Big Trouble in Little China was a box office bomb that was mostly panned by critics and is credited with souring John Carpenter on Hollywood. It’s also a cult classic unlike any other, an action comedy that’s endlessly quotable and eternally rewatchable for its most diehard fans. It’s a film made better over time by its flaws, especially the over-the-top performances, and its campiness has become so popular that even Dwayne Johnson wants to bring Jack Burton back.
But for all of Big Trouble in Little China’s afterlife as a cult classic, this was never the legacy that its original writers, Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein, expected for their first screenplay. They believed their idea, a kung fu Western set in 1890s San Francisco, had the potential to not only revive the once-beloved cowboy genre, which was all but dead in Hollywood in the early 1980s, but that it could have become a franchise on the same level as Star Wars. That’s a bold proclamation, sure, but it’s one that this writing duo still believes today. (And, in fact, their story has become something of a franchise, between the BOOM! Comics series, which serves as an immediate sequel to Carpenter’s film, and Johnson’s upcoming remake.)
Perhaps just as interesting as the story of David Lo Pan and his quest for immortality is the story behind the film’s script, one that features everything from aspiring writers with visions of glory to big shot studio executives bent on crushing the little man, with plenty of classic Hollywood politics in between. To tell this story, we spoke with Goldman and Weinstein, W.D. Richter, and Carpenter himself. And it all starts with a cowboy named Wiley Prescott.