Today, however, the spoof of 1980s summer camp movies is considered a cult classic, one that's spawned a Netflix prequel series (with a sequel series on the way). It also helped launch the film careers of Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler, and director/co-writer David Wain.
Still, as obsessively as you may have watched and re-watched the antics at Camp Firewood over the years, there's a lot you may not know about how the film got made. Here are the wet hot details.
1. Wain and co-screenwriter/star Michael Showalter (who played the lovelorn counselor Coop) based a lot of the plot on their own summer camp experiences in the early 1980s. Showalter remembered trips into town as a big deal (as portrayed in the film's notorious visit-to-town montage). As a counselor, Wain abandoned his charges in the woods, drove a van back to camp to meet a girl, and crashed it into a tree, just like Victor (Ken Marino) does. He also remembered being worried that pieces of Skylab would fall on the camp.
2. Of course, the other big source of inspiration for Wain and Showalter was summer camp movies like "Meatballs" and the non-lethal parts of "Sleepaway Camp" and "Friday the 13th." But they also modeled their screenplay after such films as "Nashville," "Dazed and Confused," and "Do the Right Thing" -- big ensemble pieces with multiple plot lines, set over the course of a single day or weekend.
3. Many of the cast members -- David Hyde Pierce, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon -- were reasonably well-known. Others, like Elizabeth Banks and Bradley Cooper, were discovered in New York auditions. In fact, Cooper was still finishing up at the Actors Studio drama school and missed his graduation in order to film his "Wet Hot" sex scene with Michael Ian Black.
4. The line between life and art blurred during the May 2000 shoot at Pennsylvania's Camp Towanda. The cast and crew slept in cabins, bunks, and sleeping bags and ate at the cafeteria. The only difference was free-flowing beer and liquor.
5. Garofalo was surprised to see, inscribed on a plaque on a bunk, the name of her "Mystery Men" co-star, Hank Azaria. Turned out he'd attended Camp Towanda for several summers as a kid.
6. The shoot lived up to the "Wet" part of the title, if not the "Hot." It rained on 23 of the 28 shooting days, and the temperature was often in the 40s. Which was difficult for actors in shorts or bikinis. Fortunately, unless you're lighting for rain, it often doesn't show up on film. The lack of continuity in the weather, over the course of what's supposed to be a single day, became just one more of the movie's meta-jokes.
7. The film's most elaborate prop, the falling Skylab capsule, took five days to build. It was made largely of wood and PVC pipe, and it weighed just under 500 pounds.
8. "Wet Hot" cost just $1.8 million to shoot, though the filmmakers claimed $5 million in hopes of getting a better offer when they screened it at Sundance. Despite four sold-out showings at the festival, no one bit.
9. Months later, USA Films approached Wain with what he considered an insulting offer of $100,000 for the distribution rights, but he still said yes. USA barely released the movie (it never played in more than 12 theaters nationwide), which grossed just $295,000. Rudd has said he never saw a dime from the film.
10. Of course, the movie became a cult hit on DVD, at colleges, and at midnight screenings, where fans would dress up, "Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp."
11. We're getting another follow-up series from Netflix in 2017 called "Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later." We'll be seeing the Firewood counselors as late-twentysomethings in 1991. Which is apt, since all the actors are well into middle age now.
Set on the last day of camp, in the hot summer of 1981, "Wet Hot American Summer" follows a group of counselors who are each trying to complete their unfinished business before the day ends. The entire summer of pent-up sexual frustrations, unresolved post-traumatic stress, pending separations and of course, the talent show, all weigh heavily on the minds and groins of counselors and campers alike. Read More