It may not be quite as fondly-remembered today as other Jim Carrey classics like The Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the fact is that Bruce Almighty remains the biggest movie of the rubber-faced funnyman’s career.
Still one of the highest-grossing comedies ever made, Bruce Almighty also represents the end of an era for big-budget, high-concept comedy.
As imperfect as the film might be, we’ve barely seen the likes of it since. Today, improvisation-heavy comedies are in vogue, whereas Bruce Almighty features the kind of ambitious plot and carefully-planned jokes you just don’t see anymore.
As the film turns 15 this year, we decided to give Jim Carrey’s mighty God-com a second look. Here are 24 things you never knew about Bruce Almighty.
24. Filmgoers calling up God’s number got through to actual people
Though Bruce Almighty is clearly a work of fantasy, some viewers managed to blur the line between fiction and reality to the point where they were troubling the landlines of unsuspecting strangers.
Throughout Bruce Almighty, the phone number for Morgan Freeman’s God appears on Bruce’s beeper.
This caused headaches, predictably, for the few poor souls who had that number in real life and who were subsequently plagued with calls from filmgoers asking for God.
A man in Manchester, in England, was forced to field calls from people looking to talk to the man upstairs.
Another of those who received calls was, incredibly, a minister at a North Carolina church named Bruce.
With the home video release of the film, producers thankfully changed the digits from the valid number to the not-in-use 555-0123.
23. The film was banned in some countries for blasphemy
Though Bruce Almighty might appear tame to modern Western eyes, not all audiences were so welcoming of the film back in 2003.
In some parts of the world, a film about an ordinary man playing God was considered downright sacrilegious.
Bruce was so controversial, in fact, that some countries were outraged enough to ban it on original release.
In Egypt and Malaysia, where on-screen ‘blasphemy’ is taken rather more seriously than in the US, the film was initially banned.
It was only when the film was given the equivalent of the 18 certificate in both countries that it was passed for release.
Compare this to the film’s rating in Europe, where filmgoers as young as 6 were lawfully able to catch it at the cinema.
22. Jack Nicholson could have played God
Think the part of Bruce Almighty’s wiseass God was tailor-made for Morgan Freeman? Think again.
Though the part of the all-seeing man upstairs fits the perpetually wise Freeman like a glove, it could have gone to another veteran actor.
None other than the triple Oscar-winning Jack Nicholson was reportedly offered the role first.
Nicholson had previously played the part of the devil, in 1987’s Witches of Eastwick, but God naturally didn’t interest the notoriously mischievous thesp in the same way.
Nicholson decided to turn God down, leaving the role open for second-choice Freeman to make his own.
Freeman and Nicholson – God and the devil – would coincidentally just a few years later go on to star together in The Bucket List.
21. It stars a famous animal
Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Aniston aren’t the only famous faces to appear in Bruce Almighty.
Of the non-human cast members, one furry little scene-stealer has an impressive resume of its own.
Bruce Almighty’s butt-monkey – the pocket-sized simian that Bruce has appear from the backside of a back-alley thug – is no stranger to showbiz.
You might recognise Katie, a white-headed capuchin, from other Hollywood productions.
She starred in 30 Rock and, most notably, played Ross’ pet monkey Marcel on Friends.
Still getting the top jobs today, most recently Katie could be seen posing for magazines with the likes of Kendall Jenner.
20. Morgan Freeman was the opposite of benevolent on-set
Though he plays God in the film, Morgan Freeman didn’t exactly take the role of kindly, omnipotent father figure in between takes.
After a tense shoot, Carrey later described his co-star in interview as “so cool and…kind of scary”.
Upon their meeting, says Carrey, Freeman told the actor: “Nice to meet you too. Now, never touch me again.”
Freeman, according to Carrey, didn’t just enjoy messing with Bruce Almighty’s star – director Tom Shadyac was another one of Freeman’s frequent targets.
“He raked Tom over the coals something awful through this whole movie – you knew he was joking, but it was still so uncomfortable…”
Carrey added that “you walk on screen with [Freeman] and you’ve got to be ready. Be ready, or he’ll burn your soul.”
19. Freeman himself doesn’t believe in God
He might play God in Bruce Almighty, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Morgan Freeman is a believer himself.
On numerous occasions over the years, Freeman has expressed his complicated views on the question of whether or not God exists.
To him, it’s not a simple yes or no answer, but he freely admits that his “belief system doesn’t support a creator as such”.
When asked in 2013 if he considered himself an agnostic or an atheist, Freeman responded: “I think we invented God. So if I believe in God, and I do, it’s because I think I’m God.”
In the same interview, when asked if there was a God in the sky, Freeman responded with: “Has anybody ever seen hard evidence?”
In 2017, Freeman wrestled with his beliefs in the TV documentary series The Story of God. His take on the series? “It didn’t change anything at all about how I think of God or my belief in God. It just enlightened me to how other cultures do it.”
18. A black actor portraying God was considered controversial at the time
One glance at media reports on Bruce Almighty at the time confirms we’ve come a long way from 2003.
Back then, having a black actor portray God was seen as groundbreaking and, in some parts, downright controversial.
Up to that point, God had typically been portrayed as an old, white man with long hair and beard – an image that Bruce Almighty’s depiction of the Supreme Being smashed.
Interestingly, to the creative team behind Bruce Almighty, smashing taboos never came into the thought process behind Morgan Freeman’s casting.
To screenwriter Steve Oedekerk, Freeman was simply the right choice for his “more personal” deity.
“I was personally surprised by the attention this received. For me this type of casting isn’t as groundbreaking as it is overdue”, Oedekerk said at the time.
17. The film is based on a 1991 book
Bruce Almighty wasn’t the brainchild of Jim Carrey and Tom Shadyac alone – an author had got there with the idea first.
Robert Bausch, an award-winning author of nine novels, was the man behind the 1991 book Almighty Me!.
The story revolves around a car salesman who is suddenly given the power of God for a year. So far, so familiar.
The rights to Bausch’s book were bought by Disney, eventual international distributors of Bruce Almighty under their Buena Vista International banner.
However, when Bruce Almighty was released in 2003, there was no mention of Bausch or the book that apparently inspired the movie.
This was in spite of the film following the same pattern as the book (man uses powers to manipulate girlfriend and colleagues, is humbled when he discovers abuse of said power has consequences). Hopefully Bausch was suitably compensated all the same.
16. Eva Mendes was replaced in the film by another actress
Though Bruce Almighty is already packed with stars as is, there was almost another big name in the cast list.
In 2003, Eva Mendes was just beginning to make a name for herself in Hollywood after a turn in 2001’s Training Day.
Taking note, Jim Carrey and Tom Shadyac cast Mendes as Susan Ortega, Bruce Almighty’s conniving villainess.
Unfortunately, Mendes had to drop out of the film when a scheduling conflict got in the way.
Cast in a more significant role in 2 Fast 2 Furious, which clashed with Bruce’s shoot, Mendes decided to let Bruce Almighty go.
Mendes was ultimately replaced by British-Iranian-American actress Catherine Bell, then a star of CBS series JAG.
15. Jennifer Aniston’s shooting schedule was insane
Nobody can blame Eva Mendes for dropping out of Bruce Almighty in favour of 2 Fast 2 Furious.
Spare a thought for poor Jennifer Aniston, however, who was second-billed in Bruce Almighty behind Jim Carrey.
Where Mendes had so small a role she could afford to drop out, Aniston didn’t have that luxury.
This ended up causing a particular scheduling headache for Aniston, then an in-demand film actress and a member of the Friends ensemble.
As shooting on Bruce ran on, Aniston eventually found herself filming three projects at once.
As well as Bruce Almighty, Aniston was ultimately acting for Along Came Polly and the final season of Friends simultaneously.
14. The film was originally much darker
In the cut we’re all familiar with, Bruce Almighty is a gentle 12A comedy that rarely strays into the risque.
If Carrey and director Tom Shadyac had stuck to their original guns, however, the film could have been much darker.
Scenes that Carrey and Shadyac filmed then trimmed include Bruce making rival newscaster Evan Baxter’s (Steve Carell) head burst into flame live on air.
There was also a scene in which Bruce surreptitiously used his powers to ‘pleasure’ Susan Ortega without consent.
An entire character was even removed: Bobby, a Channel 7 employee who Bruce possessed with a demon simply because he found him annoying.
Carrey described this original cut of the film as “too violent and horrible”. He and Shadyac toned it down for release.
13. It was also much weirder
The original cut of Bruce Almighty wasn’t just darker – it was quite a bit stranger, too.
In this version, Bruce answered more prayers individually, in one instance granting a man’s wish of having a bigger penis.
Bruce also solved the problem of pandas at a zoo refusing to mate by making the pair incredibly horny.
Stranger still was the scene in which Bruce skydived without a parachute as part of a Channel 7 news report.
This culminated in the freefalling Bruce landing on and presumably killing Bigfoot.
When Bigfoot is revealed to still be alive, Bruce then befriends the creature, sharing a newscast with the mystical beast.
12. Judd Apatow helped write the film
Before he was the unofficial king of Hollywood comedy, Judd Apatow was just another writer taking work where he could.
Though he’d already had two TV series – Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared – to his name by that point, Judd Apatow wasn’t yet a household name in 2003.
Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared had been cancelled without much fanfare and Apatow had yet to break into the mainstream with 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
When a writing gig on Bruce Almighty came up, then, it was evidently too tempting to pass up for Apatow.
Acting as one of the film’s script doctors, Apatow’s Bruce rewrite would go entirely uncredited.
Soon after, Apatow would work with Bruce and Evan Almighty star Steve Carell on his own films Anchorman and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, two projects that helped make Apatow the current biggest name in comedy.
11. There was a rumour that Jim Carrey performed his own God-like act on-set
If you were to believe the story, after it took on a life of its own, Jim Carrey performed a literal miracle on the Bruce Almighty set.
The story doing the press rounds around the time of Bruce Almighty’s release had Carrey saving Jennifer Aniston’s life during a particularly windy day of shooting.
A crane being used on the set began to fall towards Aniston, with Carrey intervening to push her out of the way just in time.
The story conveniently played up the idea that Carrey was channeling God for real while filming Bruce Almighty.
In truth, Aniston was never actually there, and Carrey’s saving the day wasn’t quite so dramatic.
In Carrey’s own words, “It was a windy day and the trees blew over on the back lot at Universal. I did turn and go, ‘hey look out!’…Somehow that turned into I saved everyone’s life on the set.”
10. You probably missed a couple of biblical references
Unsurprisingly for a film about a man playing God, there are allusions to the Bible throughout Bruce Almighty.
In the scene where Bruce celebrates his promotion with a raucous party, watch closely as Bruce pours himself a glass of wine.
What appears as wine in the glass starts as water in a glass jug, making this a subtle reference to Jesus’ turning water into wine.
This probably isn’t the only biblical reference in Bruce Almighty that you probably missed.
At the same party, Bruce leans on a golden calf ornament, a reference to Moses and his own golden calf.
And that puddle that Bruce steps in near the beginning of the film? Watch as he casually walks across it after acquiring God’s powers, a nod to Jesus walking on water.
9. The film is obsessed with a specific number
The biblical references in Bruce Almighty get more obscure than a couple of subtle sight gags.
Carrey would star in The Number 23 in 2007, but four years before that he made a film similarly obsessed with a specific number.
In Bruce Almighty, the number seven plays a significant background role – and once again it’s a case of Carrey and Shadyac making a nod to the Bible.
In Christianity, seven is considered God’s number (the devil, meanwhile, is six). So, in Bruce Almighty, seven pops up everywhere.
Bruce works at Channel 7, drives a Saleen S7, meets God on the seventh floor of the Omni building, holds up seven fingers and helps God with cleaning at 7 o’clock on the 7th.
Bruce’s apartment number, meanwhile, is 304, the individual digits of which add up to seven.
8. Ron Jeremy makes a cameo
As well as Carrey, Aniston, Carell and Freeman, there’s another superstar lurking at the fringes of Bruce Almighty.
Ron Jeremy, adult movie actor and star of such classics as One-Eyed Monster and Debbie Does Dallas Part II, features in the film.
He makes an uncredited appearance as Man in Diner, playing – yes, you’ve guessed – a man in a diner.
Apart from the many adult films he has made, Jeremy has also appeared in cameos in numerous Hollywood movies.
These include Ghostbusters, The Godfather Part III, Reindeer Games and Crank: High Voltage.
Often, Jeremy makes a Where’s Waldo-style fleeting background appearance, so good luck trying to spot him in Bruce Almighty.
7. The Clint Eastwood gag is a reference to Carrey’s beginnings
In one of Bruce Almighty’s more memorable moments, Bruce in a fit of panic spontaneously transforms into Clint Eastwood.
This isn’t just a random gag, but a reference to Jim Carrey’s early days in the business.
While making a name for himself as a standup as a younger man, Carrey would impersonate Eastwood.
Carrey would become well-known for the impression, its accuracy earning him a reputation as a dead-on impersonator.
In a stroke of luck, Eastwood would also cast Carrey in two of his pre-fame Hollywood roles, in The Dead Pool and Pink Cadillac.
The Bruce Almighty ‘Eastwood cameo’ is, then, both a reference to Carrey’s beginnings and a tribute to the Hollywood legend who gave Carrey a couple of early breaks.
6. There are subtle nods to Ace Ventura
Clint Eastwood isn’t the only Jim Carrey ‘character’ that Bruce Almighty harks back to.
Ace Ventura, Carrey’s crazed pet detective and one of the characters that made Carrey’s name, gets a couple of shout-outs in the film.
The first of these comes when Bruce is in traffic and remarks “Hi ho Silver, away”, a Lone Ranger reference that Ventura also makes in When Nature Calls.
Most notable is a line spoken by Morgan Freeman in the film, when Bruce and God are mopping the floor near the close.
Freeman’s God can be heard saying “alrighty then”, which is Ace Ventura’s – and Jim Carrey’s – signature line.
These likely aren’t coincidental callbacks either: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was the first film Carrey and Bruce Almighty director Shadyac worked on together.
5. Almost a third of the budget was Jim Carrey’s fee
In 2003, Jim Carrey was nearing the end of a winning streak in terms of critical and commercial success.
At the peak of his powers, the actor commanded enormous fees, the likes of which had never been shelled out before for a comedian.
There was even controversy in the media when it emerged he would make $20 million for 1996’s unloved The Cable Guy.
In an age where Robert Downey Jr is taking home $100 million cheques for Marvel movies, it might not seem so ludicrous anymore.
Still, at the time, nothing much compared to Jim Carrey’s Bruce Almighty payday of $25 million.
This amounted to almost a third of the film’s budget. It turned out to be more than worth it in the end, however…
4. The film broke box office records
Bruce Almighty may have been a box office hit, but you may not know just how great an impact the film made on release.
For starters, Bruce remains Jim Carrey’s most commercially successful movie to date.
Beating out the likes of The Mask, Liar Liar, two Ace Ventura movies and two Dumb and Dumber films, Bruce Almighty made a whopping $484 million worldwide.
This was the best debut for a movie opening on a Memorial Day weekend – a hotly contested release date – in history.
The film was so big that it eventually overtook Home Alone to become the biggest comedy movie in history.
The film’s reign didn’t last long, however, with Meet the Fockers taking the top spot from Bruce just a year later.
3. Jim Carrey was supposed to star in the sequel
After Bruce Almighty made almost half a billion at the box office, a second movie was inevitable.
Predictably, Bruce’s studio Universal instantly made plans for a follow-up, one that would prove to be even more ambitious than the original.
Buying up a screenplay about a man building a modern-day Noah’s Ark called The Passion of the Ark, execs rewrote and turned it into a Bruce Almighty sequel.
There was just one problem: when execs went to Jim Carrey with the idea for the new film, he turned it down.
Saying he was “not a big fan of doing the same character twice”, Carrey left the Almighty sequel in the lurch before producers had a brainwave.
Taking advantage of Steve Carell’s newfound fame, Universal decided that Bruce Almighty’s Evan Baxter would take the place of Bruce in the script.
2. The sequel was one of the biggest movie flops of all time
A sequel to one of the biggest comedies ever, starring one of the comedy actors of the moment, should have been an almost guaranteed hit.
The Bruce Almighty sequel that eventually emerged, however, would prove to be an unmitigated disaster.
Released four years after the original, Evan Almighty was such a failure that it’s still a byword for Hollywood hubris today.
The most expensive comedy ever made at $175 million, officially, it’s estimated the real budget of Evan Almighty was even higher.
When the film was released to scathing reviews and low audience interest, Evan Almighty failed even to make its budget back in ticket sales worldwide.
Today, where Bruce Almighty is still one of the top five highest-grossing comedies, its sequel stands as one of the most notorious movie flops ever.
1. There might still be a Bruce Almighty 2
Not to be daunted by the spectacular failure of Evan Almighty, Universal 11 years on are feeling confident again.
Undeterred by Bruce Almighty’s star turning down the chance to reprise his role a decade ago, Universal execs are once more exploring the option of a Carrey-led Bruce sequel.
This time around, it appears they may actually have a chance to bring Carrey back for more.
It was first announced back in 2012 that a sequel to Bruce Almighty starring Carrey was in development.
Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, co-writers of Carrey’s 2008 film Yes Man, have written the script, while Morgan Freeman recently declared an interest in returning – but only if Carrey does, too.
Luckily for Freeman, and for Universal, Carrey also expressed his willingness to return in 2011.