‘Groundhog Day’ turns 20: Celebrate with these little-known facts

Bill Murray
Bill Murray

"Well, it's Groundhog Day... again," said Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, in 1993's "Groundhog Day."

February 12 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the romantic comedy that had Murray reliving the same day over and over again until he finally learned how to be a better man.

The movie, directed by Harold Ramis and written by Ramis and Danny Rubin, was a box-office hit at the time, grossing over $70 million (more than 4.5 times it's budget). But -- much like a day in Punxsutawney, PA -- experiencing the movie repeatedly just makes you appreciate it all the more. "Groundhog Day" didn't receive any major awards or even nominations at the time, but now it is regarded as a modern classic. The American Film Institute placed it on their lists of the best comedies and best fantasy films, and in 2006 it was added to the National Film Registry of historically significant films.

One of the pleasures of watching "Groundhog Day" time after time is trying to put together how all the little pieces of Phil Connors' day fit together. But even if you've seen the movie more times than you can count, there are still some bits about the making of it you might not know...

How long is Phil actually stuck?

There's been some debate about how long Bill Murray’s character is in his looping limbo. Director Harold Ramis originally said 10 years, then revised it to 30-40 years, saying it would take Phil that long to learn everything he does, like becoming an expert pianist (Murray actually had a piano double for the close-ups). But in the original screenplay, he was supposed to be stuck for 10,000 years. He marked each day by reading one page of a book in the library, and eventually read everything in the place.

How did he get stuck?

There was a scene in an earlier draft of the script where Phil had a spurned ex-girlfriend who used a magic spell to curse him. But then Ramis changed his mind and cut the scene in subsequent drafts to leave it unexplained.

How the film was conceived

Writer Danny Rubin says he built the script around the core idea that one lifetime isn't enough. "There are some people, those arrested development-type men who can't really outgrow their adolescence. And I thought, 'Well, maybe one lifetime isn’t enough. Maybe you need more,'" he said in 2010. However, his original script began with Phil already repeating the day and explaining to the audience in voice-over how he got there. When Ramis re-wrote the script, he started the story at the beginning so you could see the first day.

Why Groundhog Day of all days?

Rubin said that after he got the idea for the movie, his second task was to pick a notable day for Phil to relive. He said he considered setting it during a leap year, so that Phil would be trapped on February 29. But then he looked earlier in the month and landed on Groundhog Day. "It’s a completely unexploited holiday," Rubin said. "We can play it on TV every year like the Charlie Brown specials.”

Where is Punxsutawney?

Punxsutawney, PA -- about 85 miles northeast of Pittsburgh -- really does celebrate Groundhog Day by asking Phil (the groundhog, not the weatherman) if he saw his shadow. But if you ever visit the town, it won't look very familiar. Ramis chose to film the movie in the more picturesque Woodstock, IL, about 50 miles outside of Chicago (not far from where Ramis and Murray grew up). Woodstock now has its own yearly Groundhog Day celebration, complete with their weather-predicting rodent, Woodstock Willie.

Real-life 'Groundhog Day'

Stephen Tobolowsky, who plays "Needle-nose" Ned Ryerson (BING!), said shooting the movie was sort of like being in it. Since every scene had to look exactly the same, they filmed each one repeatedly in different weather conditions – sunny, overcast, snowy. So the cast really did live the same day over and over again.

Murray's exact science

"Groundhog Day" was shot out of sequence. But Murray's character travels from dark and curmudgeonly to light and happy. According to Ramis, Murray developed a foolproof acting motivation method: When he attempted to explain scenes to Murray before the cameras rolled, Murray would interrupt and ask, "Just tell me - good Phil or bad Phil?"

What was left out?

Tobolowsky said there was a complicated scene that was meant to explain how everything in Phil's world would reset each morning at 6 A.M. They spent three days filming a sequence where Phil shaves his head into a mohawk and completely trashes his hotel room. Ramis realized that it was too long, so they scrapped all the footage. In its place, Ramis had Murray break a pencil, which he would find undamaged the next morning. It got the same idea across in one simple image.

Serious actor's funny first role

Michael Shannon, the super-intense Oscar-nominate actor ("Revolutionary Road," 2008) and soon-to-be General Zod, Superman's nemesis in this summer's "Man of Steel," had his first movie role as Fred, one of the newlyweds Phil helps out. He's the guy that gets overly excited when Phil gives them Wrestlemania tickets as a wedding gift.

Sonny and Cher song, explained

Every time Phil's alarm clock goes off, "I Got You, Babe" by Sonny and Cher plays. It is said to have been in Rubin's script from the very beginning. Here's why, according to him: "If you listen to the recording at the very end it sort of winds down with a big slow 'I got yououououou baaaaaaaabe.' You think it's over, then it creeps back in: 'I got you babe! I got you babe! etc.' I thought this repetition was perfect. The timing never worked out for them to use it in the movie that way, but I guess because it's a love song and because even though it's catchy it would drive you crazy after a while, it was always a good idea."

The film's ending was left to a vote

Murray is said to have put his foot down before shooting the film's final scene. He needed to know what he was wearing before he embarked on his last celluloid interaction with costar Andie MacDowell, according to "Groundhog Day" castmate Stephen Tobolowsky. Was he dressed in the same clothes as the night before? Or are he and MacDowell depicting a passionate night, waking up in the buff? Ramis hadn't thought it through, so he canvassed the film crew. The result was a tie vote.

"Then one girl in the movie—it was her first film—she was assistant set director. She raised her hand and said, 'He is absolutely wearing the clothes he wore the night before. If he is not wearing the clothes he wore the night before, it will ruin the movie. That's my vote.' So Harold Ramis said, 'Then that's what we are going to do." I've never told anybody that behind-the-scenes story, so keep that a secret now," Tobolowsky said in 2010.

Its philosophical implications

"There's an element of truth to the fact that we are repeating the same day over and over again," Rubin has said. Indeed, the film has been embraced by various philosophical and religious thinkers. "Everybody seems to bring their own way of thinking and their own discipline to bear on the ideas within it and would express this is absolutely describing the essence of Judaism. This is the essence of Nietzsche’s philosophy... I think the movie shows that it is the repetition of days itself which pushes us forward in our own maturation as we start to encounter the same things over and over again." said Rubin.