Donald Sutherland insisted on performing his own stunts in the film's climax. His scenes at the pod factory were filmed without harnesses or nets. In the shot of a fireball erupting from the factory, Sutherland barely missed it. However, an extra missed his cue and was seriously injured from the explosion.
The leather half-glove that Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) wore was deliberately used for the sole purpose of making the character more distinctive and recognizable. Nimoy got the idea from a friend who wore it to cover a burn on his hand.
Harry, the homeless banjo guy's banjo playing was performed by Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia. The song being played (and sung), is the traditional "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad," which is a regular tune played by The Dead in live performances, and appears on several live albums.
(At around one hour and twenty-four minutes) During the taxi ride, Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams' nervousness is genuine. Don Siegel had lost much of his vision, and was driving through the dark streets of San Francisco without his glasses.
Among the sounds Ben Burtt used for the pod growing scene, the heartbeat came from an ultrasound recorded on his pregnant wife. The pod screams were recorded pig squeals. Additionally, the natural diegetic sounds (crickets, birds chirping) fade as the film progresses, until only mechanical sounds (sirens, the garbage trucks) are heard.
Matthew's story and joke goes as follows. The British are trapped in the Sahara and are surrounded by the Germans. One day, an officer makes an announcement: "I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, we have no food but camel poop. The good news is, there is plenty of it."
The night after the movie's release, someone put pods, like those in the movie, all over the streets of Los Angeles. Some people got so freaked out, that they thought they were real, and called the police.
At the beginning of the film, as the alien spores rain down on Earth, you see them presumably landing on the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, the headquarters of what was then the parent company of United Artists, which produced this movie.
Brooke Adams challenged Donald Sutherland to a foot race during one of the film's many chase scenes. After Philip Kaufman yelled "Cut!", they just kept going. Adams won, in a dress and high heels no less.
During the mud bath scene, a man suggests that Nancy read a book titled "Worlds In Collision" by Immanuel Velikovsky. The book was published in 1950 and spent eleven weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. However, the book was met with overwhelming rejection of its thesis by the scientific community.
(At around one hour and twenty-three minutes) The taxi that Matthew (Donald Sutherland) and Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) got into has a telephone number of (415) 673-1414, and is called DeSoto cab. The cab company is real, and that is their telephone number.
In his book Danse Macabre, Stephen King wrote of Kaufman's superlative, terrifying San Francisco-set remake of the Don Siegel classic: "There is a moment in that film which is repulsively horrible. It comes when Donald Sutherland uses a rake to smash in the face of a mostly formed pod. This 'person's' face breaks in with sickening ease, like a rotted piece of fruit, and lets out an explosion of the most realistic stage blood that I have ever seen in a color film. When that moment came, I winced, I clapped a hand over my mouth . . . and wondered how in the hell the movie had ever gotten its PG rating."
In the film when Donald Sutherland is running to the ship, you hear the song "Amazing Grace"; in the film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn" during Spock's funeral, Scotty is playing Amazing Grace on his bagpipe.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Only Philip Kaufman, W.D. Richter, and Donald Sutherland knew how the film was going to end. Veronica Cartwright was not told that Sutherland's character had been captured and became an alien. When they filmed the ending in front of San Francisco City Hall and Sutherland pointed to her, imitating the pod scream, Cartwright's reaction of cold fear is authentic. Kaufman chose not to shoot the hopeful alternate ending (which was in the shooting script), where Matthew and Nancy give reassuring glances to one another--because he did not want to give the studio an opportunity to re-edit the film, which is what occurred with Don Siegel's original.