Combining Michael Jordan’s basketball skills with a who’s who of the Looney Tunes, Space Jam became an instant kids’ classic on its 1996 release. But over 20 years on, there are plenty of things that you may not know about the innovative movie.
20. It originated in a TV commercial
Space Jam’s journey to the big screen actually started back in 1992. Indeed, Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny first partnered for a Nike TV commercial four years before the film was released. The ad then gave Hollywood executives the idea for a feature-length collaboration. The rest is history.
19. Jordan’s good luck charm was real
In one scene in the movie, Jordan wants to put on his old college shorts under his standard uniform. What you might not know was that this wasn’t just a big-screen superstition. No, the sports star actually donned his University of North Carolina shorts in real life every time he stepped out on the court for the Chicago Bulls.
18. Spike Lee offered to do a rewrite
Spike Lee is renowned for gritty films like Do the Right Thing, and the director would appear to be an unlikely Looney Tunes fan. However, Lee, a longtime friend of Jordan, reportedly offered to tidy up the Space Jam script. Sadly, though, Warner Bros. declined his offer.
17. Jordan helped pick the soundtrack
The Space Jam soundtrack was almost as successful as the film, spawning several hits including – yes, really – R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” Michael Jordan can take some of the credit, though, having helped to pick several of the songs which appeared on the compilation.
16. Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones wasn’t a fan
As the creator of Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner and Pepe Le Pew, as well as being a writer and director, Chuck Jones was a Looney Tunes legend. But he certainly wasn’t a fan of the characters’ 1996 outing. He later described Space Jam as being terrible, criticizing its risqué humor and the introduction of Lola Bunny as well as its feature-length running time.
15. Warner Bros. built Jordan his own court
Jordan refused to star in the film unless Warner Bros. could guarantee the kind of elite training facilities he used in the NBA. The studio subsequently built the star his very own basketball court – dubbed the “Jordan Dome” – to help him train during downtime.
14. Joe Pytka never directed another film
Despite the success of Space Jam, its director, Joe Pytka, never worked on another film. Instead he returned to his first love – music videos and TV commercials. Pytka had previously helmed several iconic promos including Madonna’s 1989 Pepsi ad and Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana.”
13. You can still access its original website
Space Jam’s official website was created during the infancy of the internet. It was therefore a primitive affair which now looks like a kid’s first attempt at web design. Nevertheless, it has remained online ever since and has become a must-see for those looking for a throwback to the days of dial-up.
12. The film took a pot shot at Disney
Its creators used the film to make a joke about the Looney Tunes’ rivals at Disney. Responding to Daffy Duck’s team name suggestion, Bugs Bunny asks, “What kind of Mickey Mouse organization would name their team the Ducks?” He was, of course, referring to the real-life Disney-owned NHL team, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, created following the release of 1992’s The Mighty Ducks.
11. It references a real-life tabloid rumor
After losing his talents on the court in the film, Charles Barkley goes to church. There he swears that he won’t ever go out with Madonna if his skills can be restored. Three years earlier Barkley had in fact been rumored to be dating the Queen of Pop for real, although both parties denied it.
10. Bill Murray really is friends with the producer
Art imitated life during the scene in which Daffy Duck asks Bill Murray, “Exactly how did you get here?” and Murray replies that he’s friends with the producer. Indeed, the actor really was friends with Ivan Reitman, one of the producers of Space Jam. Reitman had previously directed Murray in films like Ghostbusters and Meatballs.
9. It’s the highest-grossing basketball film ever
Space Jam took approximately $230m at the worldwide box office to become the highest-grossing basketball movie of all time. Furthermore, it’s also the third biggest sports movie ever, with only Rocky IV and The Blind Side raking in more.
8. Both Michael J. Fox and Chevy Chase turned down roles
Pytka admitted that the idea of working alongside a basketball star with no acting experience and various cartoon characters deterred several big names. Chevy Chase, Michael J. Fox and Jason Alexander all turned down the part of Jordan’s publicist, Stan Podolak. The role was eventually given to Alexander’s Seinfeld co-star Wayne Knight.
7. Wayne Knight refused to touch a basketball while filming
Despite getting the part, Knight refused to touch a basketball while on set. The reason? His lack of athletic prowess. The actor confessed that he was intimidated by Jordan’s sheer physical presence. If any of the professionals in the film passed him the ball, he’d simply walk away.
6. The director helped team up Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman
Pytka claims that he also influenced Michael Jordan’s real-life NBA career. The director advised the star that he should team up with Dennis Rodman for the Chicago Bulls based on their complementary styles of play. Just days later Rodman signed with the Bulls – and the pair went on to win the NBA title three times together.
5. Jordan filmed his green screen scenes with a comedy troupe
Pytka also made things a little easier for Jordan in the film by hiring a comedy troupe to stand in for the animated characters around him. The director dressed the group in green and placed them in front of a green screen. Jordan then had someone to interact with during his Looney Tunes scenes.
4. It was the first animated film edited for TV
Space Jam was reputedly the first animation which had to be edited to be shown for a family audience on television. Network bosses reportedly believed that lines – which included Porky Pig saying, “We’re getting screwed” – were inappropriate and subsequently removed them from screenings.
3. None of the five stars whose talents were stolen ever won an NBA title
Incredibly, not one of the five basketball stars whose talents are stolen in the film ever won an NBA Championship. Indeed, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues and Shawn Bradley all finished their careers without a winner’s ring. This was largely because of Michael Jordan’s dominance of the NBA with the Chicago Bulls through the 1990s.
2. Bugs and Daffy don’t share voice actors
Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck traditionally shared the same voice actors in the earlier Looney Tunes shorts. However, in Space Jam, Bugs Bunny was voiced by Billy West, as was Elmer Fudd. Meanwhile, Daffy Duck, alongside the Tasmanian Devil and Toro, were voiced by Dee Bradley Baker.
1. A sequel may be coming
There have been several attempts to get a Space Jam sequel off the ground over the past two decades without much success. But the lengthy wait may soon be over. LeBron James is in talks to assume the Michael Jordan role, with Justin Lin – of Star Trek Beyond and The Fast and The Furious 3 to 6 – tipped to direct.