20 Thrilling Facts About 1996 Action Movie The Rock

The sadly missed Sir Sean Connery never let his age keep him from being an action hero. The legendary James Bond actor was 65 when he co-starred with Nicolas Cage in 1996’s The Rock, one of the most memorable and outlandish action movies of the decade. Did you know the following thrilling facts about the high-octane romp from the famed master of disaster Michael Bay?


20. The script was first offered to Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Rock producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer knew they wanted big names for the movie. However, early on, they weren’t thinking of Sean Connery or Nicolas Cage for the lead roles. The first actor asked to star in The Rock was action movie icon Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Reports vary as to which role Arnie was offered; Connery’s John Mason would seem the likeliest option, but it’s widely claimed that he was actually offered Cage’s role of Stanley Goodspeed. Either way, Schwarzenegger declined as he was unimpressed with the early draft of the screenplay. In the years since, Schwarzenegger has admitted regretting this decision.

19. Producer Don Simpson died during the shoot

Credit: Touchstone Pictures, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films

The Rock is dedicated to the memory of producer Don Simpson, who died in January 1996 while cameras were still rolling on the film. Simpson passed away from heart failure, the result of a notoriously excessive lifestyle; on hearing of his death, Sean Connery reportedly remarked, “I have to say, I’m not that surprised.”

In partnership with Jerry Bruckheimer, Simpson had been one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood in the 80s and 90s, responsible for such such hits as Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun and Days of Thunder. After Simpson’s death, Bruckheimer went on to further success as a solo producer, most notably with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

18. Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino both worked on the screenplay

As is commonplace with Hollywood movies, many different writers worked on the screenplay for The Rock. These writers included Jonathan Hensleigh, Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino – none of whom received on-screen credit, which director Michael Bay declared ‘a travesty.’

The film’s credits officially list the only screenwriters as David Weisberg and Douglas S. Cook (who wrote the very first draft), and Mark Rosner (who did the first re-write). This is because The Writer’s Guild of America ruled that no other writers could be given credit on the film, despite the significant rewrites that had taken place.

17. Sean Connery berated Disney execs into giving the film more money

Credit: Touchstone Pictures, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Thanks to the multi-billion dollar success of the Transformers movies, Michael Bay is now one of the most successful filmmakers around. Things were different when Bay made The Rock; it was only his second feature after Bad Boys. As such, the director didn’t pull much weight in Hollywood, and was badgered by Disney studio executives.

Luckily for Bay, Sean Connery had his back. The esteemed actor accompanied the director to a lunch meeting with the studio, and proceeded to bark at Disney execs, “This boy is doing a good job, and you’re living in your Disney f***ing ivory tower and we need more f***ing money!” According to Bay, the studio gave him no further problems after that.

16. Nicolas Cage improvised most of his dialogue

Nicolas Cage seemed an unlikely choice to appear alongside Sean Connery in The Rock. Coming to the film straight after Leaving Las Vegas (which would earn him a Best Actor Oscar), the infamously eccentric actor is quoted as saying that he specifically took the role to prove wrong those who called him “too quirky” for a mainstream blockbuster.

Cage took steps to make chemical weapons expert Stanley Goodspeed a more unusual character than originally written: he ad-libbed the bulk of his lines, and insisted on such eccentric touches as Goodspeed’s aversion to swearing, and the early scene in which he sits naked in his apartment playing guitar.

15. Several real-life Navy SEALs appear in the film

The Rock co-stars Michael Biehn as Commander Charles Anderson, leader of a Navy SEAL team. These elite soldiers are charged with taking back the besieged Alcatraz Island and freeing the hostages. Biehn had played such a character before (in The Abyss and – funnily enough – Navy SEALs), but on The Rock things were a little different.

Rather than being surrounded by fellow actors, Biehn’s team was in fact made up mostly of real-life Navy SEALs. The actor is said to have admitted that it was intimidating for him to pretend to be in charge of men who did this thing for real. On top of this, Biehn also confessed to feeling intimidated barking orders at Sean Connery.

14. In reality, three people escaped from Alcatraz

The key reason that Connery’s John Mason is enlisted to help save the day is that he’s the only man who ever escaped from Alcatraz. In reality, only three men ever managed to get out of Alcatraz alive: brothers John and Clarence Anglin, and Frank Morris. Clint Eastwood’s 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz tells this story.

After many months of careful planning, the trio successfully broke out of the island prison in June 1962 (which is also when The Rock tells us John Mason escaped). After successfully escaping from Alcatraz, Morris and the Anglin brothers disappeared and were never found by the authorities.

13. Michael Bay had ideas for a sequel that never happened

The Rock took over $335 million at the box office, making it the fourth-biggest movie of 1996. Director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer followed this up with disaster epic Armageddon, which was an even bigger hit. Pearl Harbor and Bad Boys II followed – and The Rock seemed to be forgotten, with no sequel in sight.

Bay has since admitted, however, that he did have ideas for a follow-up film which would have picked up where the first film left off (spoiler warning): with Nicolas Cage’s Goodspeed discovering a lost microfilm containing all the US government’s shadiest secrets. Bay says his sequel would have seen “the government [coming] after Nic Cage with a vengeance.”

12. Its plot inspired (incorrect) descriptions of Iraq’s alleged chemical weapons program

In 2003, a military coalition lead by America and the United Kingdom invaded Iraq and overthrew the dictator Saddam Hussein. The move was highly controversial and was based on claims that the Middle Eastern country was building weapons of mass destruction. Britain’s MI6 cited intelligence reports describing deadly nerve agents housed in chains of glass beads.

Outrage and mockery ensued once it was recognised that this description fits the chemical weapons used by the villains in The Rock, which are 100% fictional. Screenwriter David Weisberg was stunned the authorities “didn’t do apparently the most basic fact-checking… If you’d just asked a chemical weapons expert, it would have been immediately obvious it was ludicrous.”

11. Sean Connery demanded his own accommodation on Alcatraz itself

One of the distinct advantages to being as legendary a star as Sean Connery is that film producers are usually only too happy to bend to your whims. When the screen icon signed on to take the leading role in The Rock, he did so with various stipulations. For one, he insisted on the hiring of British screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to rewrite his dialogue with a more authentically British feel.

When it came time to start shooting on the famed Alcatraz Island itself, Connery had another demand to make of his producers. The actor declared he wanted his own cabin to live in on Alcatraz, because he didn’t want to have to go back and forth between the island and San Francisco every day. Simpson and Bruckheimer acquiesced to Connery’s stipulations, and a cabin was built for the actor especially.

10. Unsuspecting onlookers were shocked by some of the stunts

One scene sees Connery’s Mason dangle a man off the balcony of a hotel penthouse. This was shot on location in central San Francisco – and the streets below had not been cordoned off. Passers-by were naturally quite shocked to see a man hanging the building, and promptly called 911, but the hotel and the local police informed them it was just for a movie.

Another stunt caught an unsuspecting onlooker unawares when military consultant Harry Humphries arrived on set to see a man on fire. On impulse, the former Navy SEAL set about extinguishing the flames – only to discover too late that the cameras were rolling on a stunt, and he’d just ruined a take.

9. Tony Scott was the first choice to direct

Director Tony Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, 2010. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images For BAFTA Los Angeles

The Rock was the second movie from director Michael Bay directed for producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, but he was not their first choice for the project. Originally, Simpson and Bruckheimer offered the director’s chair on The Rock to their old collaborator Tony Scott.

The late British filmmaker had previously directed four Simpson/Bruckheimer productions: Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Days of Thunder and Crimson Tide. However, when the offer came in for The Rock, Scott was already working his next movie, The Fan. Later, Scott would later reunite with producer Bruckheimer on the movies Enemy of the State and Déjà Vu.

8. A fan theory suggests that Connery’s John Mason is really James Bond

Sean Connery’s name will always be synonymous with James Bond 007. The Scottish actor played Ian Fleming’s iconic character seven times (including the ‘unofficial’ Bond movie Never Say Never Again) – although there are some fans who suggest that The Rock also counts as an unofficial Bond movie.

Fans speculate that John Mason (a top British spy) is in fact Bond, and that he was briefly held prisoner in Alcatraz prior to the events of Dr No, then was recaptured by the US government some time after the events of 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. This theory is given particular credence by fans who postulate that ‘James Bond’ is really a code name used by many different spies over the years.

7. The San Francisco car chase was a logistical nightmare

Although it’s set largely on a small island housing a maximum-security prison, The Rock still finds room for a car chase, when Connery’s John Mason escaping in a stolen Humvee, pursued by Cage’s Stanley Goodspeed in a yellow Ferrari. The sequence was added at the behest of notoriously car-mad director Michael Bay, despite the objections of some of the writing team.

Bay may have fought to include the scene, but he and the crew endured some serious struggles getting it done. Getting access to the San Francisco streets required thousands of signatures from city officials, and both the city and the studio were displeased when the shoot fell behind schedule. The director has declared it “the biggest clusterf*** I’ve ever done in my entire filming career.”

6. The studio didn’t want it all shot on location on Alcatraz

Initially, the plan on The Rock was that only a few days’ worth of exterior photography would actually take place on Alcatraz itself, with the rest of the film shot in the safety and convenience of their Los Angeles sets and soundstages. However, once Michael Bay visited the location, he knew this wouldn’t do.

Bay stated in an interview, “I went on a tour [of Alcatraz] and my mouth dropped open… I said, ‘we gotta shoot half the movie here.'” The producers then had to negotiate access to the location via the US Parks Service. Alcatraz is now officially used as a bird sanctuary, which made shooting action scenes tricky at times.

5. The film’s world premiere was hosted on Alcatraz

As The Rock revolves around Alcatraz, it makes sense that the iconic island was chosen to host the film’s world premiere on 3rd June 1996. This marked the very first time that Alcatraz had been used to host a Hollywood movie premiere. At no small expense, a fully functioning cinema screen with 35mm projector was set up in what had once been the prison courtyard.

500 invited guests were ferried in especially for the event, along with substantial press coverage. It was reported that some enterprising fans approached the island on jet skis in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Connery, Cage and co. One such fan is said to have worn a tuxedo under his wet-suit – just like Connery did in the third Bond movie, Goldfinger.

4. The shower room shoot-out was copied wholesale in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

One of the standout action sequences in The Rock comes when the team of Navy SEALs break into Alcatraz. After sneaking in through a shower room, the SEALs face off against the soldiers who are holding the island hostage. Years later, gamers noticed echoes of this sequence in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

The 2009 first-person shooter pays direct homage to The Rock, most notably with a similar shower room shoot-out level. The game also features a military leader turning against his country on a personal principle, as is the case in The Rock. In addition, the game features the use of green flares to stop fighter jets from bombing a location, which also happens in the movie.

3. Simpson got the idea for Hummel from TV’s 60 Minutes

Producer Don Simpson wasn’t a screenwriter, but he was famous for coming up with big ideas for his movies. It was Simpson who came up with the main motivation for General Hummel, The Rock’s villain portrayed by Ed Harris. Simpson decided Hummel should be an honourable military man outraged by the US government’s refusal to compensate the families of soldiers killed in covert missions.

The producer was inspired by stories featured on TV’s 60 Minutes, as well as the memoirs of Colonel David H. Hackworth. Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh then worked closely with Simpson to make Hummel more nuanced and sympathetic than most action movie bad guys. Ed Harris recalls Simpson spending 45 minutes explaining the character to him whilst persuading the actor to take the role.

2. The movie opened before Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson made his WWF TV debut

Credit: WWE

In the wake of the movie’s release, The Rock is also the name by which megastar Dwayne Johnson rose to fame as a wrestler. Although officially he’d already joined the WWF (later renamed WWE), Johnson didn’t make his TV debut until November 1996, five months after the movie The Rock hit screens. Initially, Johnson wrestled under the name Rocky Maivia.

Within a year Johnson was renamed The Rock, and he quickly became the biggest name in wrestling, as well as being one of the few wrestlers to successfully cross over to mainstream celebrity status. He made his film debut in 2001’s The Scorpion King, still credited as The Rock, and within a few years he became a major movie star under his birth name.

1. It’s the only Michael Bay movie with a ‘fresh’ Rotten Tomatoes rating

Director Michael Bay has never exactly been a critical darling, but even his fiercest detractors tend to agree that The Rock is the notoriously bombastic filmmaker’s best work. It’s the only Bay-directed film to be ‘certified fresh’ at review aggregators site Rotten Tomatoes, with a 66% fresh rating.

Thrillist called it “Michael Bay’s masterpiece,” The Guardian have hailed it as one of the all-time great “guilty pleasure” movies, and AV Club called it the director’s “one good movie.” Bay has called it his favourite film of his own, and Sean Connery also reportedly considered it the best film he made in his last decade as an actor, before retiring after 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.