A Brief History of 'Space Jam' in Popular Culture

Earlier this week, Paul Feig reassured fans at South by Southwest that his upcoming Peanuts film would be sweet and innocent, and would not at all resemble Space Jam. Why bring Space Jam into it? The 1996 blockbuster, in which Looney Tunes characters defeat space aliens in a basketball game with the help of a live-action Michael Jordan, has been experiencing a pop-culture resurgence lately. For some, Space Jam lives in infamy as an example of what not to do with a beloved children’s cartoon. For others, it’s a beautiful piece of nostalgia from an era when Bugs Bunny, Michael Jordan, and R. Kelly could all live in harmony together. Here, a timeline of Space Jam in popular culture, from the premiere to Feig’s recent diss.  

November 15, 1996: Space Jam opens in theaters. Siskel and Ebert give it two thumbs up and show their Chicago bias by announcing that Michael Jordan has a big future in movies. (See below.) Other critics are less kind. Nevertheless, Space Jam opens at No. 1 and ultimately makes $230 million worldwide.  

January 12, 1998: The Space Jam soundtrack is certified 5 times platinum.

February 25, 1998: R. Kelly wins three Grammy awards for Space Jam’s signature ballad “I Believe I Can Fly.”

January 6, 2008: The Booo Tooons blog publishes posthumous quotes from Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones about how much he hated Space Jam. “I thought it was terrible,” the animation legend reportedly said.

December 2010: A Reddit user notices that the 1996 Space Jam website is still perfectly preserved on Warner Bros’ servers. (See it here.) The link goes viral.

August 2012: On Twitter, someone asks LeBron James, “Do you love Space Jam?” The Cleveland Cavaliers forward replies, “I love that movie. Wish I could do Space Jam 2!” Little does James know that no one will ever let him forget this.

November 2013: A mockumentary episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30, focusing on the Space Jam basketball game, airs as part of Yahoo’s weekly web series “SketchY.” (Watch below!)

December 2013:  An Ecuadorian New Year celebration features giant paper sculptures of the Space Jam aliens, which are ceremonially burned at midnight.

January 2014: A web developer creates a bot to check the Space Jam website several times a day and make sure it’s still online. Updates are posted at the Twitter account @SpaceJamCheck.

February 21, 2014: Deadline reports that a Space Jam sequel is in development at Warner Bros starring LeBron James. The media runs with the story, but within a few hours, James refutes it.

March 23, 2014: A live reading of Space Jam takes place at the UCB Theater in Los Angeles. The surprise cast features Seth Green as Bugs Bunny, Nick Kroll as Daffy Duck, Danielle Fishel as Lola Bunny, and LA Clippers player Blake Griffin as Michael Jordan.

October 2014: Jenny Slate talks to Yahoo about why Warner Bros hasn’t moved forward with her Looney Tunes script. “I have a lot of stand-up about Space Jam, but really, I enjoy the Looney Tunes cartoons that are from the forties,” Slate says in a previously unpublished portion of the interview. “And I think that’s like what I was more interested in, and that’s kind of what I was more going for. But I think in the end, what people will probably buy tickets to is more of a Space Jam kind of thing.”

January 10, 2015: A Space Jam-inspired art show from painter and sculpture Devin Strother opens in New York City. (See highlights below.)

February 10, 2015: Nike announces the re-release of its “Hare Jordan” sneaker line, featured in the film, for Spring 2015.

March 15, 2015: At the SXSW premiere of his new film Spy, Peanuts Movie producer Paul Feig assures fans that his Charlie Brown film will in no way resemble Space Jam. “It’s very sweet. It’s totally a G-rated movie, because you can’t get edgy with Charlie Brown,” says Feig. “That was the Schulz family’s fear, that me and Fox everybody were gonna come in and hip it up and cast Justin Bieber as Charlie Brown and have it like Space Jam or something. All of us were like, ‘No.’”