Great Movies With Disasters Behind The Scenes
Making movies is hard. It takes hours to film one decent scene, and despite what your buddies with Vine accounts and YouTube channels probably think, there's more to editing than just adding a star wipe to an iMovie that you shot on your spiffy new tablet.
And, as we've discussed before, it's not just the crappy, straight-to-DVD movies that face hardships during production. On the contrary; we're actually fortunate to have some of our most indelible films, because, frankly, some of them came extraordinarily close to careening completely off the rails.
One of the transcendent science-fiction films in motion picture history, Blade Runner kicked off the long-standing Hollywood tradition of taking a novel by Philip K. Dick and more or less bastardizing it to try to maximize box office profits.
Still, the story of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, before his grimace was permanent) pretty much flawlessly intertwines the noir genre with sci-fi, with Deckard standing in as the futuristic version of a Sam Spade as he tries to track down rogue androids within a futuristic sci-fi Los Angeles that's so rainy the flick would be better categorized as fantasy.
Why We Almost Never Got To See It ...
At this point, it isn't much of a secret that director Ridley Scott and the studio never exactly saw eye-to-eye on how the final cut of the movie should look. It's also well known that, over the years, Sean Young developed a reputation as being difficult to work with, which was likely only exacerbated by the presence of the notoriously prickly Ford. Add in the fact that Scott was reportedly exceptionally demanding of his cast and Young's claims that he would often degrade her during takes, and you can see why it may not have been all sunshine and roses on the set.
But the electric lamb chops were to die for.
According to Young, Scott would manipulate her from day-to-day in order to coax the kind of performance he wanted, being friendly as could be one day and humiliating her in front of the rest of the cast and crew the next. Likewise, Ford apparently completely dismissed the actress whenever the cameras were not rolling, ignoring her and refusing to actually rehearse any of their scenes. Of course, considering this is a woman who was once arrested trying to crash an Oscars party and was also sued by James Woods for stalking him, maybe Ford just smelled the crazy before everyone else did.
There was also the small problem of the studio absolutely hating whatever they were sent.
"Is it physically possible to make Harrison frown less? If not, can we use puppetry?"
In fact, some of the notes Scott received included super-supportive, constructive notes of encouragement like, "This movie gets worse every screening," and, "Were they all on drugs when they did this?" And when they didn't like something, the studio folks always knew the perfect fix for a scene that wasn't working, making such wonderful suggestions as, "They have to put more tits ..."
Hollywood: If it's broke, add tits.
Viewed by many as one of the most deeply disturbing and terrifying films ever made, The Exorcist boasts the distinction of being one of the few movies that didn't employ either excessive shaky cam or Johnny Knoxville that actually had people vomiting in theaters. It was an unprecedented horror film, dealing with demonic possession, crab-walking adolescents, and the oral fixations of eternally damned mothers.
In 2015, Regan would be a YouTube sensation.
The movie was based on a novel by William Peter Blatty, who also adapted it for the big screen, and he claimed that it was based on actual events that took place in Maryland while he was a student at Georgetown University. Naturally, a film that involved such heavy religious themes created a lot of controversy, but we suppose that's bound to happen in a movie that uses a crucifix in some ... creative ways. The content was so horrifying that EMTs were often on hand at showings in case viewers suffered heart attacks, but it turns out the medical experts would have been better off hanging around the set during filming, since that's where people were just about tearing each other's heads off.
Why We Almost Never Got To See It ...
We won't go so far as to say that The Exorcist was a cursed set, but there were certainly some troubling -- and life-threatening -- ordeals people faced both before and during the production. For instance, Jack MacGowran, who played a character named Burke Dennings, died shortly after completing his role. In the film, the Dennings character is a film director who gets brutally killed by Linda Blair's possessed character, and when you realize how much strife there was between Exorcist director William Friedkin and members of the crew, you'd understand why some of them were probably wishing life would imitate art.
William Friedkin, director and notorious dickhead.
Among the director's transgressions, Friedkin fired famed composer Lalo Schifrin just as Schifrin was finishing up his score, and that was just the beginning when it comes to how much people involved with the sounds of the film wound up detesting him. Friedkin found himself getting sued for refusing to pay for sound effects and voiceovers provided by a man named Ken Nordine. Originally, he also refused to give a credit to actress Mercedes McCambridge, who made one of the biggest contributions to the film: She was the voice of the demon itself, and she created the sound of Regan vomiting pea soup.
Appendages were lost on the set, including the thumb of a carpenter and the toe of a gaffer -- which sounds like the first two ingredients in some bizarre Hollywood good luck spell ... and maybe it was, because in spite of it all, the film went on to become a massive box office hit and one of the all-time great horror movies. Without the enormous success of The Exorcist, fans would never have been given the opportunity to debate which of its four prequels/sequels sucks the hardest.
It was Dominion.
The Blues Brothers
One of the seminal comedies in all of moviedom, The Blues Brothers is another of those all-too-popular action-comedy-musicals that were all the rage ... well, never. Frankly, on paper, the movie never should have worked. After all, about the closest thing we've had to The Blues Brothers in the past 30 years would probably be Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny, and some of you only know that as a track in a Guitar Hero game.
Wait ... they made a movie out of a song in Guitar Hero?
Still, thanks primarily to the larger-than-life talent of John Belushi and the understated hilarity (not to mention script) provided by Dan Aykroyd, the movie turned out to be a smash success. Of course, it helps to sell the musical aspect to a wide audience when the musical talent assembled isn't just at the all-star level, it's a group of first ballot hall-of-famers including Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Cab Calloway. Every other musical ever released considers that cheating.
Why We Almost Never Got To See It ...
To put it mildly, Belushi and Aykroyd were each small-scale walking disasters when it came to The Blues Brothers. One had what some might refer to as enough of a drug habit to keep numerous cartels in business, and the other because of his insane vision for what he wanted his movies to look like. Let's start with Belushi, who can best be described to today's social media generation as a guy with the pure party concentration of a dozen Andrews W.K.
One is quite enough, thank you.
His love of cocaine has, by now, become the stuff of legend, but at the time of production he was also into LSD, mescaline, and quaaludes -- or, as we like to call it, the Keith Richards diet. The film's director, John Landis, recounted walking into Belushi's trailer and seeing a "mountain of cocaine" at one point. Because, apparently, rappers aren't the only people who aspire to become Tony Montana. The film went wildly over budget -- ballooning from $17.5 million to the neighborhood of $28 million -- and fell weeks behind schedule. It didn't help matters that the script was a rambling monstrosity that today would read like a bizarre Jake and Elwood fan fiction. Which totally exists, by the way.
The story behind Aykroyd's original Ghostbusters script has become the stuff of legend, but even that may not have anything on his first draft of Blues Brothers. The typical script generally clocks in somewhere between 90 and 120 pages. Aykroyd's script was 324 pages long. If someone tossed it at you, you would die. The studio people had no idea what to make of it, other than recognizing there was some outstanding comedy hidden in those rambling, generally pointless pages written by Aykroyd in between stealing cars from the Universal motor pool and getting high at the Leave It To Beaver house. And yes, those were things that actually happened.
Defiled by Dan Aykroyd.
Fortunately for everyone involved, Landis hacked the script to pieces and reassembled it into what would become a smash success, raking in $115 million theatrically worldwide and paving the way for movies about more classic SNL characters.
And may God have mercy on his soul.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
As we understand it, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is based on a television program that lasted three seasons and taught the world that it was OK to be sexually aroused by green women. Oh, and it also introduced the world to William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, and a dozen film sequels. Star Trek is by most metrics the second-most-successful science-fiction franchise in history and the most successful at not being ruined years later by George Lucas.
"Shh, don't jinx it!"
It probably seemed strange at the time to base a big-budget film around a short-lived, cult-favorite TV show. After all, look at the enormous effort it took to turn Firefly into Serenity, and then look at the Fox executives snickering, "We told you so," when it became a box office disappointment. Still, Star Trek was used to overcoming the odds. After all, this was a show that nearly lost the character of Uhura early on, until freaking Martin Luther King Jr. stepped in and convinced Nichelle Nichols to stick it out. So, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the film adaptation would become a huge success. Well, unless you knew anything about the behind-the-scenes troubles.
Why We Almost Never Got To See It ...
We mentioned before that Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a pretty significant budget, which was set at $18 million. For perspective, the budget for the first Star Wars was $11 million, and that was released only two years earlier and had gone over the projected cost. Just like Star Wars, the budget for Star Trek wound up surpassing the original projection, but to a degree so enormous that it makes George Lucas look fiscally responsible by comparison. The budget spiraled out of control at ... ahem ... warp speed, all the way up to a reported $45 million. That made it by far one of the most expensive films ever made at the time.
Of course, your budget is going to get a little bit out of control when you wind up paying a special effects house $6 million to do precisely jack with a side order of squat. See, Paramount originally hired a guy named Robert Abel to do the special effects for the film, but instead of doing his job the way humans tend to do, he turned around and used his $6 million budget to build a studio, and then never turned in a single finished effect for the film to Paramount.
Hopefully it was $6 million well spent.
And that's really just the tip of the iceberg for this titanic-sized disaster. According to George Takei, the problems started at the top with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Apparently, Roddenberry would steal pages of the script before they could get to the actors and write his own material for them. As you can probably guess, that created an awful lot of confusion on the set. Even more troubling, Roddenberry hadn't even included Spock in the film, probably because he and Nimoy pretty much despised one another. Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, now two of the most famous producers in movie history, stepped in to find a way to get Nimoy into the fold -- a task made more difficult due to the fact that Nimoy was suing Paramount at the time. It wasn't until the lawsuit was settled out of court that Nimoy agreed to do the movie, which hammers home the point that Mr. Spock's emphasis was really on that "prosper" part of his most famous line.
The African Queen
Of all the movies on this list, The African Queen is simultaneously arguably the best and the least seen, based simply on the fact that, for whatever reason, kids these days don't seem to want to watch black-and-white movies from 1951 about a man and a woman taking a boat down a river. The film, starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, was set during the early days of World War I and featured a plot in which a missionary somehow convinces a boat captain to basically go on a suicide mission to sink a German gunboat.
"I'm telling you: Shitty, rickety boats are in right now!"
Bogart won his one and only Academy Award for his performance in the film, which has been consistently ranked among the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest movies of all time through each iteration of the list. The movie also earned Hepburn an Academy Award nomination, though considering she was basically the Meryl Streep of her era she could have filmed a 10-minute video of her wafting away her own fart stank and still gotten a nomination.
Why We Almost Never Got To See It ...
Well, if Hepburn had ever decided to go ahead and make a movie about her anal winds, The African Queen would have supplied ample opportunity to get the footage. That's because, like many members of the cast and crew, Hepburn came down with dysentery while filming, because she rather foolishly decided that "drinking water" was something she needed to do. Bogart and director John Huston were two of the only members of the crew who didn't get sick, which has been largely attributed to the fact that they were basically drunk the entire time.
For the sake of authenticity, much of the film was shot on location in the Congo, which was considered a dangerous place to take a film crew, for obvious reasons. When dysentery wasn't threatening the health of the crew, other things like malaria and dangerous wild animals were. The studio hired local tribe members to help with the production, but, and we couldn't make this up if we tried, they generally refused to show up for fear that the filmmakers were cannibals.
Don't worry; he's only hungry for booze.
Of course, life-threatening instances weren't limited to on-location filming, as screenwriter James Agee suffered a massive heart attack before he was able to finish his draft. To finish the script, Huston hired his friend Peter Viertel, promising to take him to "the very darkest, bloody corner of Africa." And he meant it when he said bloody, because Huston would often disappear from the production to go off and hunt elephants. In fact, according to Viertel, it became an obsession for the director, to the point where he "seemed willing to shoot everything in Africa except the movie." The entire situation became such an ordeal that it inspired Viertel to write a lightly fictionalized version of the events as a book called White Hunter, Black Heart, which was, in turn, adapted into a movie directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. And when the insane behind-the-scenes shenanigans surrounding your movie become nearly as famous as the movie itself, well, you're in rare company indeed.
"Hi! Welcome to the club!"
Return Of The Jedi
Say what you will about Return Of The Jedi, but the final chapter of the original Star Wars trilogy was an unequivocal masterpiece of filmmaking compared to the prequels. The third film of the epic space opera gave us some truly iconic cinema moments, such as the unmasking of Darth Vader (not to mention his redemption and his son saving him from the Dark Side), Luke Skywalker's battle with the Rancor, and, of course, the most famous realization that something is amiss in film history:
It has its share of issues; at the time, though, it received a four-star review from the late, great Roger Ebert. The Pulitzer Prize-winner summed up why so many people still adore the film despite all of its flaws: "The movie is a complete entertainment, a feast for the eyes and a delight for the fancy."
Why We Almost Never Got To See It ...
You know how you hate the Ewoks, despite the fact that if you were a kid when Jedi came out you no doubt loved them and owned a Wicket doll and don't try to deny it, you big liar? Well, you're not alone, either with hating the Ewoks now or having that classic Wicket plush. Apparently, everyone -- including Ralph McQuarrie -- despised the very concept of the Ewoks. Everyone except for George Lucas, that is. McQuarrie reportedly refused to actually work on any sort of conceptual designs for the Ewoks, and this is the guy who literally did every design, for everything, in the trilogy.
So cute. So hated.
Return Of The Jedi was almost a very different movie, and not just based on Ewok involvement. Initially, George Lucas was hopeful that David Lynch would direct, and in fact was banking on that coming to fruition. Take a moment to appreciate what kind of fucked-up Endor we would have gotten with the guy behind Twin Peaks and Eraserhead at the helm, and decide for yourself if we're better or worse off for his passing on the project.
The actors were also a problem. David Prowse, the man in Vader's suit, would regularly spoil the trilogy's biggest plot twists during public appearances, so George Lucas punished him by not giving him any actual dialogue to speak.
To make matters worse, the actors were never particularly happy with the script. Harrison Ford had been famously hoping that Han Solo would get killed off, and none of the three principles -- including Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher -- was terribly fond of the new, relatively inexperienced director, Richard Marquand. It probably didn't help that, according to Fisher, Marquand would say things to her like, "You're fucking up my shot."
He said that to this.
In addition, Lucas changed massive parts of the story during the entire process (like reducing the number of Death Stars in the movie from two to one, and removing an industrial planet that later became Coruscant in the prequels), which made the final product much more lighthearted and kid-friendly and wound up forcing Industrial Light & Magic to abandon hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work they'd already put in, with 100 finished effects being left on the cutting-room floor. They rebelled by doing the only thing that artistic types in their position could do: getting drunk and drawing concept art of Ewoks getting shot in the face. Because it all comes back to the fact that everyone just hates those goddamn Ewoks.
You can follow Jeff on Twitter, if for no other reason than to check out his page for the greatest picture of Doc Ock and Lex Luthor you'll ever see.
For more from Jeff, check out The 6 Most Unintentionally Creepy Movie Romances and 6 People Who Faked Their Own Death (For Ridiculous Reasons).
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