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10 Things You Didn't Know About Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens

Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens is an ambitious blend of science fiction and western movie tropes that turns 10 years old at the end of July, 2021. The film was a notorious big-budget flop due to its silly title that inferred a comedic experience. Moreover, finding the right tone between a sci-fi-western mashup proved extremely challenging for all involved.

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Cowboys & Aliens also endured several hardships during production, including internal studio pressure, a difficult shoot in the remote New Mexican desert, conflicting visions of the material, replaced actors, countless rewrites, and a whole lot more.

10 Began In 1997

Although the film was not released until 2011, Cowboys & Aliens began development in 1997. According to Variety, DreamWorks and Universal bought a pitch by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, who was in the process of writing the project as a graphic novel.

However, the graphic novel was not completed until 2006. By then, DreamWorks and Universal were no longer attached until they reacquired rights to the project in 2007. By gestating for such a long period of time, the film had multiple execs and studio heads interfering with the material in an unproductive way.

9 Multiple Writers

By the time the film hit the theaters, a double-digit amount of writers contributed to the screenplay. Steve Oedekerk wrote the first draft, with subsequent passes made by David Hayter, Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Jeffrey Boam, Thompson Evans, and Chris Hauty (per Reuters).

According to Variety, when none of the drafts seemed to work, Star Trek scribes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci were brought in, along with Damon Lindeloff to retool the script. The number of writers led to a jumbled, unfocused vision.

8 Robert Downey Jr. Dropped Out

When Jon Favreau took the directing job on Cowboys & Aliens, it was under the belief that he would reunite with his Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr. However, while Downey was originally cast in the lead role, he left to make Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows instead.

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When Downey Jr. left, the script was hastily rewritten and Daniel Craig was cast less than a month later. His character was changed from a Union Army gunslinger named Zeke Jackson to an outlaw with no memory named Jake Lonergan.

7 Spielberg's Involvement

As a DreamWorks producer, Steven Spielberg was heavily involved in inspiring the look and feel of a classic western. To help, he held private screenings of several old movies for the cast and crew. According to MSN, most of them were John Ford films including Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, and The Searchers.

Spielberg also screened his own sci-fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which also takes place in an open western landscape. According to the DVD audio commentary, Spielberg also suggested the presence of a main alien enemy in the film.

6 Director Cameo

While Jon Favreau often plays an acting role in the movies he directs, he opted to keep his focus behind the camera on Cowboys & Aliens. However, eagle-eyed fans may have noticed a brief cameo appearance he makes in the film.

In the scene where the strange outlaw is confirmed to be Jake Lonergan (Craig), a poster is ripped off the wall. Underneath the poster, a picture of Jon Favreau's face appears on a wanted ad for a man named Todd Kravitz. It's a fun bit of trivia that is easy to miss.

5 Studio Insisted On 3D

One of the biggest battles Favreau had while making the movie was the studio's insistence on shooting and exhibiting the movie in 3D. However, Favreau remained steadfast in his belief that westerns should be shot on 35 mm film, and he refused to compromise his vision.

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According to the New York Times, Favreau was also against a 3D post-conversion, likening the process to shooting a film in black and white and then colorizing it. The 3D technology was all the rage after Avatar, but Favreau stuck to his guns and shot the film on anamorphic widescreen 35 mm film.

4 Harrison Ford Didn't Get It

Beyond Daniel Craig, the biggest star in the film is Harrison Ford. According to contactmusic.com, Ford did not understand the screenplay and launched it across the room out of frustration after reading the first 30 pages.

Moreover, Ford had to meet with Favreau before he accepted the part to ensure there was enough reason for him to participate. Ford's lack of passion for the project led to a paltry promotion campaign for the film, which did not help its abysmal box office performance.

3 Alien Designs

According to superherohype.com, the designs of the aliens in the film were partially modeled after the Annunaki gods as depicted in Zecharia Sitchin's representation of Babylon. The religious figures were known to be obsessed with gold, which is why the aliens are adorned in precious metal.

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In addition, according to the bonus features on the DVD, the heads of the alien creatures in the film were partly inspired by the heads of sea turtles Favreau experienced while on vacation in Hawaii.

2 Sam Rockwell's Role

Just as Daniel Craig's role was written when Robert Downey Jr. bowed out of the film, so too was Sam Rockwell's role when he boarded the cast. In the original script, Rockwell's character Doc was written as a much larger Mexican man.

However, after working with him on Made and Iron Man 2, Favreau retooled the character and increased his screen time to accommodate Rockwell's physical appearance and unique acting style. As such, Doc registers as one of the most memorable characters in the film.

1 Extended Version

Another thing about Cowboys & Aliens that most cinephiles are unaware of is that an extended cut of the film was released on DVD in December of 2011. With an additional 17 minutes of footage to bring the total runtime to 135 minutes, the DVD also comes equipped with three behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Among the more substantial cut scenes include Lonergan interacting with Priest Meacham, Dolarhyde preparing for battle, Meachem giving Doc a rifle, and a brutal alien massacre of Greavey's camp.

NEXT: All Of Jon Favreau's Movies, Ranked Worst To Best

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