Movies aren’t easy to make. There’s a million things that can go awry in pre-production, production and post production, and the oft-inflated egos of actors, filmmakers, and even studio heads can prove to be major obstacles. It can take months or even years of shooting to complete a film and it’s inevitable that occasionally tempers will flair. While most films are managed well enough, there are those occasional cinematic masterpieces that are total nightmares. The trouble could stem from clashes with “the talent,” monstrous budget changes or accidents on the set. The movies may go on to be box movies bombs or hits, but the stories behind their creation go down in history.
While there are many movies that have had difficult productions and testy stars, these are the cream of the crop. These movies aren’t just typical squabbles on set and diva diatribes. These movies transcend the problems of most movies and become part of a whole new category.
Check out these 13 Horrifying Hollywood Production Stories.
Kevin Costner was riding the success of crazy string of hit films such as JFK, Wyatt Earp and The Bodyguard when he began production on the dystopian action movie Waterworld. Costner plays “The Mariner,” a gilled human that helps a little girl and her mother survive the evil Smokers and find dry land. It’s basically Mad Max on water.
The biggest problem was it was entirely on water, which caused costs to skyrocket from $100 million to $175 million, earning it the title of the most expensive movie ever made at the time. Working on the water proved to be a production nightmare. While tied to a mast for a scene, Costner nearly died when a hurricane completely wiped out a multimillion-dollar set. The star, who was also a producer on the film, was reportedly miserable to work for. He completely rejected the initial musical score, because he thought it was too bleak. Joss Whedon flew in for script rewrites and called his experience “seven weeks of hell.”
12. The Shining
The Shining has several moments that have become Hollywood legend, from “Redrum” to “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Jack Torrance is a writer and recovering alcoholic who becomes the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. He hopes to use the quiet surroundings to get some writing done, and brings his family along for the ride. Instead, the hotel is haunted by malevolent spirits that drive Torrance insane to the point that he tries to kill his family.
Despite being a critical and commercial darling, the film was plagued by the manic nuances of its perfectionist director, Stanley Kubrick. The movie was shot chronologically, which meant large sets needed to be built in advance, including a life-sized recreation of the hotel. He was notorious for making the actors do take after take until they played out the scene to his specifications. The “Here’s Johnny” scene where Torrance hacks through a door with an ax and delivers the line took three days to shoot and more than 60 doors.
Shelley Duvall, who played Torrance’s wife in the film, considers the role the most difficult of her career. She suffered from exhaustion, illness, and hair loss from the stress of the shoot. Kubrick was known to insult and get angry with her in order to push Duvall to her limits. He wanted the actress to feel absolutely hopeless, and it worked. He even had Jack Nicholson, who portrayed Torrance, eat only cheese sandwiches (which he detested) to intentionally put him in a bad mood.
11. The Exorcist
The Exorcist was one of the first horror films to win an Academy Award, earning both adapted screenplay and sound mixing Oscars. The film chronicled the possession of young Regan, played by Linda Blair, and her exorcism by Fathers Merrin and Karras. One of the few truly frightening movies out there, many an adult has hid themselves under a blanket while watching the movie, but that’s nothing compared to actually making it.
Directed by William Friedkin, the film suffered several setbacks, including crew illness while shooting scenes in Iraq. It’s legendarily rumored that 9 crew members died during the year it took to make the film and the director had a real priest come and exorcise the set. The religious aspects of the film so upset some zealots that Blair received multiple death threats, which let to the director providing his young star with bodyguards for six months following the film’s release. The woman that provided the voice of demonic Regan suffered through an ordeal while recording dialog. She insisted on swallowing raw eggs and chain smoking to get her voice right. She also wanted whiskey for the same reason, but was recovering from alcohol abuse. She wanted her priest with her the entire time. She was also placed into a chair and tied up for more realistic sounds…talk about commitment. The lengths she went through even terrified Friedkin.
10. Twilight Zone: The Movie
Rod Serling’s masterpiece, The Twilight Zone, is a television classic, but Twlight Zone: The Movie has a more nefarious reputation. The movie is an anthology of several smaller stories, much like the original show. John Landis was directing a story based on the episode “A Quality of Mercy” that involved a helicopter. Actor Vic Morrow and two small children were to cross a river while being chased by a helicopter. Due to a pyrotechnic miscalculation, an explosion occurred near the rear rotor of the chopper, causing it to fall and kill Morrow and the children.
Minors weren’t allowed to work at night and Landis feared a waiver wouldn’t be granted, so he illegally had the kids on set. The accident led to both a civil and criminal investigation of the filmmakers that lasted for years and ended the friendship between Landis and producer Steven Spielberg, who almost completely scrapped the film after the accident.
9. Heaven’s Gate
Director Michael Cimino set out to create a Western epic, but instead developed one of the worst movies of all time and nearly bankrupted United Artists. Set in the 1890s, the film is about a sheriff that tries to protect landowners from rich cattle barons. Cimino’s directorial style required absolute perfection, leading to reshoots and other problems that inflated the budget from $11 million to $44 million, but only made back about 3.5 million at the domestic box office.
Animal abuse was rampant, with real cock fights and the torture and death of horses actually occurring on set. It’s because of this movie that the American Humane Society monitors the use of animals in film. Cimino was coming off the rousing success of The Deer Hunter, but his perfectionism led to constant building and rebuilding of sets, hiring and firing of crew members and an astronomical viewing time of five hours. Actor Tom Noonan said the director abused the actors and crew and the experience was one of the worst of his career.
8. The Island of Dr. Moreau
Director Richard Stanley loved the H.G. Wells classic, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and worked to get New Line Cinemas to greenlight the project. When he finally had everything ready to go, it quickly fell apart because of contentions with the studios, his directing style, and bickering among the stars. Stanley and New Line didn’t get along from the beginning, as he didn’t want to attend meetings and proved unreceptive to the studio. His problem persisted as actors dropped out and new ones were brought in, even as principal photography began.
It was a major coup for the studio to get legend Marlon Brando to play Moreau, but he was up to his usual antics. He would never show up on set and refused to learn his lines. Things reportedly got even worse with Val Kilmer’s widely publicized diva-like behavior. The erratic behavior of his stars and other problems on set caused New Line to fire Stanley. This created resentment among the cast and crew, which only worsened with the dictatorial directing style of replacement John Frankenheimer. In the middle of filming, he decided on a rewrite of the script and shut down production for a week. The infighting between Brando and Kilmer and lack of focus on the film led the shoot to go from a planned six weeks to six months, which wasn’t long enough in the end — the movie proved to be a critical and commercial failure.
Fitzcarraldo is a German film starring Klaus Kinski as Fitzcarraldo, a pie-in-the-sky entrepreneur that hopes the Peruvian rubber boom will allow him to build an opera house in Iquitos, Peru. He buys the only unclaimed parcel of available property and purchases a steamship to get the rubber. Unfortunately, the parcel is not accessible by water, so he convinces the natives to pull the 320-ton steamship up a mountain.
Director Werner Herzog (whom American audiences might know best as the big bad of 2012’s Jack Reacher) didn’t want to use special effects, so he had a steamship carried over the mountain using native labor. Herzog would later call himself “Conquistador of the Useless” because of the feat. It was a grueling and demanding endeavor that led to numerous injuries. His use of native people in the stunt drew comparisons of him to the main character, and he was accused of exploiting them. Jason Robards was originally cast as Fitzcarraldo, but became ill with dysentery, leading to Kinski’s casting. The actor’s noted temper ran high, fighting with both Herzog and the crew, often over menial items.
6. Alien 3
Alien and Aliens were major successes, so a third entry in the franchise was all but inevitable. The drama occurring before production, however, led to years of downtime and a myriad of rewritten scripts and directors. Development on the movie began in 1987, but the film didn’t premiere until 1992. The initial script had the main character of the other two films, Ellen Ripley, only in a cameo and featured Michael Biehn’s Corporal Hicks as the star.
That was scrapped, and cyberpunk author William Gibson was then tapped to write the script. Renny Harlin was brought on to direct, and he wanted to take a different direction where the aliens invaded Earth. Gibson left, a new writer was brought on, but it didn’t stop there. This merry-go-round of writers and directors continued until David Fincher was finally brought on to direct and Walter Hill and David Giler wrote the script. The problems didn’t stop once filming began, unfortunately. It rose horribly over budget because the script kept changing. Millions of dollars were spent on sets that were then scrapped to accommodate the seemingly never-ending rewrites. Ultimately, Fincher totally disowned the film because of studio problems and interference, which is never a good sign.
5. American Graffiti
George Lucas may be known for creating legendary franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but he had another major success with American Graffiti in 1973. The film featured the likes of Ron Howard and Harrison Ford, and was told through vignettes of young teenagers in 1962 on a night cruising around town. Lucas planned on using San Rafael, Calif. as the filming site, but the stars were against him. Just before filming started, an important crew member was busted for growing marijuana. When cameras finally began rolling, it wasn’t until 2 a.m. A bar owner in San Rafael complained the closing off of streets cost him business, so the city council revoked their filming permits.
The crew wound up moving to Petaluma, Calif., 20 miles away, but a fire at a restaurant caused filming to be delayed once again. The movie was a passion project for Lucas, but he couldn’t get a single studio to back it. He wanted too many classic songs, and it didn’t have any star power. It was only when Lucas had his friend, Francis Ford Coppola, come on to produce that Universal Studios agreed. Thankfully for Lucas and co. the hassle was worth it, and American Graffiti remains a must-watch to this day.
4. Man of La Mancha
Man of La Mancha is a film adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. Author Miguel Cervantes is imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition, and his book taken by other inmates. Cervantes puts on a play, taking on the role of Don Quixote de la Mancha, in an effort to get it back.
This movie’s problems began when the creators of the musical tried their hand at filmmaking and assumed that a seamless transition was in store. The musical’s original director, composer and stars were set to reprise their roles in the film version, but their lack of movie experience ruffled feathers at United Artists. They all ended up leaving the project. Director Peter Glanville was brought on and recruited Peter O’Toole as Quixote, but was subsequently fired when the studio learned he was removing all the songs. O’Toole only agreed to be in the film to work with Glanville and didn’t realize it was going to be a musical. He was condescending to new director Arthur Hiller, and proved to be a pretty terrible singer. They eventually had to find a voice double for all his singing scenes, but even that didn’t save this doomed picture.
When a young Steven Spielberg began the process of making Jaws, he knew right away who the main character was going to be…the great white shark. It’s just too bad “Bruce,” as the animatronic robot shark was called, was a complete mess. Anything that could possibly go wrong with the shark, did. During the first test run, the great predator of the seas sank like a rock. Later, Spielberg would refer to the robot shark as “the great white turd.”
The problem was, no one knew how to create a lifelike robotic shark. During a testing, Spielberg jokingly placed his head into the shark’s mouth and it closed around him. The jaws had to be pried open. The shark worked well on land, but electronics and seawater simply don’t mix, which forced Spielberg to think outside the box, keeping the problematic fake monster hidden for most of the movie, a decision that still impacts movie to this day.
If the robot wasn’t bad enough, script troubles also arose. It wasn’t finished when shooting started, and endured constant change during the shoot. Many times, the actors would improvise their lines, including Roy Scheider’s “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” Production problems led to an over-inflated budget and a grueling 159 day shoot, and Spielberg thought his career was over. Luckily, Jaws proved to be a monstrous hit, and now ranks as one of the greatest films of all time.
2. Superman Lives
It’s hard to believe in this era of superhero glut that there was a time when these types of movies rarely got off the ground. After the success of his groundbreaking take on Batman a few years prior, Tim Burton was planning to create a Superman movie called Superman Lives with Nicholas Cage set to play the Man of Steel. The main difference between this movie and all the others — this one never actually got made.
About 20 years ago, it looked like Nic Cage would finally get his wish to play Superman. Pictures of Cage wearing the suit with long wavy ’90s hair surfaced, as did concept art, but director Tim Burton ultimately backed out due to the severity of the script problems.
While the screenplay loosely followed the Death of Superman comic plotline (one that eventually made it’s way onto the big screen), it went through countless iterations with writers as diverse as Dan Gilroy and Kevin Smith. Without an acceptable script to work from, the movie understandably never got off the ground. Some of the more ludicrous aspects included alien computer Brainiac and villain Lex Luthor merging into Lexiac, a pet Doomsday complete with a nametag, and Kal-El being told the S on the supersuit stands for science. Suddenly, The Fantastic Four doesn’t look that bad. The controversy around the movie even earned it a documentary called The Death of Superman Lives, which is a great watch for fans of the Last Son of Krypton.
1. Apocalypse Now
The 1979 film Apocalypse Now is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time, and certainly one of Francis Ford Coppola’s greatest works. Capt. Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent into the Vietnamese jungles to assassinate Col. Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who is completely insane and considers himself a demi-god.
The problems on this film were so epic that they too garnered their own documentary, called Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. The Philippines’ terrain and atmosphere of the jungle nearly crippled the film. Tigers and other wild animals stalked the sets at night, crew members became sick from tropical diseases, and a typhoon destroyed several sets. The rulers of the country commonly commandeered helicopters for their own use, and prop people used real dead bodies for several scenes.
Personal problems also marred the film’s production. In typical Brando fashion, the actor refused to learn his lines, and he apparently hated co-star Dennis Hopper so much that he refused to be in the same scene with him. Brando eventually just decided he’d had enough, left, and never came back. The planned 6-week production (which was adorably naive in retrospect) turned into 68 weeks. The days and nights were filled with drugs, booze and partying, with several crew members being drunk or high through the entire film. It’s considered the most hellish production in the history of filmmaking, but at least it was worth it in the end, right?
Did we leave off any of your favorite on-set disasters? Let us know in the comments.
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