Production began at Orion Pictures, which owned the rights to the Filmways TV library, and hence the television series. However, during production, Orion Pictures' financial troubles, which ultimately led to the studio's demise and purchase by MGM, began. Paramount Pictures bought the film rights, finished the production, and even produced a sequel. Although Orion Pictures did retain foreign distribution rights to the film, which in turn, are now in the hands of MGM, due to their purchase of Orion Pictures.
The idea for the film came during a car ride. Scott Rudin, head of production at 20th Century Fox, was riding in a van with other company executives one day after a movie screening. "Everyone was there (studio chiefs) Barry Diller, Leonard Goldberg, and (marketing chief) Tom Sherak, when Tom's kid started singing The Addams Family (1964) theme," Rudin told the Los Angeles Times. "And suddenly everyone in the van was singing the theme, letter perfect, note for note." The next day, Rudin proposed to Diller and Goldberg that they make an Addams Family movie, and they went for it.
In the original series, Grandmama was Gomez's mother, and her name was Eudora Addams. In the movies, she is Morticia's mother, and her name was changed to Esmerelda Frump (Morticia's mother in the series was Hestor Frump). This provided a joke for The Addams Family musical. Morticia, angry at Gomez, brings up the time his mother came to visit for a week, "And she's still here, living in the attic." Gomez responds, "My mother? I thought she was your mother!"
In order to gain Morticia's figure, Anjelica Huston wore a metal corset. She also had to get gauze eye lifts, neck tucks, and fake nails daily. She told Entertainment Weekly, "Come afternoon, I could be prone to a really good headache from my various bondages, and because I couldn't lie down (in the corset) or rest, it was fairly exhausting."
Several scenes reference original Charles Addams illustrations, most notably the introductory sequence, where the Addams family pours a cauldron of oil on the Christmas carolers, the passenger on Gomez's toy train, the octopus painted on the footboard of Wednesday's bed, and Pugsley with the road sign.
The auction scene, in which Morticia and Gomez take turns bidding for an item they themselves donated, is based on a similar scene from The Addams Family (1964) season one, episode twenty-nine, "Morticia's Favorite Charity".
Originally, the "Mamushka" scene was supposed to be longer, with a full song describing brotherly love, and both Gomez and Fester naming other famous brothers. Test screenings revealed that audiences felt this song brought the movie to a standstill. The film shows an edited version with only Gomez and Fester dancing, and Gomez throwing the knives at Fester. The full song can be found on the motion picture soundtrack.
By the time this movie was made, all of the adult cast members from The Addams Family (1964) had died except for John Astin, who had played Gomez. Astin also outlived the movie Gomez, Raul Julia, who died in 1994, as well as the actor who played his son Pugsley, Ken Weatherwax, who died in 2014.
Early make-up designs for Gomez included dark circles around his eyes, similar to Fester's. This was eliminated before filming, but can still be seen on the film's posters and other publicity material.
The actors and actresses were concerned about the ambiguity of the big Fester storyline in the script. Initially, it was going to be unknown if Gordon, the man suffering from memory loss, that looked just like Uncle Fester, was actually Fester. The cast members nominated Christina Ricci to give an impassioned plea to Scott Rudin and Barry Sonnenfeld two weeks before shooting, that Fester should not be an imposter. Sonnenfeld remembered that the only cast member to not care, was Christopher Lloyd, the man playing Fester.
David Levy, who Executively Produced The Addams Family (1964), filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures after the film was released. He claimed that many Addams Family character "trademarks" used in the film, including Gomez's fascination with blowing up model trains, the characters of Thing and Cousin Itt, Lurch's fondness for playing the harpsichord, and the passionate tangos danced by Morticia and Gomez, were original ideas created by him exclusively for the series, and not part of the original Charles Addams cartoons, for which Paramount Pictures had purchased the movie rights. The lawsuit was later settled out of court.
The scene when Morticia trims the blooms off the roses is a direct reference to the television series. Also, when the Addams family are evicted from the house, Morticia is carrying a plant. Though shorter, the plant is identical to "Cleopatra" Morticia's meat-eating, African strangler plant.
Toward the end of the movie, Morticia is seen telling the Grimms fairy tale "Hansel & Gretel" to a group of children. In the first episode of the television series, the Addams' take issue with the Grimms fairy tales being read in school, because of how violent they were toward dragons and witches.
Near the end of the movie, when the family is playing the "Wake the Dead" game in the family cemetery, one headstone in the foreground says Ansel Addams, a reference to the famous photographer Ansel Adams.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld had not originally planned to use the theme music from the television series in the movie. He included it in the opening sequence after positive reactions to the early trailer, which included the theme.
Director of Photography Owen Roizman quit the production after about a month to go work on another film. His replacement, Gale Tattersall, had his contribution cut short not long afterwards, when he had to quit after being rushed to hospital with a severe sinus infection. Fed up with the situation, Barry Sonnenfeld took over the cinematography himself, reasoning that if anything happened to him, then production would be shut down, so he didn't have much to lose. Sonnenfeld was an accomplished cinematographer before becoming a successful director, so he knew what he was doing.
The Lady Colyton, who is thanked at the beginning of the credits, is Barbara Barb, who was married to Charles Addams from 1954 to 1956. When the couple divorced, she received copyrights to some of his work as part of the divorce settlement. She later remarried to Henry Hopkinson, Baron Colyton - hence the title.
Some additional characters shown as Addams (relatives which had more emphasis in the original script, but less screentime) were: Dexter and Donald Addams (the two-headed cousin in matching turtlenecks); cousin Ophelia Addams (revealed to Morticia's sister, who looks like a Tennessee Williams heroine); Slosh Addams (a great, fat, toad-like man who was revealed in the script to have "made many a killing on Wall Street"); his child-sized wife, Lois; Digit Addams (a four-armed Addams with an over-aged Heidi-look-alike, complete with thick blonde braids, as his date); and Lumpy Addams (a teenage hunchback cousin in a loud blazer).
The house set was built on Stage 3/8, the same stage as the house set from the series. When the series was being shot there, it was known as General Service Studios, and when the movie was being shot there, it was called Hollywood Center Studios.
Cousin Itt's three-wheeled vehicle is a two-seater Messerschmitt "Kabinroller" (cabin car), produced in Germany during the late 1950s and early 1960s. There is some disagreement as to the particular model; most sources say the vehicle was the KR175 made between 1954 and 1956, although some have specified it as a KR200 model from the early 1960s.
Director of Photography Owen Roizman quit to work on another movie. His replacement, Gale Tattersall, stopped production for a couple of days when he needed to be hospitalized for a sinus infection, and never returned. Barry Sonnenfeld ended up doing the job himself. In front of the camera, Raul Julia burst a blood vessel in his eye. These incidents led Sonnenfeld to say that say that he felt like there was a "pervasive black cloud" hanging over the movie.
After Barry Sonnenfeld's agent told him that he would lick a carpet if he couldn't find him a directing job within one year, he found Sonnenfeld a seemingly plum first time assignment helming a high profile movie (in less than a year). As a joke, Scott Rudin let it be known to Sonnenfeld that he wasn't his first choice by putting a different director's name on the back of the director's chair every morning on set. Some of the names that replaced Sonnenfeld's were Joe Dante, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, and Rudin's first choice, Tim Burton.
Three weeks into directing, Barry Sonnenfeld was talking to a studio executive who was concerned about the budget for the film when he felt a "tremendous pressure" in his chest, "as if someone was blowing up a balloon inside me", then passed out. He also dealt with sciatica during filming, and had to shut down the Los Angeles production for several days when his wife needed major surgery in New York City.
Initially, the film's sole distributor was to be Orion Pictures, which owned the 1960s television series at the time. Because of Orion Pictures' continued financial problems, they sold the U.S. rights to Paramount Pictures, which would release the sequel worldwide. This marked the only time, since severing ties with Warner Brothers, that Orion Pictures co-produced one of its films with another major studio, before merging with MGM (who would not co-produce a film with Paramount Pictures until 2005) in 1997.
This film is only one of two Paramount Pictures releases made in conjunction with another major studio, while the studio was owned by Paramount Communications (which renamed itself from Gulf + Western in 1989). The other was Alive (1993), a joint production with Touchstone Pictures (Disney).
On the original show, the Addams' had a pet lion named Kitty. Though Kitty doesn't appear in this movie, Gomez can be heard cracking a whip and saying, "Down, Kitty!" as a roar is heard, when he goes to the vault early on.
Some scenes in the videos and photos from Gomez and Fester's childhood, such as their wearing shark fins in a lake and returning from camp in animal carriers, are also taken from the original cartoons (only those featured Wednesday and Pugsley instead.)
Co-stars (three), known to have attended the most densely packed (UK non-Award), celebrity event "Save the Rose Theatre" campaigns, public PR day, May 1989. Where they did a small impromptu skit upon the characters, as were declared early 1989 as cast. Several television conference cosplayers performed in a short parade, including a prop-model of "Thing", and a fully costumed "Cousin Itt".