20 Facts About GoldenEye Even A Secret Satellite Couldn’t Uncover
James Bond has appealed to generations of movie-goers, but after Roger Moore’s run as 007 descended into smutty eyebrows and a Walther OAP-PK, and Timothy Dalton dropped out, Bond needed a relaunch. And the success of that relaunch rested on the shoulders of Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye.
There’s more to this iconic Bond entry than you might think, so start your tank engines as we dive off a parapet into its behind-the-scenes secrets!
20. The original script had to be rewritten because it was too similar to an Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy
When you’re trying to relaunch the most famous spy franchise in the world, you really don’t want it to come off like a po-faced version of a successful parody, a fate that nearly befell GoldenEye. While GoldenEye was being filmed, director James Cameron released True Lies (1994), an action-comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a spy struggling to live a double life. Complete with a grand, villainous plan about the use of a super weapon, and high octane chase sequences through major cities, the film was a box office success and grossed over $378 million.
Unfortunately for the team behind GoldenEye, the plot of True Lies was a little too close to comfort to what they were working on, and they had to rewrite several scenes on the fly in order to distance themselves from Arnie’s comedy outing. We’ll never know what that original GoldenEye draft looked like, but the final film doesn’t bear much resemblance to True Lies – so it seems that the writers did their job well!
19. It was the first Bond film not directly based on any Ian Fleming story
The Bond series is of course based on the novels and short stories of the legendary British writer Ian Fleming, who had himself been a Naval intelligence officer during the Second World War. In fact, so well received were Fleming’s original stories that every Bond film, from Dr. No (1962) through to Licence to Kill (1989), constituting 16 films, had been directly based on a Fleming story. The titles were sometimes altered, but the core stories remained the same. When it came time to tread new ground for the Bond series, however, producers decided that their film would be an entirely original story – breaking away from the postwar Fleming stories that were increasingly feeling dated in a post-Soviet world.
Before GoldenEye, production had already begun on a Bond film titled The Property of a Lady, named for a Fleming story, which was intended to be Dalton’s third Bond film, though it’s unclear how far this one got before being canned. Most of the plot of Fleming’s The Property of a Lady had already been used for 1983’s Octopussy, but new scenes written for that film, such as the infiltration of a nuclear facility, were later reused for GoldenEye – and that’s the closest GoldenEye gets to a direct Fleming link.
18. The film is so dark because it was written with Timothy Dalton in mind
From betrayal to mutilation, and the presence of a psychopathic sex killer, GoldenEye is quite a bit darker than your average Bond film. The film certainly doesn’t feel like safe ground on which to launch a new actor for James Bond, as much as we love it – and that’s because it was never intended for Brosnan. When Timothy Dalton was hired to portray Bond, he was contracted for three films, beginning with 1987’s The Living Daylights. Unfortunately for Dalton, his grittier, colder portrayal of Bond was swamped by peppy 80s hits like the Indiana Jones franchise and the cold-but-fantastical revival of Batman.
Worse still, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, distributors of the Bond series, became embroiled in legal and financial issues that threatened to sink the franchise for good post-Licence to Kill. After Dalton discussed his future as Bond with producer Albert R Broccoli, who insisted that the drought between films would require Dalton to reprise the role three more times, he quit. The role passed to Pierce Brosnan, who in effect would be playing Dalton’s Bond in GoldenEye.
17. It’s the first Bond film in which 007 drives a German car
James Bond is more intertwined with a car brand than any other fictional figure, owing to the franchise’s decades-long arrangement with deluxe British manufacturer Aston Martin. Bond does drive an Aston Martin in GoldenEye, but the film marks the first time 007’s main mode of transport is a German car: the BMW Z3 Roadster. Providing the cars for the film initially cost BMW $3 million, but when you invest in one of the world’s most famous franchises it tends to pay off: BMW made $240 million in advance sales.
This was the first Bond in a three-movie deal to feature BMWs prominently, continuing with the BMW 750iL in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and the BMW Z8 in The World is Not Enough (1999). Unlike many other Bond cars, however, the Z3 Roadster in GoldenEye isn’t seen using any gadgetry. This is because the deal with BMW was struck late in production, and the car was a prototype, meaning it couldn’t be damaged through use in action scenes.
16. You can bungee jump off the dam yourself today
At the beginning of GoldenEye, Bond famously bungee jumps off a dam to freedom (free-dam?); this stunt set a new record for the highest bungee jump in a movie, measuring a massive 722 feet. If you feel like you need an adrenaline fix, and have some underwear to spare, you too can attempt the famous leap from the Contra Dam, also called the Verzacsa Dam for its Switzerland location. According to the commercial bungee jump operators who run the experience, more than 10,000 have attempted the jump since the film was released. And how many survived? Well… all 10,000, thankfully.
The stuntman who performed the jump in GoldenEye was Wayne Michaels, who has also worked in fight scenes in Tim Burton’s Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). As a reward for his daredevilry, Michaels was given a small role in GoldenEye – as the ill-fated pilot of the Tiger Helicopter, brutally hijacked by Xenia Onatopp.
15. The satellite dish is real and sends messages to aliens
It’s one of GoldenEye’s most famous scenes: the climactic fight between Bond and Trevelyan atop a giant satellite dish. But while a lot of Bond sequences are filmed on its London studio set, this satellite really exists. The Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, was built in 1963. It was the largest single aperture radio telescope in the world for more than 50 years, until it was surpassed by China’s Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in 2016. It took the GoldenEye team ten minutes to walk from the edge of the dish to the centre, with the whole device measuring more than 1,000 feet across, at quite a steep incline!
The dish is probably best known for, in 1974, broadcasting the Arecibo Message, a complicated mix of codes and bitmap images depicting humanity, which was aimed at communicating with aliens more than 25,000 light years away. For this historic reason, as well as being a remarkable location for film, the Arecibo Observatory was also prominently featured in 1997’s Contact.
14. Roger Moore’s son worked on the film, but wasn’t credited
We’re not saying that the film industry is rife with nepotism, but it seems awfully coincidental that Roger Moore’s son ended up doing uncredited work on GoldenEye. Well, just another one of life’s great mysteries! Christian Moore (not pictured) is a producer, best known for his work on the sci-fi B-movie Monarch of the Moon (2005) and several Cold War documentaries, such as The Secret KGB Sex Files (2001), hosted by Roger Moore. Christian is also rumoured to have worked as a third assistant director on GoldenEye, which would certainly be a timeline consistent with his first documentary work, which began in 1998.
Through this link to set, Roger Moore visited the GoldenEye production on the last day of filming, both to encourage his son and to get a sneak peek of what a post-Moore Bond would look like. When Moore Sr was recognised by cast and crew, he apparently quipped, “They sent for me,” because Pierce Brosnan wasn’t working out with test audiences. “I’m back.”
13. The Rolling Stones turned down the opportunity to write the theme
What’s a Bond film without a great Bond title track? Along with the iconic theme for 007, the title songs for each Bond movie have become almost as famous as the films themselves. From Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger to Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill, the songs have frequently been smash hits, so producers were keen to get it right for the Bond relaunch that was GoldenEye. When the Bond theme gig was offered to The Rolling Stones, however, they turned it down. Like Bond, the Stones had just come back from a hiatus, returning to form with 1994’s Voodoo Lounge, their 20th studio album.
According to John Burlingame’s The Music of James Bond, the band just weren’t interested in making Bond music: “[producers] started at the top, asking the Rolling Stones to consider writing and recording a title song; the Stones turned them down.” The producers’ next idea, that the song should by written by Bono and The Edge of U2 and sung by Tina Turner, fortunately stuck. “Bono and the Edge are neighbors of mine in the south of France,” Turner explains in Burlingame’s book. “They came over and Edge played the song on my piano… This one sounds like it fits the movie.”
12. The title comes from the name of Ian Fleming’s beach house
Even though GoldenEye had an entirely original plot, that doesn’t mean the Bond producers were abandoning Fleming altogether. In fact, the film takes its name from Fleming’s famous Jamaican estate, Goldeneye (yes, lower case ‘e’). The estate is located on Oracabessa Bay, not far from the town of St Mary, Jamaica. Fleming bought the land in 1946, and had a house built on a cliff overlooking his private beach. It’s alright for some! Fleming wouldn’t publish his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, until 1952, meaning both that it was purchased with wealth inherited from his aristocratic family and that almost all Bond writing took place within those walls.
The estate itself was named for Operation Goldeneye, a World War II sabotage plan which Fleming had helped to plan during his time in the Navy. The operation, intended to maintain contact with Gibraltar as the Allied powers feared a Nazi takeover of Spain, was shelved in 1943 after no such invasion took place.
11. A contest winner waited six and a half years to star
Some films are just films, but a global powerhouse like Bond has its own cottage industries – one of which is contests to star as an extra in the film. First run by Playboy magazine, and often sponsored by TV channels like MTV and VH1, the first contest to ‘Be A Bond Girl’ ran in July 1979, with the grand prize being a role in For Your Eyes Only. “Maybe you know her,” reads the advertisement. “Or maybe you are her. That special kind of girl who will appear in the upcoming James Bond film… Send in two photos of yourself – one face shot, one full-figure swimsuit shot… Three finalists will be selected… [and] evaluated by producer Albert R Broccoli, director Lewis Gilbert, star Roger Moore, and Hugh M Hefner.”
These contests, unfortunately, continued into the Dalton days. But when MGM became embroiled in legal trouble, the prize of a contest to star in Timothy Dalton’s third Bond film was a little delayed… by six and a half years. Nonetheless, the contest winner did end up in GoldenEye, and can be seen to the left of Xenia Onatopp in the Baccarat scene, and then again, framed by Bond and Onatopp as they quip at each other.
10. It’s the first Bond film to use CGI
The first Bond film to release in the 90s, even GoldenEye fell prey to the period’s surge in the use of computer-generated imagery, but not exactly where you might expect. These days, CGI is often used in action sequences to create death-defying stunts and enormous explosions, the likes of which would almost certainly kill a stunt performer (or, at the very least, scar one side of their face). In GoldenEye, however, the CGI is used for the gun barrel sequence. Originally, the gun barrel shot was made through a specially designed pinhole camera created by title designer Maurice Binder.
After Binder’s death in 1991, music video and TV commercial director Daniel Kleinman was hired to replace him. Under his direction, the barrel has since been computer-generated, allowing for more variation in light and shade within the barrel itself. The blood from the assailant, from whose point of view we see Bond, is noticeably darker and falls more quickly than in the Binder versions.
9. Ralph Fiennes auditioned to play Bond (as did Sean Bean)
When you’re looking to cast a lead in a billion-dollar movie franchise, it’s important you make the right choice. Not only is it critical to cast a convincing Bond, but there’s also no shortage of actors seeking the part – such as Ralph Fiennes, who’d later be cast as M. Back in the early 90s, when Broccoli and other producers were seeking a new Bond after Dalton’s disappointing box office returns, Ralph Fiennes was making waves as Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1992) and as Amon Göth in Schindler’s List (1993).
With his star on the rise, Fiennes auditioned for the role of James Bond in the film that would become GoldenEye, but he was rejected. He then auditioned again in 2004, losing out again to Daniel Craig. Eventually, of course, Fiennes would be cast as M in 2012’s Skyfall, replacing Judi Dench. Sean Bean had also auditioned for the role of Bond, first aiming to be cast in The Living Daylights (1987), with the part eventually going to Timothy Dalton. Bean then auditioned again for GoldenEye, but was instead cast as Alec Trevelyan – which is far from a bad deal!
8. Pierce Brosnan broke one of Famke Janssen’s ribs
She doesn’t get as much credit as she deserves, but the 1990s really was the decade of Famke Janssen. Breaking through in the Jeff Goldblum-led Fathers & Sons (1992), Janssen truly made her name as the sado-masochistic Soviet assassin Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye. You probably know already, but Xenia’s name comes from the fact that she crushes her victims to death with her thighs when she’s, well, Onatopp. So it’s fair to say that her character required some intensely physical fight scenes, not least with Bond himself. When Onatopp and Bond are fighting in what fans have lasciviously dubbed the ‘foreplay scene’, Janssen insisted that Brosnan ram her into the walls for real, since the walls were padded, and she wanted her reaction to be as genuine as possible.
Unfortunately for Janssen, it seems that the walls weren’t quite padded enough, and she broke a rib while filming the scene. It would appear Janssen frequently puts her ribs in peril in order to get the right shot: she also broke a rib while filming Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), as well as cracking a rib on the set of The Blacklist: Redemption (2017).
7. It was the first-ever Bond film to shoot in Russia
It’s easy to forget just how important the years between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye were, with the intervening period seeing the complete collapse of the USSR, and the establishment of independent states in Eastern Europe. The fall of the regime in Russia opened up its iconic locations to film studios the world over, not least the West’s favourite Cold War fiction, including the recently penned screenplay for a little movie called GoldenEye. GoldenEye became the first Bond film to shoot in Russia, using several locations in St Petersburg – but probably fewer than you think.
Several locations in England were used as stand-ins for shots that would preferably have taken place in Russia, with Epsom Downs racecourse serving as St Petersburg airport and much of the tank chase being shot in London. Part of the reason for these decisions was the financial cost of taking a film crew to (and looking after one in) far-off locales. The other part was to do with security, with the cast and crew needing bodyguards for the duration of filming.
6. Pierce Brosnan’s son is his hand double in the film
You probably watched GoldenEye thinking you were looking at Pierce Brosnan’s own hands the whole time. That would be normal, right? But you weren’t. You were actually looking at Brosnan’s son’s hands. Before shooting began, Brosnan was staying at his house in Malibu, but while in the bathroom he injured his hand. A perfectly normal place for a hand injury. In order to save time and money, Martin Campbell, the director of GoldenEye, drafted Pierce Brosnan’s son Christopher for close-ups shots of the Bond actor’s hands.
These include various scenes inside the Aston Martin DB5, such as pulling the handbrake and opening the glove compartment, and using the laser pointer in the opening bungee jump. Sadly, Christopher Brosnan has since become estranged from his father, reportedly over his refusal to kick a destructive drug habit.
5. Alec Trevelyan is named after a film critic who hated Bond movies
The plots of many Bond films focus on 007’s difficulty separating his personal desire to take revenge against those who’ve wronged him and the sober matter of saving the world. But just because Bond tends to side with the greater good, it doesn’t mean that the film itself can’t act vengefully. One of the best examples of this is the name of Bond’s foe in Goldeneye: Alec Trevelyan. The name is thought to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to John Trevelyan, a film critic and censor who was particular scornful of the Bond films.
Working as the head of the BBFC in the 60s, Trevelyan was particularly disgruntled by the “callous sadism” in Bond’s character, which he wrote about in his memoir, What the Censor Saw, published in 1973. As director Roy Ward Baker wrote of Trevelyan in The Director’s Cut (2000), “Trevelyan had that schoolmasterly habit of pigeon-holing people. If you were in the box marked ‘art cinema’ you could tackle anything, however controversial: sex, violence, politics, religion – anything. If you were in ‘commercial cinema’,” Ward Baker continues, “you faced obstruction and nit-picking all the way. He chose these categories and allocated everyone according to his estimation of them. He was a sinister mean hypocrite, treating his favorites with nauseating unctuousness.”
4. Minnie Driver has a cameo
In the early 90s, Minnie Driver was broke. Receiving a call from her agent about a small part in the upcoming Bond film GoldenEye, Driver grabbed the bull by both horns. Unbeknown to her, Driver would soon be catapulted to fame with a lead role in Circle of Friends (also 1995) and become one of the late 90s’ biggest stars. In GoldenEye, Driver plays Irina, the mistress of Valentin Zukovsky, Bond’s link to Janus. When Bond goes to meet Zukovsky, she can be seen singing Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man – ironic for a mistress to sing, as it was made famous through Hillary Clinton’s 1992 defence of her husband’s infidelity.
Irina is singing so badly, however, that Bond asks “who’s strangling the cat?”, and Zukovsky sends her away. Driver earned $5,000 for the role – and she was glad to get it! Fun fact: Minnie Driver is actually a trained singer and has released three albums. However, since her GoldenEye singing was meant to be ear-piercingly bad, voice artist Michelle Eldridge was employed to dub it over with something worse. Driver went on to star in Good Will Hunting, for which she would be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
3. GoldenEye is the most murderous film in the James Bond franchise
Sure, GoldenEye is a fairly dark and violent film, with Pierce Brosnan giving Bond an icy, professional-killer edge, but did you know that Bond actually kills more people in this film than in the entire franchise? According to an analysis by The Guardian, Bond kills 47 people in GoldenEye, the next closest in Bond kills being The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) at 31, both of which dwarf The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) at just one kill. That said, GoldenEye is far from the film with the most deaths. That honour belongs to Sean Connery’s penultimate EON bond, You Only Live Twice (1967), with an astonishing 196 on-screen deaths.
Brosnan does, however, come out on top as being the deadliest Bond, with 135 kills across four films – twice the average per film. Much as John Trevelyan might insist that films progressively became more and more violent over his career, the numbers have actually fluctuated over the years. Generally speaking, the modern Bond films have far fewer deaths than their bomb-detonating, missile-wielding predecessors.
2. Pierce Brosnan boycotted the film’s France premiere
The film industry is all about give and take, and it’s par for the course for governments around the world to incentivise filmmaking by offering giveaways and helping with military equipment. But it doesn’t always work out. For example, the French navy provided the famous Eurocopter Tiger for the GoldenEye production team, as well as the full use of their frigate FS La Fayette. They even allowed the use of their official Navy logo in promotional material for the film. However, Pierce Brosnan, who has frequently been involved in Greenpeace, was less pleased with the film being effectively bought off by the French military, as well as its ongoing nuclear testing programme.
Brosnan threatened to boycott the French premiere of the film, a glitzy event that would have celebrated the government’s involvement in the production. And what’s a Bond premiere if Bond doesn’t even attend? The French premiere was, as a result, cancelled. Brosnan is also on the board of advisors for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and donated $100,000 to restore a playground on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where he owns a house.
1. Pierce Brosnan wasn’t allowed to wear a tuxedo in any other film while playing Bond
For some, playing James Bond would be the dream of a lifetime, but it definitely comes with its downsides. Daniel Craig infamously said in 2015 that he’d “rather slash [his] wrists” than play Bond again. However, even putting aside the pressures of the role, being Bond can come with some sartorial restrictions too. We’ve never had access to a contract, but it’s strongly suggested that Bond actors are now forbidden from wearing a tuxedo or acting like Bond in any other capacity while they’re in the role. The contractual obligation is said to have begun after Roger Moore starred in The Cannonball Run (1981) as a tuxedo-wearing, Aston Martin-driving gentleman, very clearly a parody of his contemporary performances as James Bond. Albert R Broccoli was apparently hugely unhappy with Moore satirising his prized franchise.
Pierce Brosnan is perhaps the greatest evidence that such a contract clause exists. Brosnan starred in 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair, and attends a black tie event in a shabby-looking suit with an open collar. The film, otherwise styled to the nines, drew criticism for Brosnan’s lacklustre appearance in the scene. But it did get his character to a black tie event and did, technically, satisfy his Bond contract!