Somehow managing to both pay homage to and ridicule some classic science fiction TV shows, Galaxy Quest is a fun, critically acclaimed comedy film that, believe it or not, is now over two decades old.
Starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and the late Alan Rickman, Galaxy Quest sees the cast of a sci-fi TV series receive a visit from genuine aliens who mistook their now-canceled fictional show for a documentary.
Below are some truly spacefaring facts about the 1999 film that Trekkies inexplicably voted the seventh greatest Star Trek film of all time!
30. The film’s original title was Captain Starshine
The first version of the Galaxy Quest script, by co-writer David Howard, was given the title Captain Starshine. The idea for the film came to Howard when he saw an advert for an upcoming documentary called Americans in Space, which was narrated by the iconic Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy. Howard started to consider how Star Trek actors were pigeonholed into less exciting parts after the series’ end.
Once he thought of introducing real aliens to this scenario, he felt the rest of the script just fell into place. DreamWorks producer Mark Johnson bought Howard’s script and passed it on to writer Bob Gordon. Gordon preserved the original premise, but ended up creating a new script around it. He didn’t even read Howard’s Captain Starshine in full until Galaxy Quest was released.
29. The film’s original director Harold Ramis quit when Tim Allen was cast
The late Harold Ramis, who played Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters, was originally hired to direct Galaxy Quest. Ramis is also known for directing the comedy classics Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Groundhog Day. Ramis wanted Alec Baldwin to take on the lead role of Jason Nesmith, but the Beetlejuice and Hunt for Red October actor turned him down.
Tim Allen was hired after Steve Martin and Kevin Kline also chose to reject roles in the movie. Ramis was so against this casting decision that he left the project completely and was replaced by Dean Parisot. Parisot had previously directed the TV movies Framed and ATF, as well as 1998’s Home Fries starring Drew Barrymore.
28. Alan Rickman said it was one of the funniest scripts he had ever read
The late English actor Alan Rickman praised Galaxy Quest highly, describing it as “really … one of the funniest scripts I’ve read.” Speaking to Starlog Magazine in 2000, he was delighted to be playing a less serious or villainous role than his usual fare. Rickman went on to say that “actors are probably the only professionals who send themselves up.”
“We actually have a sense of humour about ourselves,” he said – a sentiment seconded by Tim Allen. “It’s one of those life-imitates-art deals,” Allen said of this movie about frustrated actors. I just left a TV show that ran eight years, and this is pretty much what we would be like if we had to search for work,” he added.
27. Tim Allen did NOT base his performance on William Shatner’s Captain Kirk
Despite many believing otherwise, Tim Allen did not base his performance on William Shatner’s Captain James T. Kirk. Rather, the actor took inspiration from Yul Brynner’s Rameses II in the 1956 biblical epic The Ten Commandments. This surprising inspiration is a critically-acclaimed, four-hour-long retelling of the life of Moses.
Yul Brynner won a National Board of Review Award for Best Actor through his depiction of the Pharaoh. But the actor is best known for starring in The King and I – he appeared in both the film adaptation and 4,625 stage performances. On Brynner’s regal posture, Allen said in a 15th-anniversary interview: “I worked off of that. I studied that.”
26. Sigourney Weaver’s blonde wig and enhanced bosom gave her “a totally new personality”
Sigourney Weaver was said to have been surprised when she was offered the part of Gwen DeMarco. She revealed that this role “was closer to telling the truth about myself and science fiction” than her performance as Ellen Ripley in the Alien films. In a 2017 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Weaver elaborated: “It’s a personal favourite. I loved doing Galaxy Quest. I’m much closer to Gwen than I am to Ripley.”
“I’m not very heroic,” she pointed out. “I’m much more, you know, if there’s a spider in the shower, [I go] ‘Darling, come and get it! That movie was a great love letter to actors in this genre, and to the fans,” she summarized. Weaver sported both a blonde wig and an enhanced bosom in the film, which a member of the crew said gave the actress “a totally new personality.”
25. Alan Rickman’s character was originally the villain
The Blu-Ray 10th anniversary release of Galaxy Quest included some intriguing behind-the-scenes details. In particular, writer David Howard revealed that in his early script, Rickman’s character Dane was totally different. “In my draft the villain is really the Alan Rickman character,” Howard stated.
“He’s written all these sci-fi novels and made a lot of money and he has decided he’s going to discover the real thing out there,” he said. “So he goes out and he starts doing all these crazy experiments and he opens this rift in time and space and goes to this planet,” explained. “He kind of establishes himself as Ming the Merciless,” Howard reminisced.
24. The villain is named Sarris after a movie critic who trashed one of the producers’ films
The leader of the monstrous aliens that Galaxy Quest’s hapless heroes must do battle with is named Roth’h’ar Sarris. English actor Robin Sachs (best known as bad guy Ethan Rayne on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) plays the villain, although he’s unrecognisable under the heavy make-up. Sarris makes for a very imposing, unpleasant adversary – but the character’s name has an amusing origin.
The name Sarris was used at the insistence of Galaxy Quest producer Mark Johnson, in reference to film critic Andrew Sarris (below). The real-life Sarris was an influential figure in American film criticism, and a leading proponent of the auteur theory. However, Sarris had also written an unkind review of Mark Johnson’s earlier film The Natural, so Johnson gave the Galaxy Quest villain the critic’s name as revenge.
23. Tim Allen almost took the lead role in Bicentennial Man instead
On top of not being everyone’s first choice for the role of Jason Nesmith, Tim Allen wasn’t always sure about taking the part either. At the same time that he was offered Galaxy Quest, the Toy Story star was under consideration for another sci-fi movie. Allen had been offered the lead in Bicentennial Man, director Chris Colombus’ film about an android trying to become more human.
Ultimately, Bicentennial Man would be made with the late Robin Williams in the central role. On release in 1999, neither Bicentennial Man nor Galaxy Quest were considered big hits, with both earning under $90 million (although that represented a reasonable return on Galaxy Quest’s smaller $45 million budget). However, where Galaxy Quest’s reputation has only grown with time, Bicentennial Man has largely been forgotten since.
22. A Galaxy Quest TV ‘mockumentary’ was produced to tie in with the film
The bogus Galaxy Quest website wasn’t the only act of fakery that was produced in promotion of the movie. The creative team also produced a mock documentary entitled Galaxy Quest: 20th Anniversary, The Journey Continues. Produced for TV network E!, the 20-minute show is presented as a genuine look back at the imaginary TV show.
The illusion is kept up by interviews with the cast in character as the Galaxy Quest TV show actors. The mockumentary helps round out the backstories of the characters, and gives a little more insight into the fake show’s fandom. We’d like to believe that at least a few unsuspecting E! viewers caught the show and thought it was a real TV show they were talking about…
21. Steven Spielberg was behind the film’s romantic subplot
Legendary director Steven Spielberg is to thank for the romance between the Thermian Laliari and Fred Kwan in the film. Spielberg suggested that Missi Pyle’s alien should receive more screen time when he visited the Galaxy Quest set. As a result, the scriptwriters decided to build a full romantic subplot between the heroes.
“I heard that Spielberg was there,” Pyle told MTV News in 2014. “He came and then he saw my character and makeup and decided she should be a bigger part. I was only supposed to be in two scenes and then they realized they didn’t have another female except Sigourney Weaver. And I just think, ‘Am I in a dream, because this is ridiculous?… So they added the relationship with Tony Shalhoub’s character,” Pyle explained.
20. The film originally had an adults-only rating for violence and cursing
Galaxy Quest was originally given an adults-only ‘R’ rating by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). But distributor DreamWorks was keen for it to be a family-friendly film so they could release it against Columbia Pictures’ Stuart Little. This meant that a number of moments had to be cut, including one that saw Sigourney Weaver’s Gwen DeMarco attempting to seduce the aliens.
Another deleted scene showed the decapitation of several convention hall attendees during the escape pod crash. On a few occasions, new lines were dubbed in to replace the original, less family-friendly dialogue. For example, near the start of the film, Tommy’s line “You are so full of s***, man!” has been dubbed over to: “You are so full of it, man!”
19. William Shatner and Patrick Stewart are both big fans of the film
Galaxy Quest has many fans who know firsthand what it’s like to star in a real-life science fiction TV show. Captain Kirk actor William Shatner having been quoted as saying that “I thought it was very funny.” Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, is also a massive fan, though he admitted he was reticent about going to see it.
“I had originally not wanted to see it because I heard that it was making fun of Star Trek,” Stewart has said. “Jonathan Frakes rang me up and said ‘you must not miss this movie!’” he recalled of the film’s release. Of course, I found it was brilliant – no one laughed louder or longer in the cinema than I did,” he added.
18. There’s been talk of a sequel since the movie came out
In 2014, fans were thrilled to hear that a script for a Galaxy Quest sequel was in the works. Rockwell and Weaver were both keen to return to the franchise, but supporting actor Enrico Colantoni was sceptical. “To make something up, just because we love those characters, and turn it into a sequel—then it becomes the awful sequel,” he commented in 2014.
The death of Alan Rickman in 2016 further set back plans to reassemble the Galaxy Quest team, with stars like Rockwell feeling it wouldn’t work without Rickman. However, the script has since been re-written without Rickman’s character, whose relationship with Tim Allen’s character was meant to feature prominently in the sequel.
On the sequel’s uncertainty, Allen told Entertainment Weekly in 2021: “[It] could happen now or in five years and it doesn’t matter at all because when you travel at light speed, when you come back it can be like only 20 minutes, but 20 years have passed, right? That part is wonderful for the sci-fi freak in me. But right now it’s in a holding pattern.”
17. Director John Landis has accused Galaxy Quest of being a rip-off of ¡Three Amigos!
Galaxy Quest is by no means the only movie to see a cast of actors unwittingly forced to become their screen roles for real. Much the same idea had been explored 13 years earlier in cult comedy ¡Three Amigos! The western spoof stars Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short as silent movie heroes who are asked to help protect a Mexican village for rampaging bandits.
The similarity between the two films is not lost on the director of ¡Three Amigos!, one John Landis (also the filmmaker behind The Blues Brothers and Animal House). Landis once complained, “They completely ripped it off!” But graciously added, “If Galaxy Quest weren’t so funny, it would probably bother me more.” In the years since, the same basic premise has been used yet again in Ben Stiller’s outrageous war movie spoof Tropic Thunder.
16. It was Rainn Wilson’s big-screen debut
Long before his fame in The Office, Rainn Wilson took up a minor role as a Thermian alien in Galaxy Quest. In this film debut, he plays Lahnk, the Thermians’ Senior Requisition Officer, who provides the hungover Jason (Tim Allen) with a coca-cola. Born in Seattle, Wilson studied acting at the University of Washington and started out in show business in NYC theatres.
He was hired as a Thermian along with Canadian actor Jed Rees, who went on to star in The Ringer, American Made and Deadpool. Six years later, Wilson would join the cast of the US remake of The Office and earn three consecutive Emmy nominations for the character of Dwight Schrute. He’s since returned to the sci-fi world with a recurring role in the 2017 series Star Trek: Discovery.
15. Guy Fleegman’s ‘redshirt’ character suffers the least in Sarris’ attacks
‘Redshirt’ has become the name for stock characters who die swiftly after they appear onscreen. The name is from Star Trek, where security staff dressed in red frequently suffer a speedy and ignominious fate. In Galaxy Quest, Guy Fleegman (played by Sam Rockwell) is an actor cast in exactly these kinds of roles.
Upon finding himself in a real adventure, Fleegman cries, “I’m not even supposed to be here! I’m just Crewman #6! I’m expendable!” he says. “I’m the guy in the episode who dies to prove the situation is serious! I got to get out of here!” Funnily enough, out of all the characters, Fleegman reaches the end of the movie almost entirely unscathed.
14. The bathroom banter in the movie mirrors a real-life experience for William Shatner
At one point in Galaxy Quest, Tim Allen’s character overhears some unkind words in a men’s bathroom. He hears his co-stars saying they hate him and expressing their own feelings of uselessness. The movie’s portrayal of washed-up stardom is often considered one of its strongest and most realistic elements. This scene is actually lifted from the real life of William Shatner, who of course played Captain James T Kirk in Star Trek.
Shatner reportedly heard similar criticisms of himself whilst he was preparing behind the scenes for a Star Trek convention in 1986. However, since the end of Star Trek, Shatner has launched countless successful projects in writing, producing, and directing – plus, he’s even recorded eight albums as a vocalist. In 2021, he even went to space.
13. Tim Allen was completely starstruck around Sigourney Weaver
Tim Allen was obsessed with the Alien franchise, and he was beside himself with excitement to share the screen with Alien star Sigourney Weaver. In fact, he became so starstruck that he ended up interfering with the original script. In an MTV interview, Weaver recalled: “Tim was supposed to kiss me, and he weaselled out of it. Very Tim. We were supposed to have this big moment and he completely let Gwen down and ran away, it was so perfect.”
Allen also pestered Weaver to sign his Alien merchandise – including a section of the Nostromo Wall. Weaver acquiesced, but then she signed it with the words: ‘Stolen by Tim Allen. Love, Sigourney Weaver.’ “He was so upset,” she later remembered. “‘Why would you write that?! I was going to put it in my screening room!’ Which was such a Hollywood thing to say.”
12. J.J. Abrams jokingly described the film as one of his favourite Star Trek films
Amid the audio commentary for 2009’s Star Trek, director J.J. Abrams had to add in a word for one of his favourite movies. “By the way, I think we’ve all gone on record as saying one of our favorite Trek films is Galaxy Quest,” he quipped. “And this sequence [in which Kirk and Sulu fall to Vulcan] is clearly an homage to Tony Shalhoub’s great save in that film.”
In turn, Galaxy Quest’s director Dean Parisot has said that his movie is a loving homage. “At the risk of sounding pretentious, there are a whole lot of themes playing in there,” he told MTV. “The movie needed to begin as a mockery and end as a celebration. That’s a hard thing to do,” he explained. “Part of the mission for me was to make a great Star Trek episode.”
11. Alan Rickman’s character is credited as Sir Alexander Dane
In an early version of the Galaxy Quest script, Alan Rickman’s character Alexander Dane has an even more esteemed background. Before the events of the film, Dane was a Shakespearean actor. In the opening scene, he complains, “How did I come to this? I played Richard the Third,” he muses. “There were five curtain calls. I was an actor once, damn it!”
However, the script originally referred to the fact that Alexander Dane had long ago received a knighthood. This momentary detail was eventually cut from the movie, as Rickman felt it didn’t fit in so well with his character. Yet in the film’s final credits, Alan Rickman’s character is still listed as ‘Sir Alexander Dane.’
10. Gwen DeMarco was in part informed by Jeri Ryan’s experiences as a female sci-fi star
Another telling moment in the movie’s opening scene is a throwaway comment by Gwen DeMarco. This character, played by Sigourney Weaver, is complaining that her roles lack personality or depth. “My TV Guide interview was six paragraphs about my boobs and how they fit into my suit,” she recalls to her co-stars. Naturally, her character arc involves becoming an actual, capable hero.
“No one even bothered to ask me what I do on the show,” she points out. This statement is inspired by the career of Jeri Ryan, who starred in Star Trek: Voyager as the character Seven of Nine. Her acting work was continually overshadowed by comments about her body, sexuality and tight clothing within the series. She went on to appear in Boston Public until 2004.
9. Sam Rockwell based his performance on Bill Paxton in Aliens
Sam Rockwell joined the Galaxy Quest cast around the time he was starring in the Stephen King movie The Green Mile. This gritty drama saw Rockwell portray a disturbed prisoner, vividly different from Rockwell’s Quest role. Ready for comedy, Rockwell decided to base his character on Private Hudson, from the 1986 movie Aliens.
Hudson is often hysterical at the thought of danger, in contrast to his stoic associates. This role was played by Bill Paxton, who won the part after meeting director James Cameron by chance in Los Angeles International Airport. By channelling Private Hudson, Rockwell made sure his Galaxy Quest character stood out, whilst paying homage to a sci-fi masterpiece.
8. Galaxy Quest was one of the first movies to have its own website
Released in 1999, Galaxy Quest landed on the big screen at a time when the internet wasn’t quite so omnipresent as it is today. The publicity team on the movie were a little ahead of the curve, however, as they created a Galaxy Quest website. GalaxyQuest.com was one of the very first sites of its kind created in promotion of a major Hollywood movie.
Rather than being presented as movie promotion, the site was presented as a fan-built site for the ‘real’ Galaxy Quest TV series. As part of this, the site contained a list of entirely made-up episode guides and behind the scenes information, all presented in gloriously dated HTML. Later in 1999, another movie – The Blair Witch Project – would significantly boost its PR campaign with a similar website, presenting the film’s mythology as fact.
7. The film gave Justin Long his very first acting role
As well as being Rainn Wilson’s first movie, Galaxy Quest is literally the first screen credit of actor Justin Long. American actor Long was 20 years old when he landed the role of Galaxy Quest super-fan Brandon. Despite being a total newbie, Long beat out some better known actors for the role. Other contenders for Brandon included Eddie Kaye Thomas (American Pie) and Kieran Culkin (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).
Long would follow Galaxy Quest with roles in Dodgeball, Die Hard 4.0 and Drag Me To Hell. (He also voiced the lead character in the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, but we’ll try to forgive him for that.) In the two decades since Galaxy Quest, Long has built up a respectable résumé, with 100 credits to his name at present.
6. The film’s changing aspect ratio caused problems with its cinema projection
This movie is unusual in using three different screen formats to distinguish between the characters’ ‘TV’ scenes and ‘real’ scenes. It uses three formats in total, beginning with a squarish TV format, and then broadening to a ratio of 1.85:1. Then, as the spaceship doors open, the screen widens even further to 2.35, symbolising how the heroes suddenly realise they’re actually in space.
This caused issues at some cinema screenings, when projectionists failed to open the screen curtains far enough for the wider aspect ratio to display correctly! Radio host and Galaxy Quest fan Josh Spiegel noted on Twitter in 2020: “I remember seeing Galaxy Quest in theaters, and thinking I’d dreamt up the aspect-ratio shift. [This is] one of many, many reasons why this is a truly great film (beyond just being funny as hell),” he commented.
5. It spawned two comic book series and a novel
The popularity of Galaxy Quest led to a novel by Terry Bisson, who stuck closely to the original movie’s tale. Describing itself as a ‘space opera’, the book states in its blurb: “Having no concept of fiction – let alone science fiction – the aliens whisk “Commander Peter Quincy Taggart” and his crew into space to save them from obliteration.”
“With no script, no director, and no clue about real space travel, the actors have to turn in the performance of their lives,” it adds. The movie similarly inspired a comic book sequel in 2008, released by IDW Publishing. This tale, named Galaxy Quest: Global Warning, tells of the TV show Galaxy’s Quest’s relaunch, amid a new real-life quest to save the world from an apocalypse.
This work met with enough success to spawn another series in 2015, entitled The Journey Continues.
4. DreamWorks boss Jeffrey Katzenberg apologised for failing to properly promote the film
DreamWorks Pictures had been formed in 1994 by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, and caused waves as the first new Hollywood studio for many years. Although the studio enjoyed a lot of success in its early years, it’s widely agreed that they fumbled the ball when it came to Galaxy Quest.
It was at the behest of studio executives that the film’s content was toned down for a family-friendly rating, which many feel had a detrimental effect. Beyond this, Galaxy Quest’s marketing campaign failed to build a real buzz around the film. Once it became clear that the film wasn’t going to do as well as hoped at the box office, director Dean Parisot received an apologetic phone call from studio boss Jeffrey Katzenberg.
The director recalls, “Jeffrey called me during the second weekend and said, ‘I think we screwed up the advertising for this. I’m sorry.’”
3. Harold Ramis later apologised for questioning Tim Allen’s casting
Caddyshack and Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis could have called the shots on Galaxy Quest, but Tim Allen’s casting in the lead was a sticking point. Allen himself recalls an awkward meeting: “I had a very peculiar lunch with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Harold Ramis. Katzenberg pitched me the idea of the commander character… [but] it became clear that Ramis didn’t see me for the part. It was pretty uncomfortable.”
However, once the movie was completed and Ramis saw it, the filmmaker realised he’d misjudged Allen. Producer Mark Johnson recalls, “Harold was very gracious about how wrong he was.” Ramis told the producer that he thought Galaxy Quest “was a great film and that Tim Allen was a fantastic commander.” Allen would go on to reprise his spacefaring gravitas as Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story.
2. Tony Shalhoub’s performance was modelled on David Carradine in Kung Fu
Galaxy Quest features Tony Shalhoub in the role of actor Fred Kwan, who plays the ship’s chief engineer, Chen. Shalhoub himself has admitted he was unsure about his casting in the part, because (as might be surmised from the name) Kwan/Chen was originally meant to be Asian. Shalhoub discussed his concerns with director Dean Parisot, who suggested the actor should “base [his performance] on David Carradine’s persona in the series Kung Fu.”
Kung Fu cast Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a perpetually placid character thanks to his Shaolin monk training – although it’s alleged that Carradine’s own personal habits may have bled over into his screen persona. Shalhoub explains, “I’d heard [Carradine] was high the entire time, and whether it was true or not, we used that as a jumping-off point for Fred Kwan.”
This, Shalhoub says, makes sense of Kwan’s total lack of anxiety over being taken to space and meeting real aliens: “It’s 1999, 15 years after the Galaxy Quest TV series ended, and Fred Kwan is just a burnout with one foot outside reality.”
1. Director Dean Parisot deliberately used an unconvincing overdub on Sigourney Weaver’s F-bomb in protest at being censored
Because DreamWorks insisted on making Galaxy Quest a family-friendly film, a lot of the more mature content had to be cut. One of the most obvious moments of censorship in the film comes when Tim Allen’s Jason and Sigourney Weaver’s Gwen face the corridor of ‘chompers.’ Aghast at the sight, Gwen cries, “well, screw that!” – but you don’t have to watch Weaver’s lips too closely to tell that she was originally crying the F-word.
Director Dean Parisot has admitted he was unhappy about being forced to censor the line, so he deliberately made little attempt to conceal what Weaver originally said. Parisot says, “That moment where she swears got so many laughs, it was a shame they cut it. I purposefully dubbed it really badly so it would stick out.”