The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Cimino, and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken, and was named by the American Film Institute as the 53rd greatest American film of all time in the 10th Anniversary Edition of the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list. In 1996, The Deer Hunter was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”
John Wayne’s final public appearance was to present the Best Picture Oscar to The Deer Hunter (1978) at The 51st Annual Academy Awards (1979) (TV). It was not a film Wayne was fond of, since it presented a very different view of the Vietnam War than his own movie, The Green Berets (1968), had a decade earlier.
The deaths of approximately twenty-eight people who died playing Russian roulette were reported as having been influenced by scenes in the movie.
Michael Cimino convinced Christopher Walken to spit in Michael’s face. When Walken actually did it, Robert De Niro was completely shocked, as evidenced by his reaction. In fact, De Niro was so furious about it he nearly left the set.
The slapping in the Russian roulette sequences was 100% authentic. The actors grew very agitated by the constant slapping, which, naturally, added to the realism of the scenes.
Robert De Niro recently explained that the scene where Michael visits Steve in the hospital for the first time was the most emotional scene that he was ever involved with. He broke down in tears while discussing the scene in AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Robert De Niro (2003).
The studio wanted to replace John Cazale when he was ruled un-insurable due to the fact he was suffering from throat cancer. Robert De Niro put up the money for the insurance. Cazale died shortly after filming was completed.
Robert De Niro, who prepared for his role by socializing with actual steelworkers, was introduced by his hosts and new friends as Bob, and no one recognized him.
Various critics objected to the Russian roulette sequences, suggesting that such activity never took place in the Vietnam War. Michael Cimino was planning on the scenes to cause controversy and simply stated that no one could be certain of the accuracy. Robert De Niro and Cimino reportedly argued as to the realism of the scenes.
Robert De Niro and John Savage performed their own stunts in the fall into the river, filming the 30ft drop 15 times in two days.
The cast and crew slept on the floor of the warehouse where the Saigon Russian roulette sequences were shot.
During the filming of the wedding sequence, director Michael Cimino encouraged the many extras to treat the festivities as a real wedding, so as to increase the authenticity of the scenes. Prior to filming the wedding reception, Cimino instructed the extras to take empty boxes from home and wrap them as if they were wrapping real wedding gifts and bring them to the set the next day. The fake gifts would then be used as props for the wedding reception. The extras did as they were told, however, when Cimino inspected the “props” he noticed that the “gifts” were a lot heavier than empty boxes otherwise would be. Cimino tore the wrapping paper off a few of the packages, only to find that the extras had in fact wrapped real gifts for the “wedding.”
Christopher Walken achieved the withdrawn, hollow look of his character by eating nothing but rice and bananas.
Jeff Bridges was considered for the role of Nick.
According to the film’s cinematographer – Vilmos Zsigmond – the scene where the deer is shot [by Michael (DeNiro)] was filmed by giving the trained deer a sedative; it took half an hour for the drug to take effect; they had fenced off an area limiting the deer’s range and two cameras were used.
Pierre Segui, who plays Julien, lost a friend in real life to a game of Russian Roulette.
The scene where Savage is yelling, “Michael, there’s rats in here, Michael” as he is stuck in the river is actually Savage yelling at the director Michael Cimino because of his fear of rats which were infesting the river area. He was yelling for the director to pull him out of the water because of the rats… it looked real and they kept it in.
The wedding scene at the church took five days to film. An actual priest was cast as the priest.
When the film was first shown at the Berlin festival in 1979, one of the biggest incidents of its history resulted when the Soviet delegation walked out in protest against the way the film portrayed the people of Vietnam. The ensuing domino effect led to the walk-outs of the Cubans, East Germans, Bulgarians, Poles and Czechoslovakians, and two members of the jury resigned in sympathy.
First feature film depicting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam to be filmed on location in Thailand.
Scouts for the film travelled over 100,000 miles by plane, bus, and car to find locations for filming.
The woman who was given the task of casting the extras in Thailand had much difficulty finding a local to play the vicious-looking individual who runs the game. The first actor hired turned out to be incapable of slapping Robert De Niro in the face. The caster thankfully knew a local Thai man with a particular dislike of Americans, and cast him accordingly. De Niro suggested that Christopher Walken be slapped for real by one of the guards without any warning. The reaction on Walken’s face was genuine.