AP

‘Gosh!’ Cult comedy ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ turns 15

Jun 15, 2019, 9:20 AM
This 2004 photo provided by Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount Pictures shows Jon Heder, as Napole...
This 2004 photo provided by Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount Pictures shows Jon Heder, as Napoleon Dynamite, right, and Efren Ramirez, as Pedro, in a scene from the cult classic comedy "Napoleon Dynamite." (Twentieth Century Fox/Paramount Pictures via AP)
(Twentieth Century Fox/Paramount Pictures via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The cult comedy Napoleon Dynamite turns 15 years old this month, a milestone for a movie that became an early breakaway hit in today’s era of pop-culture geek celebration.

The movie created the “Vote for Pedro” T-shirt and made Napoleon’s disgusted version of “gosh!” into a 2004 catchphrase.

Made for just $400,000 by a group of recently graduated Brigham Young University film students, it would ultimately gross more than $46 million after its June 2004 release. A word-of-mouth hit before Twitter and Facebook took off, it was part of a handful of independent comedies that took off in the early 2000s.

“Napoleon Dynamite” tells the story of its curly-headed, socially awkward title character who ultimately triumphs over the high school jocks and cheerleaders because of his quirks, rather than in spite of them.

Its success added to a rising profile for the world’s unapologetic nerds at the beginning of a new wave of geek glory. “The Big Bang Theory,” would debut a few years later and become television’s top-rated sitcom, while comic book movies achieved box office dominance.

The husband and wife team of Jared and Jerusha Hess mined true-to-life oddball high school moments, from a musical sign language club to puffy-sleeved dresses for school dances. There were also nods to rural life in the tiny city of Preston, Idaho, like the much-quoted line drawn from Napoleon’s mealtime call to the family llama: “Tina, you fat lard, come get some dinner.”

The combination struck comedic gold.

“I think the legacy of the movie is how original it is,” said Glenn Williamson, an independent film producer and lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Theater, Film and Television. “I like to think something else like that would find an audience today, because I do think people respond to that authentic freshness.”

Shot in just over three weeks, the movie made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival even though it was submitted before director Jared Hess thought it was ready. But producer Jeremy Coon said he knew they had something special from the first edit.

“All of us were starving students coming out of school. A lot was riding on it,” said Coon, who borrowed the money to make the movie from his brother.

Fox Searchlight snapped it up for nearly $5 million, a princely sum at the time.

It started off relatively small in theaters, but with clever marketing and word of mouth, people kept coming back. Nearly three months after its release, it was still earning just as much money per theater, said Bruce Nash, founder and publisher of The Numbers, a movie industry tracking website.

“You don’t really see that today,” he said. The popularity kept up even as it went to DVD.

Most movies with similar longevity were meant to be serious awards contenders or were created by established writers and directors, he said. They also tend to be dramas.

Among the few other comedies are “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” ″Little Miss Sunshine,” and “Juno,” all also released in the early 2000s. While those were low budget by Hollywood standards, none were on a “Napoleon Dynamite”-level shoestring.

“It still really stands out even among the other films that had similar legs around the same time,” Nash said.

It has a DIY aesthetic that reflects the way the movie was made: Napoleon’s signature puffy snow boots were two decades old and borrowed from an uncle. Almost all the costumes came from thrift stores, and they gathered extras for big scenes with the promise of a hot-dog boil. His effervescent dance that wins the day at the movie’s climax was mostly unchoreographed.

Jon Heder, who played Napoleon, went on to star with Will Ferrell in the comedy “Blades of Glory” in 2007 and in recent years has been doing TV and film voice work. The Hesses made “Nacho Libre” with Jack Black shortly after Napoleon Dynamite, and later Jerusha Hess directed the 2013 romantic comedy “Austenland.”

Tina Majorino had a comeback with her role as Deb, and the onetime child star has since appeared in shows ranging from “Veronica Mars” to “Grey’s Anatomy.”

The movie has also spawned a cartoon and, more recently, a comic book sequel. A “Vote for Pedro” shirt showed up on San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich in 2016, and actors from the teen drama “Riverdale” donned Halloween costumes based on the movie last year.

Original fans of the picture are now old enough to have kids of their own, and it’s the kind of movie most parents wouldn’t blush at showing their kids, Coon said.

“We always made the film that made us laugh, it wasn’t like we were setting out to make this movie for the masses,” he said. “Hopefully as new fans are born and can find the film, it can grow from there.”

Today’s Top Stories

AP

In Iran, protests have led to violent clashes between citizens and security forces. Protesters pict...
The Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

The scope of Iran's ongoing unrest, the worst in several years, still remains unclear as protesters in more than a dozen cities.
2 days ago
U.S. Capitol pictured. The House just voted on an election law...
MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press

House passes election law overhaul in response to Jan. 6

The bill, which is similar to bipartisan legislation moving through the Senate, would overhaul an arcane 1800s-era statute known as the Electoral Count Act
3 days ago
Trump pictured. A lawsuit against Trump was just filed in new york...
Associated Press

NY attorney general sues Donald Trump and his company

Attorney General Letitia James' lawsuit is the culmination of the Democrat's three-year civil investigation of Trump and the Trump Organization.
4 days ago
el helicoide caracas...
RODRIQUE NGOWI, GISELA SALOMON and CLAUDIA TORRENS Associated Press

Surprise is key part of migrant travel from Florida, Texas

EDGARTOWN, Mass. (AP) — The chief executive of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services was wrapping up work when she looked outside to see 48 strangers at her office with luggage, backpacks and red folders that included brochures for her organization. The Venezuelan migrants who were flown to the wealthy Massachusetts island from San Antonio on Wednesday […]
6 days ago
school classrooms...
Collin Binkley Associated Press

Reading, math scores fell sharply during pandemic, data show

WASHINGTON (AP) — Math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-olds fell dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic, according to a new federal study — offering an early glimpse of the sheer magnitude of the learning setbacks dealt to the nation’s children. Reading scores saw their largest decrease in 30 years, while math […]
10 days ago
FILE - Roger Federer of Switzerland waves to spectators as he leaves the court after he lost to Ale...
HOWARD FENDRICH ASSOCIATED PRESS

Roger Federer says he is retiring from professional tennis

(AP) — Roger Federer announced Thursday that he is retiring from professional tennis at age 41 after winning 20 Grand Slam titles. This decision comes just days after the end of the U.S. Open, which is expected to be the last tournament of 23-time major champion Serena Williams’ career, and signals the real end of […]
10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
‘Gosh!’ Cult comedy ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ turns 15