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    17 Shocking Urban Legends About Famous Movies — And Whether They Were True

    These are the stories people have whispered about for years.

    As long as there have been movies, there have been people telling urban legends about them. Some of these have caught on more than others, to the point where millions of people believe them to be 100% true and won't hear otherwise.

    Sony / TriStar / Everett Collection

    Hollywood is so tangled up with urban legends that it even made a film about them.

    Here are some of the most infamous, fascinating, and tragic urban legends in film history:

    1. URBAN LEGEND: Three Men and a Baby was filmed at a home that was haunted by a boy who died there years before, and his specter can clearly be seen in the background of a scene.

    Ted Danson watches a woman hold a baby as a supposed ghost is seen in the corner
    Buena Vista Pictures

    If you were alive in the late '80s and '90s, there's a 98% chance someone once told you with total seriousness about the ghost in Three Men and a Baby. A wild claim, for sure, but there's no denying that if you pause the film during the scene above, you will see the figure of someone (or something) looking on. Creepy, right?

    Well, not really. As RogerEbert.com pointed out, no boy died in the home because the scene wasn't filmed in a home...it was filmed at a Toronto soundstage.

    But what about the boy in the window? If he wasn't a ghost, what was he? Well, it turns out it was a cardboard cutout of Ted Danson's actor character, Jack. In fact, the cutout can be seen later in the film.

    Ted Danson stands by his cutout
    Buena Vista Pictures

    Most likely, the cutout was placed in the window and no one thought to move it before they filmed this scene. Nowadays, it would have been removed with CGI, but they didn't have that option back in 1987!

    2. URBAN LEGEND: A mischievous extra on the set of 1985's Teen Wolf, starring Michael J. Fox, pulled out his penis during the filming of the film's final scene, and it made its way into the released film, unnoticed.

    Someone has their pants unbuttoned in the scene
    Atlantic Releasing Co.

    Back in the day, many people at screenings of Teen Wolf did a double take as the camera panned across the crowd in the final scene. They then asked themselves, Did I see what I think I saw? Of course, there was no way to rewind the movie or go online to discuss what they saw, which was a glimpse of someone with their pants undone. As the rumors spread, the story was cemented in the public's mind: Some crazy bastard actually whipped out his business and got it into the movie!

    But is that what really happened? A closer look at the moment indicates...nope. The extra appears to be a woman, not a man, and visible beyond her unbuttoned pants is the white of underwear, not a private part.

    A closer shot reveals the supposed flasher to be a woman
    Atlantic Releasing Co.

    Movie Vigilante spoke to Kris Hagerty, another female extra on the film, who gave her expert opinion of what exactly was going on. According to Hagerty, the much-buzzed-about moment most likely had to do with the super-tight pants girls wore at the time:

     "When you are sitting on hardwood bleachers for hours upon hours, they (the pants) get uncomfortable, and anyone having been in the movie business knows it's a *hurry up and wait* gig. I had seen a few girl extras unzipping their pants in between takes and then zipping up when we were about to shoot. I believe that was what happened. Her pants were uncomfortable; she unzipped them. It was about 3–4 a.m. that night the scene was shot and we were all pretty tired — some were even falling asleep between takes — so she was probably not quite awake and coherent, not realizing they had yelled action."

    So, sorry, '80s kids. There's no penis in Teen Wolf


    3. URBAN LEGEND: Disney animators secretly slipped hidden sexual messages into their films, and The Lion King featured an especially brazen example: the word "SEX" written out in the sky above Simba.

    "Sex" is sort of visible written in stars in the sky
    Disney

    This urban legend took off in the '90s after a woman alerted the Christian group the American Life League that her 4-year-old son had noticed the word "sex" while watching a VHS tape of his favorite movie. I'm not sure how plausible it is that a 4-year-old would notice the word "sex" (especially when it is super hard to decipher), but that was the claim...and it led to calls for the movie to be pulled from store shelves. Before long, it became a much-whispered belief that Disney animators were slipping dirty stuff into kids movies. 

    So was it true? Did Disney animators really write "sex" in The Lion King?

    Nope, according to former Disney animator Tony Sito, who worked on The Lion King, among other films. He told HuffPost that there was indeed a word in the sky, but clarified, “It doesn’t say ‘sex.’ It says special effects. It’s 'SFX.'” 

    So, long story short: It was just a shoutout to the special effects team.


    4. URBAN LEGEND: A disgruntled Disney animator tasked with drawing the VHS cover of The Little Mermaid drew an erect penis in the background, and Disney never noticed — and released it nationwide.

    The cover with the alleged penis drawn in the background
    Disney

    Yep, we have another urban legend about a Disney artist slipping sexual imagery into a place it doesn't belong. When a mom complained about the cover, one supermarket chain briefly pulled it from shelves, and the mainstream media picked up the story. The reality, though, was that the penis — if you want to call it that — was no act of sabotage, and it was drawn by someone happy to be working with Disney.

    Snopes talked to the artist, who told them he was working long hours trying to complete the cover art just a few months before the home video's release. As a result, he rushed through the background detail at "about 4 in the morning" and unintentionally drew a spire that kind of — OK, totally — looks like a penis.

    A close up of the supposed penis in the background
    Disney

    5. URBAN LEGEND: A heartbroken actor portraying one of the munchkins in The Wizard of Oz hanged himself on set, and — horrifyingly — he can be seen hanging in the distance as Dorothy and her friends head down the yellow brick road.

    Something appears to be hanging in the background of a scene
    MGM

    There's no denying that about 45 minutes into the film, there appears to be someone hanging in the distance as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man head off down the yellow brick road. It's one of those things that, once you spot it, you can never not see it again. 

    But was it really a cast member who'd died by suicide? Thankfully, no. Screen Rant dug into this rumor and explained that the image in the distance was actually the silhouette of a large bird, like an emu or crane. The production, it turns out, had borrowed a bunch of birds from the Los Angeles Zoo and let them roam about the indoor set to make it look more authentically outdoorsy.

    A closer view of something that appears to be hanging in the background of a scene
    MGM

    6. URBAN LEGEND: A man can be seen jumping off a bridge to his death in the background of a scene in the 1995 Leonardo DiCaprio film The Basketball Diaries.

    New Line Cinema

    If you look closely just above the left shoulder of the buff dude on the rock (a young Mark Wahlberg), you'll see — just before he steps down — a figure falling from the bridge. 

    Here's a closer look at the falling figure.

    A figure falls off a bridge
    New Line Cinema

    But was the figure someone falling to their death? According to Snopes, who did their usual close inspection, no. Contemporaneous news reports mention nothing of a suicide from the bridge, and James Madio, one of the actors in the scene, told Snopes they saw and heard nothing out of the ordinary the day they filmed.

    Furthermore, the figure doesn't appear to have arms or legs. What it most resembles — and most likely is — is a garbage bag.  

    7. URBAN LEGEND: The hoverboard used by Marty McFly in Back to the Future Part II was real, and the only reason hoverboards were not sold to the general public was that parents' groups pressured toy companies to keep the dangerous toys unreleased.

    The bullies chase Marty on hoverboards
    Universal

    Man, if you were a kid in the '90s, you 100% heard this one. I'm pretty sure I confidently spread it to a bunch of kids myself. Obviously, it wasn't true — hoverboards like the ones in the film still don't exist commercially today. 

    So, what went on here? Was this pure wish fulfillment on the part of kids? As it turns out, no! Kids could be forgiven for believing it was true because this urban legend was started by none other than the director of the Back to the Future films, Robert Zemeckis!

    View this video on YouTube

    youtube.com

    A TV special promoting the release of Part II (seen above and, yes, hosted by Leslie Nielsen of Naked Gun fame) featured a part (about 25 minutes in) where Zemeckis talks about the hoverboard technology and says, "They’ve been around for years. It’s just that parents' groups have not let toy manufacturers make them, but we got our hands on some and we put them in the movie.” 

    Zemeckis delivered the line with a sly smile that indicated he was kidding, but most kids wouldn't pick up on that subtlety...and didn't.  


    8. URBAN LEGEND: Back to the Future II correctly predicted not only that major league baseball would add a team in Miami but also that the newly formed Miami team would win the World Series in 1997.

    In Back to the Future Part II, a hologram of Miami with a gator mascot is seen
    Universal

    You gotta give it up for the makers of Back to the Future Part II — they did indeed predict a future where major league baseball had a team in Miami, something that in 1989 was still on the horizon. 

    But! The hologram news broadcast that Marty McFly sees when he visits 2015 says nothing about Miami winning the World Series in 1997. Instead, it says the Chicago Cubs swept Miami in the World Series, presumably in 2015. Not only that, but the Miami team in the hologram appeared to be called the Gators and not the Marlins. Oh, and in 1997, the Marlins were called the Florida Marlins (not yet Miami Marlins). 

    Snopes surmised that someone likely misremembered the scene after the Marlins won the World Series in 1997 and thought, Hey, Back to the Future Part II predicted this! And the rumor caught on.

    Interestingly, the film came closer to accurately predicting the long-suffering Cubs' first World Series title in over a hundred years in 2016...one year after Marty visited the future. 

    9. URBAN LEGEND: The filmmakers of 2019's Cats originally intended to make the cats look as lifelike as possible — going so far as to give them realistic, CGI cat buttholes — but later scrapped the idea and edited them all out.

    Taylor Swift as a cat in the film
    Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    As you've seen above, urban legends easily caught fire in a pre-internet world because of the lack of information out there. But urban legends have also spread far and wide BECAUSE of the internet. 

    A good example of an internet-era urban legend is the "butthole cut" of Cats, which people breathlessly talked about on Twitter, Reddit, and elsewhere. As it turns out, while the production never originally intended to make the cats, uh, that realistic, there was indeed a "butthole cut."

    So, what's the story? It turns out that the digital effects team working on the movie was greatly overworked and under a lot of pressure. At one point, a source who worked on the film's visual effects told the Daily Beast, “We were looking at the playbacks; we were like, ‘What the hell? You guys see that?!’ We paused it, we went to call our supervisor, and we’re like, ‘There’s a fucking asshole in there! There’s buttholes!’ It wasn’t prominent, but you saw it."

    The realistic cat backsides, it turns out, were unintentional and only ended up there because the animators were trying to make the cats look as if they had skin that folds as cat skin can. In the end, someone was hired to undo the mess.

    10. URBAN LEGEND: An online rumor blew up that dozens of Cats' crew members somehow died during the two years the film was in production.

    A tweet asking why so many died during production
    @lonon_delrey/twitter

    Snopes got to the bottom of this one, discovering that while the image above was indeed from the film's credits, it didn't list people who died. Instead, it listed various crew members who are still very much alive.

    11. URBAN LEGEND: In the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger, actor Shirley Eaton — who famously appeared covered from head to toe in gold paint — died shortly after completing the scene as a result of "skin suffocation" caused by the paint.

    Bond touches the bikini-clad, gold-covered body of Shirley Eaton
    United Artists / Everett Collection

    In the movie, Bond finds Eaton's character dead, murdered by the titular villain who painted every inch of her body in gold...and thus caused "skin suffocation." The truth is that being covered from head to toe in paint won't cause you to die from skin suffocation, but the film made a whole lot of people believe you could. That was the first urban legend created from this scene.

    The second urban legend was that Eaton, in an ironic twist, died of the very thing that killed her character — skin suffocation — minutes after completing the scene. News of her "death" spread by word of mouth, and in the days before the internet, there was no way to easily look up the truth. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that Eaton didn't do much acting after her famous Bond appearance, so people assumed it was true.

    I could explain in great detail all the ways this one is false, but it's probably easier just to show you this:

    Anthony Harvey / Getty Images

    That's Eaton at the royal world premiere of the 2012 Bond film Skyfall, looking fabulous dressed in — you guessed it — gold.

    12. URBAN LEGEND: The NASA moon landing never actually happened — it was filmed on a soundstage and passed off as the real thing — and legendary film director Stanley Kubrick was the man America hired to film this trickery. Kubrick later hinted at his participation by having the character Danny Torrance wear an Apollo spacecraft sweater in The Shining.

    Danny walks down the iconic hallway in The Shining wearing a NASA spaceship sweater
    Warner Bros.

    The urban legend that the moon landing was faked probably originated from people who were in awe that something so incredible was possible. Interestingly, though, it took a little time before the legend took off — it wasn't until the mid- to late '70s that people really started believing it was faked.

    How Kubrick got mixed up in this isn't totally clear, but it seems to mainly have to do with the fact that he directed 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out ahead of the moon landing and was so technically advanced that he was the one director who could potentially pull off a hoax of this size. Also, The Shining — with Danny wearing the Apollo spacecraft sweater — came out in 1980, right around when this humor was really taking off. The sweater itself, though, wasn't that out of the norm. Kids in the '70s and '80s all had NASA/space shirts like that (source: me, an '80s kid).


    13. URBAN LEGEND: The Poltergeist film series about a family stalked by ghosts made a mistake by dramatizing these supernatural events, and as a result, everyone involved in the productions was cursed, leading to a number of untimely deaths.

    The family in the film stare at something in horror
    MGM / © MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Two unmistakable tragedies befell the production: the murder of 22-year-old Dominique Dunne, who played the family's oldest child, Dana, and the death of 12-year-old Heather O'Rourke, who played youngest child Carol, of cardiac arrest brought on by congenital stenosis. And while it's true the production suffered other sad events, including the deaths of several older cast members, most of the other stories people told about the supposed "curse of Poltergeist" — including the rumor that Oliver Robbins, who played brother Robbie, also died tragically — were untrue.

    Sadly, the truth was that there was no supernatural curse on the production, just a couple of very sad deaths that, when combined with the genre of the film, gave life to a very powerful urban legend.

    14. URBAN LEGEND: One of the first films ever screened publicly, 1896's The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station, consisted entirely of footage of a train arriving at a station. The viewers at that screening — unaccustomed to watching moving images — were so frightened by the image of a train headed their way that they all screamed and stampeded out of the room.

    A black-and-white image of a train pulling into a station circa 1895
    Association Freres Lumiere/Roger Viollet via Getty Images

    You can still hear people repeat this story today, but did it really go down this way? Most likely not. 

    Film scholar Martin Loiperdinger told Atlas Oscura, "There is no evidence at all about any crowd panic in Paris or elsewhere during screenings of L’Arrivée d’un train à La Ciotat — neither police reports nor newspaper reporting." Not only that, but at this initial screening, the film was projected on a small, 7-foot screen, flickered, was grainy, and had no sound. Was it cool to see in 1896? You betcha. But would it cause people to freak out and run for their lives? Not likely.

    If there's any truth captured in this urban legend, it's that it dramatized just how awed people were by this new technology. 

    15. URBAN LEGEND: In Singin' in the Rain, the production crew added milk to the water used to simulate rain so that it'd be easier to see onscreen.

    Gene Kelly dances in the rain in the film
    MGM

    When people watched the hit movie, they couldn't believe how easy it was to see the rain, especially on close-ups of the actors. 

    Check out how noticeable the rain is in this GIF of Gene Kelly. The rain looks almost white...which gave birth to the rumor it was partially milk.

    MGM

    People have confidently repeated this as 100% truth for decades, but it's not true. Patricia Ward Kelly, the widow of Gene Kelly, told the Radio Times, “They say they put milk in the water to make it so you could see it, and it’s really preposterous. What is was is really, really terrific cinematography and lighting.”

    The production lit the falling water from the front and the back, which is what made it pop so much. Also, if it were partially milk, wouldn't we see the telltale signs of milk in his hair and on his face and jacket?


    16. URBAN LEGEND: In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, people started to draw comparisons between real life and the 2007 Will Smith film I Am Legend, which they said was set in 2021 and was about people turned into zombies after taking a failed vaccine.

    Will Smith walks through a desolate New York
    Warner Bros / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

    This was another internet-fueled urban legend, and one that perhaps proves that, despite now having all the information in the world at our fingerprints, we're a lot dumber than we were before. I say this because, as Snopes pointed out, basically everything about this urban legend is inaccurate and easily proved wrong.

    How wrong? Well, the movie was set in 2012, not 2021; Smith was tangling with vampires, not zombies; and the outbreak wasn't caused by a vaccine but by an attempt to cure cancer that went wrong.

    Again, all of these details are easily found online — either by streaming the movie or reading about it on any number of websites — but a meme that people shared without vetting spread this urban (I am) legend far and wide.

      

    17. URBAN LEGEND: Lisa Ann Walter — who played Chessy in The Parent Trap — went on to have identical twins of her own and gave birth to them Oct. 11, the very day Annie and Hallie were born in the film.

    Disney



    This fantastical claim took off on TikTok, but — surprise! — it's actually totally true! The film's screenplay confirms that Hallie and Annie were born Oct. 11, and Walter posted this birthday tribute to her twins, Simon and Spencer, on the same date!

    What urban myths about movies have you heard? Let us know in the comments!