Home Entertainment Top List Thursday: Nightmare Shoots That Made Great Movies

Top List Thursday: Nightmare Shoots That Made Great Movies

5 min read

Movies may look fun and happy, but often they come from a place where egos clash, pressure crushes and tempers explode.

  • Aliens


When it comes to difficult shoots, James Cameron’s The Abyss takes the cake for problems. But the stories from Aliens are the best. From day one the director clashed with the mostly British crew. They saw him as a slavemaster while he was driven mad by the union rules and crew habit of taking tea breaks. There were numerous arguments over production design and pressure to deliver on the highly anticipated sequel. As legend has it, Cameron once stood up in front of everyone and gave an inspirational speech: he pointed out that the sooner they finished the movie, the sooner he can leave and they would never, ever have to work with him again. Amazingly everyone agreed.

  • The Last Boy Scout


Producer Joel Silver has a particular way he likes films to be made, which meshed well with scriptwriter Shane Black’s work. The pair had previously collaborated on Lethal Weapon and Predator. But director Tony Scott was not quite onboard with the duo’s idea of kinetic, flashbang entertainment. On top of that main star Bruce Willis was not going to take a back seat, as he needed a career-reviving hit. The result was a film that almost everyone involved called one of the most difficult movies they ever made, featuring numerous fights, set walk-offs and other dramatics. The late Scott would never work with Silver again, but had his revenge by creating a parody of Silver in the movie True Romance.

  • World War Z


The zombie movie starring Brad Pitt started showing problems when extensive reshoots were ordered. Later it was revealed that communication between Pitt and director Marc Foster had completely broken down – a studio exec was sent to act as an intermediary. The script required major rewrites and practically the entire third act had to be reshot with a new budget, with Pitt making all of the final decisions and Foster left out in the cold. Fortunately the film would end up being a mega hit, but Foster was not hired for the sequel.

  • Bladerunner


Ridley Scott is a great director, but also a notorious stickler for detail. His vision for the science fiction epic Blade Runner would influence generations of films, but it didn’t come easy. Almost immediately the budget, which was hard to come by in the first place, went over as design took up most of it. Once filming began Scott’s habit for the pedantic irked star Harrison Ford, who as a professional did not let the production run roughshod over him. He even cleverly made more money by doing his own stunts. Ford and Scott would clash frequently as the director exhausted the crew with frequent reshoots. The relationship between Ford and co-star Sean Young was also frosty, to put it mildly, and the only person who seemed to enjoy any of it was Rutger Hauer.

  • Apocalypse Now


When it comes to difficult shoots, the crown prince is Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Vietnam film. The movie overran on budget and time, partly because Coppola kept filming reels of stuff he never needed or used. Marlon Brando refused to learn his lines and played hardball all the way through. Dennis Hopper didn’t even know what the hell his lines were (rumours persist that he took payment in cocaine) and Martin Sheen had a heart attack. A typhoon destroyed the set and production was halted when the army props they used were taken by the Philippine government to fight a war. This film drove all who were involved to the brink of insanity, if not beyond.

  • Three Kings


There are few directors known to be as abusive and unfair as David O Russell. His tantrums are notorious and as recently as American Hustle he has been accused to belittling and even assaulting his stars. On the set of Three Kings things came to a head when O Russell kept berating the crew and George Clooney decided to step in. He was met by a headbutt from the director, but eventually won the fight by putting O Russell in a headlock. This was the most physical of several clashes between the two as Clooney protected the crew from O Russell’s outbursts. But to be fair, the director was under immense pressure from ridiculous studio stipulations and cutbacks. Clooney has since called him very talented, but vowed never to work with O Russell again.

  • Fitzcarraldo


Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski had a very notorious relationship. Kinski, who has since been revealed as a monster who allegedly abused his own daughters, was a complete egomaniac and prone to extreme tantrums. Herzog once threatened to shoot him on the set of Aguirre, so it says something that Fitzcarraldo was worse. Kinski was cast when star Jason Robards left due to illness and the pair clashed so badly that an extra offered to kill Kinski. Herzog declined, mainly because they were already behind schedule. But the director’s own vision didn’t help: the movie is about a rubber magnate who had a steamship pulled across a jungle hill – so that is what the cast actually did. No miniature, no special effects, just brutal hard work. The result is a milestone in cinema history, but it took its pound of flesh and then some.

  • Waterworld


Today we look at Waterworld with a bit more sympathy and enjoyment, but back in its day the movie was a megaflop. Its record-breaking $100 million budget ballooned to $175 million. Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds fought so much that Reynolds quit or was fired two weeks before filming ended. Sets floated away, jellyfish attacked and Costner had no problem making enemies. Josh Whedon was even flown in to rescue the script, something he has called the worst moment in his career. Interference was so rife between Costner and the studio that Whedon at one point said he was the world’s highest-paid stenographer due to all the note she had to take.

Last Updated: February 12, 2015


  1. I’m always amazed at how some of these movies end up being the successes that they are. The role of the editor is really a criminally overlooked one.


    • James Francis

      February 13, 2015 at 11:48

      I must admit I don’t pay attention to editors as much as I should, perhaps because like the DOP their work is rarely discussed in public.


      • Kervyn Cloete

        February 13, 2015 at 11:53

        I’m guilty of the same oversight. But they really can make a huge difference to a movie.


        • James Francis

          February 13, 2015 at 12:13

          Totally agree, especially since I’ve been watching some fan edits of the new Star Wars trilogy, which make for a MUCH better experience.


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