Most movies are easy to make. Then there are these monuments to the determination of their directors, casts, and crews.
1. The Wizard of Oz
The original tin man—Buddy Ebsen—was hospitalized because his aluminum powder makeup had coated his lungs. He had to convalesce in an iron lung. Toto was a pain to work with, too. It took more than 12 takes to get the dog to follow the gang down the Yellow Brick Road. The film changed directors no fewer than five times, and Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch) suffered severe burns to her hands and face when her makeup caught on fire.
2. Apocalypse Now
Looking to make the Vietnamese landscape as real as possible, director Francis Ford Coppola shot the movie in the Philippines. Filming was supposed to take five months and ended up taking over a year. Typhoon Olga destroyed the set and ruined one month’s worth of shooting. Martin Sheen also suffered a heart attack.
The most famous scene from Werner Herzog’s classic depicts a huge steamship getting dragged up a hill. Most directors would have pulled the scene off with miniature effects. But Herzog was not like most other directors. His team tugged a real 320-ton steamship up a hill—all without special effects.
At one point during the filming of Titanic, an angry crewmember spiked the team’s soup with a hallucinogen—over 50 people had to be rushed to the hospital. Shooting was also delayed when cast members came down with colds and kidney infections. Turns out that spending hours in cold water is bad for your health!
Spielberg’s three mechanical sharks—all named Bruce—consistently malfunctioned. It took 14 people to operate them. Pneumatic hoses filled with salt water, internal frames fractured from water pressure, the skin corroded, and the sharks got tangled in seaweed. To make life easier, Spielberg revised the script so the shark made as few appearances as possible. The decision made the film more suspenseful. “The shark not working was a godsend,” Spielberg later said.
The 1963 epic starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was originally budgeted for $2 million, but Cleopatra racked up a $44 million bill. (The team burned through $4 million before shooting a frame!) Cleo started in London, relocated to Rome, switched directors, and saw numerous big name actors ditch filming mid-shoot.
7. American Graffiti
The cast and crew had trouble behaving on and off set. Harrison Ford was arrested during a barroom brawl, a crewmember was arrested for growing pot, Paul Le Mat hurt Richard Dreyfuss after throwing him into a swimming pool, and someone set George Lucas’ hotel room on fire.
However arduous these films were to make, historians agree that each one was worth the difficulty. As is Eric Jonrosh’s epic masterpiece The Spoils of Babylon, which you can catch on IFC at 10/9c on January 9.