The oral history of Encino Man, Brendan Fraser’s caveman cult classic
“I don’t think anybody thought it would be successful.”
Thirty years ago, a star was born.
Well, not “born” exactly. In the 1992 cult comedy Encino Man, Brendan Fraser is defrosted, really. Melted from a massive block of glacial ice and released from a 2-million-year coma. A caveman from the first ice age, he is discovered by two loser teens, Dave (Sean Astin) and Stoney (Pauly Shore), who are digging a pool in Dave’s backyard. They clean him up, christen him Link, and show him off at school, introducing this prehistoric dude to the joys of slushies, roller coasters, and swooning Valley girls. They pretend he’s a foreign-exchange student and hope he’ll make them popular.
It’s a preposterous concept for a movie. Yet it works, thanks in large part to Brendan Fraser’s adept physical comedy and chemistry with a zonked-out, peak-era Pauly Shore.
It may not be the best movie of the ’90s, but Encino Man might well be the most ’90s movie ever made. This thing has got every element of a ’90s studio comedy: Brendan Fraser showing off his rugged good looks, a high school bully antagonist, a bratty little sister, a Goonies alumnus, an amusement park montage, a makeover sequence set to “I’m Too Sexy,” copious Valley slang, a nerd who’s desperate to impress a crush, a climactic scene set at prom, and a big scene where everyone somehow knows the same dance moves.
It’s the movie that launched Shore from MTV personality to slacker movie star, and it’s the film that established Fraser’s preternatural talent for playing wide-eyed, fish-out-of-water naifs plopped into ’90s California, a formula that treated him well. As the writer Anna Bogutskaya argued in a 2021 article, Encino Man was the first in “Fraser’s Himbo Trilogy,” alongside 1997’s George of the Jungle and 1999’s Blast From the Past. In all three, Bogutskaya writes, Fraser plays “a simple hunk who is unaware of his own buffness, delivered into a modern world without an ounce of toxic masculinity in him, all goofy and wide-eyed and open to all the exciting things society has to offer to a beautiful man.”
This is the untold story of how Encino Man got made, based on interviews with principal members of the cast and crew. (Fraser declined, through a representative, to be interviewed for this piece.)
Our story begins with two young filmmakers, Les Mayfield and George Zaloom, who met while attending the University of Southern California in the late 1970s…
Les Mayfield (director): We met at a math test for a USC orientation in New Jersey. We just happened to sit next to each other for a placement test.
George Zaloom (producer/writer): I said, “Hey, what are you doing?” “I’m in the film school.” “I’m in the film school!” We decided to become roommates.
Les Mayfield: [We had] the same fascination with Hollywood and were looking for a way to break in after film school.
“We were this ragtag group of idiots who had all these trailers behind Steven Spielberg’s offices.”
George Zaloom: One of our friends had graduated a year before and called us one afternoon. He’d gotten a job as a PA for Steven Spielberg. He said, “We’re working this movie. Can you get access to a camera? We need somebody to shoot some behind-the-scenes stuff.” We were like, “I’ll be out there in 10 minutes.” We bribed some guy in the equipment room for a camera. We drove out to Simi Valley. We were like, “Holy shit, they’re making the movie Poltergeist!” They gave us some film. We shot film. At the end of the day, we gave them the film back. I remember Steven was like, “Hey, guys. Want to come back tomorrow?”
Les Mayfield: So we started this little company called ZM Productions and started making small behind-the-scenes films.
George Zaloom: From that day on, we were [Spielberg’s] guys. We shot all his behind-the-scenes stuff. Within a few months, we were the behind-the-scenes kings. We had offices at MGM and Universal. We were doing behind-the-scenes for all the studios. We did the making of Apocalypse Now [1991’s Hearts of Darkness documentary]. That was our tour de force. We were this ragtag group of idiots who had all these trailers behind Steven Spielberg’s offices.
By the early ’90s, Mayfield and Zaloom had spent years in the behind-the-scenes trenches. They were eager to make a feature film of their own. Zaloom came up with the concept for Encino Man, though both men recall different stories about how the idea emerged.
Les Mayfield: We were thinking about: What is the first feature? What does that look like? What can we do?
George Zaloom: We happened to be working on a TV special on the making of Indiana Jones [and the Last Crusade]. It can’t just be an overt promotional thing for the movie. It’s got to be something interesting. We were trying to find modern-day adventures. I remember we needed one more person. One of our associate producers said, “I found this guy. He’s a college professor out in Encino. He’s doing a dig out there.” I was like, “Let’s go shoot it.” Somebody joked, “What is he going to find — Encino Man?” I just remember: “Encino Man!” I wrote it on a tiny yellow Post-it. I had that on my wall. I stared at it for weeks. I kept saying to myself, “What if they did find Encino Man?”
Les Mayfield: These German hikers found an iceman on the top of the Dolomites. It was a frozen, prehistoric human. It was newsworthy.
George Zaloom: I grew up in New Jersey. All our friends had pools. We didn’t have a pool. I was like, “Dad, can we have a pool?” He was like, “You want a pool, you go dig it yourself.” I was like, “Oh, OK.” I took it literally. So my friends and I took it upon ourselves to dig a pool in our backyard. It was like a swimming hole, you know? For kids, swimming around in dirty, muddy water was the greatest thing ever. One day my dad came home from work and went in the backyard and was like, “Holy shit! What have you guys done?” “Well, you said we could dig a pool!” He’s like, “Yeah, well, I didn’t mean it!” Those two things [the pool and Indiana Jones doc] became the inspiration for Encino Man.
Les Mayfield: I think it just kept rattling around and developed a bit, and I said, “Well, that sounds really interesting. It could be a lot of movies. But it could be a good comedy.”
George Zaloom: I read an article in the paper about underground glacial ice flows. I was like, “That’s it! That’s how they find him in Encino. It has to be Encino.” I remember telling a few people at the company, “I have this great idea. These guys — they find Encino Man! He’s frozen and he comes back to life!”
Zaloom and Mayfield set to work pitching their movie to prospective studios. They found a willing champion in Dan Halsted, a former agent of theirs who in 1990 had become senior VP of production at Hollywood Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios. Halsted’s boss was Jeffrey Katzenberg, Disney’s powerful chairman.
George Zaloom: They hired [our former agent, Dan Halsted] at Disney to be a studio executive. I ran into him. I said, “Hey, you didn’t help us get any movies made, but maybe you’d buy one from us.” He’s like, “Maybe! Come on in.” So we went in to see him. We were pitching these ideas that we thought were the most brilliant ideas. He’s like, “That’s it?” And we’re like, “Uh, I got one more!” I was like, “OK. It’s called Encino Man.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Les Mayfield just kind of wince, like, Oh, no, not that!
I was like, “Yeah, it’s about these two kids. They find a caveman frozen in their backyard. He comes back to life and they take him to high school with them.” And the guy said, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” He’s like, “Well, thanks a lot. It was great seeing you guys.”
“We were looking for inexpensive movies to make.”
Dan Halsted (executive at Hollywood Pictures): I pitched it to [Jeffrey] Katzenberg in one of our staff meetings. He said yes and bought the project.
George Zaloom: Like two hours later, I was back at my office. My assistant got a phone call from that guy at Disney. He’s like, “Hey. We want to buy your idea.” I was like, “You’re kidding! Which one?” I thought it was the action movies. He was like, “No, no, no. The Encino thing!”
Dan Halsted: We were looking for inexpensive movies to make.
Les Mayfield: It was the time of the famous “Katzenberg Memo.” The Katzenberg Memo was “we're going to make lower-budget movies at our studio.” It was a business plan and a way to shake up the industry a bit. We were the first memo movie. It fell into the memo range; $7 million was his number back then. It was going to be a test of this idea.
George Zaloom: I mean, it's a silly concept, as I sold it to Disney. I said, “This is a stupid idea!” Two stupid kids find this caveman and they're like, “Hey, maybe he'll make us popular!” They make one of the greatest archeological finds of the 20th century, and all they can think about is how they can become popular in high school.
The filmmakers had a movie deal but no script. So they hired a budding screenwriter named Shawn Schepps. They also started thinking about casting. Disney pushed them to incorporate a young comedian named Pauly Shore, a poodle-haired goofball who had achieved fame as an MTV VJ and spoke in a kind of surfer lingo peppered with Valley dude slang and made-up stonerisms. An unholy fusion of Bill & Ted and Wayne’s World, Shore wound up playing Dave’s sidekick Stoney, who says things like “How’s your melon, bud?” and “If you're edged cuz I'm weazin’ all your grindage, just chill.”
Dan Halsted: We just sat in what you would imagine is a writers’ room now, with Les and George and Shawn the writer and I. We put cards on a board and just broke out every single scene and we got the script written in a week or so.
George Zaloom: At some point, somebody at Hollywood Pictures said, “Does it have to be Encino Man?” I remember being in the same meeting and Jeffrey Katzenberg was like, “Absolutely! That title is everything!”
Dan Halsted: Pauly was always intended to be one of the stars. He was blowing up on MTV at the time.
Pauly Shore (actor, “Stoney”): I was hot on MTV. [There was] a gentleman by the name of Peter Paterno, who used to run Hollywood Records. Jeffrey Katzenberg sent the script to Peter and said, just as a friend and colleague, “What do you think of this film?” Peter read it and liked it, but he said, “If you’re going to make it, you should make it with Pauly Shore.” Jeffrey didn't know who I was. Jeffrey started, I guess, watching my stuff on MTV. And he’s like, “Oh, shit, this is fun.” Then I went and met with Jeffrey.
George Zaloom: Some of these execs at Disney were like, “What about this guy Pauly Shore?” We were like, “Oh, that guy? No way.” They were like, “No, no, no. He’s super popular. He’ll help us get the movie out.” We’re like, “Yeah… maybe!”
Les Mayfield: He was our star, really. He was our most tangible star. We met him at the Comedy Store and just really liked him. And he loved it. He got it. He saw the comedy. He saw the potential.
Pauly Shore: They wanted me to play the caveman. I’m like, “I’m not playing the caveman cuz cavemen don’t speak. They grunt. And I have a whole kind of language.”
George Zaloom: We thought about it for about a minute. And it was like, eh, I don’t know. He wasn't a caveman.
Pauly Shore: Then Jeffrey’s like, “Well, rewrite one of the roles for the best friend that finds the caveman.” So I got with the writer and producer and just started rewriting the role for Stoney. I worked with them and put all my language and catchphrases into this.
George Zaloom: We would kind of talk it through: “What would he say there?” “Maybe he’d say this.” If you look back at Totally Pauly on MTV, he was already doing a lot of that stuff. The “wheez” and all that.
Shawn Schepps (screenwriter): The problem is, I’d sit down with him and ask him what “nugs” meant. Or what “wheez” meant. And I found he didn’t know what they meant! He was just improv-ing. So I put his language in the script anyway, figuring he’d just do whatever he was going to do.
Pauly Shore: Not only did I change the dialogue, I changed the name. I don’t remember what the character’s name was originally. But that character was similar to Sean’s character: two nerdy guys that find a caveman. And now it’s like, a nerdy guy that finds a caveman with his crazy sidekick friend Stoney.
George Zaloom: He would sit with me and Shawn and Les, and we're just talking about stories and his language. And all of a sudden, the script kind of became “Pauly-ized.”
Meanwhile, a minor crisis arose when Disney executives wanted to remove a funny gag from the screenplay: the scene where Link learns about modern culture by seeing a clip of The Terminator. Initially, they couldn’t get the rights to the 1984 film.
George Zaloom: We almost didn’t get the Terminator clip. I remember they told me to take it out like five times, and I kept turning in new pages that had it in there. We were at a production meeting and Jeffrey Katzenberg happened to overhear the conversation: “Oh, Jeffrey, the Schwarzenegger people won't give us the rights to use Terminator.” He was like, “Oh, that’s a funny thing. We’re keeping that.”
Les Mayfield: Jeffrey was talking to Schwarzenegger’s agent and said, “I’ll come over and mow his yard if he lets us use the clip!” He probably has a big lawn, Schwarzenegger.
“We almost didn’t get the Terminator clip.”
George Zaloom: I remember him saying, “Get me Arnold.” [laughs] He said that! He got Arnold Schwarzenegger on the phone in like 30 seconds. He’s like, “Hey, man, how’s it going? Look, we’re doing this Encino Man. We really want — OK, love it, thanks. You’re the best! OK, bye!” He’s like, “That stays in.” I was like, “I love Hollywood! I love Jeffrey Katzenberg!”
To play the protagonist Dave, the filmmakers cast Sean Astin, a young star known for his role in The Goonies. Casting “Link” — the titular caveman — proved harder. IMDb claims Jim Carrey and Nicolas Cage were considered, but neither Zaloom nor Mayfield remember them being in consideration. Instead, a young Ben Stiller vied for the role.
Les Mayfield: [Stiller] demonstrated the potential of the character and he was absolutely fantastic. What I recall is, once we actually got our start dates locked up, there was a conflict and he wasn’t available.
George Zaloom: He was even screen-tested. And he did a really good job. But at some point, we had seen Brendan. Brendan just nailed it.
“It was hard to tell Ben that we didn’t want him.”
Les Mayfield: [Stiller] came in for free and did this film test and just kicked *ss. He showed us where this character could go.
George Zaloom: It was hard to tell Ben that we didn’t want him. I kind of wish that didn’t happen.
Brendan Fraser soon became the top contender. Handsome and irresistibly likable, Fraser was a 22-year-old unknown. Born to Canadian parents, he graduated from Cornish College of the Arts in 1990, borrowed his mom’s car, and moved to Hollywood because, as he told one interviewer, he was “tired of waiting tables, parking cars, and selling balloons.”
Problem was, Fraser didn’t want to play a slushy-drinking caveman. He wanted serious roles. In 1991, he landed what he thought was his big break: a starring role in the coming-of-age boarding-school drama School Ties. In 1992, when asked if he had “thought twice” about doing Encino Man, Fraser once said, “I thought about eight times about Encino Man, to tell you the truth.” He added…
Brendan Fraser [in a 1992 TV interview]: At the time, I was testing for School Ties. One phone call that came through my agent’s office was, “Listen, I heard he’s testing for School Ties. Tell him we’ll offer him the part of the caveman if he doesn’t.” But I knew where my priorities lay, and I wanted to do School Ties a great deal. [Fraser ultimately agreed to shoot both movies back to back.]
Les Mayfield: We chased Brendan very hard. He came in and auditioned. He owned the character. He was super intelligent and intuitive. He brought in a multidimensional, rich, comedic character and did it right in the room.
“I was very turned on by how convincing he was.”
George Zaloom: He did it with movement. And his looks and all that. He physically adapted and became that character without even having to say anything.
Shawn Schepps: I was watching audition tapes. And I saw Brendan’s. I was blown away, and then stopped the tape, and I was running out, saying, “You guys have to come see this guy! This is the guy!”
Pauly Shore: When I saw his screen test, I was like, “Holy shit. This guy became the caveman! This is some real shit! This is not a spoof.” I was very turned on by how convincing he was.
George Zaloom: But Brendan passed. I think he had done School Ties and envisioned himself as this more thespian actor, rather than doing some caveman. We were like, “No, we don’t want you to act like a caveman. We want you to act like you!”
Les Mayfield: He had a big buzz around him as an important actor. Why would he want to be a frozen caveman in a high school comedy? I was like, “Yeah, you could be both!”
George Zaloom: It was hard to convince Brendan Fraser. Les was relentless about staying after him: “Come on. You’ve got to do this! We’ll come up with a way to do it so you won't feel stupid and goofy.” He was so worried it was going to be like that.
“We don’t want you to act like a caveman. We want you to act like you!”
Les Mayfield: I remember having phone calls [with Fraser]. It was really discussing, what is the movie about? For me, it was about family. And the idea of creating family is, to me, the theme of the film. Hopefully, that was part of what allowed him to make that choice to join us.
George Zaloom: Once they had a meeting of the minds, Brendan was like: “All right, I’ll give it a shot.”
After Fraser signed on, Encino Man began principal photography in December 1991. It was a quick shoot (30-40 days) and a modest budget, but the young actors were enthusiastic about making it work.
Robert Brinkmann (director of photography): I read the script and I thought it was the silliest thing I'd ever read and really thought it was stupid and didn't think it would work at all. So, I told [Les Mayfield]I wasn't really interested. He said, “No, I really want you. You're my guy.” It's nice to be wanted like that. So I said yes.
Jerry Ketcham (first assistant director): We only had 30 days to shoot it. That’s not a lot of time to get performances out of actors that aren’t that experienced.
“Everything was fun and young and innocent and silly... before the whole PC world.”
Robert Brinkmann: It was enough money to comfortably make a movie in L.A., but it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a big budget. At the time, an average studio movie would have been between $15 million and $18 million.
Les Mayfield: We had so much work to do. We shot in February with like eight hours of daylight. It was full throttle.
Pauly Shore: Everything was fun and young and innocent and silly. It’s kind of what the ’80s and ’90s were, before the whole PC world. It was almost like a surfer dropping into a wave. It was just free.
George Zaloom: If anyone had the most experience, it was Sean Astin. It was a tough role for him to do. He’s the straight man in all this. You get Pauly Shore, who’s just, like, eating up all the scenery. And Brendan, walking around, this wild caveman. Sean was in the middle, trying to balance that. Thank God he had the training he did.
Robert Brinkmann: The minute Brendan Fraser showed up on that set, I thought, “Oh, I was really wrong. It works.” And that’s because Brendan was just brilliant at taking this character that, on the page, you go, “Who’s ever going to buy that?” and he made it work because he bought it and sold it to everybody that watched it.
George Zaloom: You would never know that he turned down the role to begin with. Once he committed, he totally embraced it.
Robert Brinkmann: The minute he showed up on set, you knew he was a movie star. He was brilliant. He took this role that I don't think anybody else could have turned into what it was. Brendan inhabited that role in a way that you throw your disbelief out the window.
Pauly Shore: The better the actor is, the funnier the comedian is. I was able to be myself — my character — around him. And it’s all about his reactions to me. Brendan is so subtle. It made me kind of be not-subtle, which made it work even more, playing a little bit wacky.
Jerry Ketcham: He wasn't that social. Certainly not like Pauly and Sean Astin and us. It almost felt like he was living in that character during the shoot.
Pauly Shore: And as a person, Brendan’s a sweetheart. He loves to act. Like me.
Shawn Schepps: He lived in a different dimension. He was very interesting. He was very not-of-this-world. He was lovely. I sort of felt like, when I was talking to him, his mind was going.
Les Mayfield: He just owned the character. He thought of the nuances. He processed the world through the eyes of someone who had just basically been out of a coma. He had great ideas. I was super lucky to have him. He made my job a lot easier and made me look a lot better.
Pauly Shore was often the center of attention. Not only did his on-set presence seem indistinguishable from his MTV persona (“The Weasel”), he actually had MTV camera crews follow him around the set.
Pauly Shore: I was still filming MTV the whole time. No one had ever seen that before. It was like I was doing cross-marketing without anyone knowing I was doing cross-marketing. Obviously, I told Jeffrey. We talked all the time. I said, “Legally, I’m contracted to do my MTV show.” He’s like, “I understand.” “Well, we’re going to film it on the set. Because I have to film it. And why not walk around the set?” And he’s like, “Sounds good to me!”
Shawn Schepps: I didn’t get Pauly. I get him now. I think he was probably stoned most of the time, anyway. I liked him. He was really nice. He was just a weird dude.
Pauly Shore: I think every character I played in every movie that I’ve done is part of me. There’s definitely part of the Weas’ and part of my persona interwoven with the character of Stoney.
Dan Halsted: There was a lot of giggling on set. Pauly would improvise and just be a clown, which he was. It was hard to make our days because he was just all over the place, improvising — in a good way.
Jerry Ketcham: Pauly was always goofing. When I first met him, he was doing, “Hey… wheez the juice, man,” whatever. He would talk kind of like his finger’s in my face. He was new to movies, too. I said, “I’m assistant director. I’m the one that will try to get you time off when you need it. Try not to have you on set before you need to be.” When he realized I was like the responsible person on the set, he dropped that whole persona [with me].
George Zaloom: I think we were just worried he was going to be too shticky. But he wasn’t. He created this new character that obviously worked so well.
Pauly Shore: There was no “wheez the juice” before I was involved in that film. It was a slushy machine scene. And they would have said “Don’t touch the slushy!” if I wasn't there.
Les Mayfield: I think we had a whole reference sheet [of Pauly Shore’s slang words], for the crew.
When asked which scene was hardest to shoot, sources point to the scene where Link commandeers a driver’s ed course — and the roller coaster sequence.
George Zaloom: We did some stunts where we had a car going up on two wheels at the high school. They take the air out of the tires pretty much on one side and then you go up on a ramp really fast. There was like one guy in Hollywood who could do that.
Jerry Ketcham: There was a guy that had a specialty of driving cars on two wheels. I remember the guy we hired looked like he was 80 years old. We slapped a wig on him to be like Brendan. I always thought, “Boy, we have to be careful of our camera angle.”
George Zaloom: I remember we put Pauly in the roller coaster. We had to shoot that scene four or five times. By the fifth take, he was, like, green. And throwing up. I was like, “Pauly, I think we need one more shot.” He was like, “Dude, just get a stunt person! I’m not going back.”
Encino Man (or California Man, as it was retitled in some foreign markets) opened on May 22, 1992, just a few months after shooting wrapped. Despite scornful reviews — the Washington Post declared it “less funny than your own funeral” — it was a box office hit. Thanks to a Pauly-heavy TV campaign and some overt comparisons to Wayne’s World, Encino Man earned back its entire $7 million budget in opening weekend alone.
George Zaloom: The premiere was at Disney’s Florida studio. They flew us all down there for, like, a fake premiere. They only would pay for one limousine. So they would put one star in the limousine, drive ’em from the hotel, drop ’em off, get out — there’s a big crowd waiting to see everybody. Then the limousine would turn around, go back, get the next person. They just kept going until they got everybody. It was like, couldn’t you get maybe two or three?
Les Mayfield: I was at home the Friday afternoon of the opening. I was listening to the radio and they played our [theme song] from Vince Neil. They played it over and over. I thought that was so odd and so interesting: Maybe people will watch this thing!
Jerry Ketcham: The title didn’t travel well. They had to rename it in other countries because nobody knew what Encino was.
George Zaloom: We came out No. 3 or No. 4 for the weekend. Disney was like, “Holy shit, it's amazing what you guys did.” It was a great opening weekend. And we stuck around for the rest of the summer. I think we made close to $45 million, gross box office receipts.
Dan Halsted: The thing I remember most was just how it launched Les and George’s careers as young filmmakers. It was a perfect first movie for them.
Les Mayfield: It definitely was a game-changer for George and I. We were given a contract at Disney. Big offices. It was a crazy ride.
Robert Brinkmann: It was just the right zeitgeist. When that film came out, [Pauly] became huge and it was a big hit and people were really responding to it in a way I would have never imagined beforehand.
Pauly Shore: Any actor would be lying if they said they don’t care what critics say. I’m sure I took it personally. And I took it wrong. That was just the beginning of what critics said about me. It was the beginning of the onslaught of critics coming after me.
George Zaloom: I had heard these stories: “If your movie does well, be prepared. You could get a huge payday.” I think it was a week or two after the movie came out. We get this call: “Jeffrey wants to see you upstairs.” And he’s like, “Guys. Got to tell ya, you nailed it.” We’re like, “Ah, gee whiz. Thank you, Jeffrey!” He was like, “Guys, I got a little surprise for you.” I’m thinking, “Is it a hundred thousand? Is it a million? Maybe it’s a car.”
Jeffrey gets up, opens the door. And it’s Goofy! Like, Goofy from the park strollers. Jeffrey’s like, “Hey, Goofy!” And Goofy gives him a nod, and this big white hand pats Jeffrey on the head. He’s like, “Guys. Goofy has something for you.” And from behind his back, [Goofy] whips out two envelopes. They’re super thick. It’s like one of those mob movies where they slide the envelope full of cash over the table. I’m like, “Thank you, Goofy. Thank you so much.”
I took the envelope and I put it in my pocket. Jeffrey’s like, “No, no, come on. Open it up.” “OK. We’ll open them up.” It’s got to be hundreds of thousands of dollars. I open it up and I pull the money out. It's Disney dollars! The look on my entire face — I was like, “It’s Disney dollars!” He was like, “Yeah, you can spend these at the park!”
Les Mayfield: I still have a few of them in my drawer here. I swear to God.
George Zaloom: Right after that, they hired us to be the executive producers of The Wonderful World of Disney. Put us to work, just churning out one TV remake of Disney classics after the next. I think that was the greatest time I ever had.
Although School Ties had been filmed first, Encino Man beat it to theaters and made Brendan Fraser a star. School Ties was the movie he had poured his heart into. In the fall of 1992, Fraser promoted the latter heavily and told an interviewer he was “happy to be seen in School Ties to prove that I can do more things than grunt, rub sticks together, and ogle Valley girls.”
Yet School Ties was a box office bomb. Encino Man, meanwhile, set the template for Fraser’s most recognizable archetype: the naive, good-hearted stranger, clueless and innocent, plopped into society from a distant era.
Les Mayfield: To me, what's fun about [Fraser’s performance] is that he demonstrated this fundamental human kindness from the least likely character. After drinking out of the gutter and eating frogs in science lab, at the end of the day, this guy had some fundamental kindness that he could share with the audience, with his friends.
Robert Brinkmann: He sort of created this Disney niche for him. With George of the Jungle as well. Cartoonish characters never work for me unless they're rooted in this common humanity.
Encino Man proved so popular that Fraser reprised the character in brief cameos in Shore’s subsequent movies for Hollywood Pictures: 1993’s Son in Law and 1994’s In the Army Now.
Dan Halsted: It's a sweet film. It still holds up. And it started a three-movie deal that we did with Pauly. We did Son in Law, which was pretty fun. And In the Army Now, which was Pauly in the army. It was kind of like our version of an Ernest series. We called it the “dumb white guy” movies.
Pauly Shore: [After Encino Man], we went into Son in Law, which was actually a bigger hit for me because that was more mainstream. Encino Man was more MTV audience and more [for] the teens. Son in Law was more, like, the world.
Dan Halsted: [jokingly] You can say I have the unfortunate legacy of making three Pauly Shore films. I unleashed three Pauly Shore films on the universe. [laughs]
“I have the unfortunate legacy of making three Pauly Shore films.”
Pauly Shore: Despite what the critics said years ago, people know I put my heart into those films. That’s why people constantly come up to me, to this day, emotional about my films. “Oh, my dad was dying of cancer and we watched Son in Law” — I mean, it doesn’t stop. And the “wheezin’ the juice” is stuck in the ether.
George Zaloom: I think the movie, all told, is close to $100 million in worldwide revenues — Encino Man Halloween masks and whatever shit they sold.
Pauly Shore: I was on Joe Rogan a couple years ago. And I said sometimes I look at my old movies and I get sad. He said, “Why do you get sad?” I say, “Because that was probably the happiest time in my life.”
More recently, there have been rumors of a new sequel to Encino Man…
Pauly Shore: I know Disney+ is talking about possibly doing the sequel. If they want me to do it and the script was right and Brendan and Sean were on board and it made sense, I would do it for the fans! It’s what George has been working on. So ask him about it.
George Zaloom: If you ask me “Is there going to be another Encino Man?” — I don’t know! I'm not going to say yes. I’m not going to say no. We may be pleasantly surprised.
Thirty years later, Encino Man remains a cult classic, a career peak for Pauly Shore, and a nostalgic touchstone for anyone raised in the VHS era.
Pauly Shore: I know Dave Grohl lives in Encino and every time he sees me, he’s like, “Dude, I’m Encino Man!”
Robert Brinkmann: Look, every film student is out there wanting to make The Godfather. And then you work on Encino Man, and all of a sudden that’s what people respond to. And you go, “Oh! That’s not what I thought I was going to be doing. But I’m happy they like it.”