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.
It's unfair to say David Lynch has pissed away his career. After all, he's responsible for the neo-noir classic Mulholland Drive and the "Dennis Hopper high on poppers" flick Blue Velvet. But did you know there was once a crazy time when Lynch directed blockbusters? That wild time, dear readers, was 1984.
In 1980, Lynch's The Elephant Man was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Afterwards, Lynch had his pick of plush projects. George Lucas offered him Return of the Jedi, but Lynch instead chose an adaptation of Frank Herbert's best-selling sci-fi novel Dune.
Lynch had no idea what Dune was about at the time, which is generally not recommended when signing on to direct a $40 million space opera. Still, Dune had the pedigree of an 80s smash: a diehard fan base, a soundtrack by Toto and Sting in a shiny wingtip bikini.
Cruising, Part II: Dune.
Unfortunately for Lynch, Dune had a reputation for being unfilmable ("Forget it, guys, you'll just wind up with Sting in a thong or something"). The film had been in development hell for 13 years (for example, a previous producer had cast Salvador Dali at the cost of $100,000 an hour).
Lynch suffered the same fate. Dune's financiers were pissed that the final cut was three hours long. Lynch was pissed that the studio pressured him to smush Herbert's 400+ page epic into a two-hour popcorn movie. Theaters were pissed that they had to hand out pamphlets explaining the film's futuristic vocabulary, and audiences were pissed that they had to read.
"I go to the movies to escape literacy!"
In the end, Dune was critically crucified, a commercial catastrophe and, more or less, disowned by Lynch, who credited himself as the infamous Hollywood pseudonym "Alan Smithee" on certain editions of the film.
Nowadays, Lynch makes his films with an eye towards the art house set. Who can blame the guy? He's doing what he wants these days, and so maybe this one has a happy ending.
Or, visit Cracked.com's Top Picks to see how crazy DOB went after winning his Web award.