20 Movie Urban Legends (That Aren’t Actually True)
Hollywood is an industry of myth-making. You’ll believe a man can fly, break out of a high security prison through a sewage pipe, singlehandedly defeat an evil galactic empire and build a theme park populated by dinosaurs.
Sometimes, however, rather than the films making the myths, the urban legends spring up around the films themselves.
Below are 20 urban legends about movies that have become widely discussed in popular culture. The only thing? None of these long-told myths are even remotely true.
20. A munchkin actor can be seen committing suicide in The Wizard of Oz
Technicolor musical The Wizard of Oz may be a family classic, but there’s long been a rumour that something more macabre lurks in the background of one shot.
According to the myth, at the end of the sequence in which Dorothy and the Scarecrow discover the Tin Man, a hanging actor can be seen swinging in the trees behind them.
The story goes that this is a suicidal munchkin actor who, in despair over an unrequited crush, hanged himself on-set.
Aside from the fact it makes no sense that the filmmakers would include blatant footage of a suicide in their film, there’s simply no evidence to support the myth.
Not only did nobody die making The Wizard of Oz, when the Tin Man sequence was filmed, the munchkin actors weren’t even on-set yet.
Since the film’s 1939 release, the print has been cleaned up significantly for the high-def age.
Today we can see the ‘suicidal munchkin’ is actually just a big bird, likely a crane or an emu, roaming in the background.
19. The original MGM lion killed its trainer
The MGM lion has become so iconic that the studio has kept the same shot of Leo the lion roaring as its logo since 1957.
Before Leo, however, there was another MGM lion: Slats, around whom there has long swirled a sinister ‘true’ story.
According to the story, just days after Slats shot his MGM roar in 1917, he mauled his trainer and a pair of assistants to death.
No people were harmed in the making of the MGM logo, and none of the MGM lions – especially not Slats – ever killed their trainer.
We know this because Slats’ trainer, Volney Phifer, outlived Slats by some four decades.
While Slats died in 1936, Phifer would continue working in Hollywood for years, only passing away in retirement in 1974.
18. Lion King’s animators snuck the word ‘sex’ into one scene
Hailed as one of Disney’s best animated efforts, 1994’s The Lion King is also one of the Mouse House’s most notorious films.
This is because of a scene that comes midway through the film, when a melancholy Simba gazes up at the night sky.
As he lays down with a thud, Simba kicks up a cloud of dust, which appears to spell out ‘SEX’.
Or does it? Not according to ex-Disney animator Tom Sito, who says the cloud is much more innocent.
“It doesn’t say SEX”, Sito claimed in a recent interview. “It says special effects. It’s SFX.”
That’s not to say that Disney animators have always been totally innocent. In 1977’s The Rescuers, for instance, animators originally inserted an image of a naked woman into one scene (this was later cut out of home video editions).
17. The actors performed a lovemaking scene for real on the set of Don’t Look Now
Whether you’ve seen the film or not, Don’t Look Now is widely known for two things: its creepy final shot of a murderous dwarf, and a love scene that looks oddly realistic.
Because of the scene’s realism, speculation quickly arose that actors Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie did the deed for real.
Fuel was added to the fire in 2011 after Variety editor Peter Bart claimed to have been on-set, and claimed that he had seen Sutherland and Christie getting physical.
Though rumours have continued to persist regarding Sutherland and Christie getting freaky for Don’t Look Now, the people who were actually in the room have strenuously denied it.
Says Donald Sutherland, Peter Bart was never actually a witness to the scene being filmed; if he had been, he would have seen the sex was all simulated.
The film’s producer, Peter Katz, backed up Sutherland’s claim, saying: “While there was a sex scene captured on film, it was not a scene that would lead to the creation of a human being.”
16. Early cinema audiences ran out of the theatre when they saw a shot of a train coming towards them
Try and imagine for a second what it must have been like for audiences at the end of the 19th century to see images start to move for the first time.
Anyone unfamiliar with the technology could understandably have been a little scared of what they were witnessing. Which is exactly how one urban myth about the early days of cinema goes.
It’s long been said that audiences for the 1896 film Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, convinced that a real train was hurtling towards them, would flee the cinema in terror.
The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, a ‘film’ lasting just 50 seconds, would have certainly appeared startling back in 1896 – there’s no doubt about that.
There is no evidence, however, of audiences running for the exits in response to the footage.
That viewers of the time were amazed and maybe even a little stunned by the film is not in doubt, but there are no contemporary accounts of viewers terrified a train was really coming at them.
15. Jessica Rabbit flashes her privates in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Since the release of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988, Jessica Rabbit has become one of the most iconic symbols of female sensuality in cinema.
Perhaps it’s for this reason that a popular urban myth has emerged, of an ‘R-rated’ scene that features midway through the film.
According to the legend, there’s a shot of Jessica’s privates as she crashes out of the cab she’s been riding with Bob Hoskins’ Eddie Valiant.
As she’s thrown from the car, Jessica’s legs open to reveal more than Mrs Rabbit would probably prefer her public to see.
It’s a Basic Instinct moment in a film full of risqué humour, but the most we actually see is Mrs Rabbit’s underwear.
It’s nothing compared to a deleted scene from the film, in which the cigar-smoking Baby Herman can be seen peeking around women’s skirts.
14. Walt Disney’s body was cryogenically frozen after his death
In 1966, at the age of 65, Walt Disney – an animation legend and the most awarded man in history at the Oscars – passed away.
A heavy smoker for much of his life, Disney’s body was riddled with cancer by the time he died.
According to the myth, Disney’s body was – by the maestro’s own request – cryogenically frozen, so that his body might one day in the future be resuscitated.
The even more outlandish rumours suggest the frozen Disney resides somewhere at the original Disneyland.
It’s true: Walt Disney had indeed expressed an interest in being preserved in liquid nitrogen after his death.
The Hollywood legend’s interest never went further than that, though – he was cremated by his family two days after he passed.
In case there are still doubters out there, they can visit Walt’s grave in Glendale, California.
13. A woman died looking for Fargo’s buried ransom money
At the end of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo, a 1996 crime drama that in its opening credits falsely claims to be based on a true story, a briefcase full of ransom money is buried in the snow.
In 2001, stories emerged of a young Japanese woman who had come to Minnesota looking for said briefcase, and died in the process.
Takako Konishi’s body was discovered in a field outside Detroit Lakes, and some local press began reporting that the Tokyo office worker had perished searching for Fargo’s money.
Konishi hadn’t died looking for the Fargo treasure. Owing to the language barrier, local police had misunderstood what Konishi had been looking for in Minnesota.
Back in the state having holidayed there previously with an ex-partner, Konishi had died where a motel manager had told her was a good place to watch the stars. She left behind a suicide note.
Still, the myth has been so pervasive that it got its own film adaptation in 2014. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter tells of a young Japanese woman who leaves her old life behind to search for Fargo’s loot.
12. Marisa Tomei was given an Oscar by mistake
We all know the feeling: you’re watching an awards show and, when the obvious favourite doesn’t win, for a moment you wonder whether the wrong name wasn’t just called out by mistake.
After the 1993 Oscars, at which Marisa Tomei was awarded Best Supporting Actress, people believed this so strongly that a new Hollywood myth soon emerged.
The legend goes that Tomei’s name was called out by accident by actor Jack Palance, but out of the Academy’s embarrassment, Tomei was allowed to keep the award anyway.
The 2017 Oscars controversy, where La La Land was mistakenly named Best Picture instead of Moonlight before there was a swift correction by producers, has shown us what really happens when the wrong name is called out at the Academy Awards.
Marisa Tomei, however, really did win for her performance in My Cousin Vinny in 1993 – it’s just that viewers at home couldn’t believe it.
Tomei, today a respected actress but back in 1993 a relative newcomer to the industry, beat veteran and 1993 favourite Vanessa Redgrave to the Oscar.
It wasn’t that there was ever any foundation to the myth that Tomei’s name had been called by mistake – some people just thought that the only possible explanation for Redgrave losing had to be that it was a mix-up. The likely explanation is that Redgrave still had enemies at the Academy following her controversial “Zionist hoodlums” speech at the 1978 Oscars.
11. Three Men and a Baby features the ghost of a young boy
If the 1987 comedy Three Men and a Baby is remembered for anything today, it’s probably more the urban legend that has sprung up around it than the quality of the film itself.
It took eagle-eyed viewers catching the film on home video to spot what looked suspiciously like a figure looming in the background of one scene.
As Ted Danson’s Jack walks through his house with his mother, what to some viewers looks like the spooky ghost of a young boy seems to suddenly appear behind the curtains.
Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, the fact is that there’s a perfectly good explanation for Three Men and a Baby’s ‘ghost’ child.
The background figure is no ghost, but a cardboard cutout of Ted Danson.
Specifically, it’s a cutout of Danson’s character Jack, an actor whose likeness was used for a dog food commercial in one of the film’s deleted scenes.
10. The Moon landings were directed by Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi movie 2001: A Space Odyssey was so advanced for its time, audiences of the time could hardly believe what they were seeing.
There were some viewers who felt the same way about the Moon landing in 1969: surely what people had witnessed was too spectacular to be true?
Lo, man being able to reach the Moon seeming so far-fetched and 2001’s convincing special effects combined to convince many that Stanley Kubrick must have faked the Moon landing.
Stanley Kubrick, Hollywood filmmaker, did not team up with NASA to fake one of mankind’s greatest achievements.
Leaving aside for the moment that the Moon landing hoax has been thoroughly debunked, there’s also the matter that Kubrick’s ‘involvement’ can be traced back to false information.
The 2002 mockumentary Dark Side of the Moon and a fake Kubrick interview in which the director ‘confesses’ did much of the legwork in spreading the myth.
Believers of the hoax continue to insist that Kubrick hints at his Moon landing fakery in The Shining – in one scene, Danny wears an Apollo 11 jumper – but this seems like a case of reading too much into it.
9. There’s something saucy hidden in the Little Mermaid poster
For those who insist that Disney animators are little more than secret sauce merchants, The Little Mermaid poster is one of the examples most often pointed to.
The Little Mermaid art depicts the main characters against the backdrop of Atlantica, the film’s underwater kingdom.
Some, however, have insisted that the artwork seems particularly phallic, with rumour suggesting that a ticked-off Disney animator inserted a male member into the poster intentionally after he was sacked.
The Little Mermaid’s allegedly ‘racy’ poster was no more than the result of an innocent mistake.
What’s more, not only was the poster artist not fired, he wasn’t even employed by Disney in the first place.
The artist in question has since admitted that the artwork was a result of him rushing to complete it over an all-night design session – meaning any phalluses in the poster are mere Freudian slips at best.
8. Richard Gere paid a visit to A&E to have a gerbil removed from his bottom
In the 80s and 90s, there emerged a persistent rumour that some Hollywood celebrities had become fond of something called ‘gerbilling’.
This was an alleged practice that saw the purported gerbiller insert a rodent into themselves for their (and definitely not the gerbil’s) pleasure.
Since the mid-80s, the story of Richard Gere taking a trip to A&E for an emergency gerbilectomy have circulated.
For one, there has never been any evidence that Richard Gere has ever inserted a gerbil into his bottom.
Secondly, there’s no evidence to suggest that gerbilling has ever been, or ever actually will be a thing.
There are currently no records of anybody trying gerbilling out for real. That includes Richard Gere. Seriously, he’s a Buddhist, he wouldn’t.
7. Shirley Eaton died after being painted gold for Goldfinger
In one of the most iconic movie moments ever, Bond girl Jill Masterson is killed by asphyxiation after being painted gold in Goldfinger.
This gave rise to the popular myth that a person could legitimately die as a result of their skin being suffocated with paint.
As time wore on, there emerged another related myth: that actress Shirley Eaton, who played Jill Masterson, was herself killed from being painted for the scene.
Though covering all the body’s pores can increase chance of heatstroke, there’s no such thing as skin asphyxiation.
The only way a person can suffocate in real life is if they fail to breathe through the mouth.
And so, obviously, Shirley Eaton didn’t go the way of Jill Masterson. In fact, Eaton’s still alive today.
6. There’s footage of Brandon Lee being shot in The Crow
In 1993, Brandon Lee, son of the late Bruce Lee, was filming what was going to be his starmaking movie, The Crow.
Unfortunately, before filming on The Crow was completed, Lee was involved in a grisly on-set accident that saw him accidentally shot and killed.
After some tinkering to get around its lead actor’s death, the film was released in 1994, with footage of Lee being shot for real included in the film.
Even if the filmmakers had wanted to include footage of Lee’s mortal wounding – and you can’t imagine they would – such a film would never get past censors.
If director Alex Proyas had snuck a shot of Lee’s murder into The Crow, the film would have been taken out of circulation long before now for being an illegal snuff movie.
The footage was apparently instead handed over to police as evidence, and subsequently destroyed.
5. Judy Garland was paid less than the dog for Wizard of Oz
Judy Garland’s life story is one of exploitation in a Hollywood system that also seemed to care very little about her wellbeing.
It should come as no surprise, then, to hear that Garland was paid less than her canine co-star for her first big movie.
The story goes that, for The Wizard of Oz, Garland had a lower salary than that of Terry, the dog who played her character’s dog Toto.
Judy Garland was mistreated by MGM, the studio to which she was contracted, but executives never stooped so low as to pay her less than a dog.
While Terry earned his owner $125 a week, Garland was making $500 a week for The Wizard of Oz.
Dishearteningly, Terry did, however, make more money than the munchkin actors, who were paid just $50 a week for their hard work.
4. Harrison Ford was working as a carpenter on the Star Wars set when he got cast as Han Solo
In 1977, Star Wars began its journey to becoming the most financially successful film of all time, instantly propelling its unknown leads to stardom.
Of all the newcomers in the cast, however, Harrison Ford would prove to be the biggest success story.
The story goes that Ford was a nobody before Star Wars – he was working on the film as a carpenter, in fact, when George Lucas cast him as Han Solo, changing his life forever.
While Ford was working as a carpenter as his side-hustle when George Lucas cast him in Star Wars, Ford’s main career was always acting.
Lucas knew this all too well: he had cast Ford in his previous film, the 1973 comedy American Graffiti, and Ford had acted in Lucas’ pal Francis Ford Coppola’s films The Conversation and Apocalypse Now.
Ford had actually been doing carpentry work at Coppola’s house when Lucas visited and asked Ford if he would perform line readings with actors auditioning for Star Wars, to which he agreed.
Ford proved such a natural fit as Solo in auditions that Lucas banished thoughts of casting the likes of Al Pacino or Burt Reynolds as Solo and cast Ford instead.
3. A stuntman died on the set of Ben-Hur. You can see a shot of it in the film
Health and safety wasn’t a priority in Old Hollywood. The 1956 Genghis Khan biopic The Conqueror, for example, was shot downwind of a nuclear testing site; many cast and crew members subsequently developed cancer and died.
Another example of poor cinematic safety planning, according to Hollywood lore, is 1959’s swords-and-sandals epic Ben-Hur.
The urban legend has it that a stuntman died during the making of the film’s chariot sequence, and that a shot of it was included in the final cut for all to see.
Health and safety standards may have been poor in 1959 Hollywood, but there’s no way footage of real death would have made it into a studio movie.
Not that this was ever a concern: in reality, nobody died on the set of Ben-Hur, stuntman or otherwise.
The rumour may have started by somebody confusing the 1959 Ben-Hur with the 1925 original.
During production on this silent version, several horses died for the chariot sequence, while some stuntmen were injured.
2. Charlie Chaplin entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest and lost
Back during the silent age of cinema, Charlie Chaplin was one of the most recognisable people on the planet.
This is why, somewhere around 1918, Chaplin thought it would be a laugh to enter a Charlie Chaplin lookalike competition at a US fayre.
The gag backfired: Not only did Chaplin not win the competition, but he came in almost dead last.
The story can be traced back to newspaper gossip from the 1920s, and a Lord Desborough telling a story that Mary Pickford told him that Charlie Chaplin had told her.
All subsequent reports on this particular Chaplin story have only embellished the tale, changing locations, increasing and decreasing the number of competitors and taking Chaplin from 20th to 3rd place in the competition.
Beyond this ‘he said she said’ hearsay, there’s no proof Chaplin ever entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike competition.
1. Playing The Joker sent Heath Ledger insane, ultimately leading to his death
Though Heath Ledger was hardly an unknown when he was cast as The Joker in the Batman movie The Dark Knight, this part was set to take his fame to a whole new level.
Recognising the opportunity, Ledger threw himself into the role, holing up in a hotel room alone for a month prior to film to get into the character’s mindset.
After filming was completed, Ledger was so drained from playing The Joker that it ultimately led to his death from an accidental prescription drug overdose in 2008.
Heath Ledger wasn’t left haunted by The Joker; on the contrary, Ledger’s family insist he was having the time of his life playing such a fun role.
Ledger was already in the headspace of another character altogether when he died, having been halfway through shooting The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus when he took his fatal overdose.
The tragic truth was that Ledger had, according to his family, suffered from insomnia all his life – the pills he took to help him sleep on the night of January 22, 2008 just happened to be too many and the wrong combination.