When this film premiered at the 1986 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, reels three and four were sequentially reversed by Sundance staffer and IATSE projectionist David Nelson. Most critics and viewers said that they didn't notice the mistake in what they called an otherwise disappointing film. One of the filmmakers demanded that the incomplete premiere be stopped, and it wasn't rescheduled, the only such film in festival history to do so.
Burt Reynolds was considered for the lead. He was not able to perform in the movie, because of injuries he suffered on the set of City Heat (1984).
Writer David Himmelstein said that one day, he saw a row of television monitors playing political commercials for different candidates. He said the spots all looked the same to him, so he did research to find out why, and what he discovered, he put into the script.
Paul Newman was supposed to star in the film, but asked director Sidney Lumet if he could delay filming for a few months. Newman wanted to focus on his race-driving career during the summer, and did not want filming a movie to conflict with that. Lumet refused.
The film cast includes four Oscar winners: Denzel Washington, Julie Christie, Beatrice Straight, and Gene Hackman.
Andy Garcia, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Kurt Russell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis were considered to play Pete St. John.
This was Polly Rowles' first film since The Group (1966), which was also directed by Sidney Lumet.