10 Starry Facts About Contact

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

“Are we alone in the universe?” Countless movies have asked that question, but few have given it more thought than this 1997 adaptation of Carl Sagan’s bestselling novel. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Contact.

1. ITS OPENING SHOT SET AN INDUSTRY RECORD. 

Contact begins with a close-up of our home planet. At first, a babel of '90s radio broadcasts nearly deafens the audience. But as the camera pulls back and Earth grows smaller, iconic audio clips that were recorded 20, 30, and even 100 years ago greet our ears—only to fade seconds later. By the time our galaxy recedes into an endless cosmic backdrop, there’s nothing left but silence.

This is one of the most ambitious sequences in cinema history. The completely digital intro lasted for 4170 uninterrupted frames, making it the longest computer-generated shot that had ever appeared in a live-action film at the time. Great pains were taken to capture the look of deep space. On the special edition DVD commentary, visual effects supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum recalls getting started by gathering “absolutely incredible” Hubble snapshots of “distant galaxies and stars and other interstellar phenomenon ... We laid out what we liked and said, 'Okay, how can we pass through some of this? How can we combine it together into something [that’s] visually stunning?’”

Brilliant as it is, however, the moment ignores physical law. Just ask Neil deGrasse Tyson. If one could really overtake the radio signals, he argued, “you would hear them in reverse.” Still, the good doctor acknowledges that—for artistry’s sake—everything needed to sound intelligible. “[They] couldn’t have gotten it right and still had the scene work,” deGrasse Tyson conceded, “so they had to do it the way they did.” 

2. THE NOVEL MADE CARL SAGAN $2 MILLION RICHER BEFORE HE'D WRITTEN A WORD OF IT. 

Sagan and his wife, Ann Druyan, originally envisioned Contact as a feature film. In 1980, they co-wrote the project’s first treatment. Frustrated with Hollywood’s glacial development process, the couple eventually chose to turn their story into a novel. Sagan hadn’t even begun working on the book when Simon & Schuster gave him a whopping $2 million advance for it. An instant hit, Contact sold almost 1.75 million copies within two years of its 1985 release. Sadly, we’ll never know what Sagan thought of Warner Bros.’ subsequent movie adaptation as he passed away several months before its release.

3. IN THE BOOK, AMERICA HAS A FEMALE PRESIDENT. 

Much to the White House’s annoyance, director Robert Zemeckis used footage of then-President Bill Clinton during key political scenes. He could’ve avoided the resultant controversy by following his source material a little more closely. In both the novel and an early screenplay, the Oval Office is occupied by Helen Lasker: a fictitious two-term commander-in-chief.

4. ASTRONOMER CAROLYN PORCO WAS ASKED TO HELP DEVELOP THE MAIN CHARACTER. 

Ellie Arroway, the film's star-gazing heroine, battles occupational sexism throughout the movie. Sagan knew that filming his tenacious, whip-smart protagonist wouldn’t be easy, so he recruited some help. “Carl called me up and said [that] out of all the female scientists he knew, I came closest to being like the character he wanted portrayed on the screen,” recalled planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, who collaborated with him on several occasions.

Decades later, the scientist still warmly remembers meeting with Sagan, Druyan, executive producer Linda Obst, and filmmaker George Miller—from whom Zemeckis would later take the director’s chair. “We spent a day sitting around a table in Santa Monica putting together the character of Ellie," said Porco. "They would ask me, ‘What kind of experiences have you had?’ ‘Why do you feel you’ve done well in a field dominated with men?’ I said ‘Well, I grew up with four brothers for god’s sakes. I’ve been fighting and spitting and kicking ever since I was a kid.’”

In her own words, Poroco was “brought on to lend authenticity to Ellie’s experiences in the movie.” Naturally, when Jodie Foster became Contact’s leading lady, Warner Bros. wanted the pair to meet. Though this never happened, Foster did touch base with Jill Tarter, an astronomer who—like Arroway—has spent her career scouring the universe for traces of intelligent life.

5. GEORGE MILLER WAS SET TO DIRECT THE FILM. 

The man who brought you Babe and Mad Max spent a year working with Sagan on Contact. He ultimately left the production when Warner Bros. decided to take the film in a “safer” new direction. “It was clear that [they] weren’t prepared to do the movie that I was interested in making,” Miller said.

What did he have in mind? In 2015, Miller told Collider that while he’s never actually seen Zemeckis’s version of the movie, he has read the script and feels like it needed “much, much less force-feeding exposition.” The filmmaker likened his own interpretation to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.

6. SAGAN'S WIDOW MAKES A BRIEF APPEARANCE. 

Skip ahead to 0:22 in this clip and look at the upper left-hand corner. You’ll see Druyan duking it out with a conservative politician (played by Rob Lowe) on CNN’s Crossfire

7. THE MOVIE PUT CNN IN AN AWKWARD POSITION. 

The cable news giant allowed 13 of its best-known reporters and anchors to play themselves in Contact. For then-CEO Tom Johnson, that was 13 cameos too many. “I don’t think having correspondents in the movies is a good idea,” he said in retrospect, arguing that the movie gave “the impression that we’re manipulated by Time Warner, and it blurs the line.” Today, CNN staffers need to clear potential off-network appearances with an ethics group. 

8. MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY REFUSED TO DELIVER A CERTAIN LINE. 

Late in the final script, McConaughey's character—a self-described “man of the cloth without the cloth” named Palmer Joss—says “My God was too small.” Though Druyan really liked this line, McConaughey called it sacrilegious and wouldn't say it. Later on, the two talked at length about faith and became good friends (despite differences of opinion).

9. NASA FLATLY DENIES ONE OF THE FILM'S INSINUATIONS. 

In the movie's third act, a stunned Arroway receives a cyanide pill before entering the pod. According to Zemeckis, Sagan swore that this just-in-case practice was observed “on every single [NASA] mission.” However, Apollo 13 veteran James Lovell has dismissed the idea, writing “many people have asked me ‘Did you have suicide pills on board?’ We didn’t, and I never heard of such a thing in the 11 years I spent as an astronaut and a NASA executive.”

10. ELLIE CONDUCTS RESEARCH AT A FACILITY THAT'S ACTUALLY BEEN USED TO INITIATE CONTACT WITH ALIENS. 

Ellie and Palmer first meet near Puerto Rico’s world-famous Arecibo Observatory. In 1974, the site’s radio telescope aimed a Search for Extraterrestrial Life (SETI) message at a star cluster that resides some 21,000 light-years away. Using binary code, this powerful broadcast described DNA, the human body, and our solar system. Don’t expect a reply anytime soon, though—it won’t reach those heavenly bodies for another 25 millennia.

10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon

Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon
Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon

As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
Cambridge Soundworks/Amazon

Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

Buy it: Amazon

2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker
JBL/Amazon

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker
Anker/Amazon

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker
Bose/Amazon

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: Amazon

5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker
DOSS/Amazon

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker
Tribit/Amazon

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker
VicTsing/Amazon

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

Buy it: Amazon

9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker
AOMAIS/Amazon

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

Buy it: Amazon

10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker
XLEADER/Amazon

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

20 Mind-Boggling Facts About Inception

Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception (2010).
Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception (2010).
Warner Bros. Pictures

After The Dark Knight made $1 billion worldwide, Warner Bros. let director Christopher Nolan to make his passion project, Inception (although most passion projects don’t generally have a budget of $160 million). The confusing-but-exhilarating film, which was released on July 13, 2010, made more than $800 million worldwide. Here are some things you might not know about the film.

1. Christopher Nolan toyed with the idea of making Inception a horror movie.

Christopher Nolan both wrote and directed Insomnia. He originally came up with the idea in the early 2000s, after he finished making Insomnia. Originally, he considered using the same concept, but as a horror film.

2. The main characters in Inception each represent a key part of the filmmaking process.

Each character represents a vital part of the film industry. “The Point Man” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur) is the producer; “The Architect” (Ellen Page as Ariadne) is the production designer; “The Forger” (Tom Hardy as Eames) is the actor; and “The Mark” (Cillian Murphy as Robert Fischer) is the audience. As for Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, he’s a stand-in for the director, giving him obvious parallels to Nolan. “I can lose myself in my job very easily," Nolan told Entertainment Weekly. "It’s rare that you can identify yourself so clearly in a film. This film is very clear for me.”

3. Christopher Nolan didn’t research dreams while writing the screenplay for Inception.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Berenger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, and Ken Watanabe in Inception (2010)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Berenger, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, and Ken Watanabe in Inception (2010).
Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros. Entertainment

He took a similar approach to writing a movie about dreams as he did to writing Memento, a movie about memory. He primarily used his own experiences and feelings rather than outside information. “I think a lot of what I find you want to do with research is just confirming things you want to do," Nolan told Collider. "If the research contradicts what you want to do, you tend to go ahead and do it anyway. So at a certain point I realized that if you’re trying to reach an audience, being as subjective as possible and really trying to write from something genuine is the way to go. Really it’s mostly from my own process, my own experience.”

4. Christopher Nolan had to convince the studio that the various dream layers in Inception would be as minimally confusing as possible.

He told them, “One of the dream levels is in the rain, one of them is a night interior, one is outdoors in the snow ... even in a close-up, you would be able to tell which level you were in as you cross-cut.”

5. Inception's casting decisions revolved around Leonardo DiCaprio.

Nolan knew that he wanted Leonardo DiCaprio for the role of Cobb, so according to him, “We were just trying to cast the best people I could find for those parts, who felt right around Leo.” This also involved casting a young ensemble because Nolan “wanted to get a young, energetic cast around him who wouldn’t make [DiCaprio] look younger.”

6. Leonardo DiCaprio worked with Christopher Nolan to make Inception more character-driven.

Christopher Nolan, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ellen Page in Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan directs Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page in Inception (2010).
Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros. Entertainment

“Once Leo came on board, I spent months and months sitting with him and discussing the script," Nolan told The Hollywood Reporter. "He made some extraordinary contributions to the script and really challenged me to make the script clear, but also to follow its interior logic and really be true to the essence of the characters and the rules we set out.”

Nolan’s wife and producing partner, Emma Thomas, said that “the work [DiCaprio] did on his character with Chris made the movie less of a puzzle and more of a story of a character audiences could relate to.”

7. Ellen Page didn’t have to audition for Inception.

She met with Nolan for a sit down that had nothing to do with the film. The next week, she was asked to read the script for Inception. She had to read it in an office, not at home. Luckily, she loved the character and Nolan gave her the role.

8. Ariadne is named after the daughter of Minos in Greek mythology.

It’s a unique name for a modern day character, but it makes complete sense for the part. In one story, Minos actually has Ariadne take control of a labyrinth. In the film, the labyrinth that Ariadne draws for Cobb’s test is very similar to paintings of the ancient character’s labyrinth. Nolan acknowledges this connection. “I wanted to have that to help explain the importance of the labyrinth to the audience," he told Wired. "I don’t know how many people pick up on that association when they’re watching the film. It was just a little pointer, really. I like the idea of her being Cobb’s guide.”

9. Inception was filmed in locations around the world.

The rotating set that Arthur flies through was created in Bedfordshire, England. Calgary, Alberta was the location for the epic mountain scenes. They also did shoots in Morocco, Tokyo, London, and Los Angeles. Overall, they ended up filming in six different countries.

10. Christopher Nolan considered filming Inception in 3D.

Eventually, though, Nolan determined that they would be “too restricted by the technology.” After filming, they almost converted the movie to 3D in post-production, but there simply wasn’t enough time.

11. Christopher Nolan wanted the explosions in Inception to look surreal, rather than the standard Hollywood orange flames.

Shooting guidelines in Paris frowned upon the use of actual explosions. So, the crew used high-pressure nitrogen, which they set off right near the cast. Said special effects coordinator Chris Corbould, “When we let an explosion off behind an actor, you get a very different reaction from when he is standing in front of a green screen and someone yells, ‘Explosion!’” More debris was added and the explosions were enhanced in post-production.

12. The paradoxical stairs in Inception were inspired by the art of M.C. Escher.

Nolan wanted to build a paradoxical staircase that worked, but it wasn't possible. So, they built a staircase that just ended abruptly. In order to make them look like a paradox on camera, the crew turned to a visual effects team. According to Paul Franklin, the Visual Effects Supervisor, “These steps have to be built in such a way that when you view them from one angle, the top most level of the staircase lines up with the bottom most level of the staircase. And so what visual effects is able to do is we’re able to make computer models of this and work out exactly the dimensions of the steps that have to be built and where the camera has to be in three-dimensional space to be able to film it.”

13. Christopher Nolan's production team built sets that shifted and rotated for Inception.

During the scene in which Cobb explains to Fischer that they are in a dream, he proves it by letting the room shake and shift. To pull it off, the crew moved the set 25 degrees while filming, without any of the props moving. “The entire set would be shifting," DiCaprio said. "We had to hold onto the actual set so we didn’t slide off.”

For the scenes in which Arthur is floating around the hotel without gravity, Joseph Gordon-Levitt wasn’t acting in front of a green screen or placed in zero-gravity. The crew actually built the set so it could rotate a full 360 degrees. Then, they would suspend Gordon-Levitt from a wire to get their shots. It took 500 people and three weeks to film all those scenes. Gordon-Levitt only used his stunt double for one shot.

14. Inception's actors had an easy way of telling which level of the dream world they were supposed to be in during a particular scene.

“It was easy to orientate which dream sequence I was in because of my costume," Tom Hardy told Collider. "If in doubt, I could just look at my shoes and say, ‘Oh! I know which dream I’m in.'"

15. Inception's mountain set was built into the side of a mountain.

The set, built into a mountainside in Alberta, had no snow at the time. In fact, the crew was starting to get concerned that they wouldn’t end up having any snow by the time the shoot started. “The art department kept sending us pictures of mud," Thomas said. "The week before we went up there, we still had no snow.” But that wasn’t a problem for long. They ended up shooting in the middle of blizzards after the biggest storm of the decade.

16. The Inception scene in which the van falls off the bridge in slow motion took months to shoot.

According to Dileep Rao, who played the driver Yusuf, “We’d shoot it one day, go off and shoot something else. Then shoot another piece of [the van]. It was so complex and there were so many locations and so many different moves I have to do. It’s the stuff that makes or breaks that last sequence.” For the underwater portions, actors were holding their breath for up to five minutes at a time, with the occasional top off from a SCUBA tank. As for how they got the van to fall off the bridge? It was shot out of a cannon.

17. Though many special effects were handled on set, Christopher Nolan still had a lot of work to do in post-production on Inception.

For instance, Franklin said, “Getting the bits and bobs to fall out of the hotel cleaning trolley [in zero gravity]? That’s one guy—months of lonesome work.” And a team of CGI specialists worked on the “Limbo City” scenes with DiCaprio and Page for nine full months.

18. Christopher Nolan finished both early and under budget.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, and Dileep Rao in Inception (2010)
Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, and Dileep Rao in Inception (2010).
Warner Bros. Entertainment

He actually prefers the constraints that time and money give him, so he makes a serious effort to be efficient when it comes to filmmaking.

19. Christopher Nolan hasn’t said much on Inception's ambiguous ending.

In 2010, Nolan told CNN that the film was intentionally left that way, so he has no desire to add to the conversation. “There can’t be anything in the film that tells you one way or another because then the ambiguity at the end of the film would just be a mistake," he said. "It would represent a failure of the film to communicate something. But it’s not a mistake. I put that cut there at the end, imposing an ambiguity from outside the film. That always felt the right ending to me."

Michael Caine has his own interpretation of the ending that he hasn’t been shy with, though. He claims that the ending is undoubtedly real, not a dream. “[The spinning top] drops at the end, that’s when I come back on," Caine told ScreenRant. "If I’m there it’s real, because I’m never in the dream. I’m the guy who invented the dream.”

20. Film scholars have a lot of different theories about Inception.

Some of these include: it was all a dream, Saito is the actual architect, and Cobb is dreaming/not dreaming/dead at the end of the film.