Elf was an instant hit when it opened in theaters in November 2003, earning over $220 million in global receipts. Maybe more importantly, it earned a perennial place in people's homes at Christmas. But its current spot as the go-to holiday movie wasn't written in stone when the movie went into production. It took hard work, luck, and just a little bit of magic to make Buddy the Elf everybody's favorite holiday helper.
Jim Carrey could have been Buddy
The writers of Elf finished the first draft of the movie’s script a decade before it finally came out. Back then, Jim Carrey was Hollywood’s go-to funny guy, so he was approached to play the story’s main character.
But by the time the film finally went into production, the actor had moved on to other things; he had solidified his place as one the biggest stars in the world. He'd also scored his own holiday movie: How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
Elf was a love letter to New York
David Berenbaum wrote Elf after relocating from New York to Los Angeles. Christmases look very different on the West Coast, of course, and the writer was nostalgic for the classic Christmas feel of New York in December.
“It hits hardest at Christmastime when it’s 105 degrees out here [in Los Angeles],” Berenbaum told Variety in 2018. “It was very comforting to write a Christmas movie when you miss the snow, and there’s a heatwave outside.”
Zooey Deschanel was not the first choice for Jovie
Zooey Deschanel eventually secured the role of Jovie, the love interest for Will Ferrell's Buddy. But if the makers of Elf had got their way, the character would have been played by another actor.
“I went in as a backup,” Deschanel told Variety. “The person they cast couldn’t do it. A lot of the parts I got early in my career, I was filling in for someone else who had dropped out last minute.”
Deschanel didn’t like Jovie’s blonde hair
If you've seen Deschanel in other movies and TV shows, you'll know she doesn't usually have blonde hair like she does in Elf. The actress wasn't a fan of the look herself — even though it was her own fault for inspiring the hairdo!
“What is funny is I had dyed my hair for a screen test for a movie that never happened,” she explained to Variety. “I had a meeting for Elf while I was blonde, and I asked them if I could dye my hair back to brown. They said, ‘No, we want you to look the way you did in your audition.'”