Do you remember an early-’90s movie called Shazaam starring Sinbad as a genie? If so, you’re not the only one: According to an article in the British magazine New Statesmen, many people have vivid recollections of seeing this wacky family comedy. There’s just one troubling fact: The movie doesn’t exist. It never did.
So why are hundreds of people apparently convinced that they’ve seen it? Reporter Amelia Tait went deep into that question, diving into internet conspiracy theories and interviewing several people who described the film to her in detail, citing specific scenes, characters, and memories of watching it. The writer also discussed Shazaam‘s appearances on a Reddit community dedicated to “the Mandela Effect,” the Matrix-like theory that we live in a timeline or parallel universe that has been altered in some way: a fringe explanation for shared, false memories like the Shazaam movie (or the idea that the Berenstain Bears was once spelled “Berenstein”).
The article doesn’t contain a comment from the comedian himself, but Tait dug into Sinbad’s tweets, which show that he’s been refuting the existence of this film for years. (“I must have played a genie. Everyone says I did,” he joked in 2009.) And according to Tait, one Twitter user or another still mentions that Sinbad genie movie “nearly every day.”
One man interviewed in the article has offered a $1,000 reward on Craigslist to anyone who can show him a copy of Shazaam, bootleg, rental, or otherwise. “I want to be able to make it known that the movie is indeed real,” he told New Statesman. While 20-year-old VHS films can be hard to come by, the internet hasn’t offered up even a single shred of evidence — no posters, no clips, nothing — that this particular movie ever existed.
The most logical explanation for the Sinbad-genie-movie phenomenon is that people are conflating details from actual movies with similar titles and storylines. As noted by Tait, the most likely culprit is 1996’s Kazaam, starring Shaquille O’Neal (a.k.a. Shaq, another one-name actor) as a genie who grants wishes. There was also a 1974 TV series called Shazam!, based on the DC Comics superhero — who is also the subject of the upcoming Warner Bros. film Shazam, which doesn’t yet exist, but will. (It’s slated for 2019.)
Shaquille O’Neal in ‘Kazaam’: Watch a trailer:
Got your Shazams and Kazaams straight? Good, because in the aforementioned subreddit about the “Mandela effect,” users also theorize that people are remembering a 1991 BBC movie called Bernard and the Genie (starring comedian Lenny Henry as the genie, opposite Alan Cumming), the 1995 straight-to-video movie Magic Island (featuring Oscar Dillion as a genie-looking character, opposite Zachary Ty Bryan), or the mid-’90s TV series Adventures of Sinbad (featuring Oris Erheuro as a warrior who is also vaguely genie-like in appearance). Factor in foggy childhood memories and an uncomfortable but undeniable element of racism, and one begins to see how all this fantasy fare about magical black men (all shirtless and wearing gold arm bands) congealed into a Sinbad vehicle that doesn’t exist.
Either that, or Shazaam happened in a parallel universe. Read the full, fascinating article here.