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12 Major Films With So Many Development And On Set Disasters They Almost Didn't Happen

Updated August 17, 2020 1.1k votes 271 voters 29.5k views12 items

List RulesVote up the nightmare behind-the-scenes situations that would give you the most panic attacks.

The wheels came off things left and right in 2017, including highly anticipated films like Justice League and the Star Wars Han Solo origin story, which both experienced well-publicized production issues. While the conflicts of these projects may seem endemic to 2017, films that had production troubles are nothing new. Making a movie is a massive undertaking that exists in a violent vortex of egos, and the history of films with production issues goes back to the dawn of the medium and spans the entire globe. 

In some instances, these nightmare productions tell the tales of films that almost didn't get made, or at least didn't make it all the way to completion, as was the case with Apocalypse Now. In other instances, the behind-the-scenes drama during production was a result of feuding between the director and the studio, or ego battles between actors and the production. In some cases, technology made life hell, as happened on the set of Jaws

  • Alien 3
    Photo: 20th Century Fox

    Ridley Scott’s Alien gave the world a masterclass in science fiction horror, and James Cameron’s Aliens helped define modern sci-fi action while advancing the role of female protagonists in both action and science fiction. Given the franchise's history, Alien 3 was an obvious choice for 20th Century Fox. Worried about protecting its property, the studio interfered to the extent that the film’s director, David Fincher, disowned the project, saying, “No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.”

    Things didn't look good for the third Alien film from the start. Fox spent a rumored $13 million on pre-production, which included multiple script drafts from myriad writers, the plots of which range from an alien invasion on Earth to a film set on a wooden planet. Finally, Fox hired David Fincher, a successful music video and commercial director, to see the film to completion. The inexperienced and impressionable Fincher was thrown into his first feature-length narrative film at just 28 years old.

    With such a messy pre-production, disaster during filming was inevitable. Fincher found himself without a completed script and only five weeks to prepare before production began. The project went through numerous snags, including a rewrite of the final act mid-production. This halted filming, so Alien 3 missed its intended date of completion. Fincher recalls:

    "I'd always thought, 'Well, surely you don't want to have the Twentieth Century Fox logo over a sh*tty movie.' And they were like, 'Well, as long as it opens.' So I learned then just to be a belligerent asshole, which was really: 'You have to get what you need to get out of it.' You have to fight for things you believe in, and you have to be smart about how you position it so that you don't just become white noise. On that movie, I was the guy who was constantly the voice of 'We need to do this better, we need to do this, this doesn't make sense.' And pretty soon, it was like in Peanuts: WOP WOP WOP WOP WOP! They'd go, 'He's doing that again, he's frothing at the mouth, he seems so passionate.' They didn't care."

    Alien 3 remains a divisive film with fans of the Alien franchise. It was a success at the box office, and a subsequent Assembly Cut caused some fans to reconsider their initial hatred for the picture. Fincher, learning from his mistakes with Alien 3, went on to make Se7en in 1995, cementing himself as one of Hollywood’s next great filmmakers.

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  • When it opened in theaters, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road dazzled audiences with an onslaught of practical effects and stunts. However, the film was nearly never made, as it faced close to a decade development and production issues.

    Miller attempted to make Fury Road as early as 2001. Filming was supposed to begin in Broken Hill, Australia. Shortly before production was set to start, a massive rainstorm hit the area, causing wildflowers to bloom and ruin the post-apocalyptic vibe needed for the film. Then, with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the value of the American dollar fell, causing production to halt.

    Filming was once again set to begin in 2006, with Mel Gibson reprising his role as Max. Around this time, Gibson had a very public breakdown, forcing Miller to drop him from the film. With Gibson gone, fellow Australian Heath Ledger was selected to take over as lead, but tragically died before production could begin. Once again, the fate of Mad Max: Fury Road did not look good. Finally, in 2009, newcomer Tom Hardy was selected by Miller, and filming began in 2012.

    Production in the Namib Desert proved incredibly difficult. Crew members and actors struggled with the environment; production fell behind schedule. Unhappy, Warner Brothers sent producer Denise di Novi to keep an eye on the project. However, after allegedly seeing a rough cut that greatly pleased executives, Warner Brothers gave Miller more money for reshoots, to add to action sequences. Filming resumed in November 2013, nearly a year after initially wrapping.

    Finally, in 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road was released to critical and financial success. Tom Hardy confirmed a sequel.

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  • The Island of Dr. Moreau is one the most bizarre chapters in the book of Marlon Brando horrors, though Brando's eccentric behavior was hardly the only problem plaguing the tortured production of the picture. 

    Intent on getting Brando on board, the film's original director, English indie science fiction wunderkind Richard Stanley, hired a warlock named Skip to perform a magical ceremony as Stanley met with Brando at his home in Hollywood. Brando signed on, as did Bruce Willis. Just as arrangements for filming began coming together, Willis dropped out, and was replaced with Val Kilmer. Kilmer proved to be a huge problem on set, his ego clashing with pretty much everyone and everything around him, including Marlon Brando. At one point, Kilmer refused to leave his trailer until Brando was already on-set, because he wanted to be the most important, and therefore last, actor to arrive. 

    Stanley was eventually fired from the film, for myriad reasons, and things became even more strange and strained. Hippies living in the nearby forest were brought in when extras were needed. These extras found Stanley in the forest, where he was sustaining himself with marijuana, yams, and coconuts. He convinced them to help him sneak back on set disguised as a character, and he appears in a few shots used in the film. Brando refused to learn his lines, suggested his character should be revealed as a dolphin at the end of the film, and became obsessed with Nelson de la Rosa, an actor with dwarfism. He insisted the two appear in all scenes together, wearing the same costumes. 

    What was supposed to be a six-week shoot stretched to six months of chaos. The Island of Dr. Moreau was a critical and financial failure, and an acclaimed documentary, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau, was made about the catastrophic production.

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  • Crew members on James Cameron's The Abyss went through a daily ritual of misery during the nightmarish production. The shoot was so technologically problematic the crew dubbed it Son of Abyss. As difficulties compounded on-set, actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio reportedly had a breakdown and shouted, “We are not animals!” as she stormed off set.

    The Abyss deals with on a team that encounters an alien species while searching for a lost submarine, and the cast and crew were faced with a daunting shoot in which most scenes took place completely underwater. Cast members were continually put at risk because stunt performers were not used for dangerous underwater scenes. During one scene, Ed Harris had issues with a breathing device and almost drowned. Furious at Cameron for filming instead of helping, Harris punched the director in the face.

    Ed Harris refuses to talk about The Abyss, and has allegedly said, “I’m not talking about The Abyss and I never will.” While praised for its (hard-earned) special effects and imagery, The Abyss was a financial disappointment.

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