20 Things You Never Knew About The Cult Classic Movie Tank Girl
It’s set in a post-apocalyptic desert with human-kangaroo hybrids, wildly violent content and steampunk fashion – all of which meant that creating the 1995 movie Tank Girl required quite a leap of faith. It stars Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Ann Cusack, Iggy Pop and Ice-T, a few of whom weren’t yet well-known, and who were largely quite embarrassed to be a part of the bizarre production.
But despite its mixed critical reception and failure at the box office, Tank Girl has won cult classic status, partly thanks to its famous soundtrack compiled by grunge legend Courtney Love. Here are some facts you probably didn’t know about this unique movie.
20. Three of the Spice Girls first met each other in line for auditions for the film
- Credit: Gary Bembridge
Not long after the film was announced, the producers of Tank Girl held an open audition in London to find their leading lady.
In reality, these auditions were little more than an overblown publicity stunt – but they attracted vast swathes of would-be female celebrities.
Three of these unknowns went on to make very big names for themselves indeed, as three-fifths of 90s pop supergroup The Spice Girls.
Emma Bunton, Victoria Beckham (née Adams) and Geri Horner (née Halliwell) didn’t know each other when they lined up to audition for the titular role in Tank Girl – and none of them won a part in the movie.
But as they stood in line, the trio started chatting and struck up a friendship. Ultimately they formed The Spice Girls with Melanie Brown (‘Mel B’) and Melanie Chisholm (‘Mel C’), and went on to become the biggest-selling girl group ever.
In a 2020 interview with Entertainment Weekly, director Rachel Talalay said: “I tell people that I’m responsible for the Spice Girls, because I made them stand in a queue for so long that they said, ‘Screw this, we’re starting a band.'”
19. The film was shot in an abandoned mine with a chemical leak
Tank Girl is set in a post-apocalyptic future, so an industrial setting must have seemed an appropriate place to shoot.
Most of the movie was filmed in an open-pit mine not far from Tucson, Arizona.
However, the unpredictable nature of this location often led to unforeseen problems during shooting.
At one point, the production team had to halt filming because chemicals were seeping into the area.
On the plus side, the tar pit’s size, isolation and barren nature sometimes worked to the advantage of the Tank Girl production.
Whenever the crew needed to build a new set, they could simply wander further into the abandoned mine and pick a suitable spot.
18. Steven Spielberg’s production company rejected the film for being “too hip”
Director Rachel Talalay first learned about Tank Girl while she was shooting her first film, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
The director’s stepdaughter showed her the comic book, and Talalay was struck by its cinematic potential.
- Credit: Albert L. Ortega
Once she acquired the film rights, Talalay set about shopping the project around Hollywood in search of studio backing.
Before MGM-UA snapped up Tank Girl, one of the places Talalay pitched the project was Amblin Entertainment, the production company founded by the legendary Steven Spielberg.
Amblin considered the project, but eventually decided to say no – and Talalay was amused by the reason they gave for declining.
According to Talalay, an executive at Amblin told her, “I’m really flattered that you think I’m hip enough for this, but we’re not.”
Entertained by this, Talalay ordered a T-shirt stamped with the slogan “Too hip for Spielberg.”
17. The Tank Girl comic creators hated working on the movie
Tank Girl was created by British writer and artist duo Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett in the late 80s.
As written, the comic was set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, although there was a distinctly British sensibility on show.
Even though this unique personality was what made the comic so popular, it proved a hurdle when Tank Girl became a Hollywood movie.
Martin and Hewlett were heavily involved in the movie, in both the writing and production design departments – but neither of them enjoyed it.
- Credit: Piers Allardyce
“The script was lousy,” Hewlett said. “Me and Alan kept rewriting it and putting Grange Hill jokes and Benny Hill jokes in, and they obviously weren’t getting it. They forgot to film about ten major scenes so we had to animate them.”
16. A scene with a $5,000 nude kangaroo-human hybrid was cut
Tank Girl sees our heroine team up with the Rippers, a mutant race of humanoid kangaroos.
Bringing these characters to life was a mammoth effort on the part of the make-up team, not to mention the actors in the suits.
Each actor playing a Ripper – including rapper Ice-T – had to spend around four hours getting into costume before starting work for the day.
One suit, designed to show an explicitly realistic nude Ripper, reportedly cost over $5,000 – but was eventually cut from the movie at the studio’s insistence.
While Tank Girl had an R rating in the USA, other countries were divided on how to certify it.
In the UK, it was a 15; Singapore gave it a PG, and the Netherlands recommended that it shouldn’t be seen by under-12s.
15. Björk was initially cast as Tank Girl’s sidekick
Australian actress Naomi Watts landed her first major Hollywood role in Tank Girl, as the title character’s sidekick Jet Girl.
However, the future Oscar nominee for The Impossible and 21 Grams was not the first choice for the role.
Originally, the producers gave the part to Björk, the Icelandic indie-pop star who was then at the height of her fame.
However, the singer-songwriter ultimately decided against taking on an acting role, fearing it could detract from her music career.
Nevertheless, Björk found her way into the movie through the soundtrack, with her song Army of Me featuring in the movie before it was released as a single.
Björk would eventually take a film role in 2000’s Dancer in the Dark, for which she was named Best Actress at Cannes; she hasn’t acted again since.
14. A dramatic sequence was cut because the studio boss thought Lori Petty looked “too ugly”
One scene Rachel Talalay clashed most heavily with the studio over featured Tank Girl being tortured by Malcolm McDowell’s villain Kesslee.
The director says that studio boss John Calley demanded the scene’s removal, because Lori Petty looked “ugly.”
Talalay says, “I thought, Lori’s been great here, she’s so brave, she looks so terrible doing this scene, isn’t that fantastic? It’s very Jim Cameron-esque, the reality of how awful this is.”
At this point, Tank Girl had already had some test screenings in which the scene went down well with audiences.
- Credit: AP Images/Invision
However, “John Calley is like, ‘I can’t even look at her, she looks awful, I can’t even look at her. We’ve got to cut this sequence.'”
Talalay argued to save the scene, but to no avail. She reflects, “Now I understand that the film scared them, it scared all the male executives.”
13. Ann Cusack’s Sub Girl was originally a main character, but almost all her scenes were cut
As well as Lori Petty’s Tank Girl and Naomi Watts’ Jet Girl, the movie also features Ann Cusack as Sub Girl.
Cusack – sibling of fellow actors John Cusack and Joan Cusack – landed the role at Petty’s recommendation, after they co-starred in A League of Their Own.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the scenes Cusack shot as Sub Girl didn’t make the final cut.
It was claimed by co-creator Jamie Hewlett that Sub Girl was originally a prominent figure in the film.
However, the character was another casualty of the film’s brutal editing process, ultimately ending up with nothing more than a cameo.
In recent years, Ann Cusack has appeared in recurring roles on TV’s Better Call Saul, Castle Rock and The Boys.
12. The tank was bought from the Peruvian government
As the movie is called Tank Girl, the tank itself was obviously a pretty key component.
The tank in which Lori Petty’s title character lives and fights was reportedly a movie veteran.
It was an M5A1 Stuart first bought from the Peruvian government in the early 80s.
Hollywood movies to boast appearances of an M5A1 include Timothy Dalton‘s second James Bond movie Licence to Kill.
Of course, the vehicle was very heavily modified to get its distinctive, punky look for Tank Girl.
A whole Cadillac Eldorado was welded onto the front of the vehicle for extra space and the props team added a flag pole to mimic an extra gun.
11. Tank Girl has 18 outfit and hairstyle changes throughout the film
The original Tank Girl comics became a sensation largely because of the character’s highly distinctive look.
Abandoning conventional ideas about feminine glamour, the comic highlighted the extremes of alternative fashion at the time.
It’s only natural, then, that the movie also sought to make the most of Tank Girl as a 90s fashion icon.
Lori Petty’s title character changes outfits and hairstyle a total of 18 times throughout the movie.
Designers who worked in the movie’s costume department include Arianne Phillips and Rick Owens.
The film is famous for inspiring countless cosplayers: in 2019, Vogue deemed Tank Girl “one of the campiest fashion movies of all time,” noting, “the costumes remain out of this world.”
10. Ice-T thought he was going to play a ‘stripper’, not a Ripper
When Ice-T got his first call about Tank Girl, he misheard the producer over the phone, the rapper said in an interview with The Quietus in 2011.
“They asked me if I’d like to play a stripper in Arizona,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ Could be a tight little freaky role, you know?”
- Credit: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
“Then the next day they sent me a picture of a kangaroo suit, but I still thought I was gonna be a stripper – just dressed as a kangaroo. They said, no, it’s a ‘Ripper’ [a human-kangaroo hybrid].”
While Ice-T accepted the role, he found the costume gruelling: “it took three hours to put it on… I lost my mind.”
Afterward, the rapper and actor faced no shortage of mockery for appearing in the movie, but he remained unrepentant.
In one TV appearance, an interviewer made fun of the movie, to which Ice-T flatly replied, “I was paid $800,000.”
9. Director Rachel Talalay rejected Disney’s offer to produce the movie, fearing they’d make her tone it down
As stated, Rachel Talalay was met with a lot of rejection when she first pitched Tank Girl to the studios.
However, while most of the majors turned Tank Girl down, one party surprised by showing interest: Disney.
In fact, Talalay even received a fully-fledged offer from Disney to distribute the movie – but she turned them down.
The director said no to Disney as she feared the famously family-oriented studio would restrict much of the movie’s violent and sexual content.
In the end, Talalay accepted an offer from MGM-UA – a move which she has since called “a terrible decision.”
The studio proved to have major issues with Talalay’s vision for the project once cameras were rolling, and these behind-the-scenes disagreements made things very difficult for the Tank Girl cast and crew.
8. Lori Petty was a last-minute replacement for Emily Lloyd
Until very late in the day, the role was set to be played by British actress Emily Lloyd, until Rachel Talalay fired her.
Lloyd rose to fame with her performance in 1987 comedy-drama Wish You Were Here, and soon became a sought-after actress.
Accounts vary as to exactly why Lloyd was dropped from Tank Girl. At the time, it was widely reported that the actress had refused to shave her head for the part.
- Credit: Times Newspapers Ltd
Lloyd herself has contested this, stating that the real problem was personality clashes between herself and the director.
Sadly, this was one among a number of high-profile stumbles for Lloyd, whose career soon faltered because of severe mental health problems.
7. Naomi Watts was so nervous she kept hiding from the camera during takes
By the turn of the century, Naomi Watts would become a renowned and acclaimed actress following her star turn in David Lynch’s thriller Mulholland Drive.
However, things were very different for the actress back when cameras rolled on Tank Girl in 1994.
Watts, aged 26 at the time, already had several film roles to her name, but these were on far smaller-scale Australian productions.
Being on the vast multi-million dollar sets of Tank Girl proved overwhelming to the actress, leaving her so nervous she would try to hide from the camera on set.
Director Rachel Talalay recalls, “I remember Lori saying, ‘Naomi, you’re not supposed to be behind me at all times, so you’re not on camera,'” says Talalay. “‘You’re supposed to be there, where you’re on camera.'”
Talalay says Watts struggled with “pure introversion. The cinematographer (Gale Tattersall) said, ‘If I leave one place in the room where there is no light, Naomi will find it.'”
6. The studio cut almost all sexual references from the film
In the mid-90s, sexually explicit content was becoming largely acceptable in mainstream movies in the wake of such hits as Basic Instinct and Sliver.
Given that Tank Girl was an R-rated film made at the same time, you might think the studio wouldn’t be put off by raunchier content.
However, the unconventional sexuality of Tank Girl proved a major turn-off for studio MGM-UA.
As written and filmed, it was explicitly shown that Tank Girl had an amorous relationship with Ripper Booga (Jeff Kober), but the studio demanded these scenes be cut – including the aforementioned nude Ripper suit.
Lesbian overtones were also pared back, as were shots of the many sex toys which decorated Tank Girl’s bedroom – which Talalay recalls the head of the studio being “appalled” by.
The director explains, “the whole sequence had to go. Now, you would digitally blur them, or something, but instead we had to cut the whole sequence.”
5. The film’s production designer went on to direct Twilight
Part of director Rachel Talalay’s plan with Tank Girl was to get as many women as possible involved behind the scenes, to match the woman-led narrative on-screen.
To this end, Talalay insisted on hiring someone relatively untested as the film’s production designer: Catherine Hardwicke.
- Credit: AP Images
Hardwicke had been in the business for the best part of a decade, with production design credits including Tombstone.
However, studio United Artists was apparently unconvinced that she was qualified for the job, and both Hardwicke and Talalay had to argue their case heavily.
Later, Hardwicke would move into directing herself, first with acclaimed drama Thirteen, and more famously (or, depending on who you talk to, infamously) the supernatural romance blockbuster Twilight.
Most recently, Hardwicke called the shots on all 14 episodes of the 2020 TV series Don’t Look Deeper.
4. It was a critical and commercial catastrophe
After all the hype and behind the scenes hullabaloo, Tank Girl didn’t prove to be anything like the hit that was hoped for.
It was very badly received by critics, who gave the film almost universally negative reviews.
Audiences weren’t drawn to it either. After costing $25 million to make, Tank Girl ended its box office run with takings of a mere $6 million.
The film became an unsightly stain on the resumes of all involved, in particular director Rachel Talalay, who says the film “put me into movie jail.”
However, all these years later Talalay says she has grown to take pride in the film; she recently stated, “six or seven years ago I stopped being embarrassed by it,” noting that in its own way Tank Girl played “a seminal part” in the current movement toward greater female representation in the film and TV industry.
Talalay hasn’t directed another theatrically-released movie since Tank Girl. She moved into TV, and most recently helmed the Netflix movie A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting.
3. Margot Robbie plans to produce and star in a reboot
In recent years, Margot Robbie has become a big star as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey.
Not content with bringing one anarchic comic book heroine to the big screen, Robbie also has plans to play Tank Girl.
- Credit: Amy Sussman/Getty Images
The Australian actress and producer bought the rights to the character in 2019, and has reportedly hired Miles Joris-Peyrafitte to direct.
On hearing the news, Tank Girl co-creator Alan Martin tweeted about the matter in September 2019, noting “we haven’t been contacted by any of the parties involved… not sure if there will be any input from the original creators.”
Just heard that Margot Robbie's company have optioned rights from MGM to make a new Tank Girl movie – now several months into development. We haven't been contacted by any of the parties involved with the project, so not sure if there will be any input from the original creators. pic.twitter.com/7RxbV4qLFt
— Alan Martin (@AlienMartian23) September 9, 2019
Little more has been heard on the matter since, but it seems fair to assume the Tank Girl reboot is one among the many movies whose development process has been impeded by the Covid-19 lockdown.
In the meantime, we can look forward to seeing Robbie play Harley Quinn a third time in The Suicide Squad, currently scheduled to hit in cinemas August 2021.
2. Rachel Talalay became pregnant during the shoot
- Credit: BBC
Directing a movie is doubtless a very stressful, challenging job at the best of times.
Tank Girl, as we’ve established, was a troubled shoot, thanks to difficult conditions and clashes with the studio.
- Credit: Rachel Talalay
Director Rachel Talalay had another significant issue pressing down on her at the time: she was pregnant.
Talalay, who is married to British film producer Robert Harvey, found herself in the family way during production.
The director reflects, “It definitely added another level of hardness to it. You’re getting up and having morning sickness and going to work in 110 degrees.”
“Fortunately I was only pregnant near the end of the movie. But then I was pregnant through the entire editing and postproduction.”
1. Courtney Love compiled the soundtrack
- Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Thanks to films like Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers, movie soundtrack albums had become extremely hip (and profitable) by the mid-90s.
To ensure that Tank Girl would sport a soundtrack that would appeal to alternative kids, the filmmakers hired indie rock star Courtney Love as a music consultant.
The Hole singer-songwriter is reported to have also been offered a role in the movie, which she declined as it came too soon after the shocking death of her husband Kurt Cobain.
As tasked, Love put together a collection of songs from some of the most beloved alternative artists of the time, and a number of the tracks were original recordings.
- Credit: Ke.Mazur/WireImage
Love’s own band Hole contributed the track Drown Soda, whilst Joan Jett and Paul Westerberg recorded a cover version of Let’s Do It, the Cole Porter song prominently featured in the movie.