The ultimate underdog comedy, Cool Runnings was released in 1993 to critical acclaim and proved a huge hit with audiences around the world. Loosely based on the adventures of a real Jamaican bobsleigh team, this movie packed a punch with its heartwarming message about sportsmanship. Let’s take a look back at this classic film with some facts about Cool Runnings you may not have known…
20. It was Malik Yoba’s first-ever film role
It’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Malik Yoba in the role of Yul Brenner, since he gives such a memorable performance. His ideas for the direction the character won over the casting team immediately during auditions, and he was offered the part pretty quickly after that. This may sound like a standard story of an actor getting the job, but one important detail sets it apart.
When Yoba was offered the part, he was very much at the beginning of his acting career. He didn’t have any film or TV credits to his name, or an agent to negotiate his fee, he didn’t even have a headshot and resume to hand to the casting people at the beginning of his audition. Nevertheless, everyone agreed that he was the perfect person for the part, and he went on to deliver some of the movie’s most memorable lines.
19. Disney insisted that the characters “speak like Sebastian the crab”
Between constant involvement from Disney, keeping the real-life bobsledders that inspired the story on side, and all the normal demands of a movie in production, director Jon Turteltaub had a lot to balance when making Cool Runnings. While he took most of it in stride, he did object to one line of criticism that came from Disney’s top brass.
After coming down to the set to watch the shoot, studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg allegedly told Turteltaub that the actors’ realistic Jamaican accents were too difficult to understand. Instead, Katzenberg pushed him to encourage the actors to sound more like Sebastian the crab from The Little Mermaid, or else he would “never work at Disney ever again”. Yikes.
18. Doug E Doug hugely underestimated the box office takings
Sports movies, especially those based around real events, can be difficult to predict in terms of their success. While in the 80s and 90s, sports movies could easily dominate the box office and cultural conversation, but they could also run the gamut between modest profit and record-breaker. All that made Cool Runnings’ takings difficult to predict.
After the movie was made, various cast members were asked to speculate about just how well Cool Runnings would do. Doug E Doug guessed $50 million, whilst Rawle D. Lewis said that it would make $60-70 million in America alone. Lewis turned out to be much closer to the mark, as Cool Runnings made $68 million domestically and over $150 million worldwide.
17. Malik Yoba wrote the theme song in secret
Despite not having much experience working on a professional film set to draw from, Malik Yoba was an absolutely indispensable part of Cool Runnings, contributing far more than just his own performance. He also wrote the iconic bobsled song that became the show’s theme, and even went on to chart after the movie came out.
Yoba claimed to improvise the song on the spot during auditions, and it was both the song’s excellent humour and his ability to think so quickly that impressed the casting people and won him the part. in truth though, Yoba had written the song in advance at home, wanting something extra to send his audition over the top. It worked better than he ever could have expected.
16. The whole cast protested about an inappropriate snowman scene
Part of the reason that Cool Runnings is such a fun watch is that the characters have such excellent chemistry, and they feel like a team even before they’ve all learned to work together. This is a consequence of the fact that the actors all really bonded during production, and became a real team in their own way, even working together to cut scenes from the film they found objectionable.
Though the cast had no problem with the majority of the screenplay, they did object to one scene in which the team built a snowman together in Canada, and finished it by placing a joint in its mouth. The actors found it lazy and stereotypical and staged a mini protest until Jon Turtletaub agreed to remove it. Turtletaub said that the actors were all taking themselves far too seriously, but that they were probably right about the joke’s laziness.
15. They used real footage of the crash, but heavily edited it
The Cool Runnings cast had to learn a lot about bobsledding in order to convincingly act out the training and races, and by the end of the production, they were pretty much as close to experts as any non-Olympian could be. However, while they filmed plenty of scenes in the bobsled, one scene in particular proved too dangerous to attempt.
There was no safe way for the cast to convincingly recreate the disastrous crash that happened during the Olympic finals, when one of the blades broke off the bobsled and caused it to flip over. To get around this problem without losing the realism of the movie, the director simply used the crash footage from the original event, just heavily edited to preserve the jaunty tone.
14. Rawle D. Lewis lied on his resume
Malik Yoba wasn’t the only one who managed to get a part in Cool Runnings without a huge amount of previous work on their resume. Rawle D. Lewis also bagged a role, eventually getting to play Junior Bevil, but he got around his inexperience another way. Instead of showing up with a pre-written song and pretending to improvise, he just lied on his resume.
Lewis was originally only hired to show up and read lines opposite the other actors in auditions, but he soon won over the casting director with his hard work and chemistry with the other cast members. Not only that, but the casting people responded well to the huge amount of acting experience he’d gained in his native Trinidad… which he’d made up wholesale.
13. Adding weight to the sled is totally legal
If sports movies are good at anything, it’s getting audiences to debate the legality of actions the characters take for years or even decades after the movie comes out. Maybe the most famous example is the questionable crane kick in The Karate Kick, which fans were so divided over that it even became the plot of Cobra Kai.
Fans have argued similarly over the adding of weight to Olympic bobsleds to balance them, but in actual fact, there’s no debate to be had. It’s totally allowed and even encouraged to add weight to a two or four-man bobsled in order to reach the minimum weight and qualify if the team aren’t heavy enough to reach it by themselves.
12. The film originally had a sex scene
Cool Runnings is the definition of a PG movie, with totally family-friendly content except for some objectionable language and mild, brief violence. However, an original draft of the screenplay made things far more adult. As surprising as it may sound, the earlier draft included a sex scene featuring one of the intrepid bobsledders.
Tommy Swerdlow, one of three credited writers on Cool Runnings, admitted in a Reddit AMA that he’d originally written in a comedic sex scene between Sanka and three Scandinavian ski bunnies, all in matching snowsuits. However, he was made to take it out before it came time to shoot, as it didn’t easily gel with the tone of the rest of the movie.
11. John Candy made a personalised playlist for the cast
It’s a well-known fact that John Candy loved making Cool Runnings, and put his heart and soul into it. His commitment to the project came out in various ways, including how he spent a lot of time with the other cast members in order to bond with them and create a realistic dynamic of mentor and mentees. That’s a lot of heart and soul for a eccentric bobsledding movie!
As part of this bonding process, Jon Candy even once invited all of the bobsled team actors back to his house for dinner, and played each of them a song that reminded him of their individual character. Though most of the actors later said that they couldn’t remember what song Candy chose for their character, Doug E Doug confirmed that Candy thought Sanka had a very Rolling Stones quality.
10. Disney wanted Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes to play Derice and Yul
When Disney first looked to make Cool Runnings, they had a pretty high profile list of celebrities in mind to play the various characters. Their dream cast list included names that were huge in the early 90s but who went on to achieve great pop-cultural staying power, like Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes and Marlon Wayans as Derice, Sanka, Yul and Junior, respectively.
When none of Disney’s preferred stars agreed to star in the movie, then they moved on to their second list of choices, which included Cuba Gooding Jr., Jeffrey Wright and Eriq La Salle. Unfortunately, none of the actors were interested, and it was only then that wider auditioning began to find the cast that they eventually went with.
9. Murphy turned the film down because the pay was so low
When Eddie Murphy was approached for Cool Runnings, he was already a huge star, having risen to prominence in the early 1980s as a cast member on SNL, and then spending the latter half of the decade in huge roles in both Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop. He had just starred in the rom-com Boomerang and was approached to play Sanka Coffie, the role that eventually went to actor and comedian Doug E Doug.
Allegedly, Eddie Murphy was actually pretty interested in the part, but turned it down because the rate of pay was so much lower than he first expected. Despite being a Disney movie, the budget was pretty tight, and Disney couldn’t afford to hire a lot of star power, especially a seasoned performer like Murphy at the height of his popularity.
8. John Candy was the only wishlist actor Disney could get for the film
When it came to the members of the Olympic bobsled team, Disney couldn’t get anyone in their first or second round of choices to actually play the characters. However, they did manage to score exactly one person on their dream cast list. When it came time to cast the fictional disgraced coach, Irv Blitzer, producers were insistent that John Candy was the perfect and only choice for the role.
Disney got their wish! John Candy loved the script and all but insisted they give him the part. He did a lot of research to make his character of the washed-up coach believable, and even accepted a pay cut because he was so passionate about the character. His star power drove people to see the movie, and is part of the reason Cool Runnings was so successful.
7. It was John Candy’s final movie
Cool Runnings was released on the first of October in 1993 to great acclaim and popularity. However, John Candy tragically died of a heart attack just four short months later, in early March of 1994. Cool Runnings was the last film he worked on that was released while he was alive, as well as the last movie he was in where he played a clean-shaven character.
After Cool Runnings, John Candy worked on two other movies, Wagons East and Canadian Bacon. In both cases, the movie was released posthumously, and showed John Candy with a full beard. Both movies had to use significant reshoots and special effects to complete the films without Candy’s presence and had a significantly delayed release.
6. Sanka actor Doug E Doug still has the egg
Out of all the people on the bobsled team, Sanka is maybe the quirkiest one. He has a bubbly, upbeat persona that makes him instantly loveable, and he’s by far the most exuberant of all of the characters. There’s also his habit of carrying around an egg wherever he goes, just because he believes it’s magical and lucky.
Throughout the movie, Sanka’s lucky egg survives spill after spill, and makes it through all the crazy hijinks unharmed. It’s a pretty impressive feat, but one that makes way more sense when you realise that the egg is plastic. It being plastic also explains how Doug E Doug has successfully kept it with him ever since the movie came out.
5. In real life the Jamaican bobsledders were well-received by the other Olympians
Aside from the Jamaican team needing to first learn how to operate a bobsled and then how to exist in the freezing Canadian temperatures, the main obstacle the team faces in Cool Runnings is the other bobsled teams being cruel and dismissive towards them. They are consistently mocked and belittled as they train, but soon prove that they have the talent and drive to be there.
However, like many of the details in Cool Runnings, this animosity towards the Jamaican team was made up just for the movie. In truth, the other teams were hugely supportive of the Jamaicans and their success, and they returned home telling stories of how kind the Olympic bobsledding community was. In fact, one team even lent the Jamaican team a bobsled so they could qualify for the Olympics!
4. The original title was ‘Blue Maaga’
Cool Runnings changed a lot between pre-production and release. It cycled through a number of writers and even directors, as Disney struggled to get the tone right between straight-up documentary and zany sports comedy. In earlier versions of the screenplay, Cool Runnings was set to be an authentic drama, focussing on the high emotions of the real-life players.
The earlier, less comedic draft of the movie was called Blue Maaga, with maaga being a Jamaican word for skinny or meagre, and Brian Gibson was attached to direct. Gibson was primarily a documentary filmmaker, who had worked with the BBC to create edutainment content, and had a real flair for working with non-fiction. However, this version of the story was soon abandoned.
3. Lewis Hamilton is a huge fan of the movie
Cool Runnings was a massive hit when it was released, with a story that adults found compelling and enough bright colours, funny dialogue and interesting action scenes to keep the kids entertained too. With that winning formula, it’s unsurprising that the movie has a fair few celebrity fans, including one whose main job was also driving a vehicle fast around a track!
Famous Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton has said in interviews that he’s a huge fan of Cool Runnings, and even counts it among his favourite films. He has said that keeps coming back to the movie due to the twists and turns of the Jamaican bobsled team’s career, which mirror the triumphs and pitfalls of his own racing journey.
2. The film was the highest-grossing live-action Disney movie ever
Despite being a story that not many audiences would have been familiar with going in, featuring a cast of mostly unknown actors and not having the usual talking animals, huge bombastic musical numbers and adorable princesses that defined the Disney Renaissance of the mid-90s, audiences were instantly won over by Cool Runnings.
When it was released, Cool Runnings became the highest-grossing live-action movie ever released by the Walt Disney Pictures banner. Unfortunately, the record only stood for a few short years, as the live-action 101 Dalmations starring Glenn Close was released in 1996, and made $320,689,294 all over the world with its high glamour and outrageous Cruella De Vil.
1. The film’s theme song was a huge hit worldwide
As is to be expected, Cool Runnings features a fair amount of Jamaican music, from artists as varied as Jimmy Cliff to Tony Rebel. The soundtrack also includes a score contributed by Hans Zimmer, bringing the album up to 11 tracks. The soundtrack was released through Sony in 1993, and was bought by fans across America and Europe.
However, one track, in particular, caught the public’s imagination in a big way. Singer Jimmy Cliff’s cover version of the song “I Can See Clearly Now” from the movie turned out to be a bona fide chart-topper, reaching the Top 40 in such countries as the UK, France, and Canada. Songs from the soundtrack were also later featured in a little known musical called “Rasta in the Snow”, which was based on events of the real Jamaican bobsled team.