Released 30 years ago today, this action classic nearly didn't happen due to one much-paused scene
One of the best action movies ever made... came from the writer of Pretty Woman.
The star of Above The Law, Hard To Kill, Marked For Death and Out For Justice (yes, these are all real movies) finally decided to board the new movie from the writer of Pretty Woman (yes, really).
Initially perceived to be nothing more than "Die Hard on a boat", the film was rumoured to be working from a huge script that was chopped down massively in order to work on a budget that was one third the original estimate the project would cost.
Released on 9 October 1992, despite all of the odds, Under Siege wound up being a massive hit. But it almost didn't happen, all down to a single moment in the movie that would notoriously become a much-paused scene, resulting in entire batches of rental VHS tapes needing to be replaced.
Warner Bros. were very keen to have Steven Seagal expand on his CV into bigger blockbusters, and pitched him to lead their new project Dreadnought, an original script by J. F. Lawton, who had previously had a massive hit in 1990 with, yep, Pretty Woman.
While producers balked at the initial proposed budget for the movie - said to be over $100 million before a number of rewrites and title changes eventually gave us what we know Under Siege is today - the star had a different issue.
As Seagal told the Los Angeles Times at the time of release, his biggest hesitation was around the supporting character "who is at first a bimbo jumping out of a cake and gets paired up with me."
That character was Jordan Tate, aka Playboy Playmate model Miss July '89, the same title held by Erika Eleniak, the actress who played the role.
The scene in question involves the model arriving on the battleship USS Missouri to entertain the sailors on board, to celebrate the ship's decommissioning. Little does she know that the ship is actually about to held captive by a group of terrorists headed by Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey, both clearly having a ball with their unhinged performances.
But then little do the bad guys know that the ship's cook Casey Ryback (Seagal) is actually a former Navy SEAL, and without putting too fine a point on it, he's about to do a Die Hard on this boat.
During the action, Ryback and Tate cross paths, with Tate popping topless out of a big cake, only to realise the room is entirely empty, except for the cook pointing a gun in her face. It is actually a very funny scene, but Seagal didn't like it.
At least until rewrites to the script allowed the character to "gradually reveals her intelligence", and eventually, Seagal now happy that the "bimbo" had been given what he perceived to be an appropriate IQ, he signed on for the project.
Upon release, the movie was a massive commercial success, banking $157 million worldwide on a $35 million budget, one of the biggest box office hits of 1992.
It was also a surprisingly big critical hit (79% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing), because it wasn't shown to any critics prior to release, which is usually a sign that the producers think they've a big dud on their hands. The film was even nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Sound (it lost to The Last of the Mohicans) and Best Sound Editing (which it lost to Bram Stoker's Dracula).
Several months later when the movie became available to rent on VHS to watch at home, it became a huge hit again. According to IMDb, "stores had to continually replace their copies as Erika Elaniak's striptease sequence was frequently worn out from being constantly rewound and replayed by viewers".
In the three decades since, Seagal has never had another hit even close to this one, while the movie's director Andrew Davis re-united with Tommy Lee Jones for his very next movie, The Fugitive.
Three years later, Seagal would embark on Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (co-written by Matt Reeves, of The Batman fame!), but it was a very steep decline in quality from the original. Around 2001, when it seemed like Seagal might get a career resurgence of the back of the not-terrible Exit Wounds, there was talk of an Under Siege 3 in the works, but nothing ever came of it.
And then Seagal would become the kind of person who has a "Allegations and lawsuits" section on their bio on Wikipedia, and that was the end of that.
As of late 2021, Warner Bros. are reportedly working on a reboot of the original, set to be directed by Timo Tjahjanto (The Night Comes For Us, and the very good "Safe Haven" section in V/H/S 2), but there have been no updates on that in almost a full year now.
For now, all we have is the original, and that is enough for us! Under Siege (and its terrible sequel) is available to watch on Disney+ right now.