When the original Police Academy barnstormed its way into theaters in 1984, nobody had any way of knowing that this film would be a franchise with 7 films to its credit. Grossing hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office (to say nothing of what it probably did in ancillary markets like home video, pay TV, and now streaming), what Police Academy achieved is nothing short of astounding. With a cast of mostly unknown character actors, this film clicked with a public who seemed to be starved for the wacky, slapstick comic situations that Police Academy so deftly offered.
Making this even more astounding is that it wasn't like 1984 was devoid of comedies. Ghostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop were both in theaters and each one of these raked in many millions of dollars. Somehow, Police Academy placed 6th on this list beating out such films as Footloose, Romancing the Stone and Splash. So how did this movie that was made for $4.5 million dollars go on to become a franchise? Well, there is no formula for this kind of success. What there is however is gut instinct, solid casting, a good script (with revisions), and the kind of lore around Police Academy that truly makes it a special film. At the same time, this movie seemed to capture the public's desire to simply laugh and have a good time. Police Academy provided that in spades.
Michael Winslow Appeared in Every Film
Michael Winslow appeared in every Police Academy movie and he also appeared in the series that ran from 1997-1998. All in the role of Sgt. Larvell Jones, too! Yes, this actor who was known for being able to do amazing things with his voice, literally ran with this role for 13 years! Audiences love to laugh but but they probably also appreciated the consistency that this character brought. Making this feat even more amazing is that apparently, the character of Sgt. Larvell Jones, wasn't even in the first iterations of the Police Academy script! The story goes that some creatives behind this movie saw Jones perform as an opening act for Count Basie and they felt Michael Winslow had to be in the film. While he was never really the lead in the movies, can you possibly imagine the Police Academy franchise without him? With his innumerable beatboxing skills (he is known as the man of 10,000 sound sound effects!), and his ability to imitate so many different people and things, it's surprising that that there wasn't a Police Academy 8 with him as every single character!
Sweetchuck was Originally A One Film Player - And it doesn't even seem like he was in the whole film
Initially, the a merchant played by Tim Kazurinsky that was initially only supposed to be in the opening scene of Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment. Well, as often happens on movie sets, this changed when the creatives around the film saw how well Kazurinsky and Zed (Bob Goldthwait) worked together. Suddenly, Kazurinsky went from simply being a store merchant to Cadet Sweetchuck in both that movie, Police Academy 3: Back in Training, and Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. In fact, he would also appear again as a character on Police Academy: The Series but that was only for one episode. One has wonder, if he was going to do two more films and the TV show, why not just do all the Police Academy films as this beloved character? At the same time, there's no reason to complain. He took what was at first a small role, road it all the way to the bank, and helped bolster the Police Academy franchise!
The Success of Each Police Academy Film Built on Itself
While it's hard to pin down just how much money the Police Academy franchise wrought, it's fair to assume that there wouldn't have been 7 movies (and a TV show) if these films hadn't proven themselves to be sufficiently bankable. No film ever cost more than $20 million dollars to make. In fact, it seems fair to wager that the only reason why the budgets from the first film crept up at all (the first Police Academy was made for $4.5 million, remember) is probably due to contracts and a desire to keep the cast in place. The final figures on what all these films made worldwide do differ. Some have the number at just shy of a quarter of a billion dollars. Other reports have the numbers at over a half a billon. Even if each film cost an average of $15 million dollars (which they didn't), that budgets out all seven films at $105 million dollars. No matter what, if the Police Academy movies were to come out at the lower or higher end of the figures, it doubles or nearly triples its money. That's the reason why we have so many films, a TV show, and there's talk (well at least there was) of an eighth film in the franchise being done by comedy aficionados Key & Peele. Success breeds success and that's why, decades after the first film, we're still talking about more Police Academy.
Hooks and Hightower Set the Standard
While it isn't clear why Officer Hooks (Marion Ramsey) wasn't deemed to fit to make the trip to Russia in Police Academy: Mission to Moscow but she wasn't. Apparently, Officer Hightower (Bubba Smith) wasn't going to take this laying down so he elected not to be in this movie either. Okay, it isn't like Officer Hooks was a make or break character, but she was a part of the Police Academy family. They couldn't have found a way for her to be in the 7th movie? With a budget of $10 million dollars Marion Ross was too expensive? Was it worth losing Bubba Smith over this? Whatever the case, one thing that isn't in question is that Smith and Ramsey are really good friends. It seems that the two actors had grown close while making this franchise, and Smith probably didn't feel right continuing on with it if he didn't have his friend along with him. Good on you, Bubba Smith and Marion Ramsey!
Leslie Easterbrook was Not Afraid of Guns
Ever wonder why Sgt. Callahan (Easterbrook) was so deft at handling her firearms. No, it wasn't good acting (even though she is very capable), its because Easterbrook is a proud member of the NRA. In fact, so strong is her prowess with hand-held weapons that Easterbrook put together a video called "Real Beginner's Guide to the Shotgun Sports," and she served on the California Rifle and Pistol Association Board. In fact, not only is Easterbrook on IMDB, she can be found on the Internet Movie Firearms Database in which every weapon she's ever used on screen is displayed. As Officer Debbie Callahan her character was partial to a Smith & Wesson handgun, while in The Devil's Rejects she used both a Smith & Wesson as well as a Colt Trooper MK. You're telling me the mix of comedy and reality with her character didn't appeal to multiple crowds? It is this sort of dichotomy that franchise's are built.
Could You Imagine Michael Keaton as Mahoney?
Actually, yes we can. Given that his early career saw him play the roles of the wise-cracking Bill Blazejowski (aka Billy Blaze) in Night Shift, the snarky (but loving) house husband in Mr. Mom, or the wise-cracking family man Hunt Stevenson in Gung-Ho, the role of Carey Mahoney, the accidental police officer isn't so hard to imagine. However, it wasn't meant to be as Keaton turned down this role. Why? Probably because it was too similar to characters he'd already played in other movies. One thing we know about Keaton from his two stints as Batman, is that he often goes out of his way to not repeat himself. (Apparently, the only reason he did Batman Returns was because he was short on cash for a piece of property he wanted to acquire.) Also, lets be honest, if Michael Keaton is going to walk away from Batman how many Police Academy movies would he do? Even Steve Guttenberg begged off after doing four of them with his final performance as Carey Mahoney being in Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. However, this franchise knew they had something in Guttenberg, they got what they could out of him, and when he left they just focused the stories on other tried and true characters. That went part and parcel in giving it it's longevity. If Michael Keaton would've bailed after one or two films that might have sank the franchise.
Even Roger Ebert Couldn't Sink Police Academy
Roger Ebert, a man who had somewhat of a whimsical, dare I say surprising taste in just about every kind of movie, didn't like Police Academy. What was it about this slapstick, physical-comedy laden tale that just didn't sit right with arguably the finest movie pundit ever? There doesn't seem to be a definite answer to this just that Ebert didn't get the movie. In fact, in his review of the first Police Academy he writes, "In a movie this bad, one plot element is really idiotic. It involves the casting of Bubba Smith as a giant black recruit who only has to look at a guy, and his knees start to tremble. This is funny? Don't they know that in comedy, you need a twist -- like, why not make Bubba Smith a pathological coward who's afraid of everybody? Now right there is one good idea more than you can find in this entire movie." Truthfully, Ebert seems confused by the comedy, the execution of the comedy, and the need for Police Academy to exist at all. To that end, I guess the weight critics have really depends on the movie because who could've foresaw in 1984 that there would be 6 more installments and a TV show! Again, who could've imagined that years later all 7 movies would be available at our fingertips and we'd still be writing about the lore they created?!? So even the great Robert Ebert, a tastemaker of sorts, couldn't really stop the train that is the Police Academy franchise.
Spain's Police Academy Show Furthered the Franchise
"What?" You might be asking yourself. Now, before you laugh too hard and think that some people will watch anything, know that Spain isn't the only place to have hosted a Police Academy show. It apparently was running for a number of years at Warner Bros. Movie World in Australia and Germany. It also ran at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita, California. This stunt themed show is apparently still bringing in audiences at Parque Warner Madrid. This show seems to follow in the classic stunt show vein, the biggest difference of course being that it's Police Academy themed. It supposedly takes place some time after Mahoney, Hightower and the likes have passed through the academy. Then, like all good stunt shows, it recruits people from the audience (who are really plants) to help kick the show into high gear. Filled with slapstick moments, an explosion, and the players flying through the air, (from the footage viewed online) the FX and stunts certainly seem to be fairly high voltage. Lemme just say this, when I was a young person I was highly impressed by the stunt shows at Knotts Berry Farm just down the road. The Police Academy show in Spain seems to be about 100 x's more exciting than that ever was! This show, playing at multiple theme parks, further establishes the Police Academy credibility.
Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol Canned Tony Hawk
Did this help Police Academy become a franchise? Hardly, but its another example of how the universe works. How could the producers of these films have ever known that Hawk would become, arguably, the most recognizable face for one of the biggest sports in the world? To be fair, in 1987, it wasn't like skateboarders were known for having the business savvy and followings that a lot of them do today. That said, Tony Hawk has always had skills, desire, and a mindset that seemed to put him head and shoulders above the pack of skateboarders he was lumped in with. This is essentially the Bill Gates of skateboarding. It seems that Hawk got on the set (as a stunt double for David Spade) because his manager at the time, Stacy Peralta, was working on this film. Sadly, for Hawk, he was deemed to be too tall and thus sacked from his role. This was a bad move for many reasons not the least of which was the explosion of home video, especially skate videos. One of the biggest being The Bones Brigade Video Show from 1984. This and other videos would go on to have long lives (and franchises of their own) after their creation. Imagine if Hawk had been in this film doing stunts as an actual character. No, I'm not saying he takes over for Mahoney or Captain Harris, but with the right amount of skating this fourth movie could've become its own sort of cult hit introduced to generations upon generations of new skaters. It might have increased the lore that the Police Academy franchise has.
Would You Believe Vince Neil Got the Same Treatment?
Alright, Tony Hawk is one thing but Vince Neil is a whole other animal. To be fair, Vince Neil wasn't shown the door on Police Academy 6: City Under Siege, his scene (as often happens in motion pictures) ended up on the cutting room floor. This is a shame for many reasons not the least of which is the scene, while brief, sees Hightower (Bubba Smith) making sure that no ill fate comes to the Motley Crue frontman. While the scene certainly wasn't anything that the late James Lipton would talk about on Inside the Actor's Studio, we're not talking about a movie that would be discussed on there either. This is the sixth installment of a Police Academy movie! At least Tony Hawk was an unknown so him being tossed from Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol could be seen as a mistake. Motley Crue were established, people knew who Vince Neil was so the whole affair seems kind of odd. Thankfully, you can catch the clip of Vince Neil acting in Police Academy 6: City Under Siege now. How did this help the franchise? It probably didn't from a monetary sense because having Vince Neil in the movie probably would'be helped the box office. This is yet another wacky story that bolsters an already wacky franchise.