After six movies and a deceptively large worldwide audience, the Resident Evil film franchise recently came to an end with the release of January's Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Under the stewardship of writer/director/producer Paul W.S. Anderson, the series gave audiences a different type of zombie movie—one where flashy visuals and video game action redefined the genre at the start of the 21st century. That first movie set the tone for the saga to come, and as we celebrate its 15th anniversary on March 15, take a look at 10 facts about the original Resident Evil.
1. GEORGE ROMERO WAS ORIGINALLY TAPPED TO WRITE AND DIRECT.
George Romero basically created the zombie movie genre with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, and his signature undead style had a huge influence on the original Resident Evil video game series. So the decision to bring him on to write and direct the first movie was a virtual no-brainer. Video game studio Capcom and Sony came to an agreement with the horror legend in 1998 to bring the film to life, and despite not being familiar with the game series (he researched by watching someone else play the games), Romero wrote a script that closely followed the events of the first Resident Evil title.
Despite early enthusiasm from everyone involved, Romero’s script treatment was eventually rejected and he was fired. “Romero’s script wasn’t good, so Romero was fired,” Capcom producer Yoshiki Okamoto tersely said of the ordeal. That’s not to say Romero never directed anything Resident Evil-related. Before the movie fell through, he was at the helm of a live-action commercial for the Resident Evil 2 video game that only aired in Japan. (You can watch it above.)
2. THE SCORE WAS HANDLED BY MARILYN MANSON.
Marilyn Manson's bleak brand of industrial rock was seen as the perfect sound for the first Resident Evil score. Teaming with veteran film composer Marco Beltrami, Manson brought a dark, electronic sound to the production.
3. THE STUDIO DIDN’T THINK FEMALE HEROES (OR ZOMBIES) WOULD SELL.
The undead may be in everything from TV to movies and comics nowadays, but when Resident Evil came out in 2002, the zombie genre was all but, well, dead. In an interview with Thrillist, Anderson said, “It seems like a no-brainer now, but when we made the first Resident Evil movie, no one had made a zombie movie for 15 years. There was a real question mark over whether audiences really wanted to watch zombies or not.”
This was in addition to concerns over the movie having a female lead, which is rare even today. “[H]aving a really strong female lead, which at the time in Hollywood was not fashionable at all. No studio wanted to do that,” Anderson told The Hollywood Reporter. Since the series has earned more than $1 billion worldwide over the course of six films, it’s safe to say those risks were worth taking.
4. PAUL W.S. ANDERSON PURPOSELY WANTED THE MOVIE TO BE DIFFERENT THAN THE GAMES.
While the Resident Evil games (at least in the beginning) prided themselves on slow, tense psychological horror, the movies have always gone in a much different direction, valuing flashy spectacle over mood and terror. This is all by design, of course, as Anderson explained in an interview with Shivers magazine.
“To be scary you have to be unpredictable, and that's why I felt completely free to reinvent the story and use my own set of fresh characters,” Anderson told the magazine. “There was no point in using the Jill Valentine character from the first Resident Evil game, as the fans would know she wasn't going to be killed because she pops up in the later games. The suspense dynamic of who is going to live, who is going to die and what people's allegiances are, was only going to work with new characters.”
5. IT WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED RESIDENT EVIL: GROUND ZERO.
That was the title all the way up until September 11, 2001, when logic dictated a change was needed. It wasn’t just a working title, either, as the press was covering it as Ground Zero all the way through production. Ground Zero was more than just a name, though. The first film set out to tell a story that would act as a prequel to the original game, which was released in 1996.
“What led to the Undead in the mansion?” Anderson said in that same Shivers interview. “How did the deadly T-virus escape into the underground laboratory? This film is the explanatory prequel all the game players have always wanted to see using the scary mechanisms and devices that have become part of the Resident Evil cyber-culture.”
Eventually the series broke away from being just a prelude to the game series and instead became its own universe, completely separate from what Capcom was doing on consoles at the time.
6. ALICE NEVER APPEARS IN THE VIDEO GAMES...
Milla Jovovich has been one of the most visible action movie heroines over the past 15 years, but her Resident Evil movie character, Alice, never even shows up in a single Resident Evil video game. Anderson reasoned that the role of Alice helped people enjoy the movie even if they never played the games.
“There's the hardcore fans, who know everything about the video game and about the world and then there's the more general audience, who you also need to come and see the movie, who don't know anything about the world," Anderson told The Hollywood Reporter. "I think sometimes they feel a little excluded because they go, 'Oh this is not for me.' Milla really became the avatar for that audience."
7. ALICE'S NAME IS NEVER SPOKEN THROUGHOUT THE MOVIE.
Seriously, watch the first movie again. Milla Jovovich is never referred to as "Alice"; you’d only know her name by staying and watching the closing credits. This was intentional, as Anderson didn't even want Alice to know who she was in the first movie.
"What I provided her with in the first movie, was like a blank slate," the director told Thrillist. "She wakes up in the first movie, she has no memory. She has no concept of who she is and how she feels about things. While you're watching as an audience member, you're watching a character being constructed in front of your eyes."
8. THAT LASER HALLWAY MADE ITS WAY INTO ONE OF THE GAMES.
One of the most memorable scenes from the first film was the last grid that sliced and diced a few of the commandos in gruesome fashion. Though it looked great for the movie, all of the flashy, Matrix-y action scenes were a stark contrast from the more methodical survival horror elements of the games. Tastes change, however, and eventually the games started to adapt more of the movies’ kinetic style—including a very familiar laser hallway that made its way into 2004’s Resident Evil 4. As the games continued, more and more movie elements began to be introduced, culminating with the Resident Evil 6 game, which was considered the most action-heavy installment of the series yet.
9. ANDERSON BINGED ON THE FIRST TWO GAMES IN A MARATHON SESSION.
You can’t get behind the lens of a video game movie without first picking up a controller, so before Anderson signed on to direct Resident Evil, he familiarized himself with the video game series.
“I played the first two games back to back. It took me like 10 days," Anderson told The Hollywood Reporter. "I disappeared from view. Stayed in my apartment. Didn't return anyone's calls. After 10 days, I emerged with 10 days' worth of stubble and kind of bloodshot eyes going, ‘I love this! We have to turn it into a movie.’”
10. ANDERSON WROTE RESIDENT EVIL AS A SPEC SCRIPT THAT HE PLANNED TO ADAPT EITHER WAY.
After spending so much money, time, and resources trying to get a Resident Evil movie off the ground with no success, production company Constantin Film almost gave up on the franchise. They only agreed to consider Anderson’s script after he agreed to write it as a spec script—meaning he wouldn't be paid unless it was optioned by the company. If it was rejected by the company, Anderson was going to make it somewhere else; just not as a Resident Evil movie.
“I delivered it to them, with Undead written on the front. I said if you like it, we’ll change the front page and call it Resident Evil. If you don’t, I’m going to go and make this movie called Undead because I really have fallen in love with the idea of doing an undead movie.”