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In the opening credits, Michael Douglas' name is listed above the film's title. Robert Downey, Jr.'s name is listed in the fifth position after the film's title, preceded by the word "and." In the end credits, Downey's name is the third credited after Douglas. The film is narrated intermittently by Douglas as his character, "Grady Tripp." When the picture ends, Grady is shown at a desk in the "Gaskell" house, completing work on the story that he has described in the narration and has been unfolding throughout the film.
As noted in the onscreen credits, the film was shot entirely on location in Pittsburgh, PA. Although many of the college sequences were shot on the campus of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, no specific name is used for the university depicted in the film. The house used for Grady's residence is located in the area of Pittsburgh known as "Friendship." According to the film's press book, although it was shot during winter months, unseasonably warm weather in March resulted in the use of snow-making machines for many of the film's exterior scenes.
The term "wonder boys" refers to people who have had great success at an early age but find difficulty living up to, and repeating, that success. The character of "Emily" is seen only in a photograph. Throughout the film, Grady is shown typing his long-overdue novel on an electric typewriter. This fact becomes an important plot point near the end of the film when his only copy of the manuscript is scattered in the wind. At the end of the picture, Grady is shown using a laptop computer.
The film's end credits include acknowledgments of thanks to the city of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Film Office, the Pennsylvania Film Office, Carnegie Melon University, Howard Johnson's Restaurants and the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library & Archive, Cooperstown, NY.
Wonder Boys includes a number of allusions to classic motion pictures. The title of "James Leer's" novel The Love Parade refers to a 1929 Paramount musical directed by Ernst Lubitsch (See AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30). "Carvel," which James says is his hometown, but which Grady discovers does not exist, was the name of the fictional town inhabited by "The Hardy Family," main characters in M-G-M's popular series from the 1930s and 1940s (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). As acknowledged in the end credits, small excerpts of the films The Picture of Dorian Gray and Babes in Arms (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 and 1941-50) as well as the television series Route 66 and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles are included in Wonder Boys.
The film was based on the second novel of Michael Chabon, and was the first of his works to be adapted to the screen. Like Wonder Boys, Chabon's first novel, Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was also set in that city. According to a Variety news item, producer Scott Rudin acquired the film rights to Wonder Boys in April 1995 and signed Steve Kloves to write the screenplay. According to a November 12, 1999 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was partially financed by the Germany company, MFF Feature Film Productions GmbH & Co. KG, which is the copyright holder.
Although the film opened to good to excellent reviews, it did not perform up to the filmmakers' expectations during its initial release. Los Angeles Times and Daily Variety news items reveal that Paramount executives decided to rerelease the film in early November 2000, with a new marketing plan that relied less on the art work of Douglas in the pink chenille bathrobe he wears during parts of the film.
According to news items, following the film's initial release, the family of actor Alan Ladd, who died in 1964, took exception to his name being included in the list of celebrity suicides recited by Tobey Maguire, as James. Ladd's family noted that the circumstances of Ladd's death were unclear and May have been accidental. When the film was released on VHS and DVD, a small controversy erupted over purported artistic changes within the film, as noted in the written statement "Editorial content has been modified." According to news items, director Curtis Hanson stated that the only part of the film that was changed was the line of dialogue mentioning Ladd. As in the original the words were only heard, and not seen while spoken, no footage was altered.
Novelist James Ellroy, who wrote the novel on which Hanson's previous film, L.A. Confidential, was based, can be seen briefly in the party sequence and is credited onscreen as a "Wordfest party guest." This film marked the feature film debut of actor Michael Cavadias as "Miss Sloviak." Wonder Boys screenwriter Kloves, director of photography Dante Spinotti and production designer Jeannine Oppewall also worked on L.A. Confidential.
The film was named to a number of "top ten" lists, including AFI's list of the top ten American films of 2000. Bob Dylan won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Song, "Things Have Changed." The film was nominated for two additional Academy Awards, to Kloves for Best Adapted Screenplay and to Dede Allenn for Best Film Editing. Wonder Boys also received three additional Golden Globe nominations in drama categories, for Best Picture, Best Actor for Douglas and Best Screenplay for Kloves. Kloves, along with Chabon, also received USC's Scriptor Award for the year's Best Screenplay Adapted from a Novel.