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Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) review
Image: New Line Cinema

Film

Austin Powers at 25: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Landmark 1990s Comedy 

Debonair. Defiant. Defrosted.

Revisiting Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, one of the most popular comedies of the 1990s, arrived in May of 1997, 25 years ago this week. The film, which stars Myers as both hero Austin Powers and villain Dr. Evil, spawned a pair of sequels, as well as a half-dozen catchphrases, from “yea baby, yea,” to “do I make you horny, baby?” 

The film, in which Myers played Powers as a horny secret agent of the ’60s transposed into the slightly more politically correct ’90s, was part of the trend towards ’60s nostalgia, 30 years later. Written by Myers himself, the film drew a lot of inspiration from plots in the James Bond series and featured Elizabeth Hurley (in the first film) in her first major starring role. 

Hugely influential at the time — but getting old relatively quickly — Austin Powers-mania was a major force in the late ’90s and early 2000s, especially when the sequels arrived in 1999 and 2002. 

Here are a few things that you might not know about Austin Powers:

Debonair. Defiant. Defrosted.
Image: New Line Cinema

Mike Myers came up with the character after hockey practice 

Myers once said in an interview that the origin of the Austin Powers character was, as he drove home from hockey practice one night, hearing the Burt Bacharach song “The Look of Love,” and wondering whatever became of ’60s swinger culture. The Canadian-born Myers was also inspired, in some ways, by the culture of his British-born parents; his father also had Scottish heritage, which inspired everything from Myers’ “All Things Scottish” sketch on SNL to his father character in So I Married an Axe Murderer to his voice of Shrek. 

The character first appeared in Ming Tea

While Myers played lots of recurring characters on Saturday Night Live, Austin Powers didn’t come from there. The character actually started in Ming Tea, a mock band Myers formed along with a group of musicians, including Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, in the mid-1990s. Hoffs’ husband, Jay Roach, directed all three Austin Powers movies. 

Austin Powers
Image: New Line Cinema

It was “30 to 40 percent” improvised 

About a third of the film was improvised, Myers said in an interview around the time of its release, although it’s hard to say how significant that is when the credited screenwriter is also portraying both the hero and villain. 

It was a big part of Cool Britannia 

Cool Britannia was a cultural moment in the second half of the 1990s, coinciding with Tony Blair’s arrival as prime minister, in which British culture became cool around the world again. Austin Powers was a key part of this, as was Four Weddings and a Funeral, as were bands like Oasis and Blur, and of course the Spice Girls. Both Austin Powers and The Spice Girls heavily featured British flags in their iconography. 

Jim Carrey almost played Dr. Evil 

Myers originally wanted Carrey to play the villainous part, but ultimately Carrey was busy with Liar, Liar, and Myers took the part himself. 

Image: New Line Cinema

Dr. Evil was based on Lorne Michaels 

If you’ve ever heard Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels speak, it’s hard not to notice that Dr. Evil’s speech patterns and mannerisms are clearly meant as a homage to Lorne, the fellow Canadian who was Myers’ boss for many years on SNL. This was acknowledged out loud on a Saturday Night Live anniversary special. Myers’ SNL and Wayne’s World co-star, Dana Carvey, once accused Myers of stealing his Michaels impression, although he later said he had forgiven Myers.

The sequels were much bigger hits than the original

Everyone likely remembers Austin Powers as a huge phenomenon, but it actually took a while to get going. The first movie, when it came out in 1997, had a box office figure of $53.8 million, while many fans discovered it on DVD or home video months later. The two sequels, however, both made more than $200 million, per Box Office Mojo figures. And while Verne Troyer’s Mini-Me was a huge part of the franchise, you may have forgotten that he was not in the first film. 

It wasn’t only a homage to James Bond 

Austin Powers is well-known for having lots of references to the James Bond series, from its secret agent plot to punny names like Alotta Fagina to what Roger Ebert called “The Fallacy of the Talking Killer.” But the film is full of other cinematic references and homages. The films of Peter Sellers are referenced constantly, especially with the star’s multiple roles, and there are also nods to everything from other British spy films to the Beatles’ cinematic oeuvre. 

“It’s my happening, baby, and it freaks me out!” 

Powers says this line at one point, which is a direct reference to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the 1970 Russ Meyer film that was the lone screenplay credit by Roger Ebert. Ebert noted this in his review. 

Could it be made today? 

This is always a silly question to ask, and especially silly with this film. A big part of the plot, after all, is that an unreconstructed 1960s man is dropped into the 1990s when standards of political correctness are very different than they were 30 years before. Despite more than a decade of rumors, a fourth Austin Powers movie has yet to be produced- but that likely has more to do with those catchphrases having gotten tiresome over time than any modern notions of wokeness. 

Watch Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

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Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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