Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin wanted Patrick Swayze to play Sam Wheat after he saw an interview Swayze gave. When he brought up his father, Swayze burst into tears. Rubin thought if a macho guy like Patrick Swayze could cry over a loved one, he'd be perfect for this movie.
Molly tells Sam that he "leads a charmed life". This is a line from William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Macbeth also claims to lead a charmed life, meaning he cannot be killed. Immediately after making this claim, however, he is killed. Sam is killed after seeing a production of Macbeth.
When they were filming the chase scene at night in New York City, it was really cold, and everyone else was bundled up except for Patrick Swayze's character Sam Wheat, and since he's a ghost they didn't want his breath showing so they had him chew ice.
When passing through solid objects, ghosts appear to absorb some of the material, through which they are going. Jerry Zucker had some difficulty explaining what he wanted this effect to look like. Finally, he illustrated it by dipping a napkin into coffee.
The shirt that Molly is wearing in the police station is the same shirt Sam was wearing at work the day he was late meeting the Japanese clients. It even appears to be wrinkled, as if she hadn't washed it so she could feel closer to Sam.
When Demi Moore was cast, she had long hair and didn't tell Director Jerry Zucker she was going to cut it. Zucker was shocked, and at first didn't like it, but he now thinks it was perfect for her character.
Luis Guzmán (who was considered for the role of Willie Lopez) revealed in a documentary focused on character actors that he's frequently stopped by fans of the movie who think he's the actor who played Sam's killer. People ask him why he killed Patrick Swayze, to which he always replies that Rick Aviles, the actor in question, was the one who did it.
Paul Hogan was offered, but passed on the role of Sam Wheat, because he felt it wasn't funny. However, Paul Hogan offered Patrick Swayze the role of Steve Garner in his supernatural comedy Almost an Angel (1990), but Swayze turned it down to do this film. Elias Koteas got the part instead.
At a 2013 AFI Night at the Movies screening of the film, Demi Moore told the audience her initial feelings on the film. "It's a love story, and it's a guy, a dead guy, trying to save his wife, and there is a comedy part, but really, really it's a love story", Moore said. "And I thought, 'Wow, this is really a recipe for disaster.' It's either going to be something really special, really amazing, or really an absolute bust." She went on to talk about what made the film special. "I think the beauty in this film is that none of us knew, and the alchemy that came together with Whoopi and Patrick, and our Film Editor, Walter Murch, and Adam Greenberg, our DP, it just had a magic."
Shortly before production began, Whoopi Goldberg was unsure if she was going to be able to put this movie into her work schedule. The part was then verbally offered to Jackée Harry, who accepted. However, at the last minute, Goldberg was able to do the film after all and Harry was dropped.
Tony Goldwyn recalled to the A.V. Club in 2014 that his role as the conniving, murderous Carl prompted a waitress to refuse to serve him. He couldn't figure out why she was shooting him death stares, until she finally asked him if he was an actor. "She said, "I'm so sorry! I knew I hated you, but I didn't know where from, and because I couldn't place who you were'", Goldwyn said.
The song Sam sings relentlessly to Oda Mae to get her to agree to help him is "Henry the Eighth, I Am". The lyrics, in part, are "She wouldn't have a Willie or a Sam..." Patrick Swayze's character is named Sam, and the man who murdered him is named Willie.
Starting in the early 1990s (shortly after the release of this movie), hip-hop lyrics often included Patrick Swayze's name or the phrase "I'm Swayze" as a reference to or replacement for the earlier slang, "I'm ghost", meaning "I'm leaving/out of here/gone, et cetera." The Notorious B.I.G. was one artist who was especially fond of including this phrase in his songs. Swayze's appearance in the video for Ja Rule's "Murder Reigns" was also a reference to this movie's and his own interesting place in hip-hop culture.
In an interview with The L.A Times, Bruce Joel Rubin revealed that he was sceptical of Jerry Zucker for his script, as he wanted either Milos Forman or Stanley Kubrick. The pair went through nineteen drafts of the screenplay together, and Zucker gave the script more structure.
The subway scenes were filmed on the abandoned lower level of the 42nd Street station of the IND 8th Avenue line. Trains appearing in the film wrong-railed through the station; that is, they ran in the opposite direction of normal operation.
Whoopi Goldberg's character is named Oda Mae Brown. Later in the film, she briefly uses the name Rita Miller. Taken together, the names are a friendly shout-out to Writer Rita Mae Brown, author of Rubyfruit Jungle.
Although the concept of a light white tunnel that moves souls from Earth to the Afterlife was "discovered" to the world population by Dr. Raymond Moody in 1975, the first person to show it was Hieronymus Bosch, a Renaissance painter, who in 1490 made a painting called "Ascent of the Blessed". In the painting can be seen, through concentric circles, a tunnel used by some souls to travel to the Afterlife.
Several supernatural phenomenons appeared in this movie: -Ghosts close to living people (Sam stands at Molly's side, instead of advancing to the Afterlife). -Possession (Orlando's ghost enters Oda Mae Brown's body). -Mediumnity (Oda Mae realizes that she can hear ghosts; later too can see them). -Poltergeist (ghost in black moves physical objects in the subway; eventually Sam learns it).
Part of the events seen in the movie are taken indirectly from the book "Life After Life", written by Dr. Raymond Moody and published in 1975, a series of compilations about people who by a brief time were dead and later lived again, called NDE or Near-Death Experience. Between them, the concept of a light white tunnel, which appears when a person dies to take his soul to the Afterlife (in the movie it appears three times: when Sam dies, when a man dies in an operating room, and when Sam saves Oda Mae and Molly, completing his unfinished business). The second part is the idea of black spirits who capture the souls of bad people to take to other side of the Afterlife, called Lower Astral, a place similar to Judeo-Christian Hell to punish and torture them. The third part is people, maybe friends and familiars, who wait to receive the recent dead to the Afterlife. It is showed when Sam walks toward the Afterlife at the end of the movie, where he mixes with a lot of spirits who wait for him (as they appear in diffuse figures in blue, it's impossible to know if they are Sam's friends or familiars).
Oda Mae Brown tells Molly that Willie Lopez lives at 303 Prospect Place Apt 4D, but the actual apartment building used for the exterior shots is located at 592 Prospect Place in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn.
Currently on the market is the spacious 4,341-square-foot loft at 102 Prince Street, where Sam and Molly got clay all over themselves, and where they said their final goodbyes. The loft was originally listed for ten and a half million dollars but was recently lowered to a more budget-friendly ten million dollars. It has three bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, and a Sub-Zero refrigerator.
Patrick Swayze turned down the supporting role of Steve Garner in Almost an Angel (1990) to do this film. Paul Hogan, who starred in that movie, had been offered to play Sam Wheat, but he turned it down after reading the script, as he felt it wasn't funny.
After withdrawing the four million dollars at the bank, Whoopi Goldberg endorses the check and gives it to a pair of nuns on the sidewalk. She played a nun in Sister Act (1992) and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993).
In the apartment of Oda Mae Brown and her two sisters, you can see for a few seconds a poster of The Who on the outside of the bedroom door next to the bathroom as Sam's ghost is pushing and scaring Willy who ends up knocking the poster down and falls into the bathroom area.
In 2013, it was reported that Paramount Television had tapped Writer and Producer Akiva Goldsman and showrunner Jeff Pinkner to write a pilot based on the movie. Since then, no information has been released as to whether the pilot actually came to fruition.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Bruce Willis was offered the role as Sam, but turned it down because he didn't think the movie would work with the main character being dead most of the movie. When this movie went on to become a huge success, he referred to himself as a "knucklehead" for saying no. Nine years later, he said yes to playing another main character who is dead most of the movie, but doesn't know it, in The Sixth Sense (1999), which also went on to become a huge success.
A total of twenty ghosts appeared throughout the movie: -Sam Wheat. -An old man who talks with Sam in the hospital, explaining that he's waiting for his wife in the cardiac wing. -A young man who dies in an operating room, ascending by a white light tunnel. -A woman in a blue dress at the cemetery during Sam's funeral. -Ghost of a man in black in the subway. -Eleven ghosts who appear in Spiritual Advisor (Oda Mae's store), plus two more who appear entering in the shop. -Willie Lopez. -Carl Bruner.