23 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Flash Gordon
The Flash Gordon film released in 1980 is quite frankly one of the most ridiculous things ever created, but it’s also one of the most brilliant. It’s like an 80’s rock music video stretched out to 1 hour 51 minutes; at the same time glorious, joyful, messy, strange and wondrous, the kind of film that the phrase ‘cult classic’ was invented for…
In the article below, we take you behind the scenes of Flash Gordon and reveal some fascinating facts about the movie’s chaotic production. Which actor kept getting into fights and was hospitalised during filming? Why did Brian Blessed get in trouble with one of his fellow cast mates?
Plus we reveal a little-known Blue Peter crossover you might not know about!
Scroll down to read 23 things you probably didn’t know about this brilliantly bizarre film…
23. George Lucas Could Have Made It Instead Of Star Wars
Believe it or not, George Lucas tried to make a Flash Gordon film back in the 1970s.
He was unable to purchase the rights, so instead decided to direct another little film you may have heard of called Star Wars. Just imagine how differently things could have turned out if Lucas had been in charge of directing duties…
Lucas had been a huge fan of the old Flash Gordon serials as a youngster and was desperate to make a modern update of Flash’s story which would be based on the original comic strips. De Laurentiis refused to give up the rights so Lucas wrote Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).
Maybe one day we’ll see a Flash/Star Wars mash-up instead?!
22. Its Writer Thought It Was A Bit Of A Mess
Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. wasn’t actually that keen on his own creation.
He thought the film was handled badly throughout production and filming, later stating that “Dino (De Laurentiis) wanted to make Flash Gordon humorous.” In fairness, most people have a good laugh watching Flash Gordon but probably not for the right reasons…
Semple Jr continued: “At the time, I thought that was a possible way to go, but, in hindsight, I realize it was a terrible mistake. We kept fiddling around with the script, trying to decide whether to be funny or realistic. That was a catastrophic thing to do, with so much money involved.”
The film managed to bring in double its original budget at the box office, but it was only in the years following its release that Flash really became a cult classic. Did the script confuse aspects of the final cut?
21. It Was Trying To Appeal To Fans Of Batman
Remember the 1960s Batman TV series?
Well Flash Gordon writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. was a developer on the show and he wanted to try and replicate its success. Batman had been extremely popular in America and was once described as the ‘biggest TV phenomenon of the 1960s’!
Semple attempted to recreate the Batman show’s camp style to appeal to fans of the original Flash Gordon comics and TV shows. Producer Dino De Laurentiis had already parted ways with a number of screenwriters before Semple turned up to save the day.
The pair had already worked together on King Kong and quickly agreed that the Batman live-action TV show should be a model for Flash Gordon.
20. Most Of Flash’s Dialogue Was Dubbed
Lead actor Sam J. Jones ended up causing a lot of problems for producers of the film.
In 2012 it was revealed that Sam J. Jones (who played Flash) left the film before post production had finished due to disagreements with the film’s producers. This meant that a large amount of his dialogue was re-dubbed by a voice actor, whose identity has remained a secret to this day.
Jones later alluded to some legal troubles driving a wedge between himself and De Laurentiis: “In my naivety at the age of 25 I just let the attorneys handle everything – I just let my representation handle it and they did not do a very good job at all. The bottom line, though, is they worked for me and I take responsibility for what happened.
I didn’t go back for looping and dubbing so they ended up using another actor to loop – I think about half the film was actually not my voice.”
19. It Stars A Former Blue Peter Presenter
Did you spot Peter Duncan the first time you watched Flash Gordon?!
Yes, former Blue Peter presenter Duncan features in a scene where he gets stung by a ‘Wood Beast’, loudly declaring “Spare me the madness!”, before being put out of his misery by a pre James Bond Timothy Dalton. Is this one of the most terrifying scenes in film history, or was it simply because we saw it when we were kids?
Duncan admits that he finds it funny people are still talking about his random cameo in the sci-fi movie. He once remarked in an interview with the Radio Times: “When you make something like that, you never think it will still be around and being talked about in 2015.”
It’s fair to say that Duncan has an extremely varied acting resume!
18. Four Bond actors appeared in the film
Some of these are slightly more obvious than others…
Believe it or not, four actors who starred in Flash Gordon also appeared in the 007 films. First on the list is Timothy Dalton, who was enjoying one of his first prominent acting roles when he joined the sci-fi classic as dashing Prince Barin.
Dalton later went on to play Bond in The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence To Kill (1989). Max von Sydow (aka Ming the Merciless) portrayed Ernst Blofeld in the franchise whilst Chaim Topol (Dr Hans Zarkov) turned up in For Your Eyes Only (1981) as a Greek smuggler.
There’s even a brief cameo from Robbie Coltrane (see below) – he later starred as an ex-KGB agent in the Pierce Brosnan Bond films.
17. Arnie was supposed to be in the lead role
Imagine everyone’s favourite body builder (and politician) as Flash Gordon?
In the early days of the film’s production, De Laurentiis had a couple of names in mind for his leading man and Arnie was definitely up there. Sadly though, the Terminator star never made the final cut thanks to his thick and ‘impenetrable’ Austrian accent!
It didn’t end badly for Arnie though – De Laurentiis later offered him the lead role in Conan the Barbarian. Kurt Russell was another prominent figure being considered for the role of Flash, but the actor dismissed the film as being ‘too bland’.
De Laurentiis stood by the choice of Jones and claimed that he was ‘perfect’ in the role.
16. The Hawkmen couldn’t sit down in their costumes during the entirety of filming
The Hawkmen had some of the most awkward costumes in film history.
The actors playing the iconic roles couldn’t sit down for hours at a time because the costume would dig into their backs. Ouch! Instead the Hawkmen had to come up with some very creative ways to try and relax in the break between takes…
Melody Anderson recalled watching them on set and found it really funny: “They could never sit down, because when they did the wings would dig into their backs. When we had a rest period, you’d see all these guys lying on their stomachs with wings, like they were ready to take off. It was a very funny sight.”
Brian Blessed recalled having to try and sit on a perch to get comfortable!
15. It Was A Flop Outside The UK
You might remember that Flash Gordon was extremely popular in the UK…
However, although it was a big box office success in the United Kingdom, sadly it performed extremely badly in other areas of the world. Maybe this had something to do with our love for Queen and their amazing soundtrack for the film!
It did end up doing well in Italy thanks to the inclusion of Italian actresses Ornella Muti (who played Princess Aura) and Mariangela Melato (aka Kala) in the top billing. However, film critics in the US weren’t as enthusiastic about the film and it only became a cult classic years later.
Nowadays Flash Gordon and his band of followers are popular cosplay costumes at sci-fi conventions.
14. They Originally Planned To Make A Sequel
Remember the twist ending in the final scene of the movie?
It’s actually one of the most notorious unsolved endings in film history. If you remember, just before the end credits begin, bad guy Ming’s ring is retrieved by an unknown individual. The words ‘The End?’ then appear as his evil laughter is heard in the background.
Obviously this hints at the film studio’s plans to continue the franchise. However, whilst there were originally plans to film a follow up, this idea was eventually scrapped thanks to Sam J. Jones’ ongoing disputes with De Laurentiis and the film’s producers.
After the leading man abandoned the project, any future sequel plans had to be dropped.
13. Loads of Film Executives Are Fans of the Film
Over the years Flash Gordon has become a cult classic.
The cheesy sci-fi movie is now a guilty pleasure for many big names in the movie industry, including director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) and comic book artist Alex Ross (Rough Justice), who says it is his favourite film of all time.
Most of the cast members really enjoyed working on the film too. Brian Blessed had always been a massive fan of the Flash Gordon comic books and funnily enough, his favourite character was Vultan. So it was a dream come true when he got to play the winged prince on the big screen!
We just didn’t expect it to be such a hit amongst high-flying Hollywood big wigs!
12. Flash Appears In Another Two Films
Despite the lack of a sequel, the character of Flash Gordon has actually appeared in two other films.
Do you know which two fairly recent films feature Sam J. Jones as the iconic super hero? He actually turns up in both Ted and Ted 2 (starring Mark Wahlberg) where Flash Gordon is also referenced a number of times throughout the two movies.
And in 2016, Ted vs. Flash Gordon: The Ultimate Collection was released on Blu-ray, which bundled together Flash Gordon alongside unrated versions of both the Ted films.
Did you catch Sam’s appearance in the movie?
The lead character actually ends up losing his girlfriend because he goes to a house party to meet Flash Gordon. Oops!
11. The Film Branched Out Into Other Media
As well as a comic book adaptation of the film, there is also a novelization, and a computer game tie-in was released for the Atari 2600 in 1983.
In 2018 a documentary about the film was also released. Called ‘Life After Flash’ it featured interviews with cast members and crew, as well as fans of the film.
However, the film primarily focused on what the star of the film, Sam J. Jones, had been up to in the years following the movie’s release. It’s fair to say that the actor struggled to find prominent roles after Flash Gordon, but in the end he has embraced his cult status.
The film has previously been described as ‘a life-affirming tribute to the film and its star’.
10. Sam J. Jones actually has dark brown hair
The hair & make-up department was in overdrive during filming of Flash Gordon.
After Sam J. Jones was flown over to the set, the film’s production crew had to quickly dye his naturally dark brown hair and turn it bleach blonde.
The leading man wasn’t the only actor who had to change hair colour either…
Melody Anderson, who plays Dale Arden, had to have her blonde locks dyed dark brown for filming. There was also an issue with Flash’s eye colour.
In the comic books, Flash has distinctive bright blue eyes.
However, Jones couldn’t wear the contact lenses and they had to stay green.
9. The actors ended up improvising some very interesting moments
There were a few shocking bits of improvisation on the set of the movie…
Despite having a script in place, some of the actors decided to go a little off piste once the cameras started rolling. At one point in the scene, Brian Blessed’s character Vultan gooses Dale. This wasn’t planned at all and actress Melody Anderson’s reaction is 100% genuine.
There’s also a well-known moment at the end of the film when Flash leaps up to look at the camera and shouts – YEAHHHH! This was another improvisation because nobody on the film set had a clue how the movie should end! De Laurentiis and the other actors have previously admitted they had to completely wing a lot of the scenes.
Anderson later stated that “that’s how the whole film went, because there was no time to prepare. We would just create and throw things in as we went along.”
8. At one point Brian Blessed created his own special effects
Having Brian Blessed on special effects doesn’t sound like the most sensible idea in the world.
But apparently that’s exactly what happened at one point during filming! The battle scene with the Ajax and the Hawkmen took a whopping three days to prepare, which included putting set pieces into place and hanging dozens of Hawkmen safely to the ceiling!
Blessed must have gotten bored because he started putting in his own special effects whilst wielding his cardboard bazooka. He kept shouting “pew pew pew” as he shot things, which actually caused a lot of trouble for the production crew. They had to reset the whole scene because they could hear the actor making the noises.
Apparently he wasn’t the only actor to blame though – Sam J. Jones was also promoted himself to special effects with his hand gun.
7. Sam J. Jones kept getting himself into fights during filming
Sam J. Jones was a bit of a loose cannon, and that’s before he stormed off the set for good.
According to the producer, Dino De Laurentiis, Jones would often get into random fights and brawls during filming. Writing in his autobiography Dino: The Life and Film, De Laurentiis recalled having to visit his leading man in the hospital after one particularly nasty fight.
When he arrived, the producer barged into the operating room to make sure the doctors had fixed Jones’ face properly and they hadn’t left a scar. Sadly after that, Jones kept causing trouble and in the end he left and never returned.
Rather than panicking, the producer turned to his director Mike Hodges and said “We’ll keep going, with the very best stand-in you can find.”
6. Flash was supposed to be a polo player
Did you know that Flash was originally supposed to be a polo player?
In the comic books, the super hero is a professional polo player. But in the 80s film, Flash Gordon famously introduces himself to Dale as a star football player for the New York Jets.
So why the big change?
Whilst polo was a really popular sport when the comic books were released, it was far less popular in the 1980s and producers clearly felt that mainstream audiences wouldn’t respond to the idea of Flash as a polo player.
However, some fans of the comic books didn’t like the change!
In the comic book Flash is thin and wiry, whereas in the film Jones is more of a beefcake. We’re not complaining!
5. Mike Hodges was the eighth choice for director
We’re not sure Hodges is all too fond of this little bit of trivia…
Apparently poor old Mike was only eighth choice to direct the movie behind a whole host of other names.
Hodges was brought in to take on directing duties after the previous director had been unceremoniously dumped by De Laurentiis.
Hodges remembered boarding a Concorde flight from Heathrow to New York with absolutely no idea about comic books and certainly no clue who Flash Gordon was. He had to take a bumper collection of old comic strips onto the plane with him to try and get to grips with the story.
The last-minute addition of Hodges was characteristic of the movie’s production, which was chaotic from start to finish!
4. Flash and Dale were originally supposed to meet in a Canadian resort town
There’s a distinct difference between the final cut and the original script which fans might not know about.
Apparently in the original screenplay, Flash and Dale meet at a Canadian resort town called ‘Dark Harbor’. The two characters flirt with each other a little but don’t become fully-acquainted until they end up on the ill-fated plane ride to NYC.
Unfortunately the producers didn’t manage to edit the script properly to accommodate the change, because Dale actually mentions ‘Dark Harbor’ later on in the movie. During a tear-filled meeting with Flash before his scheduled execution, she talks briefly about the mysterious Canadian resort.
A slightly messy continuity error from the Flash Gordon team there!
3. Richard O’Brien got away with a lot of bad behaviour during filming
Richard O’Brien is best known as the creator of the Rocky Horror Picture Show musical.
But did you know that he also starred in Flash Gordon as Fico, a Tree Man?
Apparently he got very bored during filming and started causing trouble on the set of the movie, which didn’t go down too well with the other actors.
O’Brien hated the tedious breaks and decided to have some fun of his own between filming. He regularly sat on the personalised chairs of the principal cast members, behaviour which wasn’t curbed at all by the film’s director, Mike Hodges.
This is because Hodges and O’Brien were good friends, a fact which annoyed the other cast members who grew irritated with the actor.
2. The camera angles slowly change over the course of the film
Did you notice this fun fact the first time you saw the movie?
In Flash Gordon, the camera angles used to shoot Ming the Merciless constantly change over the course of the film. At the start of the movie, Ming is always shot from below, which puts him above the audience and emphasises his power.
In the middle of the film, as Flash begins to unite his forces to combat Ming, the camera switches to filming Ming face-on, at an equal level with the audience. Eventually he is shot from above in order to symbolise his defeat at the hands of the forces of good.
That’s a nice little bit of camera trickery from the director!
1. Ming’s attack on Earth was accomplished using giant force beams directed towards the moon
Fans of the movie will know that Ming decided to play around with the Earth and eventually destroy it.
And he comes very close to doing so before Flash and co manage to stop him!
He manages to get an attack in on Earth by bombarding the moon with force beams and knocking it out of orbit. When Flash is in the airplane, they are actually getting knocked about by burning chucks of lunar debris rather than meteors.
Did you know all of these facts about Flash Gordon?