Head Canon in this context refers to background information for characters or storylines that were true for the creator but that information is not actually present in the finished product. It’s also known as the “Word of God”. Sometimes it’s important to how a writer approaches a character or story element but it doesn’t move the story forward so while it informed the approach and fits, there’s no actual evidence of it in the finished product. Therefore, even if the writer says it’s true, a reader or viewer is free to make up their own mind about its veracity because a finished story is open to interpretation based on just itself. This is not the same as an expanded universe type of story. For instance, in the Star Wars novels, Captain Phasma’s armor came from the melted down spaceship that Queen Amidala used to own. These are straight from the creators themselves.
Following are some really fascinating, great story elements that nevertheless were not included in the story so it’s not necessarily true, or “canon”. Let us know if we missed any good ones!
J.K. has revealed two pieces of head canon/secret backstory about Harry Potter in interviews. The first is that Headmaster Dumbledore was gay. She had a whole background for him in her mind but it didn’t get included in the Harry Potter books. It certainly makes sense but whether you accept it or not is up to you. I think it adds an interesting dimension to Dumbledore’s motivations and demeanor. Another piece of head canon she revealed was really more of her regretting that she had Ron and Hermione end up together, believing they wouldn’t realistically work well as a couple and that Harry and Hermione would have worked better. But too bad, because she wrote the books and approved the movies and it’s Ron and Hermione and that’s that!
In an interview on the set of Revenge of the Sith, Lucas explained that he believes the original trilogy and prequels are all being told from the perspective of R2-D2 documenting the events hundreds of years later into something called the Journal of the Whills. It makes a type of sense. R2 is fully built before episode 1 ever starts and never gets his mind wiped like C-3PO at the end of episode 3. Plus, R2 never makes a mistake and saves the heroes in every movie. But of course, now the movies are moving forward without Lucas at the helm and R2 isn’t playing as prominent a role. Since it never appeared in the movies, or even a comic book, it remains head canon.
Andrew Cartmel on Doctor Who
Andrew Cartmel was the script editor on Doctor Who during the Seventh Doctor’s run. He oversaw the stories and would come up with overall plans, in conjunction with the showrunner. In seasons 25 and 26, stories hinted that the Doctor may have been older than previously thought and also may have helped found his race’s time traveling technology. The writers were planning to potentially reveal that he was also known as The Other, a founding force in Gallifreyan society. However, the show was canceled after the 26th season so these hints and seeds never got properly explored in full.
Shinichiro Watanabe on Cowboy Bebop
The final episode of acclaimed anime series Cowboy Bebop seems to end with lead character Spike dying. But it isn’t 100% explicit so fans for years have asked what was intended. For the most part creator Shinichiro Watanabe has been vague to clarify this, allowing fans to reach their own conclusions and interpretation of the story. In one interview, he said (loose translation): “Did you see him die? I didn’t, he seemed like he was seriously lacking some sleep.” which implied Spike probably died. However, when promoting his recent show Space Dandy, he said in no uncertain terms that Spike survived.
Bill Murray and Harold Ramis on Groundhog Day
In Groundhog day, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors who wakes up on the same day no matter what he does and lives it over and over. Exactly how long he was there isn’t defined, though. Bill Murray has said he thinks Phil lived the same day for about 10 years but the director, Harold Ramis, has a wildly different idea. He thinks Phil was stuck in that day for closer to 10,000 years!
Morena Baccarin on Firefly
According to the actress, creator Joss Whedon had a backstory for her character, Inara, that was never explored before the series was canceled, but there are hints towards it. In the show, her character is obsessed with aging. In the pilot, when Reavers are about to board the ship, Inara grabs a mysterious hypodermic needle which in interviews Joss has said would not kill Inara but would kill others. The backstory is that Inara had a disease and was slowly dying. The medicine was prolonging her life.
George Miller on Mad Max
George Miller likes to give the characters in his Mad Max films a backstory even if it isn’t shown on screen. This includes the Doof Warrior in Mad Max: Fury Road. He told performer iOTA that warlord Immortan Joe had found the Doof Warrior hiding in a cave and took him under his wing. iOTA added to this, saying he believes when Joe found him, Doof was holding his dead mother’s head. Coaxed out into the world by Joe, he couldn’t leave his mother behind and cut off her face to wear it as a mask.
Frank Darabont on The Walking Dead
When Frank Darabont adapted The Walking Dead into an AMC show, he put something in the pilot episode that he intended to return to. When he was let go from the show somewhere during season 2, those plans never materialized. In the pilot episode, Rick Grimes is surrounded by walkers (zombies) in Atlanta and he hides in a tank. Turns out the tank isn’t empty. There’s a walker inside. And the actor playing that walker is Sam Witwer, who had previously appeared in Darabont’s movie The Mist. Darabont has said his intention was to later make an episode that really showed the initial fall of humanity to the walkers since that is skipped over with Rick, our viewpoint character, awaking from a coma weeks after things have fallen apart. The flashback would have starred Witwer as a soldier dealing with the fall.
Bob Gale on Back to the Future
Fans of Back to the Future have long wondered how Marty McFly, a teenager, became best friends with the much older, eccentric scientist Doc Brown. While it isn’t addressed in any of the trilogy, writer Bob Gale explained to Mental Floss how that happened. Gale said that Doc Brown’s reputation as a dangerous crackpot would have fascinated 13 or 14-year old Marty who snuck into Doc’s lab. Marty thought his experiments were cool and as they were both the black sheep of their family, they formed a quick friendship with Doc offering Marty a part time job at the lab helping with experiments and taking care of his dog.