17 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Groundhog Day’
So many pieces had to come together to make the 1993 film Groundhog Day a comedy classic.
Directed by Harold Ramis - the filmmaker behind such other beloved movies as Caddyshack, Ghostbusters and National Lampoon's Vacation - Groundhog Day tells the story of Phil Connors, a cocky TV weatherman sent to cover the annual holiday festivities in Punxsutawney, Pa. He gets caught in a time loop, forcing him to relive the same day over and over. In doing so, the character, and the film itself, opens up bigger questions on existence, faith and mortality.
Somehow, these weighty topics get weaved through many hilarious moments, thanks largely to the efforts of star Bill Murray. For Murray, Groundhog Day proved his acting skills could take on broader depth, something he'd further showcase in films like Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and Lost in Translation (2003). Still, when Groundhog Day had its premiere on Feb. 4, 1993, few knew Murray had such range.
Although the film opened new doors for the actor, it also closed others. Murray was notoriously difficult to deal with on set, and the tumultuous project ended one of his closest friendships.
Details on that and more can be found in the below list of 17 Things You Didn't Know About Groundhog Day.
It Was Inspired by Vampires
More specifically, it was inspired by a famous book about vampires. Screenwriter Danny Rubin was in the throes of reading Anne Rice's novel The Vampire Lestat and found himself contemplating many of the book’s themes surrounding immortality. The screenwriter began to wonder how a person might act differently if death was not an option. Years earlier, Rubin had come up with a movie idea about a time traveler who repeats the same day. Suddenly, he saw a chance to combine the two concepts. “My funny movie idea about repetition and my human experiment about immortality had become one,” he recalled in the appropriately titled book How to Write Groundhog Day.
Bill Murray Wasn’t the First Choice to Play Phil
Given the history between Ramis and Murray, it would be easy to assume the Saturday Night Live alumnus was the first choice to play Phil Connors. However, lots of other A-list stars were considered before Murray took the role. Chevy Chase, Kevin Kline, Steve Martin and Michael Keaton were all approached at various points, with the latter actor later admitting he regretted passing on the role. Still, Ramis’ first choice was perhaps the biggest star of all: Tom Hanks. “Audiences would have been sitting there waiting for me to become nice because I always play nice,” Hanks later admitted, noting Murray was better suited for the role. “But Bill’s such a miserable S.O.B. on and offscreen, you didn’t know what was going to happen.”
A Singer Nearly Played Rita
Initially, Ramis auditioned female comedians for the role of Rita, Connors’ TV producer and romantic interest. The director quickly concluded that the role needed to have a different energy than Murray’s character, providing balance against the lead. Andie MacDowell, the affable southern actress who, at this point, had appeared in such films as St. Elmo's Fire (1985) and Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989), would land the part. But a notable musician was also considered: Tori Amos, who at the time was riding high on the success of her debut album, Little Earthquakes, had also been in discussions for the part.
The Plot Could Have Included a Gypsy Curse
Hollywood executives are not known for their comprehension of deeper artistic ideas. Case in point, the studio suits continually told Ramis that the film needed to explain why Phil ended up reliving the same day over and over. “Why does the day repeat? Why the hell … I like it, it’s good, but I don’t understand why he gets stuck in this loop,” the film’s producer, Trevor Albert, recalled being asked. “Is it aliens that put a hex on him or what the fuck - does he fall into some weird chemical?' They wanted some tangible event to occur in the first act that shows someone has put a spell on him. And that was like, ‘Fuck no.’ There’s no freaking way. That really is pandering to the audience.” To appease the studio, Danny Rubin wrote a scene that explained that Phil had been stuck repeating the same day due to a gypsy curse. It was purposely never shot, and the filmmakers were able to move forward with the picture the way they wanted.
Murray Purposely Hired a Deaf Personal Assistant
“Bill had all these obvious resentments toward the production, so it was very hard for a time to communicate with him,” Ramis told Entertainment Weekly. “Calls would go unreturned. Production assistants couldn’t find him. So someone said, ‘Bill, you know, things would be easier if you had a personal assistant. Then we wouldn’t have to bother you with all this stuff.’ And he said, ‘OK.’ So he hired a personal assistant who was profoundly deaf, did not have oral speech, spoke only American sign language, which Bill did not speak, nor did anyone else in the production. But Bill said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to learn sign language.’ And I think it was so inconvenient that in a couple weeks, he gave that up. That’s anti-communication, you know? Let’s not talk.'”
A Future Oscar Nominee Played a Small Role
Look closely, that’s actor Michael Shannon playing the small but memorable role of Fred, one half of a newlywed couple that Phil assists during his long list of good deeds. The role was Shannon’s first film credit, though he’d go on to many more, including notable parts in Man of Steel, World Trade Center, The Shape of Water and Knives Out. Shannon is a two-time Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor, in 2008 for Revolutionary Road and in 2016 for Nocturnal Animals.
It Was Shot in a Small Town … but Not Punxsutawney
Even though producers considered filming on location in Punxsutawney, Pa., Ramis and his team ultimately decided the town didn’t have the look they were hoping for. The director instead settled on Woodstock, Ill., a site roughly 60 miles from Chicago. Officials in Punxsutawney were reportedly so upset the film wasn’t going to the shot in their town that they refused to let the real Punxsutawney Phil appear in Groundhog Day.
Phil Was a Wild Groundhog
Without the real Punxsutawney Phil, filmmakers had to find another groundhog. Weeks before shooting began, a wild groundhog was captured to use in the flick. The crew named him Scooter, and though he generally handled the cameras well, he wasn’t too fond of Murray. Scooter reportedly bit the star on three different occasions.
'I Got You Babe' Was There From Day One
Every time Phil awakes in his bed, he's greeted by the sounds of “I Got You, Babe” on his clock radio. The 1965 Sonny & Cher hit was in Danny Rubin’s original draft, and survived every rewrite that followed. “I remembered it was a song that involved a lot of repetition of that phrase, 'I got you babe,' as well as a false ending, after which the repetitions start up again,” Rubin explained in the book Groundhog Day. “Plus, of course, it’s a love song with some ironic resonances with the love story in the movie.”
The Weather Was Wild
Principal photography took place from March 16 to June 10, 1992. The weather during that span was unpredictable. At some points, the cast and crew braved bitterly cold temperatures. At others, they had to wear heavy coats and winter attire onscreen, despite the heat being in the 80s. In the latter situation, the crew had the added challenge of bringing in fake snow to make sure the set still looked winter appropriate.
Bill Murray Ate All That Food
In one of Groundhog Day’s many memorable scenes, Phil sits in a diner shoveling assorted pastries and sugary treats into his mouth as Rita stares in shock. “Don’t you worry about cholesterol? Lung cancer? Love handles?” she asks. “I don’t worry about anything anymore,” Phil replies. For the scene, Murray was offered a bucket so that he could spit out the food as soon as Ramis called cut. He declined, and instead consumed the desserts take after take. Years later, Murray theorized that his costar may have purposely made sure the scene was shot multiple times. "Andie [MacDowell] kept flubbing her lines, so I had to eat about eight pieces of cake," the actor recalled to Access Hollywood. "She may have been torturing me. I probably had it coming."
Studio Execs Wanted the Old Man Removed
Part of Groundhog Day’s enduring appeal stems not from the comedy but from its humanity. As Phil battles with his existential crisis, he befriends an old homeless man asking for change. Every repeated day, Phil does more and more things to try to save the man’s life, yet despite these efforts, the old man always dies. It's a subplot that’s at the heart of Groundhog Day, but studio executives wanted it removed. The suits believed the scenes to be too depressing for what they viewed as a lighthearted comedy. Ramis, however, fought for them to remain, insisting the scenes added depth to Phil’s character growth, while also showing his understanding that, despite his assertion earlier in the film, he was not a god.
The Original Ending Wasn’t Happy
Many aspects of Danny Rubin’s original story idea changed during preproduction (and even into filming). Among them is Groundhog Day’s conclusion. Rather than a happy ending in which the two main characters end up together, the original concept was to have Rita ultimately turn down Phil. The story would have then concluded by revealing Rita was in a time loop of her own, living the same day over and over.
A Vote Determined Whether Phil and Rita Had Sex
Murray refused to film the movie’s final scene without knowing what his character was wearing. If he was still in the clothes from the night before, it would indicate that Phil and Rita didn’t have sex. A different outfit would have suggested that the romantic evening had resulted in the two sleeping together. Ramis hadn’t considered this and ultimately put it to a vote among the cast and crew. "Then, one girl in the movie — it was her first film — she was assistant set director. She raised her hand and said, 'He is absolutely wearing the clothes he wore the night before. If he's not wearing the clothes he wore the night before, it will ruin the movie. That's my vote,'” Stephen Tobolowsky, who played Ned Ryerson, recalled decades later. “So Harold Ramis said, 'Then that's what we are going to do.'"
The Puddle Got a Plaque
In one of the many recurring gags of the film, Murray steps off the curb into a deep puddle of water. Bricks were removed from the gutter to help make the infamous puddle. Following filming, the City of Woodstock added a plaque on the sidewalk where the puddle scenes were shot. It reads: “Bill Murray Stepped Here.”
It Inspired a Song
German techno band Scooter may not be a household name on U.S. shores, but the group has forged a successful career in Europe spanning more than 30 years. The band has sold more than 30 million records worldwide and played at massive festivals across the globe. They also – as you may have noticed – share their name with the groundhog who starred as Punxsutawney Phil. In 2021, Scooter (the band) released their 20th album, God Save the Rave. It featured the song “Groundhog Day,” which included the lyrics: "Living in a time loop / Like Groundhog Day / No life without party / No life if we don't play.”
After the Film’s Release, Ramis and Murray Didn’t Talk for More Than 20 Years
Even though Groundhog Day became an instant classic that has only grown more appreciated in the years since its release, tension and creative difference drove a wedge between Murray and Ramis. “At times, Bill was just really irrationally mean and unavailable, he was constantly late on set,” the director noted to The New Yorker. “What I’d want to say to him is just what we tell our children: ‘You don’t have to throw tantrums to get what you want. Just say what you want.’” Following the tumultuous experience making Groundhog Day, the two didn't reconnect until 2014, shortly before Ramis' death from complications due to autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis.