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Night At The Museum: 10 Fun Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Ben Stiller Movie

Ben Stiller and Robin Williams in Night at the Museum.
(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

It has been more than 15 years since Ben Stiller and Shawn Levy introduced audiences to the exhibits that magically come to life at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History in the hilarious and star-studded Night at the Museum. The highly successful film would go on to become a popular film franchise that has an uncertain future.

But, before we get too carried away about the subsequent movies, which are some of the best movies on Disney+ as well as great options for your next family movie night, let’s take a trip down memory lane and see how it all started with these 10 fun behind-the-scenes facts that explain how Levy and company captured lightning in a bottle in 2006.

Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Shawn Levy Passed On Night At The Museum Several Times Before Finally Accepting The Gig

The Night at the Museum franchise has been one of Shawn Levy’s most successful ventures over the years, but the filmmaker behind Free Guy, The Adam Project, and the upcoming third Deadpool movie initially passed on the opportunity to direct the big-budget 2006 family comedy not once, not twice, but five times before finally agreeing to sit in the director’s chair. In a 2014 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Levy revealed that he didn’t pass on the movie because he didn’t like the material, but instead because he was scared of the production’s scale. Levy eventually talked himself into doing it and went on to make a movie that grossed $574.5 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Ben Stiller Sat In With Most Of The Actors During The Audition Process

Although Night at the Museum features outstanding performances by the likes of the late Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, and eventual Oscar winner Rami Malek, at the core of the film is Ben Stiller’s Larry Daley, the night security guard who befriends the brought-to-life museum exhibits. In his commentary track on the film’s home release, Shawn Levy revealed that because the movie relied so heavily on interactions with his character, Stiller participated in most of the auditions for the actors who would eventually be cast in the movie.

Levy explained that this was done to see who had a realistic dynamic and great chemistry with Stiller on set as well as to see if they could pick up on his distinct rhythm and general vibe.

Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke, and Bill Cobbs in Night at the Museum

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Dick Van Dyke And Mickey Rooney Auditioned For Their Roles

It would be only natural to assume that Dick Van Dyke and the late Mickey Rooney would have been able to walk onto the set of Night at the Museum without even having to try out, but like every other member of the cast, they had to go through the audition process. During the September 2020 Stars In The House Night at the Museum reunion streaming event, Shawn Levy explained that while some actors he’s run into over the years claim to be “offer only,” the two legends of the entertainment world went through the process, even if keeping Rooney in line was difficult to do.

The American Museum of Natural History in Night at the Museum

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

The Night At The Museum Crew Re-Created The American Museum of Natural History On A Vancouver Soundstage

Night at the Museum takes place at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, but only a small portion of the movie (mostly exterior shots to establish the location) was actually filmed in the Big Apple. The vast majority of production took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the set designers constructed a massive recreation of the museum on a soundstage that gave them plenty of space to film the extravagant set pieces without worrying about destroying priceless artifacts. During an episode of Comedy Central’s Reel Comedy (which came included with the home video release), Shawn Levy explained that not only was it the biggest set he had worked on, it was the biggest he had ever seen in his career up to that point.

Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson in Night at the Museum

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Owen Wilson And Steve Coogan Became Friends Filming Night At The Museum And Even Spent Thanksgiving Together

The on-screen pairing of Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan as a miniature cowboy named Jedediah and a Roman general named Octavius, respectively, was one of the highlights of Night at the Museum, and the great chemistry didn’t stop once the men playing enemies-turned-friends left the set. 

During the September 2020 Stars In The House Night at the Museum reunion streaming event, the two co-stars talked about how much fun they had together on set and would go out and explore Vancouver when they were shooting. In fact, Coogan revealed that Wilson invited him to come spend the following Thanksgiving with his family in Texas.

Robin Williams in Night at the Museum

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

The Inclusion Of The Opening Title Sequence Was A Last-Minute Decision

The Night at the Museum opening title sequence helps welcome the audience into the world in which they are about to spend the next two hours with epic displays of the exhibits in their respective areas of the museum, but this wasn’t always how the movie was supposed to open. During his director commentary track, Shawn Levy revealed that the sequence wasn’t added until well into the editing process and was something that came to him in the middle of the night: 

About halfway through the editing process, I woke up and found that if we could open the movie in this way with basically kind of images of the museum, of the world that was going to come to life later on, we might get out of the gate with a bigger sense of scale, a bigger sense of wonderment, and the promise of what’s to come.

After having that thought, Levy spoke with his editor, said they were starting the movie all wrong, and then came up with sequence that opened the final cut of the film.

Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum.

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Mission Impossible Inspired The Ben Stiller Running Scene

There’s a scene in Night at the Museum where Ben Stiller’s character races through the corridors of the building in an attempt to save one of the cavemen who has made his way outside. In his director commentary, Shawn Levy admitted that he and Stiller were both massive fans of Tom Cruise’s running scenes in the first three Mission: Impossible movies, and saw this as a way to pay homage to his work. And, though it’s only a few seconds of running opposed to extended sequences, Levy was proud of his little “family comedy” version of it.

Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Shawn Levy Was On A Ladder And Chased Ben Stiller During The ‘Rexy’ Scene

The scene in Night at the Museum where Rexy the T-Rex chases Larry Daley through the American Museum of Natural History on his first night on the job is one of the most exciting of the early parts of the film, but Ben Stiller allegedly had trouble getting into the mode on the day it was filmed. During the Stars In The House Night at the Museum reunion streaming event, Shawn Levy broke down the ridiculous way he helped the star get into the zone:

I had like the short-armed talons and literally so it’s Ben at one end of the hall. I’m on a ladder going ‘Rawr,’ and the ladder was on wheels so that these grips could roll me down the corridor so that I could be ‘Rexy’ chasing after Ben Stiller so he wouldn’t have to ‘fake it.’

During the conversation, Stiller explained that this wasn’t an exception on set, as Levy was constantly going above and beyond to give the whole shoot that same kind of energy.

Owen Wilson in Night at the Museum

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Despite Improvising Their Lines, Ben Stiller And Owen Wilson Were Only On Set Together For One Day

The interactions between Ben Stiller’s Larry Daley and Owen Wilson’s Jedediah in Night of the Museum are some of the best parts of the movie, and they’re even better when you realize that much of the dialogue was completely improvised. Couldn’t get better than that, right? Well, in the director commentary, Shawn Levy revealed that not only were the scenes improvised but they had to come up with an elaborate system to have those conversations work out, because the Zoolander co-stars were only on set together for one day.

In order to complete these scenes, Stiller would act out the scenes holding a toothpick with 20 different versions of a line. Levy would then record those lines and then feed them back to Wilson when he arrived on set several months later. Levy referred to this process as “retroactively improvisational” because they weren’t in the same room or same country.

Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

A Tennis Ball Was Used As A Stand-In For Dexter During The Slap Scene

One of the funniest moments in Night at the Museum comes when Dexter, the stuffed capuchin monkey, and Larry Daley exchange a series of slaps after the monkey steals the night guard’s key ring. But, don’t worry, no monkeys were harmed in this scene, as Shawn Levy revealed in his commentary track. In order to pull this off, Ben Stiller repeatedly slapped a tennis ball that was then replaced with a digital version of Dexter. However, Stiller was actually on the receiving end of some monkey slaps from Crystal, the capuchin trained for the movie.

Well, this certainly makes me want to go back and watch Night at the Museum again. And, who knows, maybe I’ll give the whole franchise another watch and come back with some more behind-the-scenes facts. In the meantime, check out some of the other great Ben Stiller movies.

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.