21 things you probably never knew about The Usual Suspects

"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

The Usual Suspects line up
Who is Keyser Soze? Round up The Usual Suspects. Image Picture MGM

The Usual Suspects, one of the greatest crime movies of the 90s, celebrates its 21st anniversary this year.

The film simultaneously launched the careers of Kevin Spacey, writer Christopher McQuarrie and director Bryan Singer, swiftly becoming a cult classic thanks to its labyrinthine plot and killer final scene twist. Who is Keyser Soze? The question had us guessing right up until the end…

Cinema would be a poorer place without a limping swaggering Verbal Kint, so to mark The Usual Suspects’ birthday milestone, here are some quick-fire facts you may not know about the film.


1

Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie had previously worked at a detective agency before penning the movie. He used his experiences to craft the script for the crime tale.

2

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” Verbal Kint’s quote actually originates from the French poet Charles Baudelaire.

3

IMDb users voted the twist in The Usual Suspects the greatest of all time. It beat out the shock turns in Witness for the Prosecution, The Crying Game and The Sixth Sense.

4

The film’s iconic poster – five men in a police line-up – was actually what kick-started the whole project. Before any story or character details, this was the stand-alone image that got McQuarrie’s creative juices flowing. 

5

A real-life murderer by the name of John List was the inspiration for Keyser Soze. List killed his wife, mother and three children in 1971 then disappeared for 17 years before being sentenced to five consecutive life terms.

6

Roger Ebert, probably the greatest film critic who ever lived, absolutely despised The Usual Suspects. He gave the film a paltry one-and-a-half stars, writing: ” I prefer to be amazed by motivation, not manipulation.”

7

The script’s ending was kept so secretive that most of the lead actors believed their characters were Keyser Soze. When Gabriel Byrne found out it wasn’t him, he allegedly stormed out of the first screening in anger.

Revisit the ending to The Usual Suspects: 

8

Benicio Del Toro’s incomprehensible dialogue as Fenster baffled the cast. Director Singer encouraged then to improvise their reactions to Del Toro’s mumblings to keep things looking authentic when cameras were rolling.

9

The word f*ck gets an impressive 98 outings throughout the movie.

10

In Turkey, Soze translates as Verbal. Hence the final twist was given away for an entire country.

11

Kevin Spacey glued his fingers together in a bid to make Soze’s disability look more authentic.

12

Keyser Soze was originally going to be called Keyser Sume. The latter name comes from a lawyer McQuarrie once worked for. It was then switched after McQuarrie started to worry about legal issues surrounding the usage.

13

Bryan Singer managed to get Kevin Spacey involved in the project after they met at the Sundance Film Festival in 1993. Singer’s debut feature Public Access was screening, and Spacey told him he wanted to be involved in whatever he directed next. The rest is movie history.

14

Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Pollak did not get along on set. So much so that they’ve been feuding ever since, with Pollak saying Baldwin would stay in character and bully him when cameras stopped rolling.

15

Five different people play Soze in flashback scenes: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Bryan Singer, composer/editor John Ottman and a grip from the film’s crew.

16

Why is everyone’s laughing so much in the line-up scene? That’s because Del Toro kept breaking wind during the takes and cracking people up. Singer kept some of these outtakes on the final cut.

17

Al Pacino was offered the part of Soze-hunting cop Dave Kujan, but turned it down because he’d just agreed to play a police officer in Heat. Chazz Palminteri bagged the role instead. Who needs Al anyway?

18

In other almost-cast trivia, Harry Dean Stanton nearly took Del Toro’s Fenster role. Singer originally saw the Fenster/McManus combo as an old/young double act. We prefer the psychotic Ant & Dec approach they ultimately went with.

19

McQuarrie came up with the title thanks to a line in black and white classic Casablanca. “Round up the usual suspects” was said Claude Rains character Captain Renault.

20

The cameo from Peter Green in the part of Redfoot was originally offered to the eclectic bunch of Charlie Sheen, Johnny Cash, James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones and Jeff Bridges.

21

The Usual Suspects had a 100% hit rate at the Oscars. At the 1996 Academy Awards it won in both categories it was nominated: Best Supporting Actor for Kevin Spacey and Best Original Screenplay for Christopher McQuarrie.

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn