Great films that were hell to make

Because nothing worth having comes easy...

The luxurious lifestyles of many actors and filmmakers suggest the movie world is one brimming with glory and riches. But, as this list proves, making a film can be a living nightmare.

Star Wars (1977)
The rolling titles, the epic John Williams‘ score, just the opening of Star Wars screams ‘Great Movie.’ Its journey to cinemas though was a fraught one. Storms on location in Tunisia meant filming fell behind schedule, with George Lucas the butt of most jokes – the general consensus being he was making a cheap kids’ picture. The bloated script was lambasted, with Harrison Ford quipping, “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it.” The special effects department, ILM, blew half its budget on four miniature shots that never made it into the theatrical cut.

As Star Wars continued to fall behind, Lucas had to split his crew into three units to save time and would dash from one studio to the next to shout ‘action’. ILM said it would take years to get the effects finished. They were given six months. Lucas started to buckle and doctors told him was lucky he didn’t have a heart attack.

After the film wrapped, a rough cut was screened and was universally panned. But Lucas still persevered; he replaced editor John Jympson with Paul Hirsch, Richard Chew and his then-wife Marcia. Together they sifted through hours of footage and crafted a truly epic space opera. 20th Century Fox, who had tried to shut down the film, were instead given a mammoth hit that, at the time, became the highest grossing film ever. Now under the Disney banner, the saga continues this December with Episode VII.

The Exorcist (1973)
This horror classic was said to be cursed and it’s not hard to see why. The original set burned down and actress Ellen Bursty permanently damaged her coccyx and spine during a stunt after her harness was yanked too hard.

With the set kept freezing cold to make it more atmospheric, cast and crew regularly got sick and star Jack MacGowran died of the flu soon after filming was completed. A further nine deaths of people associated with the production were also reported. Director William Friedkin didn’t do much to help things either. His antics included slapping and firing a gun at some of the actors to get the performances he wanted, leaving many of them permanently on edge.

For Friedkin though the ends must have justified the means; upon its release audiences were so frightened of The Exorcist, paramedics were called to cinemas to treat people who’d fainted or were in hysterics. Regarded by many as the scariest movie of all time, its legacy continues.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
An entry on Roobla’s ‘Great Films that Flopped at the Box Office’ List, The Wizard of Oz marks its entry on this one with a production beset with problems from the outset. The script was credited to Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, but an astonishing 17 writers had a hand it. After filming began, directors were hired and replaced like it was going out of fashion, with a total of six involved at various points before Victor Fleming was given the sole credit.

Buddy Ebsen, playing the Tin Man, had to be replaced when it was discovered he was allergic to his make-up. The Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton, suffered burns during an accident filming the Munchkinland scene. Even Toto the dog misbehaved, leading to further delays.

Many involved felt the film was doomed after several scenes had to be reshot and early test screenings drew lukewarm responses. You wouldn’t guess it watching The Wizard of Oz. Seemingly the dictionary definition of ‘timeless classic’, it remains as popular as ever.

Gladiator (2000)
Ridley Scott’s sword-and-sandal epic began production without a finished script, with three credited writers being hired, fired, then rehired again to rewrite scenes, often hours before filming. Despite this, star Russell Crowe remained unhappy with the screenplay and frequently stormed off set. The famous line, “I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next,” he initially refused to say, even telling one of the writers, William Nicholson, “Your lines are garbage but I’m the greatest actor in the world and I can make even garbage sound good.” Crowe then decided to rewrite much of his dialogue himself if he felt it didn’t suit his character.

With just three weeks of principal photography remaining, actor Oliver Reed died from a heart attack after a massive drinking binge. The filmmakers considered reshooting shooting all of his scenes with a new actor, at an estimated cost of $25million, but the cast and crew were so exhausted from the punishing schedule Scott decided against it. Instead, the script was rewritten (again!) and CGI was used to finish Reed’s BAFTA nominated performance.

Despite all the uncertainty, Gladiator won five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor and reinvigorated the historical epic. Unfortunately that did give us the likes of Troy and Alexander.

Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Werner Herzogs vision for his surreal adventure-drama film was one he refused to compromise on. This included the scene where the titular character tries to transport a steamship over a hill to access a rich rubber territory in the Amazon. Rather than opting for special effects or models, Herzog ordered his cast, crew and native tribes to manually haul the 30 ton ship up the hill. The fact the it was meant to weigh 320 tons was scant consolation and several injuries occurred. Coupled with unpredictable weather, disease and lack of resources that come filming in the jungle and morale plummeted.

Mick Jagger had been cast in a supporting role but was cut after The Rolling Stones’ touring schedule coincided with reshoots. It got even worse when original leading man Jason Robards came down with dysentery during production. As a result, Herzog was forced to restart production a year into shooting after nearly half the film was completed. He replaced Robards with Klaus Kinski, an actor he violently clashed with on Aguirre, the Wrath of God.

Their collaboration fared no better this time, as the star’s temper slowed production to a crawl. Some of the natives even offered to kill Kinski he was so unpopular. Herzog declined, but only because he hadn’t finished filming his scenes. Amazingly though, all this pain and misery translated to the screen for the better and Fitzcarraldo was even added to legendary critic Roger Ebert’s ‘Great Movies’ collection.

Jaws (1975)
Along with Star Wars, Jaws was responsible for reinventing the summer blockbuster but its production is still one of the great nightmare stories in movie history. Like several films on this list, shooting began without a completed script, with Steven Spielberg’s desire to diverge from Peter Benchleys novel resulting in further rewrites. Casting also proved difficult with the studio’s main choices, including Jon Voight and Robert Duvall, declining.

Spielberg opted to shoot on the actual ocean rather than in a tank and from there things really started to unravel. The mechanical shark ‘Bruce’ broke down more than it worked, a boat carrying the crew sank and the film went $5million ($22million in today’s money) over budget as filming went more than 100 days overschedule. Actor Richard Dreyfuss later said, “We started Jaws without a script, without a cast and without a shark.” Not exactly a confidence booster. Crewmembers soon redubbed the film ‘Flaws’. Dreyfuss also clashed with the volatile Robert Shaw, their relationship echoing that of Hopper and Quint on screen.

However, Jaws turned its main problem (Bruce) into an advantage. Spielberg improvised, keeping the fake-looking shark out of view and thus giving a masterclass in suspense. Had it functioned properly, Jaws may well have ended up as just another predictable, cheesy monster movie.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Rather than being packed with script issues, ever-changing directors, apocalyptic weather or even death, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is held in infamy for two reasons; Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

About an actress who holds her crippled sister captive in an old Hollywood mansion, the two stars were somehow nastier to each other off than on camera. Crawford had already seduced one of Davis’ co-stars just to rile her. Davis retaliated by publicly calling Crawford an African caterpillar-eyebrowed mannequin who had slept with every male star at MGM studios except Lassie the dog.

Their rivalry spiralled further out of control when the two started filming together. It’s amazing the rest of the cast and crew weren’t caught in the crossfire and managed to produce an Academy Award nominated film. Davis gave Crawford stitches after ‘accidentally’ kicking her in the head. Joan filled her costume with rocks for a scene where Davis had to drag her, causing her a serious back injury, as revenge. They may as well have traded blows like boxers, Bette putting a Coca Cola machine in her dressing room after learning Crawford’s late husband had been the CEO of Pepsi. She even remarked, “The best time I had with Joan was when I pusher her down some stairs.”

Their hostilities didn’t end after shooting. Crawford campaigned against Davis winning the Oscar for her performance in the film. Anne Bancroft won instead, but Joan even had the nerve to accept the award after she couldn’t attend just to rub Bette’s nose in it. Davis got the last word though after Crawford died, saying “You should never say bad things about the dead, only good… Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”

Blade Runner (1982)
Also a member of the ‘Great Films that Flopped at the Box Office’ list, this adaption of Philip K Dicks novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? had been touted for the screen long before Ridley Scott came on board in 1980.

Scott can’t have bargained on how difficult Blade Runner would be to make though. His first time working in Los Angeles and with an American crew, he found the process vastly different from working on Alien at Shepperton Studios in Surrey. Falling out with the cast and crew, he further exasperated things by telling a newspaper he far preferred working with UK crews. The US crew responded by wearing t-shirts with slogans including, ‘Yes guv’nor my ass.’ Scott hit back with a t-shirt of his own, saying ‘Xenophobia sucks.’

Studio heads raged as production went over budget and cast members moaned with shooting schedules that went on almost exclusively at night on smoke-filled, rainy sets. The final shot was in the can just before the producers came to pull the plug. This acrimony continued into postproduction, with Scott forced into adding a happier ending using discarded footage from The Shining and a cringe-worthy voiceover.

Underwhelming critics and audiences on its initial release, Scott managed to put together a Director’s Cut that was released in 1992 to critical acclaim. Blade Runner has since been rediscovered and hailed as one of the finest pieces of sci-fi in the genre’s history.

The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick is well known for his attention to detail and meticulous nature. His final film, Eyes Wide Shut, holds the record for ‘longest constant movie shoot’ at 400 straight days and includes a shot of Tom Cruise walking through a door that took 90 takes before Kubrick was happy with it.

It had nothing on The Shining though. Jack Nicholson got off lightly, spending a paltry three days with the director filming the infamous door-chopping scene, with Shelly Duvall and Scatman Crothers bearing the brunt instead. Kubrick set another record, this time with ‘most takes for one shot’, when he made Duvall do 127 for the scene where Wendy swings the baseball bat at Jack. Some of the crew on The Shining contest this though, saying Crothers’ character Hallorann explaining to Danny what the shining is took 148 takes.

It’s easy to see why the likes of Duvall looked so desperate and deranged in the film. It’s been speculated Kubrick intentionally treated her harshly to create a feeling of hopelessness in her performance. The actress suffered from crippling stress and came close to a psychotic collapse as a result.

She might not be grateful, but Kubrick’s ability to blur the line between reality and fiction made The Shining a spine-chilling journey into madness and one of the finest psychological horror movies ever made.

Three Kings (1999)
This Desert Storm satire was hit by problems early on. Worried about hiring the independent director David O. Russell, Warner Bros. reduced the shooting schedule to only 68 days and tried to knock millions off the budget in case the film flopped. Russell was also made to remove the most violent scenes and sign a legal document that forbid paedophilic accusations against Michael Jackson making it into the movie.

The director soon proved unpopular with the crew, his improvisational style at odds with the more organised approach they were accustomed to. Rows were a regular occurrence. The likes of George Clooney also struggled with the amount of improvisation.

It all boiled over during the filming of the climax, when Clooney came to help an extra he claimed Russell had thrown to the ground. Confronting the director, blows were exchanged, including a headbutt from Russell, and the second assistant director, Paul Bernard, quit right then and there.

However, co-star Ice Cube felt this actually helped Three Kings, “It kind of kicked the set into a different gear where everybody was focused and we finished strong. I wouldn’t mind if the director and the star got into an argument on all of my movies.” Sure enough, the film proved a critical and commercial success.

Apocalypse Now (1979)
“The horror! The horror!” The immortal last words of Marlon Brandos General Kurtz could easily have applied to the production of Apocalypse Now. Shooting was scheduled to last five months, but didn’t wrap for a whopping 16.

Horrendous weather destroyed the sets, forcing the film to shut down temporarily. Harvey Keitel was replaced a week into shooting with Martin Sheen who then had a heart attack. The budget skyrocketed due to numerous delays, meaning even more money had to be spent keeping crewmembers and the cast on location or transported back to the US for weeks at a time. The film’s payroll was even stolen. Cast members including Dennis Hopper and Sam Bottoms were tanked up on weed, LSD and cocaine throughout production. Brando was paid $1million for his role on the promise of turning up in shape and having read the source material Heart of Darkness. He did neither, meaning his dialogue had to be reworked and his scenes shot with little or no lighting. Most of the film’s sound had to be rerecorded after director Francis Ford Coppola struggled to capture the right military and jungle noises.

All this pressure nearly got too much for the director, as he suffered a nervous breakdown and considered suicide. “We were in the jungle. We had too much money. We had too much equipment. And little by little, we went insane,” he recalled. But the arduous production, littered with insanity and chaos, made Apocalypse Now a masterpiece.

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