The current crop of superhero films have their concepts rooted in realism. Every character is firmly planted in the economic, sociological and current state of the world. Captain America’s cheerily star-spangled outfit has been muted and made more tactical, and the Hulk no longer wears bright purple shorts. The ’90s was a different time for superhero films. They still wore spandex, and sometimes, it was bright purple. Heroes were heroes, villains were villains, and both acted over-the-top. Comic book movies were violent but fun, and never took themselves very seriously.
The Phantom is a movie about heroism. It’s about integrity. It’s about “doing the right thing”. It isn’t cynical, jaded, or morally ambiguous. While these are themes that are interesting to explore in comic book movies now, The Phantom faithfully followed the source material, Lee Falk’s Sunday strip comic about a masked hero (one of the first!) with a pet wolf that saves the day, defeats the bad guy and gets the girl. It mirrors the humor, aplomb and camp of the 1943 film version with Tom Tyler (which even featured a cameo by Batman), with a few modern improvements. Let’s explore the whereabouts of the cast of this old-fashioned romp of action and adventure!
15. BILLY ZANE
The titular hero is played by Billy Zane, who worked out for over a year to fill out the costume without padding. He is the Ghost Who Walks, a 400-year old hero in the African Jungle defending the innocent from thieves and tomb raiders. Like Batman, The Phantom has no superpowers, but instead relies on a combination of gunplay, hand to hand combat and straight-up parlor tricks.
Though most know Billy Zane from Titanic, this was a starring role that let him stretch his range and do a number of stunts — he beat out Bruce Campbell for the part. His career began in Back to the Future, and continued with Critters, Dead Calm and Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight. He has a memorable cameo in both Zoolander movies, and most recently guest starred on Legends of Tomorrow. His next film will be The Dome.
14. KRISTY SWANSON
As the plucky Diana Palmer, Kristy Swanson played the love interest of Kit Walker aka The Phantom. Her and Kit were old school chums, becoming fast friends because of their mutual love of all things ancient and relic. She has no idea about his true identity as The Phantom, and that he really inhabits Skull Cave in the middle of the jungle. The location used to represent the Palmer mansion where she and Kit are reunited in NYC was actually the Playboy Mansion.
No stranger to movies involving the supernatural, Kristy Swanson began her career in such ’80s classics as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink. In 1992, she played Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and then appeared in comedies like Big Daddy and Dude, Where’s My Car?, and a recurring role on Psych. You can next see her in the thriller Jessica Frost.
13. TREAT WILLIAMS
The cunningly suave villain Xander Drax (“it starts and ends with X!”) is played with gusto by Treat Williams. Like the bad guy in an Indiana Jones plot, he wants to get his hands on mystical relics that will give him unspeakable power; in this case, three crystal skulls that when brought together will begin to channel dark forces.
With a career that began in the ’70s (he played an Echo Base Trooper in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, yea!) with Hair, his big break came in The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper, about a hijacker who parachuted into the mountains with a ton of cash. He went on to appear in Dead Heat, about resurrected policemen who fight supernatural crime. Lately he’s had recurring roles in White Collar, Chicago Fire and Drunk Parents.
12. CATHERINE ZETA-JONES
The enigmatic Catherine Zeta-Jones played Sala, a vampy rogue that sold her mercenary services to the highest bidder. You always got the sense that she was given the short end of the stick, and had circumstances been different, she’d be getting with The Phantom instead of constantly pointing a gun at him. Jennifer Lopez and Minnie Driver were also considered for the part.
Catherine Zeta-Jones hadn’t been in a whole lot before The Phantom, namely the Darling Buds of May mini-series and an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Two years later she’d memorably be in the Mask of Zorro (and later its sequel), with a slew of hits after that such as Entrapment, The Haunting, High Fidelity and Traffic. Most recently, she’s been in the smash hit Feud, playing Olivia De Havilland.
11. JAMES REMAR
Ever wonder what would happen if Indiana Jones wasn’t so much into punching the bad guys but working for them? James Remar plays Quill; he’s what happens when teacher’s salaries don’t pay that well. In a leather jacket and fedora, he’s a hired mercenary working for Xander Drax and, while fairly selfish, isn’t exactly bloodthirsty and comes across as almost likeable throughout the film.
James Remar got his start in the late ’70s with the role of Ajax in the teen cult film The Warriors. Tending to play the villain, he’s been in 48 Hrs, The Cotton Club, Drugstore Cowboy, and the movie version of Tales From the Dark Side, to name a few films in a career spanning four decades. He almost played Cpl. Hicks in Aliens. No stranger to genre franchises, he recently appeared on The Shannara Chronicles for one season and currently plays Frank Gordon on Gotham.
10. CARY-HIROYUKI TAGAWA
With razor sharp cheekbones and a regal countenance, Cary-Hiroyuki Takagawa was perfect for the role of The Great Kabai Sengh. A powerful warrior and pirate, he doesn’t appear in the film until two thirds of the way through, when Xander Drax has kidnapped Diana to lure The Phantom. Drax attempts to bargain the third crystal skull off Kabai Sengh, who promptly informs him, “The fourth skull controls the power of the other three. Without it, you’ve wasted your time and your meaningless New York lives.”
His career began with a bit part in Big Trouble in Little China, and continued with appearances on The Wizard, MacGyver, Miami:Vice and Mission:Impossible. Television aside, he’s appeared in Planet of the Apes, Mortal Kombat, and lent his unique vocal talents to Kubo and the Two Strings as the villain. Most recently, he’s appeared in the Man in the High Castle series.
9. BILL SMITROVICH
A hefty, congenial actor, Bill Smitrovich plays Diana Palmer’s protective uncle and the owner of a newspaper publishing company in NYC. Xander Drax tries to muscle his way in and buy it out from under him but he refuses, telling him that “not everything in life is for sale.”
Appearing in such ’80s classics as Splash and Manhunter, Bill Smitrovich was originally a drama teacher before he started acting himself. He had a recurring role on the TV series Crime Story, as well as Life Goes On into the early ’90s, and guest starred on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He appeared in Independence Day the same year The Phantom came out. Often playing investigators, ADAs, or federal officials, he was on Without a Trace for several years, as well as The Event and The Last Ship which ended last year. Catch him next in the film Valley of Bones.
8. CASEY SIEMASZKO
One half of the mercenary duo that includes Quill, Casey Siemaszko plays Morgan, a gun-for-hire that is definitely the more comedic of the two. Sporting a fedora and a neckbeard, he may not be all that bright, but often times goons like him are helpful to throw in the path of The Phantom on your way to collecting your payout.
A teen actor of the ’80s, known for being a part of the “Brat Pack” with Emilio Estevez and Rob Lowe, he gained traction with movies like Stand By Me, Young Guns, and the Back to the Future movies. After The Phantom, he was a recurring character on NYPD Blue for many years, as well as guest starring in almost all versions of Law and Order. He had a recurring role on Damages for several years, and most recently can be seen on the hit series The Blacklist and Billions.
7. PATRICK MCGOOHAN
Supposedly The Phantom is 400 years old, but since that isn’t actually possible, the Ghost Who Walks passes on the mantle to his son, from generation to generation. Since no one ever sees The Phantom’s face or knows his true identity, he is simply thought to be immortal. In this case, Kit Walker’s dad is played by Patrick McGoohan, famed Irish-American actor of the ’50s and ’60s.
The original Secret Agent Man, Patrick McGoohan got his meteoric start appearing in the series Danger Man and Secret Agent as special agent John Drake. He was also in the unsettling sci-fi series The Prisoner, a role which he would recreate on an episode of The Simpsons. He appeared on the series Columbo over the course of almost 40 years. The Disney movie Treasure Planet was his last film.
6. JON TENNEY
Jon Tenney plays rich, obnoxious waistrel Jimmy Wells, associate of Diana Palmer’s and rival to Kit Walker for her affections. Originally, the character of Jimmy Wells was supposed to end up being The Phantom’s true identity in the strip comic where he first appeared, but slowly Lee Falk wrote him out and replaced him with the character of Kit Walker. In the film he appears as his own character.
Starting out with roles on Equal Justice and Crime and Punishment, he had small roles in Tombstone and Nixon, before a much larger role in the series Good Company came along. He also appeared as two separate characters in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. After The Phantom he was in Brooklyn South, until landing recurring roles in several high profile series such as Newsroom, The Closer and Scandal.
5. DAVID PROVAL
Xander Drax may be the big bad of the film, but there are several other criminals that run afoul of The Phantom in their pursuit of the Skulls of Touganda. David Proval plays Charlie Zephro, a goon attempting to step outside of the shadow of his older brother and make a name for himself in organized crime.
Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets launched David Proval’s career in the early ’70s, after which he appeared in several series in the ’80s, such as Miami: Vice and Knight Rider. Just prior to The Phantom he appeared in the Shawshank Redemption and The Brady Bunch Movie, as well as the intriguing Four Rooms. He often plays Italian-American mob types, especially on The Sopranos. Recently he appeared in the HBO series Vinyl.
4. DAVID BURR (CINEMATOGRAPHER)
The world that The Phantom inhabits is as paradoxical as his persona; it takes place both in the urban and natural jungle. It has gorgeous locations, from the lush jungle interior with tumbling waterfalls and ruins, to the bustling streets of ’30s New York City with towering skyscrapers and gleaming steel. In order to capitalize on the grandeur of both, David Burr was brought in as cinematographer.
David Burr got his start working on movies like Don Quixote in the early ’70s, but has been involved in both Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and the most recent Mad Max: Fury Road. He lent his creative eye to the sweeping visuals of the action-packed disaster film San Andreas, as well as recently to Thor: Ragnorak. Currently, he’s working on Aquaman, which is filming and set to release sometime in 2018.
3. MARLENE STEWART (COSTUME DESIGN)
Though the costume that The Phantom wears may seem outlandish today, there are details about its design that both pay homage to the original version and improve on its aesthetic. Marlene Stewart decided that it should still bear a resemblance to its predecessor, but that certain aspects (like the striped underwear worn on the outside) should be ditched in favor of a more streamlined appearance. Also, there is a subtle skull pattern to the fabric visible in certain lights.
The skull motif is on The Phantom’s guns, his ring, his belt buckle, and many other things throughout the film. She was also responsible for recreating the outfits of pre-WWII era NYC. Marlene Stewart has designed the costumes for Pet Cemetery, episodes of Tales from the Crypt, The Doors, Terminator 2, The Saint, Tropic Thunder, Real Steel and, most recently, The Fate of the Furious.
2. DAVID NEWMAN (MUSIC)
For a rolicking action-adventure like The Phantom, a composer was needed that could capture the rousing flair of its face paced action sequences, its romantic moments, and its mystical situations. David Newman, an orchestral conductor as well as composer, was brought in for his work on similar films. You could also say that music is in his blood, since he’s the son of nine-time Oscar winning composer Alfred Newman, who was composing music during the time The Phantom comic strip first appeared.
His notable credits include Heathers, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (and Bogus Journey), The War of the Roses, DuckTales the Movie, The Mighty Ducks, the Sandlot, Coneheads, Tommy Boy, the Nutty Professor movies, Galaxy Quest and Army of One. His next project will be Naked.
1. SIMON WINCER (DIRECTOR)
While originally Joe Dante of Gremlins fame was going to direct The Phantom, and then possibly Joel Schumacher, but the job ultimately went to Simon Wincer, who was mostly known for directing television series like Lonesome Dove and movies such as Quigley Down Under and Free Willy. Perhaps it was the fact that he directed several episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which took place in a historical setting (and in which he met Catherine Zeta-Jones who he cast in the role of Sala) that made him want to take on the adventures of the Ghost Who Walks.
Though he planned on making a trilogy of Phantom films, only one was ever made. After The Phantom, it was back to television and The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, the mini-series Comanche Moon, and his last movie was The Cup in 2011.
Would you like to see a sequel to The Phantom? Let us know in the comments!
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