The kanji lettering on Buckaroo Banzai's headband as he drives the jet car reads "seikatsu-bi", which appears to be Japanese, but does not make sense. The first two kanji mean living or lifestyle, but the second character, "bi" (not "bei" as has been reported elsewhere) or beautiful, does not add up to coherent Japanese. It seems to suggest the "beautiful life", but these three kanji together do not have a particular meaning in Japanese.
Jamie Lee Curtis played Buckaroo's mother in a flashback, but this scene was cut. The scene is available on the recent DVD release as an optional prequel to the theatrical version, and as a special feature. Jamie Lee Curtis is visible in a photo on the dashboard of the jet car in the wide-screen version.
John Lithgow's dialect coach, Roberto Terminelli, was actually a tailor on the 20th Century Fox lot with a heavy Italian accent. John had Roberto speak his lines from the script into a tape recorder, which he then used to practice the accent. John then got him credit in the movie as the dialect coach for his help.
In the original script, Buckaroo was supposed to have an archenemy named Hanoi Xan, who was never seen, but referenced to by Buckaroo and the other characters. All scenes containing dialogue regarding Xan were deleted from the film's theatrical release, but are now available on DVD. Xan was supposed to be the mysterious head of a crime syndicate called the World Crime League, and also the man who murdered Buckaroo's parents and wife Peggy.
When it came time to film the end titles sequence, where Buckaroo and pals are walking around a dry Los Angeles aqueduct in step to the music, the music wasn't ready. Composer Michael Boddicker told the film crew to use the song "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel as a placeholder, because it was the exact same tempo. Those scenes were filmed with "Uptown Girl" blaring from a boom box tied to the back of the camera truck.
Overall concept and several names appear to be taken from the Doc Savage pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s: both main characters are multi-talented surgeons, adventurers, and musicians; and both have an inner circle of sidekicks with nicknames (Renny, Ham, Monk, Long Tom, and Johnny, compared to Reno, New Jersey, Perfect Tommy, and Rawhide).
The end of the movie invites the viewer to watch for the upcoming film "Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League". This was the real title for a sequel that Sherwood Studios planned to make, if this film had been successful. Unfortunately, it was a box-office bomb, and Sherwood Studios went bankrupt. After its release on video and cable, however, the film became a cult favorite, much in the same way as Mad Max (1979) (which crawled from obscurity to spawn two sequels). Legal wrangling, due to the bankruptcy, prevented any other studios from picking up the sequel rights, and even many years later, MGM had to fight through a pile of red tape simply to get the OK to re-release it onto home video (DVD).
Many names and terms were taken from Thomas Pynchon's book "The Crying of Lot 49", most notably the company name Yoyodyne. To this day, there is a yoyodyne.com, which serves as a fan site for the film. "Yoyodyne" itself was Pynchon's thinly veiled reference to Rocketdyne, a major defense industry contractor and manufacturer of rocket engines, founded just after World War II to reverse-engineer German V-2 rockets, thereby also making this a further veiled reference to Pynchon's novel "Gravity's Rainbow".
The "jet car" shown in the film (reportedly a 1982 Ford F-350 pick-up truck) included an actual Cold War-era General Electric turbo jet engine that was borrowed from Northrop University in Inglewood, California.
In one scene, Reno refers to Orson Welles as "the guy from the old wine commercials". This is a reference to Welles' popular television commercials in the 1970s for the Paul Masson Winery (now known as Mountain Winery), where he used the slogan "We will sell no wine before it's time." In the early 1980s, Welles was fired from the advertising campaign after stating on a U.S. talk show that he never drank the company's wine.
The original director of photography of the film was Jordan Cronenweth, who famously shot Blade Runner (1982). The filmmakers specifically wanted their film to be rich in color and texture, for which Cronenweth was specifically known. However, several weeks into filming, producer David Begelman had Cronenweth replaced with Fred J. Koenekamp against the wishes of the crew, including director W.D. Richter, in order to give the film its campy, flat, visual appearance, which the filmmakers had never originally intended. Scenes shot by Cronenweth still remain in the final cut, including the famous nightclub scene featuring the line "Wherever you go, there you are."
According to Peter Weller, he had a particularly tough time filming the scene without laughing where Lord John Whorfin (Dr. Lizardo) is torturing Buckaroo with electricity, because it was the first time he had heard John Lithgow perform what Weller likes to refer to as John's "Italian/Martian accent".
Toward the end when they are sneaking around the Lectroid sleeping (bivouac) area, where one of the Lectroids goes to sound the alarm, stenciled in bright pink letters on the wall to the left of all those electrical circuit boxes is: FIND THE CROASHUE MISSING SERKIT. WIN A FREE TRIP TO PLANIT 10!.
Many of the lines given by Lord John Whorfin are misquotes of actual common phrases or quotes from famous people. For instance, "Home is where you wear your hat", as a corruption of, "Home is where you hang your hat." His line, "Character is who you are in the dark", is a corruption of Dwight Moody's quote, "Character is what you think in the dark." Other, similar lines include: "I feel so broke up, I want to go home" (from Sloop John B), "Persecute him without a quarter!" ("Pursue him without quarter!")
When John Whorfin calls collect for John Bigboote, he tells the operator he is calling "Grovers Mill". Grovers Mill was a real-life community in New Jersey, which was used in Orson Welles' famous radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds", and is now a part of West Windsor Township in Mercer county.
Banzai's mentioned but unseen foe Hanoi Xan seems to homage Hanoi Shan. In the genealogical section of Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (1973), Philip Jose Farmer added Hanoi Shan to the Wold Newton Universe. Hanoi Shan is an allegedly real-life criminal mastermind documented in the works of criminologist H. Ashton Wolfe. Farmer's thesis was to make Hanoi Shan the same individual as Sax Rohmer's totally fictional Dr. Fu Manchu.
During filming, John Lithgow was so humored by the improvisation by Christopher Lloyd that during the pre-launch scene in the spaceship at the end of the movie, he breaks up laughing on camera as he is putting on his helmet.
During the surgery on the Eskimo boy, Zweibel states how confused he was at a point before he called in Banzai. He mentions not knowing whether he was looking at the precentral vein, the vein of Galen, the basal vein of Rosenthal, or one of the internal cerebral veins. Buckaroo says when you get this far inside the head it all looks the same. In reality, all of those veins are in very close proximity and joined together, so it probably does look that difficult to distinguish one from another. There would indeed have to be some "normal variation" with most of those veins because the vein of Galen is significantly larger in diameter and hard to miss. Jeff Goldblum does a good job up to the point of pronouncing "basal vein of Rosenthal", making the first word sound more like "basillar" when it should be "bay-zil".
Buckaroo Banzai mentions in the press conference that atoms (and by extension all matter) is mostly empty space. This was proven by the team of Rutherford, Geiger and Marsden at the beginning of the 20th century with the gold foil/alpha particle experiment. They showed that atoms are a hollow shell of negatively charged electrons around a very small and dense positively charged nucleus.
Among the scribbles on Dr Lizardo's mental ward is "Il Duce!" This is a reference to Benito Mussolini, who was the fascist leader of Italy at the time of Lizardo's accident (1938). Mussolini was widely popular in Italy until he chose to side with Nazi Germany in World War II.
When Lizardo is torturing Buckaroo, there is a thick book on the table behind him. Its title reads Men of Earth, which could refer to the 1931 book, but it would be ironic if Lizardo used it to study about humans because it is just a collection of stories of 40 farmers.
The New Jersey license plate on the jet car reads "Rokit 88", a real treasure trove of information. The spelling of "rokit" comes from "rocket", and Rocket 88 was an Oldsmobile model equipped with a Rocket V8 engine, and considered the first muscle car. The car inspired an R&B song Rocket 88 recorded in 1951 by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, sometimes considered the first rock and roll song (a tribute in a way to Buckaroo's musical prowess). The sax riff beginning around thirty-nine seconds into the song is nearly identical to that in the bar scene. It would be fun to imagine that the license plate spelling was intentionally done with "i" instead of "e" so suggest it could also have been meant to sound like "rock it", for the music Buckaroo's band played. The jet car itself was powered by "electro-nuclear carburetion" (something as inventive as the Olds' Hydra-Matic automatic transmission) and appeared to be powered in the field experiment by a flaming jet engine similar to, but larger than, that on the Batmobile of comic fame. The BB symbol on the side of the vehicle is also shaped to resemble 88, instead of just the initials for Buckaroo Banzai.
New Jersey states that Orson Welles's infamous radio dramatization of War of the Worlds took place on Halloween of 1938, which is when the Electroids came through to Earth. Orson Welles's reading actually took place on Sunday October 30th 1938, the day before Halloween.
The complete list of names in the Grovers Mill Social Security database shown on screen is: (first column): John Wright, John Wood, John Camp, John Grim, John Many Jars, John Coyote, John Jones, John Chief Crier, John Rajeesh, John Littlejohn, John Starbird, John Small Berries, John Lee, John Kim Chi. (Second column): John Fish, John Joseph, John Cooper, John Omar, John Fledgling, John Roberts, John MIlton, John Barnett, John Nephew, John Guardian, John Ya Ya, John Two Horns, John Edwards, John Scott. There is also a John Parrot whose picture is shown, but his name isn't visible in the database.
In the opening rocket car sequence, the vehicle has a license plate that reads "Rockit 88." The 1951 record, Rocket 88, was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who were actually Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm. The record reached number one on the Billboard R&B chart. Many music writers acknowledge its importance in the development of rock and roll music, with several considering it to be the first rock and roll record. Ike Turner's piano intro to the song was later used nearly note-for-note by Little Richard in "Good Golly Miss Molly".