Get ready to go a little spooky and click those fingers, it’s time to head back to the wacky world of Barry Sonnenfeld’s The Addams Family movies.
Adapting Charles’ Addams 1938 comic strip from The New Yorker, The Addams Family hoped to follow in the footsteps of ABC’s '60s TV series and the 1977 movie (based on the same show). Originally put into production by Orion Pictures, the seemingly doomed movie eventually changed hands over to Paramount.
With an all-star cast of Raúl Juliá, Anjelica Huston, Christina Ricci, and Christopher Lloyd, 1991’s The Addams Family went on to be a surprise hit of the summer. This wasn’t the end of the road, and with Sonnenfeld returning alongside the cast (and new additions like Joan Cusack), The Addams Family Values premiered in 1993. Sadly, a third movie lost most of the cast and crew, meaning that Dave Payne’s Addams Family Reunion limped to home release.
Thankfully, the first two movies have become a preserved piece of cult cinema and gathered an even more loyal fanbase of Addams Family fans. Given that The Addams Family had a famously troubled production, there was plenty going on behind the scenes. The sequel also didn’t disappoint when it comes to interesting titbits.
From Michael Jackson scandals to the appearance of a young Cynthia Nixon and the curse of the Addams movies, here are 20 Crazy Secrets Behind The Addams Family Movies.
20 It Started With A Song
While it is now something of a cult classic, the ‘60s Addams Family TV series never reached the lofty heights of The Munsters. Most of David Levy’s black-and-white show faded into obscurity apart from Vic Mizzy’s iconic theme tune. That was until a van full of execs resurrected the foul family for the big screen.
Speaking to the LA Times, producer Scott Rudin recalled how 1991’s The Addams Family first popped into his head thanks to a happy accident. "Everyone was there--(studio chiefs) Barry Diller and Leonard Goldberg and (marketing chief) Tom Sherak--when Tom's kid started singing 'The Addams Family' theme. And suddenly everyone in the van was singing the theme, letter perfect, note for note."
The next day, Rudin met with Diller to discuss the idea and got the response of “let’s do it.”
Thankfully, The Addams Family clicked its fingers in production alongside Mizzy's music, but getting to the finished wasn't easy by any means. Going $5 million over budget with rewrites, Orion pictures feared a major flip and handed the movie over to Paramount. Audiences will never know what the Orion movie would've ended up like, however, Paramount's version grossed $191 million against its $30 million production costs. Just think: all this from a kid singing in the back of a van.
19 No, Tim Burton didn't direct any of the movies
Just like the acclaimed A Nightmare Before Christmas, it is a common misconception that Tim Burton directed The Addams Family. Although there is a very Burton style to Sonnenfeld’s movies, the man behind Edward Scissorhands had nothing to do with the movie. However, the New York Times says that isn't to say that the studios hadn't thought about bringing Burton on board.
Elsewhere, Terry Gilliam’s out-there work on Monty Python and directing movies like Brazil and Time Bandits made him another hotly-tipped candidate to tackle the bizarre family of outcasts. Ultimately, it was Sonnenfeld who landed the job thanks to lending a hand on the likes of Big and When Harry Met Sally.
It was a risky gamble for the studio as it was Sonnenfeld’s directorial debut, but ultimately, one that paid off. Critical reception to The Addams Family was mixed, and while many people hold it dear to their hearts, it is hard not to picture Burton’s take on Charles Addams’ world. Gilliam would’ve definitely been a good choice, but there is no denying that Addams’ comic strip screams Burton.
Interestingly, Burton was later attached to a direct a stop-motion movie based on the original drawings, but as of 2013, the project has been canceled.
Sadly, it looks like Burton will never be able to put his own twisted slant on The Addams Family.
18 Cher Wanted To Play Morticia
There are wild rumors that Kim Basinger was once offered the part as Morticia Addams, but according to Rudin, there was only ever one woman who was going to be the dark matriarch of the family. However, for those who might have noticed a similarity between the character and a certain music diva, there could've been a world where Cher played Morticia.
Speaking to EW, Rudin confirmed that if Cher could “turn back time” she would’ve loved the part: "Cher was interested, but we never considered anyone else."
Let’s not detract from Cher’s acting talents for a second. Although these days she is remembered for the likes of her campy Will & Grace cameos or as Tess in Burlesque, she was brilliant back in the day with Moonstruck and even went on to star alongside Christina Ricci in Mermaids. She’s just hard to imagine as Morticia when compared to Anjelica Huston.
As well as her playing the Grand High Witch in The Witches, Huston will always be remembered as Morticia Addams. Easily beating those who have played her since, like Ellie Harvie and Daryl Hannah, Huston even topped Carolyn Jones’ original stint. Embodying the macabre Addams matriarch, Huston nailed everything from the facial expressions to the gentle gliding around the house.
17 Carol Kane Snuck Into The Sequel
Now known for her shrill squeals as the equally deranged Lillian Kaushtupper from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Carol Kane was a welcome addition to The Addams Family Values.
Grandmama Addams was only seen as a background character in the movies and even plays second fiddle to the disembodiedThing. However, even with a minor role, it didn’t stop fans noticing that a different actress played Grandma Addams in Values.
With news of a sequel, original actress Judith Malina was shunned in favor of someone a little closer to the cast and crew.
Unlike the TV series, Grandma Addams in the movies is actually the mother of Morticia, giving both Kane and Huston more time to bond on the set. As a personal friend of Anjelica since they were 19, a Kane was also a huge fan of Juliá, and had previously starred with Christopher Lloyd in Taxi.
Ironically, although she plays Morticia’s mother in the movie, Kane is actually 11 months younger than Huston.
No offense to Malina, but Kane just seems like a better fit as the groovy granny - a sentiment shared by Sonnenfeld and Rudin. BuzzFeed reveals that although she hadn’t been considered for the role before, Sonnenfeld asked Kane to meet for a casual chat, then offered her the part without an audition.
16 Values Was One Of Raúl Juliá’s Last Movies
Diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1991 and suffering from a series of illness after that, The Addams Family Values became one of Raúl Juliá’s last movies before his tragic passing at the age of 54.
Sadly, Juliá’s passing was just another sign that marked the end of the Sonnenfeld era of the franchise. Although a third movie had been planned, the middling gross of Values and Juliá’s passing meant that Saban purchased the rights and catastrophically rebooted the series with Addams Family Reunion. Not that there was anything wrong with Tim Curry being recast as Gomez, but if there were any critics who thought Values was a bit of a dud, try watching Addams Family Reunion.
The chemistry between Juliá and Huston echoed the twisted love between Gomez and Morticia perfectly and made them an electrifying screen couple. Raúl himself was said to have loved being recognized as Gomez and was all-too-eager to sign autographs for his fans.
Knowing that Values was one of his twilight movies, Juliá’s illness adds another somber layer to his brilliant rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. However, at least fans can fondly look back at his two-movie stint as the psychotic patriarch of the Addams household.
15 Anjelica's Sacrifices
No one said acting was a walk in the park, but Anjelica Huston has it tougher than most when playing Morticia.
In Watch Me – A Memoir, Huston claims that she based Morticia on Jerry Hall, although, it is doubtful that even Hall’s impressive beauty regime would’ve been as dramatic as Huston’s transformation.
Although petite anyway, the actress was shoehorned into a metal corset before filming, however, this was one of just many sacrifices she had to make as Morticia. Elsewhere, the crew would use string and spirit gum to pull back her eyes and give Morticia’s signature narrow gaze.
Speaking to EW, Huston revealed the hidden side to playing Mrs. Addams: "Come afternoon, I could be prone to a really good headache from my various bondages. And because I couldn’t lie down (in the corset) or rest, it was fairly exhausting.” While looking the part was one thing, acting it was a completely different one.
From the way Morticia moves to her understated calmness, Huston clearly put a lot of work into the part - and it paid off.
While many (rightly) have a soft spot for Carolyn Burke’s portrayal, there was something about Huston that was much more subtle. Even behind-the-scenes, the crew would light Huston separately to catch Morticia’s creepy highlights around the eyes. Out of all the performances, Huston’s is possibly the best.
14 There Was A Legal Battle
From Harry Potter to Game of Thrones, some major franchises have found themselves under the microscope, being accused of ripping off someone else's ideas.
While Charles Addams’ may have the unique claim to creating the family (mainly thanks to his name), the creators of the TV series weren’t quite as happy to share their ideas with Sonnenfeld. Back in 1992, David Levy still held the rights to the ‘60s series and decided to take on Paramount for the sum of $50 million.
Before Levy brought the characters to life on the small screen, Addams had only kept them as unnamed family members for the New Yorker. Levy gave the characters more personality and takes credit for imagining Thing- previously “The Thing” - as a disembodied hand. Elsewhere, Levy wanted credit for introducing the likes of Cousin Itt to the series.
Fans should note that Levy’s case only came to light after the surprising success of Paramount’s movie. Had The Addams Family been the box office blunder that many expected from the Orion era, it would’ve been interesting to see if Levy had been so keen to pursue his battle. Ultimately, the dispute could’ve cost the studio a fortune and thrown any hopes of The Addams Family Values out of the window. Thankfully, both parties settled out of court and the rest, as they say, is history.
13 Step Up
Up there with the treacherous Kamp Krusty, The Addams Family Values’ Camp Chippewa was a place of nightmares. While it may have just seemed like a twisted backdrop to dump the kids away from the main Debbie-Fester plot, scenes at Camp Chippewa were more complicated than viewers might think.
The Addams Family Values may not be the first movie audiences think of when it comes to complicated choreography, but according to BuzzFeed, Step Up’s Adam Shankman had his work cut out.
Taking the great honor of coming up with the dance movies for Values classics like "Eat Me" and “Happy, Happy Turkey Day” - good luck getting that one out of your head - Shankman painstakingly choreographed the musical numbers.
Seeing Jimmy Workman’s Pugsley dressed as a giant turkey alongside misfit campers like Consuela, Esther, Irwin, Jamal, Mordecai, Yang, and the aptly named Wheelchair Camper was a great contrast to the movie’s dark tone.
Shankman has an impressive CV that also includes So You Think You Can Dance, Hairspray, and A Walk to Remember, but The Addams Family Values is easily the most obscure. No one ever questioned why a Thanksgiving play took place in the middle of summer, but with such expertly crafted dance moves, who really cares?
12 Uncle Fester's Godfather Connection
For those scratching their heads at how the svelte Doc Brown from Back to the Future can transform into the Uncle Fester, it wasn’t just a cast of Christopher Lloyd eating a few donuts.
Looking like some sort of Igor-esque assistant, Lloyd’s portrayal was characterized by Fester’s pale skin, dark rings around the eyes, and a long trench coat. However, the coat was hiding a multitude of sins. According to Scribol’s 15 Trench Coats that Stole the Show in Movies (it really exists), Lloyd borrowed a rather famous prop to get into character as Gomez’s portly brother.
Bruno Kirby famously wore a fat suit on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II and loaned it to Lloyd to play the estranged Addams.
Just like Lloyd, Kirby wasn’t willing to pile on the pounds to play a young version of Richard S. Castellano’s “Fat” Pete Clemenza. Lloyd may have got most of Fester down to a tee, but you can understand why he might not want to undergo a full image change.
Up there with his madcap role as Emmett Brown, Lloyd turned in an amazing performance as Uncle Fester across the two movies. When he became the gross-out Fester Addams, it wasn’t just Joan Cusack’s Debbie who was disgusted by the lumbering loser.
11 A Hair-Raising Experience
It turns out the man behind Cousin Itt also didn’t have an easy time on the set of both Addams movies.
First appearing as creepy preacher Isaac in 1984’s Children of the Corn, actor John Franklin became unrecognizable as Cousin Itt.
A growth deficiency means that Franklin stands at just under 5 feet and was a suitable candidate to play the hairy Addams relative.
While anyone (or anything) could’ve been under that mass of hair, Sonnenfeld wanted to go for a more realistic approach. However, according to BuzzFeed, poor Franklin was forced to endure a wig that weighed 35 pounds. "It was insane. I only weigh a little over 100 myself."
More than just an endurance of strength, playing Cousin Itt was a test of stamina thanks to the unbearable heat. Franklin revealed that he had to wear a neck brace and a hoop skirt with a fan attached on the inside to keep him cool.
While many actors would’ve given up with such harsh conditions, Franklin says that working with the likes of Huston and Juliá made it all worth it. Unlike Malina, he was asked back to the sequel, which he attributes to his comedy timing with the Itt gibberish that had execs in hysterics. Itt went on to become a fan-favorite of the two moves, even spawning his own child “What” with Dana Ivey’s Margaret Alford.
10 Pubert was played by twin girls
Keeping with the out-there premise of the first movie, The Addams Family Values was just as weird and wacky. The film opened with another bouncing bundle of joy joining the family in the form of Pubert.
Gomez and Morticia had thought about calling him Lucifer, Benito, or Mao, but eventually settled on Pubert for the mustachioed marvel. While the character didn’t appear in the direct-to-video Addams Family Reunion, Wednesday says that there used to be a third sibling - until Pugsley ate him.
For anyone who thought Pubert was played by a fresh-faced baby boy who was “ookied” up for the movie, he was actually twin girls.
Now aged 25, the girls behind Pubert are Kaitlyn Hooper and Kristen Hooper, which might explain why Pubert looked extra adorable in those scenes where he was "sick" with his blonde ringlets and glowing cheeks.
The use of twins for babies is nothing new in TV and cinema, with the likes of Julian in Big Daddy, Lily in Modern Family, and Ben from Friends being played by identical twins. Thanks to California law, babies under two can only work two hours per day, so the use of twins can effectively double up the ability to film.
9 Michael Jackson's Canceled Song
From Prince singing on the Batman ‘89 soundtrack to R. Kelly with Space Jam, Hollywood is filled with some weird and wonderful movie music collaborations. The Addams Family was no exception, but after MC Hammer provided "Addams Family Groove" for the original, Paramount wanted to step it up a notch. The studio faced its own musical melodrama when Michael Jackson was supposed to sing on the soundtrack for The Addams Family Values.
Jackson’s horror-themed track “Is It Scary” was written specifically for Values, but when Jackson ran into legal accusations, the whole situation got a little bit awkward.
Screenwriter Paul Rudnick told BuzzFeed what happened: "I think he completed the video for it, but it was just a little too risky to include it in the final movie at that point. I think it involved him living in the Addams Family mansion and all of his neighbors storming the place with pitchforks and torches. So it was a little too close. (laughs) That's why it wasn't included."
Although “Is It Scary” eventually appeared on Jackson’s remix album Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix, it was scrubbed from the memory of Values.
8 'Carrie' On Camping
Having said that Anjelica Huston gave the best Addams Family performance may have been a bit of a stretch when we consider Joan Cusack’s lauded portrayal of Debbie Jellinsky in The Addams Family Values.
The Black Widow nanny of the Addams kids, Cusack’s role as Debbie is one of the ultimate cult characters out there. However, did anyone notice that Debbie’s demise echoed another icon of the silver screen?
After attempting to zap the life out of the entire family by strapping them to electric chairs, baby Pubert saved the day as Debbie was fried to a crisp. While Debbie was turned to just a pile of ash and a couple of Amex cards, the movie’s climax saw Wednesday being wooed by a Gomez-inspired Joel at Debbie’s graveside.
In reference to Brian De Palma’s Carrie and Sissy Spacek’s hand bursting from the grave at the end, Wednesday tried to terrify Joel with the same trick.
Although never confirmed, it is thought that the hand is actually Thing - not a reincarnated Debbie. Sonnenfeld was clearly inspired by some horror roots, but De Palma actually nabbed that idea from John Boorman's 1972 Deliverance, where a hand is seen reaching from a watery grave.
7 Barry Sonnenfeld's Cameos
There’s something about directors wanting to cameo in their own work. Alongside Tarantino, Hitchcock, and Brooks, Sonnenfeld didn’t want to miss out on all the fun.
In The Addams Family, audiences might remember and enraged Gomez playing with his train set. Ironically, the train crash sequence is another part of Levy’s legal case against the movie, but it fits nicely with the storyline. As Gomez sent two trains hurtling together, Sonnenfeld can be briefly seen as a passenger on the doomed locomotive.
Sneaking in a second cameo for Values, it was Sonnenfeld who played Mr. Glicker - the nerdy father of the equally geeky Joel. Krumholtz told BuzzFeed that working with Sonnenfeld was a joy in front of, and behind, the camera: "He was a fun guy. It was a blast... He's such a character. Barry's a real unique, one-of-a-kind person and he was perfect. We had worked on the film and then all of a sudden, he's playing my dad in that scene. He's so funny. I think I broke a couple times. He really made me laugh a lot. He's perfect. He's just absolutely perfect."
These days, Sonnenfeld is known for his work on Get Shorty, Men in Black, and Netflix’s recent A Series of Unfortunate Events. Thankfully, just like his Burton-inspired vision with The Addams Family, he still brings a dark sense of humor to his projects.
6 Winona Ryder's Inspiration
As some of Christina Ricci’s earliest roles, the likes of The Addams Family and Casper helped cement her as a child actress. There is something particularly gothic about a lot of her performances, which has led to being her being typecast in movies including Sleepy Hollow.
Looking at The Addams Family in particular, Ricci confessed to Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford that Lisa Loring from the TV show wasn't her main inspiration: “When I went up to audition, my mom told me to just sort of think of Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice. They’re similar characters, so then I auditioned and it worked for the audition.”
Given that Ricci and Ryder worked alongside Cher in Mermaids, it seemed like a logical jump to make. However, their relationship doesn't end there. According to an interview with EW, their relationship extended beyond Mermaids, meaning Ricci and Ryder are still friends to this day.
As for playing Wednesday, Ricci was effectively a mini-Morticia. Only aged 11, she had everything audiences could want out of the solemn little Addams, despite the source material’s more adult themes. As Ricci's interview shows, she had a great understanding of what made the tormented tyke tick.
5 Was Amanda A Girl Scout?
She may be best known as the vapid Harmony Kendall from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, but Mercedes McNab started out much earlier as a child actress.
Sonnenberg somehow managed to make Mercedes McNab into two different characters between both movies.
One of the first movie’s more memorable scenes was McNab playing a chirpy Girl Scout who happens across Wednesday and Pugsley's lemonade stand. McNab told BuzzFeed that she had been to over 100 auditions with no callbacks and even had to borrow her friend’s Girl Scout uniform for her Addams casting. Although McNab’s parents prepared her for failure - warning that the scene is so small it might be cut - the reference to all-natural lemons and “Are they made from real Girl Scouts” was so memorable it started being used in the trailer.
McNab returned for an altogether more brilliant role as the vile Amanda Buckman in Values, thought it was revealed that she still had to audition again. Both the Girl Scout and Buckman were cringeworthy characters that McNab excelled at playing, but could they be the same girl?
Not even Sonnenfeld will confirm whether the Girl Scout’s attitude would see her grow into Camp Chippewa’s golden girl, but you’d think someone like Amanda would remember crossing paths with the Addams clan twice!
4 Amanda's fate
Completing this list's two-entry homage to Mercedes McNab, The Addams Family Values had to add an extra scene because of Amanda.
As the polar opposite to Wednesday’s pale-faced portrayal of Pocahontas, McNab’s Amanda was cast as the starring role of Sarah Miller in Gary’s Thanksgiving celebration. It didn’t take long for Wednesday’s conditioning in the Harmony Hut to unravel, leading to bloodlust and bonfires at Chippewa. However, early test screenings left some viewers concerned that Amanda was burned at the stake - thanks to Joel and Wednesday finding her charred retainer - and it was said to have been a step too far.
McNab told BuzzFeed how the idea came to be and how Sonnenfeld had to add the plane scene with Baby Pubert: “They had to throw in that quick little shot of Amanda and her family on the plane ride home, just to convince the audiences that Amanda did survive and it was all in good fun. I guess [what happened in between] is left to the audience's imagination. Obviously, she escapes, but maybe Wednesday knocked some sense into my character. I mean, I doubt it, but…"
From covering carolers in boiling oil to burying Tully and Abigail Craven alive, the first movie didn’t skimp on the comedy violence. Would anyone have really complained if Amanda’s fate was left a mystery?
3 The Immortal Gomez Addams
By the time 1991 rolled around, there were sadly very few of the “original” Addams Family cast still alive. However, one has managed to outlive his co-stars and even some of Sonnenfeld’s cast.
The seemingly immortal John Astin is still alive and well at the age of 88.
To this day, only Astin, Lisa Loring (Wednesday), and Felix Silla (Cousin Itt) are still alive from the '60s series. Tragically Astin even outlived Ken Weatherwax - the man who played Pugsley on the show. Looking specifically at 1991’s movie, Astin outlives the previously mentioned Raúl Juliá, as well as Judith Malina, Elizabeth Welter Wilson (Abigail), and Paul Benedict (Judge Womack).
As well as playing Gomez, Astin is known for the stand-in version of the Riddler on the second season of the ‘60s Batman when Frank Gorshin wasn’t available. Elsewhere, Astin is remembered for National Lampoon's European Vacation and The Frighteners, but also returned post-1991 movie to provide the voice of Gomez on The Addams Family animated series.
To this day, Gomez is still a big part of his life, and it isn’t hard to see why. Astin’s influence on Juliá’s performance is obvious, providing a madcap family patriarch with a wide-eyed stare and playful side to his portrayal.
2 Cynthia Nixon's Cameo
Sure, having Governor of New York on your CV is pretty impressive, but is it really better than starring in The Addams Family Values?
When not playing the formidable Miranda Hobbes on HBO’s Sex and the City or plotting her own political campaign, Cynthia Nixon has enjoyed a flurry of roles in Tinsel Town. Starting out in ABC Afterschool Special The Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid, Nixon has some 39 years of Hollywood under her belt. Away from playing one of the gals on Darren Star’s show, Nixon has also starred in Amadeus and James White. Did did anyone spot her in The Addams Family Values?
Everyone loves a good montage, with Sonnenfeld being no exception. In his own Mary Poppins homage, Values saw Morticia auditioning suitable nannies to take care of her boisterous brood. As well a stiff-upper-lipped British nanny and the eventual choice of Cusack’s Debbie, eagle-eyed viewers will be able to clock a much younger Nixon.
Named Heather, Nixon played the hippie nanny who tried to champion her love of the environment.
In typical Addams style, Wednesday and Pugsley revealed that they would rather start forest fires than prevent them. Admittedly, it was only a minor part, but at least Nixon escaped the horrors of that haunted house.
1 The Curse Of The Addams Family
Can movies really be cursed? Well, as well as many of the cast and crew of movies like Poltergeist and The Omen dying in mysterious circumstances, Sonnenfeld became convinced that The Addams Family was cursed.
Firstly, there was the Orion incident, followed by Sonnenfeld passing out on the se,t and director of photography - Owen Roizman - quitting to work on another movie. Continuing a chain of misfortunes, Roizman’s replacement then quit, leaving Sonnenfeld to take over as DP, and finally, Juliá had to step away from filming briefly when he had a burst blood vessel in his eye.
Plagued with budget concerns and constant rewrites, there was a time that it looked like The Addams Family might never make it to theaters.
Speaking to the LA Times in 1991, Sonnefeld reported that he felt a “black cloud” hanging over production. A series of horrifying incidents marred The Addams Family, leading some to think it was more than just a coincidence. "This film's karma hasn't been very good."
However, with the overwhelming box office success of The Addams Family, at least the finished product managed to dodge the curse. That being said, it sounds like “Haunted Hollywood” managed to worry Sonnenfeld and the rest of the crew.
Do you know any other secrets about The Addams Family movies? Sound off in the comments below!