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How ‘Out Cold’ Went from Box Office Flop to Cult Classic (It Took 20 Years)

Twenty years later, director Emmett Malloy reflects on the making of the film and why he feels great about that part of his career

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Twenty years ago this week, two mischievous, fresh-faced brothers-cum-directors named Emmett and Brendan Malloy released onto the world their snowboarding opus. That opus, a raunchy buddy comedy called Out Cold, marked their first stab at narrative filmmaking. Backed by Touchstone Pictures and sporting a $24 million budget, the film was their big break.

Billed as snowboarding’s answer to the teen comedy craze of the ‘90s and early aughts, Out Cold centers around a gang of employees at a ramshackle Alaskan ski resort determined to outfox the out-of-town business tycoon (played by Lee Majors) who wants to buy—and gussy up—their beloved mountain. Those plans get a twist when said tycoon’s two daughters show up—one of whom unceremoniously dumped lead character and local resort legend Rick Rambis (Jason London) a few years prior. There’s snowboarding, a soundtrack full of Jack Johnson songs, and a scene where snowboarder Luke (Zach Galifianakis) is, well, stimulated by a polar bear.

Despite those enticements, Out Cold was a commercial flop, grossing just $13 million at the domestic box office. Critics were no kinder to the film: Entertainment Weekly said it was “so derivative, they should’ve called it Eskimo Pie”; the Dallas Morning News posited that it was “one of the most pointless” films ever made. (The New York Times was a bit kinder, writing that it “offered a few demonstrations of amazing grace and skill.”)

But then, a funny thing happened. The years went on, and people—especially people living in mountain towns—kept turning back to Out Cold. Maybe it was the snowboarding, or the frat-boy humor (some of which is admittedly dated), or the David vs. Goliath narrative (something that’s especially relevant in the age of the resort mega-pass). Whatever the case, Out Cold has become a cultural touchstone in the winter sports community. “To this day I’ll be on a commercial [shoot] and some kid will come up to me all nervous and be like ‘Yo, I mean seriously, Out Cold was like my movie,’” said Emmett Malloy, now 50. “I always want to pat him on the back and be like, ‘First of all, you’ve got to watch some better movies.’ But I feel great, knowing the place that movie had in our career.”

Prior to Out Cold, the siblings had directed—alongside Jack Johnson—a surfing documentary called Thicker than Water, and a smattering of music videos for the likes of Foo Fighters and Wheatus. The Malloys got another crack at directing a big Hollywood movie, The Tribes of Palos Verdes with Jennifer Garner in 2017.

Now, two decades after Out Cold was released on Nov. 21, 2021, SKI spoke with Emmett about making the film and how the movie has become something of a cult classic.

SKI: Back in the early 2000s, you and your brother were relative newcomers in the world of Hollywood. How did you guys land the gig directing Out Cold?

Emmett: We did one Foo Fighters video for a Farrelly brothers movie [Me, Myself & Irene]. It really was a popular video; it got us in the mix. Then suddenly this opportunity came up and we had finished Thicker than Water, so we had a bit of a body of work. The [studio executives] were really eager to have us direct this movie that was called Hard R at the time; it wasn’t called Out Cold. It was a full-on ‘80s-style R-rated movie. It had Lee Majors doing coke! It had gratuitous scenes, kind of playing off Animal House. We were like, “Shoot of course we’ll do this.”

The version of Out Cold that came out was PG-13. What prompted the ratings to change?
At the last minute we had to change the rating, which, you know, you’re cutting out so much of the funny material, because everybody at the studio got psyched about it being a young kids’ movie because it tested well with young kids.

But it’s not like you guys totally sanitized it. I mean, Zach Galifianakis gets intimate with both a bear and a jacuzzi.
[Laughs] We kind of snuck a lot in. And you know, we were shooting a guy getting his crotch licked by a polar bear, but we wanted the light to be magical.

The casting in the movie really holds up. You nabbed so many actors who were just on the cusp of stardom.
Casting was a crazy process, because, again, it was the “it” movie. Everybody came in. We kept finding great people like Zack and, and Derek Hamilton, who played Pig Pen, and David Denman [who portrayed bartender Lance], but we couldn’t find a great lead. We ended up with Jason London [as Rick Rambis]. My brother and I were just seeing him as Randall “Pink” Floyd from Dazed and Confused, but our casting directors were like, “But he hasn’t done anything in a while.” In the end, he ended up being a nice Rick Rambis.

Who else auditioned was being considered for Rick?
I remember James Franco came in and gave some crazy version, it was almost more of a Keanu Reeves vibe. He had just played James Dean [in a made-for-TV biopic]. And I remember I was sitting there like, “Man, he’s so confident. I don’t know if I could hang out with that guy.”

You scored the movie with a few Jack Johnson songs. How did you get him involved?
Jack and I were making movies together. He was my friend, and I was kind of trying to get his career going with his music as I was making that movie. So I was like, “Hey, my friend’s a musician, why don’t we put his music in it?” The songs in the movie, some are from his first record, some are just little demos. That was obviously super rad for me, to be able to give Jack a big paycheck for having six songs in the movie.

And you cast pro snowboarder Todd Richards as Barry, the fiancée of Rick’s love interest. How was it working with a pro athlete in a film?
The most dramatic part of the whole film for sure was after the first day [of shooting], Todd Richards kind of shit the bed [as an actor] and I got a call from the head of the studio because I had been like, “We’ve got to put some [snowboarders] in this movie.” I went to the mat on that. And I ended up being able to land Todd Richards. So I had the studio reminding me every day: “This was your hire, and if he sucks, there’s going to be issues.” [Laughs]

How did you get connected with the pro snowboarders in the first place?
Well, we were shooting surf movies, and there was a lot of crossover in those worlds. We went hard into that as we started to scout the movie and find people that would be you doing all the big action for us. And then we got laced up with the best Canadian crew ever, who had worked on every big movie in Canada at that point.

The movie was mostly filmed in ski towns in British Columbia. What was that experience like?
We’d work super hard; I got up at four in the morning every day for six months. And then we’d all go out and have a hilarious night at a small bar with Lee Majors and Victoria Silvstedt [who played Majors’ stepdaughter, Inga]. Everybody bonded on a real deep level because it was a lot of young kids. We had a studio movie but no studio supervision. We integrated really well with the town, and [pro snowboarder and stuntman] Devun Walsh and the Whiskey crew were with us. They made it extra fun because they kind of knew everything about all those mountains.

When everybody would go out and drink, people would be there for hours, and then a new crew [from set] would walk in. People would be like, “Oh, here come the actors,” and then everyone would re-up and you would drink more. And the town would be like, “We love you guys, everything’s free!”

This might be a tough one to answer, but who partied the most?
I remember we had this we had a gaffer who had worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark and just incredible movies. I think his name was Dennis. And he was ancient in our movie, like it was like a bunch of 20- to 30-year-olds and then we had like this guy who was, I’d say 67. He was out there on the coldest day in a gray sweatshirt, smoking, and eating a shrimp cocktail.

I remember this one night Dennis was trying to fight this dude. He grabbed a chain, so here’s this old guy that looks like Popeye, hammered out of his mind with a chain, screaming at this guy. Then the next morning he’s just got a Band-Aid on his face and drinking his coffee.

But every night, someone got the game ball for being the most hammered. It definitely felt a little more like college, you know, sneaking around hotels. And then my brother and I had a little condo in a hotel in Vancouver, and Mike Bibby from the Vancouver Grizzlies was in our condominium complex. But we would have parties, and there were lots of movies going on and they would all stay at that hotel. So Sean Penn would show up and somebody would know him.

Flash forward to Out Cold’s release. The movie didn’t land, at least not initially. How did that affect you and your brother’s careers?
My brother and I were kind of in a tough place getting another movie. They call it “movie jail.” It was funny how much it loomed over our careers.

But now it’s taken on this cult status.
It just started to gain this loyal audience and then all those actors started to become these seminal comedy guys. As Zach became Zach, and [David] Koechner became Koechner, it kind of became a little bit of a cult thing in the ski world. The actors would always tell me, “When I go to a ski town, we pay for nothing.” [Laughs]

Does that feel vindicating?
It really feels glorious to us now. That’s so cool that it became something because we really went for it. We got in every good snowboarder around—like Devun Walsh doing all the snowboarding at the beginning. At no point did we ever think this was going to be some artistic, brilliant movie. It was just a fun romp. And we feel like we stuck that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.