It has now been 20 years since Zoolander graced movie theaters everywhere.
It’s the incredibly silly fashion industry spoof in which Ben Stiller is an over-the-top idiot male model that’s brainwashed to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia to the tune of “Relax.”
Despite Critics’ Response, Zoolander Soared Into Cult Classic Status
The movie initially had mild box office success, but it was… not well received by critics.
“There have been articles lately asking why the United States is so hated in some parts of the world,” the late Roger Ebert wrote about Zoolander back in 2001. “As this week’s Exhibit A from Hollywood, I offer Zoolander.”
The Washington Post’s Rita Kempley labeled it “a one-joke movie.” Liam Lacey at Globe and Mail said the “vain stupidity gets as wearisome on film as such behaviour is in real life.”
It didn’t matter what the critics said. In the years following its release, the film became a freaking cult classic. It’s ingrained into popular culture. It has left us all busting out our best Blue Steel and asking if there is “more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking.” And in all seriousness, it’s the perfect combination of silly humor, clever satire, easily digestible content, and incredibly quotable lines.
Zoolander has remained so hilariously popular that it even got a sequel in honor of its 15-year anniversary. Zoolander 2 hit theaters in 2016. It wasn’t quite as good as the original (nothing ever is), but I still laughed just the same.
I can just imagine Mugatu yelling, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” as Zoolander has remained a stupidly popular movie for two decades.
Nostalgia has certainly helped. The film stars the likes of Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Christine Taylor, Milla Jovovich, Jerry Stiller, David Duchovny, and Jon Voight. It’s also littered with cameos, including Fabio, Paris Hilton, Tommy Hilfiger, Billy Zane, Natalie Portman, Fred Durst, and David Bowie. Zoolander is a time capsule — the Who’s Who of 2001.
Zoolander Almost Looked Very Different
During an interview with Esquire, director and star Ben Stiller gave a glimpse into what might have been.
Although we all vividly remember Derek Zoolander’s coal-mining dad and brothers, one of Derek’s brothers was supposed to have a very different career.
“One of Derek’s brothers was [supposed to be] a Springsteen impersonator,” Stiller recalled.
The Springsteen impersonating brother was intended to be a twin of Derek’s. That meant that Stiller, who was already serving as director, producer, writer, and lead actor, would also play the part.
“We ended up obviously going with the coal miner thing,” Stiller said.
Going with the coal mining family was a win for all of us. Otherwise, we would have never heard Derek utter, “I think I’m getting the black lung, pop.” And what about the bar snickering at the merman commercial for Aveda? Classic.
That wasn’t the only secondary role that Stiller almost played, either. Apparently, there were also plans to have him play his agent, Maury Ballstein. These days, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Jerry Stiller (Ben’s real-life dad) as the agent with a prostate the size of a honeydew.
What Zoolander Would Have Looked Like With Different Casting
It’s also hard to imagine any of the other roles being played by other actors. But at the time, there were other actors being considered for some of the biggest roles in the movie. Those changes could have given us an entirely different Zoolander.
Owen Wilson as Hansel is “so hot right now,” but he almost wasn’t due to other obligations. Wilson was Stiller’s first choice, but scheduling conflicts left filmmakers to hold auditions. None other than a 21-year-old Jake Gyllenhall, fresh from filming Donnie Darko, was considered.
“The only one that I remember clearly was a young Jake Gyllenhaal doing this wide-eyed version of Hansel that was really funny,” Stiller recalled.
Look, I love Jake Gyllenhaal with all of my heart (and loins, let’s be honest), but I just can’t see him as Hansel. Clearly, Wilson got his scheduling conflicts fixed, and we got the Hansel we all know and love.
Hansel wasn’t the only role that almost looked very different.
“Andy Dick was supposed to play Mugatu,” Stiller said, noting that Dick had a conflict with shooting a sitcom. “Now it’s impossible for me to picture anybody but Will [Ferrell] doing it.”
Uh, same. Could you imagine how different Zoolander would have been with Andy Dick instead of Will Ferrell?!
Andy Dick did pick up a smaller role in the film, though. You’ll find him hiding behind a unibrow as Olga the masseuse.
The Dark Ending That Got Scrapped
Different casting aside, the movie almost ended on a much darker note. Stiller also revealed that Zoolander almost had a very different ending — one in which Derek doesn’t make it.
“In one early version of the film, the ending took an absurdist turn in which Derek wound up in a subway station,” Stiller told Vanity Fair. “He finally did the big reveal of the Magnum look in an attempt to stop an oncoming train — which didn’t work. Derek wound up going to heaven, where the film ended with a big musical number.”
John Hamburg, who co-wrote the film, ultimately nixed the idea for the ending we now know.
“You want a feel-good ending, because you’re emotionally invested,” Hamburg said. “But you also want to laugh at what an idiot he is. Which is why the Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good is ultimately the right ending.”