These days, Anchorman is held up as a classic of a particular brand of absurd-but-quotable comedy, the first film—along with Old School—to really cement Will Ferrell as a capital M Movie Star, rather than just another funny guy from SNL. Back in the day, though, it was much less of a sure thing, facing rejection after rejection from studios that laughed in the room, and then declared “It’ll never work.” Of course, that perception probably wasn’t helped by the film’s original draft, which was even weirder than what we eventually got.
This is per an interview Ferrell recently gave to The Ringer, where he revealed that the original version of Anchorman was written as a spoof of the 1993 cannibalism drama Alive, except with more orangutans armed with throwing stars:
The first version of Anchorman is basically the movie Alive, where the year is 1976, and we are flying to Philadelphia, and all the newsmen from around the country are flying in to have some big convention. Ron convinces the pilot that he knows how to fly the charter jet, and he immediately crash-lands it in the mountains. And it’s just the story of them surviving and trying to get off the mountainside. They clipped a cargo plane, and the cargo plane crashed as well, close to them, and it was carrying only boxes of orangutans and Chinese throwing stars. So throughout the movie we’re being stalked by orangutans who are killing, one by one, the team off with throwing stars. And Veronica Corningstone keeps saying things like, ‘Guys, I know if we just head down we’ll hit civilization.’ And we keep telling her, ‘Wrong.’ She doesn’t know what we’re talking about. So that was the first version of the movie.
And while at least some of that outright surrealism would survive into the final film—most famously in the ludicrous battle sequence against Vince Vaughn and Ron Burgundy’s other rival news crews—it was a little out there for director Paul Thomas Anderson, who’d offered to help Ferrell and Adam McKay get their first feature off the ground.
“In Paul’s defense, that was a little too kooky,” Ferrell admits.