Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now often ranks among the greatest films ever made. The expertly crafted journey through war-torn Vietnam deals with many themes regarding armed conflict, American intervention, and the psychology of soldiers out in the field.
As the old saying goes, "one doesn't make an omelet without first breaking a few eggs," and anyone who has read up on the film's production can attest to the number of eggs cracked during filming. Apocalypse Now had a notoriously troubled shoot, resulting in a story as interesting as the movie. The following list will present ten incredible stories behind the making of this now-legendary film.
10 Martin Sheen Had A Heart Attack
Heart Attacks are bad enough if one is close to a hospital. Now imagine having one in the Philippines, a quarter-mile away from the nearest assistance. This was exactly the situation Martin Sheen found himself in when filming Coppola's project.
Despite the serious health scare, he kept it a secret from most people for fear of investors backing out. While recovering, his brother, Joe Estevez, replaced him for several scenes. It is virtually impossible to tell in which scenes Joe is acting instead of Martin, and Coppola admitted to not knowing as well.
9 It Created A Surfing Scene In The Philippines
Prior to the movie, surfing was a virtually unknown activity in the archipelago. However, locals observed members of the crew engaging in the sport. When filming wrapped, some of the surfboards were left behind and some Filipinos took it upon themselves to learn the craft.
Afterward, they taught others and a surfing community blossomed where it previously didn't exist. Not only that, but people made businesses along the coast dedicated to surfing, meaning the movie's production significantly contributed to the country's economy.
8 Laurence Fishburne
Apocalypse Now was only Laurence Fishburne's third film role. Becoming a part of such a prestigious production so early is impressive. It's made even more remarkable in Fishburne's case because he was just fourteen at the time of his casting.
A production typically wouldn't hire someone so young to play a soldier, but the actor lied about his age during the audition. By his admission, he's pretty sure everyone knew he was lying, but whatever he did ended up working. Had he not been cast, his career would probably be a lot different.
7 Marlon Brando
By the late '70s, Marlon Brando's physical appearance was a far cry from the hunky Stanley Kowalski who made women faint in theaters more than twenty years prior. Coppola was unaware of this, however, and was shocked to find the veteran actor severely overweight to play an experienced soldier.
To get around this, Brando was mostly filmed in shadows and from the waist up. This method of hiding his body ultimately proved to make the character more intimidating. For Brando's part, his performance, though brief, was considered a highlight of the film.
6 The Water Buffalo
People justifiably frown upon the maiming or killing of live animals for a film production. To ramp up tension for the climactic scene, Willard's infiltration of the encampment is interspersed with the real-life slaughtering of a water buffalo.
Coppola and his wife saw a similar ritual take place in real life, done by a local tribe. Doing it in a Hollywood film would typically be outlawed, but the shooting location allowed them to skirt regulations. Some are understandably conflicted about this scene, and it's hard to put up and argument saying the slaughter was justified.
5 The Antagonist's Name
When initially cast, Marlon Brando insisted on Colonel Kurtz's name being changed. In his eyes, an American soldier wouldn't have such a moniker. The character's name became Leighly for a short while.
However, after finally reading the novella on which the film is based, Brando reneged his demand and accepted the original name. The actor was notoriously difficult to work with, especially during this time in his career, but it was probably worth it, in the end, considering his landmark performance.
4 John Milius
Screenwriter John Milius is as interesting a figure as some of the stories he wrote. In the early seventies, he attempted to volunteer for the Vietnam war but was rejected because of his asthma. This fascination with war, coupled with a college professor once claiming it was impossible to adapt the novella Heart of Darkness, served as inspiration for his screenplay.
Milius was ultimately displeased with the final movie, however, claiming it removed much of his original messaging and "liberalized it." Coppola's work isn't a vehemently anti-war movie, making one wonder just what Milius had in mind with his screenplay.
3 The Opening Scene
The opening scene sees the main character, Benjamin Willard, going ballistic in his room. In one moment he punches a mirror, causing his hand to bleed profusely. Nothing is fake about the scene; Martin Sheen really hit the mirror and that's his real blood.
The actor was also drunk off his mind when filming, so he had little control over his actions. Drinking on the job is frowned upon, but an exception can be made if it heightens a performance.
2 Harvey Keitel
Harvey Keitel was initially cast as Willard and even filmed for a few weeks. Unfortunately, the director was dissatisfied with the performance after seeing the first bits of footage. He was then fired and Martin Sheen came in to play the part.
Sheen was the first choice, but could not commit at first due to prior obligations. It's honestly difficult to imagine Keitel in the role. Not that he isn't a talented actor, but perhaps it speaks more to how great Sheen is in the part.
1 George Lucas's Vision
Before Coppola got his hands on the project, visionary filmmaker George Lucas was interested in filming it. His ideas were even more radical than what Coppola eventually ended up doing. The future Star Wars creator wanted to shoot the movie with real soldiers in Vietnam at the height of the actual war.
For obvious reasons, this idea never got off the ground, but people can get an idea of how that may have turned out by watching Tropic Thunder.