There have been several movie productions in history that have been marred by troubling situations, whether they be environmental catastrophes or wild animals. Filmmaking is an extremely difficult task, and before the implementation of computer generated imagery, bringing spectacles to life took a certain amount of risk.
Most of this list will cover productions that were stunted because of a lack of knowledge of the area of the world that the filmmaking teams were hoping to capture, or a general lack of concern for the safety of both the casts and crew. Another portion of this list will cover the great lengths that directors will go to, and put their crew through, to achieve a desired result on film.
It's hard to think of a time when creators were forced to brave the elements to capture the same kind of magnetic setting that filmmakers can today with a green-screen backdrop. Many of the movie sets presented here were truly tragic for the filmmakers and their crew, but it's important to remember these productions because they had an impact on the history of film as a whole.
Here they are, the 15 Most Dangerous Movie Sets Ever.
One of the most popular films of all time, James Cameron's blockbuster sensation Titanic hit theaters on December 19th, 1997, and it was the most expensive film ever made at the time, with a production budget of $200 million. But that insane amount of money was clearly not enough to ensure the safety of the director's leading actress and a large portion of his crew (though that was probably their own fault).
Actress Kate Winslet actually caught pneumonia when she opted out of wearing her recommended wet suit under her costume, and she almost drowned while filming one of the sinking scenes in the film.
Even crazier than that, 50 members of the staff and crew working on the film consumed a batch of clam chowder that had been laced with PCP, and while there weren't any casualties because of this, there were a bunch of anxious crewmates aboard the RMS Titanic.
14 Top Gun
Without a doubt the most hyper-masculine modern film classic, this aviation-centered spectacle hit theaters in 1986, and is still enjoyed around the world, even 30 years later.
It should serve as little surprise that the vast amount of aviation stunts shown throughout the film would serve as a breeding ground for some productions troubles. During one key scene in Top Gun, pilot and aerial cameraman Art Scholl put the plane he was piloting into a full spin while attempting to capture the perfect shot. Unfortunately, he lost control of the plane and crashed into the ocean below.
Search parties were sent out after him, but his body was never recovered. He remains a missing person, even to today.
13 The Wizard Of Oz
It's pretty horrific that one of the most treasured and beloved technicolor fantasy adventures would be rife for some truly disastrous production troubles.
The Wizard of Oz was a real slog for the cast and crew behind the eventual classic. The original Tin Man, Buddy Epsen, had to drop out of the role because the silver paint gave his some pretty serious respiratory problems. And his replacement, Jack Haley, didn't fare much better, as he suffered an eye infection while filming.
The actors who portrayed the flying monkeys suffered a pretty serious fall when the winch keeping them afloat snapped, and they plummeted to the ground.
Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played the Wicked Witch, suffered awful burns when a pyrotechnic explosions got too close to her face and it negatively reacted to her makeup.
And perhaps scariest of all, Terry, the dog that played Toto, got stepped on and almost died.
12 The Passion Of The Christ
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was an interesting retrospective on the life of the Son of God, and the actor who portrayed Jesus, Jim Caviezel went through some pretty tragic circumstances because of his inclusion.
Besides the toll that the role took on his future career in Hollywood, Caviezel was subjected to severe physical torture while filming. He was whipped twice by accident by a member of the crew, which left a 14-inch scar on his back. He dislocated his shoulder while carrying the 150 pound cross (Gibson loves historical accuracy), and he caught hypothermia while filming at night in Italy. And worst of all, he was actually struck by lightning during filming.
When it was all said and done, Caviezel actually had to have heart surgery after filming wrapped.
11 The Omen
One would think that working on a horror film titled The Omen might bring about some bad luck for all participants involved. The cast and crew involved suffered three different lightning strikes mid flight, and a hotel that the producers of the film were staying in was bombed by the IRA, as well as a restaurant that the filmmaking team was scheduled to visit.
A plane that was supposed to be used no set was re-commissioned as a commercial airliner, and it ended up crashing and killing everyone on board.
The creepiest circumstance of all was when special effects consultant John Richardson got into a car crash that killed his assistant. As Richardson emerged from the wreckage, he saw a road sign that read, "Ommen, 66.6k"
10 Apocalypse Now
As Colonel Kurtz slowly began to lose his mind, so did Francis Ford Coppola during the filming of the war masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. The film itself was troubled from the beginning, due to its massive budget and crazy shooting schedule. The movie was even further delayed when Typhoon Olga hit and completely destroyed the sets.
At the time of filming, there was actually a civil war taking place in the Philippines, meaning that every crew member had to be accompanied by a bodyguard to ensure their safety.
Dennis Hopper was a notable standout, as he began to crack under the filming process, stating that he would require cocaine before shooting any of his scenes. Lead actor Martin Sheen actually had a near-fatal heart attack on set, and had to travel a quarter of a mile to find help.
9 Twilight Zone: The Movie
Twilight Zone: The Movie is famous in the history of Hollywood, but for almost entirely the wrong reasons. While the film itself was faithful to the classic sci-fi series that it followed, it was also forever tarnished by a truly tragic accident.
On July 23rd, 1982, a freak helicopter accident lead to the deaths of actor Vic Marrow and two child actors, who were later identified to be working illegally. The accident was caused when a pair of pyrotechnics were let off too close to the in-flight chopper which forced the pilot to make an impromptu crash landing. Morrow and the children were struck by the chopper blades and killed instantly.
Director John Landis and the members of his crew were acquitted of manslaughter, and no one was found culpable for the three deaths. This tragic accident lead to some pretty stringent tightening of health and safety laws regarding movie sets.
8 Hell's Angels
Howard Hughes was a brave, daring, and exploratory filmmaker who was always attempting to push the boundaries of what mankind was able to accomplish. Unfortunately for his cast and crew, he often sacrificed health and safety to secure his vision. His exciting World War 1 epic, Hell's Angels, has some of the most awe-inspiring flight sequences ever captured on film, and this was all accomplished only 30 years after the Wright Brothers first took flight.
There were several fatalities that occurred under Hughes' supervision, including three pilots and a mechanic who were killed while working on the movie. Hughes himself was almost killed when he crashed the aircraft he was piloting in an attempt to film a steep pullout. He left the wreckage with a fractured skull, and was forced to undergo facial reconstruction surgery.
For anyone who's seen the 1959 masterpiece, Ben-Hur, it should come as no surprise that the chaotic chariot racing film had its fair share of traumatic production experiences. 1000 independently contracted workers slaved tirelessly for over a year to carve the famous chariot racing arena from a giant rock quarry.
The chariot race itself was a high-speed death race that proved to be a real threat for the stunt men brave enough to risk being trampled by dozens of horse hooves. Stuntman Joe Canutt was tossed into the air on accident, and he cracked his chin on the chariot. That shot is actually still in the film, as it was used to create the exciting set-piece where Tony Curtis climbs back up his horse.
Fitzcarraldo is the ultimate example of a director going way too far to bring his vision to life. Director Werner Herzog crafted a story in which a 320-tonnes steamship would travel over a steep hill in Peru in order to reach a new mine of resources downstream.
Without a wealth of special effects back then, Herzog attempted to stage this for real. Several crew members were injured while staging the lift, and the lead actor of the film was constantly bringing up the fact that it all seemed entirely pointless, which angered the natives working on the production.
Herzog even later recounted that the native Chief, in all seriousness, offered to kill the actor to keep things running smoothly. Luckily Herzog had some semblance of restraint.
5 The African Queen
This adventure film was actually shot on location in The Congo and Uganda, Africa, which of course lead to its own complications for the filmmaking team. Exposing themselves to the harsh conditions present in the story meant that the filmmaking crew was ill prepared for the kind of hardships they would face so far from home.
At the time, shooting in Africa wasn't very common, and due to the crew's lack of preparation and forethought, they were exposed to harsh heat, poor nutrition, and dysentery.
Director John Huston and lead actor Humphrey Bogart were the only ones to avoid illness, due to their strict dedication to only drinking imported whiskey during the process, instead of consuming the local water that plagued the rest of the crew.
This 1981 thriller was the perfect case of a filmmaking team not understanding the importance of having trained animals, and their trainers, available.
The story for Roar revolved around a private zoo, and the filmmaking team decided to use a number of legitimately dangerous animals on set during filming. As a result, over 70 members of the cast and crew were severely injured. While none of these injuries proved fatal, several of them required some enhanced surgical work. The medical staff on hand had to use hundreds of stitches to repair most of the crewmembers, who had injuries ranging from bites, maulings, broken bones, scalpings, and some cases of gangrene.
It's stories like these that make everyone happy that CGI is so easy to use today, or Life of Pi may have had some life-threatening stories as well.
3 Noah's Ark
Supposedly, the filmmaking duo of Darryl F. Zanuck and Michael Curtiz were attempting to follow up the incredibly popular and well revered Ten Commandments with a film following the story of Noah.
In an extreme sense of stubbornness, the filmmaking team wanted to maximize realism, and re-enacted a life-sized flood across the entire set they had built, they ended up using over 600,000 gallons of water. Unfortunately, the vast amount of water overwhelmed the crew and three people working on Noah's Ark drowned.
This eventually lead to the implementation of stricter regulations for stunt safety for both men and women. This unfortunate event can even be seen in the film itself, as the filmmaking team decided, for some reason, to use this shot in the final cut.
2 The Conqueror
This film has one of the most controversial and widely talked about instances of crew safety being jeopardized. The production of The Conqueror ultimately lead to the belated death of forty-six crew members due to widespread radiation poisoning that was exposed to them while on set for the film.
The film was shot near St. George, Utah, and it was just downwind of a nuclear testing site in the area. Due to false reassurances by the local government, the filmmaking team was allowed to continue production, which lead to a large majority of the crew developing cancer.
The most famous death possibly associated with this film was that of American movie star, John Wayne, who had his own fair share of smoking habits to boot.
1 The Viking
The production of The Viking was actually relatively straight-forward compared to most of the films on this list, until the very end of principal photography.
In an effort to secure some more environmental footage, director and producer Varick Frissell took a large majority of the crew on board a ship to join a large scale seal-hunting expedition. Unfortunately for the crew involved, the ship itself was packed with ice-shattering explosives. At one point in the filming process, the explosives were compromised and unexpectedly detonated. Twenty-seven people onboard were killed, including Frissell himself.
It just goes to show, that even with the proper precautions, freak accidents can occur, and it's important to remember that a film, no matter how culturally or universally significant, is not worth risking people's lives over.
These are some pretty horrendous stories, but it is important to realize that many of these disasters lead to tighter restrictions on health and safety for filmmaking casts and crews, which is immensely important.
Do you think movie sets today are safer? Or do rules and restrictions need to be stricter on set? Let us know what you think?
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