In a society obsessed with avoiding and alerting people to “spoilers”, it seems strange that we would still find such joy in blooper reel footage and behind-the-scenes photos that also essentially ruin the magic behind the movie. Instead of revealing the twists and turns of a storyline, footage of actors breaking character or pictures taken literally from behind the scene being filmed and the crew filming it, highlight the differences between actors and their characters, and between reality and soundstages and motion-capture suits made, in post-production, to look like the fantasy creatures, epic battlegrounds, dino enclosures, and 19th century cruise liners that have occupied the big-budget pictures of the last several decades.
But, unlike spoilers that take the surprise out of things, most sane people know that there is a difference between studio magic and physical reality. Just like Dorothy peering behind the green curtain to find the title character of 1939’s Wizard Of Oz is a fraudulent magician but also a compassionate man, when we take a peek behind the green screen and the make-believe, we still get that jolt of surprise, with no spoilers and with a glimpse into the genuine heart and soul behind the manufactured fantasy onscreen.
This 3rd installment of Daniel Craig’s run of the 007 series cost $200 million to make and grossed over $300 million just in the U.S., leaving around 100 million to pay the upwards of four hundred credited (on IMDb) cast and crew members. In this shot, D. Craig is giving chase to an albino Javier Bardem, leaping after him onto green-screen cushioning that “in post” was made to look like the hip-shattering metal of an escalator. Look closely and you can see that the director’s camera is focused in on Bond, which explains why the extra, seen here failing acting 101 by looking directly into the camera that took this behind-the-scenes photo, is not in the movie
Here we see the famous animatronic Great White immobilized and looking much less intimidating with a smiling actor in his not-so-deadly jaws. Different accounts put the cost of making Steven Spielberg’s Jaws at between 7 and 9 million dollars U.S., which at the time (1975) was close to $31 million and a potential financial nightmare for Universal Pictures. But by all accounts the now classic creature flick started making a profit at the box-office after only 2 weeks in theaters. Even in a candid, off-camera photo though, it is no surprise this fake shark chomped his way into our collective nightmares.
10. Alice In Wonderland
These days, the terms “big budget” and “blockbuster” might as well be synonyms for “gratuitous use of green screens/CGI”, and with a budget of over $2 million, this most recent reboot of Alice In Wonderland is no exception. In this shot, tiny Alice is holding tight to what ended up being the Mad Hatter’s gigantic headwear as it hurled the title character through the air and to her destiny as a hero. It is a testament to the at-the-time 20-year-old actress’ talent that she could convince an audience she was in Wonderland talking to a demented Johnny Depp, all from the comfort of an over-sized Styrofoam hat on a soundstage.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet must have hated director James Cameron after shooting these final scenes in cold water and in full costume (and surrounded by a wet suit-clad crew) just as much as they loved him after Titanic swept the Oscars in 1997. For a hefty percentage of the $1.8 billion (after a $2 million budget) that this historical epic netted at the box office, Leo/”Jack” and Kate/”Rose” at least had some added incentive to risk hypothermia, as opposed to the extras freezing their underpaid tails off. This photo must have been taken after the point in the film where (SPOILER ALERT) the Titanic cruise liner sinks but before Jack sacrifices himself by sinking to the bottom of a freezing wading pool made to look like the Northern Atlantic Ocean.
Gladiator (2000) is the only blockbuster on this list to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The only Best Picture-winner in the past decade, since 2006, to come close to the scale of this epic $103 million motion picture was The Departed in 2007, at $90 million. In this photograph, Russell Crowe as Maximus the P.O.W.-turned-unwilling gladiator is actually wrestling a life-sized stuffed tiger while holding the handle of an axe already buried in the disembodied synthetic leg of his imaginary opponent. For making such an artificial setup come to life on the big screen, it is no wonder that Crowe won the Best Actor Oscar for this performance.
7. Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
In this behind-the-scenes photograph, Tobey Maguire takes a break from being on the verge of death-by-giant spider-bite with co-star and Goonies alum, Sean Astin. Computer generated monsters, humanoids of widely differing proportions interacting, and incredibly involved make-up and costumes all added to the $94 million it took to film Return Of The King, the second installment in the Lord Of The Rings on-screen trilogy. Despite being between takes, Maguire looks exhausted from playing poisoned and feverishly ring-obsessed Frodo Baggins. Maybe this hobbit is more accustomed to being the human-sized spider that wraps trespassers in webbing (as Sam Raimi’s Spider Man).
6. Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
On Stranger Tides is the fourth and only installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series that left Disney Studios in the red. At $379 million, this movie also turned out to be the most costly of Jack Sparrow’s (Johnny Depp) onscreen adventures to produce. Several behind the scenes shots of the mermaids that failed to attract more fans to the franchise have been put into circulation on the web, but this photo in particular shows how far the cast and crew went to create realistic fantasy; these actresses were not only required to be topless, but had to be towed out to sea dragging fish tails that, behind the studio magic, are apparently useless for swimming.
Twelve years after Titanic, James Cameron broke the bank again with 2009’s CG-dominated Avatar. This movie is one of the few filmed using the cutting-edge Fusion Camera System, which Cameron had developed a year or so earlier (with help from Sony and director of photography Vince Pace) to enable directors to record directly to the 3D format. This, along with the motion capture technology pictured in this behind-the-scenes shot, explains the $237 million price tag on this project. Here, Zoe Saldana is wired up to play as her CG avatar, Na’vi native Neytiri, opposite her on-screen love interest who plays a person living as a flesh-and-blood avatar.
4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Here we see Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) laying low on the shores of what super fans of the Hunger Games franchise know as the Cornucopia; a building with an assortment of often-deadly mystery goodies for Tributes (or competitors in the Games for which the sci-fi series is named) to hurt or help each other with. The second entry in the series, Catching Fire, was filmed for $130-140 million. In this intense scene, the audience has just learned that the entire Hunger Games arena is designed like a doomsday clock, and that clock is advancing an hour, so it is a relief to see director and leading lady share a smile in between takes.
3. Jurassic World
Jurassic Park (made for $103 million in 1993 money) was another technology-advancing movie with its heavy use of animatronics mixed with ever-expanding computer graphic capabilities and kicked off a trend for the entire Jurassic series of theater releases. Jurassic World, the most recent installment, cost about $50 million more to make but also ended up being the highest grossing Jurassic film. Pictured here are stars Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt tending to your now-standard (for the franchise) animatronic head of a sick or injured, but innocent and herbivorous dinosaur. Part of what has made this series an enduring success is moments like these where the actors make us feel for these majestic but totally computer operated/generated creatures.
2. Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
In Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire, fans and newbs alike had little idea that Professor Severus Snape would turn out to be the unlikely hero of the series, so this shot of the late great Alan Rickman (may he Rest In Peace), is yet another backstage photo that is compelling in that it shows conflicted characters, out of character, enjoying each others’ company and just cracking a smile. Making upwards of $290 million U.S. after the $150 million it took to make, this bigger budget fantasy film classic was actually only the sixth most profitable of the films adapted from J.K. Rowling’s runaway bestselling book series.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Episode VII (7) of the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, cost 200 million dollars to make. Here we have new additions to the Star Wars universe’s ever-expanding cast of characters Rey and Finn, catching their breaths in the desert between takes, both doing things that are out of character for their respective roles: laughing and being well hydrated. As of today, February 22, 2016, this film is the highest grossing movie of all time let alone in the Star Wars canon, earning over $2 billion, with a “b”, worldwide (making over $900 million in North America alone and over $1 billion in theaters overseas).