10 movie productions that went completely off the rails

10 movie productions that went completely off the rails

Anyone who has ever attempted to make a movie will be happy to tell you that it’s one of the most stressful processes imaginable. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and usually does several times over. It's hardly surprising when one considers how many people are involved in the creation of a feature length movie.

Of course, that side of the business is not for us audiences to know about. It’s rare that the audience knows how much blood, sweat and tears went into every single frame. Sometimes directors are able to pull their crew together, wrangle actors into place, fight off interference from the studio suits, and deliver a finished film on time and under budget … but not always. In fact, there have been plenty of movies over the years where things went completely off the rails. Here are just a few of the most infamous offenders.

1. The Blues Brothers

This classic comedy movie is based on a series of SNL sketches starring John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd. Although beloved by audiences for years, it was reportedly a nightmare to film due to an out-of-control cocaine addiction. When Belushi wasn’t on set, he spent the day trawling around Chicago to find coke, and it got so extreme that eventually a portion of the budget was set aside for drugs. After long nights spent partying, he’d often spend most of the following day sleeping it off. Eventually the film went drastically over-budget, but its box office success led it to recoup the filming expenses.

2. Cleopatra

Cleopatra is the movie that managed to kill the “sword and sandal” subgenre of historical epic. It’s easy to see why. The trouble began when Elizabeth Taylor was cast as the lead, and quickly fell gravely ill with pneumonia; which put a halt to filming for many months. The producers had frequent clashes with the studio's labour unions, and the outside sets deteriorated severely when filming in England. All the footage shot there was scrapped, and the production moved to Rome. All the props, sets and costumes had to be remade to accommodate for this. The movie was finally released on June 1963, with a final production cost of a whopping $44 million (more than $350 in today's money).

Image of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. Credit: Getty

3. Convoy

Sam Peckinah, a director already known for wild antics, almost killed his own career with the production of his 1978 film Convoy. The movie began life as a light-hearted comedy, which Peckinah rewrote almost completely to suit his personal vision of a modern-day western. But his drug abuse led to a catastrophic meltdown on set: after taking heavy doses of cocaine, Quaaludes and vitamin shots, Peckinah reportedly phoned his nephew David, and ranted that Steve McQueen was planning to assassinate him. On the day they’d planned to film the climactic funeral scene, Peckinpah locked himself in the trailer for twelve hours even though thousands of extras were assembled.

4. Apocalypse Now

The filming of Apocalypse Now was so fraught with problems that it inspired its own documentary film Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse. Coppola himself summed it up when he stated “We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane." To begin with, much of the equipment and sets were destroyed by Typhoon Olga in 1976, and production was halted for six weeks due to constant rainfall. Coppola had to borrow local Philippino military equipment, and Marlon Brando showed up to set obese, bald and in poor health, which meant that the planned duel between Willard and Kurtz had to be axed. Martin Sheen suffered an emotional breakdown after being brought in to replace Harvey Keitel, and at one point suffered from a heart attack. Coppola had to edit several miles of film for the final cut, which led to post-production taking two years. For the crew, they weren’t making a film about Vietnam. The movie was Vietnam. Coppola lost 100 pounds and attempted suicide due to stress and overwork.

5. Dune

David Lynch’s Dune took years to make, was passed around by various directors and producers, and had a lukewarm reception at the box office. The execs wanted to film in Mexico City, since the devaluation of the peso meant they could shoot the film for a quarter of the cost. But the crew then had to contend with an infestation of roaches, the stifling Mexican bureaucratic regulations, a primitive phone network with only one direct line to the production office, pollution twice as bad as in Los Angeles', and a stomach virus that led a slew of blocked toilets.

6. The Fantastic 4 (2015)

Fox’s attempted reboot of this classic Marvel franchise was a fantastic failure. Reportedly, director Josh Trank and the studio were equally to blame for the film’s flaws, and the constant disputes didn’t help matters. Trank would reportedly show up high or drunk on set, would act rudely to his cast, and caused extensive damage to the Baton Rouge estate Fox rented out for him to live in during filming. After principal photography finished up, Fox removed  Trank from the editing room. The only problem was that Trank hadn’t actually managed to film an ending. Upon the film’s release, Trank slated it on social media, resulting in a lot of negative publicity.

The cast of Fantastic 4 at a cinema screening. Credit: Getty

7. Jaws

Jaws is the classic movie that launched Spielberg’s career, created the summer blockbuster, and scared the Speedos off beachgoers all in one fell swoop. But actually getting the movie made was a nightmare for everyone involved. For starters, the first mechanical shark sank to the bottom of the ocean on day one, forcing a dive team to retrieve it. All three models constantly malfunctioned due to exposure to salt water, and rain and sea damage destroyed filming equipment which had to be replaced daily. As star Richard Dreyfus stated: "We started the film without a script, without a cast and without a shark."  

A rubber shark hanging over a picture of Steven Spielberg Credit: Getty

8. The Room

Filming for Tommy Wiseau’s infamous vanity project “The Room” (dubbed “the worst film ever made” by some critics) was so chaotic that it spawned a book (The Disaster Artist) and a movie in its own right. Just a few of the stupid decisions Wiseau made included filming the movie in 35 mm film and high-definition video simultaneously, buying filming equipment instead of renting it, treating the cast and crew so poorly that almost everyone left the production halfway through and rewriting the script minute by minute. Furthermore, his questionable starring performance was hampered by his bizarre accent and complete lack of talent.

Director Tommy Wiseau standing next to a poster for his movie The Room. Credit: Getty

9. World War Z

Brad Pitt’s own production company, Plan B, spent $1 million on the film rights for Max Brooks’ novel, and it soon became apparent that it was somewhat out of its depth. Marc Forster, Pitt's personal choice of director, had a background in making smaller, dramatic films and rom-coms. The last big budget blockbuster he’d directed was the critically-panned James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. Forster and screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski clashed throughout the writing process then, in Budapest, the production was raided by an anti-terrorism unit, who seized their “prop” guns. By the end of it all, the movie was six months late and more than $100 million over budget.  

Brad Pitt at the premiere of World War Z. Credit: Getty

10. Alien 3

The production of the Alien threequel was allegedly so problematic that director David Fincher refuses to include it on his résumé. When production began, only one major set had been constructed (a monastery built for an earlier draft of the script before the setting was changed to a prison), the budget was already running out, the script was incomplete and several parts still hadn’t been cast. This was Fincher’s first gig as a feature film director, and producers Walter Hill and David Gile frequently clashed with him over the script, at one point attempting to wrest control from him. Numerous reshoots were required after the movie spent over a year in the editing room. The pace was so brutal that composer Elliot Goldenthal only had a single night to create a new piece of music for the reshot climax.

Sigourney Weaver on the set of Alien 3. Credit: Getty

Just in case any of you still think that there's no business like show business, then allow me to relieve you of your delusions. It's bad enough when movies are hell to make; but there's even more that never end up being made at all. Check out some of the best screenplays that never managed to make it to the big screen.