The mid-nineties were awesome. Nickelodeon was just hitting its stride. The Soviet Union was no more. And a movie studio had just purchased the entire Kings Entertainment amusement park empire – with the intention of turning them into THEME parks.
With Paramount at the helm, the former Kings parks became valuable assets in terms of new shooting locations for films. Considering the advertising slogan at the time, “Where the magic of the movies meets the thrills of a lifetime” – it would only make sense that a feature film would eventually be made inside one of Paramount’s parks.
And in 1994, that’s exactly what happened at Great America. Coincidentally, a film was being pitched to the major L.A. studios at the same time. Essentially, it was “Die Hard,” but at an amusement park. Paramount looked to their stable of franchises to see if the concept would work, and they found their answer with, “Beverly Hills Cop 3.”
The film is all but forgettable when it comes to plot – and its effect on the cinema landscape is minimal at best. In fact, it only has a 10% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was also a flop at the box office, losing $8 million domestically. It eventually made money after being released worldwide – but was still the least successful of the three “Beverly Hills Cop” films.
However, if you’re a fan of California’s Great America…it’s a literal time capsule into the Santa Clara park at the beginning of the Paramount-era. The scenic railway is still there, Vortex is still green! But arguably, the most memorable scene in the film features one of the most beloved attractions to ever grace the Great American skyline.
In it, Axel attempts to escape pursuing Wonder World security guards by jumping onto “the Spider” a large, three-armed Ferris Wheel that us locals know better as the “Triple Wheel.” (Gurnee fans know it as the “Sky Whirl”) However, one of the ride cabins begins to come loose, with two young children trapped inside.
Axel somehow exits his locked cabin, (through the magic of Hollywood) and slides down to the hub of the ride. From there, he ascends up the other arm, rescues the children and rappels down to the ground, just moments before the cabin smashes down.
Sharp eyed viewers will spot famous film director, George Lucas in this scene as well.
As for the Triple Wheel, the constant starts and stops required to get these exciting scenes may have contributed to the ride’s early demise. The attraction was designed to run continuously throughout the day – and the necessary re-takes and repositions were hard on both the hydraulics and motors. The Triple Wheel was dismantled after the 1997 season, to make way for Invertigo, which itself was removed after the 2011 season.
Currently, the site of the ride remains empty, however it is used for “Friday Night Flicks” during the summer.
While the rumor mill is always churning out stories about new attractions coming to this area – long-time fans of both Great Americas always hold out hope that someday, they’ll round Hometown Square and hear that unmistakable whine in the park once again: