It's easy to forget that, two decades ago, Jim Carrey was just a talented TV sketch comedian who'd been trying for a decade to break into films. (Remember his roles in "Peggy Sue Got Married," "The Dead Pool," or "Earth Girls Are Easy"? Didn't think so.) But then came "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" (released 20 years ago this week, on February 4, 1994), in which Carrey starred as a hyperactive sleuth tasked with finding the Miami Dolphins' kidnapped mascot, and suddenly, he was an A-list box office draw.
Critics didn't think much of the puerile Ace, whose favorite gag was talking through his butt cheeks. But audiences loved him, enough to make Carrey an overnight star after 10 years of trying, and enough to put the film on permanent rotation on basic cable for the next 20 years.
Still, as many times as you've seen "Ace Ventura," there's probably a lot you don't know about it – where Carrey got the character's distinctive voice and gestures, who almost took Courteney Cox's love interest role, or the numerous in-jokes that pepper the movie. Ready to learn the 25 things you didn't know about "Ace Ventura"? All righty, then.
1. Screenwriter Jack Bernstein had been developing the movie for six years before it came to Tom Shadyac and Jim Carrey, who all but rewrote it.
2. "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" star Rick Moranis reportedly turned down the role of Ace.
3. Carrey, then a cast member on Fox TV sketch comedy show "In Living Color," had a character called Overly Confident Gay Man, who is the source of Ace Ventura's unique voice and catchphrase "All righty, then." It was when Carrey read the script in that voice that the character came alive for him.
4. If Ace's curly pompadour and colorful shirts suggest a flamboyantly-feathered bird, that's no accident. Carrey said on "Inside the Actors Studio" that he created Ace's gestures by studying the way birds move. He said he later learned from Anthony Hopkins that he had done the same thing to create Hannibal Lecter, only with reptiles.
5. Shadyac had broken into Hollywood at 24 to become Bob Hope's youngest joke writer. After spending much of the '80s as a script doctor, he finally made his feature film directing debut with "Ace Ventura."
6. Ace's love interest, Melissa Robinson, is reportedly named after Jack Bernstein's daughter.
7. Among the actresses supposedly considered for the role of Melissa were a pre-"Matrix" Carrie-Anne Moss and Téa Leoni (who would finally star with Carrey in 2005's "Fun With Dick and Jane"). Another was Lauren Holly, who would co-star later in 1994 with Carrey in "Dumb and Dumber" and become his off-screen love as well.
8. Courteney Cox landed the role, which hit theaters just months before the premiere of TV's "Friends" made her a huge star.
9. The scene in the nightclub with Ace and death metal band Cannibal Corpse was the source of a rumor that Carrey had been a big fan of the band and had demanded they appear in the film. That rumor is not true. The band's Alex Webster has said that Carrey was familiar with their work and even requested some songs during their performance, only one of which, "Hammer Smashed Face," made it into the film.
10. The football footage of Miami Dolphins kicker "Ray Finkle" on the field is actually a 1984 clip of Dolphins punter Uwe von Schamann.
11. The mental hospital in the film is called Shady Acres, which you can't spell without spelling "Shadyac." Shady Acres is also the name of Tom Shadyac's production company.
12. A sequence in which Carrey's Ace impersonates a dolphin trainer named Heinz Getwellvet was cut from the theatrical release but restored on home video release.
13. There are a few clues early in the film that Lt. Einhorn (Sean Young) is really a man. First, there's her name, which means "unicorn" in German; you don't need to be Freud to figure out that symbol.
14. Then there's the suggestive placement of two apples and a banana on her desk.
15. Finally, there's the photo of Ray Finkle. Hard to tell, but that's actually Young with a wig and a fake mustache.
16. The movie suffered some backlash from LGBT viewers, who were upset that a transgender character was being used in a negatively stereotypical way, as a duplicitous villain with something to hide. They also complained that Ace's reaction to discovering that he has kissed a man (dashing off to the shower to rinse away the cooties, taking a toilet plunger to his own face) was homophobic. Carrey responded that Ace's reaction "is so ridiculous it can't be taken seriously."
17. The film cost a reported $15 million to make.
18. It earned $107.2 million at the domestic box office.
19. "Ace Ventura" was just the beginning of a tremendous breakthrough year for Carrey. In mid-1994, he had another starring role, in the hit "The Mask." And at the end of the year came a huge, career-defining role in "Dumb and Dumber."
20. Not everyone was thrilled with Carrey's sudden screen stardom. That year, he also earned a Razzie award nomination for "Worst New Star."
21. Carrey made a sequel, 1995's "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls." Shadyac dropped out of the project. It was written and directed by Steve Oedekerk, the "In Living Color" writer and Carrey pal who'd worked as a consultant on the first "Ace" movie.
22. There was also a direct-to-video sequel, "Ace Ventura Jr. Pet Detective" and an animated series that lasted three seasons.
23. Shadyac and Carrey did work together again, on the hits "Liar Liar" and "Bruce Almighty."
24. Shadyac and Oedekerk also collaborated again, on Eddie Murphy's "The Nutty Professor," "Bruce Almighty," and the Carrey-free sequel "Evan Almighty."
25. This coming November's "Dumb and Dumber To" marks the first time since "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" that Carrey has appeared in a sequel to one of his own movies.