Lethal Weapon (1987)

R | 109 mins | Drama | 6 March 1987

Director:

Richard Donner

Writer:

Shane Black

Cinematographer:

Stephen Goldblatt

Editor:

Stuart Baird

Production Designer:

J. Michael Riva

Production Company:

Silver Pictures
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HISTORY


       Television clips shown in the film receive the following credits: “ A Christmas Carol courtesy of Four Star International, Inc.”; and “ College Football Game courtesy of Total Communications Systems.” End credits also include a “Special Thanks” to Vista Group and the following acknowledgement: “Filmed with the cooperation and assistance of the City of Los Angeles.”
       Lethal Weapon marked Shane Black’s first produced screenplay. Black wrote the film when he was twenty-three years old, and stated that the original version had more elaborate action sequences, including “the Hollywood sign going up in flames, helicopters crashing and heroin coming down like snow on Hollywood Boulevard,” according to a 22 Mar 1987 LAT article. Director Richard Donner later toned down the action due to budget concerns and also made the story more sentimental. In a 3 Apr 1987 NYT article, Donner commented that he modeled the film’s violence after old-fashioned westerns, with characters getting shot by bullets instead of showing more grisly deaths. Donner stated, “I like to turn my head away in suspense, not in disgust. I think audiences feel like I do.” Donner studied John Wayne films in preparation for Lethal Weapon , and noted that Red River (1948, see entry) provided inspiration for the final fight sequence.
       In LAT , Black stated that he wanted actor William Hurt to play the role of “Martin Riggs,” but studio executives informed him that Hurt was too obscure for the part. A 6 Oct 1986 Newsweek news item reported that Howie Long, a professional football player on the Los Angeles Raiders team, initially planned to ... More Less


       Television clips shown in the film receive the following credits: “ A Christmas Carol courtesy of Four Star International, Inc.”; and “ College Football Game courtesy of Total Communications Systems.” End credits also include a “Special Thanks” to Vista Group and the following acknowledgement: “Filmed with the cooperation and assistance of the City of Los Angeles.”
       Lethal Weapon marked Shane Black’s first produced screenplay. Black wrote the film when he was twenty-three years old, and stated that the original version had more elaborate action sequences, including “the Hollywood sign going up in flames, helicopters crashing and heroin coming down like snow on Hollywood Boulevard,” according to a 22 Mar 1987 LAT article. Director Richard Donner later toned down the action due to budget concerns and also made the story more sentimental. In a 3 Apr 1987 NYT article, Donner commented that he modeled the film’s violence after old-fashioned westerns, with characters getting shot by bullets instead of showing more grisly deaths. Donner stated, “I like to turn my head away in suspense, not in disgust. I think audiences feel like I do.” Donner studied John Wayne films in preparation for Lethal Weapon , and noted that Red River (1948, see entry) provided inspiration for the final fight sequence.
       In LAT , Black stated that he wanted actor William Hurt to play the role of “Martin Riggs,” but studio executives informed him that Hurt was too obscure for the part. A 6 Oct 1986 Newsweek news item reported that Howie Long, a professional football player on the Los Angeles Raiders team, initially planned to make his feature film debut playing a cameo role in the film but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.
       According to a 13 Aug 1986 Var news brief, shooting began 6 Aug 1986 in Los Angeles, CA. Production notes stated that the following Southern California locations were used: The Burbank Studios; Long Beach; Palos Verdes; Santa Monica; Studio City; West Hollywood; Inglewood; and the El Mirage dry lake bed near Victorville. A 7 Oct 1986 LAHExam news item stated that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce allowed the production to decorate a portion of Hollywood Boulevard with the street’s traditional Christmas decorations in Oct 1986, prior to the scheduled date of 29 Nov 1986; in exchange, filmmakers paid an estimated $4,000 for the decorations, financially benefiting the Chamber of Commerce.
       According to production notes, Donner directed costume designer Mary Malin to dress the mercenary characters, including “Joshua” and “The General,” in suits and ties, wanting to avoid the stereotypical look of militant war veterans in “traditional camouflage gear.” For lead characters, “Roger Murtaugh” and “Martin Riggs,” Donner asked weapons specialist Michael Papac to select “old-fashioned solid weaponry” that police detectives would use in everyday life.
       Lead actors Danny Glover and Mel Gibson underwent intense physical training prior to the shoot, led by stunt coordinator Bobby Bass, who had military experience. In addition to workouts, the actors took lessons in “weapons handling and safety.” During pre-production, Gibson and Glover shadowed Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers, and Donner consulted the Sheriff’s Department to ensure an authentic portrayal of the police force.
       As stated in production notes, the actors were trained in three types of martial arts: Capoeria, a fighting style originated by West Africans, used to fight off slave traders: Jailhouse Rock, a technique evolved in United States prisons; and Jiu-Jitsu, a Brazilian martial art form. The fight choreography was first tested on stuntmen Mic Rogers and Shane Dixon. The film’s final action sequence, involving the fistfight between Martin Riggs and Joshua, was filmed “over four complete nights, shooting from dusk to dawn.” Production was completed mid-Nov 1986.
       Critical reception was mixed. The 4 Mar 1987 Var and 6 Mar 1987 LAT reviews criticized the film’s flimsy narrative structure and “plot holes,” but Mel Gibson’s performance received consistent praise. In a positive review on 6 Mar 1987, Janet Maslin of NYT described the film as “all fast action, noisy stunts and huge, often unflattering close-ups” but stated that “it packs an undeniable wallop.” Var noted that Donner wanted an action film with a sensitive side, but said the two “strains” never quite melded. LAT , Var , and the 2 Mar 1987 HR review each compared the film to 48 Hrs. (1982, see entry).
       A 4 Jun 1987 HR news item stated that Lethal Weapon had taken in over $60 million in box-office receipts, and was the year’s highest grossing film prior to the May 1987 release of Beverly Hills Cop II (see entry). A 2 Jul 1989 Toronto Star article cited the film's budget as $18 million and stated that the final domestic box-office gross was a "respectable $64 million."
       The 3 Apr 1987 NYT article reported that Black had been commissioned to write the screenplay for a sequel. Black was credited as a storywriter on Lethal Weapon 2 (1989, see entry), and received “Based on characters created by” credit on Lethal Weapon 2 , Lethal Weapon 3 (1992, see entry), and Lethal Weapon 4 (1998, see entry) ; Donner directed all four films.

       The following dedication appears in the end credits: “This picture is dedicated to Dar Robinson, one of the motion picture industry’s greatest stuntmen.” Production notes from AMPAS library files stated that Robinson died shortly after filming, in an accident on the set of another motion picture shooting in Arizona. Robinson, who played a mercenary, was responsible for the design of a “three-stage air bag” used in Lethal Weapon .


The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Chris Fenrick, a student at Oregon State University, with Jon Lewis as academic advisor.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily News
17 Mar 1986.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Mar 1987
p. 3, 57.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jun 1987.
---
LAHExam
7 Oct 1986.
---
Los Angeles Times
6 Mar 1987
p. 4.
Los Angeles Times
22 Mar 1987
Section K, p. 20.
New York Times
6 Mar 1987
p. 7.
New York Times
3 Apr 1987
Section C, p. 8.
Newsweek
6 Oct 1986.
---
Toronto Star
2 Jul 1989
Section C, p. 1.
Variety
13 Aug 1986.
---
Variety
4 Mar 1987
p. 18, 20, 24.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Richard Donner Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Addl 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Aerial photog
Underwater photog
Underwater photog
Panaglide op
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Elec best boy
Rigging gaffer
Key grip
Grip best boy
Dolly grip
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Art dept res
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Lead person
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Prop master
Const coord
Const foreman
Labor foreman
Standby painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
Asst cost des
MUSIC
Performed by
Performed by
Performed by
Orch arr and cond
Addl orch
Addl orch
Addl orch
Mus prod
Mus prod
Mus prod
Mus prod
Orch rec
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Cable man
Supv sd ed
Supv sd ed
Supv ADR ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
ADR ed
Asst ADR ed
Foley by
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff foreman
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Opticals
Main and end titles des by
New York City
MAKEUP
Make-up artist
HairStylist
Mel Gibson's hairstyle created by
PRODUCTION MISC
Prods' assoc
Weapon specialist
Scr supv
Dial coach
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Liaison
Stunt pilot
Stunt pilot
Stunt pilot
Tech adv
Tech adv
Tech adv
Spec tech adv for "Capoeira"
Spec tech adv for "Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu"
Spec tech adv for "Jail-House-Rock"
Prod assoc
Prod secy
Asst to Jennie Lew
Asst to Joel Silver
Asst to Joel Silver
Prod accountant
Unit pub
Transportaton coord
Transportation capt
Transportation capt
Driver
Driver
Post prod
Prod office aides
Prod office aides
Prod office aides
Prod office aides
Prod office aides
Prod office aides
Prod office aides
Prod office aides
Prod office aides
Unit runner
Unit runner
Unit runner
First aid
Animal trainer
Craftservice
Video assist
Prod equip
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
SOURCES
SONGS
"Jingle Bell Rock," performed by Bobby Helms, written by Joe Beal and Jim Boothe, courtesy of MCA Records.
COMPOSERS
DETAILS
Series:
Release Date:
6 March 1987
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 6 March 1987
Production Date:
6 August--mid November 1986
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
30 April 1987
Copyright Number:
PA324855
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Color by Technicolor®
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
109
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
28496
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Los Angeles, California, Amanda Hunsaker throws herself off the balcony of a high-rise apartment in a drug-induced stupor. The next morning, Roger Murtaugh, a homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), is interrupted in the middle of a bath by his wife and children who bring him a cake for his fiftieth birthday. At breakfast, Roger’s wife, Trish, tells him that a man named Michael Hunsaker has been trying to reach him at the office. Roger says it’s been twelve years since he has spoken to Hunsaker, who fought with him in the Vietnam War. Later that day, Roger is called to the scene of Amanda’s suicide and meets Dixie, a prostitute who witnessed Amanda’s jump. When Roger learns Amanda’s name, he realizes she is the daughter of Michael Hunsaker. Meanwhile, Martin Riggs, a narcotics detective for the LAPD, reveals himself as a policeman during an undercover drug bust at a Christmas tree lot, and a gunfight ensues. After Martin shoots three of the four drug dealers, the other takes him hostage, and Martin dares the man to shoot before disarming him. That night, Martin contemplates suicide in his mobile home on the beach. After staring at a picture of his deceased wife, he loads a gun and points it into his mouth, but stops himself. The next day, Roger learns that Amanda’s case is now being investigated as a murder because the drugs she took were laced with toxic drain cleaner, and evidence shows that someone was in bed with her just before she died. Roger learns that he is getting a new partner, Martin, but when he sees Martin holding a gun outside his ... +


In Los Angeles, California, Amanda Hunsaker throws herself off the balcony of a high-rise apartment in a drug-induced stupor. The next morning, Roger Murtaugh, a homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), is interrupted in the middle of a bath by his wife and children who bring him a cake for his fiftieth birthday. At breakfast, Roger’s wife, Trish, tells him that a man named Michael Hunsaker has been trying to reach him at the office. Roger says it’s been twelve years since he has spoken to Hunsaker, who fought with him in the Vietnam War. Later that day, Roger is called to the scene of Amanda’s suicide and meets Dixie, a prostitute who witnessed Amanda’s jump. When Roger learns Amanda’s name, he realizes she is the daughter of Michael Hunsaker. Meanwhile, Martin Riggs, a narcotics detective for the LAPD, reveals himself as a policeman during an undercover drug bust at a Christmas tree lot, and a gunfight ensues. After Martin shoots three of the four drug dealers, the other takes him hostage, and Martin dares the man to shoot before disarming him. That night, Martin contemplates suicide in his mobile home on the beach. After staring at a picture of his deceased wife, he loads a gun and points it into his mouth, but stops himself. The next day, Roger learns that Amanda’s case is now being investigated as a murder because the drugs she took were laced with toxic drain cleaner, and evidence shows that someone was in bed with her just before she died. Roger learns that he is getting a new partner, Martin, but when he sees Martin holding a gun outside his office, he mistakes him for a criminal and tackles him; however, Martin, an expert fighter, overpowers Roger within seconds. Later, as they leave the office, Martin explains that his superiors believe he is insane, or pretending to be insane in order to receive a pension, and Roger complains about having to work with him. At a meeting with Michael Hunsaker, Roger learns that Amanda was involved in pornography, and Hunsaker asks Roger to kill the people responsible for Amanda’s death. Roger refuses, but later tells Martin that Hunsaker saved his life in the Vietnam War. That afternoon, Martin and Roger are called to the scene of a suicide attempt, where a man named McCleary is standing on the ledge of a tall building. Martin joins McCleary and handcuffs him, warning him that jumping would drag them both down and thus be a murder and a suicide. When McCleary refuses to leave the ledge, Martin pushes him to jump and they both leap from the ledge at the same time; however, an air cushion has been set up below and they fall to safety. Roger confronts Martin about his risky behavior, and Martin reveals that he is suicidal, but that his love for police work has prevented him from killing himself. At the home of Amanda’s “sugar daddy,” a suspect in her murder, Martin saves Roger from being shot, but kills the suspect. That night, Martin joins Roger’s family for dinner, and tells Roger that he doubts the sugar daddy was the killer. As Martin leaves, he reveals that he was a sniper in the Vietnam War and believes that shooting was his only great skill. Roger later finds an evidence package addressed to him containing Amanda’s high school yearbook and a pornographic videotape she made with other women. The next morning, Martin wakes up Roger and proposes that Dixie, the prostitute who witnessed Amanda’s fall, was also her killer. When they arrive at Dixie’s house to investigate, however, the building explodes. Martin finds a trigger device amongst the wreckage, the same kind used by mercenaries during the Vietnam War. Neighborhood kids who witnessed the explosion tell the detectives that they saw a man at the gas meter outside Dixie’s house earlier that day, and he had a tattoo that matches one on Martin’s arm. Martin explains that the tattoo means a person was in the Special Forces. At Hunsaker’s home, Roger proposes that Hunsaker is involved in criminal activity that got his daughter killed, and that his daugher’s murderer was Dixie, a prostitute paid to poison her. Hunsaker admits to being part of a heroin smuggling operation with several other veterans who were part of Shadow Company, a special unit of mercenaries and assassins formed during the Vietnam War. A helicopter flies past the house, and Hunsaker is shot and killed by Joshua, one of the mercenaries from Hunsaker’s drug ring. At night, Martin seeks out Dixie on the streets; Joshua drives past and shoots, but Martin’s bulletproof vest protects him. Moments later, Roger gets word of a killing near his house and rushes home to find that his oldest daughter, Rianne, has been kidnapped. Mercenaries from the drug ring call, ordering him to go to Dry Lake in Victorville, California, at sunrise, saying they only want the information that Hunsaker gave him. Roger and Martin develop a plan to retrieve Rianne safely, knowing that Joshua believes Martin is dead. The next morning, Roger drops Martin off on the outskirts of the dry lakebed, then confronts the mercenaries, who arrive with a limousine, a truck, and a helicopter full of armed men. Roger threatens the mercenaries with a grenade, and the distraction allows Martin to begin sniping from across the lakebed. In the ensuing gunfight, Martin and Roger are captured by the mercenaries. In the back of a nightclub, the mercenaries torture Martin and Roger in separate rooms, wanting to find out whether Hunsaker revealed details of an upcoming heroin deal. Martin kills Endo, his torturer, then shoots his way through the building, saving both Roger and Rianne in the process. Joshua flees in a hijacked car and Martin gives chase on foot but loses him. Meanwhile, Roger shoots the driver of a car containing the mercenaries' leader, General McAllister, causing the car to run into a bus and explode. Back at Roger’s house, Joshua breaks in, but Roger and Martin intercept and disarm him. Before arresting Joshua, Martin challenges him to a fistfight and police officers surround the area. After an extensive physical battle with Martin, Joshua steals a police officer’s gun, but Martin and Roger shoot him before he can fire. On Christmas Eve, Martin delivers flowers to his dead wife's grave, and stops by Roger’s house to give his partner the bullet with which he almost shot himself, signifying that he is no longer suicidal. Roger insists that he stay for Christmas dinner and Martin accepts.
+

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Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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