20 things you probably didn’t know about Kingpin

Everything you were too afraid to ask about the Farrelly Brothers favourite.

Bill Murray in Kingpin
You da man Ernie Bill Murray at his very best. Image Rysher Entertainment

Following up the iconic Dumb and Dumber was always going to be a big ask and for brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the result was Kingpin.

The film tells the story of Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson), a former bowling prodigy who lost his hand in a scam gone wrong, orchestrated by cowardly but hilarious rival Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray), and spends the next 17 years lamenting his broken dreams.

Everything changes when he encounters Amish bowler Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid), though. Taking his naive new charge under his arm they head off on a road trip and a bowling tournament with a $1 million prize fund that also offers the chance at revenge against McCracken.

Joined by the stunning Claudia (Vanessa Angel) the film initially flopped at the cinemas, with the Farrellys blaming the 1996 Olympics for the poor box office takings, before gaining a cult following on VHS and DVD in the decades since.

Now, 20 years on from its original release, here are a few things you may not have known about the 90s favourite.

Casting Calls


Michael Keaton was first considered for the role of Roy Munson, before the part eventually went to Woody Harrelson, who was a former college roommate of Bobby Farrelly’s.


The late Chris Farley was the Farrelly Brothers’ first choice to play Ishmael Boorg but scheduling conflicts meant Randy Quaid landed the part.


Former Dumb and Dumber cohort Jim Carrey was also first choice to play Ernie McCracken, though the part ultimately went to Bill Murray with Carrey otherwise engaged. Quaid played a key role in getting Murray onboard, with the pair friends ever since working on Quick Change back in 1990.


For Reals


As McCracken, Murray pretty much ad-libbed all of his lines, including the entire commercial featuring his character (see below). He would read the script, get the general idea of the scene and then ad-lib for more comedic effect, much to the delight of the Farrellys.


Murray also happens to be an excellent bowler and actually did bowl the three consecutive strikes witness in the film’s finale. Harrelson, by contrast, as Munson was not quite so adept on the lanes and only managed roughly three strikes throughout the entirety of filming.


Contrary to popular belief, the Farrellys didn’t write Kingpin. It was in fact written by Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan. Fanaro would go on to pen Men In Black II and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Nathan, meanwhile, wrote Boat Trip and, er, Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj.


Lin Shaye, who ended up playing Roy’s repulsive landlord is the sister of producer Robert Shaye.

Legend has it that the Farrellys were opposed to casting her, as a favour to Robert, until she turned up for her audition in character and was so convincing they thought she was genuinely Mrs Nuegeboren.

She went on to feature in several of their films over the coming years, including most notably There’s Something About Mary.


As Ishmael, Quaid is constantly referred to as “the kid” by Harrelson and Angel, despite being 10 and 16 years old than both, respectively.

Guest Appearances


Will Ferrell makes an early appearance of sorts as a member of the crowd, during the final showdown between Munson and McCracken, where he can be heard to shout “Ernie, you ‘da man!”


Quentin Tarantino favourites Urge Overkill make a cameo as the band that sing The Star Spangled Banner during the Reno bowling tournament.


The lead singer of Blues Traveler, Hohn Popper, has a cameo appearance as the announcer at the Reno bowling championship.

His band then appear in Amish garb at the end of the film, performing one of their hits – the Farrellys were big fans of the group.

Angel Eyes


The film’s other notable star, Vanessa Angel started her career as a model, appearing on the covers of Vogue and Cosmopolitan.

Her first major movie role came as Dan Aykroyd’s Soviet girlfriend in the 1985 comedy Spies Like Us. Angel also had a guest role as a lifeguard on Baywatch.


Angel landed the role of Claudia after impressing as the magic genie Lisa on the TV adaptation of the John Hughes comedy Weird Science.


Prior to Kingpin, Angel had been due to appear in a guest role on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys but had to pull out due to illness.

The part was that of Xena, which eventually went to Lucy Lawless and spawned it very own television show. 

External References


At one point, Munson daydreams about a gambler, played by Chris Elliott, offering $1 million to sleep with Quaid’s Ishmael – a clear reference to the Harrelson film Indecent Proposal.


In the final bowling showdown between Ernie and Roy, the announcer describes Munson’s success so far as a Cinderella story – a clear reference to Murray’s iconic monologue from Caddyshack.


Bizarrely, Woody Harrelson’s Cheers character was the focus of an episode, Cheers: From Beer to Eternity, where he reveals he is a former Bowling ace who was forced to retire after crippling a man during a bowling accident. Not too dissimilar to what happened to Ernie.

Sports Stars




Several major American sports stars cameo including baseball legend Roger Clemens, who appears in the restaurant scene when Roy punches Ishmael as Skid Mark. Golfers Brad Faxon and Billy Andrade also appear.

Road Trippers



All of the Farrelly Brothers’ first four films focus around a road trip but Kingpin differs slightly in that their journey originates in Pennyslvania rather than Rhode Island – the brothers’ home.


The car driven by Roy throughout the movie is a 1972 Cutlass Convertible.

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