11 Things You Never Knew About ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ on its 15th Anniversary

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“Napoleon Dynamite” is now 15 years old, making it nearly as old as its awkward but inspirational title character. The film has maintained a devoted cult following over the past 15 years, even inspiring an animated series and a video game spinoff. So pay tribute to the lovable dorks of rural Idaho by learning more about the making of “Napoleon Dynamite.”1. “Napoleon Dynamite” is based on “Peluca,” a student film Jared Hess directed while attending Brigham Young University. It stars Jon Heder as a similarly awkward teen outcast named Seth.2. The nickname “Napoleon Dynamite” was previously used by singer Elvis Costello as a pseudonym for his 1986 album “Blood and Chocolate.” Hess claims to have been unaware of that fact until filming was almost complete, when a teenage extra made the connection.3. The exact time period of “Napoleon Dynamite” is a frequent source of debate among fans. While Napoleon’s student ID suggests it takes place during the 2004-05 school year, the fashion, technology and music all point to an ’80s or ’90s setting.

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4. Despite playing 16-year-old high school students, Heder and costar Efren Ramirez were 26 and 31, respectively, at the time of filming.5. The part of martial arts instructor Rex was almost played by Jack Black. Black instead starred in Hess’ followup film, “Nacho Libre.”

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6. Unlike his character Uncle Rico, actor Jon Gries is a vegetarian. The shots of Rico wiping his mouth while eating are Gries’ way of disguising the need to spit out the steak he’s chewing.7. The iconic dance scene at the end of the movie was largely improvised by Heder. It was filmed in only three takes due to a dwindling supply of film reel, with Hess stitching the final version together out of the best shots from each take.

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8. The dance scene was made even more difficult because it was unclear whether Hess would have enough money to secure the rights for Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat.” As a fail-safe, the other two takes were set to another Jamiroquai song, “Little L,” and music from the Michael Jackson album “Off the Wall.”9. “Napoleon Dynamite” has grossed over $46 million on a $400,000 budget, making it one of the more successful indie films ever released.

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10. Heder was only paid $1,000 to star in the film. Fortunately, he was able to renegotiate his contract after release, earning a percentage of the gross.11. To celebrate the movie’s 10th anniversary in 2014, a golden statue of Napoleon and his tether ball set was erected on the 20th Century Fox lot.

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