‘Pleasantville’ Briefly Held This Unbelievable Record Until ‘Star Wars’ Topped It

The Star Wars saga is synonymous with ground-breaking visual effects. After all, the “galaxy far, far away” required George Lucas and his team to develop new filmmaking techniques way back in 1977. But before Lucas revived the series in 1999 with Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, Pleasantville was the unlikely movie to hold a very specific cinema record.

Darth Vader's helmet at the Prop Store Auction
Darth Vader’s helmet at the Prop Store Auction | FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

‘Pleasantville’ starred Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon

Written and directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit), Pleasantville stars Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon as teenage siblings who get sucked into a black-and-white 1950s sitcom. Before long, the pair begin to have a dramatic effect on the fictional idyllic townspeople. Their modern sensibilities, in fact, revolutionize the very society around them.

At the time, both Maguire and Witherspoon were rising stars. Maguire wouldn’t land the Spider-Man trilogy until a few years later. And Witherspoon got her breakthrough role in Election the very next year. Yet, in addition to early roles from these two stars, Pleasantville also features memorable performances from William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels, and Paul Walker.

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The film briefly raised the bar for visual effects

Although Pleasantville undoubtedly has a fantastical element to it, it’s not the kind of movie most would consider an effects showcase. After all, Michael Bay’s bombastic Armageddon ruled the box office that year. And yet, Pleasantville actually held a filmmaking record, at least for a few months. Until the release of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, that is.

According to FilmSite.org, Pleasantville claimed the Guinness record for the “most computer-generated effects in a film” up that point. Because the movie’s black-and-white world becomes gradually overcome by color, it took 1,700 digital visual effects shots throughout its runtime. Ross shot the movie in color and went back to make digital adjustments in post-production.

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‘Pleasantville’ has grown in popularity over the years

The first installment of Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy bested Pleasantville seven months later. But while The Phantom Menace made tons of money, its reception — even among the saga’s fans — remains mixed at best. Conversely, Pleasantville earned just $49 million worldwide against a reported production budget of $60 million.

Time has treated Pleasantville very differently, however. As time has passed, viewers have developed a renewed appreciation for the story Ross is telling. The movie tackles a wide variety of themes and marries sincere humor and deeply resonant themes. And, yes, it is a visual stunner as well, thanks to the distinctive look it achieves with all those digital effects shots.