykroyd wrote the first draft of The Blues Brothers, which was 324 pages long.

In his first attempt at writing a screenplay, Dan Aykroyd penned a script that was nearly three times the length of the average screenplay (given that one page usually equals one minute of screen time). It didn’t help matters that he had never read a screenplay before either. John Landis put together a shorter, filmable version in just three weeks.

2. John Belushi was paid twice as much as Dan Aykroyd for The Blues Brothers.

Belushi earned $500,000 for his work in the movie; Aykroyd received $250,000.

3. Chicago created its own film office for The Blues Brothers.

Most of The Blues Brothers was shot throughout Chicago, which wasn't a major film production hotspot at the time. While it pumped about $12 million into the local economy, all those car stunts scared residents enough that many of them called the local newspapers to report what they were seeing.

4. The mall car chase in The Blues Brothers was shot in a real shopping mall.

The scene was filmed at the Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois, which had been shuttered in 1979—before filming commenced. Though the mall never reopened, it was only (finally) torn down in 2013.

5. The Blues Brothers used 13 different Bluesmobiles.

All of the car chases and stunts were real and not created with CGI. Forty stunt drivers were flown in every weekend to do the work. Sixty old police cars were purchased for $400 apiece. The filmmakers got permission to drive down Lake Street at speeds of over 100 MPH. After one take, Landis realized it looked like he was just speeding up the film, so he got stunt pedestrians to walk down the sidewalks to show just how fast the cars were really going. A ditch was dug so the cars in the big pile-up scene would flip when they hit it. One stunt driver drove off a 150-foot-long ramp. Amazingly, only a few minor injuries were ever reported.

6. One of The Blues Brothers’s stunt drivers was John Wayne’s son.

The Duke's youngest son, Ethan Wayne, began acting in 1970. But he supplemented his work in front of the camera with a handful of stunting stints—including one on The Blues Brothers.

7. Dan Aykroyd and Carrie Fisher became engaged while filming The Blues Brothers.

Carrie Fisher in The Blues Brothers (1980).
Carrie Fisher in The Blues Brothers (1980). / Universal Studios Home Video

Dan Aykroyd and Carrie Fisher were already a couple, set up by Belushi, who became engaged after Aykroyd successfully administered the Heimlich maneuver on her. "I almost choked on some kind of vegetable that I shouldn't have been eating: Brussels sprouts," Fisher told CNN. "He saved my life, and then he asked me to marry him. And I thought ... wow, what if that happens again? I should probably marry him." (The wedding never happened.)

8. Carrie Fisher wasn’t The Blues Brothers’s only connection to Star Wars.

Frank Oz, known mostly for his work as a puppeteer, plays the corrections officer who returns Jake’s belongings in the very beginning of the movie. He was of course the man behind Yoda, who made his debut in The Empire Strikes Back, which debuted one month earlier, and was still number one at the box office when The Blues Brothers premiered (and had to settle for second place).

9. The studio wanted the band who sang "Car Wash" instead of Aretha Franklin for The Blues Brothers.

Universal wanted new acts like Rose Royce, the band behind hits like "Car Wash" and "I Wanna Get Next to You." But Aykroyd and company said no. Universal later generated a PR effort to get Aretha Franklin an Oscar nomination for her performance. The movie helped revitalize her career.

10. Paul Reubens has a small but visible role in The Blues Brothers.

Paul Reubens makes a cameo in The Blues Brothers (1980).
Paul Reubens makes a cameo in The Blues Brothers (1980). / Universal Studios Home Video

Paul Reubens—the actor who would become best known as Pee-wee Hermanplayed a waiter at Chez Paul, before the band is fully back together.

11. Paul Shaffer was kicked out of the band before The Blues Brothers movie filmed.

Despite putting the group of musical all-stars together, the future David Letterman bandleader’s choice to help co-produce a Gilda Radner album over helping The Blues Brothers project upset Belushi.

12. John Belushi crashed at a stranger’s house one night while filming The Blues Brothers.

Aykroyd followed a grassy path to a house with a light on one late night during production, looking for his co-star. He discovered that a man had allowed Belushi into his home to take advantage of a full fridge and sleep on his couch.

13. John Belushi hurt himself on a kid’s skateboard before filming The Blues Brothers’s big finish.

The filmmakers had to convince the “top orthopedist in town” to attend to Belushi over Thanksgiving weekend so that he'd be able to perform the cartwheels and dance steps required for the big finale.

14. The Blues Brothers got some bad reviews.

The Blues Brothers is a comedy classic today, but not everyone was a fan upon its initial release. Newsweek described it as “desperately unfunny.” The Los Angeles Times called it a “$30 million wreck.”

15. The Blues Brothers was really popular in Australia and other parts of the world.

Similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show in New York, The Blues Brothers was shown regularly in Melbourne’s Valhalla Cinema on Friday nights throughout the 1980s and '90s, where as many as 400 costumed fans would watch as 30 actors re-created the scenes as the movie played, with everybody singing along to the musical performances. Landis said the film was the first to ever gross more money overseas than in the U.S.

This story has been updated for 2020.