20 Things You Never Knew About 'Apollo 13'

Let's celebrate the 20th anniversary of the amazing true story, starring Tom Hanks.


It's been 45 years since the Apollo 13 lunar mission failed and put the lives of astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise in serious peril. And it's been 20 years since director Ron Howard made their story the stuff of Hollywood legend. The film was a smash hit, becoming the third highest-grossing film of 1995 and a serious contender at the Oscars the following year. 

For those who remember the Apollo 13 mission, the film was a reminder of the fortitude of our country's finest and, for the uninitiated, an introduction to a not-so-well-known piece of American history. The movie was released 20 years ago and there's no better time to remember the film with some fun facts you never knew about the movie and its production:

1. The famous line, "Houston, we have a problem" has an interesting history. The actual line was, "Okay Houston, we've had a problem here" as said by Jack Swigert. Mission Control then responded, "This is Houston. Say again, please" because Swigert's audio was dropping out. Jim Lovell then replied, "Ahh, Houston, we've had a problem." Since Lovell's statement was more clearly heard, he's always credited with the line. 

2. "Houston, we've had a problem" is often misquoted and Howard chose to use the incorrect line, "Houston, we have a problem" since "we've had" implies the problem already happened. 

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Apollo 13'

3. During test screenings, some audience members wrote in their notes they didn't believe the movie could have happened. They didn't know it's a true story.

4. The cast and crew, including Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, and Gary Sinise, flew between 500 and 600 parabolic arcs in NASA's KC-135 airplane (nicknamed the "Vomit Comet") to achieve real weightlessness. Each of the arcs got them 23 seconds of zero gravity and were completed in 13 days. The actual KC-135 was decommissioned in 2000 after 27 years of service and is on display at Ellington Field in Houston.

5. Due to his portrayal of Lovell in this movie, Hanks had an asteroid "12818 Tomhanks (1996 GU8)" named in his honor.

6. Lovell's wife, Marilyn, has said Hanks nails her husband's mannerisms and body language.

7. Lovell wore his old navy captain's uniform in the scene where he greets the astronauts aboard the Iwo Jima. When Howard asked the astronaut if he'd like to be in the film as the ship's admiral, Lovell agreed, but pointed out, "I retired as a captain; a captain I will be."

8. Brad Pitt turned down an offer to appear in Apollo 13 so he could star in David Fincher's Seven. The role of Fred Haise was offered to John Cusack and Charlie Sheen before Paxton agreed. John Travolta was reportedly in the running for the role of Lovell.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Apollo 13'

9. Howard has called Apollo 13 his favorite of his own films. He also got a ringing endorsement from his hero, director Billy Wilder, who told him it was his best work because it's about a guy NOT realizing his dreams.

10. Actual photos taken by Lovell and Bill Anders were used for the shots of Earth outside the Apollo 13 windows.

11. It's not mentioned in the film, but Marilyn Lovell's "premonition" of an accident on her husband's flight was triggered by her seeing the movie Marooned.

12. Lovell had mentioned Kevin Costner as a possible Lovell before production started, but Howard knew Hanks was a space program and Apollo buff, so he got the script, read it, and agreed to play Lovell during their first meeting.

13. Hanks and Sinise starred in Forrest Gump together the year before Apollo 13's release. One line stands out: Lieutenant Dan (Sinise) tells Forrest (Hanks) the day Gump becomes a shrimp boat captain, he would become an astronaut.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Apollo 13'

14. The spacesuits used in the film cost $30,000 each.

15. Howard liked to refer to his stars as "actronauts" on the shoot.

16. Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) gives a list of instructions to his team at Mission Control and finishes by saying, "Failure is not an option!" Kranz did not actually say this during the Apollo 13 mission, but he liked the line. He would later use it as the title of his 2000 autobiography.

17. Haise's line, "I could eat the ass out of a dead rhinoceros" was not said by Haise in real life. It was written in on the day of filming after a set visit by Gary Busey. Busey says the same line in Point Break.

18. The recovery ship in the film is the USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2), played by the USS New Orleans (LPH-11). The Iwo Jima was decommissioned before the making of this film.

19. According to Harris, Gene Kranz's reaction to the astronauts living — sitting in a chair while being overcome with emotion — was inspired by a documentary interview of Kranz, who, while describing his feelings as the astronauts made it back, started to break down.

20. Although Hanks and Paxton bear some resemblance to the characters they portray, Sinise looks nothing like Kenneth Mattingly who, among other things, was practically bald at the time of the actual mission.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Apollo 13'

[Big h/t to IMDb, Wikipedia, and the Apollo 13 DVD]

Managing Editor, Zimbio — entertainment writer, critic, and reporter since 2011. Bay Area. Origin: Shark City.