In 2003’s Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey receives God’s phone number, but it turned out to belong to several other people in real life.
Early on in Bruce Almighty, there’s a scene in which Jim Carrey’s unfulfilled newsreader Bruce Nolan curses the heavens after a hectic day in his personal and professional life, only for God (Morgan Freeman) to suggest he takes the reins of creation and sees if he could do any better. Before that point though, Bruce is dodging God’s calls and he’s sent a phone number to call for a direct line to the Almighty – 776-2323.
The trouble is that people saw that phone number, which appears prominently on Bruce’s pager, and they decided to ring it up. While the producers of Bruce Almighty had checked that the number didn’t exist in Buffalo, New York, (where the film is set) reports of wrong numbers and prank calls emerged in Florida, South Carolina, Colorado, and other states across the country.
As you may know, there’s long been a contingency in place to stop exactly this kind of thing happening. Since the 1960s, telephone companies in the States have encouraged producers to use the 555 exchange, specifically in the range of 555-0100 to 555-0199, when they need to show a fictional phone number on screen.
This happened often enough by the 1990s that there’s a joke about it in 1993’s meta-action-comedy Last Action Hero, when film-hopping youngster Danny tries to convince 6-foot-tall Austrian detective Jack Slater that he’s in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie because all of the numbers in the Los Angeles phone directory start with 555.
Here in the UK, TV shows have a similar provision with the 07700 mobile area code, and with good reason – when a 2008 episode of Doctor Who prominently featured the TARDIS phone number, Ofcom estimated that more than 2,500 people attempted to ring the Tenth Doctor’s 07700 number after broadcast. It would have been a pain if someone had rang it up expecting some kind of message from the Doctor or Blink-style Easter egg.
Are you there, God?
On a much larger scale, Bruce Almighty didn’t do that due diligence. What’s more, it was a sizeable box-office hit, still Jim Carrey’s biggest box office attraction to date, and in the weeks and months after the film came to cinemas, there were reports of people around the US getting calls meant for God. Whether intentional or not, it’s one of the film’s cannier comic observations that if God had a voicemail service for prayers, it would be overwhelmed by American voices asking for stuff and so it went in real life.
The owners of these numbers were not thrilled. Victims of the filmmakers’ oversight ranged from Dawn Jenkins, a bemused glassmaker from Florida whose business received up to 20 calls asking for God per hour and wrote to Universal for compensation, to North Carolina pastor Reverence Bruce MacInnes, who found that callers asking for God weren’t as open to spiritual guidance as he’d hoped.
In an interview with SFGate, MacInnes recalled: “I told him if he was serious I would be happy to talk with him about God. I said if he wasn’t serious he could just hang up. He hung up.”
In response to these reports, the film’s distributor Universal Pictures apologised for the choice of number, changing it in home video and TV versions to the more generic 555-0123 number. Perhaps because of this, Universal also purchased a number for use in various films.
The New York area code number, 212-664-7665, has popped up in various Universal films since 2008, including Definitely Maybe and The Adjustment Bureau. You may also have seen it on the cover of that Titans Of Cult 4K edition of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World we mentioned last week, because it’s also Ramona Flowers’ number. We don’t know whether it’s her mobile or she’s using that subspace highway to pop back to New York when her landline rings – hipsters are weird like that.
More recently, producers who are savvier about Easter eggs and what-have-you have bought up real numbers to display in TV shows and movies and put something on the other end for fans to listen to. For instance, ScreenCrush editor Matt Singer reported that the number seen on the side of the T-800’s van in Terminator: Dark Fate takes you to a voicemail by Schwarzenegger (him again) for his character’s drapery company.
I called the phone number on the side of the van owned by Arnold’s Terminator (who works as a drapery salesman) in DARK FATE: pic.twitter.com/1TX94dWwU3
— Matt Singer (@mattsinger) July 8, 2020
Nowadays, you could imagine a film like this having a similar promotional stunt associated with it, but perhaps the filmmakers were a little naïve in this case.
In any case, with the God number issue fixed on later versions, none of the claimants took legal action against Universal. Meanwhile, Bruce Almighty did well enough to get a Carrey-less sequel, Evan Almighty, greenlit a few years later, but that’s a story for another time…
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