“That scene in ‘The Purge’ where my kids, Mary’s kids, are in danger was really crazy for me, because I suddenly… I have my methods as an actor, so I went to the place of ‘If somebody came near my children, with bad intent?’”—Lena Headey.
Deft satire, overrated slasher flicks. Reception to the Purge franchise can vary greatly depending on who you talk to, but you can’t deny that the concept itself is pretty original. One day a year, where all crime is legal. Some of us might live on the edge and jaywalk, while others get up to activities that make it clear they just belong in jail. The Purge began as one film, but creativity—and maybe also money—led to two sequels and a prequel, The First Purge. Here are 42 terrifying facts about the Purge series.
Purge Series Facts
42. All American
Whether you agree with the messages or not, The Purge doesn’t shy away from issues of classism, since the wealthy can afford to protect themselves better come purge time—via home security systems, for example. Election Year also drives the point home further, parroting political talking points that many Americans will be familiar with. Although the issues are not isolated to the US, the familiarity and setting probably contributes to the fact that The Purge films rely heavily on domestic audiences for profits. The first film earned 72% of its profit from domestic audiences, the second earned 65%, and the third earned 66.8%.
41. Auspicious Start
All Purge films (with the exception of The First Purge), were created and directed by James DeMonaco, who directed his first film at the tender age of 11. That film, titled The Tragedy of Chico Gonzalez, was a stop-motion dark comedy about a drug dealer. DeMonaco was never personally involved in that kind of activity, but he says he grew up “two doors away” from an infamous drug dealer, who treated him well. DeMonaco says that as a student, he couldn’t help but internalize the sights and sounds of his interactions with the drug dealer.
40. Make the World Go Round
As alluded to before, one big reason for Purge sequels is the insane profit that the first film made at the box office. An initial $3 million investment yielded $89 million. The series as a whole has earned $315.4 million on a cost of $23 million.
39. Shots Fired
Producer Jason Blum hasn’t shied away from giving his thoughts on politics, especially as those thoughts relate to The Purge. Blum believes that The Purge could soon become a reality. Maybe it is no coincidence that The First Purge actually used some interesting imagery in its marketing, such as a poster featuring a red hat. Writer/director DeMonaco admitted that presidential debates influenced his writing for Election Year.
38. Small Screen
People might tune into The Purge for any attempts it makes at social commentary…or maybe they just want to see some carnage. A lot of us might not really think of how purging affects America the rest of the year, but Blumhouse studios has an answer for that. The film studio has a TV branch and is producing a show with ten hour-long episodes, that will take place on Purge night but use flashbacks to show circumstances leading up to the Purge. The show wants to delve further into what would lead people to actually participate in crime and violence when the big day comes. The show will air on Syfy on USA sometime in 2018 but details about an exact release date are sparse.
37. Going Strong
Every series hits a point where people grow tired of it, a point that should hopefully precede a graceful exit. The Purge doesn’t appear to be there yet, since each film has grossed more than the previous one, with $89.3 million for the first and $111.9 million for the second. The third film, The Purge: Election Year, stands at #1 in the series, with $118.5 million.
36. Light at the End of the Tunnel
Despite the series’ dark nature, DeMonaco has said that hope is meant to be a theme in his works, especially the third film. While the world may be a dark one, people are still fighting to make it better, such as the presidential candidate who ends the purge once she is elected.
35. Four’s Company
The Purge: Election Year was originally intended to be a prequel, like The First Purge. DeMonaco was interested in revealing the origin of The New Founding Fathers, the ruling totalitarian group that begins The Purge. However, Frank Grillo’s performance in Anarchy made the creative team reconsider since they decided that they wanted to continue with his story instead.
The Saw and Purge franchises sometimes draw comparisons since they share a studio and are both (relatively) low budget series that turn huge profits. DeMonaco has hope that the the Purge series could become as popular as Saw one day, continuing with even more sequels. However, he would want the series to retain some of its political ideology.
33. World Domination
The Purge series focuses on the US, and the third also included tourists traveling to the US specifically to take part in The Purge. However, DeMonaco has entertained the idea of the films going international. A studio head suggested that if the Purge is working in the US, other countries might wish to adopt it as well. DeMonaco has been pretty tight-lipped about verifying it but we might see the Purge travel across the pond at some point.
32. The Perfect Storm
Hurricane Katrina was actually another piece of the puzzle that solidified the idea for The Purge. A key part of the purge is the lack of government services, such as police and ambulances. The insufficient government response in New Orleans was another ingredient that led to a story of 12 hours of legal murder in America.
31. Blum and Gloom
The studio responsible for funding The Purge series has developed a rep as the go-to-studio for low-budget, high-profit films. Aside from The Purge series, Blumhouse Productions has also produced the Paranormal Activity series. Each Paranormal film took less than $5 million to make but grossed over $50 million. Let’s not forget Get Out, which is the highest-grossing original debut film of all time, with $157 million made from $4.5 million.
Although expectation of profit likely contributes to the sequels, DeMonaco has been adamant that he wouldn’t want to pursue a sequel if he didn’t truly believe in the story. Although he is not directing The First Purge, he is still writing it and is committed to maintaining creative control over the adaptations of his concept.
29. Helter Skelter
Some fans thought the outfits worn by the villainous purgers in the first film resembled those worn by Charles Manson’s cult, and they’re probably not far off. DeMonaco was obsessed with the Manson murders as a child and says that they still affect everything he writes.
While The Purge focused on a single home, The Purge: Anarchy expanded into the city. The director has stated he wanted the second film to be a mix of The Warriors and Escape from New York. DeMonaco is a big John Carpenter fan and looked to Escape from New York as a template for the second film.
27. Keep Your Friends Close…
In The Purge, the Sandin family is united, even if they may have their differences. In the original draft, the daughter wanted to kill her father. Universal sent DeMonaco back to the drawing board since they thought the script was too dark—although the rest of the violence was fine with them. This led DeMonaco to make the daughter’s boyfriend the one who wanted to kill Mr. Sandin. DeMonaco does admit that the boyfriend subplot was the weakest part of the film and was tacked-on because he couldn’t let go of the daddy-killing plotline.
26. Make It to Fake It
The Purge: Anarchy’s Shane and Liz weren’t just an onscreen couple, but a real couple that tied the knot a few months before filming began. Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez were dating four years prior to auditioning, which probably helped with chemistry when they read for their parts together.
25. Seinfeld: The Purge
That is actually the name of a play put on by LA’s UCB Theater. The play follows the same format of a Seinfeld episode, including the stand-up interludes, but takes place on the night of the Purge. In this production, Seinfeld wants to spend the Purge with a new flame while George plans to purge Joe Temple, who George believes is a Purge-racist. Sounds interesting, but nothing could make me endure Seinfeld.
Watching The Purge: Anarchy, Frank Grillo’s character reminded me of the Punisher—a lone wolf out for vengeance for the death of his family, who were killed by a drunk driver. Grillo’s character Leo Barnes, AKA Sergeant, was actually inspired by films like The Road Warrior and Death Wish, along with some ‘70s Clint Eastwood films for good measure.
Race and class can often intersect and DeMonaco wasn’t afraid to bring up both of those issues in his films. In the first draft of The Purge, James Sandin brings a cancer-riddled black man into his basement in order to kill him. Scenes in the rest of the series, such as a poor Hispanic man agreeing to let a rich white family murder him so his family can get paid, aren’t particularly subtle, but they do send a message.
22. Get My Good Side
Just like Black Mirror, The Purge tends to explore the worst side of human nature. Some view it as unrealistic that so many people would engage in crime, violent or otherwise if it is allowed. However, DeMonaco got plenty of inspiration from seeing the variety of death displayed on the news. Gun culture as a whole scares DeMonaco, making him realize there’s no need for a supernatural villain when we’re all killing each other anyway.
21. Church and State
The New Founding Fathers are portrayed as a religiously conservative group and that is no accident. DeMonaco is a big believer in secularism and fears what religion can lead people to when treated as an absolute.
The series is inspired by so-called “smuggler films” of the ‘40s and ‘50s. This time marked an era where studios were only interested in war films and cowboy films. Some directors played along, but also “smuggled” their own messages into their films, the same way the Purge series is a thriller with messages about classism, racism, and gun control. George A. Romero was also an inspiration since Dawn of the Dead famously used zombies to criticize consumerism. DeMonaco says some people might miss the messages—if they’re completely clueless, I guess—but if they can get some of the audience talking about issues they wouldn’t normally talk about, it’s a win.
The first The Purge film focused on a group of rich people who wanted to purge someone of a different class, sending the message that the purge was an evil thing. The second film, with the character of the Sergeant, introduces a character who only wishes to purge the drunk driver that killed his family, introducing the question of whether some purging is justified. DeMonaco said there was more dialogue concerning this debate, but test audiences felt that it was too preachy. Additionally—spoiler alert—10% of test audiences hated the Sergeant’s decision not to kill the drunk driver at the end of the film.
A film can usually take years to make due to pre-production (writing, casting), production (filming) and post-production (sound editing, special effects, etc.). The Purge: Anarchy took one year from writing straight through to the end of post-production. DeMonaco said he didn’t feel like the film was rushed but still admits the timeline was a difficult one.
One of the major influences on The Purge: Anarchy was Dog Day Afternoon, a crime film about Al Pacino’s character being locked in a bank. Like a bank, DeMonaco treated the city like a prison of sorts, an “enclosed space” from which his characters must escape. The space becomes a “pressure cooker” that forces the characters to test themselves.
16. Expanding Horizons
A trip to France put everything into perspective for DeMonaco. Compared to America, very few people had guns and there wasn’t as much gun violence. DeMonaco came across the same thing visiting Canada. DeMonaco then got the idea for his film to be a critique of America’s “obsession with guns and violence.”
15. Thanks, Honey
Wives are often stereotyped as nurturing and caring, but DeMonaco actually credits his wife for planting the seed for The Purge. The couple were driving in Brooklyn when a drunk driver cut them off, nearly killing them, according to DeMonaco. DeMonaco ended up tangling with the drunk driver, wrestling him to the ground by the time police arrived. Once DeMonaco was back in his car his wife said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could have one free one a year?”
14. Red Tape
Some of the scenes for The Purge: Election Year were actually shot in DC, which led to more red tape than DeMonaco was used to. Due to DC’s status as a stronghold for politicians, police were much more thorough when searching all of the fake weapons and also more strict when it came to time constraints for filming. There were some scenes that literally had to be filmed in less than five minutes for fear of losing a filming permit.
13. Across the Pond
The Purge takes some of its cues from British cinema, specifically director Peter Greenaway. The clothes that a rich group of people in Anarchy wear were inspired by the clothes worn in a Greenaway film during a hunting scene. As a British interviewer pointed out, the rich Americans were dressed how rich British people would dress to hunt pheasants.
12. I Love NY
The omnipresent class struggle in the Purge universe is mainly inspired by what DeMonaco has personally witnessed living in New York, with a particular emphasis on policing of minority communities.
11. Less Talking, More Listening
The protagonist of the first Purge film, James Sandin, was initially hated by test audiences because his worldview was a bit on the nose. Initially, Sandin says that his family will survive due to their wealth and the protection they can afford. Saying this out loud seemed to make audiences hate the character immediately, especially since these lines were uttered early in the film. By cutting the lines out, test audiences gave his character a more favorable rating, while still allowing the film to explore the character’s morality.
The main villain of the first Purge, listed as the Polite Leader, is arguably one of the best things about the film. Even reviews that skewer the film give him some credit. The actor, Rhys Wakefield, was actually was actually cast the day before shooting began. DeMonaco had an all-night casting session the day before and couldn’t find anyone he liked since they went “too big,” or overacted. DeMonaco gave Wakefield credit for giving the character the air of someone who is having fun since the character is basically experiencing his own version of Halloween.
9. Trouble in Paradise
The Purge: Anarchy initially had more development for married couple of Shane and Liz, featuring more on their backgrounds and their relationship. However, DeMonaco could “feel the air just going out of the room” during test screenings, making him realize pacing was more important for keeping his audience engaged. Apparently, we only have ourselves to blame if we thought the couple could have been more fleshed out.
8. Back Seat Driver
DeMonaco isn’t directing The First Purge but he is still writing, mainly to ensure the film doesn’t “go off the rails” from his original ideas.
7. Rave Reviews
Although the Sergeant returns in The Purge: Election Year, the film doesn’t actually delve into what has happened in his personal life since the second film. DeMonaco admits the part could have been played by another actor, but that he simply wanted Frank Grillo to be in the film due to the positive reception he received from the studio and audiences.
6. Culture Shock
By this point, it should be pretty obvious that the Purge creator has an interesting point of view that might clash with most people’s sensibilities. That is why many of the messages and images we see in the series are tamer versions of something else that DeMonaco wanted to bring to the big screen. DeMonaco has said: “Everything in these movies starts with this grand insanity and then gets pared down into something that, I guess, is palatable to the bigger audience.”
5. Light and Dark
Anyone remember Jack, the Robin Williams movie about a kid who ages unnaturally fast? DeMonaco wrote and directed that too, acknowledging that it was a shift from the darker material he started with and has become known for since.
4. Don’t Cop Movies Kids
It’s sometimes great when movies can inspire viewers to face a challenge or to believe in each other. Not so great when a psycho uses the movie as an inspiration for crime. In Indiana in 2016, Jonathan Cruz committed random acts of violence, including robbery and three counts of murder. Cruz later said The Purge inspired him. Incriminating evidence included a text sent to Cruz’s girlfriend, “U better go on Face book and watch da videos of me shooting people. I Purge every night now.” Horrifying spelling and grammar aside, Cruz definitely had issues.
3. Land of the Free
Do you know what you’d do if there was a real purge? Get your family together? Stand guard in your foyer with a shotgun? DeMonaco plans to go to Canada and take cover while waiting for the crazy Americans to let off steam.
2. Good Looking Out
The Purge has some historical parallels, such as the Roman festival of Saturnalia, a week of lawlessness that lasted from December 17 to 25 during Pagan times. DeMonaco’s dad also brought up an example that could get his son sued if he wasn’t careful. Star Trek’s “Return of the Archons” shows Captain Kirk and the Enterprise land on a planet ruled by a computer system. The computer would go down every day at 6 pm and its subjects would use that time to engage in all the debauched crime we are used to from the Purge films. DeMonaco doesn’t mind the comparison and says that he wants people to see the parallel. What a good sport.
1. The What Corner?
Although DeMonaco says he is all about creative control, it seems like he is able to accept his ideas getting shut down when they’re not so great. The original script for The Purge: Anarchy included a rape corner. We won’t get into the nitty-gritty details of what that concept entailed. The idea was rejected for the second film and DeMonaco said he wanted to fit it into the third film, but the studio vetoed that as well.