7 Movie Sets That Were Complete Disasters Behind the Scenes
I’ve never wanted to be an actress or work on Hollywood movie sets in any capacity. Between the dehumanizing competition for work and routinely long 14-hour days (at best) it’s just not something I’ve ever been interested in pursuing.
That’s not to say the payoff isn’t huge: A-list stars make millions for each film. As you can imagine, this work environment draws in a certain type of person. That’s why I’m not at all surprised by the sexual assault and pedophilia allegations among movie sets that recently made headlines. I assumed that was a big part of the business.
Honestly, it’s surprising that more movie sets aren’t complete disasters. You have people with huge egos working long hours with lots of cash in their pocket. It’s a recipe for disaster already and how anything ever gets done with a perfect finished product astounds me.
I went digging for the most outrageous, disastrous, or just wildest movie sets and this is what I found.
1. Maximum Overdrive
If you watched this movie and said to yourself “Stephen King must have been coked out of his mind when he made this,” you would be correct. As King told author Tony Magistrale in an interview, he was “coked out of [his] mind all through its production, and [he] really didn’t know what [he] was doing.”
It’s not surprising. The movie features cars and machines that come to life hell-bent on revenge. This is all accompanied by an AC/DC soundtrack which King persuaded the band to create. Would you expect anything less?
As with any group of people on coke, accidents tend to happen — especially when said group plays with heavy machinery for several hours. During a scene when an ice cream truck flips over, something didn’t go as planned and a cameraman was pushed out of the way in the nick of time. Unfortunately, photography director Armando Nannuzi wasn’t so lucky. While filming a scene with a lawnmower, something went wrong and wood splinters shot into Nannuzi’s eye — which he ended up losing for good.
King lost interest in the movie after Bruce Springsteen turned down the lead role. Maximum Overdrive is Stephen King’s only directing credit — which isn’t surprising.
The cast and crew probably had some great parties though. David Lynch directed Blue Velvet in the same North Carolina town at the same time as Maximum Overdrive and the cast frequently hung out together.
2. The Room
Like Maximum Overdrive, The Room is another horrible movie with a cult following. The film’s production was so outrageous that James Franco directed a movie about its making called The Disaster Artist (which is based on a book believe it or not).
To understand the craziness of The Room’s set, you need to understand the mystery and eccentric behavior of Tommy Wiseau. He’s from Europe but no one knows where exactly. Wiseau also never reveals anything about his personal life including his age or why he has so much money. In fact, Wiseau paid for the movie’s entire production out of pocket.
The production is everything you would expect from a combination actor, writer, producer, and director with absolutely no prior experience. (I recommend watching Franco’s movie to get the full experience.)
Wiseau originally wrote the script as a play and later a book which he couldn’t get published. The Room cost him $6,000,000 to make by the time it was finished. This was due to a few reasons including reproducing sets for places they could have easily filmed on-location, frequently replacing cast members, and spending hours reshooting mere minutes.
The filming of Kevin Reynolds’ Waterworld has all the horror you’d expect from a movie filmed in the middle of the ocean. In fact, that’s why it was the most expensive film ever made at the time of its production. Production ended up costing roughly $175,000,000 total and the state of Hawai’i (where the majority of filming took place) made $35 at the end of the day.
I feel sorry for anyone who agreed to work on this movie — especially the folks who were probably paid the worst. Everything needed for the set needed to be transported into the water each day.
Nothing went right during filming. At one point, a hurricane swept through and destroyed a multi-million dollar set. At another, Kevin Costner almost drowned when a storm pushed him off the trimaran he was tied to.
Screenwriter Joss Whedon only worked on the Waterworld set for seven weeks which he described as “hell.”
4. Apocalypse Now
To understand why Apocalypse Now is the way it is, you need to understand that the writer wanted to fight in Vietnam during the war and was disappointed that he was rejected. If things went as planned, the movie would have been filmed in Vietnam at the height of the war — and George Lucas would have directed it.
Instead, filming took place in the Philipines with Francis Coppola directing. They chose the Philipines for a few reasons: access to cheap labor and the ability to bypass American animal cruelty laws. The film ended up going more than $2 million over budget.
The entire production was a disaster from the beginning. At one point, a typhoon ripped through which pushed filming back for about two months. But natural disasters were really the least outrageous incidents about this production. For one thing, the props included real dead bodies which were purchased from a grave robber.
When Marlon Brando showed up for filming, not only was he 300 pounds, but he didn’t even know what the movie was about.
To top it off, Martin Sheen had a heart attack on-set. Coppola — who suffered an epileptic seizure himself shortly later — said this happened because they had access to “too much money” and everyone “went insane” little by little. Hmm, I wonder which expensive substance could possibly give you a heart attack and make you go insane?
I had never even heard of this movie. But now that I know about the political tensions that took place during filming and The Guardian questioning whether it’s the worst movie ever made, I know need to see it ASAP.
Elaine May directed Ishtar in Morocco in the late 1980s. The film’s premise revolves around two untalented musicians (Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty) traveling to the North African nation for a gig and getting caught up in fictitious Cold War tensions.
Unfortunately, May and Columbia Pictures didn’t take into account the very real Arab-Israeli tensions taking place. Immediately prior to filming, Israeli warplanes had just bombed a Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters in Tunisia (not far from Morocco). In response, the PLO hijacked a cruise ship and rumors spread that they intended to kidnap Dustin Hoffman.
To top it off, the Moroccan military was in a heated battle with another liberation organization at home: the Polisario Front. Film sets had to be checked for landmines every day.
If that wasn’t enough, May and Beatty (who doubled as a co-star and producer) never agreed on anything and no one cared about the film’s ever-growing budget.
Despite the overwhelmingly negative response, Hoffman said he liked Ishtar and “would do it again in a second.” May said that if everyone who hates the film had actually seen it, she would be a wealthy woman today.
6. The Island of Doctor Moreau
Like most movie sets on this list, The Island of Doctor Moreau flopped. And like another movie on this list, Marlon Brando absolutely refused to learn his lines.
How this movie ever made it through production is truly a miracle because nothing went right. Most of the problems involved casting issues. Like I mention in the intro, it’s hard for things to go right when you have people with massive egos and too much money all in the same place.
Bruce Willis couldn’t leave the country for filming because he was going through his divorce from Demi Moore. Casting ended up replacing him with Val Kilmer.
This didn’t bode well with Brando — who was already grappling with his daughter’s recent suicide. The weather was hot and at one point, Kilmer and Brando engaged in a stand-off refusing to exit their air-conditioned trailers before the other did.
Tensions between the two extended The Island of Doctor Moreau’s filming from six weeks to six months. It didn’t help that Richard Stanley got canned from his job of director halfway through filming.
If you get a chance, check out Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau: a documentary about this ludicrous production.
7. American Graffiti
American Graffiti came about after Warner Bros. abandoned George Lucas’s version of Apocalypse Now. Unlike most of the movie sets on this list, audiences actually liked this one.
This film’s goal was to be an accurate portrayal of the times and the disastrous production actually reflects that. Paul Le Mat, Harrison Ford, and Bo Hopkins spent most nights and weekends getting sh*tfaced and climbing the Holiday Inn’s sign at wild hours of the night. Ford ended up getting arrested one night after a bar fight.
Someone on the crew got arrested for having pot on them while someone else set George Lucas’s hotel room ablaze. During a night of partying, Le Mat threw Richard Dreyfuss into a swimming pool which required a trip to the hospital for stitches.
To top it off, two crew members almost died during the racecar scene.
This didn’t stop the production companies from bringing most of the original cast back for a sequel: More American Graffiti.
Disasterous Movie Sets: Honorable Mentions
These movie sets were pretty bad, too but unfortunately there isn’t room for all of them on the list above.
James Cameron almost died while filming The Abyss completely submerged under water.
The Twilight Zone
Two young girls died in a freak accident during filming due to a helicopter crash.
Brandon Lee was fatally shot during filming.
The sets were constructed before the storyline was finished — and it shows.