There were some truly strange movies to be found in the "Children's" section of your local Blockbuster in the '90s, but Small Soldiers was definitely unique.
The action film about a batch of killer toys was marketed as family-friendly, but many parents were surprised by the movie's more violent scenes. The reason for that mixed message is one of our 11 surprising facts about the movie.
1. It wasn't meant to be a children's movie
The film's director, Joe Dante, had already pushed the envelope for dark, family-friendly comedies with Gremlins. But he had no intention of making a kids movie this time around.
"Originally I was told to make an edgy picture for teenagers, but when the sponsor tie-ins came in the new mandate was to soften it up as a kiddie movie. Too late, as it turned out, and there are elements of both approaches in there. Just before release it was purged of a lot of action and explosions."
The studio set out to whitewash the movie's image to help toy sales, including removing promotional art of Chip Hazard holding a gun. You can still see the original artwork in the film.
2. The movie caused a headache for Burger King
The fast food chain agreed to hand out Small Soldiers toys with their kids meals, but that was before the movie was slapped with a PG-13 rating. Certain locations allowed parents to trade in their toys for a Mr. Potato Head instead, while all the Small Soldiers toys were packaged with this message:
"While toys are suitable for children of all ages, the movie Small Soldiers may contain material that is inappropriate for younger children."
3. And there was still more controversy
One of the members of the Commando Elite is named "Kip Killagin." By an unlucky coincidence, just as the toys arrived at Burger King, an Oregon teen named Kip Kinkel injured more than 25 students and killed four people in a school shooting.
Needless to say, the Kip Killigan toy wasn't handed out in Oregon.
4. There's a few clever nods to Gremlins hidden in the movie
Joe Dante couldn't resist referencing his past work, but chose some cheeky ways to do it. There's a Gizmo toy in the dumpster behind the toy store, and a gremlin skull sitting on Alan's desk. Then, of course, there's David Cross's computer password:
5. The movie took inspiration from Predator
If you look at the designs of the Commando Elite action figures, it's easy to see they were inspired by the cast of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Predator. In fact, the cast of that movie were meant to voice their counterparts in Small Soldiers.
Schwarzenegger would voice Chip Hazard, Shane Black would play Kip Killagin, Carl Weathers would be Butch Meathook, Brick Bazooka was meant to be Jesse Ventura, Nick Nitro would be played by Sonny Landham, and Bill Duke would voice Link Static.
Of course, the final movie went in a different direction, with the cast of another action movie filling the roles.
6. It was a small reunion for the cast of The Dirty Dozen
George Kennedy, Clint Walker, Ernest Borgnine and Jim Brown all channeled their characters from The Dirty Dozen to voice the Commando Elite action figures.
Another cast member, Richard Jaeckel, passed away while the movie was being filmed. As for Charles Bronson, he turned down the part he was offered.
7. Spinal Tap turned things up to 11
Facing off against the Commando Elite were the Gorgonites, and the voice actors for these action figures were also a package deal from another movie. Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Jim Cummings from This Is Spinal Tap all voiced members of the monster team.
8. The toys aren't all CGI
Stan Winston, the special effects guru behind Jurassic Park, was brought in to make the toys move convincingly. While CGI was added in post production, behind-the-scenes video shows the action figures were mainly controlled with rods and wires by a team of puppeteers.
This was a turning point for Hollywood, because Winston said it was surprisingly cheap to computer animate the characters. “So, I would say, it's one-third puppetry and the rest CGI in Small Soldiers," explained Joe Dante, "even though the original idea was to do mostly puppetry."
9. What ever happened to the star?
Gregory Smith wasn't in a lot of Hollywood movies, but you probably recognize him as Alan in Small Soldiers and as Sport from Harriet the Spy.
He later had a starring role on the TV drama Everwood, and his career is still going strong today. He was one of the stars of Rookie Blue, but is also making a name for himself directing superhero shows like The Flash for the CW.
10. The Gwendy dolls were voiced by big stars
Even if you've watched the movie a hundred times, I bet you probably never realized this. Those terrifying dolls that attacked Kirsten Dunst's character were voiced by Casper star Christina Ricci and Sarah Michelle Gellar from Buffy the Vampite Slayer.
11. Don't count on a sequel
Fans of the movie got their hopes up in 2007 when an announcement from DreamWorks included news about a new Small Soldiers project. But nothing has materialized since then, and since the movie wasn't exactly a hit back in 1998, we'll probably never learn what happened to Archer and the Gorgonites.
Remember watching this movie when you were a kid?