Released on June 5th, 2009 by Warner Brothers, the R-rated comedy The Hangover was predicted to be a sleeper comedy with the potential for aging into a cult classic. After all, this is how many top comedic films get their start, from Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows (2014) to Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap (1984).
However, The Hangover didn’t need much time before skyrocketing into one of the highest-grossing and overall surprising comedy hits of the 2000s. Its theatre showings brought in nearly half a billion dollars internationally, with its associated video sales hedging up to that billion-dollar profit mark. And why wouldn’t The Hangover perform well? It combined compelling American settings and stereotypes, while introducing some of the greatest comedic actors of the generation, like Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, and Ken Jeong.
After all, anyone who has seen The Hangover and been to Las Vegas understands just how unexpected a night there can be. However, most casino enthusiasts today are familiar with online gaming, where top deals are compared on sites like Oddschecker. This leaves little reason to pack up and head to Vegas. No need for a late-night foray onto the Strip, or, in the case of Doug’s character in The Hangover, to end up stranded on a roof.
There are as many Americanisms and comedic tropes in the film as there are rumors and urban legends abound about the content in the movie. What was inspired by real events? What was just part of the narrative? And what other fun mischief happened in-between?
The Popular Theory
One widely held belief regarding The Hangover is that the film is, indeed, based on a true story. It goes something like this: a friend of a friend goes missing from his bachelor party in Vegas. The man who went missing is a friend of a film producer in Hollywood set to walk down the aisle with a Hollywood agent. This producer friend was the man behind movies such as The Guardian and The Number 23.
Somewhere during the bachelor party, the groom goes missing. Remember that risky Vegas Strip mentioned above? Well, the wandering groom has a fantastic night (though he can’t remember it) and wakes up to an astronomical bill at a club.
Unlike the film, this popular story didn’t end with someone being rescued from a rooftop after suffering from dehydration and sunburn. Instead, this bachelor party was more appropriately planned months before the wedding, meaning that the groom-to-be had plenty of time to pay off his credit card. Later additions, like a domesticated tiger, Mike Tyson, and a nameless baby, came following the story’s adaptation for the big screen.
The funniest part of this popular and partially-proven theory about the story behind The Hangover? The man whose bachelor party the script was based on had no idea that his life was being optioned for big screens until after it had been pitched to Warner Brothers.
The Cast That Could Have Been
Remember Jade (played by Heather Graham), mother of the nameless child and surprise wife of Stu (played by Ed Helms)? Writers originally had Lindsay Lohan in mind for the character’s role in the film. While Lohan loved the script and was sad to decline the offer, she was a bit too young to fulfill Jade’s full potential as a character.
Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis, was one of the film’s most memorable and breakout roles. However, it’s been reported that the likes of Paul Rudd and Jack Black were both optioned for the role before turning it down. Meanwhile, writers had actor Jonah Hill in mind as they wrote the role.
Alan was also optioned for Thomas Haden Church and Jake Gyllenhaal. While it’s hard to consider names like Bradley Cooper or Zach Galifianakis being unheard of at the time, Warner Brothers were worried enough about their film’s lack of star power that they ended up cutting the budget of The Hangover.
Director Todd Phillips even waived his director fee, staking his career and wallet behind the film’s success. Meanwhile, Cooper, Galifianakis and Helms each made less than $1 million for filming. And, most surprisingly, many of the producers and writers behind this mega-popular hit were also behind some of Hollywood’s least impressive comedies, like Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Monster-in-Law.
Remember that missing tooth that Stu, played by Ed Helms, mourned for most of the duration of the film? Luckily enough for Helms, one of his adult teeth never grew in when he was younger, and he received a permanent implant at age 16. While the crew tried tirelessly to find a way to make the tooth appear like it was missing, Helms ended up heading to the dentist to have the prosthetic temporarily removed for shooting.
Remember when Mr. Chow, played by Ken Jeong, jumped out of the trunk nude? That was originally Jeong’s idea, but when director Todd Phillips heard the idea, he loved it so much that he added it to the script. He also made sure to get Jeong to sign a nudity waiver before the star could rethink his comedic choice.
Remember when Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis, was tazered during the group’s trip to a police station that unfortunately coincided with an elementary school fieldtrip? Turns out the cast and crew were totally prepared to tazer the actor until Warner Brothers reps stepped in at the final minute to prevent it.
Remember when the entire crew is staggering around the Vegas Strip with fake wounds in the shape of tiger claws, shredded clothes, and other noticeable bruising? According to Bradley Cooper, the cast was so low-profile at the time, the crew took to shooting them on the Strip for filming. The shoot went well, too, given that nobody in the general public on the Vegas Strip did a double take at the seemingly at-risk crew.
And, finally—remember those amazing songs like Three Best Friends and Stu’s Song, sung by characters Stu and Alan? Both were entirely improvised.