Animals have been involved in human civilization since time immemorial. They are part of our daily lives, our productivity, our leisure, and our diets. When mmovies grew into a new artistic medium, it was inevitable that animals would appear in movies.
Horses are a staple of just about any historical or fantasy movie, while dogs, cats, and other pets appear in films with domestic settings. Some movies even focus on less common animals as attractions or build animals into their own distinct characters.
However, that doesn’t mean that the animals we’ve seen on screen have always been treated fairly. Especially in the earlier days of filmmaking, the creators risked the health and safety of animals to get the footage that they wanted. It wasn’t until 1939 that the American Humane Society established official guidelines and required oversight to ensure that animals were treated fairly during productions.
Even after the American Humane Association (AHA) started certifying films, some movies still abused animals on set, even though such incidents got more exposure. The overall treatment of animals in movies has definitely improved.
Some movies go the extra mile to ensure they earn the AHA’s certification that “no animals were harmed in the making of this film.” In this list we’re taking a look at movies that earn that disclaimer, and some that definitely did not.
With that said, here are the 8 Movies That Completely Mistreated Animals (And 8 That Pampered Them).
16 Pampered: WONDER WOMAN
Mounted combat proves to be a quintessential part of the Amazon’s martial repertoire. We see Diana and the other Amazon warriors fight on horseback throughout the movie. Fortunately, none of the horses used on the set were ever in real danger, or in real combat.
The battle on the beaches of Themyscira between the Amazons and the German soldiers was carefully staged and shot. None of the horses were actually exposed to gunfire or the noise of gun shots and they had clear paths marked with cones for their riding routes.
The beach set was raked in between takes to make sure that no debris or loose equipment could impede the horses. All of the riders were trained riders or experienced actors. For scenes with horse related stunts, different parts of the action were filmed separately and compiled together.
15 Mistreated: THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
Several reports on the production of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey allege that 27 or more sheep, goats and other animals, died on set during filming in 2011. They reportedly perished from dehydrations, exhaustion and drowning.
Differing accounts offer different explanations as to who might have been at fault. Peter Jackson completely rejected the allegations in 2013. However, reported communications between the trainers and AHA representative on set paint a different picture.
The animal trainer reported the deaths of the animals to the AHA, but the association said that they could not officiate the claims since the deaths had taken place off set.
This had led to several outcries of negligence and even corruption in the AHA. The AHA itself has admitted that there are too many incidents off-set and that it needs more resources to monitor those as well.
14 Pampered: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
Indiana Jones’s adventures have taken him all over the globe and seen him interact with plenty of different animals. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may not be as fondly remembered as the original trilogy of Indy movies, but at least the treatment of all animals in the production was fair.
The customary swarm of creepy critters scene for Crystal Skull, featuring ants, was achieved entirely with CGI. In the scene where Mudd pulls Indy out of quicksand using a snake, a real olive python was used for parts of the scene.
Both actors were instructed in the proper handling of the snake and the set was specifically designed so the snake could fall to the ground safely. A fake snake was used for the shots where Mudd physically pulls Indy out.
13 Mistreated: APOCALYPSE NOW
Apocalypse Now is one of the most famous anti-war films ever made and undoubtedly one director Francis Ford Coppola’s greatest films in a thoroughly lauded filmography. It features incredible performances by Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall and has inspired many films since.
However, it does depict real animal abuse, unfortunately. At the climax of the film, when Sheen sneaks into Brando’s tent to kill him with a machete, the film cuts to a scene of real indigenous peoples killing a water buffalo.
Reportedly, the water buffalo was already marked for ritual sacrifice by the indigenous peoples and Coppola decided to capture it for the film. Brutal as it was, the butchering was a pretty clear metaphor for what Sheen was doing to Brando.
12 Pampered: HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
Live animals appear on screen alongside the more magical creatures all throughout the Harry Potter movies. By the fifth film in the series, the cast and crew had become very confident in handling the animals on set with care.
Many of the animal characters shown in preview movies return thanks to well-managed, multiple animal performances. All the scenes involving Crookshanks and Mrs. Norris involved trainers giving cues to the animals and treats as rewards for completing the actions. The set was kept quiet and limited to essential cast and crew to keep the animals comfortable.
The scene in Professor Umbridge’s office where the hanging plates have moving pictures of kittens playing were filmed with live kittens. All the kittens were inspected and in good health and were given toys to encourage playful behavior.
11 Mistreated: HEAVEN’S GATE
The 1980 American epic Western Heaven’s Gate was directed Michael Cimino, of The Deer Hunter fame. Unfortunately for the auteur filmmaker, Heaven’s Gate was one of the worst performing major studio films in history in terms of opening reception and box office draw.
It certainly didn’t help that multiple accusations of animal cruelty had been leveled against the film before it reached theaters. The American Humane Association was banned from monitoring any animal action on set.
Reportedly the production drew blood from horses’ necks without anesthetic and accidentally blew up a horse with dynamite. Several cows were disemboweled to use their intestines as props and they staged actual cockfights on set.
The AHA picketed screenings of the movie and Cimino’s reputation never quite recovered.
10 Pampered: IT
Animals play an important visual role in the themes and suspense of It. The latest big screen adaptation of Steven King’s famous horror novel has action featuring cats, sheep, and rats and the AHA found it all fair and humane.
The old woman who fed her cat on the porch in the rain was acquainted with the performing animal before the cameras rolled. The trainer kept the cat busy with food and used noises to coax her to look certain ways.
In the scene with the boy and the sheep, veterinarians on set made sure that the flock of sheep were safe while being herded by a trainer. Later on in the scene when the boy’s father shoots the sheep with the bolt gun, the bolt gun was not actually fired on set.
9 Mistreated: FLICKA
Not all animal suffering that occurs on the sets of movies is intentional. Accidents happen even to the most capable and prepared professionals.
While Flicka was filming in 2005 in California, two different horses suffered fatal accidents. One of the horses sustained a compound fracture in its leg after an accidental misstep during a well-rehearsed A to B running scene.
The onsite equine veterinarian determined that euthanasia was the most humane option. The other incident involved a horse accidentally tripping on its lead rope and breaking its neck in the fall.
The accident happened even while professional cowboys shot the scene under the supervision of Animal Safety Representatives from the AHA. The American Humane Association investigations concluded that both incidents were not predictable or preventable.
8 Pampered: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017)
Pirates of the Caribbean has several animals in important roles, including the monkey Jack and Mr. Cotton’s talking parrot. Geoffrey Rush has been interacting with the monkeys as part of filming throughout the series. Other scenes with monkeys involved the trainers in costume and breaking the action up among different shots to achieve desired performances.
One particularly involved animal scene involved a line of horses pulling the dislodged back vault through the streets of a town, building and all. Throughout filming, the horses never bore the brunt of the weight of the vault.
The vault was in fact pushed by a tracking vehicle most of the time. For most of the shots when Jack’s crew were riding the horses, the horses were actually being ridden by stuntmen.
7 Mistreated: PINK FLAMINGOS
Pink Flamingos unquestionably has its place in movie history. It’s a cult classic of the 1970s subversive midnight screening era and a touchstone of queer cinema. Unfortunately, the cast and crew’s commitment to shock and camp included some disregard for the safety of some animals that were used in the film.
The movie is all about various characters challenging each other for the reputation of “Filthiest Person Alive.” In one particularly disturbing scene, Danny Mills and Mary Vivian Pierce use live chickens as intimate toys.
There’s no artsy obscuring or discretionary shots, the live chickens actually appear on screen for over a minute being fondled by the actors. One or more of the chickens were killed over the course of filming. Among the many indignant critics the film garnered, PETA organized a campaign to boycott the movie.
6 Pampered: WATER FOR ELEPHANTS
In this movie adaptation of Sara Gruen’s 2006 novel of the same name, Robert Pattinson plays a veterinary student who joins a travelling circus after his parents die in 1931. The Benzini Bros. Circus has dozens of exotic animals in tow from elephants to lions to horses.
There are lots of scenes in the film where the animals perform, train, and are abused as part of the scene by Christoph Waltz’s ringmaster. Fortunately, it was all overseen by the AHA. Trainers and handlers were incorporated into the set as costumed actors and all the actors involved were instructed in properly interacting with the animals.
A few scenes show Waltz hitting the elephant Rosie with a bullhorn. All sounds of pain or discomfort made by Rosie were digitally added in post-production. Her wounds were safely painted on and her reactions of turmoil were all trained cues.
5 Mistreated: STAGECOACH
Yakima Canutt was one of John Wayne’s most famous stuntmen throughout his Hollywood career in the 1930s. He is also infamous among humane minded groups for inventing a rather cruel contraption to film horses tumbling on screen call the "Running W."
It consisted of wires attached to the horse’s legs and threaded through a ring that protruded from a deadweight buried underground. When the horse ran to the end of its wires, its legs would be yanked out from under him.
Many horses were crippled or killed through the use of the Running W, including during the filming of 1939’s Stagecoach. In the scene where the raiders give chase to John Wayne’s stagecoach, several horse can be seen tumbling on screen, presumably through the use of the Running W.
4 Pampered: DJANGO UNCHAINED
Being a movie set in the pre-Civil War American South, there are plenty of scenes involving action with horses. Not even the horses are spared from the onscreen violence in Quinten Tarantino’s filmography. Fortunately for all the horses involved, none of them were actually harmed as part of the filming process.
In one of the earlier scenes, Doctor Schultz shoots a horse through the head and it collapses on top of its rider. The production used a horse puppet for the quick shot fitted with squibs on its neck to shoot out blood.
For the scene with the masked clan members all riding on horseback, no real horses were near Schultz’s cart when it blows up. Django Unchained was so committed to the wellbeing of all its production horses that the AHA’s “No animals were harmed” credit appears near the start of the end credits.
3 Mistreated: BEN-HUR
The 1959 movie adaptation of Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston may be the most famous film version of the story, but there was actually a 1925 film version of Ben-Hur. If you thought the 1959 chariot race looked dangerous to film, the 1925 version was even worse.
The chariot race scenes in the 1925 film were directed by B. Reeves “Breezy” Eason. Part of his nickname referred to speed, included lax standards for safety on set, for the animals and the performers.
Eason reportedly offered prize money to the actors playing the racers and whipped the extras playing the audience into a genuine frenzy. Five of the horses used for the sequence died during the course of filming along with one stuntman. One of the extras in the audience was reportedly nearly killed by a flying horseshoe.
2 Pampered: MEGAN LEAVEY
Megan Leavey is based on the true story of a real life marine and her tour of duty with her combat dog during the Iraq War. The film obviously revolves around the relationship between Leavey and the troubled dog, Rex. There are rough, tense scenes between them early in the movie and perilous action over the course of the movie.
In one early scene, Rex gets loose and bites at Leavey’s leg. The scene was broken up into separate shots, one for the dog chasing after Leavey and different one showing her tugging on a “bite suit” being worn by a stunt woman.
In the scene where Rex gets injured by an IED, the dog was made comfortable on a safe sheet covered with fake debris and fake blood.
1 Mistreated: JESSE JAMES (1939)
Jesse James was one of the highest grossing movies of 1939, starring Henry Fonda and Tyrone Power. In one thrilling scene, Fonda and Power escape a pursuing posse by riding their horses off a cliff. Unfortunately, the stunt was actually performed by unwilling horses taking the fall of the cliff and into the river below.
One of the horses shown in the shot died. Various accounts claim that the horse broke its back in the fall or that the horse panicked and drowned. Either way, the production was dogged by protests.
Eventually the Motion Picture Association of America agreed to let the American Humane Society establish guidelines for the fair treatment of animals on screen and to let representatives oversee filming and ensure compliance. Jesse James is more remembered today as being the film that got the AHA involved in monitoring films.
Are there any other noteworthy stories of Hollywood's mistreatment of animals? Let us know in the comments!