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Top 10 Ways Hollywood Recycles Movies

by Ward Hazell
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Recycling is good for the planet, they say. And Hollywood has long been a pioneer in the practice.

While the rest of the world was still throwing stuff away, movie-makers were carefully collecting, protecting and recycling their sets, props, effects and even whole scenes.

There are times when audiences are able to spot these recycled movie components, but most of the time they are re-dressed and re-purposed and slide right past even the most eagle-eyed movie fan.

Here are 10 ways in Hollywood recycles.

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10 Scream and Scream and Scream

The Wilhelm Scream Compilation

The Wilhelm Scream is one of the most famous, and widely used sound effects in cinema, having made over 400 film and TV appearances.

It’s first outing was at The Charge At Feather River, a B Movie western of no particular note, except for 2 things. It’s main selling point at the time was that it was filmed in 3D, with arrows and spears being hurled at the audience, which was still something of a novelty in 1953.

The movie’s other claim to fame was not immediately apparent. A minor character in this minor film, Private Wilhelm, is shot in the leg with an arrow, screams, and falls off his horse. It took up about 2 seconds of airtime, and it is doubtful that any of the cinema-goers would have remembered it.

Which was good, because it meant that the sound of Wilhelm’s scream could be used over and over (and over) again. If you listen closely, you can catch it on a falling stormtrooper in Star Wars, and a falling astronaut in Toy Story.

In fact, Disney has a particular fondness for Wilhelm, and his screams echo throughout their canon, and in recent years he has taken on a virtual life in dozens of video games, including Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto.

The character of Private Wilhelm was played by a little-known actor named Ralph Brooks. However, the scream was recorded separately. It is not known for certain who recorded it, but it is popularly believed to be Sheb Wooley, an actor and singer, who had a number one hit with his song The Purple People Eater in 1958.

So that’s why he’s screaming.

9 When You’ve Seen One Boat, You’ve Seen Them All

John Stephens | Ice Station Zebra (1968) | The Man Who Makes The Difference

It is very expensive to film at sea. Special equipment has to be built because tripods don’t work on a moving floor, cameras get wet, gear washes overboard, cast and crew get sick, and the weather is always changeable, which makes continuity a nightmare.

If filming on top of the water is hard, filming below it is harder.

When making Ice Station Zebra, a Cold War suspense movie, with submarines, filmmakers had use of an actual submarine, and a second unit photographer, John Stevens, who specialized in filming in difficult to impossible situations. He devised a method of attaching a camera to the outside of the sub as it dived.

And, because one submarine looks very much like another, especially in the dark, and underwater, the footage has been used by practically every submarine movie since, including Gray Lady Down, Never Say Never Again and Firefox.

8 Reduce Reuse Recycle

Ridley Scott Reveals Stanley Kubrick Footage is in ‘Blade Runner’

In some ways, film makers are like your funny uncle.

No, not that one.

Filmmakers are hoarders. They keep off-cuts from their movies long after release day, because they believe they might just come in useful one day.

And, darn it, they’re often right.

Take Stanley Kubrick, for example. Kubrick is famous for doing a large number of takes, and taking miles of additional footage. In the opening scenes of The Shining, for example, Jack Nicholson drives through the Rocky Mountains on a beautiful sunny day to the Overlook Hotel.

Kubrick shot hours of helicopter footage for the 2 mins and 47 seconds of screen time. Which left an awful lot of film gathering dust in his garage.

When Ridley Scott made Blade Runner 2 years later, he shot his own Rocky Mountain sequence, but because of the changeable weather conditions, found that his sunlit interior car shots of Harrison Ford listening to his voice over, while attempting to smile, did not match the overcast exterior.

Time to open the boxes in Uncle Stanley’s garage.

Change the music, and paint out the Volkswagen Beetle Sedan, and you are good to go.

Ridley Scott is not the only film maker to realize the importance of recycling. David Koepp borrowed footage from Jurassic Park for a dream sequence in Secret Window, where Johnny Depp falls off his sofa, and off a cliff, onto the rocks below.

And Robert Zemeckis recycled and entire actor. Crispin Glover was recycled from Back To the Future into Back To The Future II, as Marty McFly’s dad, after he refused to sign on for the sequel. Zemeckis recycled shots from the first movie, and hired a stand in for long shots.

Glover sued.

7 A Whole New World. Not

Reused animation in Robin Hood’s “The Phony King of England” (1973)

The Disney Studio frequently recycled its animations, painting over entire scenes and slotting them into new ones. And not just incidental background footage.

Thirty-six years after the famous scene of Snow White singing and dancing with forest animals there came a less famous scene where Maid Marion dances with, well, forest animals, in Robin Hood.

Robin Hood also snitched bits from The Jungle Book and The Aristocats, among others.

Robin Hood was not the only film that robbed from the riches of the Disney back catalog. The process of tracing over old footage, known as rotoscoping, has been around almost as long as the animated film.

But if you think that the animation business has moved on, think again. Digital animators are continually reusing ‘3D assets’, but because they can be given a new skin, it is much more difficult for audiences to spot.

6 More Wild West Frontier Than Final Frontier

Star Trek / Andy Griffith Show mash-up

Sets are large. And expensive. And large.

In pre-CGI days, sci-fi shows relied on physical sets, which were expensive. And, of course, large. Which was fine for the interior of a spaceship, which would be used in every episode.

But shows like Star Trek used a different location every week, and coming up with new, alien, sets, could be budget busting. The pilot episode of Star Trek cost $630,000 dollars, making it a record breaker, for the time. Although Star Trek is one of the most successful series of all time, with an infinite number of worlds to explore, and a seemingly infinite number of parallel-universe Star Trek spin-offs, the production company still needed to be mindful of its budget.

They reused props were they could. The Nomad robot from the episode The Changeling was used in later episodes, after changing its name and giving it a costume change. But its most obvious money saving ploy was to reuse entire sets from a selection stored at the Forty Acres studio backlot.

Forty Acres stored a large number of sets. When Gone With the Wind needed to burn down Atlanta, they went to Forty Acres and rummaged through the unwanted flats and set fire to them.

It was also used as the fictional Wild West town of Mayberry, home to The Andy Griffith Show. When the Star Trek production team made the episode Miri, they simply rolled onto Mayberry set, and dressed it to look post-apocalyptic.

They obviously found it easy, because they used the set again in further episodes, including The City on the Edge of Forever, where Kirk and Spock explore the town.

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5 What’s in a name?

Gladiator – Maximus Decimus Meridius

The title of a film is pretty important. And you might expect that filmmakers would want to make them pretty unique, too. But you would be wrong.

In 1995, David Cronenberg directed Crash, which starred James Spader and Holly Hunter, about people who developed a sexual fetish about car crashes. The film was controversial, but well-known. In 2004, David Haggis also directed a film called Crash, which starred Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock and Thandie Newton, about people whose lives collide.

Cronenberg was said to be none too pleased.

The 2008 movie Twilight had little choice in its title, being based on the best-selling book of the same name, but it shared its title with a gritty 1998 movie starring Gene Hackman and Paul Newman, about a retired detective working one last case.

Sometimes the best name for your movie has already been taken. When Ridley Scott made Gladiator in 2000, he must have known that the name had already been taken in 1992 for a boxing movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr. He was faced with the choice of picking a new name, which didn’t suit his film quite so well, or sticking with his choice and hoping that his Gladiator became the Gladiator.

Good choice.

4 Tin Men

Forbidden Planet- Robbie the Robot arrives

Sometimes a particular prop becomes so iconic that you don’t want to disguise it.

Take Robby the Robot, for instance. Robby made his first appearance in Forbidden Planet in 1956. He was not the first robot. George Melies’ Trip to the Moon, in 1902, featured a mechanical chauffeur driving a newlywed couple to Saturn, and Metropolis, in 1927, showed the mind of a woman being transferred to the body of a female-shaped robot, while the Flash Gordon series in the 1930’s had robots who looked suspiciously like men wearing helmets and shiny suits. (Surely not).

By the 1950’s, movie-makers became obsessed with idea of robots, and their designs became the definitive images of what a robot should look like.

In The Day The Earth Stood Still, in 1951, we see the humanoid type robot. Like a human, but better. This one has laser eyes.

There was the robot/vehicle hybrid, such as Gog and Magog in the movie Gog in 1954, who boast awkwardly moving arms and wheels. As seen later in Daleks.
There was the robot giant, in Target Earth in 1954, which was later re-imagined as a Transformer or an Iron Giant.

And then there was Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet. Though he undoubtedly was influenced by all the robots who had preceded him, Robby the Robot was different. He did not look like a man in a tin suit. Or a vehicle or a giant.

Robby the Robot had a unique, mechanical look. With his domed head and visible mechanical parts, Robby was all machine. He had revolving antennae for ears, and a wicked sense of humor. When asked why he was late, he replied, “Sorry, miss, I was giving myself an oil-job”

Robby was an instant hit, and he made a number of appearances in other shows.

He played a murder suspect in the TV series The Thin Man, had an appearance in The Twilight Zone, and cameos in The Addams Family, Man From U.N.C.L.E. and even Columbo.

He went on to appear in a number of movies including Gremlins, Earth Girls Are Easy, and as an evil robot in Hollywood Boulevard

In 2004, Robby received the ultimate robot accolade when he was inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame, where he resides among other notable robots such as the Mars Pathfinder, ASIMO and Huey, Dewey and Louie.

3 A Biblical Epic (Sort Of)

He’s Not The Messiah – Life of Brian

When the Python’s decided to make The Life of Brian, they faced a lot of hurdles. First, EMI withdrew their funding just days before shooting began, because they were worried that the subject was controversial. The production was saved by George Harrison, of The Beatles, who put up £3 million, just because he wanted to see the film.

The film was banned in many places because it was considered blasphemous, despite the fact that, as the Pythons repeatedly pointed out, this was not the story of Jesus but of Brian, who just happened to be born at the same time.

Audiences weren’t having it. Perhaps their confusion was due to the fact that the setting looked very familiar. Brian was filmed in Monastir, Tunisia, and reused many of the sets that Franco Zeffirelli had used when he had filmed Jesus of Nazareth two years earlier.

Even many of the extras were the same. Director Terry Jones said, “I would have these elderly Tunisians telling me, ‘Well, Mr Zeffirelli wouldn’t have done it like that.’ Ouch.

2 Yodelay, Yodelayheehoo

Goofy Yell Compilation

Another stock sound effect that has been used repeatedly in Disney movies and elsewhere is The Goofy Holler. It was originally recorded by the yodeler, Hannes Schroll for the Goofy short film, The Art of Skiing.

The sound starts of as a yodel but ends up as more of a yell.

Whatever it sounds like, the Goofy Holler has made its way into a large number of Disney movies, including Pete’s Dragon, The Rescuers and Moana.

The Joker does a Goofy Holler when he crashes his plane in Batman: The Animated Series and the sound effect even found its way onto Family Guy, in the episode Dial Meg for Murder.

1 The Battleship Untouchable

The Untouchables – Union Station Scene

While Hollywood may reuse props, sets and sound-effects in ways that largely go unnoticed by audiences, there are times when recycling is less about saving time or money, and more about paying homage to previous filmmakers, or iconic movies.

Take The Battleship Potemkin, for example. The silent movie from 1925 is regarded as one of the most influential films of all time, and its most famous scene, known as The Odessa Steps, has been remade dozens of times as a nod to film-making greatness.

In the original Soviet classic, the citizens of Odessa come out in support of the mutinous crew of the Potemkin, and in support of Revolution. A crowd gathers on the steps near the waterfront, when a unit of Cossacks march into the crowd of civilians with fixed bayonets, with more soldiers firing into the crowd.

The civilians, boxed in, are massacred on the steps, an elderly lady is shot in the eye, through her spectacles, and a lone baby carriage bounces dangerously down the Odessa steps.

Sound familiar? It should.

The Untouchables recreated the scene at Union Station. A woman struggles up the staircase with two suitcases and a baby carriage. Kevin Costner, anxious to get her out of harms way, helps her pull the carriage up to the top, only to let go, when Al Capone’s bookkeeper appears, surrounded by a group of armed henchmen.

Luckily, Andy Garcia was at the bottom of the steps to catch the bouncing pram.

A number of films of copied the Odessa Steps sequence, including Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, Woody Allan’s Bananas, and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather,

Peter Segal’s Naked Gun 33 1/3 wasn’t so much a homage to The Battleship Potemkin, as a parody of The Untouchables’ homage to The Battleship Potemkin.

But we think it still counts.

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fact checked by Jamie Frater