18 Fun Facts About The Blues Brothers
The Blues Brothers just won't quit. It's been more than 35 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. It made more than $115 million in theaters worldwide in 1980, even though director John Landis and its crew couldn’t identify whether the movie was a comedy, a musical, a classic, or an expensive disaster. With today's announcement that an animated primetime series is in the works, we're taking a look back at some fascinating facts about the original movie.
1. DAN AYKROYD WROTE THE FIRST DRAFT AND IT WAS 324 PAGES LONG.
In his first attempt at writing a screenplay, 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 AYKROYD.
Belushi earned $500,000 for his work in the movie; Aykroyd received $250,000.
3. CHICAGO CREATED ITS OWN FILM OFFICE FOR THE MOVIE.
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 of the car stunts scared residents enough that many of them called the local newspapers to report what they were seeing.
4. THE SHOPPING MALL CAR CHASE 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. 13 DIFFERENT BLUESMOBILES WERE USED.
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 miles per hour. After one take, Landis realized it just looked like he was 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. Amazing, only a few minor injuries were ever reported.
6. ONE OF THE 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.
7. DAN AYKROYD AND CARRIE FISHER BECAME ENGAGED DURING FILMING.
The two were 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. FISHER WASN’T THE ONLY STAR WARS CONNECTION.
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. PART OF THE BUDGET WAS FOR COCAINE.
Aykroyd admitted as much. At the nadir, a frustrated Landis flushed a large amount of Belushi's cocaine down the toilet. "It’s like Tony Montana,” Landis told Vanity Fair. “It’s like a joke. I scoop it all up and flush it down the toilet. Probably a lot of money’s worth. So I’m on my way out of the trailer, and John comes in and says, ‘What’d you do?’ Then he pushes me, mostly to get to the table. It’s pathetic. He’s trying to get to the table to save the cocaine.” After a brief scuffle, Landis says “John hugged me and started sobbing and apologized. He and I are sitting there, both crying, and I’m going, ‘John, this is insane.’"
10. THE STUDIO WANTED THE BAND WHO SANG "CAR WASH" INSTEAD OF ARETHA FRANKLIN.
Universal Pictures 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 Franklin an Oscar nomination for her performance. The movie helped revitalize her career.
11. CHARLES NAPIER BLAMES THE SINGERS FOR THE MOVIE FALLING WAY BEHIND SCHEDULE.
The actor who portrayed Tucker McElroy claimed to not remember his time on set thanks to his friendship with Belushi. All he seemed to recall is that the singers never showed up on time for their 8 a.m. calls.
12. PAUL REUBENS HAS A SMALL BUT VISIBLE ROLE.
13. PAUL SHAFFER WAS KICKED OUT OF THE BAND BEFORE THE MOVIE.
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.
14. BELUSHI CRASHED AT A STRANGER’S HOUSE ONE NIGHT.
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.
15. BELUSHI HURT HIMSELF ON A KID’S SKATEBOARD BEFORE FILMING THE 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.
16. SOME MOVIE THEATER OWNERS DIDN’T WANT TO SHOW THE MOVIE.
The movie was only booked into about 600 theaters, as opposed to the 1400 theaters that would be typical for a movie with The Blues Brothers' budget. This was because owners screened a too long, two-and-a-half-hour cut of the film, and some told Landis that they didn’t want to show a “black movie” in their theaters.
17. IT GOT SOME BAD REVIEWS.
18. IT 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. Due partially to the domestic movie chain boycotts, but saying something about its international appeal, Landis said the film was the first to ever gross more money overseas than in the U.S.