Secret History of Groundhog Day & ‘Immortal’ Punxsutawney Phil + Bizarre Facts About the Bill Murray Movie

GROUNDHOG DAY, Bill Murray, 1993.
Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Every year in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a little groundhog named Phil may or may not see his shadow and predict either six more weeks of winter or an early spring. Some wait with bated breath, hoping that spring is near. Have you ever taken a moment to discover where the tradition began and what sparked the popular Bill Murray film Groundhog Day? Let’s take a look at the history of the celebration and learn some interesting facts about the movie!

Of course, it is not scientific in any way to trust a groundhog’s shadow when predicting the weather but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining! The tradition is actually rooted in Europe. Celtic people would mark the midpoint between the shortest day of the year on the winter solstice and spring equinox. In the Celtic calendar, this time of year also celebrates the Christian holiday of Candlemas, when Joseph and Mary presented Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Bill Deeley presents Punxsutawney Phil to the crowd at Gobbler's Knob during the annual Groundhog day event February 2, 2003 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Phil, having seen his shadow, predicted six more weeks of winter

Archie Carpenter/Getty Images

People began watching animals to try to predict the upcoming weather, for instance, watching when the animals (like groundhogs) would come out of winter hibernation. Historians have even found reference to this tradition way back in a journal entry from 1841 from early German descendants who came to Pennsylvania. Many German settlers came to Punxsutawney and continued their Groundhog Day predictions. At one point, a groundhog was selected and named Phil and the folklore goes that it has been the same groundhog for many decades who drinks the “elixir of life” to continue to make his predictions each year.

Groundhog Day US poster art, Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, 1993

Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection

Groundhog Day got a resurgence of popularity in 1993 when the film of the same name came out. Groundhog Day stars Bill Murray as Phil, of course, who finds himself living the same day in repeat after visiting Punxsutawney to report on their groundhog and if he sees his shadow or not.

The movie was inspired by a book about vampires

Groundhog Day Bill Murray, 1993

Columbia/Everett Collection

While the film is obviously heavily inspired by the traditions of Groundhog Day, the idea of repeating the same day over and over was inspired by a book about vampires. Screenwriter Danny Rubin was reading a book called “The Vampire Lestat” and got thinking about immortality and came up with the idea for Groundhog Day. Harold Ramis was the director and added some more humor into the film, making it the comedy we know and love today.

Bill Murray wasn’t the first choice to play Phil

Groundhog Day Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, 1993

Columbia/Everett Collection

Rubin wanted Kevin Kline to play Phil while Ramis wanted Tom Hanks. Michael Keaton was also offered the role. Murray ended up being cast and nailed it. Murray’s brother appears in the film too. Brian Doyle-Murray plays Buster Green, the man who presides over the Groundhog Day festivities.

How long was he stuck in that time loop?

Groundhog Day Bill Murray, 1993

Columbia/Everett Collection

It isn’t ever explained in the movie and Ramis gave different explanations over the years before he died in 2014. He once said 10 years and another time said 30 or 40 years. In an early draft of the script, Rubin included that it was really 70 or 80 years. Can you imagine?!

If you’re in the mood to watch Groundhog Day on Groundhog Day, check out a semi-marathon on AMC on February 2, 2024.

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