Tony Scott hated working with producer Joel Silver so much that he based the character Lee Donowitz, movie producer and cocaine user and dealer in his next movie True Romance (1993) on Silver and he made sure for him to look and act just like Silver did.
In a New Yorker profile, Joel Silver said that the making of this film was "one of the three worst experiences of his life." Tony Scott also spoke about how miserable production was, largely because Silver and Bruce Willis took over the production, altered parts of Shane Black's script, and made him shoot scenes he hated under threat of being fired and having to forfeit his salary.
With this film, Shane Black became the first writer to sell a spec script for one million dollars. According to Time magazine, he was originally offered 2.25 million dollars by Carolco Pictures, but decided to go with Warner Brothers for the lower (but record-setting) bid of 1.75 million dollars, so that he could work with Joel Silver, who had also produced his script for Lethal Weapon (1987). This record stood for 67 days until Carolco purchased a screenplay by Joe Eszterhas, which became Basic Instinct (1992), for three million dollars.
The conversation between Joe and Jimmy about the 650 dollar pants was taken from a deleted scene in Lethal Weapon (1987). Murtaugh's daughter is wearing an expensive dress for a New Year's Eve party and he asks, "It doesn't have a little television in it?" She says, "No", and Murtaugh mutters, "I am very old."
In the original script, the entire third act was set on water. Also, Hallenbeck's grudge with Senator Baynard was completely different from the movie. In the script, Hallenbeck was working security for the Baynard family when Louis Baynard, President Baynard's son, kills a mother and her child in a drunken car accident. When Hallenbeck refuses to cover for the President's son, they plant half a kilo of crack in his house. Louis Baynard was also a villain in the script, and in the end, both he and his father die.
In an interview with Tony Scott, he mentions that a stray cat managed to get into Bruce Willis' trailer and started humping Bruce's hairpiece. The piece was mangled but they managed to get it looking wearable again.
A riot nearly occurred during filming at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Hundreds of extras were recalled for a second day of shooting, but a last minute decision was made to cancel the recall. The extras were not informed of the decision and arrived expecting a day of work. They were refused pay by the production, and as discontent grew, they began to surge against the barrier that surrounded the set. Riot police were called in to disperse the crowd.
The card that Darian gives Jimmie to autograph was produced by Pro Set, a trading card company based in Dallas, Texas. The card is fictitious, but appears to be of similar design to a real set of cards made by Pro Set. In 1990, the company produced a Super Bowl commemorative set. Super Bowl Supermen, the headline of the card, was a legitimate part of the set.
Due to the behind-the-scenes arguments, and production problems, Warner Bros. brought in Stuart Baird to heavily re-edit the movie. For the same reasons, Baird also re-edited Tango & Cash (1989), another Warner Bros. movie which had even more problems during filming and post-production. Some alternate scenes can be seen in the theatrical trailer; an alternate angle for a dialogue scene between Joe and Jimmy in the car, when they are driving towards Joe's house, and an alternate angle for another dialogue scene during the car chase, where both of them and Darian are running from Milo and his henchmen.
According to reports from members of test audience who saw earliest workprint version (possibly before it was re-edited by editor Stuart Baird on the orders by producer Joel Silver and Warner Bros.), it had different (temporary) music score and extended violent scenes (these scenes had to be cut down after the movie originally rated NC-17). The biggest difference between workprint and theatrical version was the opening song, which in the workprint was "Are You Ready For Some Football Tonight" by Hank Williams Jr., while in the theatrical version song "Friday Night's A Great Time For Football" by Bill Medley was used.
Shane Black's original draft was very different than the final film. Besides having a darker tone with more violence, almost the entire second half of the script was completely differen. Besides many differences with the plot and characters, Black's script also included more focus on the two villains Milo and Shelly Marcone. Milo, for example, was an even nastier villain than he is in the film. In the script, besides being a hit man for Marcone, he also had a job as director of snuff films in which his men would kill kidnapped women in very violent ways. There was also a scene in the script where he brutally kills an entire family who accidentally showed up near the place where a meeting between his and Baynard's men took place. Other parts that were changed include: a big boat chase scene with Joe and Jimmy trying to escape from Milo and his men chasing them through the fog until their boat and helicopter crash into each other, a shootout and fight scene between Joe and Marcone's men in Joe's house, another shootout in Marcone's mansion in which Joe sneaks in after killing several guards, and Joe and Jimmy saving Joe's wife Sarah from being killed with a chainsaw in one of Milo's snuff films.
In this script written by Shane Black, you have in the final fight scene, between the hero - Bruce Willis - and the bad guy, the latest stabbing Willis in the thigh with a knife or a dagger. You had the same scheme in the final fight of Lethal Weapon 2 - also originally written by Shane Black - where Mel Gibson is also wounded in his upper leg by the heavy.
Right after Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) kicks Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) out of his house, Jimmy talks to Joe's Daughter, Darian (Danielle Harris) and signs his autograph. Jimmy has an Arizona state flag on the sleeve of his jacket.