Mel Brooks’ iconic sci-fi spoof movie Spaceballs was released on June 24, 1987. That’s today, 29 years ago. When it was released, the movie boookened the back part of Brook’s directing career beginning nearly 20 years before with The Producers in 1967. Brooks is responsible for some of the most iconic comedy movies of all time – Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and History of the World Pt. 1. What’s not often thought about is that Brooks was light on directing comedy in the 80s. After a (ahem) blazing 70s, he started the decade off strong with History in 1981 but other than a 1983 TV special, Brooks wouldn’t direct another movie until Spaceballs in 1987. While the decade wasn’t nearly as prolific, it’s the decade that gave us Spacballs so it’s his best, no argument. Please don’t even try.
Now that we’ve determined that Spaceballs is one of Brooks’ finest films, let’s dive into some fun facts about the film to celebrate its anniversary.
Mel Brooks spoofed a lot of genre films
Mel Brooks decided to make the movie when he realized that he hadn’t yet made a spoof of space film. He already mocked Westerns (Blazing Saddles), Horror (Young Frankestein), and silent films (Silent Movie). With the explosion of Star Wars, it seemed the right time to take the jokes to space.
History of the World: Part II
Brooks foreshadowed the film at the end of his 1981 movie History of the World: Part I with the ending joke of the movie saying that sequel would be titled Jews in Space.
Welcome to Planet Moron!
It took Brooks six months to write the script for the movie, which he had originally planned to call Planet Moron. When he learned there was already a British science fiction spoof called, Morons From Outer Space he felt the need to change the name. He and his production team of Ronny Graham and Thomas Meehan decided to go through letters of the alphabet to find another word to add to “Space” for the title. As they were doing it, Brooks spilled a drink and shouted “Balls!” and Ronnie Graham shouted, “Spaceballs!” and they had the new final title of the movie. The name also allowed them to add the idea that the movie villains would wear ball shaped helmets.
Jovial Bob Stine
There was a novelization of the movie written by Mr. Goosebumps himself R.L. Stine. Stine, writing under the name Jovial Bob Stine added some facts to the story that weren’t in the movie. He revealed the names of the Dinks to be Rinky Dink, Blinky Dink, Stinky Dink, Pinky Dink, Finky Dink and Winky Dink. Stine also added an interaction between Barf and Yogurt at the desert temple. Barf asks Yogurt if he was the leader of the Red Eye Knights and the possessor of the force. Yogurt replies that it wasn’t him but Alec Guinness, otherwise known as Obi Wan Kenobi.
It was expensive
Spaceballs was the most expensive film Brooks would ever produce, costing $25 million. He came close with Dracula: Dead and Loving It in 1995 by spending $22 million. To put it into perspective, in 1967, Brooks’ first film The Producers cost less than $1 million.
The George Lucas/Star Wars Connection
Brooks went to George Lucas to get approval to make the film. Lucas, who was working on Howard The Duck at the time. Lucas liked the jokey nature of idea so much that he gave Brooks full permission to parody any and all things related to Star Wars. Lucas had one condition for their fair-use agreement, no merchandise of any kind could be made from the film. To this day none has. So the underlying joke of Yogurt’s merchandising empire exaggerates that sentiment in the film, it’s also the reason we never got Spaceballs: The Flamethrower.
Other Spaceballs merchandise shown in the movie include: bed sheets, lunch boxes, cornflakes, towels, Yogurt figure, toilet paper, shaving cream, place mats, and action figures. The lunch box and coloring book are simply The Transformers items with a Spaceballs logo stuck on them. The box for Spaceballs: The Breakfast Cereal says it contains “100% Sugar.”
Industrial Light and Magic
Brooks also helped ensure the cooperation from Lucasfilm by booking their services for about $5 million in post-production work. Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic constructed the puppet chest-burster in the film. Lucasfilm supplied the escape pod launch sequence clip as it was an unused clip from Star Wars. Another effects unit was used for the film as well. Apogee, Inc. was headed by John Dykstra and split from Industrial Light and Magic in 1978 when Lucasfilm moved to a different portion of the US. So, Spaceballs was the first time that the Star Wars special effects crews reunited to work on a movie project.
After the movie was released, George Lucas reportedly loved the film so much that he wrote Brooks saying he thought he was going to bust something from laughing so hard. Lucas also told Brooks had he not chosen to parody Star Wars, Spaceballs would have succeeded as a great adventure film. Brooks said he was extremely flattered by Lucas’ compliments and support.
It wasn’t the first Star Wars spoof
Many people believe that Spaceballs was the first spoof of Star Wars but it was actually the second. Amateur filmmaker Ernie Fosselius was such a fan of Star Wars that he pieced together a 12 minute short called, Hardware Wars. Fosselius shot the short for $8,000 in an abandoned laundromat. The film featured toasters, flashlights, tin foil and other low budget effects. The hokey charm of the film was loved by fans everywhere. Hardware Wars earned Fosselius nearly $500,000 in 1978. George Lucas called it a, “cute little film.” Fosselius was even offered to make the film a feature length movie, he passed.
Casting Lone Starr
A then unknown Bill Pullman was not Mel Brooks’ first choice to portray Lone Starr, in fact he was possibly the fifth. Brooks was looking for someone with a name to portray Lone Starr. Both Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks were offered the role and turned it down. Tom Berenger was also considered for the role. Brooks’s first choice for the character was James Caan, unfortunately at the time Caan was struggling with addiction. The producers of the movie ultimately thought Caan was a bad idea when he was deemed too expensive to insure on set. Don’t do drugs kids.
The original actor selected for the role of Colonel Sandurz was Steve Martin. While George Wyner did an absolutely stellar job as the character, this is one casting we would’ve loved to actually see happen. Thinking about it after the fact, it’s easy to see how much of the character has Martin-esque qualities to it.
Pizza The Hut was miserable
Dom DeLuise voiced Pizza the Hutt for the film but he was not the actor required to wear the fake, molten cheese. That was actor/effects man Richard Karen. When additional shooting was required, Karen refused to climb back into the suit. Special effects artist Rick Lazzarini took his place instead.
Mel wore many hats, and got a rash
Mel Brooks cast himself as the leader of the Spaceballs as President Skroob. If you wondered where that character got his name, it’s just an anagram for of his last name “Brooks.” Brooks pulled double acting duty by playing the marketing schwartz zen guru Yogurt. Brooks found the Yogurt character to be much harder to pull off. Mainly because he developed a terrible rash on his face from the gold makeup. He also was in constant knee pain from walking around on them as he shot his scenes.
“I’m A Mog, half man, half dog”
Rick Moranis suggested John Candy would be terrific in the role of Barf. The original look for Barf was for the character to wear a full face bulldog-type of mask. But when Candy was cast in the role, Mel Brooks thought it was ridiculous to hide the face of a star like Candy declaring, “if they were going to hide John Candy behind a mask, he might as well hire someone else for half the price.” After the full mask was scrapped, a nose and upper lip piece was tried. Candy approved but Brooks did not. They finally settled on the look in the film, animatronic ears, a small nose, and patch over one eye to look like the dog from Our Gang. While the facial look of Barf was simplified greatly, it still took three people to operate the costume. Candy would move the tail with a hidden control in his paw and two crew members would each control an ear off camera. The entire contraption was powered by a 30-pound battery that Candy wore on his back.
In addition to thinking of John Candy was good for Barf, Moranis also decided on some of Lord Helmet’s great character traits. Including the voice getting deeper when he pulled down the face cover. He wanted to try to mimic James Earl Jones’ Darth Vader tone.
Two of the movie’s most memorable moments were improvised
John Candy ad-libbed the line, “Oh, that’s gonna leave a mark,” after actually standing up too fast without undoing his seatbelt. It was liked so much they kept it in the film.
The scene where Dark Helmet plays with his dolls was totally unscripted. Brooks came up with the idea on set one day and mentioned it to Rick Moranis. Moranis then improvised the entire scene, dialogue and all.
Joan is Dot
Two different people played Dot Matrix. The famous mime Lorene Yarnell Jansson would wear the costume and the late, great Joan Rivers was the voice of the character. A total of 6 outfits were made for Jansson, but they were all worn out and broken on set. For interior scenes, the feet were outfitted with roller skates. For the outdoor scenes the suits had flat-bottomed shoes. Prop makers were inspired by Rivers when they molded Dot’s face as the comedian was already cast to voice the character. It took only 13 minutes for Rivers to deliver her famous line, “Can we talk?”
Brooks has favorite bits
Of all the jokes he wrote for the film, Mel Brooks has gone on record to say he’s most proud of the running gag about merchandising and the moment when Colonel Sandurz and Dark Helmet rent Spaceballs before the movie is finished. “When will then be now? Soon.”
There’s a spaceship cameo, if you look closely at the exterior shot of the Space Diner you will see the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars parked outside. Since ILM was involved with the film, they just tossed it in there for fun.
The Bleeps, The Creeps, and The Sweeps
Michael Winslow made a cameo in the film and performed all the sound effects in his scene. Mel Brooks estimated that Winslow saved him about $1,000 by letting him do his own sounds.
“Keep Firing Assholes!”
When Dark Helmet asks how many assholes they have on-board, only one person on the bridge doesn’t stand and raise his hand.
Spaceballs II: The Search For More Money
As recently as 2015, Mel Brooks had expressed interest in making the long-awaited sequel to the movie. Going as far as Bill Pullman and Daphne Zuniga saying they’d return. The return of Rick Moranis was uncertain because he’s been retired from acting since 2006. Many alluded to the sequel being a parody of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Though Yogurt calls out the name of the sequel in the movie as Spaceballs II: The Search For More Money, Rick Moranis has often said the sequel should be called Spaceballs III: The Search for Spaceballs II.
Twice a Chest Burster
The man in the space diner that convulses and has an alien burst out of his chest is none other than John Hurt. Hurt reprises one of his most famous scenes in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Hence the shouting of the lines, “Oh no! Not again!” Speaking of aliens, the dance that the alien does on the way out of the diner is an homage to Warner Bros. mascot Michigan J. Frog.
Do you have anything facts or trivia about Spaceballs that we might’ve missed? Let us know in the comments.