Why 1987 movie hit 'Fatal Attraction' merits a television reboot

The original, starring Glenn Close and Michael Douglas, received six Oscar nominations

A bloodied Glenn Close is tended to by Michael Douglas in a scene from the film 'Fatal Attraction', 1987. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***  AL02OC-CROWNS-FATAL.jpg
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This week, Hollywood got its Dan Gallagher. Joshua Jackson, the former Dawson’s Creek hunk, was announced as the lead male for the forthcoming TV reboot of Fatal Attraction. He will be joining co-star Lizzy Caplan in this proposed Paramount Plus series, a contemporary take on Adrian Lyne’s 1987 movie phenomenon, which starred Michael Douglas as Gallagher in a compelling, nerve-shedding story of marital infidelity.

Caplan, who is no stranger to reboots after TV series Castle Rock saw her play Annie Wilkes, the character originated by Kathy Bates in 1990 film Misery, will take on the role of Alex. Unforgettably played by Glenn Close in the original, she’s the single woman who New York lawyer Gallagher has a weekend fling with when his wife and child are out of town. Childless and heading into her late thirties, Alex wants Gallagher to leave his family after their brief affair; when he rebuffs her, she unleashes all hell.

The film's remake into a television series will co-star Joshua Jackson and Lizzy Caplan. AFP

Whether or not Fatal Attraction merits a reboot, it’s never going to repeat the impact made by the original. A thriller that arrived in the middle of the Aids crisis and became the topic of dinner party conversations across America, this cautionary tale about cheating on your spouse sent audiences into a frenzy.

In the first week of its US release, seven out of 10 patients with marriage problems were said to be discussing the film during sessions with a prominent Manhattan psychoanalyst.

I took the script to a psychiatrist and said, ‘Could somebody do something like that?’ The answer was yes
Glenn Close

In movie theatres, men were heard shouting at the screen “Punch her face in, kill her already!” in the scenes where Alex and Dan come to blows. Prestigious publications such as Time magazine devoted extensive cover stories to the film, while talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey hosted an episode entirely devoted to real-life fatal attractions.

As Lyne noted, the film did not play well with those indulging in extramarital affairs: “I had men ring me up and say, ‘Thanks a million, buddy. You’ve ruined it for us.’”

As for Alex, she became “The most hated woman in America”, according to one publication. Branded a homewrecker, her actions plunge the film’s final act into chaos, from her own attempted suicide to throwing corrosive acid all over the bonnet of Dan’s car. Most notoriously, off screen, she takes the Gallaghers’ pet rabbit and cooks the creature on the stove – coining the derogatory phrase "bunny boiler", meaning a "vengeful, spurned woman", which soon entered public consciousness.

Intriguingly, Fatal Attraction began life as a 45-minute film, Diversion, written and directed by James Dearden in 1979.

“A moral tale about a man who transgresses and pays the penalty”, according to the writer, it starred Cherie Lunghi and Stephen Moore. Events unfold over a weekend as Lunghi’s character ends up cutting her wrists and placing telephone calls to her lover’s family home – elements that worked their way into the resulting full-length movie.

Douglas, who had just come off starring as the roughish adventurer in Romancing the Stone and its 1985 sequel The Jewel of the Nile, was looking for more adult fare when Dearden’s script fell into his lap. He was immediately struck by this modern-day morality play.

“The plot is a reminder that while 99 times out of a 100 you get away with cheating on your wife – or income tax – there may be one nasty time when you have to be responsible for your actions," he said.

Michael Douglas, Ellen Hamilton Latzen and Anne Archer in 'Fatal Attraction'. Paramount / Rex / Shutterstock

Already a three-time Oscar nominee back then, Close’s task was an even bigger ask – to create a woman that audiences could empathise with. While Lyne called her no-holds-barred audition “like lunacy unearthed”, the actress was careful not to go too overboard on set. She consulted three clinical psychoanalysts – asking if the "bunny boiler" behaviour was too extreme.

“I took the script to a psychiatrist and said, ‘Could somebody do something like that?’ The answer was yes.”

Raking in $320 million at the box office, Fatal Attraction gained six Oscar nominations – including Best Picture. It won none, but that scarcely mattered, as Lyne’s film tapped into universal fears – about how one false move can destroy a seemingly perfect existence.

Arriving in the same year as his role as corporate raider Gordon Gekko in Wall Street – the film that won him an Oscar for Best Actor – Douglas's turn as Gallagher came to define him. He followed it with erotic thriller Basic Instinct and sexual harassment drama Disclosure.

Yet, as big as they were, neither quite nailed the zeitgeist in the way Fatal Attraction did. The film – and not just the phrase "bunny boiler" – has remained in the collective psyche ever since.

Updated: January 26, 2022, 8:46 AM