15 Twisted Facts About The Sixth Sense

Buena Vista Pictures
Buena Vista Pictures

On August 6, 1999, moviegoers got their first look at The Sixth Sense. M. Night Shyamalan’s story about 8-year-old Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) seeing dead people captivated a large enough audience to become the highest grossing movie of 1999 that didn’t feature a character named Jar Jar Binks. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, a particularly impressive feat for a thriller/horror movie. Below are some nuggets about The Sixth Sense just for the living.

1. THE DISNEY EXECUTIVE WHO BOUGHT THE SCRIPT WAS FIRED BECAUSE OF IT.

Walt Disney Studios' then-president David Vogel didn’t bother to consult with his superiors before paying $2.25 million for the rights to The Sixth Sense, and agreed to let Shyamalan direct the already-expensive film. Vogel’s boss was livid when he found out about the deal, and demanded that Vogel relinquish some of his power. When Vogel refused, he was canned.

2. IT WAS ONE OF THREE FILMS BRUCE WILLIS STARRED IN AS PART OF A SETTLEMENT WITH DISNEY.

A couple years before The Sixth Sense was released, Willis was slated to star in another Disney film, the ill-fated Broadway Brawler. It did not go well. Willis, who was both producing and starring in the film, fired most of the crew—including the director—less than three weeks into production. The turmoil forced Disney to abandon the movie altogether, to the tune of a $17.5 million loss. To make up for it, Willis signed a three-picture contract with the studio in which a portion of his salary would go back to covering their losses on Broadway Brawler. The first of those three was Armageddon, the second was The Sixth Sense (for which he earned $10 million), followed by The Kid.

3. MICHAEL CERA AUDITIONED TO PLAY COLE.


Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Cera, who was 10 years old at the time, remembered getting the tone of the scene all wrong in his audition. Instead of crying like Haley Joel Osment did in the film, he played the scene as “upbeat.” Before Osment got the part, Liam Aiken was offered the role, but turned it down.

4. OSMENT WAS VERY PREPARED BY THE TIME HE AUDITIONED.

Haley’s father, Eugene Michael Osment, is a theater and movie actor who made sure his son read the entire screenplay twice. He told him that it wasn’t a horror movie, it was a movie about communication. Once Haley finished the audition and left the room, Shyamalan told his casting director he wasn’t sure he wanted to even make the movie if Osment wasn’t in it.

5. MARISA TOMEI WAS ALMOST COLE’S MOTHER.

Tomei lost out to Toni Collette. Collette had ambivalent feelings when she found out from her agent that she got the part, as she had her heart set on being cast in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film, Bringing Out the Dead.

6. DONNIE WAHLBERG LOST 43 POUNDS TO PLAY VINCENT GREY.


Buena Vista Pictures

The former New Kid on the Block wanted to prove that he was serious about pursuing an acting career.

7. SHYAMALAN REGRETTED CASTING HIMSELF AS DR. HILL.

He did it as a “nice little thing” to acknowledge his parents, who are both doctors. Unfortunately, the actor Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan wasn’t good enough for his director: He thought his acting was so bad that he cut most of his scene.

8. THERE WAS A REASON WHY OSMENT NEVER GOT COLD.

According to the film’s logic, it’s only when a ghost got upset that the temperature dropped.

9. PATCHES OF WHITE HAIR WERE ALSO IMPORTANT.

Osment and Donnie Wahlberg’s character, who also saw dead people, both had some white hair on their heads. Shyamalan decided that all “spirit spotters” would have one similar physical attribute.

10. OSMENT’S FATHER TOLD BRUCE WILLIS TO YELL AT HIS SON TO GET HIM TO CRY.

When Haley couldn’t manage to cry in a scene where he was supposed to, Eugene suggested to Willis that he yell his lines off-camera to his son to get the waterworks going. It worked.

11. STRANGE THINGS HAPPENED TO TONI COLLETTE DURING FILMING.


Buena Vista Pictures

In her Philadelphia hotel room, she always woke up in the middle of the night and always to a repeating number—1:11, 3:33, or 4:44.

12. MISCHA BARTON ACTUALLY THREW UP BREAKFAST CEREAL.

Future The O.C. star Mischa Barton played Kyra Collins, the little girl who was killed by her mother. The “vomit” was actually a breakfast cereal mix that she would hold in her mouth and spit up. Barton didn’t tell her friends she was in the movie, which caused one of them to run out of a screening, horrified that her friend had just died in front of her eyes.

13. A GRAPHIC SCENE WAS DELETED.

Osment remembered shooting a scene where he looked out a window and saw an entire hospital wing of “horribly disfigured and mutilated people.” Shyamalan cut it from the movie, possibly to protect its PG-13 rating.

14. THE MOVIE WAS RELEASED ON SHYAMALAN’S 29TH BIRTHDAY.


Buena Vista Pictures

The Sixth Sense was released on August 6, 1999. Because that also happened to be the director's 29th birthday, he took it as a sign that The Sixth Sense was “being guided.” His first two movies1992's Praying With Anger and 1998's Wide Awake—grossed $350,000 combined. The Sixth Sense made more than $8 million on its opening day.

15. IT’S SIMILAR TO AN EPISODE OF ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?

As the internet has pointed out, the 1994 episode “The Tale of the Dream Girl” shares a similar storyline to The Sixth Sense, where a teenager named Johnny doesn’t realize that he’s dead until the very end of the episode, even though the only living person that talks to him is his sister Erica. (The audience doesn't realize it either.)

21 Fun Facts About Elf

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Everyone knows the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! But the second best way is to enjoy Elf. Revel in the giddy glow of this modern holiday classic with a slew of secrets from behind the scenes.

1. Jim Carrey was initially eyed to play Buddy the elf.

When David Berenbaum's spec script first emerged in 1993, Carrey was pre-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and attached to front the Christmas film. However, it took another 10 years to get the project in motion, at which time Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell was signed to star. Carrey would go on to headline his own Christmas offerings—the live-action How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the CGI animated A Christmas Carol.

2. Will Ferrell worked as a mall Santa.


Warner Bros.

And his A Night at the Roxbury co-star Chris Kattan was his elf. This was back when the pair were pre-Saturday Night Live, and part of the comedy troupe The Groundlings. Ferrell recollected to Spliced Wire, "I have some experience playing Santa Claus … Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes. It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), 'Santa's over there, kid.'"

3. Director Jon Favreau favored practical effects.

Inspired by the Christmas specials he grew up with, Favreau explained in the film's commentary track that he employed “old techniques” instead of CGI whenever possible. This included stop-motion animation, and using forced perspective to make Buddy look like a giant among his elf peers. For North Pole scenes, two sets were built—one larger scale for the actors playing elves, the other smaller to make Buddy and Santa look big. These elements where then carefully overlaid in camera, using lighting to blend the seams.

4. Snow was often computer-generated.


Warner Home Video

Some effects just couldn't be practical. These included the snowflakes that drift over the opening credits, and many of the snowballs in Buddy's pivotal fight scene. It's probably not much of a shocker that much of these were added in post, considering Buddy's perfect aim. But to further underscore the drama that is a snowball fight in frosty New York, Favreau asked composer John Debney to give this section a Western vibe that would recall The Magnificent Seven.

5. Elf's production design was heavily influenced by Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The classic stop-motion Christmas special from 1964 gave a memorable presentation of Santa's winter wonderland to which Favreau wanted to pay tribute. The elves' costumes in Elf were inspired by those worn by Hermey and his peers in the animated film. And Elf's workshops were modeled after the Rankin/Bass designs, as were the stop-motion animals of the area. The production did secure permission for these allusions, and was even granted the privilege of using the company's signature snowman.

6. There's a Christmas Story cameo.

Peter Billingsley, who memorably played the Red Ryder-wanting Ralphie in the 1983 holiday classic, popped in to play Ming the elf. It's an uncredited role, but between the glasses and those bright baby blue eyes, Billingsley stands out as an A Christmas Story Easter egg. This marks just one of many Billingsley and Favreau's collaborations. Billingsley has been a producer on several of Favreau's film and television projects.

7. Jon Favreau played multiple parts in Elf.

Jon Favreau directs Will Ferrell in 'Elf' (2003)
Alan Markfield, New Line Productions

As a writer/director/actor, Favreau has often appeared in his own films. He fronted Made with friend Vince Vaughn, and later found a sweet supporting role for himself in Iron Man. You may have picked him out as the doctor in Elf, but on the DVD commentary, Favreau revealed he also tapped in to his inner narwhal and provided the voices for some of the stop-animation critters who see Buddy off from the North Pole. He also voiced the rabid raccoon Buddy encounters.

8. Baby buddy was fired.

To play the bubbly baby version of the titular elf, Favreau had initially cast twin boys whose blonde curly hair made them great little doubles for the mop-topped Ferrell. However, the production ran into a problem when the boys couldn't perform. Instead of smiling and crawling as needed, they cried relentlessly. To replace them, brunette triplet girls were brought in, who were far perkier and more playful, and thereby ready for their close-ups.

9. Buddy was bullied in an early version.

In first drafts of Berenbaum's Elf script, Buddy's decision to seek out his dad was in part because he was being hassled by the actual elves for being different. Favreau pushed to take out this element. He preferred to keep the North Pole characters warm, even when Buddy bugs them. In the DVD commentary, Favreau offers, “It explained why Buddy was doing all these good things in New York if he grew up in a world where everybody was so sweet even when he’s obviously screwing everything up and doesn’t fit in at all.”

10. Elf hockey hit the cutting room floor.

Poor Buddy accidentally wreaks all kinds of havoc on his elf community because of his ungainly size. One such scene of his well-meaning mayhem featured Buddy playing hockey on a frozen pond. The friendly game becomes unintentionally violent when the too-big Buddy takes to the ice. Though it was shot, it ended up being chopped from the finished film.

11. Elf was shot on location in New York when it counted.

Like many productions, this one took advantage of the financial benefits of filming in Canada, and much of Elf was shot in sound stages in Vancouver. However, when Buddy comes to New York, it was important to Favreau to shoot on location whenever possible. This includes all the Manhattan exteriors, as well as scenes shot at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Central Park West, where Buddy's dad lives.

12. Some of Elf’s sets were built in a horror factory.

Okay, technically it was an abandoned mental hospital, where the production team constructed the interior sets for Walter's Central Park West apartment, Gimbels's lavish toy department, and that grim prison cell. The facility is called Riverview Hospital, and it has played host to a long list of film and television productions, including The X-Files, Final Destination 2, Jennifer's Body, and See No Evil 2.

13. Macy's stood in for Gimbels.

The sprawling department store that takes up a whole block in Manhattan was digitally altered to transform into Elf's Gimbels. A bit awkward: Gimbels was once a real department store, and a noted rival of Macy's. Though immortalized here and in the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street, the department store closed its doors in 1987, its 100th year of operation.

14. Will Ferrell broke James Caan.


Warner Home Video

The Academy Award-nominated star of The Godfather was hired to play Walter in part because Favreau wanted a stern persona to play against Ferrell's giddy Buddy, and Caan took the comedy of Elf seriously. He knew it was crucial for Walter to be annoyed—never amused—by his supposed son's antics. But when it came to the blood test scene where Buddy bellows when pricked by a needle, Caan cracked. Watch closely and you'll see he turns away from the camera so as not to ruin the take.

15. The studio didn't get a joke from the mailroom sequence.

This was the last set piece shot for Elf, and one that filmmakers were wavering on from its conception late in production. Grizzled Mark Acheson's casting as Buddy's drinking buddy concerned execs because of the line, "I'm 26 years old." The studio noted the actor does not look 26, to which Favreau—who had previously cast Acheson in a small role that had been cut before production—responded that this disconnect was part of the joke.

16. Will Ferrell went method with those jack-in-the-boxes.

In the scene where Buddy suffers as a toy tester, he's subjected to popping open an endless stream of menacing jack-in-the-boxes. The anxiety etched on Ferrell's face in these scenes is real. Rather than standard jack-in-the-boxes that would pop at the song's end, these were remote controlled by Favreau, who purposely manipulated their timing to toy with his star and get authentic reactions.

17. Will Ferrell frolicked all over New York City in character.

The final day of Elf's New York shooting was pared down from a massive crew to just three people: its star, its director, and one cameraman. Together, this trio traveled around the city, looking for mischief for Buddy to get into with random passersby turned background extras. This included him leapfrogging across a pedestrian walk, happily accepting flyers, and getting his shoes shined, all of which made it into the movie's cheerful montage.

18. That epic burp was real, but overdubbed.

Though uncredited, that lengthy belch came not from Ferrell, but from noted voice actor Maurice LaMarche, who might be best known for Brain of Pinky and the Brain. LaMarche shared his secret to such an impressive burp with The A.V. Club, saying, "I’ve always been able to do this weird effect, where I turn my tongue, not inside out, but almost. I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp."

19. Elf made its star stick.

In the movie, Buddy is happy to gobble down an endless supply of sweets, including maple syrup-coated spaghetti and cotton balls made of cotton candy. But this sugary diet played havoc on Ferrell, who told About Entertainment, "That was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will—if that's what the job calls for."

20. Will Ferrell refuses to make Elf 2.

Though the comedian reprised the role of Ron Burgundy for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and returned as Mugatu in Zoolander 2, he flat out rejected the possibility of bringing back Buddy, even after being offered a reported $29 million. In December of 2013, he told USA TODAY, "I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf."

21. Elf became a hit Broadway musical.

From November 2010 to January 2011, Elf the musical ran on Broadway, boasting songs like "World's Greatest Dad," "Nobody Cares About Santa," and "The Story of Buddy The Elf." This run was a huge success, taking in more than $1.4 million in one week, a record for the Al Hirschfield Theater where it debuted. Plus, The New York Times called it, "A splashy, peppy, sugar-sprinkled holiday entertainment." A revival hit in time for Christmas 2012, and national tours have been recurring.

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