Overall concept and several names appear to be taken from the Doc Savage pulp magazines of the 30's and 40's: both main characters are multi-talented surgeons, adventurers, and musicians; and both have an inner circle of sidekicks with nicknames (Renny, Ham, Monk, Long Tom, and Johnny, compared to Reno, New Jersey, Perfect Tommy, and Rawhide).
When it came time to film the end titles sequence, where Buckaroo and pals are walking around a dry L.A. aqueduct in step to the music, the music wasn't ready. Composer Michael Boddicker told the film crew to use the song, "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel as a placeholder because it was the exact same tempo. Those scenes were filmed with "Uptown Girl" blaring from a boom box tied to the back of the camera truck.
Jamie Lee Curtis played Buckaroo's mother in a flashback, but this scene was cut. The scene is available on the recent DVD release as an optional prequel to the theatrical version, and as a special feature. Jamie Lee Curtis is visible in a photo on the dashboard of the jet car in the wide-screen version.
The end of the movie invites the viewer to watch for the upcoming film "Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League". This was the real title for a sequel that Sherwood Studios planned to make if this film had been successful. Unfortunately, it was a box-office bomb, and Sherwood Studios went bankrupt. After its release on video and cable, however, the film became a cult favorite, much in the same way as Mad Max (1979) (which crawled from obscurity to spawn two sequels). Legal wrangling due to the bankruptcy prevented any other studios from picking up the sequel rights, and even years later MGM had to fight through a pile of red tape simply to get the OK to re-release it onto home video (DVD).
John Lithgow's dialect coach, Roberto Terminelli, was actually a tailor on the Fox lot with a heavy Italian accent. John had Roberto speak his lines from the script into a tape recorder, which he then used to practice the accent. John then got him credit in the movie as the dialect coach for his help.
Many names and terms were taken from Thomas Pynchon's book "The Crying of Lot 49", most notably the company name Yoyodyne. To this day, there is a yoyodyne.com, which serves as a fan site for the film. "Yoyodyne" itself was Pynchon's thinly veiled reference to Rocketdyne, a major defense industry contractor and manufacturer of rocket engines, founded just after WW II to reverse-engineer German V-2 rockets - thereby also making this a further veiled reference to Pynchon's novel 'Gravity's Rainbow'.
In the original script, Buckaroo was supposed to have an arch enemy named Hanoi Xan, who was never seen but referenced to by Buckaroo and the other characters. All scenes containing dialogue regarding Xan were deleted from the film's theatrical release but are now available on DVD. Xan was supposed to be the mysterious head of a crime syndicate called the World Crime League and also the man who murdered Buckaroo's parents and wife Peggy.
Many of the lines given by Lord John Whorfin are misquotes of actual common phrases or quotes from famous people. For instance, "Home is where you wear your hat," as a corruption of, "Home is where you hang your hat." His line, "Character is who you are in the dark," is a corruption of Dwight Moody's quote, "Character is what you think in the dark." Other, similar lines include: "I feel so broke up, I want to go home" (from Sloop John B), "Persecute him without a quarter!" ("Pursue him without quarter!")
The "jet car" shown in the film (reportedly a 1982 Ford F-350 pick-up truck) included an actual Cold War-era General Electric turbo jet engine that was borrowed from Northrop University in Inglewood, California.
The original director of photography of the film was Jordan Cronenweth, who famously shot Blade Runner a few years earlier. The filmmakers specifically wanted their film to be rich in color and texture, which Cronenweth was specifically known for. However, several weeks into filming, producer David Begelman had Jordan Cronenweth replaced with Fred J. Koenekamp against the wishes of the crew, including the director, in order to give the film its campy, flat visual appearance, which the filmmakers had never originally intended. Scenes shot by Jordan Cronenweth still remain in the final cut, including the famous nightclub scene featuring the line, "Wherever you go, there you are."
When John Whorfin calls collect for John Bigboote, he tells the operator he is calling "Grovers Mill." Grovers Mill was a real-life community in New Jersey which was used in Orson Welles' famous radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" and is now a part of West Windsor Township in Mercer county.
In one scene, Reno refers to Orson Welles as "the guy from the old wine commercials". This is a reference to Welles' popular TV commercials in the 1970s for the Paul Masson Winery (now known as Mountain Winery), where he used the slogan "We will sell no wine before it's time." In the early 1980s, Welles was fired from the advertising campaign after stating on a US talk show that he never drank the company's wine.
Banzai's mentioned but unseen foe Hanoi Xan seems to homage Hanoi Shan. In the genealogical section of Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (1973), Philip Jose Farmer added Hanoi Shan to the Wold Newton Universe. Hanoi Shan is an allegedly real-life criminal mastermind documented in the works of criminologist H. Ashton Wolfe. Farmer's thesis was to make Hanoi Shan the same individual as Sax Rohmer's totally fictional Dr. Fu Manchu.
The kanji lettering on Buckaroo Banzai's headband as he drives the jet car reads "seikatsu-bi", which appears to be Japanese, but does not make sense. The first two kanji mean living or lifestyle, but the second character, "bi" (not "bei" as has been reported elsewhere) or beautiful, does not add up to coherent Japanese. It seems to suggest the "beautiful life" but these 3 kanji together do not have a particular meaning in Japanese.
The film's opening prologue states: "Buckaroo Banzai, born to an American mother and a Japanese father, thus began life as he was destined to live it...going in several directions at once. A brilliant neurosurgeon, this restless young man grew quickly dissatisfied with a life devoted solely to medicine. He roamed the planet studying martial arts and particle physics, collecting around him a most eccentric group of friends, those hard-rocking scientists The Hong Kong Cavaliers. And now, with his astounding jet car ready for a bold assault on the dimension barrier, Buckaroo Banzai faces the greatest challenge of his turbulent life... ...while high above Earth, an alien spacecraft keeps a nervous watch on Team Banzai's every move...".
According to Peter Weller, he had a particularly tough time filming the scene without laughing where Lord John Whorfin is torturing Buckaroo with electricity, because it was the first time he had heard John Lithgow perform what Weller likes to refer to as John's "Italian/Martian accent"
According to John Lithgow and Peter Weller, Jordan Cronenweth shot almost half the film but was replaced at the producer's insistence. Lithgow stated that Richter's model for the look was the French film Diva. But the producer wanted it to look more like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Lithgow felt Fred J. Koenekamp brought a more two dimensional look than what Cronenweth was doing.