Those epic action scenes that you can’t get out of your mind, the ones that get your blood pumping and adrenaline racing, all come at a cost. Whether it’s pushing an already bloated budget for heavy equipment rentals, mechanical malfunctions, stars of the film being injured or in pain or the entire movie coming down to one make it or break it scene, it’s fair to assume that these directors have taken their fair share of headache medicine. No one ever said making a movie is easy but these fifteen you’re about to see take it to a new level.
When it comes down to it, the bottom line is very clear: give the people what they want. And the people want action, lots of it and no playing it safe. The more cars that flip over, the better. The more incredible the explosions, the better… and so on. It’s easier these days to achieve these effects with the advances in technology such as CGI but some of the movie scenes in this list are pre-technology era so feel free to be extra impressed at what they managed to pull off. Break out the popcorn and be prepared to not eat it as you’ll be busy on the edge of your seat, reliving these fifteen movie scenes that were an absolute nightmare to film.
15. Actually Building A Massive Ark In Evan Almighty
Steve Carell gives us a very funny breakdown of what it takes to make an ark. But really, did you know that they actually built an ark that looks to be the size of Rhode Island for the movie? Was it just me who assumed that there was some serious CGI action going on there? These guys went all in to make this movie and constructed the massive wooden beast in Crozet, Virginia. The movie was dubbed “the most expensive film ever shot in Virginia” and had a budget of $200 million. If you’re a fan of Bruce Almighty and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective then there’s a good chance you liked this movie because they all had the same director, Tom Shadyac. Shadyac is a man, apparently, who’s not afraid to go all out! We’ll see Steve a little later on this list.
14. Filming In The Air In Iron Man 3
This action/adventure/fantasy film not only has an all-star cast but some of the most incredible (and hard to produce) special effect work! Multiple set locations, multiple scenes with special effects layered on top of one another, this movie was no doubt one headache after another, making sure to get every detail just right. Have to say that it was worth the headaches because this movie’s total gross profit was $409,013,994. Not too shabby on a budget of $200 mil. Most of the movie was filmed in North Carolina and Florida. The crew used an old oil tanker in North Carolina as a set as well as a hydraulic-powered giubo platform that served as the set for the crumbling house scene. Probably the coolest thing (and most nightmarish of all for filmmakers) was the plane crashing scene. As the plane starts to break apart, passengers, pilots and a flight attendant are whisked from the plane into the air. These people were not actors at all but members of the prestigious Red Bull Skydiving Team and the scene of them being rescued was really filmed in the air, no green screen! All in all, a lot of work for a really cool movie.
13. So Much Empty Space Needed In 28 Days Later
Sure, zombie movies are fun. Who doesn’t love zombie movies? What isn’t fun is clearing out a huge populated area for filming. What makes the scenes from this movie a nightmare to film was the massive evacuation that needed to be done at the desired London locations for filming. The Piccadilly Circus area, Horse Guards Parade, Oxford Street and famous Westminster Bridge were used in the film. As to not ruin the normal heavy foot traffic of the locals and to let them go among their business as much as possible, the cast and crew worked in early mornings, usually just right after dawn. But it was still very difficult for the crew to make sure there wasn’t a single person in such a large area. Can you just imagine how freaky it would have been to have accidentally ignored the signs and somehow wondered onto the “set” and see the normally bustling scene completely barren except for one guy in a hospital gown who looks scared out of his mind?
12. A Stubborn Hairy Hero In The 40 Year Old Virgin
Don’t be a hairy hero, Steve! That’s what stunt doubles and special effects are for! Steve Carell, much like Tom Cruise, insisted on doing his own stunt. Okay well maybe not so much like Tom Cruise. You can’t really compare hanging off of a high rise building to getting some chest hair waxed, can you? But still brave, I’ll give him that. Steve has a naturally hairy chest which was perfect for this scene and although he’s a great actor, this scene probably gave him some extra acting “motivation.” You can really see the anguish in poor Steve’s face and maybe even feel some sympathy pain for him when you see the patch of raw skin on his chest turn bright pink. Ouch, Steve! Next time, he’ll probably go for good old razors or just leave his carpeted chest au naturale.
11. A Grisly Choreographed Fight Scene In Kill Bill: Volume 1
Hope everyone’s on their mark because one misstep could call for a “Cut!” on a very detailed and precise shot that I’m sure no one felt like, or had the energy to do, all day long. The fact that there were so many people involved in the epic and so very bloody fight scene meant that one wrong move and everyone was off, like a domino effect. Complicated choreography is hard enough, add into that, acting and the fact that you’re depending on everyone else’s dance skills too or someone could have wound up seriously hurt. For all of its trouble though, this scene is probably one of the most watched and memorable of all time when it comes to action fight scenes. Uma Thurman became the dream woman of many men through this movie as a badass babe who’s willing to shed as much blood as necessary and look amazing doing it.
10. It All Came Down To One Epic Scene In The Bridge On The River Kwai
Directors were taking a HUGE risk on this 1957 war drama because instead of using a model bridge (their only other option) directors instead chose to destroy an actual bridge. If you’re not familiar with this movie, the scene consists of a train coming full speed across the bridge when the bridge collapses, derailing the train. This meant, of course, that they would only have one chance to get it right. If not, the whole movie, all of the work, all of the actors’ work, all of the money, travel and time and energy that had been poured into making this movie, would have been for nothing, absolutely worthless. Luckily, it did work, just as they wanted it to, and it was a pretty successful movie for its time. If you were the director, would you have maybe filmed the bridge scene first to see if it worked before going any further? Just saying!
9. The Chase Is On For The Joker In The Dark Knight Rises
The Joker chase scene in The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most famous action scenes and is considered by many to be the “centerpiece” of this film. Of course, it would reason then that it would be an exceptionally hard scene to film to have made the impact that it did. And it was exceptionally hard to film. It’s not even that the Joker is seated behind the wheel of a Semi that’s recklessly tearing up the city streets or that he’s being chased by Batman on his incredible looking souped up batcycle and police on the ground and in the sky. It’s the exploding cars, crashing helicopters into the middle of the city street, Batman vs. Joker showdown that takes the cake. Watching this scene, it’s hard to believe that it was all filmed on a set, right?
8. Very Convincing Forced Perspective In Lord Of The Rings
What made some scenes in the movie hard to film is the fact that Elijah Wood is not of hobbit height. In fact, he’s 5’6”. While filming, Jackson preferred to use a filming and photography method known as “forced perspective” on his set so he simply (but not really) sat Elijah and others farther away from Sir Ian McKellen/Gandalf (who is really only five inches taller than Elijah) to pull off the illusion. But this had to be done when the two were in close proximity to each other so it got increasingly more difficult to pull off. The crew implemented the “moving camera” method to keep the illusion going. When Frodo and Gandalf were close to each other, Gandalf was sitting on a moving dolly, too! Fun fact: Search “Elijah Wood” in Google and the first thing that comes up after his name is “Elijah Wood height” so you see, Jackson’s trick worked very well!
7. Big Fake Sharks Compete With Smaller Real Sharks In Jaws
The makers of Jaws had to get extremely creative. When creating a movie about killer sharks, you don’t want just any bitty-looking finned marine life swimming around so directors had a super-sized fake shark made for more impressive and scarier scenes. And since it’s just a tiny bit impossible to train real sharks to act in movies, the crew had a great white mechanical monster made, which was exactly what Spielberg had in mind in terms of size. However, the fake monster, affectionately named Bruce after Spielberg’s attorney, Bruce Ramer, was a robot diva and only wanted to act/function properly on his own schedule! It was a massive nightmare for Spielberg and his crew to work through it. Even the actors knew the scenes were going to be nightmares! Star Richard Dreyfuss apparently said, “It’s going to be a bitch to shoot.” Thankfully, he suffered through it and gained fame, huge acting jobs and probably a pretty penny from it, so I’m sure he’s confident he made the right decision.
6. A Director’s Massive Headache In Apocalypse Now
What do you do as a director when your location is being plagued with typhoons, you have to spend millions upon millions on necessary extravagance like helicopter rentals and explosives as well as people to manage those things, your main star (Martin Sheen) has a heart attack on location and on top of everything, you end up hospitalized yourself? This was the predicament that Francis Ford Coppola found himself in while trying to make the 1979 action drama about the Vietnam War which is now a classic thanks to his determination. For Francis, the answer was complete immersion. He lost himself in the film, almost feeling like he was the main character at some points during filming. I think that you’ll agree that the result is something that was worth all of the massive headaches and true living nightmares that cast and crew dealt with in the unforgiving jungle while creating this masterpiece.
5. Crazy Stunt Work In Spiderman
Spiderman is action-packed but filming these intense actions scenes was also packed full of problems. Action scenes like six cars playing leapfrog, trucks overturning and incredible stunt work made this film the mega sensation it is and was during its run in theaters. Something tragic that filmmakers didn’t plan for was the September 11th attack. Filming began in January 2001 and after the attack, many scenes had to be re-filmed and the film editors had to deal with the tricky task of erasing the twin towers from the scenes they were in out of respect. Another tragedy hit the crew when Tim Holcombe, a construction worker, unfortunately died in a forklift accident. Sony was fined because of this and hopefully, safety regulations have improved. Despite the many tragedies, Spiderman has left a legacy and has touched many people in a positive way, far and wide.
4. Tom Cruise Is A Madman Doing His Own Stuntwork In Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Yes, Tom Cruise is a renegade who performs his own stunts and the scaling of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was undoubtedly the most outrageous scene and hardest to film. But despite Tom nailing the stunt without a double, he did use the help of several cables safely and securely attached to the building. Sounds great but scaling the building at even half a quarter safely attached to cables in enough to make most people, even those not afraid of heights, weak in the knees. Yeah, I guess Tom’s still pretty badass. Now having an actor who is fearless when it comes to his own stunts is one thing but shooting it is a different ballgame. Some of the movie was filmed with IMAX cameras and those cables that kept Tom safe had be digitally removed in the editing process. I’m assuming that equaled to a lot of late nights, tons of coffee and one big nightmare for the film crew.
3. A Tornado Of Trouble In The Wizard Of Oz
The Wizard Of Oz is often incorrectly credited as the “first full color motion picture.” It wasn’t the first but one of the first and definitely the most well known. This classic gem was MGM’s most expensive movie ever made at the time and that being said, it came with its fair share of nightmare-worthy moments. Let’s follow the yellow brick road to the nightmare, starting with the original Tin Man, actor Buddy Ebsen, who had to be hospitalized and put into an iron lung after the silver face/body paint affected his health by coating his lungs.
In another nightmare, talent scouts had their hands full trying to find one hundred little people to fill the roles of the citizens of Munchkinland. In the days before the internet, there was a lot of pounding the pavement involved and apparently, the scouts scoured the nation to find them.
Finally, Margaret Hamilton who played The Wicked Witch of the West, was burned when the smoke that marks The Witch’s presence and disguises her exits, was timed wrong and Margaret suffered second degree burns, made worse thanks to her makeup which contained grease. Just a tiny portion of the nightmares that went on behind the scenes with this treasured film.
2. An Ocean Of Headaches In Titanic
A set that tilts, splashing in water and breaking windows. That’s what James Cameron was dealing when directing epic 1997 box office smash, Titanic. Could you guess that 5,000,000 gallons of water were used to show scenes like the one above? The set was built to actually tilt into the water. James Cameron was insistent that the movie be as real to what actually happened as possible and even smashed a few of the ship’s windows himself to make sure the set looked as realistic as possible. There was so much water used in the tank set that it damaged the massive staircase. The nightmares came for special effect makeup artists and the actors who had crystallizing powder applied to their faces and bodies in the open ocean scene. The biggest nightmare (besides working with all of that water!) was due to Cameron’s determination to keep the movie as real as possible. He didn’t want to show people gliding from the ship into the water but rather a traumatic tumble instead. Several stunt actors were injured and Cameron ended up relying on computer graphics for the big falls off of the ship instead.
1. Battling The Battle Scene In Saving Private Ryan
If you have new home theater speakers that you want to put to the test, you’ll probably want to play Saving Private Ryan to see how they handle the ultimate battle scene. It wasn’t just that fifteen HUNDRED extras had to be cast as soldiers for the scene that was a nightmare for the crew, but the actors dealt with their own personal nightmares to make sure that the movie looked as real as possible and did justice to the real people who fought and gave their lives in World War II. Director Steven Spielberg was so committed to the film being as realistic as possible that he sent his main cast to boot camp where they were not treated like the Hollywood royalty they are but like brand new army recruits. Spielberg hoped the boot camp would prepare the actors to get into their characters and handle the famous D-Day scene well. That one scene cost $12 million on its own! The biggest nightmare for Spielberg was that he needed to make sure that despite the complete chaos that was happening, the scene was understandable to the audience. Not an easy feat with soldiers’ heads being blown off left and right and non-stop gunfire. Well done, Spiels.