The 2007 movie Ghost Rider brought one of Marvel's more popular and enigmatic characters to the big screen. Nicolas Cage stepped into the title role and, given his penchant for risky acting choices, he seemed like a perfect fit for the edgy, flame-skulled motorcycle enthusiast. The film was a hit, earning $115 million at the North American box office. Interestingly, it seemed to appeal much more to newcomers than to existing fans, as the latter objected to the watered-down PG-13 tone.
Five years later, the sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was released, and it was an outright bomb. Critics scrambled to find synonyms for "awful," while audiences rejected it, leading to a gross that was less than half the original's. It might have been darker than the first one, yet it was also much less coherent. By virtually all counts, these films were massive creative disappointments that failed to realize the character's potential.
Unsurprisingly, for movies about a crazy hero, there are plenty of equally crazy behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the two Ghost Rider installments -- and not all of them involve Nicolas Cage! We'll break them down for you below.
Here are 15 Mind-Blowing Things You Didn't Know About The Awful Ghost Rider Movies.
15 Johnny Depp was the first choice
Ghost Rider hit screens in 2007, but there were multiple attempts to get a feature film version going before that. Talks of a cinematic adaptation first began in Hollywood all the way back in 1992, when Marvel started negotiating with various studios to license their stable of characters. It came close to happening five years after that, as Terminator producer Gale Anne Hurd and Jumanji writer Johnathan Hensleigh attempted to get one up and running.
Another effort came a little closer to fruition in 2000. The Weinstein-owned Dimension Films brought in writer David Goyer and director Stephen Norrington, both of whom were hot off their Blade adaptation, for a Ghost Rider movie that would have been budgeted at $75 million. For the lead, they wanted none other than Johnny Depp, and it was said that the actor was very interested in accepting before the project fell apart.
14 Nicolas Cage dropped out at one point
Nicolas Cage was involved in Ghost Rider for quite some time before it actually came to fruition. He was attached to a previous iteration that director Stephen Norrington had been unsuccessfully working to mount for years with various actors. Both became frustrated with the delays. Norrington eventually walked away, going on to develop a different project, Tick Tock, that was abandoned after 9/11.
Believe it or not, Cage also dropped out for a time.
He was all set to star in DC's adaptation of Hellblazer, much to the dismay of that comic's creator, Alan Moore.
The notoriously opinionated writer wanted musician Sting, on whom he'd originally modeled the main character. In the end, of course, Sting did not play the role, nor did Cage. The final version, redubbed Constantine, found Keanu Reeves in the lead and Cage returned to the Ghost Rider fold.
13 Cage's awkward tattoo problem
Like many people, including some of the biggest celebrities in the world, Nicolas Cage has tattoos. Though he's had a couple of fake ones in movies, he has a few that are real. A lot of times, there's really no need for an actor to cover their tattoos for a role, unless they're playing a character who, for one reason or another, wouldn't have them.
Cage's case was unique, because one of his tats is of Ghost Rider.
The large tattoo of the character's flaming skull is prominently displayed on his left bicep. You can see the dilemma here. Most people, even motorcycle-riding guys who can set their own skulls aflame, don't walk around sporting tats of themselves. Such behavior would be awkward, at best.
To get around the problem, Cage had to have his Ghost Rider ink covered with makeup so that it would not be visible onscreen.
12 Extreme filming techniques
Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are known for their frenetic approach to action. These are the guys who made the Crank pictures, after all. They specialize in wild, over-the-top imagery and hyperactive editing techniques. The men applied their trade in most unusual ways on the set of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
Neveldine, in particular, was willing to engage in what Nicolas Cage called "daredevil camera work."
For several shots, he wore rollerblades and then allowed himself to be pulled by motorcycles while his camera rolled. Another sequence found him placed in a harness, along with a stuntman, and launched into the air over a steep cliff. Amazingly, and more than a little foolishly, he didn't wear a helmet during these dangerous moments.
Although the movie itself was a bust, the commitment to achieving some insane action shots is impressive.
11 The cameo you missed
It's always fun to spot new talent in a movie. Sometimes, though, an actor who goes on to become famous has a minuscule part in a film, and you don't pay a bit of attention. Only much later, after fame has fully arrived, do you find yourself shocked to discover that you've seen this person before.
Viewers who saw Ghost Rider during its original run had no idea they were seeing future star Rebel Wilson playing the character "Girl in Alley."
Wilson has one minute of screen time, during which she tells disbelieving news reporter Eva Mendes about her sighting of a mysterious skull-headed figure riding a flaming motorcycle. Ghost Rider marked the American movie debut of the future Pitch Perfect actress. She'd made one previous film in her native Australia, and done a small bit of TV work there. Her role as "Girl in Alley" proved to be her entry into Hollywood.
10 Idris Elba's eye connection
What do Moreau in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Heimdall in the Thor movies have in common? The obvious answer is that both are played by actor Idris Elba. However, there's a hidden connection between them that you may not have caught. Here's a hint: it's all in the eyes.
Elba told CinemaBlend that since playing Heimdall required him to wear contacts that made his eyes look weird, he insisted on doing the same when he portrayed Moreau. "Because this character is in the same Marvel family, and it's by the same actor, I thought to myself, 'Why not connect the two characters?'" the actor explained.
He also indicated that, should he ever be asked to appear as any other characters in a movie associated with Marvel, he will make the same request, so as to keep them all "related."
9 Ghost Rider's voice trick
Ghost Rider undoubtedly has a very distinct, jarring look. The way the visual effects team brought that look to life for the movies retains every ounce of its power. Although not as obvious a concern, how the character sounds is almost as important as how he appears.
A cool-looking figure with a dopey voice would have made the film even worse.
Fortunately, Oscar-winning sound designer Dane Davis had a plan to give Ghost Rider a suitably menacing sound. It started, of course, with Nic Cage's own line readings. Davis then used digital mixing technology to meld the actor's voice with three different animal growls, which were played in reverse, just to amplify the oddness. Each of those growls was on a different frequency, too.
The end result was a demonic voice that, combined with the visuals, sealed the deal on a credible Ghost Rider.
8 8 Eva Mendes' insecurity
In Ghost Rider, Eva Mendes was cast as Roxanne Simpson, a reporter who is also Johnny Blaze's ex-girlfriend. Mendes, who is of Cuban origin, has dark hair and eyes, making her far different from the version of Roxanne found on the pages of comic books. It was a fact that gave her more than a little trepidation when taking on the role.
She admitted that nervousness to Collider. Pointing out that Roxanne in the comics is "blonde and Caucasian, blue-eyed, not me," Mendes said she worried that fans would reject her in the role. Then a light bulb went on. "I realized she was very, very voluptuous in the comic books. She had massive boobage and hips," the actress revealed.
Recognizing that as something she could seize upon, Mendes stopped watching what she ate and allowed her body to replicate that voluptuousness.
7 Cage's 3D X-ray
Moving such a distinct character from the page to the screen posed a challenge. Obviously, there was no way Nicolas Cage could physically portray Ghost Rider during the scenes where he's a flaming skull. There's just no safety equipment to allow an actor to have their head set ablaze.
CGI was clearly the only option, but then it wouldn't quite be Cage anymore.
To get around the problem, the production melded the two. Special censors were put around the actor's head in order to get a 3-dimensional x-ray of it, from which Ghost Rider's skull was created. The process required Cage to lay still for a couple of hours so the scan could be complete. While that may have been somewhat arduous, he was pleased with the end result, as it put a substantial piece of him into the CGI creations.
6 Wes Bentley's substance problems
The devil and his son are the two villains in Ghost Rider. Peter Fonda plays the former, and Wes Bentley, the latter. Bentley's career lit up with a supporting role in 1999's Oscar-winning Best Picture American Beauty, but had cooled off considerably by the time he appeared in this film. The reason for that is he was in the midst of a very serious substance abuse problem.
In a 2010 interview with the New York Times, the actor revealed that from 2002 to 2009, his commitment to movies wavered. Instead, his focus was getting drunk and wasted. He accepted screen roles only intermittently in order to earn money for substances. His performances in those films, including Ghost Rider, were lackadaisical because he wasn't sober during the production.
"I wasn't bringing my A-game to any of them," he later told the Hollywood Reporter.
Thankfully, Bentley eventually found sobriety.
5 A stuntman sued after an accident
Any movie with crazy stunts on the level of those found in Spirit of Vengeance runs the risk of accident and injury. In this case, though, a catastrophe took place during the filming of a promotional segment for the movie's DVD release.
Stuntman "Crazy Mike" Gaboff was supposed to jump a motorcycle off a six-story ramp and into a body of water while on fire as an homage to the character. He ended up overshooting the lake, causing him to slam into the ground on the other side. Gaboff broke his back upon impact. He additionally suffered second-degree burns and two collapsed lungs.
The stuntman sued Sony Pictures for $1 million to cover his extensive medical bills, claiming proper safety precautions had not been taken. Sony responded by claiming that Gaboff was "fully responsible for the design and execution of the stunt."
4 The sequel was rushed into production
Despite coming five years after the original, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was green-lit under less than ideal circumstances.
Sony had previously secured screen rights to the character from Marvel. After the first film became a hit, there was little doubt that a sequel would follow. For a variety of reasons, including Nicolas Cage's busy schedule, that didn't happen right away. Sony found itself in a position where it had to get a movie into production quickly or the Marvel licensing deal would go kaput. In other words, Sony had to start shooting something by a specific date or lose the franchise.
Rushing the movie into production meant that the time and care weren't put into getting the story just right.
3 Spirit of Vengeance failed its target audience
Butt-Numb-a-Thon is an annual event in Austin, Texas, specifically geared toward fans of horror, sci-fi, action, and superhero movies. The whole premise is that attendees watch (and try to stay wake for) each year's programmed films over the course of twenty-four straight hours. It's literally a whole day in a theater seat, watching genre movies.
By all logical measures, Spirit of Vengeance should have killed at BNAT.
The exact target audience for the movie was there, and everyone was excited for an advance look. Following its screening, Sony executives knew they had a big problem on their hands. The crowd absolutely hated it. Social media lit up with negative reactions from both professional critics and average movie buffs in attendance.
That disastrous sneak preview gave the first indication of what a bomb the sequel would turn out to be.
2 The sequel directors liked shooting Cage more than the action
Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor pride themselves on creating action sequences like no other. It's what they're admired for. No one would ever associate them with subtle character studies, that's for sure. It therefore comes as a shock to learn that their favorite days on the set of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance weren't the ones with big, over-the-top action scenes, but rather the relatively calmer moments with Nic Cage as Johnny Blaze.
Taylor told Digital Trends that they cherished shooting non-action scenes featuring the actor because of the patented intense energy and offbeat creative choices that Cage routinely brings to his work. "The biggest rush we had were the Nic days," Taylor said, "when we knew we were gonna get to be that close to a performance that you know is going to live on on YouTube forever."
1 Cage based his performance on his pet snake
Where do actors get their inspiration? Sometimes they borrow traits from people they know for their characters. Other times, the script is just so vivid that they interpret and build upon what's already on the page. And then there's Nicolas Cage in the Ghost Rider movies.
His performance as the title character was inspired by -- get this -- his pet snake.
During a morning talk show appearance with Kelly Ripa and co-host Josh Groban, he revealed that his cobra Sheba provided a basis from which he could work. The snake apparently disliked its owner and would turn its back on him, then sway back and forth. That little bit of behavior seemed like it could be adapted for Ghost Rider.
"If you look at the movie, you see me doing this," Cage said of the ritual, "and then I spin around and leap at my victims."
Which of the two Ghost Rider movies do you think is worse? Give us all your thoughts in the comments.