20 Famous Movies That Were Almost Derailed By On-Set Chaos

Big budget Hollywood movies usually look pretty polished once they’re up on our local cinema’s big screen, but the truth behind some of their productions occasionally features large amounts of trouble and strife.

Below are 20 movies that had massive on-set difficulties – though as you’ll see, some of them still turned out to be absolute classics!

20. Masters of the Universe

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Movie studio Cannon Films were already in financial trouble when they started production on their 1987 flop-to-be Masters of the Universe.

Unfortunately for Cannon, things weren’t about to get any better for them while making the adaptation of the popular cartoon and toyline.

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Masters director Gary Goddard later revealed that producers were actually pulling the plug on the movie whilst they were still filming.

Although the movie was already shooting on a shoestring, Cannon almost didn’t find the money to film the final fight scene between Dolph Lundgren’s He-Man and Frank Langella’s Skeletor.

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Unfortunately for Goddard, Masters of the Universe had gone into production around the same time as another flop-in-waiting: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

This meant that Cannon ended up with a double whammy of embarrassing flops that eventually led to the studio’s closure.


19. Waterworld

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Kevin Costner’s epic Waterworld might be a movie that we love, but it was beset by reports of spiralling budgets and on-set difficulties during production.

This was mainly due to what has become known in insurance terms as ‘acts of god’.

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Despite the area being renowned for hurricanes, star Kevin Costner decided the water off the coast of Hawaii was the perfect shooting location for his Mad Max-at-sea epic.

However, his bright idea was soon confounded when the area was hit by – you guessed it – a hurricane.

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The extreme weather caused one of the movie’s sets to sink completely, whilst high winds caused other sets to float far away from their original location!

18. Police Academy: Mission to Moscow

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If you’ve ever sat through Police Academy: Mission to Moscow then you’ll know that it’s one of the least funny ‘comedy’ movies ever released.

The film also turned out to be a massive flop, taking just £130,000 at the box office.

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The story of the movie’s production is also one filled with large amounts of strife.

Shooting in Russia at the end of the Cold War, the filmmakers had to shoot amongst street fighting after Russia entered a state of emergency.

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“It was a bit dodgy today,” producer Paul Maslansky later reported after a particularly tough day on set. “We got in and out as quickly as possible”.

17. Aliens

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During shooting on 1986 movie Aliens, James Cameron was bound by a low budget and a tight deadline.

Cameron, an American, found it difficult to adjust to what the late Bill Paxton referred to as the “indentured” working practices of the British crew.

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These ‘indentured’ practices included such insane concepts as tea breaks, which often brought production to a halt.

The British crew also believed that the then-31-year-old Cameron was too young and inexperienced to direct the movie.

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After the original director of photography was fired for refusing to light a scene the way Cameron wanted, the crew even walked out for a time.

16. Mad Max: Fury Road

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Having already spent years in pre-production, shooting on the brilliant Mad Max: Fury Road was at one point suspended for almost a year.

This was due to the region of New South Wales in Australia, which was to be the movie’s main location, receiving weeks of rainy weather.

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This unprecedented act of Mother Nature transformed the area’s once-desert landscape into one containing blossoming wildflowers.

Ultimately, this meant that the whole production had to be switched to Namibia in Africa.

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Finally, once the film had finished shooting after 120 days in December 2012, almost a whole year would pass before the production would restart, in November 2013, for reshoots.

15. Flash Gordon

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Lorenzo Semple Jr, co-writer of 1980 cult classic Flash Gordon, has been quoted as saying that production of the movie was a bit of a mess.

The main issue was that one of the producers wanted the film to be funny.

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Meanwhile, others had different ideas and thought the comic book adaptation should be more serious.

Semple has been quoted as saying that ‘we kept fiddling around with the script, trying to decide whether to be funny or realistic.’

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‘That was a catastrophic thing to do, with so much money involved,’ he explained.

14. Apocalypse Now

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Famously, actor Martin Sheen almost died whilst shooting classic 1979 war movie Apocalypse Now.

In addition to the malaria that was affecting all of the cast and crew, Sheen was brought down by his heavy drinking and reported drug use.

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This combination of factors caused Sheen to suffer a heart attack whilst he was out walking on his own, which meant that he had to crawl half a mile to receive medical attention.

Not only that, but various pressures, financial and otherwise, combined to make the shooting process an extremely stressful one for director Francis Ford Coppola.

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Not only did he have an epileptic seizure and a nervous breakdown, but it’s alleged that the filmmaker threatened to kill himself at least three times.

13. Aeon Flux

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Production on the 2005 Charlize Theron movie Aeon Flux was heavily delayed after shooting had to be shut down for eight weeks.

This came after the star suffered a serious injury filming a stunt on-set.

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Theron landed on her neck whilst performing back-flips, damaging a disc close to her spinal cord that nearly left her paralysed.

Luckily, Theron made a full recovery, and apparently learnt her lesson from the close encounter.

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‘It definitely woke me up to, OK, you have to be prepared… Now my body’s functioning perfectly again, and I obviously didn’t want to mess that up,’ she later explained.

12. Hook

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Steven Spielberg has revealed the difficulties he had in directing his 1991 movie Hook, and how his lack of experience hindered his confidence.

Spielberg has since even confessed that he is not a fan of the movie at all, much to our surprise, being as it is one of our very favourite childhood movies!

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‘I still don’t like that movie. I’m hoping someday I’ll see it again and perhaps like some of it. I felt like a fish out of water making it.’ Spielberg explained.

‘I didn’t have confidence in the script, I didn’t quite know what I was doing, and I tried to paint over my insecurity with production value.’

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Still, Robin Williams added a certain charm to the film, and formed a close friendship with Spielberg.

11. Blade: Trinity

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During the filming of the quite terrible 2004 movie Blade: Trinity, nothing seemed to go to plan.

Blade actor Wesley Snipes reportedly chased the director around the set – that is, when he wasn’t in his trailer smoking weed.

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Even worse, by the end of filming, Snipes would apparently only communicate with others via post-it notes!

Not only that, but Snipes later sued the movie’s studio New Line Cinema, as well as its director David S. Goyer.

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Snipes claimed that the studio did not pay his full salary, that he was cut out of casting decisions, and that his character’s screen time was reduced in favour of Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel. The case was settled out of court.

10. The Shining

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Director Stanley Kubrick was notorious for his insistence on multiple takes, often to the frustration of the actors who worked under him.

This started to take its toll on the cast of The Shining, with Jack Nicholson reportedly ‘collapsing’ into bed after each day of filming.

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Things were even worse for Nicholson’s co-star, Wendy actor Shelley Duvall, however.

Due to her role requiring her to be in an almost constant state of hysteria, Duvall became fraught and anxious under Kubrick’s direction.

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Duvall was made so anxious, in fact, that her hair began to fall out due to the stress on set. Duvall has since retired from acting.

9. Twilight Zone: The Movie

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Twilight Zone: The Movie is fairly terrifying in itself, but the real horror was actually hidden behind the scenes.

The film gained notoriety even before its release due to a helicopter crash on-set which resulted in some off-screen tragedy.

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During a helicopter stunt, the lead actor, Vic Morrow, and two Vietnamese children were killed when the vehicle crashed.

To make matters worse, the two children had been illegally hired in order for the crew to avoid being hindered by child labour laws.

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In a chilling revelation, a production assistant claimed that Morrow had earlier predicted his own death, saying ‘I always thought I’d die in a helicopter crash’.

8. Cleopatra

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Cleopatra made film history, with Elizabeth Taylor becoming the first actor to receive £1 million for a role. The filming started off in England, with the crew building intricate period sets completely from scratch.

However, it soon became clear that England’s intemperate climate ensured it could not be passed off as Egypt.

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The British sets were subsequently destroyed and rebuilt in Rome, resulting in a massive delay.

To make matters worse, the lead actors left the project due to scheduling problems, and were replaced by Rex Harrison and Richard Burton.

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This was, of course, the start of Burton and Taylor’s infamous affair, which only added to the bad press surrounding the film.

7. The Island of Dr. Moreau

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The production for The Island of Dr. Moreau was notoriously riddled with issues. Bruce Willis was initially set to play the lead, but dropped out after his split from Demi Moore.

He was then replaced by Val Kilmer, who was served divorce papers on set, and subsequently took his anger out on the rest of the cast by being generally irascible.

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Marlon Brando was also meant to play a larger role in the film than he does, but he took a step back after his daughter’s suicide.

Brando at one point during filming retreated to his private island, leaving the production in limbo, the filmmakers never knowing when he would show up.

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When he returned, Brando refused to learn his lines, insisting they were instead fed to him through an earpiece.

6. Town & Country

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Town & Country holds the proud title of being one of the biggest box office flops in American history, grossing just over $10 million from a budget of $90 million.

This, as well as the money spent on advertising, left studio New Line Cinema seriously out of pocket.

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Director Warren Beatty was largely to blame, with the production hindered by his insistence on shooting multiple takes.

As a result, filming was delayed, meaning that several lead actors were no longer available to film.

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Filming finally wrapped over two years after principal photography began.

5. The Wizard of Oz

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The production of The Wizard of Oz was troubled from the start, with several scripts being drafted by different writers before one was finally settled on.

The problems didn’t end there. Buddy Ebsen was originally supposed to play the Tin Man, but problems arose when it was discovered he was allergic to the makeup.

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He was hospitalised in critical position, and forced to take a step back from the production.

The technicolor scenes were also difficult to shoot, with cast members required to work six days a week and arrive on set as early as 4am for hair and makeup.

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The prosthetic lights also meant that the set became incredibly hot, often reaching temperatures of over 100 °F (38°C).

4. American Graffiti

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American Graffiti was fraught from the start, with the initial screenplay by David Picker deemed ‘overtly sexual and fantasy-like’, much to George Lucas’ dismay.

The filming itself was no walk in the park, with one crew member arrested for growing marijuana.

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Several local filming permits were also denied, delaying the production even further.

Co-star Harrison Ford was also not on his best behaviour, and was at one point arrested for his involvement in a bar fight.

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Ford was in fact reportedly drunk during most of the filming, much to the other actors’ frustration.

3. The Exorcist

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Exorcist director William Friedkin was not a traditionalist by any stretch, and decided to be experimental in his attempts to elicit a response from his cast.

Linda Blair was just 12 years old at the time of filming the movie, but Friedkin still insisted she should be pulled around the set on a harness to mimic a demonic possession.

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Friedkin also slapped Father William O’Malley in order to provoke an emotional reaction, which offended the Catholic crew members.

Several fires broke out on set, leading many to believe that the production was cursed.

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By the end of filming, nine people involved with the film had died, the result of an apparent ‘curse’ – we can’t blame Friedkin for that one.

2. Three Kings

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Three Kings originally started with a budget of $42 million, but studio Warner Bros was concerned over financing an amateur film.

The studio wanted the budget reduced to $35 million, and the shooting schedule reduced from 80 days to 68.

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The studio was also concerned over the political overtones in the film, especially considering the conflict that was still ongoing in the Middle East.

Director Russell was also ordered to sign legal documents agreeing to remove the scenes alluding to Michael Jackson’s alleged paedophilia.

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There was also trouble shooting, when Russell reportedly got in to a physical altercation with an extra on the set, at which point Russell and leading man George Clooney also fought.

1. Heaven’s Gate

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Heaven’s Gate is notorious for its disastrous onset occurrences, largely due to retakes, negative press and overrun schedules.

There were also rumours surrounding director Michael Cimino’s allegedly authoritarian directorial style.

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According to some cast members, Cimino would demand up to 50 takes, and insisted sets be completely rebuilt when they didn’t meet his high expectations.

There were also whispers in the press surrounding animal abuse on set, with crew members claiming horses were ‘bled out’ without pain killers in order to collect their blood to use on the actors.

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The American Human Association also alleged that up to four horses died in one battle scene, with one being blown up. This footage was actually used in the film.