Directed by John Landis with a script by Steve Martin, Randy Newman, and Lorne Michaels, the film follows a goofy group of silent movie cowboys who are mistaken for real heroes by a small Mexican village. To this day, ¡Three Amigos! is one of the most infamous (which we all know means "more than famous") films of the 1980s. It was named one of the Top 100 comedies by both Time Out and Bravo, and is celebrated as a unique collaboration between some of the greatest comedians of all time. There's a lot to learn about "those darn amigos," so here's a plethora of facts about the comedy classic.
1. STEVE MARTIN LEARNED THE ROPE TRICKS HE DID IN THE MOVIE WHILE WORKING AT DISNEYLAND AS A TEENAGER.
Martin worked there part-time from age 10 to 18, first selling guidebooks then hawking spinning lassos in Frontierland, according to D3. "The ropes were hard to sell," Martin explained. "I had to wear a Western costume, cowboy shirt, hat. I did a little bit of that in ¡Three Amigos!"
2. ALL BUT ONE OF THE MOVIES, ACTORS, AND INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS MENTIONED IN THE FILM ARE FAKE.
The film is full of fake movie references, from Harry Flugleman (played by Joe Mantegna), the amigos’ fictional producer, to fake films like Amigos! Amigos! Amigos! and Little Neddy Grab Your Gun. There’s only one scene where a real star of the silent film era is mentioned: When he’s bragging to some of the Santo Poco villagers about his film career, Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) name drops actress Dorothy Gish, telling the confused villagers about the time Gish visited him on set. Today, that name would probably go over about as well with audiences as it did for the fictional villagers. Though she’s largely forgotten today, Dorothy Gish was an actress and director from the silent movie era, as well as the less famous sister of Oscar-nominated actress Lillian Gish.
3. RANDY NEWMAN PLAYED THE SINGING BUSH.
Well, technically, the Singing Bush was played by a bush, but Newman provided its voice. His voice was digitally altered for the role. In an interview with Movies.com, director John Landis explained that he’d considered several different ways of portraying the singing bush—including animating it, or somehow showing its lips moving—but ultimately decided to make the bush more naturalistic, and just let Newman’s singing take over the scene.
4. IT WAS MARTIN SHORT'S FIRST MOVIE ROLE.
Short had been doing sketch comedy—including on Saturday Night Live and SCTV—for years before he landed the part, but ¡Three Amigos! was his breakout film role. He went on to work with Steve Martin in two more films: Father of the Bride (1991) and Father of the Bride Part II (1995).
5. THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED EL GUAPO WAS IN A 1970 MOVIE CALLED TRES AMIGOS.
The Spanish language adventure comedy is largely forgotten today, but Alfonso Arau not only went on to play “El Guapo” in ¡Three Amigos!, he also appeared as the villain, Herrera, in Sam Peckinpah’s classic Western The Wild Bunch (1969).
6. JOHN LANDIS'S FAVORITE MOMENT WHILE SHOOTING WAS AN ARGUMENT WITH CHEVY CHASE.
Landis told Movies.com, “Probably the funniest moment for me when shooting was when I had the Three Amigos on horseback in the desert and I was shooting while they were wearing those ridiculous outfits and after having been shooting for three weeks, Chevy objected to a line of dialogue and he said, 'I don't think I should say this.' And, remember, Chevy plays a character named Dusty Bottoms. So I said, 'Well, why not?' He said, 'Because my character would have to be a moron to say this.' All I could think was, What movie has Chevy been making? So I said, 'OK, I'll give it to Marty because it's a laugh.' Then Chevy said, 'I'll say it!' It's one of my favorite moments with an actor.”
7. SEVERAL FILMS THAT CAME OUT AFTER ¡THREE AMIGOS! SHARED ITS PREMISE.
Like ¡Three Amigos!, films like Galaxy Quest (1999) and Tropic Thunder (2008) have featured movie stars accidentally ending up in real danger. Vulture outlined the many similarities between Tropic Thunder and ¡Three Amigos!, which include everything from similar catchphrases and movie star cameos (Tom Cruise plays Jewish film producer Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder while Joe Mantegna plays Jewish film producer Harry Flugleman in ¡Three Amigos!) to characters eating bats when they’re short on food. Galaxy Quest meanwhile featured a group of washed up sci-fi stars who end up cavorting with real aliens.
Referring to the spate of movies that borrow from the ¡Three Amigos! premise, John Landis said, “They completely ripped it off! The first Pixar movie about the ants, A Bug's Life, took the same plot. It's amazing how often the plot has been used. If Galaxy Quest weren't so funny, it would probably bother me more.”
8. WHILE PROMOTING THE FILM ON DAVID LETTERMAN, STEVE MARTIN INTRODUCED A SERIES OF THREE AMIGOS SOUVENIRS OF INCREASING RIDICULOUSNESS.
These included: Three Amigos rubber cement, holy water (“blessed by the Three Amigos”), turkey basters (in sizes ranging from “Martin Short” to “Steve Martin”), the “Egg McMigo” breakfast sandwich, and Three Amigos contraceptive foam.
9. STEVE MARTIN DEVELOPED TINNITUS WHILE SHOOTING THE FILM.
While shooting a pistol fight in the film, Steve Martin developed tinnitus—a constant ringing in the ears which sometimes fades over time. In Martin’s case, the condition turned out to be permanent: regarding his experience with tinnitus, he explains, “You just get used to it. Or you go insane.”
10. ROGER EBERT GAVE IT ONE STAR.
He called it "too confident, too relaxed, too clever to be really funny," and complained that the performers were underutilized—particularly Chevy Chase who “hardly seems in the movie at all." He also argued that the film lacked the energy of Landis’s earlier comedy, Animal House.
11. IT TOOK SIX YEARS TO GET THE FILM INTO PRODUCTION.
It was originally going to be called The Three Caballeros. Steve Martin, who came up with the original idea, was talking about it in interviews as early as 1980, but it took a long time to find a director willing to make it.
12. FRAN DRESCHER WAS IN THE ORIGINAL FILM, BUT WAS CUT BECAUSE OF TIME ISSUES.
Before she was The Nanny, Drescher had a small part in ¡Three Amigos! as a shallow movie star in the Hollywood segment of the film. Though the film was eventually re-released with deleted scenes, Drescher’s footage didn’t appear—it seems to have been lost entirely over the years.
13. STEVEN SPIELBERG ALMOST DIRECTED THE FILM.
Spielberg considered making the film in the early 1980s with Martin, Robin Williams, and Bill Murray as the leads. Ultimately, he decided to make E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) instead.
14. JOHN BELUSHI, DAN AYKROYD, AND RICK MORANIS WERE ALL CONSIDERED FOR AMIGOS PARTS, TOO.
Martin had initially imagined co-starring in the film alongside Belushi and Aykroyd. It’s unclear what happened—perhaps the film just took too long to make it into production. Next, Spielberg had expressed interest in casting Murray and Williams alongside Martin, but when he dropped out of the project, the idea went with him. Finally, Landis considered casting Rick Moranis as the third amigo—but only if his first choice, Martin Short, was unavailable. Splitsider notes that many of these actors were collaborating with each other around this time: Moranis, Murray, and Aykroyd all appeared in 1984’s Ghostbusters together, while Belushi and Aykroyd famously co-starred in 1980's The Blues Brothers and 1981's Neighbors.
15. A NOVELIZATION OF THE FILM WAS PUBLISHED, WRITTEN BY LEONORE FLEISCHER.
It was an official adaptation of the original screenplay, and was even promoted in the film’s credits. Fleischer has written a number of film novelizations, mostly for classroom use, including the novelization of the Academy Award-winning 1988 film Rain Man.