Final Destination (2000) changed the horror genre. The plot sounds like an urban legend: Someone gets off a plane right before it crashes, only for Death to circle back and kill him anyway.
The idea started as a 1994 spec script for The X-Files. Writer Jeffrey Reddick liked the idea so much, he never submitted it to The X-Files but instead began looking to sell it to a studio. James Wong and Glen Morgan rewrote the script for New Line Cinema, and Final Destination was made five years later. The film has had four sequels and is now one of the highest-grossing horror-movie franchises of all time.
Here are some facts about Final Destination‘s origin story, creepy coincidences, and trivia about the whole Final Destination universe:
1. Reddick was inspired to write the script after reading a story in the newspaper about a woman who changed flights after receiving a call from her mother in which her mother said she had a bad feeling about the plane. The flight the woman was supposed to be on crashed.
2. The X-Files spec script Reddick wrote was titled Flight 180 and followed Mulder and Scully as they investigated a mysterious incident in which a group of students from McKinley High School on a class trip to Paris got off a flight shortly before it took off and exploded, killing everyone onboard. The surviving students and teachers are then quickly killed in a series of bizarre “accidents,” and the FBI becomes involved.
3. Devon Sawa, the main character in the original, was the last person to be cast. He first read the script on a plane and became paranoid, glancing out the window to check on the plane’s engine while he read. James Wong and Glen Morgan weren’t sure about casting Sawa until they watched Idle Hands (1999) and loved his performance.
4. One of the biggest reveals is that Devon Sawa (Alex) and Ali Larter’s (Clear) characters are romantically involved and have a child, which Clear names Alex. These scenes were deleted from the movie’s theatrical version.
5. If the creepy character William Bludworth seemed familiar, that’s because Tony Todd played Candyman, someone every horror fan feared growing up.
In death there are no accidents, no coincidences, no mishaps, and no escapes.—William Bludworth, played by Tony Todd
6. Seann William Scott’s character, the class clown Billy Hitchcock, was supposed to be played by a fat actor. Production changed this script direction to cast Scott.
7. French teacher Valerie Lewton was played by writer Glen Morgan’s wife, Kristen Cloke. Cloke had previously acted in a guest role on The X-Files. The episode, “The Field Where I Died”, was also written by Glen Morgan and James Wong.
8. The X-Files wasn’t the only spec script Jeffrey Reddick wrote. When he was 14, he also wrote a spec script for an A Nightmare on Elm Street prequel.
9. Glen Morgan, who rewrote the script with James Wong, talked about how he went about thinking about “Death” in the universe: “The main thing they wanted about Death coming to get people is that you never saw a kind of a Michael Myers figure. You never saw a killer. And they liked that idea and they said, ‘Okay. Go write it.’ Once we had a basic story, I started cataloging the strange coincidences in my own life. For example, I was in the Vancouver airport waiting for a flight when John Denver came on over the loudspeaker. I remember saying to myself, ‘Hey, he just died in a plane crash – that’s a little weird.’ We wrote that version of that experience into the script.”
We want to do for planes and air travel what Jaws did for sharks and swimming.—James Wong, on his goal in agreeing to make Final Destination
10. Terry Chaney’s death (her character is hit by a speeding bus outside of a cafe) was filmed first. Three-dimensional models were made of all the actors to use for their death scenes.
11. The scenes at JFK Airport were actually shot at Vancouver International Airport.
12. To give the audience a sense of unease, production designers swapped out the sets used to film scenes that take place before the plane crash and after. In the scenes filmed after the plane crash when Death is chasing the survivors, objects and colors were slightly altered.
On the skewed sets I force the perspective either vertically or horizontally….In the skewed world, [the colors are] washed-out and faded. Nothing is obvious, and it’s only in the overall effect that these subtle differences will work their magic.—John Willet, production designer on Final Destination
13. It took two months to build the fake plane interior on a soundstage that was used to film the scene where the plane explodes. The exterior view of the explosion was filmed using a miniature four-foot plane.
14. “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver is featured prominently throughout the film, especially in Valerie Lewton’s death scene. It’s also performed by a busker in French in a scene which is supposed to be taking place in Paris. John Denver’s father was an Air Force pilot, and John was a hobbyist who had his pilot’s license and frequently flew planes. Because he pled guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in 1993 and crashed his vehicle into a tree in 1994 (a suspected drunk-driving accident) and because he did not maintain sobriety after those events, the FAA ruled in 1995 that John Denver was not allowed to pilot a plane. He died in a plane crash in 1997. He was flying alone and was the only victim. He had no alcohol in his system. John had previously been in a plane accident in 1989 in which he walked away unharmed.
15. In the original script, the group of survivors were strangers. Because teen slasher movies were so popular, the characters were changed to students who knew each other from a high-school French class.
16. The idea for Final Destination 2 came to Jeffrey Reddick when he was driving, which is fitting since the movie opens with a huge pileup on the freeway. This scene includes one of the most iconic images from the Final Destination franchise — the logs piled into a back of a truck that eventually come loose and cause a wave of gruesome accidents for the vehicles following behind.
17. In 2019, an accident happened where a man driving behind a logging truck had a near-miss with death. The driver rear-ended the logging truck, and the logs were thrown through the windshield into the man’s car. He had been bent down retrieving something, or he would have been impaled by the logs. Rescue workers had to cut through “30-40 logs” before they reached the man, but he had only minor injuries. The man’s name was never released.
18. The Final Destination 2 car-crash scene frequently tops critics’ lists of the best movie car-crash scenes of all time.
19. It’s revealed in Final Destination 2 that Alex’s premonition on Flight 180 and the plot of Final Destination have widespread effects on the world beyond the group of survivors. The character Kat Jennings says she was on her way to a meeting at a bed-and-breakfast when the bus she was on hit Terry Chaney during the events of Final Destination. The accident caused her to miss her meeting, saving her life as the bed-and-breakfast had a carbon monoxide leak which killed everyone in the building. The character Rory Peters reveals that the events of Final Destination also altered his life. Rory was in Paris when he saw Carter Horton’s sudden death outside a cafe when he was killed by a falling neon sign. Shocked by the incident, Rory went home for the night instead of his planned activity of going to a show at a theater which ended up collapsing and killing many of the attendees. The implication is that the members of the would-be Route 23 pileup were all on “Death’s list.”
21. Final Destination can be placed in the horror genre next to time travel movies because of the focus on premonitions. Final Destination 3 introduces a new story arc of the protagonist, Wendy, being able to identify and avoid Death’s list by closely analyzing photographs of herself and the other survivors of a roller-coaster crash. This was likely inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone called A Most Unusual Camera. The episode was about a husband and wife who steal a Polaroid camera and discover it takes pictures that depict the very near future. They use the camera to predict the winner of a horse race and make a lot of money, but they also learn “more money, more problems.”
22. The “sinister camera predicts your death” horror trope has also been explored by R.L. Stine in the Goosebumps books Say Cheese and Die and Say Cheese and Die–Again and in the indie horror movie Time Lapse (2015) (read about it on our list of the best time travel movies). The concept probably originates from an H.G. Wells 1936 short story called “The Queer Story of Brownlow’s Newspaper” about a man who is delivered a newspaper from 40 years in the future.
23. Other works take a much more positive inspiration from the Wells story. In It Happened Tomorrow (1944), a reporter gets a newspaper with tomorrow’s news and uses it to further his career and bet on horses. A television series called Early Edition aired in the late 90s when Final Destination was in the development phase. It followed a man who received each issue of the Chicago Sun-Times one day early. He then had 24 hours to change the news and prevent as much crime, death, and disaster as he could.
24. One reason this universe endures is that the Final Destination story is so unique among horror movies, a genre known for its formulaic plots. In Final Destination, there is no Jason or Michael. There is no bad guy at all, just a group of survivors facing their own mortality.
25. Some film critics have described the “mechanism” by which the characters in Final Destination die as an example of a Rube Goldberg machine. This is an overly complicated device that works by chain reaction, such as the homemade booby traps in Home Alone (1990) or those set by Jigsaw in the Saw movies. In 2010, American rock band OK Go created a music video for their song “This Too Shall Pass” in which the entire video follows a Rube Goldberg machine in one shot:
26. A similar but distinct movie trope is the death trap, where a villain has created an impractical and flamboyant method of death for the hero. (Think Westerns where a damsel in distress is tied to the train tracks or a slow-moving laser traveling toward James Bond’s crotch.) Other famous examples of death traps are found in the Indiana Jones movies, spoofed in the Austin Powers series, and the feature of the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Both a Rube Goldberg machine and a death trap imply an intelligent designer, which Final Destination purposely lacks.
27. For some reason, Final Destination 3 was close to being called Cheating Death: Final Destination 3. It was also originally going to be in 3D, but that was scrapped for financial reasons, but the following two movies, The Final Destination (2009) and Final Destination 5 (2011), were in 3D.
28. Final Destination 3‘s opening sequence features a deadly roller-coaster accident. About four people in the United States die from amusement park accidents every year. However, the official stance from New Line Cinema is that it was definitely not inspired by the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad incident from 2003. That year the ride at Disneyland killed a 22-year-old man when it derailed from the track. Ten other riders were injured. In 2017, a 54-year-old man died at the ride at Disney’s Magic Kingdom location but was believed to have died from natural causes.
29. The deadliest roller-coaster accident of all time happened in 1972 when five children were killed on England’s “Big Dipper” wooden roller coaster. The ride had been operating for 20 years when it broke during a ride. The entire park closed down two years later.
30. “Big Dipper” was also the name of the ride that had the deadliest roller coaster accident in U.S. history. In 1930, the “Big Dipper” wooden roller coaster at Krug Park in Nebraska malfunctioned and several cars fell 35 feet from the track to the ground. Four people died and 19 were injured.
31. One woman who died in 2013 by falling out of the “Texas Giant” ride at Six Flags in Arlington, Texas hit the ground with such an impact that her body was spread out over a 75-foot radius. The ride’s safety bar had opened up midair. Before departing, the woman told a staff person that she did not feel the safety bar was properly closed.
32. Both Ashley Tisdale and Vanessa Hudgens auditioned for Final Destination 3.
33. Final Destination 4‘s original title was The Final Destination. It was intended to be the last movie in the franchise.
34. The Final Destination is the only movie in the franchise where Tony Todd does not appear as William Bludworth. He had a scheduling conflict and returned for Final Destination 5.
35. Final Destination 5 was almost called 5nal Destination.
36. Final Destination 5‘s twist ending reveals to fans that the entire movie had secretly been a prequel to the original Final Destination. In the film’s final minutes, the main characters take a seat on the doomed Flight 180, from which the main characters of the origin story escaped.
37. The opening premonition scene in Final Destination 5 was filmed on the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver and features a bridge collapse caused by high winds and heavy construction equipment. In 2007, the weight of crowded rush-hour traffic and a large amount of construction equipment caused the 35W bridge in Minneapolis to collapse and kill 13 people.
38. Another incredible scene from Final Destination 5 is this death scene where one of the characters dies during a gymnastics meet:
39. Final Destination‘s death sequences are usually inspired from real fears. For instance, after his wife underwent LASIK eye surgery, Eric Heisserer wrote the scene in which Death comes for a survivor during the same operation. Common fears that the Final Destination universe touches on in its death sequences include:
- Asphyxiated in a freak household accident: Todd Waggner in Final Destination.
- Being bisected (or trisected) by flying wire: Rory Peters in Final Destination 2.
- Burned to death in a tanning bed: Ashley Freund and Ashlyn Halperin in Final Destination 3.
- Being caught on a pool drain and having your organs sucked out through your anus: Hunt Wynorski in The Final Destination.
- Crushed between the floor and a moving elevator: Nora Carpenter in Final Destination 2.
- Crushed by a falling pane of glass: Tim Carpenter in Final Destination 2.
- Crushed by weights at the gym: Lewis Romero in Final Destination 3.
- Falling into a wood-chipper: Kimberly Corman and Officer Burke off-screen, referenced in Final Destination 3.
- Grill explosion: Brian Gibbons in Final Destination 2.
- Gymnastics accident: Candice Hooper in Final Destination 5.
- Hit by a speeding bus: Terry Chaney in Final Destination.
- Hit by debris at a NASCAR race: Cynthia Daniels in The Final Destination.
- Hit through the eye by a rock kicked up by a lawn mower: Samantha Lane in The Final Destination.
- Impaled by a falling object: Evan Lewis in Final Destination 2.
- Impaled by logs/PVC pipes coming through the windshield in a car accident: Kat Jennings in Final Destination 2.
- LASIK eye surgery accident: Olivia Castle in Final Destination 5, though LASIK is only the catalyst for her death and she actually dies by falling out of the window.
- Plane crash: The first movie opens with the character’s classmates being killed on the doomed Flight 180 to Paris.
- Shot by a nail gun in the head: Erin Ulmer in Final Destination 3.
- Wrong place, wrong time: Alex Browning, the protagonist of the original movie, is killed off-screen by a falling brick.
40. These kinds of Final Destination freak accidents do happen in real life. For instance, Hunt Wynorski’s death in The Final Destination seems farfetched if you don’t know that pool suction-drain injury actually occurs. A normal pool drain pulls down 350 pounds of pressure when it is draining, according to Pool & Spa News. This is enough suction to cause an adult to drown and/or be disemboweled.
41. On June 29, 2007, a six-year-old in Minnesota was transanally eviscerated by a suctioning drain, and 21 feet of her intestines were sucked out of her body. The girl received organ transplants but died nine months later due to her injuries. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGBA) was passed in 2008 after another little girl died from pool-drain suction.
42. The most famous example of “death coming back around” may be Jessica Ghawi Redfield, a 22-year-old woman who escaped a terrorist attack in a Toronto mall on June 2, 2012, only to be killed by a terrorist attack on an Aurora, Colorado movie theater on July 20, 2012.
43. Another instance of a real life Final Destination happening is the death of Ye Meng Yuan, a teen girl who survived a plane crash in San Francisco, only to be run over by two trucks that were rushing rescue workers to the scene.
44. In 1977, the entire University of Evansville basketball team except one person was killed when Air Indiana Flight 216 crashed after taking off. Eighteen-year-old freshman David Furr injured his ankle and was not on the plane. Two weeks after the plane crash, Furr was killed in a car accident.
45. The epigraph for a 1934 John O’Hara novel recounts an ancient Mesopotamian story that gives the novel its title, An Appointment in Samarra. The epigraph reads:
A merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. Soon afterwards, the servant comes home white and trembling and tells him that in the marketplace, he was jostled by a woman, whom he recognized as Death, who made a threatening gesture. Borrowing the merchant’s horse, he flees at great speed to Samarra, a distance of about 75 miles (125 km), where he believes Death will not find him. The merchant then goes to the marketplace and finds Death, and asks why she made the threatening gesture to his servant. She replies, “That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”—The epigraph for John O’Hara’s An Appointment in Samarra, written by W. Somerset Maugham
A dramatic retelling of this story is also featured in the 1968 crime thriller Targets:
46. In Final Destination 5, William Bludworth reveals that survivors can “take” someone else’s remaining lifespan by murdering them. This leads several characters to try to escape Death by murdering others. However (tap to reveal spoiler), for one character, Nathan Sears, the man he murdered ended up having a diagnosed health condition which made him unlikely to live beyond a few weeks anyway. Nathan is killed moments after he discovers this information.
47. In 2005-2006, a series of Final Destination novels were released, some with original stories and some retelling the movie plots. In Looks Could Kill, a model saves her friends from a yacht explosion but is disfigured in the process. She later decides to help Death kill her friends in return for her previous appearance being restored.
48. Miles Fisher, who plays Peter Friedkin in Final Destination 5, is also a musician. Some of his castmates appeared in the music video for his song “New Romance” as characters from Saved by the Bell who meet horrific ends:
49. Probably the biggest missed opportunity in the entire Final Destination series is that they never use Blue Öyster Cult’s 1976 banger Don’t Fear the Reaper in any of the movies. This song is so good, it inspired Stephen King to write The Stand.
50. As of the summer of 2021, Final Destination 6 was being made. Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan wrote the script:
We’re toying with having it take place in the world of first responders: EMTs, firemen, and police. These people deal with death on the front lines every day and make choices that can cause people to live or die. We rely on their good judgment, expertise, and calm demeanor. So why not put those people in the nightmare situation where every choice can bring about life and death — but now for themselves? We’re thinking that world might be an interesting way into a Final Destination movie, and one which can also generate unique set pieces in a very credible way.—Producer Craig Perry on Final Destination 6
51. Devon Sawa has expressed tentative interest in returning to the series:
Yes, I would. If you were in Vegas right now laying some big money down, I wouldn’t put it on me coming back, but of course. I’ve watched every one of those movies since they’ve come out. But I think the ship has sailed. I’m getting a little older. I think they’re gonna be going with a new, young cast, but yeah man. I would do it. I would do it in a heartbeat.—Devon Sawa, to Movieweb in 2019 on whether he will ever return to the Final Destination franchise