In a lot of ways, Hollywood is like a Wild West of entertainment. We may see a glitzy finished product, but the road to get there is full of bad choices, danger, money and unpredictable madness. Sometimes this comes through on screen, but more often than not, you need to dig deep to find out what really went on.
10. Highlander II
The infamous sequel to the cult classic ’80s movie that introduced us to the very Scottish Sean Connery played an Egyptian immortal named Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez threw in the twist that he and the movie’s main character Connor MacLeod are also aliens. Sure, why not? It retconned the entire first movie in a way that made it worse and weird. But behind the scenes things were so much crazier that it’s almost nor worth focusing on the goofiness on screen.
Michael Ironside, who played the movie’s villain, recounted his experience of the film’s Argentina set. According to him, his stunt double had never been anywhere with such easy to find and cheap cocaine. As a result, the man got completely stoned and then showed up one night at Ironside’s hotel room, totally naked with paint on his undercarriage. He asked for a pair of sweatpants, then ran off.
Two days later, the still-high stunt double injured himself doing a stunt, so Ironside subbed in and did it himself. He was also injured (but not as badly), and it’s the take they use in the movie because they literally only had one chance to do it. So when you see his character crash through the subway when he comes to Earth, that wasn’t acting so much as relief over not breaking his own back.
Ironside cut off part of star Christopher Lambert’s finger during a fight scene and the director hated the movie so much he walked out of the premiere. The producers had meddled with it so much he couldn’t watch it at all. Lambert himself tried to leave during production but was contractually obligated to stay. To this day, it’s considered one of the worst sequels of all time.
9. Island of Dr. Moreau
There’s a lot to take in when you read about what happened on the set of 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. It seemed like everyone involved in the film actively wanted to ruin it for everyone else. How the movie was ever finished at all is a bit of a mystery.
The film starred Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. Both men were very famous at the time and both had a reputation for being problematic on set. Things got off to a rocky start. Kilmer would only do the film if they cut his part back 60% and the studio was willing to meet any demands. Brando’s daughter had just committed suicide and the enigmatic actor became even more of a loose cannon.
The director’s assistant was bitten by a venomous spider on set and his mother’s house was struck by lightning three times. A hurricane disrupted filming just as it was starting. Kilmer was apparently acting like a spoiled child and refused to stand up for filming one day. Brando hadn’t even shown up and within three days, the studio fired the director.
The studio tried to have the director escorted off set, but he vanished, opting instead to become a weird Phantom of the Opera-like character. After living on a fruit plantation for a month living on stolen produce and marijuana, he returned to his former movie while wearing a hood and dog mask and engaged in the destruction of the set as one of the extras.
Brando himself proved to be even worse than Kilmer on set. The studio didn’t want to deny him anything, so he was allowed to make changes to the film on the fly. This included things like having his character be painted white and wear an ice bucket as a hat. He has a tiny, twp-foot tall man follow him everywhere despite this not being in the script. Later in the movie he’s revealed to be a dolphin, also an idea of Brando’s.
Because he changed the script daily, he never bothered to learn his lines. They were fed to him via earpiece and it would occasionally cross wires with the local police band. Star David Thewlis recalled Brando yelling “there’s a robbery at Woolworths” at one point during filming.
8. Blade: Trinity
Before the MCU, Marvel had some serious success with their Blade movies starring Wesley Snipes. As the titular vampire hunter, Snipes was dark and cool and mysterious on camera. Off camera he reportedly was a three ring circus.
By the time Blade: Trinity came around, the story had evolved to include new characters: Ryan Reynolds as Hannibal King and Jessica Biel as Abigail Whistler. For whatever reason, Snipes did not seem to want to share the spotlight.
Patton Oswalt, who co-starred in the film, has shared stories about the unpredictable and surly behavior of Snipes which included him hiding in his trailer and smoking weed all day to only showing up for close up shots.
At one point Snipes tried to strangle director David Goyer after accusing him of racism. The reason? An extra, who was black, was wearing a shirt that he brought from home with the word “Garbage” on it. Snipes then resorted to communicating with the man through Post-It notes that he signed “From Blade.”
A writer from Spin who was on set said Snipes referred to Ryan Reynolds as “that cracker.” His double was doing all of his work and Reynolds took it in stride. There are numerous outtakes of him making the kind of jokes you’d expect of Ryan Reynolds, mostly towards the goal of just making the character Blade look silly.
7. Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now is considered one of the greatest movies ever made, an incredible feat when you hear what went on behind the scenes. Another movie in which Marlon Brando was expected to act one way and ended up being something else. It was just plagued with problems.
Martin Sheen’s iconic scene in which he punches the mirror and cuts himself was real. Sheen was drunk and misjudged the distance to the mirror, badly wounding his hand. He had to beg Coppolla to keep the scene in the movie. Sheen would go on to suffer a heart attack during filming that Coppolla blamed himself for, which led him to having an epileptic seizure. Later, he suffered a nervous breakdown and threatened suicide more than once.
The heart attack was not “just” a heart attack. This was in the middle of nowhere. Sheen crawled out of his room at 2 a.m. and then a quarter mile down the road before he found help. A priest arrived and read him his last rites. His brother Joe stood in for some scenes until he was able to return to set.
To add authenticity to the movie, the prop master had hired a man to supply real human corpses. Turns out he was a grave robber and his work was not entirely above board. The cops arrived and took passports from everyone until it could be proven that no one involved in the movie was a murderer.
Coppola hired Brando, expecting him to be a man who looked like a soldier. He was supposed to be handsome and tough looking. He showed up on set weighing about 300 pounds. They had to film him in tight close ups to hide his bulk in a way that would keep the character believable. He had also not prepared for his role in any way. Production was shut down for a week while Coppola read the script out loud to Brando to get him into character.
Co-star Dennis Hopper was high for much of the movie and Brando wouldn’t film scenes with him. The production staff was supplying him with cocaine to keep him able to work. He was wired all the time and refused to bathe.
Despite all of this, the movie is now considered a classic.
6. Maximum Overdrive
In 1986, Stephen King was frustrated with how his works had been adapted to the big screen. He was notoriously unimpressed by The Shining and was not a fan of Carrie, either. He wanted to take the reins on a movie and show what could be done if he directed his own film. The work he chose was Maximum Overdrive based on his short story Trucks.
King wanted to tell the story of an everyman fighting machines inexplicably brought to life by a comet. His choice for the everyman? Bruce Springsteen. The producers did not agree and Emilio Estevez got the job. Word is King immediately lost all interest in the film.
King admitted later that he was “coked out of his mind” during production. Not to mention the fact he was incredibly drunk the entire time, as well. He’d be 10 beers into the day by breakfast.
The set was incredibly dangerous, with explosions and machines run amok. The cinematographer sued King and others for $18 million after being injured by a lawnmower. He lost an eye and settled out of court.
Filmed in Malta, Robin Williams’ first movie was a disaster in the making. The location was chosen for no other reason than it looked nice. There was no easy way to get there and facilities had to be built on site to make it work. This included importing timber from Italy and shingles from Canada at a huge cost. They also built more than they needed for no real reason, hugely cutting into the budget.
The fake arms Williams wore as Popeye greatly inhibited his movement. He had to re-record much of his dialogue because he couldn’t get the voice right, and speaking with a pipe proved difficult. He also ad-libbed many lines, something Williams was famous for, but which the director Robert Altman hated. Others on set were recorded singing during filming rather than in a sound studio with greatly diminished sound quality overall.
Cocaine was rampant all over the set and the studio eventually cut off the money. The final battle against an underwhelming rubber octopus looked unimpressive even for 1980. There were no animatronics to animate the creature, just a guy flopping its appendages around.
The 1982 film Fitzcarraldo is one of the most infamous productions in film history. Most modern audiences have never seen the movie. It was a German film directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski. But the story of its production has become legendary.
Filmed on location in Peru, the production literally ended in death. Four people died in one of two plane crashes that occurred during filming. Someone else died from drowning and another crew member, after being bit by a poisonous snake, cut his own foot off with a chainsaw to prevent the venom from spreading. Local tribes people attacked the set during raids. One crewmember was shot through the neck with an arrow and his wife took one in the stomach. Later, cinematographer Thomas Mauch fell on a moving ship while holding a camera. The impact split his hand in two and the shoot was out of anesthetic. He was sewn up with nothing to relieve the pain. His only distraction was a local prostitute that had been hired to say nice things to him.
Star Klaus Kinski was prone to have fits on set. He’d scream at crew and other actors. His behavior was so egregious, a tribe leader from the indigenous people on set offered to murder him on Werner Herzog’s behalf. The director declined because he still needed him to finish the movie.
Still one of the coolest sci-fi films ever made and the start of a franchise, 1987’s Predator was one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biggest hits. But the filming of the movie featured an abundance of ridiculousness that nearly derailed it completely.
Before settling on the iconic alien design, Jean-Claude Van Damme was hired to play the creature. The final Predator was played by 7-foot-2 Kevin Peter Hall, a formidable opponent for Schwarzenegger. Van Damme was only 5-foot-10. He was wearing a completely different suit that looked a bit like a gangly insect man. The crew hated it and test footage looked decidedly unimpressive.
Van Damme was fired, and several reasons have been offered up. Apparently, he kept passing out from the heat, and he also had a hard time dealing with the fact he wasn’t going to be seen in the movie, or able to showcase his martial arts. Van Damme himself said he just couldn’t do anything in the suit. Someone else relates Van Damme panicking in costume and breaking the $20,000 head before the director threw him out.
The studio only signed off on actor Sonny Landham, who played Billy, if there was a bodyguard to watch him on set. Word is he had a reputation for being dangerous and unpredictable. Richard Chavez, who played Poncho, was swarmed by red ants. He ran through the jungle ripping his clothes off and suffered over 100 bites. Needless to say, it was a rough time for everyone.
2. Winter Kills
Not a lot of people have heard of 1979’s Winter Kills, but the production was a veritable Gong Show of weirdness. The movie was produced by a pair of drug dealers whose previous film work had been importing a French softcore porn film to America. One of them was murdered in the middle of production. The popular belief was that the mob killed him over debts. The other one got 40 years in prison for drug charges.
The movie suffered budgetary issues and cast and crew were getting paid with envelopes of cash given to them in hotel rooms. Eventually the movie was released but it bombed horribly and has mostly been forgotten.
1. Heaven’s Gate
Heaven’s Gate has long been considered one of the biggest failures in film history, and that’s even before you look into what happened on set. To start, the entire cast had to learn a myriad of new skills. This included dancing on rollerskates, speaking Yugoslavian, and cockfighting. They spent hours a day for weeks mastering the various things needed before filming even began.
Director Michael Cimino was a perfectionist beyond reason. He needed to hand select extras for each and every scene, placing them where he wanted them one at a time. By the end of the first week, the movie had burned through $900,000 and had only filmed 90 seconds of footage. This was just the beginning of his controlling nature. He demanded an irrigation system be installed in a field after all the rocks were removed so the grass would be green. Shooting was delayed until he liked the looks of the clouds overhead. He had a tree cut down and moved to a place where he thought it looked better. An entire city scene was built and then disassembled to be rebuilt because he wanted six more feet between houses.
There were numerous accidents on set and the movie went more than four times over its planned budget. It made less than a tenth of what it cost at the box office.