×

Inside ‘Scarface’s’ Sometimes Rocky Road to Becoming a Classic

Scarface,” which opened Dec. 9, 1983, made money at the box office but wasn’t immediately profitable. In the 35 years since then, the film has been embraced as a classic. On April 6, 1982, Variety announced star Al Pacino and director Sidney Lumet were working on a remake of the 1932 film, but before long Brian De Palma stepped in as director. The original budget was $13 million-$14 million. When production wrapped in summer 1983, the cost had ballooned to $37 million.

Just before its holiday launch, Universal held a New York premiere screening and a party at Sardi’s, with guests including Cher, Raquel Welch, Lucille Ball, Eddie Murphy and Kurt Vonnegut, “who walked out during the grisly chainsaw shower scene,” Variety reported. The story added that an on-screen dedication at the end to Ben Hecht and Howard Hawks of the 1932 original “elicited a few angry boos from the mainly trade audience.”

The project started as a 1929 pulp novel by Armitage Trail, inspired by gangster Al Capone, whose nickname was Scarface. The book and the 1932 film center on prohibition in Chicago. The 1983 version switched to the Florida drug trade.

Before that version began, the filmmakers announced it would be timely, pegged to a 1980 boat-lift from Mariel Harbor in Cuba, where thousands had emigrated to the U.S. There were claims that a number of them were inmates from prison or mental institutions. During production of “Scarface,” the film earned lots of advance publicity as Cuban-Americans protested the depiction.

Fueling more publicity: In early screenings, there were rumors that the film was facing an X rating, but the Variety review shrugged, “Pic is bloody but no more brutal than many other films in recent years, although odds are that it contains more four-letter words than any picture to date.”

The remake did OK at the box office, earning $66 million worldwide, but that was not enough to offset the big budget. Still, the picture gained followers in home video and beyond. In 1984, home vid execs said it was summer’s highest selling title — at $79.95 a pop. There were 100,000 videocassettes sold as of June 22, 1984, bringing in an estimated $5 million.

And the movie continued to add viewers in cable and streaming. People liked the over-the-top violence, intense acting and the intentionally vulgar nouveau-riche look from art director Ed Richardson, visual consultant Ferdinando Scarfiotti and costume designer Patricia Norris.

For the record, the original ran 93 minutes; the remake was 170 minutes. And Pacino’s line “Say hello to my little friend” has entered pop culture.

There has been talk of a further remake, with Antoine Fuqua the Coen brothers, Terence Winter and Diego Luna involved at various points. But so far, a new version has missed its 2018 target date.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Dolly Parton at the Grand Ole

    Film News Roundup: Dolly Parton Donates $1 Million for Research on Coronavirus Cure

    In today’s film news roundup, Dolly Parton makes a donation for coronavirus cure, Howie Mandel and Ashlee Simpson join the voice cast of “Pierre The Pigeon-Hawk” and American Documentary launches an artists emergency fund. RESEARCH DONATION Dolly Parton has donated $1 million to Nashville’s Vanderbilt Hospital to help aid research to find a cure for [...]

  • Amy Adams Jennifer Garner

    Jennifer Garner, Amy Adams on 'Save With Stories,' Helping Children During Coronavirus Quarantine

    Jennifer Garner and Amy Adams are opening their contact lists for their new endeavor to help children during the coronavirus pandemic. Not long after the U.S. came to a screeching halt because of COVID-19, the two superstars launched “SaveWithStories,” an Instagram account that features celebrities and other notable figures reading children’s books. The line-up already [...]

  • Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in

    Did 'Little Women' Leave Modern Water Bottles in the Background of a Scene?

    Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” appears to have left behind a couple of little mistakes – namely a black Hydro Flask and a Poland Spring water bottle. Self-proclaimed “Little Women” superfan Madelyn Rancourt, who claims to have seen the movie seven times in theaters, exposed the flaw to the internet via TikTok on March 26. @madelynrancourt [...]

  • Coronavirus Covid-19 Placeholder

    Movie Theater Owners Create $1.25 Million Fund for Employees in California, Nevada

    The National Association of Theatre Owners of California/Nevada has established a $1.25 million relief fund to assist employees of member theaters who have been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “As we all know, our industry is dependent on our employees for survival, and we want to do what we can to assist them during [...]

  • Clover

    'Clover': Film Review

    The mobster comedy is by now such familiar terrain that it ought to have its own nickname (mobcom, obviously), and that familiarity does not make breathing new life into the subgenre easier. Alas, there isn’t much fresh air to be had in “Clover,” Despite a capable cast and reasonably energetic execution from director Jon Abrahams, [...]

  • Blow the Man Down Amazon Studios

    How Amazon's 'Blow the Man Down' Filmmakers Captured an Intricate Mood

    Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy spent eight years working on the script for their feature film debut, Amazon’s “Blow the Man Down,” about a pair of sisters who go deep into the underbelly of their New England hometown to cover up a crime. But the filmmakers’ relationship dates back further than that — to [...]

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping

    China’s President Calls for Cinemas to Remain Shut as Entertainment Goes Back Into Lockdown

    Chinese president Xi Jinping indicated that cinemas should remain shut while on a tour to Zhejiang province that otherwise signaled Beijing’s desire to get its economy back on track post-coronavirus, state media said on Wednesday. His comments come as China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has ordered entertainment venues across the country that had just [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content