With its blend of adventure, love story, and comedy, "Romancing the Stone" is remembered today as one of the quintessential hits of the 1980s. Nonetheless, at the time the movie was released (30 years ago this week, on March 30, 1984), no one expected much from it. Director Robert Zemeckis was seen as a failed whiz kid, star Kathleen Turner had never carried a picture, and co-star Michael Douglas had yet to prove himself as a leading man. Of course, the film ended up propelling all three of them onto the A-list and generated an equally successful sequel, "The Jewel of the Nile."
As familiar as you are now with the story of Joan Wilder (the mousy romance novelist who blossoms during a real-life treasure hunt in Colombia) and Jack T. Colton (the unlikely guide who proves to be the romantic hero of Joan's fantasies), there's still a lot about "Romancing the Stone" you may not know, including the actors who almost starred in it, the real-life romance between the leads, and the tragic story of the woman who wrote the screenplay.
Here, then, are 25 things you didn't know about "Romancing the Stone." Read 'em and weep -- we always do.
1. When "Romancing" came out, some critics called it a "Raiders of the Lost Ark" rip-off, but it had been written well before "Raiders" was released in 1981. Screenwriter Diane Thomas wrote the "Romancing" script on spec while supporting herself as a waitress in Los Angeles. Within a week after she finished it, however, her agent had sold it to Michael Douglas.
2. At the time, Douglas had won an Oscar as the producer of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," but his acting career (after supporting roles in hits "Coma" and "The China Syndrome") was in limbo. He had a production deal at Columbia but was languishing there. Douglas managed to hold onto the "Romancing" rights for a couple years as he moved to 20th Century Fox, where the film finally went into production.
3. Douglas wanted to star, but Fox wanted someone more bankable to star, but Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds passed. Back at Columbia, Sylvester Stallone had passed, too. So Douglas got the part of Jack Colton.
4. Douglas initially considered Debra Winger for the lead role of Joan Wilder, but Fox wasn't sure she was glamorous or athletic enough. The studio's choice was Kathleen Turner, still best known at the time for her striking debut in 1981's "Body Heat."
5. Douglas hired longtime pal Danny DeVito to play the thieving Ralph. Their friendship dated back to the late 1960s, when they shared a New York studio apartment while they were both struggling Broadway actors. Douglas had also cast DeVito in his first major screen role, in "Cuckoo's Nest," before the latter found fame on TV's "Taxi."
6. When Douglas hired Robert Zemeckis to direct, the filmmaker was seen as someone who wrote clever scripts that didn't translate into hit movies. (He'd written and directed "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "Used Cars" and had also co-written Steven Spielberg's lone flop "1941.") "Romancing" was the director's first work-for-hire, directing someone else's script.
7. Although the movie takes place in Columbia, it was shot in Mexico.
8. Turner and Zemeckis didn't get along. "I remember terrible arguments doing 'Romancing,'" she told Entertainment Weekly in 1991. "He's a film-school grad, fascinated by cameras and effects. I never felt that he knew what I was having to do to adjust my acting to some of his damn cameras -- sometimes he puts you in ridiculous postures. I'd say, 'This is not helping me! This is not the way I like to work, thank you!'"
9, In the same interview, Turner said of DeVito, " He provides a sickness, the tastelessness, that dark underside. It's like being groped all day long -- being somewhat short, he gets to casually drape his arm around parts of your anatomy that no one usually would."
10. As for Douglas, who was separated from his wife Diandra at the time of the shooting, Turner wrote in her 2008 memoir that the two had an on-set affair, one that ground to a halt after Mrs. Douglas visited the set.
11. Mexican actor/director Alfonso Arau, who had co-starred in "Used Cars," played a key role in "Romancing" as "Juan the Bellringer," an unlikely fan of Joan's novels who comes to Joan and Jack's aid. He would go on to play the comic villain "El Guapo" in "Three Amigos" and direct the worldwide hit "Like Water for Chocolate," based on the novel by his ex-wife, Laura Esquivel.
12. "Romancing" marked Zemeckis's first collaboration with composer Alan Silvestri, who has scored all of Zemeckis's films since.
13. After "Romancing," Zemeckis was slated to direct the sci-fi/fantasy "Cocoon," but when its producers saw a rough cut of "Romancing," they were so sure it would flop that they fired him from the project and hired Ron Howard instead.
14. Of course, "Romancing" proved to be an enormous hit. Its success and Zemeckis's suddenly free schedule allowed him to direct a longtime dream project about a time-traveling teenager, a film that would also become a huge hit: "Back to the Future."
15. "Romancing" cost $10 million to make. It grossed $76.6 million in North America, making it the 8th biggest hit of 1984.
16. The film was nominated for one Oscar, for Best Editing.
17. The movie won two Golden Globes, for Best Comedy or Musical, and Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical (for Turner).
18. Thomas was nominated for the Writers Guild of America award for Best Original Screenplay.
19. In addition to the $250,000 she earned for the script, Thomas received a Porsche Carrera from Michael Douglas, both as a bonus for the film's success and as an incentive to write the screenplay for a sequel.
20. Thomas was riding in the back seat of the Porsche in October 1985 when her boyfriend drove the car into a power pole on the Pacific Coast Highway. He was arrested on drunk driving charges. Thomas and another passenger were killed. She was 39. She had been working as a script doctor for Steven Spielberg (reportedly, on an Indiana Jones movie). "Romancing" ended up being her only produced script.
21. Turner turned down $5 million to make another jungle adventure, "King Solomon's Mines." The film went ahead with a pre-fame Sharon Stone in the lead and was a critical and commercial flop, leading Turner to conclude that she'd made the right decision.
22. Turner didn't want to make a sequel to "Romancing," either, but Fox filed a $25 million lawsuit against her. She reluctantly rejoined Douglas and DeVito for "The Jewel of the Nile," which turned out to be nearly as big a smash as "Romancing" had been. To date, it's the only time Turner has made a sequel to one of her own movies.
23. Despite her on-set squabbles with Zemeckis, Turner worked with him again on 1988's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," serving as the voice of the sultry toon Jessica Rabbit.
24. DeVito reunited with Douglas and Turner for the leads in the 1989 hit "The War of the Roses," which DeVito also directed and co-starred in.
25. For years, there's been vain talk of another "Romancing" sequel. One idea, called "The Crimson Eagle," would have found Joan, Jack, and their teenage children treasure-hunting in Thailand. In the mid-2000s, Douglas spoke of developing another sequel idea called "Racing the Monsoon." To date, none of these ideas has come to fruition.
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