The 80s had no shortage of (literally) big action men, and Tango & Cash gave us not one but two of the biggest of them all: Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. The two muscular movie stars co-star as two of LA’s best cops who find themselves locked up for a crime they didn’t commit, forcing them to escape and set out to clear their names. This 1989 action romp gave us one of the wildest rides of the decade, and here are 20 things you might not have known about the film.
20. Stallone wore his own glasses as Ray Tango
After rising to superstardom as Rocky Balboa and John Rambo, Sylvester Stallone was keen to do something different with Ray Tango, including making him a more refined and intellectual figure. As part of this, the actor decided that Tango should be bespectacled. His eyewear did not come from the costume department, however; Stallone actually wore his own prescription glasses.
You might not have known that Stallone generally has to wear contact lenses to correct his vision. The actor is very near-sighted in one eye, as well as having astigmatism, which is an imperfection in the curvature of the eye’s cornea.
19. The original director was fired after three months of filming
Tango & Cash’s original director was Andrei Konchalovskiy, the Russian filmmaker best known in the west for 1985’s Runaway Train. However, after three months of production on the film, Konchalovskiy was fired, because his vision for the action thriller was darker and more serious than what the producers wanted. He was subsequently replaced by Albert Magnoli (Purple Rain).
According to Konchalvskiy, producer Jon Peters kept pushing for an increasingly “goofy and camp” ending, which the director felt ruined the feel of the film. There were also claims that the director had run over budget, although it would later be stated that this wasn’t actually Konchalovskiy’s fault.
18. Konchalovskiy praised Stallone’s diplomatic approach to filmmaking
After being replaced by Magnoli as director, Andrei Konchalovskiy gave high praise to Stallone, who he said acted as a real voice of reason during the production. According to Konchalovskiy, Stallone was the one who ‘held the production together’ – despite the fact that Stallone was also actively involved in the decision to fire the former director.
By the end of principal photography, Stallone was reportedly working in an unofficial capacity as producer, director and writer, as well as star. Konchalovskiy has since stated that he believes that if it weren’t for Stallone, Peters would have fired him months sooner.
17. The “I hate Danish” line is a nod to Stallone’s bitter divorce from Brigitte Nielsen
During one scene, Cash asks Tango if he wants to stop for coffee and Danish. Stallone had just been through a recent divorce with Danish actress Brigitte Nielsen (also his co-star in Rocky IV and Cobra), so his response of “I hate Danish” was an in-joke relating to this. The pair had been married for just 19 months, after a whirlwind romance that was rarely out of the gossip columns, and the breakup was said to have been very bitter.
In 2018, the former couple reunited on the set of Creed II. Nielsen described this as “incredibly emotional,” and insisted there was no animosity between Stallone and herself, stating, “we are both professionals.”
16. Patrick Swayze was supposed to play Kurt Russell’s role
Before Kurt Russell, the role of Tango’s LAPD rival-turned-partner Gabriel Cash was set to be taken by Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze. However, Swayze ultimately chose to drop out of the film to instead take the lead role in Road House. His untimely departure caused friction on set, with casting directors frantically searching for a new Cash.
Swayze was not the only big name movie star to have been scouted for the part, with future James Bond Pierce Brosnan’s name being thrown in the ring. Other contenders for the role included Kevin Costner, Liam Neeson and Bruce Willis, but ultimately Kurt Russell won out.
15. One scene almost set the stars on fire for real
In one scene in Tango & Cash, you might have noticed that the back of an SUV catches fire. This was the setting of a real on-set catastrophe: after filming ended, the fire actually kept on blazing and became somewhat out of control. Luckily, it was Stallone and Russell to the rescue as they desperately tried to dampen the flames.
However, despite their best efforts, the actors did not escape unscathed – at least, one of them didn’t. Stallone got a little too close to the flames, culminating in his famously glorious 80s hair becoming singed.
14. Stallone tried for a Tango & Cash reunion in The Expendables, but Russell said no
When casting 2010’s The Expendables, Stallone offered the role of Mr Church to Kurt Russell. This would have seen the stars of Tango & Cash reunited more than 20 years later. Sadly, Russell turned down the part and the role of Mr Church went to Bruce Willis instead. Russell has also declined offers to appear in the Expendables sequels, saying he wasn’t interested in the action ensemble series.
Fortunately, however, Russell and Stallone did get the chance to work together one more time only recently. The actors were both featured in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 (2017). Unfortunately this didn’t become a Tango & Cash reunion as they did not share any screen time, although Stallone did have a scene with his old Cliffhanger co-star Michael Rooker.
13. The film went $20 million over budget
In addition to Patrick Swayze dropping out and director Andrey Konchalovskiy being fired, there were other changes made on the set of Tango & Cash. Sylvester Stallone also had director of photography Barry Sonnenfeld fired early in production. After all the abrupt departures, there was additional shooting under new director Magnoli, along with a few weeks of re-shoots once the first two rounds of filming had ended.
All this endless shooting and reshooting meant that the film ultimately went more than $20 million over budget. Although Konchalovskiy had been heavily involved in blowing through the film’s budget, Stallone has since argued that the original director was not solely to blame.
12. The quarry ‘set’ wasn’t a set
The climactic battle scene in Tango & Cash takes place in a quarry, which wasn’t a set but a real quarry used for shooting. The excavated, machinery-filled land was located in Irwindale, California, East of Los Angeles. The shoot was so elaborate that 11 cameras were used for each shot in the sequence, to capture what was a series of quite serious stunts.
Filming in a real quarry was naturally dangerous, so stunt performers were only allowed to do their takes once. Extremely nerdy fact: When the truck is in the quarry, the sound effect used for the engine is the same as Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder in Star Wars: A New Hope.
11. The film was finished just weeks before it was in cinemas
Due to the multiple delays in production, meeting the deadline for Tango & Cash’s release was tight. Delays were further compounded by the studio asking expert editor Stuart Baird to completely re-edit the whole movie before it was due to open. A final cut of the film was approved by the studio just days before it was set to be theatrically released.
The film was finally shipped to theatres a week after the original release date as a number of ‘wet prints.’ This is an industry term for a movie shipped into theatres with minimal time before its release date.
10. There are references to other films of the era
Arriving at the tail-end of the decade, there are multiple references to other 80s movies throughout Tango & Cash. During the chase sequence when things get explosive, Cash remarks, “now we’re cooking.” This is a reference to the opening scene of Lethal Weapon 2, which was released earlier in 1989 and features Mel Gibson’s Riggs saying the same line.
During the same sequence, Tango asks Cash who taught him to drive, to which he replies it was (famously blind singer) Stevie Wonder. This gag also features in the previous year’s action hit, Die Hard.
9. Daphne Ashbrook was originally cast as Tango’s sister, but Teri Hatcher looked more like Stallone
The part of Tango’s sister, Katherine “Kiki” Tango, was originally meant to be played by Daphne Ashbrook. Tango’s sister was in the initial plans not meant to be biologically related to him, rather an adopted sister or a child his parents had fostered. However, when the filmmakers decided that the character should actually be a blood relation of Tango, they recast her with Teri Hatcher, who it was agreed bore a closer resemblance to Stallone.
Both Ashbrook and Hatcher were largely unknown actresses at the time. Hatcher would go on to the greatest success on television, first with Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and later Desperate Housewives. Ashbrook, meanwhile, has been a jobbing TV actress for years, finding her best known role opposite Paul McGann in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie.
8. The trailer features deleted scenes that never made it into the film
Due to production delays, studio Warner Bros used footage from the first cut of Tango & Cash for the trailer. Unfortunately, with a finished version of the film still a way off, Warners wasn’t then aware that these scenes would never actually make it into the final product. Deleted scenes include an alternate shower scene, as well as a deleted fight scene between Cash and the Chinese assassin.
The trailer also features a deleted scene in which Tango can be seen reading the newspaper before unleashing mayhem. Putting down the paper, Tango then pulls out a SPAS-12 shotgun and starts shooting at a car with it.
7. Four different people ended up directing the film
Before he was dramatically fired, Andrei Konchalovskiy was the original director on Tango & Cash, seeing it through weeks of shooting. After Konchalovskiy was sacked, executive producer Peter MacDonald (who had previously directed Stallone’s Rambo III) stepped in to director temporarily whilst the crew attempted to recruit a new director. Next up was Albert Magnoli, a more full-time helmsman who was supposed to carry the film through to its end.
However, Magnoli’s decision to reshoot certain scenes set the production back even further. The fourth and final director of Tango & Cash was Stallone himself, who directed behind the scenes, as he often did on the productions he worked on in the 80s. Still, due to director’s guild rules in the US, Andrei Konchalovskiy is still credited as the sole director.
6. One of the trucks used is the infamous Bigfoot truck
If you were watching closely, you might just have spotted a rather iconic vehicle in one particular Tango & Cash scene. One of the monster trucks at the quarry is actually the original Bigfoot, the celebrated vehicle often said to have pioneered the monster truck craze in the 70s. The original monster truck’s owner Bob Chandler has actually confirmed this is the real deal.
The truck, however, is not its usual blue self, and has been painted a different, darker colour. It also lacks its iconic Bigfoot decals in an attempt to make its appearance slightly more subtle and not distract audiences.
5. It was a box office hit, but still struggled to claw back its budget
On release, Tango & Cash’s opening weekend box office takings surpassed all expectations, grossing $6,628,918 from 1,409 theatres. By the end of its run, the film raked in a total of $63,408,614 in the USA alone, and once released on VHS the film only continued its winning streak.
Unfortunately, even though the film ended up being labelled one of the top 25 movies in the box office in 1989, its inflated budget meant it was only just profitable. The film ultimately cost $54 million, an unusually high price tag at the time, and movies typically have to earn back twice its budget at the box office in order to break even.
4. It received mixed reviews
Although it’s considered a cult classic of 80s action today, the critics were a lot less keen. Tango & Cash still has a score of just 31% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus at the time of the film’s release was far from glowing, stating that ‘brutally violent and punishingly dull, this cookie-cutter buddy cop thriller isn’t even fun enough to reach ‘so bad it’s good’ status’.
The New York Times was critical of the film’s plot, as well as its screenwriting and acting. The Los Angeles Times followed suit, calling it ‘a waste of talent and energy on all levels’. The Chicago Tribune was slightly more glowing in its appraisal, writing that one interpretation is ‘a crafty foreigner’s sly parody of the current state of American culture’.
3. It was nominated for a number of ‘worst film’ awards
Yes, Tango & Cash was nominated for several awards, but they probably weren’t the type of awards the directors were aiming for. The movie was nominated for a grand total of three Golden Raspberry awards. These were: Worst Actor (Stallone), Worst Supporting Actress (Kurt Russell in drag) and Worst Screenplay.
Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it – the film failed to win any of these prestigious awards. Tango & Cash was also the focus of a 2012 episode of The Flop House podcast, where it was praised for being an enjoyably bad movie and the ‘last film before irony was created’.
2. It was the last Hollywood movie released in the 80s, along with Spielberg’s Always
Tango & Cash hit cinema screens in the United States a few days before Christmas, on December 22nd, 1989. Another movie opened that same day: Steven Spielberg’s Always. Together, these were officially the last American studio productions to be released in the 1980s.
While Always was more warmly received by critics (65% on Rotten Tomatoes), it was the less commercially successful of the two. Where Spielberg’s movie earned just $74.1 million at the worldwide box office, Tango & Cash took a more impressive $120.4 million as well as proving more popular on home video.
1. Teri Hatcher learned to play the drums for the film
It’s not exactly a film you’d expect an actor to go all-out method for, but one Tango & Cash actor at least put some real effort into building their character. Teri Hatcher, today best known for playing Lois Lane in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, leaned an instrument for the film: the electronic drums.
When Cash heads to the strip club, he is pleasantly surprised to see Tango’s sister up on the stage. His shock is only heightened when she inexplicably grabs a pair of sticks and breaks out into an impromptu drum solo. Hatcher actually learned to play the solo specifically for this role, and her efforts clearly paid off.