The Addams Family Director Barry Sonnenfeld Recalls The First Screening: 'There Was Not A Single Laugh'

Barry Sonnenfeld's "The Addams Family" turns 30 this year, and it's hard to imagine the irreverently macabre movie starring Raul Julia, Angelica Houston, and Christopher Lloyd as anything other than a hit.

But when it was in production, the movie was anything but a sure hit, and the success of "The Addams Family" is even more impressive when one realizes the challenges Sonnenfeld faced when the movie was filming. Halfway through shooting, the movie moved from the first director-friendly Orion Pictures to Paramount and then had to deal with a leadership change at the movie's new studio. The experience wasn't an easy one, and Sonnenfeld recounted the story in a recent interview marking the film's 30th anniversary. Sonnenfeld told Variety:

"Half way through our shoot we were sold to Paramount. Dede Allen, our editor, put together a 10-minute show reel and we went to various studios. Frank Mancuso Jr. bought it and then shortly after he was fired. [Paramount President] Stanley Jaffe came in and looked at the same ten minutes of footage and announced that, 'This movie is uncuttable and unreleasable.'"

Things didn't get better from there.

'Uncuttable and Unreleaseable'

Jaffe never warmed up to the movie, which meant that no one else at Paramount wanted to support it either. "The whole second half of the shoot we were working for a studio that thought we were uncuttable and unreleasable, so things got more difficult," Sonnefeld recalled. "They stopped letting us have bottled water on the set. Not for environmental reasons but to cut down on the costs of the show. It was not a well-loved project while I was making it, which made it that much harder as a first-time director."

Things didn't get any easier for Sonnenfeld throughout production and even up to the first screening of the film. "I showed my director's cut to executives in the Paramount Theatre and there was not a single laugh," he said.

Fortunately, Sonnefeld shared that the lack of laughs didn't last for long:

I was called into the office about 20 minutes [after the first screening], after they had discussed everything, and everyone was there except Stanley and they were hugging me and clapping. I said, "What are you doing? I was in that screening room. There was not a single laugh." They told me that since Stanley wasn't laughing, they couldn't.

Who's laughing now, Stanley? "The Addams Family" became a runaway hit, and Sonnenfeld went on to direct other popular films like "Men in Black" and television series like "A Series of Unfortunate Events," and "Schmigadoon!"

"The Addams Family" also spawned a sequel and, more recently, an animated feature version. You can also watch the Sonnenfeld's "Addams Family" right now on Amazon, if you want to commemorate its 30th birthday with a rewatch.