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I Am Legend: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Will Smith Movie

Will Smith walking down deserted street in I Am Legend
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Ever since news broke that Will Smith would be returning for an I Am Legend sequel (with Michael B. Jordan) in the near future, there has been a lot of attention on the 2007 survival horror film based on Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name. And, with that increased interest comes a lot of people digging through how the first movie came to be and how director Francis Lawrence took the hustle and bustle out of the Big Apple, leaving a shell of New York City. 

To save everyone some time (and quench my own thirst for information about one of the most terrifying movies of the past 15 years), I have put together a list of the best behind-the-scenes facts I could find about the making of I Am Legend and everything that went into it, from its earlier pre-production days to final push for theaters, and everything in between.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Last Action Hero

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

An Early Version Of I Am Legend Was To Star Arnold Schwarzenegger And Be Directed By Ridley Scott

I Am Legend opened in theaters on December 14, 2007, but the project had been in the works for well over a decade before audiences finally saw Will Smith’s Dr. Robert Neville walk the city streets of the Big Apple with no one besides his dog Marley and an army of cannibalistic mutants. There were several attempts to get the project off the ground going back to the 1990s, and at one point Arnold Schwarzenegger was in talks to star with Ridley Scott slated to sit in the director’s chair. 

In 1997, Variety reported that Scott had sealed a deal with Warner Bros. to direct the movie and that the star of movies like Terminator and Total Recall was in the process of finalizing his deal. Obviously, these plans never panned out, but it’s fun to imagine what could have been.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Michael Bay Was Set To Direct Will Smith In I Am Legend At One Point

Michael Bay has made a career out of directing massive and expensive action movies, and even worked with Will Smith a couple of times on the first two Bad Boys movies. Well, the pair were close to working together for a third time in 2002, when Variety reported that Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was in a producer role at the time) was in talks with both Bay and Smith to serve as I Am Legend’s director and star, respectively. 

This was just five years after the Terminator star and Ridley Scott’s version of the movie fell apart over budget issues with Warner Bros. The version that was being shopped to Bay at the time was reportedly not as pricey and had toned down some of the elements of Scott’s vision.

Will Smith in I Am Legend

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

I Am Legend Was Moved From Los Angeles To New York City Because It Was Easier To Make The Big Apple Feel Empty

Richard Matheson’s original I Am Legend novel was set in Los Angeles, California, but the 2007 adaptation of the same name left sunny California for the narrow streets and skyscraper-filled New York City for a pretty practical reason. When discussing the movie with the New York Times back in early 2007, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman explained that it was easier to make the Big Apple feel empty than it was for the City of Angels:

It’s hard to make Los Angeles feel empty. Here [in New York City], you just have to look down Fifth Avenue empty, and you understand something. There’s a conveyance of information and fantasy that is wonderful and amazing.

Though the decision made things difficult, logistically speaking, there is something striking and so off-putting about the scenes of Robert Neville driving through an abandoned Times Square that makes the movie all the more eerie.

Will Smith in I Am Legend

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The I Am Legend Crew Went To Great Lengths To Make New York City Look Devoid Of Human Life

Obviously, the I Am Legend production crew weren’t able to shut down New York City and force all its residents to stay indoors or leave town for a week, and so director Francis Lawrence and his team had to come up with some inventive ways to make the megacity look devoid of human life. 

In a 2007 New York Magazine feature story, Francis Lawrence revealed that $40 million of the movie’s $150 million budget was spent transforming the “City that Never Sleeps” into a wasteland through both digital and practical methods. This included everything from making a digital map of the city that was then populated with digital objects as well as filming Will Smith walking on grass in a soundstage before the elements were combined.

Will Smith in I Am Legend

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Director Francis Lawrence Made A Push For Silent Scenes After Watching A Movie With No Sound To Not Awaken His Newborn Son

There are large portions of I Am Legend with no dialogue (Will Smith is alone most of the movie) and little in terms of speaking from Smith’s character. The abundance of silent scenes seen throughout the movie was largely the part of director Francis Lawrence, who was inspired to make this push after watching The Piano on silent so that he wouldn’t disturb his sleeping newborn son, according to the New York Times. The filmmaker believed that the movie would be at its best if the audience was able to figure things out without the characters speaking and that their behavior should do the talking.

Will Smith with a vampire

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

The Actors Playing The Darkseekers Were Replaced With CGI Partway Through Production

The terrifying Darkseekers that navigate the basements of New York City during the day and the city streets at night in I Am Legend were originally supposed to be portrayed by real actors. In fact, director Francis Lawrence told Den of Geek that the production crew hired a team of 50 dancers and parkour experts who worked with various coaches to get the movements down. 

But, after watching early footage of the actors in motion, the director didn’t like what he saw and insisted on using CGI to create the infected mutants. This decision resulted in the production team pushing back any shots with the creatures so that they could design the look and create the massive mobs. The actors, however, stayed on to perform the motion-capture work.

Will Smith in I Am Legend

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Brooklyn Bridge Flashback Scene Alone Cost Warner Bros. $5 Million

One of the most impressive and harrowing sequences in all of I Am Legend is the flashback sequence where Robert Neville’s family attempts to escape Manhattan, only for their their helicopter to be destroyed along with the Brooklyn Bridge. What is even more impressive is the amount of work the production crew put into this portion of the movie. In 2007, The Hollywood Reporter published a story breaking down how the scene came to be and included some interesting figures. 

Included in the whole process were no fewer than 14 government agencies, a 250-member production crew, 1,000 extras, and all kinds of equipment including a flotilla of Coast Guard boats and a helicopter. All in all, the six-night shoot ended up costing a minimum of $5 million.

The Batman v. Superman logo in I Am Legend

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Batman V. Superman Easter Egg Was Included To Honor Akiva Goldsman’s Unproduced DC Crossover

There is a moment in I Am Legend where a logo for a Batman and Superman movie can be seen in Times Square, but this was nearly a decade before Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice would open in theaters in early 2016. The inclusion of this logo wasn’t some form of long-term marketing but instead an Easter egg for a movie producer and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman wrote that was never produced. 

In a 2014 interview with Collider, director Francis Lawrence revealed that when he and Goldsman were mapping out advertisements they thought would have been plastered on billboards in New York City, they thought it would be fun to include the Batman and Superman logos even though Warner Bros. never gave them permission to do so.

Mike Patton in Faith No More's "Epic" music video

(Image credit: Slash Records)

Faith No More Vocalist Mike Patton Helped Bring The Darkseekers To Life In I Am Legend

Mike Patton, of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle fame, appears in I Am Legend, but not in a cameo or small role. No, the man with one of the most iconic and unique voices of ‘90s alternative rock helped bring the Darkseekers to life with his vocal prowess. In 2007, Patton told MTV News that the film’s producers were looking for someone to make the cannibalistic creatures sound like something between an animal and a human and eventually ended up giving him a call. What followed was Patton sitting in a recording studio for four hours making a variety of sounds and taking direction based on different scenes.

Will Smith in I Am Legend

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The I Am Legend Production Assistants Were So Aggressive That Even Francis Lawrence Had Trouble Getting Back On Set

With so much of I Am Legend being filmed on the streets of New York City, the production team needed to have a great deal of assistants on hand to make sure random passersby didn't waltz on set and ruin any of the shots. But, as director Francis Lawrence explained in an interview with ShockTillYouDrop (now ComingSoon.net), the 150 to 200 production assistants they had on the set were more than a little zealous. At one point, Lawrence stepped away to get some coffee, only to be barred from re-entering the production area because the assistant at his point-of-entry didn’t recognize him. Eventually, the staff were given more extensive training and explained best practices moving forward.

These stories only make me want to go back and watch I Am Legend again, especially with a promising sequel coming out sooner rather than later. While we wait for more information on the upcoming Will Smith horror movie, there are still plenty of great 2022 new movies to hold us over.

Philip Sledge
Philip Sledge

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.