Derek's repetition of the line "But why male models?" for the second time, in the cemetery scene, was an ad-lib by the actors; Ben Stiller forgot his line and simply repeated the earlier line again, and David Duchovny ran with it and gave him a straight answer.
The film has been banned in Malaysia because of the use of fictional Malaysian Prime Minister as the subject of assassination. It was originally also banned in neighboring Singapore, but the ban has since been lifted.
Bret Easton Ellis, author of the 1998 novel "Glamorama", about a dimwitted male model who finds himself embroiled in a terrorist ring with roots in the fashion industry, sued Ben Stiller following the release of this film, citing copyright infringement. The case was settled out of court.
Images of the World Trade Center towers were removed before the movie's September 28, 2001 release, only seventeen days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks where the towers were brought down. They were edited out of one shot, and obscured in another.
The club scene depicts Winona Ryder giving Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) advice to "lay low" in order to rebuild his modelling career. This scene "foreshadowed" Ryder's real-life experience with a shipwrecked career. Three months after the release of this movie, Ryder was arrested for shoplifting clothes. Later, she self-imposed a six-year career exile to rebuild her reputation as a serious actress.
While trying to be farcical, the film is actually quite accurate regarding the modelling industry. Even the quick scene of the two sets of bunk beds at Derek's apartment is factual. Cindy Crawford and Jules Asner shared a similar bunkroom during the early days of their modelling careers.
According to an interview with Ben Stiller, this movie started out as a character sketch for VH1 Fashion Awards. After several written scripts and over several years, the studio finally agreed to film it. The movie's release immediately followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and has been cited as a reason for its "failure" at the box-office. (It didn't fail, it just performed below expectations, and yielded a small profit.)
DIRECTOR TRADEMARK: (Ben Stiller): (Star Trek (1966)): Mugatu is named after Mugato from Star Trek (1966) season two, episode nineteen, "A Private Little War". His costume was also modelled after the character.
When Derek and Hansel are trying to turn on the computer, the whole scene is a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (They are acting like monkeys, the same music plays, and Hansel grabs a bone just like in Stanley Kubrick's movie.
When Derek first gets to Hansel's pad, and Hansel asks Ennui to get him some of the special tea, there is a picture in the background of Hansel holding two tires. This is a copy of a famous Herb Ritts photo from 1984, "Fred with tyres".
Katinka (Milla Jovovich) calls Mathilda "Kmart", in reference to her low fashion clothing from the store. In the Resident Evil film franchise, there is a character named "Kmart" (played by Spencer Locke).
In the Hansel apartment scene, Matlida (Christine Taylor) confesses she was bulimic as a child. Taylor played Marcia Brady in The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), and A Very Brady Sequel (1996). Maureen McCormick played Marcia on The Brady Bunch (1969), who suffered from bulimia.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Saint Adonis Cemetery, where the three male models are buried after their "freak gasoline fight accident", does not exist. In fact, there is no such saint. Adonis is a young man in ancient Greek mythology known for his great beauty.
When Derek (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) disguise themselves and sneak into Maury's (Jerry Stiller's) office, Hansel's jumpsuit has a name tag on which the name "Kumar" is printed. This refers to Kumar Pallana, who appeared in the following Wes Anderson films: Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), and The Darjeeling Limited (2007).