In 1993 Groundhog Day introduced the world to one of the most eccentric annual traditions in America. The festival, held at the preposterously named Gobbler’s Knob, became beloved, as did its star attraction Punxsutawney Phil. But the movie itself also became a classic due to its remarkable balance of laughs and pathos. So here are 40 facts about the making of the film that will make you want to watch it on repeat.
40. Tom Hanks and Michael Keaton turned down the lead role
Bill Murray’s turn as miserable weatherman Phil Connors is sublime. But director Harold Ramis originally envisioned Tom Hanks in the part. And he revealed in 2009 that Hanks turned it down because he felt his casting would mean the audience would simply be counting time until Connors became nice. Michael Keaton also said no as he didn’t fully grasp the script, but he later told Entertainment Weekly, “You can’t do it better than Bill Murray did it.”
39. During shooting, the weather reached 80 degrees
Groundhog Day is famously set on February 2, with Pennsylvania in full winter mode. But according to Michael Shannon, who played Fred, the movie definitely wasn’t filmed in the winter. He told The A.V. Club in 2009, “It was shot during the summer, so they had taken over this town and covered it with fake snow, and everyone was walking around wearing down coats, even though it was 80 degrees outside.”
38. Michael Shannon embarrassed himself in front of Bill Murray
In 2009 Michael Shannon revealed an awkward interaction between him and Bill Murray. He told The A.V. Club that he saw Murray listening to Talking Heads on set and excitedly asked the star if he liked the band. Murray’s characteristically deadpan response to the obvious question was, “Yeah, I like the Talking Heads.” Shannon told director Harold Ramis he felt Murray didn’t like him and, to his horror, Ramis encouraged Murray to say sorry, which just made the embarrassment worse.
37. Harold Ramis scrapped a scene that took three days to shoot
In 2014 Ned Ryerson actor Stephen Tobolowsky wrote a piece for Slate magazine praising Harold Ramis’ storytelling courage. He recounted how Ramis shot an expensive scene which took three days of hard work, involving Murray sporting a mohawk and wielding a chainsaw. In the end, though, he realized a simple shot of a broken pencil becoming whole again would do the job. So he cut the scene entirely.
36. Bill Murray bought danishes for 500 locals
Groundhog Day was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, and one day around 500 locals convened to watch the Hollywood crew shoot the movie. Stephen Tobolowsky revealed in a Reddit AMA that Bill Murray said to him, “Do you know what these people need? Danishes!” He then marched into a bakery, bought every pastry they had, and gave them all to the hungry crowd. What a guy.
35. Bill Murray was bitten twice by a real groundhog
When shooting the scene in which Phil Connors lets the groundhog drive a truck, Bill Murray was bitten by the animal actor, whose name was Scooter. Well, he actually bit Murray two or three times in total. In 1993 a miffed Murray told The Philadelphia Inquirer the crew, “went out into the woods and caught this Scooter, a groundhog who hated my guts from day one.”
34. No one can agree how long Phil spends in the time loop
In the film, Phil Connors is shown repeating the day 38 times, but there is no official answer about how long he truly spent stuck in the time loop. Ramis estimated ten years but later revised this to between 30 and 40 years. The website Wolf Gnards crunched the numbers and came up with eight years, eight months, and 16 days. Incredibly, screenwriter Danny Rubin’s initial draft specified 10,000 years!
33. Bill Murray Stepped Here
Ned Ryerson happily telling Phil Connors, “Watch out for that first step. It’s a doozy,” is one of the most famous repeated scenarios in Groundhog Day. Every time Connors’ foot sinks into that icy cold puddle we feel his frustration and then we get a kick out of him learning to sidestep it. And the shooting location of the scene is now adorned with a plaque that reads, “Bill Murray Stepped Here.”
32. Murray and Ramis disagreed about the movie’s tone
Screenwriter Danny Rubin revealed to The New Yorker in 2004 that Murray and Ramis could not agree on the tone of the film. Rubin said, “They were like two brothers who weren’t getting along. And they were pretty far apart on what the movie was about – Bill wanted it to be more philosophical, and Harold kept reminding him it was a comedy.”
31. Groundhog Day spelt the end of Murray and Ramis’ friendship
Murray and Ramis were one of Hollywood’s greatest comedic pairings, having worked together on Ghostbusters, Caddyshack and Meatballs. But they fell out so badly during Groundhog Day that Murray refused to speak to Ramis for 20 years. Ramis told The New Yorker, “At times, Bill was just really irrationally mean and unavailable; he was constantly late on set.” Murray finally reconnected with his old friend not long before Ramis died in 2014.
30. The original script had Rita stuck in her own time loop
Rubin’s initial screenplay had a considerably different tone than the finished film. Rita, played by Andie MacDowell in the movie, is a much swearier and more jaded character in the script, for example. Plus Rubin’s original twist ending involved Phil Connors breaking his time loop, only to discover that Rita was now trapped in one of her own, cursed to live February 3 forever. Yikes.
29. The Tip Top Café is now a Mexican restaurant
One of the most beloved locations in the movie is The Tip Top Café, which was a set created by the production. But the set proved so popular with Woodstock residents that it became a real eatery known as the Tip Top Bistro. Unfortunately, it closed its doors in 2012, but if you visit the location today you will find a Mexican restaurant named Taqueria La Placita.
28. Phil reading to a sleeping Rita was inspired by Bill Murray’s real life
During the Groundhog Day shoot, Murray’s marriage was collapsing. This must have made the scene in which Phil reads to Rita after she falls asleep especially poignant, because it was inspired by Murray’s own wedding night. You see, his wife enjoyed too much champagne on their big day, and Murray read to her out loud when she nodded off early.
27. The final scene took 25 takes
The movie’s final scene, when Phil wakes up in bed with Rita having finally broken the time loop, was shot an incredible 25 times. Ramis wasn’t exactly sure of the tone, so stuck the crew in their own loop of re-take after re-take. He even had them vote on whether or not Phil and Rita made love the night before, and a young assistant had the deciding vote. Phil didn’t get lucky.
26. Murray attended the real Groundhog Day festivities
While Murray was shooting Mad Dog and Glory in 1992, he was also prepping Groundhog Day as his next film. Conveniently, the Glory shoot was located close enough to Punxsutawney that he and Danny Rubin were able to pay a visit to the real-life 1992 ceremony for research purposes. A local woman revealed that Murray kept his attendance on the down-low but did slip on the ice at one point.
25. Sweet Vermouth has special significance to Ramis
Harold Ramis’ director’s commentary on the Groundhog Day DVD is a treasure trove of interesting behind the scenes anecdotes and creative insight. One of the nicest revelations is the real reason that Rita drinks sweet vermouth when Phil is trying to romance her. Ramis happily admits, “Because that’s what my wife drinks.”
24. The movie features a clever Easter Egg for Caddyshack fans
In Groundhog Day Phil says “Be the hat” to Rita when they are throwing playing cards into a hat. It’s a way of getting her to focus entirely on her goal, but it’s also a sneaky Easter Egg reference to a previous Murray/Ramis movie. You see, in Caddyshack, Chevy Chase’s Ty Webb gives the advice “Be the ball” to a golfer trying to focus on playing well.
23. The French poem recited in the bar is not actually a poem
Phil performs a 19th century French poem at one point in a German restaurant, all in an effort to impress Rita. But the poem wasn’t actually a poem at all. In reality, the movie used lyrics from a 1957 song by Jacques Brel entitled “La Bourree du Celibataire.” In English, the translation is, “The girl that I will love, Will be like a fine wine, That will become better, A bit every morning.” Aww.
22. Bill Murray’s brother is in the movie
Buster Green is played by Brian Doyle-Murray in Groundhog Day. If his surname sounds familiar, well, it should. He is Bill Murray’s older brother and over the years has appeared in many of his little brother’s movies, including Caddyshack, Ghostbusters II and Scrooged. He added “Doyle,” his grandmother’s maiden name, to his stage moniker to differentiate himself from actor Brian Murray.
21. The original script gave a reason for Phil being trapped in the time loop
In Groundhog Day, the filmmakers wisely chose not to explain the reason behind Phil being trapped in a time loop. This ambiguity works perfectly because, ultimately, the “why” isn’t important. Instead it is important that Phil learns to be a better person. This wasn’t always the plan, though, as the script’s second draft revealed a curse set by Phil’s ex-girlfriend Stephanie as the reason why.
20. The opening scenes were an extremely late addition
Groundhog Day opens with Phil in the television studio reading his weather predictions. It is here that the audience is also introduced to Rita. Amazingly, though, these scenes were re-shoots accomplished months after the main shoot had finished. Ramis only realized he needed them when the movie was being edited.
19. All the clocks in the diner have stopped at the exact same time
There is a clever background detail in the diner scene with Phil and Rita. The audience can see that, behind them, the wall is adorned with several clocks. Perhaps the owner of the diner is a clock enthusiast. Or perhaps Harold Ramis wants us to take a closer look. Because the clocks have all stopped, which is a representation of Phil’s life in the time loop.
18. Good Phil or Bad Phil
Groundhog Day was especially tough for Murray as many scenes were shot with only slight variations, due to the time loop factor. As a result, it was all rather confusing for the star to remember where the character was in the story’s timeline. And in the end he resorted to asking Ramis, “Good Phil or bad Phil?” before the cameras rolled on each scene.
17. Ned’s Corner
The location where Phil meets insurance salesman Ned Ryerson is the corner of Cass Street and Benson Street. It is situated northeast of Woodstock, Illinois’ Town Square. And the scene became so famous after the movie was released that the city decided to adorn the building on the corner with a commemorative plaque that read, “Ned’s Corner.”
16. The snowball fight got hairy for Murray
One of Phil’s time loop cons is his attempt to convince Rita he is the sort of guy who has playful snow fights with neighborhood kids. What a lovely fella, right? But when shooting the scene Ramis told the children to throw as hard as they could at Murray, and he responded in kind. On his DVD commentary, Ramis chuckled, “That kid almost took his head off.”
15. Writer Danny Rubin received inspiration from unusual sources
In 2010 Danny Rubin revealed some pretty out-there inspirations for his Groundhog Day script. He had read Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire, which left him pondering the nature of eternal life. William Dean Howells 1892 short story Christmas Every Day and Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, which dealt with the notion of living one’s life over and over again, were also in mind.
14. A well-known singer was considered to play Rita
This casting “what if” is particularly intriguing because the person reportedly considered to play Rita, before Andie MacDowell was cast, wasn’t actually an actress. As the movie was coming together, a music magazine published a photograph of singer-songwriter Tori Amos holding the Groundhog Day script. It transpired she was being thought of for the role, which sounds strange nowadays, considering she never transitioned into acting.
13. The initial screenplay started its story with Phil already in the time loop
Ramis revealed in his director’s commentary that Rubin’s script began with Phil already in the time loop, meaning the audience would have to play catch-up. Ramis wasn’t a fan. He said, “Of course I’d actually told Danny Rubin that I loved the fact that he just started right in the middle with the device already occurring, that it was one thing I would never change. Of course, it was the first thing I changed.”
12. A storyline was changed due to fears it was too similar to Caddyshack
In Caddyshack, Bill Murray played a golf course groundskeeper who became obsessed with killing a pesky gopher that was ruining the course. In the original vision of Groundhog Day, it included a scene in which Phil tracked the animal to its home and did away with it. But the scene wound up being cut because it felt too similar to Caddyshack.
11. Murray would call Ramis at all hours of the day during filming
Murray and Ramis butted heads constantly when prepping the movie. In 2004 Rubin told The New Yorker that when Ramis became frustrated with Murray’s erratic behavior, he sent Rubin to iron out the script with the star. But when Ramis would then call to check on their progress, Rubin admitted Murray would mime the words, “I’m not here.”
10. Ned Ryerson was based on a real insurance agent
Stephen Tobolowsky’s performance as Ned Ryerson proved a hit with Ramis and Rubin. It led to them wanting to add an extra scene with the insurance agent, so Tobolowsky helped write the sequence in which he lists insurance policies. The actor based his performance on his own real-life insurance agent, who was reportedly so happy with it that he thanked Tobolowsky.
9. The real Groundhog Day attracted thousands after the movie came out
Following the movie’s release, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania was thrust into the national spotlight. The Groundhog Day event became a tourist attraction, with the festival beginning to attract as many as 30,000 people. And that’s an awful lot of people hoping they’ll catch a glimpse of a Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary. Yes, that is his full title.
8. Murray needed help destroying the alarm clock
Everyone’s had a morning where they’ve wanted to grab the alarm clock from their bedside and smash it to smithereens. Phil Connors actually does this in Groundhog Day, although filming the scene didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. Murray threw it to the floor, but it didn’t smash into pieces in a cinematic manner. So the crew took a hammer to it. Simple.
7. Murray was offered a spit bucket for the pastry gorging scene
If you were forced to repeat the same day, with no consequences, eventually you’d throw caution to the wind. This is exactly what Phil does in the diner when he gorges himself on pastries. When shooting the scene, Murray was offered a spit bucket. But he refused, preferring to actually swallow everything he ate. This might have been a bad move, though, as the angel food cake made him feel as sick as a dog.
6. Harold Ramis has a cameo in the film
Harold Ramis, on top of being a celebrated director, was also an actor. He is likely most recognized as Egon Spengler in the Ghostbusters franchise. So when he popped up in Groundhog Day as the neurologist seen by a desperate Phil, audiences would have known his face, even if they didn’t know he also directed the movie.
5. That is actually Murray playing the piano
When Phil goes to the piano teacher and makes an initially awkward attempt at playing, it is actually Bill Murray’s fingers doing the talking. Despite not being able to read sheet music, he learned a portion of Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paginini” simply by listening. That’s pretty impressive.
4. Murray, Ramis and Tobolowsky have all been Honorary Grand Marshal at the real ceremony
The residents of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania have always been extremely proud of Groundhog Day. And over the years three people from the movie have attended the real life festivities as the Honorary Grand Marshal: Harold Ramis, Stephen Tobolowsky and, of course, Bill Murray. Tobolowsky’s speech, in which he did the “whistling belly button act” Ned Ryerson refers to in the movie, was particularly well-received.
3. All Phil’s methods of death were used on Rasputin
One of Groundhog Day’s darkest yet funny sequences occurs when Phil tries to break the time loop by experimenting with methods of suicide. He tells Rita, “I’ve been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted and burned.” These gruesome techniques were all used by the attempted assassins of the Russian monk Grigori Rasputin. Weirdly, they are also mentioned in Murray/Ramis’ Ghostbusters II in reference to the evil spook Prince Vigo.
2. Phil experiences all five stages of grief in the movie
In 1993 Ramis told The Los Angeles Times that he and Danny Rubin’s framework for Phil Connors’ character arc was Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief. This helped them get in Phil’s head and recognize all the emotions he would feel in his predicament. Ramis floated the idea to Murray and he liked it, though Ramis laughed, “But I think that’s because he was more interested in death than he was in how it related to the script.”
1. Ramis initially refused to read the script
On his director’s commentary, Ramis confessed that he initially didn’t want to read the Groundhog Day script. He wasn’t that intrigued but wound up being cajoled into reading it by a producing partner, who reassured him there was a lot more to the story than he might think. Thank the Hollywood Gods for that producer.