Don’t have sex, don’t drink or do drugs, and don’t, under any circumstances, say you’ll be right back. These are the cardinal rules set forth in Wes Craven’s slasher classic, Scream, and they’ve been embedded in the back of horror movie fans’ minds for the last 20 years. No one could have predicted that the witty, gory thriller about a Ghostface killer and his unsuspecting victims would go on to become a hit when it was released on December 20, 1996. It surpassed expectations, though, and spawned three successful sequels, as well as an MTV series with a new generation of killers and self-aware victims. To date, Scream is one of the most successful horror movie franchises in history.
Whether you’re a die-hard fan or just a casual observer, the series has a fascinating and storied history. Either way, there are probably at least a few pieces of lore that have passed you by in the years since the first film hit theaters. Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Scream.
15 It was originally called Scary Movie
When screenwriter Kevin Williamson first got the inspiration to pen a slasher film, he didn’t have to think hard about what it should be called. Since his idea centered around a group of teenagers who spend as much time discussing horror movies as they do living (and dying) through them, Scary Movie seemed like the perfect title. In fact, when Dimension Pictures bought the script and started production, that was still Scream’s working title.
It wasn’t until just before filming had wrapped that the Weinsteins decided they wanted to go with something that reflected the elements of satire and comedy within the film. Strangely enough, they settled on Scream because they liked the Michael Jackson song of the same name. Dimension decided to hang onto the original title for a few years – it is a pretty good title – and gave it to the Wayans Brothers when they created their own satirical series in 2000. In a piece of especially perfect irony, one of the main movies that Scary Movie parodied was, of course, Scream.
14 The first film was based on a true story
With a creepy murderer, a high body count, and plenty of blood and guts, Scream is definitely scary enough all on its own. It’s even creepier, though, when you consider that the first film in the franchise was partially inspired by a true story. Kevin Williamson incorporated some aspects of a real-life killing spree as he was writing his screenplay. Although the connections between the two stories are loose at best, the details of the Gainesville Ripper are pretty chilling all on their own.
The 1990 case involved the murder of five college students, a case of mistaken identity, and a high profile investigation and trial. Ultimately, a 36-year-old drifter named Danny Rolling confessed to the murders and was sentenced to death. Williamson incorporated elements of the Gainesville case into his original screenplay – for example, the false imprisonment of Cotton Weary for Sidney’s mothers death was inspired by the police’s initial arrest of a schizophrenic young Gainesville student. Regardless of how closely Scream followed the horrific events in Florida, it’s always extra spooky when you find out that art is imitating life.
13 The franchise could have had very different stars
Sidney Prescott and Billy Loomis are, in many ways, the perfect horror movie couple. He’s charming but has an insidious side that makes us constantly question his motives. She’s got a dark past and a secret strength that makes her an ideal scream queen. In hindsight, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich bringing these characters to life (and, uh, death) – but their chance at horror movie stardom almost didn’t happen. A whole host of other actors were considered for the leading roles in Scream, including Brittany Murphy and Justin Whalin.
At one point, Reese Witherspoon was offered the role of Sidney, though she turned it down to star in the also-spookily named Fear. Joaquin Phoenix, likewise, turned down the chance to play Billy Loomis. Obviously, both of their careers turned out okay in the end, and they did star together in Walk The Line, a movie that had 100% more duets and 100% less murder.
12 Drew Barrymore was originally cast in a different role
Everyone who’s seen Scream remembers Drew Barrymore’s harrowing performance as Casey Becker, the ill-fated first victim of Ghostface. Her pitch perfect performance, which turns from amusement, to annoyance, and finally abject terror, made the opening sequence of the film completely unforgettable. By casting Barrymore in this role, Scream’s creators set up a Psycho-style fake out for those of us who expected the child star to be one of the film’s main characters. That wasn’t the original plan, though.
In fact, she was originally cast as the bright, resourceful and haunted protagonist, Sidney Prescott. Scheduling conflicts prevented Barrymore from taking on the leading role, so Neve Campbell took her place, but Scream’s creative team was able to keep her on board. Ultimately, her performance as Casey was vital to the film’s success. She drew us in instantly, and her shocking death quickly showed us that Scream wasn’t going to be like other scary movies we’d seen.
11 Wes Craven didn't want to direct Scream
When people talk about Wes Craven being a Master of Horror, they almost always mention his name in the same breath as the Scream franchise. After all, aside from the Nightmare on Elm Street series, which he created but was largely absent from in later years, it’s his most successful film. That’s why it’s so difficult to fathom a reality in which the Scream juggernaut was led by anyone else – but that really almost happened.
The veteran director was Bob Weinstein’s first choice for Scream, because he’d done such a good job in the past mixing horror and comedy. Craven, on the other hand, was busy working on other projects at the time, and not entirely sure he wanted to keep doing horror at all. Dimension looked into hiring others, including up-and-coming directors like Danny Boyle and Robert Rodriguez, and horror legends like Sam Raimi and George Romero. Eventually, though, when Craven heard that Drew Barrymore had signed on to star in the film, he reconsidered the offer, thinking that a project like Scream could very well set itself apart from other horror films. Spoiler alert: he was right, and not just because of his awesome cameo as a Freddy Krueger-esque janitor.
10 Rose McGowan had to change her look to play Tatum
As Tatum Riley, Sidney’s best friend and most ardent defender, Rose McGowan set the bar pretty high for horror movie sidekicks. Sure, her time in Scream was brief, but her best moments, from punching Gale to getting in Ghostface’s, uh, face, are some of the series’ most enjoyable. Plus, her death-by-garage-door is arguably the most unforgettable and iconic of the entire franchise.
While she’s easily recognizable by her penchant for neon clothing and her platinum blonde hair, at one point, Tatum was going to have a very different look altogether. Rose McGowan’s natural hair color is brown, and when she was cast in Scream, there weren’t any plans for her to change it. After Neve Campbell stepped into the role of Sidney, however, the film’s producers began to worry that the two women would look too similar since they both had dark hair. Some reports have indicated that McGowan was forced to dye her hair blonde to keep the role, but the actress recently said it was her idea. Even though she hated the look, she admits it fit her character perfectly.
9 Ghostface was actually on the phone during filming
From the very opening moments of Scream, which begins with the sound of a telephone ringing, Ghostface establishes himself as a wholly modern killer. He plays with his victims by engaging them in witty banter about scary movies, only to turn on them in an instant, catching them entirely off guard. These sequences are the backbone of what makes Scream work as a thriller, and that’s largely thanks to the performances of all the actors involved.
While we all know Billy and Stu were the two young men wearing the cloak and mask, an actor named Roger L. Jackson was the man behind his sinister voice. To make sure that that Drew Barrymore and Neve Campbell were able to really tap into the fear that they needed to give convincing performances, Wes Craven took an unorthodox approach to filming these crucial scenes.
First of all, he didn’t let the actresses meet their tormentor, which kept up an illusion of mystery. Then, instead of having Jackson record his lines and playing them back when they shot the scenes, the actor was actually on set, interacting with them in real time through the phone.
8 The producers hated the Ghostface mask
The ghoulish Cab Calloway-inspired mask is without a doubt the most iconic aspect of the Scream franchise. It’s easily recognizable around the world, and right up there with Michael Myers’ and Jason Voorhees’ in terms of sheer spookiness. The film’s crew discovered one like it while scouting for locations, and had the costume department create something similar, since they didn’t own the rights. But before they could formalize it as the killer’s official disguise, Craven and co. had one major hurdle left to overcome.
Bob Weinstein reportedly watched some raw footage from the early days of Scream’s shoot and complained that the mask wasn’t scary at all, but rather “goofy.” Some producers wanted to halt production, but Weinstein asked that they continue on filming, with one caveat. He wanted to see footage with several different mask options, so he could see which one he liked best. Ultimately, the legendary producer conceded that the Ghostface mask was, in fact, suitable. Now, the mask is the stuff of legend – and countless Halloween costumes.
7 Scream wasn’t a hit at first
These days, the Scream franchise is known around the world as one of the most successful horror movie series of all time. With four films and a spin-off TV show, it’s definitely made its mark on the pop culture landscape, and forever changed how we think about scary movies. When it first hit theaters in 1996, however, it wasn’t exactly an unqualified success.
Dimension released it just a week before Christmas, and it was up against Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! and the blockbuster Jerry Maguire. With mixed reviews from critics and a perfect storm of poor timing and less-than-stellar promotion, Scream made just $6 million in its opening weekend. However, it had one very important thing going for it: the people who did see it liked it a lot – and they told their friends. Strong word of mouth helped propel Scream from a potential box office disaster to a sleeper hit. In the end, Scream stayed in theaters for eight months and grossed over $170 million worldwide.
6 Caller ID use increased after Scream
The mid-‘90s were a simpler time, one full of landline telephones and the quiet despair of having to answer the phone without any idea who could be on the line. That prospect was more than just a nuisance for some, but a perceived threat. After all, the person on the other end of the phone could be a telemarketer, or worse – a deranged killer wanting to quiz you on your horror movie knowledge.
When Scream hit it big, it wasn’t just a commercial success. There were other hints that it had seeped into our everyday lives, too. For one, there was a surprising increase in the sale of caller identification devices. Sales reports from the time indicated that use of the now mostly obsolete technology more than tripled in the months after Scream was released. In other words, Scream did to the telephone what Birds did to, uh, a large flock of birds: it made us want to stay as far away as possible.
5 Robert Rodriguez directed the movie-within-the-movie, Stab
These days, Robert Rodriguez is best known to film fans as the director of Sin City and Machete. Back in 1996, he was just starting to prove himself as an inventive and resourceful filmmaker with films like El Mariachi, Desperado, and From Dusk ‘Til Dawn. With many of his projects, he’s shown that he has a real knack for mixing the absurd, the comedic, and the downright scary into an entertaining package. Though he didn’t get a chance to direct Scream after Wes Craven signed on, he did get an offer to direct the film-within-a-film in its successful sequel, Scream 2.
Rodriguez wasn’t just cited as the director for Stab – he actually directed the clips from the film that we see throughout the movie. Though we only get a glimpse of his work with Heather Graham and Tori Spelling, it’s clear that he knew exactly how to strike a balance between satire and homage for the original film. Hey, maybe if they ever decide to do a fifth film, Rodriguez will be the man to take the reigns.
4 Scream 2's script was one of the first ever leaked online
Anticipation was high as soon as Dimension announced a sequel to Scream. Fans were eager to see what kind of fresh horror awaited Sidney, Gale, Randy and Dewey – and whether Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven could possibly top what they’d already accomplished. This was back in 1997, when the internet was very much a thing, but movie studios hadn’t really figured that out yet. As a result, there were few safeguards in place to prevent the highly coveted script from being leaked, and it hit the web faster than you can say, “What’s your favorite scary movie?”
Williamson had to rewrite large chunks of Scream 2 to avoid having major plot points (like the identity of the killers) be common knowledge before the movie hit theaters. With later installments of the franchise, strict measures were put in place to keep the films’ secrets under wraps. In Scream 3, Craven filmed multiple endings and told almost no one which one he was going to use. The director also joked that he employed the CIA to help keep the details of Scream 4 under wraps.
3 Scream has one of the highest body counts in horror history
Throughout the four films in the Scream series, a total of seven seemingly-normal-but-actually-evil characters donned Ghostface’s iconic mask. They’ve terrorized small towns, college campuses and movie sets alike, and proven they have no problem killing even the most innocent of victims to make their point.
As a result, a lot of blood has been spilled in the Scream franchise over the years. By the time the credits rolled on the last installment, there were a total of 41 kills throughout all four movies. That’s everyone from iconic kills like Randy and Cotton; random tertiary victims like that really likeable cameraman who was gutted in Scream and Anthony Anderson’s gullible-and-goofy police officer in Scream 4; and even the killers themselves.
To be fair, the Scream body count does pale in comparison to the hundreds that Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers have taken out over the years. Having said that, those series have had a lot more movies and potential victims over the years, so we’d say Scream’s aptitude for death is still pretty impressive.
2 The three main characters accomplished a unique feat
Usually, it’s the monsters or killers themselves that keep fans coming back for new chapters in our favorite horror movie franchises. In this series’ case, though, it was often as much about watching to see if the heroes would live to scream another day. Sidney, Dewey, and Gale were the only characters that managed to survive the seven Ghostface killers, though the headlining trio all came pretty close to dying on multiple occasions. In doing so, they earned the Scream series a unique distinction – it’s the only horror franchise in which all of the main characters survive all the films.
In Friday the 13th, the characters rotate out, meaning that there’s no consistent main survivor. In Halloween, Laurie survives, but she’s the only one, making her a prime example of the lone survivor trope. Then there’s Nightmare on Elm Street, where poor Nancy almost made it, until she died a horrible death in Part 3. Scream may not have set all that many records in its day, but keeping its core cast alive was a pretty good parting gift for fans.
1 Scream 4 was Wes Craven’s final movie
When Wes Craven died in 2015, he left behind a remarkable body of work. From his early days with The Last House on the Left to his groundbreaking work on A Nightmare on Elm Street, he paved the way for future horror filmmakers. While he occasionally took a detour from the genre that made him famous with movies like Paris je t’aime and Music of the Heart, he was first and foremost a scare-master.
So it seems fitting that the last film he ever made, Scream 4, was a part of one of the franchises that truly cemented his legacy. The final installment in the film series hit theaters in 2011, four years before he died. While it's not the best Scream film by any means, it was full of all the elements that truly made Craven stand out as a director – dark humor, sharp wit, inventive storytelling, and a whole lot of scares.
What’s your favorite scary movie? Let us know in the comments!