10 Movies That Were Massive Behind-the-Scenes Nightmares

10 Movies That Were Massive Behind-the-Scenes Nightmares
Image credit: Legion-Media,, New Line Cinema, Filmverlag der Autoren

Sometimes, the drama backstage outshines the plot of the movie itself.

1. "Apocalypse Now" (1979)

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This war epic has gained an almost mythical status, not just for its evocative portrayal of the Vietnam War, but also for the chaos that ensued behind the scenes. Helmed by Francis Ford Coppola, "Apocalypse Now" had its fair share of headaches, including typhoons destroying sets, Martin Sheen suffering a heart attack, and Marlon Brando showing up on set overweight and unprepared. Coppola had to rewrite the script to accommodate Brando's physical appearance. Such was the strain of the production, Coppola reportedly suffered an epileptic seizure and threatened suicide multiple times. Despite all this, the film is often hailed as a masterpiece, with a rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.

2. "Jaws" (1975)

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Who would have thought that a giant mechanical shark named Bruce would become a behind-the-scenes nightmare? "Jaws" was rife with production problems from the outset. The shark kept malfunctioning and was not operational most of the time, leading to delays. Director Steven Spielberg had to inventively use point-of-view shots to imply the shark's presence, a move that inadvertently increased the suspense and contributed to the film's success. Moreover, the budget swelled from $4 million to $9 million, and the shoot, initially slated for 55 days, extended to 159 days.

3. "Cleopatra" (1963)

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Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra" is infamous for being one of the most chaotic shoots in cinematic history. It ran massively over budget, almost bankrupting 20th Century Fox. Initially budgeted at $2 million, it spiraled out of control to a then-staggering $44 million (equivalent to $370 million today), primarily due to extravagant sets and Taylor's ill health causing frequent delays. The actress contracted pneumonia during the shoot and had to undergo a tracheotomy. Furthermore, the tumultuous off-screen romance between Taylor and Richard Burton made headlines and added to the film's infamy.

4. "Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015)

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For all its post-apocalyptic beauty, "Mad Max: Fury Road" was a mess during production. Filming began in 2012, with numerous delays due to weather conditions and logistical difficulties. The shoot was described as "chaotic" and "a nightmare" by crew members. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron reportedly clashed on set due to the stressful conditions. Moreover, director George Miller was at odds with Warner Bros. over the film's budget and schedule. Nevertheless, the movie turned out to be a cinematic marvel, earning six Oscars and a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

5. "The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1996)

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A classic tale of ambition running amok, "The Island of Dr. Moreau" was beset by myriad problems, including an out-of-control budget and erratic weather conditions that caused repeated delays. The off-screen drama escalated when original director Richard Stanley was fired just three days into shooting, with John Frankenheimer brought in as his replacement. The eccentric behavior of Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer added to the chaos. Brando insisted on wearing an ice bucket as a hat for one scene, while Kilmer reportedly fought with the director and crew.

6. "Heaven's Gate" (1980)

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Director Michael Cimino's grand vision for "Heaven's Gate" was spectacularly undermined by over-ambitious set designs, production delays, and budget overruns that multiplied the initial estimate of $7.5 million to a whopping $44 million. Infamous for long shooting days and numerous retakes, Cimino reportedly filmed over a million feet of footage, most of which ended up on the cutting room floor. Despite all the hard work, the movie flopped spectacularly at the box office and currently has a shaky 59% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Its behind-the-scenes shenanigans and financial disaster led to the sale of the production studio United Artists.

7. "Fitzcarraldo" (1982)

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Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo" involved moving a 320-ton steamship over a steep hill, in an act of directorial bravado that resulted in several crew injuries and logistical nightmares. Herzog's insistence on realism instead of using miniatures or special effects added to the complexity. Star Jason Robards had to quit midway due to illness, and Mick Jagger, who had a supporting role, left due to scheduling conflicts, forcing Herzog to recast and reshoot several scenes. Yet, despite its tumultuous making, the film won the Best Director award at Cannes and currently holds a rating of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes.

8. "The Shining" (1980)

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Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" is a classic horror movie known for its atmospheric tension and chilling performances. However, the off-screen drama was just as intense. Actress Shelley Duvall, who played the lead role of Wendy, bore the brunt of Kubrick's perfectionism. He demanded retake after retake of emotionally intense scenes, allegedly leading Duvall to suffer from nervous exhaustion, hair loss, and illness. The infamous "Here's Johnny" scene alone took three days and 60 doors to film.

9. "Titanic " (1997)

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The making of the epic romantic drama "Titanic" was anything but smooth sailing. It went significantly over budget, with the final cost tallying up to a then-record $200 million. The ambitious set designs and high-standard special effects added to the expenses and complications. Director James Cameron 's perfectionist approach led to long working hours, causing exhaustion among the cast and crew. There were reports of crew members being taken to the hospital for various conditions, including kidney infections due to long hours without restroom breaks. Despite the rocky production, "Titanic" sailed to success, winning 11 Academy Awards and grossing over $2 billion worldwide.

10. "The Abyss" (1989)

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Speaking of James Cameron, his underwater sci-fi thriller "The Abyss" was also a nightmare to shoot. Filming took place underwater, leading to several challenges, including malfunctioning equipment, cast members nearly drowning, and hypothermia. The conditions were so extreme that actor Ed Harris reportedly punched Cameron in the face after a particularly risky underwater shoot. The crew referred to the movie as "Life's Abyss and Then You Dive," hinting at the physically and mentally taxing environment.