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Penned by Shane Black — then a 23-year-old Pittsburgh transplant and recent UCLA grad — and sold for an astonishing $250,000, Lethal Weapon was released on March 6, 1987, quickly grossing $120 million worldwide and spawning three sequels. On the 25th anniversary of the film’s debut, Black, who is currently writing and directing Iron Man 3, reflects on why the Mel Gibson-Danny Glover favorite hit the bull’s-eye with audiences.

“You go back to Sands of Iwo Jima: John Wayne’s this guy who goes into town and gets so drunk every night that his platoon has to carry him home. He was the hero, but he was completely screwed up. That’s what I wanted [Lethal Weapon’s) Riggs to be. … Eventually, people came around to the idea that one of the things that makes the movie special is that Riggs is not just a really good cop running around doing cop things; he’s a really damaged guy who’s a really good cop in spite of his problems. There’s a level beneath the stunts and the jokes that makes the movie successful, and Mel ?Gibson just responded to that character in a very powerful way.

We knew we had done all right with the movie, but it felt really great when we made more money our second weekend than we did in our first. That never happens. People latched on to the things we got right, and they were going back and taking friends.”