Fatal Attraction (1987) is an erotic psychological thriller written by James Dearden and directed by Adrian Lyne.
The plot centers around a Manhattan lawyer named Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) who is happily married to his wife, Beth Gallagher (Anne Archer). Together they have a daughter, Ellen Gallagher (Ellen Hamilton Latzen). At work, Dan meets attractive and flirtatious publishing editor Alex Forest (Glenn Close). While his family is away for the weekend, Alex and Dan have dinner and begin a steamy sexual affair. However, Dan loses interest immediately after the thrill of the chase is over. This causes the already troubled Alex to spiral. As Dan withdraws, Alex clings to him, and the relationship becomes increasingly toxic and frightening.
Fatal Attraction struck a chord. Men were terrified. Women were able to put words to a much more salacious version of something that may have once happened to them. The public fascination with the film led to it becoming an overwhelming success. Marketing materials for the movie called it “the most talked about film of 1987.” On just a $14-million budget, Fatal Attraction earned $320.1 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing movie of 1987. It was nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Glenn Close), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Archer), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.
Here are the most interesting behind-the-scenes trivia facts, lore, and thoughts on the legacy of Fatal Attraction:
- James Dearden made a 50-minute British television film in 1980 called Diversion that was basically a dry run of Fatal Attraction. When Paramount bought the rights to Fatal Attraction, they tried to destroy all copies of Diversion, so it’s pretty impossible to get your hands on.
2. Producers Sherry Lansing and Stanley R. Jaffe didn’t want to cast Glenn Close because they didn’t think she was “sexual” enough for the role and considered Barbara Hershey and Gilda Radner instead. However, a later audition changed the producers’ minds. Close wore a tight-fitting black dress and wore her hair loose. She read a flirtatious scene with Michael Douglas, and director Adrian Lyne said, “an extraordinary erotic transformation took place. She was this tragic, bewildering mix of sexuality and rage—I watched Alex come to life.” Close was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for the role.
3. Glenn Close and Michael Douglas both attended gendered prep schools in Wallingford, Connecticut that have since combined to become a single coeducational school. Only a few years apart in age, they would have gone to the same school if this had happened while they were in attendance.
4. To prepare for her role, Glenn Close went to three psychiatrists. For most of the movie, Alex Forest does things most of us have done at one time or another: calling someone too much, “accidentally” running into them, showing up somewhere you know they’ll be, etc. Real-life bad behavior combines with symptoms of real mental illness and toxic and abusive relationship patterns.
5. In 2013, Glenn Close said if the script came to her today, she would be worried the film would stigmatize mental illness. She said she thinks it’s weird that none of the three psychiatrists she consulted for the role had any concerns about how the film would impact their patients.
6. Close has been diagnosed with depression and advocates for mental-health awareness. She says of Alex, “I’ve never thought of her as a villain, just in distress.”
7. The psychiatrists Glenn Close consulted said that Alex Forest probably had been molested and “sexually tortured” as a child. They saw her behavior as realistic for someone who had survived that kind of trauma.
8. Fatal Attraction had an alternate ending that Glenn Close liked much better than the theatrical version. In this version, Alex slit her throat and framed Dan for murder. Beth is then able to exonerate her husband using the threatening cassette tapes Alex had sent him.
9. This was the planned ending of the film, but after test screenings a new ending was shot because the test audiences said they loved the film until the end. Sidney M. Ganis, Paramount’s then president of worldwide marketing, said, “They didn’t want to see her do herself in…they wanted to see her done in.” The audience was bloodthirsty. And Glenn Close needed to be punished. Interestingly, there was a total lack of bloodthirst for the character of Dan Gallagher, a married father who was comfortable risking his relationship with his wife and daughter for a night of fun. Audiences were completely focused on the woman.
10. Six months after filming ended, production announced to the cast that they would be filming a new ending. Close held off for two weeks, firmly stating that she believed her character would have died by suicide. She finally gave in and filmed the alternate ending.
11. While reshooting the ending, Close got a concussion when her head was whacked against a mirror. While being treated, she discovered she was pregnant with her daughter Annie Starke.
12. The term “bunny boiler” comes from Fatal Attraction. Though it’s usually used to refer to a clingy woman, the phrase alludes to the scene where Glenn Close boils Ellen Gallagher’s pet bunny.
13. In the Chinese zodiac, 1987 was the year of the rabbit.
14. O.J. Simpson was briefly considered for the role of Dan Gallagher.
15. Kirstie Alley was auditioning for the role of Alex Forest and told director Adrian Lyne a personal story of her husband being stalked by a woman who sent him cassette tapes begging him to be with her. Some lines from those tapes were used in the film.
16. Twenty directors turned down the opportunity to direct Fatal Attraction before Adrian Lyne signed on.
17. In 1993, Nora Ephron cowrote and directed Sleepless in Seattle as a kind of anti-Fatal Attraction. Meg Ryan’s character falls for widower Tom Hanks after hearing him talk on a call-in psychiatry show on the radio. Like Glenn Close, Meg Ryan’s character goes beyond what most people would do for love. Even though she is engaged to another man, she travels to Seattle, goes to his home, and spies on him and his son. Eventually the two meet on top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day and indeed fall in love. Instead of being violent and toxic, it’s magical.
18. Glenn Close says when she meets fans, men will tell her “you scared the shit out of me” and also that the fear they felt watching Fatal Attraction “saved their marriage” because they were too afraid to cheat.
19. At the height of Michael Douglas’s career, he was playing a lot of similar roles, classified by critic Rob Edelman as “contemporary, Caucasian middle-to-upper-class American male who finds himself the brunt of female anger because of real or imagined sexual slights.” Dan Gallagher in Fatal Attraction is one of these roles, along with Detective Nick Curran in Basic Instinct (1992) and Tom Sanders in Disclosure (1994).
20. Sharon Stone auditioned for the role of Alex Forest.
21. Michael Douglas was also filming his iconic role as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987) while filming Fatal Attraction. Luckily, he played a businessman living in Manhattan in both films, so his look and the location didn’t change much.
22. Jane Krakowski played the Gallaghers’ babysitter in her second film role.
23. Adrian Lyne used the same apartment he used in his previous film, 9 1/2 Weeks (1986), for the Gallaghers’ apartment.
24. The final scene is set in the bathroom because it’s the final frontier of Dan’s private life that Alex has not yet invaded.
25. Brian de Palma at one point was signed on as director but wanted to cast someone other than Michael Douglas for Dan Gallagher. Paramount chose Michael Douglas over de Palma. Since the film’s release, de Palma has said he was wrong about Michael Douglas and that Douglas is indeed a good leading man.
26. In 1992, Glenn Close appeared on Saturday Night Live and satirized herself as Alex Forest in a support group:
27. The film is somewhat similar to Play Misty for Me (1971), a psychological thriller starring Clint Eastwood and Jessica Walter. Set in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Misty is about a radio DJ (Eastwood) who has a casual fling with a fan (Walter) who immediately becomes obsessed with him.
28. Glenn Close still has the knife used in the final scene on display in her kitchen. She says it’s to let guests know they can’t stay forever.
29. After all these years, Paramount+ is bringing a feminist reimagining of Fatal Attraction to their streaming service as a series. Joshua Jackson and Lizzy Caplan will star. The new series hopes to fix the problem of the story being told only from the male gaze (like why Alex has no backstory or diagnosis, and why she is punished but Dan is not).