The Deer Hunter is a 1978 American epic war drama movie co-written and directed by Michael Cimino about a trio of Russia American steelworkers whose lives are changed forever after they fight in the Vietnam War. The three soldiers are played by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage, with Meryl Streep, John Cazale, and George Dzundza playing supporting roles. Take a look below for 30 more fun and interesting facts about The Deer Hunter.
1. The story takes place in Clairton, Pennsylvania, a small working class town on the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh, and in Vietnam.
2. The movie was based in part on an unproduced screenplay called The Man Who Came to Play by Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker, about Las Vegas and Russian roulette.
3. Producer Michael Deeley, who bought the script, hired writer and director Michael Cimino who, with Deric Washburn, rewrote the script, taking the Russian roulette element and placing it in the Vietnam War.
4. The movie went over budget and over schedule, and ended up costing $15 million.
5. The scenes depicting Russian roulette were highly controversial after the movie’s release.
6. The Deer Hunter won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Cimino, and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken, and marked Meryl Streep’s first Academy Award nomination.
7. In 1996, the movie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being, “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and was named the 53rd greatest American movie of all time by the American Film Institute in 2007.
8. Co-Writer and Director Michael Cimino convinced Christopher Walken to spit in Robert De Niro’s face. When Walken actually did it, De Niro was completely shocked, as evidenced by his reaction. In fact, De Niro was so furious about it, he nearly left the set. Cimino later said of Walken, “He’s got courage!”
9. The studio wanted to replace John Cazale when he was ruled un-insurable. Robert De Niro put up the money for the insurance. Cazale died shortly after filming was completed.
10. The slapping in the Russian roulette sequences was authentic. The actors grew very agitated by the constant slapping, which naturally added to the realism of the scenes.
11. Christopher Walken achieved the withdrawn, hollow look of his character by consuming nothing but water, rice and bananas.
12. Robert De Niro and John Savage performed their own stunts for the fall into the river, filming the 30 foot drop 15 times in 2 days.
13. Robert De Niro, who prepared for his role by socializing with steelworkers, was introduced by his hosts and new friends as Bob, and no one recognized him.
14. In the screenplay, Linda’s role was negligible. Michael Cimino explained the set-up to Meryl Streep and suggested that she write her own lines.
15. The deaths of approximately 28 people, who died playing Russian roulette, were reported as having been influenced by scenes in the movie.
16. Robert De Niro claims that The Deer Hunter was his most physically exhausting movie.
17. During the helicopter stunt, the runners caught on the ropes and as the helicopter rose, it threatened to seriously injure John Savage and Robert De Niro. The actors gestured and yelled furiously to the crew in the helicopter to warn them. Footage of this is included in the movie.
18. The Viet Cong Russian roulette scenes were shot in real circumstances, with real rats and mosquitoes, as the three principals were tied up in bamboo cages erected along the River Kwai.
19. The deer which Michael allows to get away was actually an elk. The crew had a very difficult time trying to get the elk to look at them, as it was apparently used to various noises. It finally looked at them when someone in the crew yawned. Elk are not native to the east coast.
20. Christopher Walken was originally supposed to receive $17,000 for his role as Nick, but his salary was raised to $25,000 because filming took longer than was originally planned.
21. The wedding scene at the church took 5 days to film. A real priest was cast as the priest.
22. Jeff Bridges was considered for the role of Nick.
23. U.S. Steel allowed filming inside its Cleveland mill, including placing the actors around the furnace floor, only after securing a $5 million insurance policy.
24. The deer hunting scene was shot in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. The mountain shown in the background is Mount Shuksan.
25. Robert De Niro was so anxious about the movie’s controversy that he didn’t attend the Oscars ceremony. He asked the Academy if he could sit out the show backstage, but when the Academy refused, De Niro stayed home in New York City.
26. George Dzundza completely blows the toast line when the group arrives in the mountains the first time. His reaction is legitimate, and a few of the other actors can be seen laughing in response.
27. Pierre Segui, who plays Julien, lost a friend in a real-life game of Russian roulette.
28. The wedding sequences were filmed in the summer, but were set in the fall. To accomplish a look of fall, leaves were removed from trees and painted orange. They were then reattached to the trees.
29. The cast and crew slept on the floor of the warehouse where the Saigon Russian roulette sequences were shot.
30. CBS paid $5 million for the exclusive network television broadcast rights for the movie. the network, along with NBC and ABC, later backed out when the content was deemed inappropriate. The movie made its television debut on election night, 1980, but not on any major network.