Jodie Foster's character's gracelessness in the film stems from the first scene she shot, when she waited for Mel Gibson to help her down from the stagecoach. Instead, he took her parasol and walked away. She tried to get down alone, and flopped to the ground. Director Richard Donner liked it so much that he kept the shot in the film, and staged more scenes of Foster stumbling, being dumped through windows, etc.
Near the movie's beginning, Maverick asks the young man wearing the bowler hat at the poker table, who claims to be a gunfighter, what his name is. He answers, "Johnny Hardin," and Maverick fumbles his chips pretending to be scared, but then clowns around pointing his own gun at the youth. The real John Wesley Hardin was a notoriously fast, volatile and deadly gunfighter of the Old West, who shot and killed over 40 men, before being shot in the back of the head--by a man he had hired to kill someone else--and killed in 1895.
Steve Kahan (the dealer during the poker tournament) also plays Mel Gibson's (Martin Riggs') captain in the "Lethal Weapon" franchise. Gibson's character is a constant irritation for Kahan throughout. As an inside joke, near the end of the tournament you see Kahan give Gibson a terse handshake (barely acknowledging his presence) before quickly exiting the table. This happens right after Gibson's character knocks out the last player before reaching the final table. In actuality, Kahan got stuck in his chair, and as he stands up, his chair comes with him. His handshake with Gibson is cut short, because he wants to remove the chair. Notice Gibson's expression as he chokes back a laugh, just before the film cuts to a different shot.
Leo Gordon, who plays one of the poker players in the first card scene, wrote four episodes of the original "Maverick" (1957) television series in the 1960-61 season, and made five guest appearances as Big Mike McComb, between 1957-59.
Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster became close friends after the making of this film. She was also considered to play Gibson's love interest again in Conspiracy Theory (1997), but she turned it down to make Contact (1997), and the role went to Julia Roberts. Both Mel and Jodie still love to play poker. They worked together again on The Beaver (2011), which was directed by Foster.
The large rock formation in the distance behind Maverick when he is playing the "sick injun" hunted by the Russian archduke, is Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, CA. It's partially visible first when Maverick is attempting to ride the bicycle, and again later when he leaves the Native American village.
Clint Black, the "Sweet Faced Gambler", also sang the song "Good Run Of Bad Luck" on the soundtrack. This song plays during the first round of the poker championship. Ironically, just as the song ends, Black's character is caught cheating and thrown off the boat.
In the final scene Maverick (Mel Gibson) shows his cards one at a time; this is called "slow-rolling", a big breach of table etiquette in poker, and in modern times. Additionally, every hand played by the Commodore demonstrates "slow-rolling".
After Bret Maverick escapes from his botched hanging, he is shown plodding through the desert, dragging a tree limb behind him as the sand swirls around him. This mirrors a situation from The Road Warrior (1981), when The Gyro Captain is chained to a log by Max, also played by Mel Gibson, and forced to find his way out of the desert.
The next project in which Jodie Foster was to be involved in after this film was an action thriller titled "Trackdown". Described as "Female Die Hard inside English Channel tunnel", the plot would have been about Foster's character, who was an engineer, trying to stop terrorists from blowing up the Channel tunnel with a runaway train. Foster. however, walked away from the film, and although some attempts were made to re-write the script (Kevin Jarre did a re-write), find another actress for the role or change the main character into a man, the project was eventually canceled.
Corey Feldman claimed in a Yahoo interview that Richard Donner originally intended for Feldman to play Johnny Hardin, but this was vetoed by Mel Gibson after an audition. Feldman was given the role of a bank robber instead.
Towards the end of the movie, Bret says goodbye to Annabelle on the riverboat. This may have been a nod to the original series; in the original series theme song, some of the lyrics are: "Riverboat ring your bell. Fare thee well Annabelle."
Linda Hunt and Clint Walker both had cameo roles in this film, Hunt playing a magician and Walker playing a sheriff. However, the film itself ran too long, so their parts were cut from the theatrical release.
During Marshal Cooper's explanation of the rules at the beginning of the tournament, he pulls out his own guns and claims that they're the only weapons allowed on the ship. When putting them away, he drops one but smoothly continues talking while someone hands him his dropped gun. This was not scripted. James Garner dropped the prop by accident but kept acting, resulting in a funny moment that the director kept in the final cut.
After the producers decided to cut out the scenes involving The Magician (played by Linda Hunt), some scenes had to be re-shot. Re-shoots were scheduled for the weekend of March 20-21, exactly two months before the movie's premiere.
Many of the cards used in the movie contain letters (A, K, Q, J) or numbers (2-10) denoting their value. Playing cards of this time period did not have letters or numbers. They only displayed the correct number of the suit's symbol or a picture of the facecard.
After writing the script, William Goldman offered the role of Zane Cooper to friend and collaborator Paul Newman. Newman loved the script and agreed to the film, but the producers lowballed his asking price; he reluctantly turned down their offer.
Jodie Foster's part as Annabelle Bransford, closely resembles Diane Brewster's character, Samantha Crawford, whom she played twice during the first season of the original television show. They both are con artists, and they both have a phony southern accent.
When Maverick sees the hawk, he says to Annabelle, "You know what that hawk means? Absolutely nothing." This is a sly reference to Ladyhawke (1985) which was also directed by Richard Donner and produced by his then future-wife, Lauren Shuler.
Danny Glover: As a bank robber. Glover's and Mel Gibson's characters appear to almost recognize each other. This is a reference to the "Lethal Weapon" film franchise, all of which were also directed by Richard Donner. During their appearance on-screen, the "Lethal Weapon" theme song can be heard, and as Glover departs he says, "I'm too old for this shit", a line his character used frequently in the "Lethal Weapon" franchise.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
FORESHADOWING: Throughout the movie, when Mel Gibson's character says "my pappy always used to say", the camera cuts to James Garner rolling his eyes. At the end of the film, Garner is revealed to actually be Gibson's father.
In the final scene Maverick has a 10-J-Q-K of spades; even though he pulled the ace to win the game, he could have won even with the nine of spades, which would have given him a higher straight flush than Angel.
After lending Mrs. Bransford money to join the poker tournament, Maverick says, "if by some small chance you should happen to win, I will be expecting 50%," to which Mrs. Bransford confusingly replies, "Well, then, I'll be expecting 50% of your winnings, Mr. Maverick." At the end of the movie Mrs. Bransford ends up making off with 50% of Maverick's winnings.