Three Amigos is a classic comedy of the 80s that brought together three greats, featuring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short as the titular trio.
Written mainly by Steve Martin and SNL creator Lorne Michaels, this Western spoof sees three unwitting cowboy film stars travel to the heart of a genuine and deadly dispute in Mexico.
Despite its tepid reception at the US box office, this comedy classic grew to be a cult favourite worldwide.
Let’s take a look back at the film with some facts you may not have known.
20. It was almost directed by Steven Spielberg
- Credit: Amblin Entertanment/Universal
When John Landis agreed to direct the film, Three Amigos had already been in development for some time.
As far back as 1981, Steven Spielberg was in talks to helm the picture – which itself was in development for six years.
The Hollywood titan, having just wrapped on Raiders of the Lost Ark, chose instead to work on E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
John Landis, on the other hand, came to Three Amigos having recently directed the comedy Spies Like Us.
Spies Like Us starred SNL stars Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase, the latter of whom would go on to star in Three Amigos.
Among the directorial jobs Spielberg has rejected are some of the best-loved films of all time.
Over the years, Spielberg has been lined up to direct Shrek, Rain Man and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
19. Robin Williams, Bill Murray and Rick Moranis were in the running to play the Amigos
The cast of Three Amigos went through various transformations as directors attached and unattached themselves to the project.
Spielberg planned to cast Robin Williams and Bill Murray along with Steve Martin as the leading trio.
For John Landis, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short were always at the top of his wish list.
However, had Martin Short declined, Landis would have offered the role to Rick Moranis instead.
This Canadian actor instead starred in Brewster’s Millions, Head Office, Club Paradise and Little Shop of Horrors around the time Three Amigos was produced and released.
Little Shop of Horrors, released in 1986, grossed $39 million at the box office, while Three Amigos grossed $39.2 million in the same year.
18. Martin learned his lasso tricks working at Disneyland as a teenager
- Credit: Netflix
Steve Martin’s capable lasso work in the film appears to come naturally to the comedy great, and for good reason.
Martin had in fact learned how to lasso decades earlier, while working at a Disneyland magic shop as a teenager.
At the tender age of ten, he started working weekends and evenings in Disneyland, which was close to his home in Anaheim, California.
He began with selling guidebooks, later moving to Frontierland where he sold spinning lassos. “The ropes were hard to sell,” he remembered. “I had to wear a Western costume, cowboy shirt, hat.”
But more important than lassoing, Martin developed a sense of comedy while working in the park.
Martin watched Wally Boag, the Golden Horseshoe performer, run his act countless times. “He was the first live performer I ever saw. I mostly remember Wally’s performing style,” Martin said. “It was fresh, sassy, and very clean. Watching his comic timing was a very big influence on my own career.”
17. Martin, Short and Chase really held that high note for 14 seconds
In Three Amigos’ opening song, the three stars manage to hold the high note of the tune for a full 14 seconds, showcasing some serious lung power.
The trio’s musical talents often crop up in their projects, with Chase’s character in TV’s Community being an accomplished pianist.
Songs in the film were composed by Randy Newman, including My Little Buttercup sung by the trio in the Cantina.
The Three Amigos soundtrack itself parodies many classic Western tunes – and to accomplish this, the producers hired a composer at the heart of movie music.
Elmer Bernstein, who wrote the music for The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, Animal House and Ghostbusters, brought a vast knowledge of Western music to Three Amigos.
In a review for Den of Geek, Neil McNally said Bernstein’s soundtrack is “sweeping, majestic, and [it] wisely belies the film’s insanity.”
16. Lead-based make-up was used for the silent film sequences
In Three Amigos’ silent movie sequences, Martin, Short and Chase wear authentic, lead-based make-up.
Given that lead is poisonous, this was actually the most dangerous aspect of a production that involved horse riding and firearms.
The silent sequences were created in a vintage Western filming location to add authenticity.
In an interview with Empire, John Landis recalled, “We shot the silent-movie sequence on the oldest exterior set at Universal Studios, built for a Tom Mix film.”
“The tourist trams go through it every ten minutes and the boys would shoot their six-guns and dance for them,” he said.
Many of the film’s Mexican scenes were in fact shot at Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, California – which is also a key location for the modern TV series Westworld.
15. Randy Newman worked as a screenwriter on the film
Three Amigos was the passion project of Steve Martin and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels.
Originally working with the title The Three Cabelleros, Steve Martin first dreamed up the project and asked his boss at SNL to help with writing the film.
However, the two comedians had some unexpected assistance in the screenwriting process.
Randy Newman, who would later compose music for Toy Story and dozens of other major films, also contributed to the script.
In an interview with Jimmy Fallon in 2017, Newman fondly remembered Three Amigos, and noted that it could make for a great stage adaptation.
“I just heard a rumour that they want to make a musical of it very possibly,” Newman said.
14. John Landis was taken to court while the film was being edited
- Credit: Annulla via Wikimedia Commons
John Landis is renowned for directing some of the 80s’ greatest box office hits, including Trading Places and Coming to America.
Unfortunately, he is also known for his involvement in the disastrous 1983 film adaptation of The Twilight Zone.
After a lethal helicopter crash on his set took the lives of actor Vic Morrow and two young extras, Landis was summoned to court.
The trial took place during the editing process for Three Amigos, curtailing Landis’ work on the film.
Landis has since claimed that Three Amigos significantly deviated from his vision in his absence.
No one was found guilty in the accident, despite the fact that the employment of the two deceased extras had broken child labour laws.
13. Steve Martin starred in another talking plant film in the same year
Steve Martin starred in two films in 1986: Three Amigos and Little Shop of Horrors.
Coincidentally, both feature talking plants – Little Shop of Horrors’ gargantuan Audrey II and Three Amigos’ (admittedly less imposing) Singing Bush.
In Three Amigos, the tale takes a sharp turn into the surreal as the trio meet the raucous shrubbery, but appear unfazed by it.
They stand nearby expressing scepticism about whether an Invisible Swordsman could possibly exist, unconcerned by the magical object in their path.
While the Singing Bush is a short-lived gag in Three Amigos, Audrey II was a mammoth effort of puppetry.
Audrey II was filmed in slow motion to make her moves more subtle, and later sped up – meaning that Rick Moranis had to act in slow motion and lip-sync his lines during filming.
12. Randy Newman voices the Singing Bush
Randy Newman, not content with contributing to the script and score, features in the film as the voice of the Singing Bush.
The Bush serenades the three heroes with She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes, Blow the Man Down and My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.
Newman’s voice is altered to a high-pitched, wailing tone as the plant writhes and bellows.
Despite his distinguished career as a composer, Newman’s voiced roles are few and far between.
He is most often relegated to cameos as a pianist – although you’ll recognise his voice from You’ve Got a Friend in Me, from Toy Story.
In 2009’s Princess and the Frog, Newman was given a more substantial role as Cousin Randy, a Cajun firefly.
11. It was Martin Short’s breakthrough movie
Last on the billing of the Three Amigos, Martin Short was once a rising star of SNL just like Chevy Chase and Steve Martin.
Short was famed for his impressions of Katharine Hepburn and Jerry Lewis, but he had no experience on the big screen.
In Three Amigos, he plays the plucky Ned Nederlander, who persuades the other Amigos to stay and fight against the bandit El Guapo.
This became Short’s breakthrough role, and it helped his friendship and professional partnership with Steve Martin to flourish.
The pair more recently went on an international and critically acclaimed comedy tour, entitled The Funniest Show in Town at the Moment.
Thanks to Three Amigos, Short went on to star in Innerspace, The Big Picture, Three Fugitives, Pure Luck and many other film comedies.
10. Landis says A Bug’s Life ‘completely ripped off’ Three Amigos
The plot of Three Amigos, involving three actors who are accidentally recruited as real-life heroes, gave rise to many similar movie premises.
In an interview with Movies.com in 2011, director John Landis commented that other screenwriters “completely ripped it off! The first Pixar movie about the ants, A Bug’s Life, took the same plot.”
A Bug’s Life sees a haphazard insect circus troupe accidentally hired as warriors to protect an ant colony.
“It’s amazing how often the plot has been used,” Landis noted. “If Galaxy Quest weren’t so funny, it would probably bother me more.”
The 1999 film Galaxy Quest features a team of sci-fi actors caught up in a real battle with extra-terrestrials.
Tropic Thunder, too, borrows the Three Amigos premise, with Vietnam War movie stars (played by Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr) abandoned in a jungle amid real conflict.
9. Steve Martin used fake merchandise to market the film
In his appearance on Late Night with Dave Letterman around the time of the film’s release, Steve Martin enticed audiences to the cinema with a series of fake commemorative objects for Three Amigos.
Naming himself as the film’s “executive Amigo”, Martin brought out a selection of souvenirs which he declared were “what the public really wants.”
He offered up Three Amigos Rubber Cement, turkey basters and even some holy water, “blessed by the Three Amigos.”
Martin also brought out Three Amigos contraceptive foam and some Three Amigos fortune cookies.
In an interview with Empire in 2016, Landis said that the film performed better overseas than it did in the USA.
In the same interview, Chase speculated, “Maybe it should have been promoted more. I’m trying to figure out why it didn’t do so well.” The film eventually established itself as a cult classic in the USA and abroad.
8. It features a cameo from a Playboy Playmate
At the end of Three Amigos, you might catch a glimpse of Ned kissing a woman, played by one ‘Rebecca Underwood.’
This is actually Playboy model Rebecca Ferratti, who was Playmate of the Month in 1986.
Ferratti also makes a brief appearance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, as well as music videos for the likes of Aerosmith and Mötley Crüe.
At the start of Three Amigos, we see film producer Harry Flugleman firing Ned, Dusty and Lucky before they embark on their Mexican adventure.
Flugleman’s appearance is another cameo – he is played by the director and actor Joe Mantegna.
Mantegna had recently won a Tony Award for the 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross before appearing in Three Amigos.
7. Steve Martin developed tinnitus after filming one particularly loud shootout
Following a particularly wild and loud shootout scene in Three Amigos, Martin developed tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a constant ringing sensation in the ears, which can be caused by exposure to loud noise.
The actor William Shatner similarly suffers from tinnitus, developing it after a loud explosion on the set of Star Trek.
However, Martin later suggested that many years of listening to loud music could instead be to blame for his tinnitus.
“I blamed it on gunfire at the time [of Three Amigos] but since then I realised it was just my destiny after listening to music too loud my whole life and playing live concerts with 28,000 screaming people,” he said in a 2015 interview with Pitchfork.
“Tinnitus becomes easier to live with,” he said. “It becomes your natural background noise.”
6. The action-packed original opening scene was deleted
In Landis’ absence, the final edit of Three Amigos saw his intended opening scene cut out.
The director wanted the film to begin with a shot of Santa Poco, a quiet village, under sudden attack from the bandit El Guapo.
This scene would be the catalyst for the heroine Carmen to seek out the Three Amigos for help further afield.
Santa Poco, or Little Saint, is deliberately named with incorrect Mexican Spanish phrasing – in line with convention, this fictional town would be called San Poco.
Other scenes excluded from the final cut were those featuring the actress Fran Drescher, famed for the TV show The Nanny.
Originally set to play Miss Rene, a studio rival of the Three Amigos, Drescher had her role cut from the film entirely after filming.
5. Chevy Chase and John Landis almost came to blows at one point
Landis’ “funniest moment” while filming Three Amigos, he said in an interview with Movies.com, was a certain argument with star Chevy Chase.
Chase was in the moment refusing to say a particular line of dialogue, deeming it too silly.
“My character would have to be a moron to say this,” the notoriously difficult Chase told Landis.
When Landis then said he would give the line to Martin Short instead, Chase jumped in to reclaim the line, not wishing to be upstaged.
On another occasion, Chase, dangling his legs off a cliff in one scene, made a joke to his co-stars about Landis’ record with health and safety.
Landis had recently come under criticism for a lethal helicopter crash while filming Twilight Zone: The Movie, and reportedly almost came to blows with Chase when he overheard the joke.
4. The film is littered with fake movie references
As the film revolves around the Western film industry, there are plenty of references to Hollywood in Three Amigos – but almost all the named films, stars and directors are fake.
At one point, the Amigos break into a studio with a billboard backdrop – and the billboard advertises The Duelling Cavalier.
This fake film is also the name of the film-within-a-film made by Don Lockwood in Singin’ in the Rain.
The imaginary films that the Three Amigos previously starred in include Shootin’ for Love, Little Neddy Grab Your Gun, Little Neddy Goes to War and Amigos! Amigos! Amigos!
The only real Hollywood star that the film names is Dorothy Gish, whom Ned Nederlander brags about knowing.
Gish was a silent film actress and director, and the sister of Oscar-nominated actress Lillian Gish.
3. It was one of three Western spoofs made in three consecutive years
Three Amigos in 1986 followed two other Western parodies: Lust in the Dust and Rustlers’ Rhapsody, released in 1984 and 1985 respectively.
Lust in the Dust tells the tale of a dance-hall girl (drag star Divine) lost in the desert, while Rustlers’ Rhapsody is a Western parody starring Tom Berenger and Patrick Wayne.
All were preceded by perhaps the most famous Western spoof of all, the 1974 satire Blazing Saddles, which was directed by Mel Brooks and stars Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder.
Speaking to Disc Dish in 2011, Landis said that the Westerns is his favourite film genre of all time.
“I just love them,” he said. “And I loved making Three Amigos, which was my own kind of very stylized western.”
“I was recently talking to [director] Walter Hill and he said, ‘If [the studios] knew how much fun it was to make a western, they wouldn’t let us.’ I agree with him,” Landis said.
2. Tony Plana turned down Platoon to star in Three Amigos
After playing Major Max in the war drama Salvador, actor Tony Plana was looking for a less gruelling film to follow.
Salvador’s director Oliver Stone promptly invited Plana back to star in another of his films, Platoon.
This Vietnam War drama, shot in the Philippines, involved weeks of filming in the jungle, with cast member Willem Dafoe at one point contracting yellow fever.
But Plana never made it to the set of Platoon. He rejected Stone’s offer and turned instead to star in Three Amigos.
Plana played Jefe (Spanish for Boss) in the film, all the while staying in a five-star hotel in Tucson at the filmmakers’ expense.
Stone reportedly was so angry at Plana’s choice that he would not speak to him for years afterwards.
1. ‘Three Amigos’ became a sporting nickname
Towards the end of the 80s, three wide receivers who played for the Denver Broncos were bestowed with the title of the ‘Three Amigos.’
Players Vance Johnson, Ricky Nattiel and Mark Jackson were jokingly named by the press in comparison to the inept heroes of Landis’ recent film.
Johnson, Nattiel and Jackson played in three Super Bowls from 1986 to 1989, and lost every time.
Similarly, the trilateral North American Leader’s Summit widely receives this nickname in the press.
This meeting brings together the Prime Minister of Canada and the Presidents of Mexico and the United States.
The Three Amigos was also the name of a UK pop band, famous for their cover of the Richard Berry song Louie Louie.