How Crocodile Dundee Became A $100 Million Sensation

Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski in 'Crocodile Dundee.' (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)

When it comes to quirky movies that inexplicably became massive hits, 1988’s “Crocodile Dundee” starring Paul Hogan takes the cake or giant bowie knife. A movie centered on an Australian bushman turned fish out of water, wrapped in a love story while baking in an assassination plot and making an astounding $174 million could only happen in the ‘80s. The New York Times described it as a "sort of sweet-tempered, common-sensical Rambo."

However, 20th Century Fox rolled their eyes when they passed on common-sense Rambo. Hogan himself had to contribute $600,000 to the modest $10 million budget. Nevertheless, in a show of incredible foresight or outright delusion, the star of the ‘70s comedy sketch series “The Paul Hogan Show” knew he had a winner. “I’m planning for it to be Australia’s first proper movie. I don’t think we’ve had one yet, not a real, general public, successful, entertaining movie.”

The eventual trilogy of Dundee movies grossed over $600 million worldwide. Getty

Crocodile Dundee Inspiration

Many people point to Rod Ansell, an Australian bushman who survived on cow blood in the country’s desolate Northern Territory, as the genesis for Crocodile Dundee. While that’s possible, it’s more likely that Hogan wrote the character as a heroic archetype of Australian know-how.

As he once put it: “There’s a lot about Dundee that we all think we’re like, but we’re not, because we live in Sydney. He’s a mythical outback Australian who does exist in part. The frontiersman who walks through the bush, picking up snakes and throwing them aside, living off the land and has that simple, friendly, laid-back philosophy.”

“It’s like the image the Americans have of us, so why not give them one? We’ve always been desperately short of folk heroes in this country. Ned Kelly is pathetic. So are the bushrangers.”

Then, of course, Steve Irwin came along and Americans thought, ‘Oh so they ARE like this.’

An Australian Tourism Movie

While the plot of Crocodile Dundee becomes more convoluted as it goes along, the sense of realism manages to stand out in an otherwise ridiculous movie. The Australian scenes were really filmed in the Kakadu National Park, which is about half the size of Switzerland. They also actually used a real Water Buffalo much to Hogan’s chagrin.

When asked what was the hardest animal he ever worked with, Hogan responded, “Buffalo. ‘Cause if the buffalo doesn't want to do anything, it weighs 2000 pounds and you know, it doesn't. So you have to hang around [and wait for it to be cooperative]. The Asian Buffalo in Australia with the 8 feet of horns. [That scene in the first film took] all day. It's like he said, 'I'll just sit here. And you can't do anything about it.'" Apparently, Hogan wanted to use a real crocodile, too but for some reason, he got overruled.

"Now that's a knife."

A Massive Hit

After filming, screenwriter John Cornell went to sell the American movie rights to 20th Century Fox. As he recalled, ''There was some idiot who sat with his feet on the desk and watched it for about 20 minutes, looked at this watch about eight times and told me that it wouldn't work. He was extremely rude. I sometimes get pleasure from thinking about what the look is like on his face at a time like this.''

Paramount Pictures swooped in and made a mint on the second highest-grossing movie of 1988. Incredibly, it still remains the highest-grossing film in Australian history to this day. Looks like Hogan gave his home country a hero after all. “Shrimp on the barbie” indeed.