Deep Blue Sea's Legendary Death Scene Was Almost Spoiled In The Trailer – And The Director Fought Back [Exclusive]

Do you remember where you were 25 years ago when Samuel L. Jackson's character in "Deep Blue Sea" was shockingly eaten by a shark in the middle of his impassioned speech? I unfortunately didn't see it in theaters, but when I rented the DVD from Blockbuster, I remember practically leaping off my couch when that big moment happened. It's one of the most surprising movie moments of the past 30 years — and not only was that jaw-dropping plot beat not in the original script, but once it made its way into the movie, Warner Bros. wanted to use it in the trailers. Thankfully, director Renny Harlin put his foot down and won that fight against the studio.

Timed to the release of his new film, "The Strangers: Chapter 1," we spoke with Harlin in a career-spanning interview, and naturally, we had to ask about the big "Deep Blue Sea" death, the most memorable imagery from his chaotic, wild filmography. When we posited that this scene, from one of the best shark movies ever, was the Renny Harlin scene, the moment that defines everything great about his work, Harlin took it as high praise and told us the whole story behind how it came together.

"I'm very happy and I'm proud to hear that people think that the Samuel Jackson death in 'Deep Blue Sea' is the crucial Renny Harlin scene, and I take credit for it because the roots of that scene are in the fact that originally, that character didn't exist in the 'Deep Blue Sea' script at all," he said. "I had just done 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' with Sam, and we became good friends and we had sworn to work together always. So I was panicking because I didn't have any role to offer him. And then I talked to the producers and the writer and said, 'We've got to invent something.'"

Deep Blue Sea's most famous scene was inspired by a Ridley Scott classic

While trying to figure out a way to squeeze Jackson into the film, Harlin was struck by inspiration from a Ridley Scott sci-fi classic:

"I came up with the idea, which I completely stole from the first "Alien" movie, which was basically in that movie, there was nobody famous in it except Tom Skerritt, who played the captain of the ship. So he's the natural leader. And then when everything goes wrong and the alien starts invading the place and people start dying, he's like, 'Don't worry, I'll take care of this. I'm just going to go into that air duct and take care of it and you'll be all fine.' And he goes to the air duct and boom, the alien gets him immediately. And then we are left there wondering, 'Who's the lead of this movie?' And it turns out to be Sigourney Weaver."

So the director went "Psycho" mode, creating the latest shocking plot twist in a long lineage that dates back to Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 horror classic. It was a savvy decision: Audiences knew Samuel L. Jackson was the most famous person in the cast, so when he was abruptly killed off, they had the rug pulled out from under them and their entire perception of what the film was going to be changed on a dime. But nailing the execution of the moment took a lot of fine-tuning. As Harlin explained:

"It was really a scientific process of us analyzing on the spot how long this speech can be so that if it's too short, it doesn't lull the audience into certain sense of safety, and also a certain sense of like, 'Oh, this is the hero's speech. I know exactly how these things go. Yeah, he's going to talk and then they're going to go and save the day.' So long enough, but not too long so that the audience is just going to start eating popcorn and go to the bathroom. It had to be just so that you can just develop a little bit of that movie attitude, which is like, 'I've seen this scene — but oh, what?" And he gets attacked, and it just happened to work."

Warner Bros. almost ruined the film's best moment in the trailer

With a moment so carefully crafted for maximum effectiveness, you might expect the studio to respect the filmmakers enough to hold the scene for the actual movie, but that wasn't a given. As Harlin recalled:

"There was actually a big debate at the studio, Warner Brothers, over whether that scene should be included in the trailer of the movie. And I said, 'No way. That is the surprise of the movie. If you give it away in the trailer, then there's nothing left.' So we didn't, but yeah, that [scene] was just done because I wanted to have Sam in the movie."

"Deep Blue Sea" earned $165 million at the worldwide box office and became something of a minor classic, and while there's no way to know for sure, I suspect the word of mouth, aided by the incredible shock factor from that shark snacking on Sam Jack, helped give this movie a legacy it would not have if Jackson's death was blown in the trailer.

You can hear our whole interview with Renny Harlin in today's episode of the /News Daily podcast, which you can listen to below:

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