The lavish lifestyles of Hollywood’s more famous actors and filmmakers may hint at a world of glamour and cash, but as this list proves, the process of actually putting a movie together is rarely a dignified process.
What follows is a lengthy catalogue of ill-advised location choices, tantrums, dreadful acts of God, spiked bowls of soup, dangerous lions, bruised egos, broken bones and shattered dreams.
For the prospective filmmaker, this article could be read as a cautionary tale of just how badly wrong a production can go – though in order to keep the tone relatively light, we’ve excised those film productions that ended in tragedy (you’ll have to look elsewhere to discover the sad stories behind Twilight Zone: The Movie and The Crow).
Nevertheless, we suggest you pour yourself a strong drink before delving into the following accounts…
The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
Now rightly regarded as a classic, the glittering quality of MGM’s The Wizard Of Oz gives little clue to its fraught production process. Although Victor Fleming is widely credited as director, no fewer than five other directors were involved at various points in its making. Similarly, its script was credited to Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolff (such a fabulous name), but 17 writers had an uncredited hand in it, among them poet Ogden Nash.
The script was finally completed in late 1938, and shooting commenced. It was chaos. Directors were hired and then quickly relieved of duty. Tin Man actor Buddy Ebsen had to be replaced because he was allergic to his aluminium make-up, and was replaced by Jack Haley. The dog who played Dorothy’s loyal companion, Toto, misbehaved, resulting in ruined take after ruined take. Margaret Hamilton, who played The Wicked Witch of the West, was burned during the filming of a Munchkinland scene.
Even after the shoot was complete, the troubles continued. Various scenes had to be reshot, and when a two-hour version of the movie was shown to test audiences in June 1939, there were complaints that it was too long.
Miraculously, The Wizard Of Oz’s nightmarish production difficulties were never apparent on the big screen – and unlike some other films on this list, it remains a timelessly entertaining fantasy.
Cleopatra was big. Its stars were 60s icons, its sets were huge, its budget vast. In fact, when its budget is adjusted for inflation, the film remains the most expensive ever made.
Remarkably, Fox had only planned to spend $2 million on making Cleopatra– a rather optimistic figure in hindsight, given that the production managed to burn through $4 million before a single frame had been shot. Liz Taylor was given $1 million to play the lead role, a sum which, like everything else on the film, soon ballooned wildly out of control.
Director Joseph L Mankievitz was brought in to replace Rouben Mamoulian shortly after filming began. The production was subjected to repeated delays, as various actors came and went and Taylor fell seriously ill. Elaborate sets were built in London but went unused when the production relocated to Rome. An early cut of the film weighed in at a mighty six hours; at the behest of Fox, this was hacked down to just three.
By the time Cleopatra was released, it had rung up a cost of $44 million – a sum that very nearly destroyed its studio. Even though the movie was a hit, it struggled to make back much more than its huge budget. The result is one of the most wildly opulent, lumbering historical epics ever made.
Doctor Dolittle (1967)
This musical adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s books had just about everything you could imagine from a troubled production: a difficult star (Rex Harrison), terrible weather, wayward animals, expensive reshoots and poorly-chosen locations.
One of our favourite anecdotes from Dr Dolittle? How about the decision to build a huge artificial dam in the Wiltshire village of Castle Combe. The construction deeply annoyed local residents - as did the film production’s insistence that TV aerials had to be removed from several houses in the area. One day, famous explorer Ranulph Fiennes (then still in the SAS) decided to blow up the dam with flares and plastic explosive. According to the Guardian, Fiennes was fined £500.
By the time Dr Dolittle had finished filming, it had vastly overshot its original budget of $6m. The final spend was a shade over $17m - a hefty sum for the time. Just to rub salt in the wound, the movie made less than half of its outlay back in cinemas.
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