Cigarettes in closed places, high side ponytails, mullets, and saxophones in the background when things get tough…this classic ’80s film has it all. The ultimate cop movie, Lethal Weapon, is a story of a crazy-eyed officer (Martin Riggs) on the verge of suicide and his buddy cop (Roger Murtaugh) who, despite being “too old for this sh*t,” agrees to take him along for the ride.
Since its release in 1987, Lethal Weapon has become a franchise with four films and a small screen spinoff. But fans have been eagerly waiting for a fifth installment, and, lucky for them, producers have announced that it’s in the making!
Let’s take a deep dive into some of the most surprising and memorable facts about this explosive franchise.
Shane Black was 22 when he wrote the first draft of Lethal Weapon, and it took him less than six weeks! But he had to overcome a whole lot of self-doubt on the way. He seriously hated it at first and thought it was complete garbage, which is why he actually tossed it in the bin.
He confessed, “I thought it was dreadful.” Luckily, the writer came to his senses and snatched the work out of the trash. When it was finished, Warner Bros. bought the script for $250,000. But Black didn’t rush to show off his new-found riches. He kept living with his roommates for a while and rode his rusted Mustang convertible as if nothing major had happened.
The plotlines, the characters, basically everything was a whole lot darker in Black’s mind when he wrote the script. But Warner Bros. tweaked it a bit and presented the audience with a “prettier” version.
Lead characters Riggs and Murtaugh were supposed to be a lot more disturbed – PTSD victims who were borderline psychotic, to be exact. For example, Riggs was supposed to use a rocket launcher to take down a sniper, but he was a bit more polite in the film and opted for a simple gun instead.
Black drew inspiration from one of his favorite films, Dirty Harry. He loved the idea of a “violent character recruited for being the one that could solve the problem” and envisioned Riggs to be kind of like an urban Western Frankenstein.
He admitted, “We think that we’re all placid and tame, but in fact, violence intrudes in a horrible way, and then they have to knock on Frankenstein’s cage and say, ‘Well, we kind of need you even though we hate and revile you. Please come out and kill these people for us.'”
Almost a decade before Lethal Weapon, Richard Donner was busy directing one of the greatest superhero films of all time. Superman became a worldwide hit and catapulted Donner into the spotlight. But despite the movie’s success, he was fired from Superman II.
Donner struggled for a few years to find another blockbuster hit until Lethal Weapon came along and revived his spirit! He ended up directing all four films and is currently busy cooking up the fifth installment.
Lucky director Richard Donner got the opportunity of his life to work on Lethal Weapon after Leonard Nimoy turned the offer down. Nimoy wasn’t comfortable directing action movies at the time and preferred to work on Three Men and a Baby instead.
Donner was elated and began his search for the perfect guys to play Riggs and Murtaugh. And he says he chose well: ” Mel Gibson and Danny Glover were two… well, there’s no way to describe how great they are to work with and what wonderful human beings they are. They’re crazy, both of them, absolutely nuts, but a delight to work with.
What made the movie such a hit was how different it was from previous “buddy-cop” films. Gibson explained that Riggs and Murtaugh had a depth to them that wasn’t found in other police films. They were “real characters” who did more than grunt and throw random punches here and there.
Danny Glover couldn’t agree more: “It’s the humor, mixed with the action and the special effects. All that came together at that particular time. And the chemistry between the two of us was undeniable.” Lethal Weapon brought something new to the table and set the bar high for other action films to come.
It’s usually weird to imagine other actors in roles that you’re already familiar with. But in this case, it’s easy to see why recruiters felt that Willis was the perfect guy to play skilled gunman Riggs. But the actor had his eyes on another movie at the time – Die Hard.
Funny enough, Gibson was offered the role of John Mclaine in Die Hard, and we all know how that ended. The actors swapped roles, and it turned out great for both of them! While Gibson roamed the streets of L.A., Willis battled the evils of New York.
When cast director Marion Dougherty first suggested Glover to play Murtaugh’s role, Donner’s initial reaction was, in his words, “completely stupid.” He blurted, “But he’s Black!” even though he knew Shane wrote the character with no ethnicity in mind.
Donner realized how ridiculous he sounded and immediately thought to himself, “Whoa, f*ck, here’s Mr. Liberal.” He claims his reaction completely changed his way of thinking, and he thanks Marion for suggesting such a genius idea. Glover really was the best guy to play Murtaugh.
Donner told The New York Times that he wanted the film to be violent, but not to the point of disgust. He didn’t want any flying body parts, he preferred flying bullets. And he didn’t want any dismembered limbs, he preferred attached arms throwing punches in the air.
He explained, “I like to turn my head away in suspense, not in disgust. I think the audiences feel like I do, and that’s why people like the film and come back to see it a second time.” Shane Black, on the other hand, wrote some nasty scenes in his initial draft. So Donners had to tone it down a bit.
Remember Mel Gibson’s impressive triangle choke? He went through some hardcore training to pull that move off. As well as his co-stars Danny Glover and Gary Busey. They were all given intense lessons in Jiu-Jitsu, Taekwando, Capoeira, and Jailhouse Rock (a form of fighting that began in U.S. prisons).
Lethal Weapon was actually one of the first films that showcased the incredibly powerful Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Busey claimed it was a life-changing experience: “The ambitious discipline, the follow-through, the focus it takes to make that work builds a champion of everything that is a part of you.”
Director Richard Donner used the scenes’ background to sneak in secret messages. If you look close enough, you’ll realize that the posters on the wall or the stickers on the refrigerator aren’t “just there.” They were carefully chosen.
One sticker got him into deep trouble: the “Free South Africa, End Apartheid” on Murtaugh’s fridge in the first film. It was subtle enough, but people noticed, and he received numerous death threats following the movie’s release. He stands behind and believes that “if you can make a good entertainment and sneak a message in, super.”
Shane Black had a different idea for the film’s opening and ending scenes. For example, we’re first introduced to Riggs when he wakes up in his caravan with his dog staring at his butt naked body. But Black’s original draft had Riggs chilling with some dock workers, who end up tormenting some passing dog out of boredom, and heroic Riggs goes crazy on them.
And the ending? Instead of a warm Christmas dinner invitation by Murtaugh, the two buddies were supposed to part ways, with Riggs telling his friend not to quit just because he feels like “he’s too old for this.” We’re glad they switched it up! A dinner invitation is more appropriate for these two buddies.
Filmed in 1986, Lethal Weapon flaunted some impressive gadgets which would be considered incredibly chunky, funny-looking, and seriously uncomfortable today. Nonetheless, they were viewed as the pinnacle of technology at the time!
This includes Murtaugh’s suitcase phone – a massive Portable Radio Shack Model 17-1003. Can you imagine running around the city like that with a suitcase as a phone? How are you supposed to have your hands free to fight off the bad guys?
Exhausted, Murtaugh felt that he had little energy left for the outrageous things he had to deal with. And having a sidekick like Riggs just added to his despair. But in reality? Both Glover and Gibson were a lot younger than their characters.
Mel Gibson was only 30 years old when the movie was filmed, while his character Riggs was 38. And Glover was 40 years old while onscreen Murtaugh was 50. You can’t really tell there’s an age difference when watching the film, but it’s just a fun fact to know.
Gibson and Glover’s onscreen friendship was incredible to watch. They were able to act out the authentic bond between police officers who spend hours upon hours patrolling the city together. Gibson explained, “A lot of those guys become friends or become dependent on each other. They get a bond through desperation.”
He continued, “Because we used to go out on night patrols, you get this feeling of vulnerability. It’s the same with the film. It’s kind of a feeling of desperation in a way. It’s scary when you embark on something like that because you’re exposing yourself in a way, so a bond forms. And he’s a good actor and a nice guy. So, it normally happened; it was easy.”
Shane Black loves writing scripts that take place at Christmastime because he feels like “it’s unifying, and all your characters are involved in this event that stays within the larger story.” He says it adds a touch of wonder to the film and stresses how important it is to add that cozy feel.
He’s got a point. Is there anything more magical than seeing Mel Gibson throw punches at Gary Busey under the Christmas tree? We think not. So, if you’re looking for a film to cuddle up to as snow falls outside your window, Lethal Weapon is your best bet.
Remember Amanda Hunsaker’s topless leap off a towering skyscraper? It was short but memorable. Kind of funny, but mostly tragic. And most incredibly of all, it was real. Jackie Swanson jumped all by herself, no stuntman needed!
She went through extensive training to prepare herself for the giant fall. And when the moment of truth arrived, she plunged herself into the air and fell into a large, hidden airbag. Her elegant fall charmed us all.
It’s hard to forget Gibson’s suicidal scene. The trembling, the despair, the gun in Rigg’s hands. And, of course, Bugs Bunny in the background singing to his heart’s content (because you got to have that cynical contrast).
Richard Donner wanted to perfect the moment, and he did so by loading Gibson’s gun with live blanks (not real bullets, but still painful). He believed that would ignite some actual fear in the actor. When the crew heard “cut!” everyone sighed in relief and quickly snatched the gun from Gibson’s hand.
The film is dedicated to “one of the motion picture industry’s greatest stuntman – Dar Robinson.” He did some incredible things on Lethal Weapon, but also in movies like Nighthawks and Airplane! Sadly, a month after filming wrapped, he died in a motorcycle accident.
Robinson “set new benchmarks in stunt performances” and was also a great teacher. He prepped Amanda Hunsaker for her epic jump and showed the rest of the cast how extreme acts ought to be done. Sadly, Robinson’s bike went off a cliff, and he ended up losing his life.
In Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs runs into Rika (Patsy Kensit) at a supermarket and is desperate to ask the Dutch bombshell out on a date. He urges her with a “come on, say yes, be original,” as he holds on to her shopping basket for dear life. After a lot of “no no no,” Rika eventually gives in.
This leads to their steamy scene where they passionately roll around the sheets and make love. Patsy claimed it was great but also kind of disappointing. While she had to strip for the scene, Gibson was allowed to keep some things to himself. She confessed: “When we did a love scene, I was butt-naked, but he had his modesty pouch thing. So I didn’t see it, and I didn’t look. But he was a great kisser.”
In Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs refers to Rudd, Vorstedt, and their associates as the “Master Race.” He also mispronounces Arjen Rudd’s name as “Aryan” and intentionally calls Vorstedt “Adolf.” The fact that Vorstedt actually looked like Hitler fell perfectly in line with Rigg’s nicknames.
Another reference was the eagle on Arjen Rudd’s wall (the one clutching a swastika in its claws). It’s similar to the symbol of Nazi Germany – the Reichsadler. So basically, Riggs sees these guys as evil white supremacists and makes sure to highlight it all through the movie.
Everyone knows that movies are one of the greatest places to advertise your stuff. And the makers of Ramses condoms weren’t about to pass on the opportunity to showcase their colorful collection of rubbery goods.
They paid the producers more than $10,000 to flaunt their products in Lethal Weapon 2. And it definitely paid off! The commercial scene was awkward and just about funny enough to make it memorable. Rianne (Murtaugh’s daughter) proved to be a great spokesperson for the product.
Talkative Leo Getz made some really bad jokes (“whatever Leo wants…Leo gets”), but overall, his most memorable bit of shtick would have to be the concise “okay” he shoved into every sentence.
The idea for this repetitive expression occurred when Joe Pesci (who played Getz) went with Mickey Rourke to Disneyland. The two asked some little kid for directions, and he excitedly responded, “Okay!” then he hit them with about 12 more: “No, no! Okay, okay, okay!” Pesci and Rourke said they found it hysterical.
In the second film, Riggs, Carpenter, and Glover’s family gather in the living room to watch Rianne (Glover’s daughter) star in a condom commercial. After the horror show, Carpenter blurts out an inappropriate comment which wasn’t even part of the script!
When Riggs asked his friend what he thought about the commercial, Carpenter answered: “I thought she was great. She made me wanna go out and buy rubbers right now.” The genuine response made the crew laugh so hard they decided to leave it in the movie.
Black had some morbid plans cooked up for Riggs when he wrote his initial draft of the sequel. He wanted the bullet to kill him off at the end of the film, but the directors weren’t having it. They wanted the franchise to keep going, and Riggs was a crucial character.
Black confessed in an interview: “They said they didn’t like that the character died at the end, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve failed everybody, I screwed up, I blew it. My writing sucks.’” But after re-reading his work, he changed his mind: “There’s no question the draft of Lethal Weapon 2 that I wrote, death and all, is my best work.”
Script doctor Carrie Fisher knew exactly how to turn up the volume on dialogues that needed more humor and wit. She added finesse to her character on Star Wars, spunk to Whoopi Goldberg’s lines on Sister Act, and depth to the scenes in Lethal Weapon 3.
She wasn’t fully credited for her work on the third movie, so many people have no idea that she contributed to the movie’s success. But her touch of genius can be felt in some of Rene Russo’s dialogues.
Donner felt Winona Ryder was the perfect lady to play fierce and fiery Lorna Cole. But film producer Joel Silver felt that 21-year-old Ryder was too young for the part. Donner ignored the producer’s remark and offered it to her anyway.
She turned it down because she was already busy with the movie Dracula, and she had no interest in doing any action films. She ended up meeting the cast at a party in the ‘90s where drunk Gibson threw in some anti-semitic comment. We have a feeling Ryder was glad she turned down the movie.
When Russo auditioned for the part of Lorna Cole, she felt like she “was dying.” She confessed to the Chicago Tribune that she was so bad that producers pretty much ruled her out. They felt that she “lacked the edge” needed for the character.
So how did she end up landing the role? Well, she put on her “street girl” façade and marched right back into the room. She confidently approached director Donner, “I told him that when I said, ‘get against the f*cking wall,’ people were going to believe me.” And believe her, they did.
When it comes to action-packed movies like Lethal Weapon – you got to blow up some buildings. And lucky for movie producer Joel Silver, there was an old City Hall in Orlando that was just waiting to be demolished.
Gibson admitted he was “jumpy as hell” when the building exploded. Both he and Glover were running for their lives when the construction crumbled to pieces: “We knew the building was coming down, and we were ready to sprint. When we took off, I thought, ‘I’d better slow down for [Glover]’—but he actually ran right past me.”
Producers began working on the fourth film in January 1998, and Warner Bros. urged them to get it done by July. The crew had six short months to create the year’s much-anticipated summer film, and miraculously, they succeeded. Pretty impressive, considering that the script wasn’t even finished when the cameras started rolling.
So, even though no one knew how the movie would end and everyone was losing sleep over the ridiculous demand, Warner Bros. got what they asked for. And while the film grossed slightly less than the previous installment, it still brought in an astounding $285 million worldwide.
The fourth film was all over the place in terms of writing and casting. Because Warner Bros. gave them a six-month ultimatum, the script was written as the movie was being filmed. Which meant that characters were invented and actors were signed at the last minute.
Pesci was offered $1 million for three weeks of rushed work, and Chris Rock (Detective Lee Butters) didn’t even join the cast until the script was more than halfway done. Even when entirely written, it still went through a lot of changes. For example, Butters was supposed to play a gay police detective, but as the filming progressed, they realized it was better to change his character.
Jet Li’s character in Lethal Weapon 4 is a mad Chinese lord who is completely drunk with power. He is the ultimate bad guy whom everyone wants to see go down in flames. Basically, his death sparks a bunch of “hurrays!” from the audience. But Jet Li wasn’t really happy with the character at first.
He had a point. I mean, why would anyone agree to play the stereotypical troubling foreigner? But this was his ticket into Hollywood, and he wasn’t going to let it pass. We’re glad he went ahead with it because he was a brilliant villain. And in his next Hollywood film, Romeo Must Die, he got to play the good guy.
The initial draft of Lethal Weapon 4 was completely different from what was actually released. Apparently, Riggs and Murtaugh were supposed to fight off terrorists who were plotting to blow up the city.
For unknown reasons, executives decided to scrap Boam’s idea for Channing Gibson’s work instead. A lot of fans were actually bummed by the swap. But oh well, at least we got to see Boam’s great writing in the second and third films!
Out of all four films, Lethal Weapon 3 grossed the highest amount of money. While the first film made $120 million, the second $227 million, and the fourth $285 million, the third made a whopping $320 million!
Warner Bros. was over the moon, so they decided to arrange a surprise party and gift their leading folks some luxurious cars. But amusingly, Donner thought it was a regular get-together, so he invited the rest of the cast. Which meant that Warner Bros. had to gift Glover, Pesci, Russo, and writer Boam some shiny cars as well.
18 years after Lethal Weapon 4 was released, Fox rebooted the cop-buddy film to the small screen. They replaced Gibson with Clayne Crawford and Glover with Damon Wayans. Fans of the franchise were skeptical that the show would be any good. And they were right.
Lethal Weapon took place in the ’80s and ’90s, and you simply can’t replicate that same charm and innocence in today’s era. Moreover, the show had to be suitable for a family audience because it was broadcast during primetime hours. So things were toned down, which made the episodes pretty dull.
Fans around the world eagerly waited for Lethal Weapon 5 to come out. They waited and waited and waited, and… got a series instead, in part because both of the leads, Gibson and Donner, were no longer interested in taking part in the franchise.
Donner was the first to refuse, and Gibson followed. Donner felt that his friend couldn’t do without him: “I would like to think that Mel turned it down because I wasn’t involved. Knowing Mel, I would like to think that. Would that be the kind of thing he does? It sure would be.”
Donner never got to see Black’s crazy ideas for the fifth film. But it was supposed to be something like this: Murtaugh and Riggs are cruising through the country in a motor home, living their best lives when all of a sudden, Murtaugh forgets to put the brake on, and their house rolls down a hill and crashes into a village.
They get into crazy trouble for it, and things keep going downhill as the story progresses. Black was disappointed that it didn’t come out. He said, “It had a lot of heart, a lot of family. Rene [Russo], Darlene [Love], they would all have come back.” Little did Shane know that a few years later, they would all agree to come back!
Producer Dan Lin dished to The Hollywood Reporter that movie number five is finally in the making. The news startled fans worldwide, who had already given up on a new installment following a long dry period without any talk of it.
The three critical figures in this film’s creation are, of course, Gibson, Glover, and Richard Donner. They’ve all committed to go ahead with it and are more excited than ever. We can’t wait to see the end result!
So, what could the plot be about? Well, considering how old the characters are supposed to be, it’s hard to imagine that LW5 will be anything like its predecessors. Riggs would be 64 and Murtaugh 73, so having them work in the LAPD feels a bit ridiculous.
Writer Shane Black confessed that he was aware of the age issue and has devised a different plot to freshen things up. Instead of the usual action in L.A., the movie will take place in New York and involve a blizzard that will rattle things up.