When Whoopi Goldberg was legally forced to co-star with a dinosaur: how Theodore Rex happened

Theodore Rex
Theodore Rex Poster

Every few years, a movie called Theodore Rex burbles back into the public consciousness. The 1995 straight-to-video flick is considered Goldberg’s creative nadir, and for good reason—the absurd plot, goofy sci-fi sensibility, and flat comedic moments haven’t aged well and they weren’t stellar even at release. Usually, the movie’s held up as an example of a kitschy career misstep, but one largely forgotten business detail adds texture to the flop.

In the movie, Whoopi’s cop character is forced to become partners with a dinosaur against her will. The twist? In real life, she was forced to become partners with a dinosaur against her will. Theodore Rex starred Whoopi Goldberg because she was legally forced to be in it.

A troubled movie gets a boost

Like most dinosaur stories, this one starts with Kim Basinger.

When Basinger ducked out of the movie Boxing Helena, she was forced to pay $7.4 million in damages. That judgment gave precedent to lawsuits against stars who balked at being in films they may have previously agreed to star in.

The truth about Theodore Rex is sealed in settlement agreements, but we do know that Whoopi didn’t want to be in the movie. In 1993, she and the movie’s production company sued each other when negotiations over the film broke down. Whoopi said she never agreed to be in the movie, but producers said they’d hired a production crew based on her commitment for $5 million and profit sharing. The producers wanted Goldberg or $30 million in damages, and the Basinger decision gave them a chance. The case didn’t go away quietly. Instead, it blew up.

Theodore Rex goes to human court—and Goldberg gets a co-star

Judge Stephen Lachs refused to throw out the case and forced Goldberg to testify. The twist? Producers said they had a smoking audio tape of Whoopi agreeing to do the movie. A trial date of September 27th was set. Facing the prospect of a real trial over a dinosaur movie, Goldberg agreed to settle (and was rumored to take $7 million with her as a fee).

Despite the settlement, Theodore Rex went extinct. The trailer was instantly panned and early tracking was poor. The film was dumped straight-to-video after a disappointing small release, and some speculated that Whoopi forced the studio to trash the project once she lost her piece of the backend.

The tortured backstory didn’t stop writers—and the general public—from forgetting that Whoopi was legally required to co-star with a dinosaur. On the movie’s release, one reporter asked, “Will Whoopi Goldberg appear in anything?” The skeptical expression she wears throughout Theodore Rex provides the answer: she will if forced to in a court of law.

Theodore Rex Ending

 

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