Stories are often built on coincidences and happenstance. Chance encounters at railway stations. Bruce Willis bumping into Ving Rhames while he’s out and about in his Honda in Pulp Fiction. But what about those weird patterns we see in our everyday reality, or, more to the point, in cinema history?
When Batman Begins came out, it was widely noted that Christian Bale had already played an unfathomably rich man with a secret double life before, in Mary Harron’s adaptation of American Psycho. Bale’s character, Patrick Bateman, even has a surname that’s basically Batman with an ‘e’ added to it.
Those are the kinds of strange quirks of fate we’re looking at here. If you have any of your own, do share them in the comments section.
10. Instruments of doom
In Tim Burton’s eccentric 1989 Batman movie, Jack Nicholson casts a long, cackling shadow as the Caped Crusader’s flamboyant nemesis, The Joker. In Burton’s version of The Joker’s origin story, hoodlum Jack Napier’s cheeks are pierced by a bullet shortly before he falls into a vat of chemicals, leaving his face permanently disfigured. We see Napier attempt to have this disfigurement reversed by a back street surgeon in a later scene, only for the procedure to make him look even worse. It’s when Napier first sees his reflection that he becomes the cackling Joker.
If you look closely, the surgical implements in this sequence might start to look a little familiar. This is because they were props taken from the 1986 remake of Little Shop Of Horrors, where Steve Martin’s sadistic dentist uses them on an unsuspecting patient played by Bill Murray.
The original Roger Corman version of The Little Shop Of Horrors (1960) had a similar scene, and weirdly, it was a very young Jack Nicholson strapped in the dentist’s chair. The use of those props might have been an oblique in-joke on the part of Batman’s production designers. After all, Jack Nicholson’s performance in this scene – laughing, wise-cracking, worryingly masochistic – is very Joker-like:
Or, more likely, the props were lying around at the studio and recycled to save a bit of time and money. It’s a fun coincidence, though.
After the comedy heist sequel Ocean’s Twelve (2004), Steven Soderbergh directed 12 more live action movies that got a US cinema release before retiring. Weirdly, Soderbergh also edited 12 films during his career as well, starting with Sex, Lies, And Videotape in 1989 and ending in 2013 with his last feature, Behind The Candelabra. A strange quirk of fate, a deliberate move by Soderbergh, or a glitch in the Matrix? We’ll put on our tin foil hats now.
8. Capaldi who?
You’ll probably be well aware of this one, but here goes. Before last year, Peter Capaldi was well known to most UK residents as the terrifying, sharp-tongued political spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in TV’s The Thick Of It, even though he’s had a long and varied career in film and television. One of those roles was in World War Z, the zombie disaster movie (very) loosely adapted from Max Brooks’ novel of the same name. In it, Capaldi played a World Health Organisation researcher stationed in a remote part of Wales, who Brad Pitt’s character meets near the end of the film.
In World War Z’s credits, Capaldi’s character is one of several listed as ‘W.H.O. Doctor’. A few months later on August 4th, the BBC would announce, to considerable fanfare, that Capaldi was the new incarnation of the Time Lord in Doctor Who. Was this a coincidence, or an in-joke for industry types who’d already gotten wind of Capaldi’s plum role?
7. De Niro’s boxing future
This particular coincidence has been picked up by other geeky sites before, including the brilliant Cracked, as you can see here, but we thought we’d mention it anyway because it’s simply too strange to ignore. In Francis Ford Coppola’s classic crime drama The Godfather: Part II (1974), we see Robert De Niro’s character standing in front of a poster advertising the next fight for boxer Jake La Motta. This was six years before De Niro played La Motta himself in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980) – one of the finest roles of the actor’s career.
6. Scarlett Johansson’s arachnids
Back in 2002, a small American town was invaded by giant flesh-eating spiders in the cheerfully daft B-movie, Eight-Legged Freaks. In true 50s creature feature style, toxic waste was responsible for transforming the contents of Tom Noonan’s spider farm into a horde of outsized menaces.
Among the human cast was a young Scarlett Johansson, who plays sheriff’s daughter Ashley Parker. It was a role that came after her turn in Ghost World (2001) but before the performances that would get her wider attention: Lost In Translation and Girl With A Pearl Earring (both 2003). Less than a decade after being attacked by a giant spider, a far more famous Johansson would star as Black Widow in The Avengers. Disappointingly, there aren’t any black widows in Eight Legged Freaks. Still, the spider connection remains.
In John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 slasher film Halloween, there’s at least one scene where a couple of little kids are gathered around a television, apparently oblivious to the babysitter-murdering maniac on the loose in their viscinity. Instead, they’re more absorbed in the classic sci-fi horror flick playing on television: Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby’s classic The Thing From Another World.
Four years later, John Carpenter would remake this very film (simply called The Thing) for Universal – an imaginative, gory fusion of the source short story (John W Campbell’s Who Goes There) and the Hawks-Nyby original. It has since, of course, become a cult classic.
The Thing From Another World’s cameo in Halloween is clearly John Carpenter providing a respectful nod to one of his favourite films. There’s no way he could have known that Halloween would become such a cult phenomenon. And without the success of Halloween behind him, it’s likely that Carpenter’s career would have been very different, and that The Thing would have ended up in the hands of a different director.
In 1991, horror maestro Wes Craven directed one of his less widely-appreciated films: the wonderfully subversive, blackly comic People Under The Stairs. It co-starred Ving Rhames as one of a group of thieves who sneak into a big old house, only to discover that it’s populated by some of the most deviant, gun-crazed maniacs in cinema history. One of the film’s more warped moments sees Rhames chased around a house by a screaming man (Everett McGill) in a gimp outfit – all shiny leather, zips and beady little eye-holes.
Three years later, Ving Rhames would star as Marsellus Wallace in Quentin Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction, where he once again came face-to-face with a maniac in a gimp outfit. Was Tarantino, a director of omnivorous movie appetites, subconsciously influenced by the appearance of the gimp suit in The People Under The Stairs?
Although it’s probably just an odd coincidence, Rhames must have felt a strange pang of deja-vu when he read the Pulp Fiction screenplay for the first time. “I just can’t get away from these goddamn gimps”, he probably didn’t murmur to himself.
3. A tale of two Eckharts
Released in 2008, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is one of the most acclaimed comic book movies of the past decade. And one of the most memorable aspects of that film was Aaron Eckhart’s performance as hot-shot lawyer Harvey Dent, who suffers a tragic fall from grace when he becomes the vengeful Two-Face.
In a weird coincidence, Eckhart shares a surname with someone closely linked to Two-Face in the comic books. There, Harvey Dent has a plastic surgeon who repairs damaged features. That surgeon’s name was Dr Ekhart. Strangely, there was also a Lieutenant Max Eckhardt (played by William Hootkins) in the 1989 Batman film, perhaps thrown in as a homage to the (very different) character in the comics.
2. Bill Paxton’s iconic deaths
To be honest, we’re not really sure whether this is a coincidence, or simply bad luck or even negligence. But the fact remains that Bill Paxton – one of Den Of Geek’s favourite actors, we have to say – has spent a fair bit of his career being killed by some of the most famous robots and monsters in cinema history.
The trend began with 1984‘s The Terminator, in which he played one of the punks gorily despatched by a nude T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). The director of that film was, of course, James Cameron, who next made Aliens in 1986. Because Paxton and Cameron were friends by that time, the former was duly signed up to play Hudson, the jittery colonial marine who goes bug hunting on the planet LV-426. There, Hudson suffered a horrible fate at the bony hands of a xenomorph.
In 1990, Paxton starred in Stephen Hopkins’s action horror sequel Predator 2, which took the franchise from the jungles of Central America to the sweaty environs of Los Angeles. You’ve probably guessed where this is going by now: Paxton’s baggy-trousered cop Jerry Lambert is ultimately slaughtered by the towering Predator.
As if being killed by a Terminator, an Alien and a Predator wasn’t enough for one career, Paxton was recently cast in Doug Liman’s sci-fi action flick, Edge Of Tomorrow. Here, Paxton plays Master Sergeant Farell, who might (possibly, you never know) be a distant cousin of Hudson from Aliens.
1. Mark Wahlberg’s early brush with The Transformers
When Mark Wahlberg was still a relatively new actor in the 90s, and keen to shake off his old Marky Mark teen popstar image, he landed a plum role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 70s-set porn industry drama, Boogie Nights. Wahlberg turned in a brilliantly eye-catching performance as the 20-something stud Dirk Diggler, and his big-screen career was duly launched. Prominent parts in such films as Three Kings, The Departed and Ted followed, all leading up to his appearance as the improbably-named inventor Cade Yeager in this year’s Transformers: Age Of Extinction.
But a full 17 years before Wahlberg had anything to do with the Transformers franchise, he had another, tangential brush with those robots in disguise. Towards the end of Boogie Nights (where we arrive at the year 1983), we see him in a recording studio performing a heart-felt cover of The Touch by singer-songwriter Stan Bush. This song, you may recall, is one of the most prominent on the soundtrack to 1986’s Transformers: The Movie.
In case you’ve somehow forgotten it, here’s the performance in question. Can you imagine how incredible it would have been if Wahlberg broke into this in Age Of Extinction?
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