After winning Best Director for The French Connection and being nominated for The Exorcist, William Friedkin tried for a hat-trick with 1977's Sorcerer. According to Friedkin, the movie's sorcerer was "an evil wizard [,] and in this case the evil wizard is fate." Evil wizard? Dungeons & Dragons fans everywhere were ready to line up, preferably in costume.
But, in a blatant case of false advertising, Sorcerer contained no sorcerers. The movie followed four criminals hired to deliver nitroglycerin to a South American oil rig, with the assistance of no magic at all.
Karma's backlash against the film was brutal. A hurricane decimated the set. Spooked villagers blamed the filmmakers for causing a historic drought and threatened to detonate a $1 million prop bridge. Friedkin caught malaria and lost 50 pounds. The $15 million budget soon ballooned to $21 million.
If fate truly is an evil wizard, as Friedkin believed, then that wily wizard did everything in his power to fuck up the production of Sorcerer.
A poster for Sorcerer, inadvertently capturing a villager trying to blow up the set.
Friedkin's troubles continued upon the film's US release. Audiences expecting mystical weirdness a la The Exorcist walked out of theaters. This prompted ads warning that Sorcerer was "NOT A FILM ABOUT THE SUPERNATURAL." Audiences confused by subtitles in the opening scenes also walked out. This prompted lobby placards declaring "SORCERER IS AN ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILM."
Oh, and a little film called Star Wars opened a month earlier. This prompted no one to see Sorcerer.
Despite good reviews, the film recouped only $9 million and severely damaged Friedkin's status as an A-List director. None of his later films proved as memorable as his Oscar-nominated work, unless you count Al Pacino's gay S&M thriller Cruising. Which we do.
Michael Cimino's Deer Hunter cleaned house at the 1978 Academy Awards. The film scored Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for, believe it or not, Christopher Walken. After winning this assload of adulation, Cimino's next step was to blow up a horse onscreen.
Uh, not quite...
Cimino's follow-up, the Western epic Heaven's Gate, infuriated animals' rights groups so much that the film is widely credited as the catalyst for the "NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED" disclaimer at the end of movies. But the dynamited horse wasn't the most famous thing to die on the set of Heaven's Gate. That honor goes to Cimino's career.
Cimino's conduct on set wasn't directorial, it was dictatorial. He blew $1.2 million rebuilding a set because he thought the houses looked to close together. Set construction then spewed a toxic slick onto a lake in Glacier National Park.
Cimino's 5.5 hour-long cut of Heaven's Gate purportedly had a battle scene as long as a normal movie, and he assigned an armed guard outside of the editing room to deter meddling United Artists execs.
And that guard was Christopher Walken.
In the end, Heaven's Gate bankrupted United Artists, and Cimino was blackballed in Tinseltown for years. Perhaps the most depressing part of Heaven's Gate is its legacy--despite being one of the biggest bombs in Hollywood history, no one remembers the film anymore. A cult of comet-loving castrati totally stole its thunder.