The movie was adapted by Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and David Lynch from the book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Sir Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu. It was directed by Lynch. For artistic reasons it was shot in black and white.
It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (John Hurt), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Score, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
The Elephant Man's name was Joseph, not John, Merrick. When Frederick Treves wrote his memoir, he referred to him as John. Why Treves changed the name is unclear.
The makeup for John Hurt was made from casts of Merrick's body, which had been preserved at the Royal London Hospital.