The Insane Story Behind 'Roar', The Most Dangerous Movie Ever Made
Roar is the most dangerous movie ever made. Does that sound like hyperbole? It’s not. The 1981 film follows a man who lives peacefully among wild animals in Africa – until his family visits and all hell breaks loose. But the real hell happened behind the scenes; 70 members of the cast and crew were injured on set. And that’s just the beginning of the wild tales about filming Roar.
Director Noel Marshall made the disastrous production of Roar a family affair. He cast his wife Tippi Hedren, her teenage daughter Melanie Griffith, and his two sons John and Jerry. No one in the family made it out of the shoot without suffering serious harm. Griffith, a beauty who went on to have a successful career in Hollywood, had to have facial reconstructive surgery after getting mauled by a lion. Hedren wound up with a fractured leg, and Marshall was hospitalized with gangrene.
Stories about its production prove Roar was absolute insanity. And after all that, it wasn't even released in the United States. When the film finally reached American audiences in 2015, it came with a tagline that says it all: "No animals were harmed in the making of this film. 70 cast and crew members were."
The Shoot Was A Literal Zoo
Roar didn't just have lions. Once principal photography began in October 1976, a full menagerie of animals were brought onset. The animal cast included 132 lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, and jaguars. Less clawed, but equally dangerous, was a 10,000-pound bull elephant named Timbo.
Noel Marshall And Tippi Hedren Raised Lion Cubs In Their House
Noel Marshall and his wife Tippi Hedren first got the idea for Roar after traveling to Zimbabwe. The couple visited a game preserve in Mozambique and saw an old building filled with a pride of lions. They came up with the premise of a scientist living in harmony with the lions, protecting them from hunters.
The couple figured the film would be set in Africa but shot in California. So in 1971, they started to raise lion cubs at their residential home in Sherman Oaks, CA – the house they shared with their three children. Marshall and Hedren actually thought they were being safe; they reasoned that raising the lions with their children would minimize the chances of the cast and crew getting attacked once production commenced.
John Marshall described sharing a house with lions:
"I [lived in the house] for about six months. I had one of the bedrooms. There were three bedrooms upstairs, and it was me and two friends. We would live in the house, but we had a group of about 15 lions. We called them 'teenagers'... At three o’clock in the morning, when you’re passed out, they could kill you. And when they don’t kill you, you develop trust."
The Actors Feared For Their Lives
Maulings happened frequently on the set of Roar, and Noel Marshall left several of the real-life mutilations in the final cut of the movie. That includes scenes in which both his stepdaughter and his wife were so grievously injured they had to be hospitalized. That atmosphere naturally created a lot of fear, and the actors' real-life distress is visible on screen, according to film critic Matt Singer:
"They look like hostages who are being forced to play roles at gunpoint. Roar’s ostensible message is one of peaceful interspecies cohabitation, but that message is contradicted by scene after scene of lions wrecking things, eating things, jumping on things, and generally scaring the crap out of everyone they meet."
Noel Marshall Put People's Lives At Risk To Get Shots
Noel Marshall put his cast and crew (including his family) at tremendous risk to get footage. According to his son John, Marshall refused to call "cut," even when his actors were crying out for help.
Melanie Griffith's Mauling Is In The Final Cut
Tippi Hedren's teenage daughter Melanie Griffith was cast in Roar, and the experience proved traumatic for her. In fact, she quit the project at one point, saying she didn't want to end up with "half a face." But she came back – only to be mauled and clawed by a lion. Griffith needed facial reconstructive surgery to fix the damage.
Adding insult to injury, the scene where Griffith gets attacked can be seen in the finished movie.
Tippi Hedren Suffered Bites, A Broken Leg, And Gangrene
Tippi Hedren wrote a book in 1988 about the making of Roar, called The Cats of Shambala. She hoped that her story would "show the possibilities of human-big cat relationships." It's shocking she still felt that way after she and her family nearly got mauled to death.
Hedren took her fair share of abuse during production. She developed gangrene after Timbo the elephant crushed her leg between his trunk and tusk. She was bitten on the back of the head by a lion. Plus, she suffered leg fractures and needed skin grafts after getting thrown by Timbo while she was riding him. Much of her mutilation made the final cut and can be seen in the movie.