12 Facts You Never Knew About Awakenings

Awakenings was the moving 1990 film following the story of a doctor who uses a new drug to try and treat patients who have been living in a comatose state, and features an amazing cast including Robin Williams and Robert De Niro in the leading roles.


The film is done in a very compassionate way and draws you in to the characters and the story, ensuring that you become emotionally involved very quickly.

Awakenings is now coming up to 30 years old, so let’s take a look back at this classic with some facts you may not have known.

12. The film was based on true events

Awakenings was based on a non-fiction book written by Oliver Sacks. The role played by Robin Williams, Dr Sayer, was based directly on Sacks himself and his work and experiences.

11. The cast studied the real patients

Before filming Awakenings, Williams, De Niro and other cast members portraying patients in the film studied films of the real patients of Sacks so that they could see how they had been following their treatment.

10. Steven Spielberg almost directed the film

Steven Spielberg was initially very interested in directing Awakenings and paid close attention to the project but ultimately passed the directorial chair to Penny Marshall instead.

9. Spielberg’s involvement led to Schindler’s List

Spielberg’s interest in the film put him in contact with script writer Steven Zaillian, who Spielberg would then go on to use to put together the linear story for Schindler’s List, winning both of them an Oscar.

8. Bill Murray was Penny Marshall’s first choice for Leonard

Marshall’s first choice to play Leonard was Bill Murray, who was interested to star but Marshall ultimately decided on De Niro instead as she did not want people to go in to the cinema expecting a comedy.

7. Williams accidentally broke De Niro’s nose in one scene

In one scene in which Williams works with security guards to restrain De Niro’s character, Williams accidentally elbowed De Niro in the face and actually broke his nose in the process.

6. The injury actually straightened De Niro’s nose out

After Williams accidentally broke his nose, De Niro commented that he had had his nose broken in the past in the opposite direction and so this incident had actually straightened it back out for him.

5. It was Williams’ favourite movie of his own

He starred in many amazing films throughout his career, but Williams said that Awakenings was one of his favourite of his own movies that he ever starred in.

4. One scene is often edited for cursing

In the original cut of the film, Nurse Costello rushes in to see Dr Sayer who is asleep and exclaims “It’s a f***ing miracle”. Almost all versions of the film now screened remove the expletive from the line.

3. The film had a seriously Oscar-approved cast

The cast of Awakenings included two Oscar winners – Williams and De Niro – but also featured two Oscar nominees in Max Von Sydow and Dexter Gordon.

2. One star of the film never saw it released

Famed jazz Saxophonist, Dexter Gordon, appeared in the film as Rolando, but he unfortunately passed away 8 months before the film was released and did not see the final movie.

1. The film features a real encephalitis survivor

De Niro filmed a scene for the movie that featured the only survivor from Oliver Sacks’ book, Lillian T, who was also said to have been the most outspoken of the patients in the real awakenings events.