At some point in life, everyone dreams of being in the movie business, whether behind the camera or in front. The glitz, glamour and fame present a dream-like environment where creative professionals work together in a fun, collaborative manner to produce cinema magic for all to see. Sure, every movie set has its difficulties and for many collaborators, hardships result in stronger films and closer friendships. This is not always the case.
Certain films are an absolute nightmare to produce thanks to inflated egos, harsh shooting conditions, rivalries between cast and crew, and downright irresponsible activities on set. That’s right - hidden behind forced smiles and awkward hugs at press junkets, a less magical side of the industry lays dormant. A side that reveals a fundamental truth about human beings: Sometimes people just don’t get along.
Several entries on this list managed to survive their production issues and emerge on other side as critically acclaimed films. For others, the bad blood behind the scenes became so insurmountable it affected the work itself, resulting in final products impossible to watch without noticing the on-set tension.
Here are 15 films with serious tension behind the scenes.
15 Mad Max – Fury Road
Nominated for 10 academy awards, this masterpiece of practical action filmmaking didn’t go without a hitch. In an interview with Esquire magazine, star Charlize Theron explained that she and co-star Tom Hardy “f*****’ went at it” on set whilst “on other days, [Hardy] and George went at it. It was the isolation, and the fact that we were stuck in a rig for the entire shoot.”
Thankfully this rift in the production didn’t negatively affect the film and it went on to reap the rewards. Theron’s relationship with Hardy also stood the test of time as she later revealed Hardy made a portrait for her, with an inscription that reads "You are an absolute nightmare, BUT you are also f****** awesome. I'll kind of miss you. Love, Tommy."
Before it was Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man, it was Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man for eight long years of development hell. Up until the release of The Avengers, Wright’s version of the story was a sure-fire winner with a script that Joss Whedon called “the best script that Marvel ever had”. Unfortunately for Wright and his writing partner Joe Cornish, The Avengers made over a billion at the box office, which kick-started a new approach for Marvel Studios Inc.
It was reported that “The notes that drove Edgar Wright off Ant-Man came from the Creative Committee”, referring to Marvel’s Creative Committee. After the disgruntled director’s sudden departure on May 23rd 2014, a statement was released explaining that Wright and Marvel split “due to differences in their visions of the film”, which forced the studio to scramble to find a replacement director at the last minute and get the film made on time.
Originally titled The Wettest Country In The World, Lawless played host to several actors with brooding alpha male personas including Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy. In an interview with Details Magazine, LaBeouf expressed frustration with materialistic co-stars Hardy and Jason Clarke. John Hillcoat, director of Lawless, and upcoming crime thriller Triple 9, confirmed the rumour that Hardy and LaBeouf had a physical altercation on set. He said, “There was definitely a fight between them. It escalated to the point where they both had to be restrained. But I was very pleased to hear it didn’t get to that because I would hate to see the outcome”.
12 Cop Out
This rivalry has become legendary amongst Kevin Smith fans, because the man can’t stop talking about it. In 2010, Smith directed a film called Cop Out starring Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan. In a recent interview, Smith described Willis as “a paycheck player” in over his head. “Tracey Morgan is a comedic genius who will do your scene as scripted, and then do ten variations on that scene all equally as funny…[Willis] watched Tracey adlib for like half a day and I saw it in his face…you could just see the colour draining out of his face.” Smith and Willis have remained sour with each other to this day.
11 The Notebook
The Notebook is a story of lifelong love but stars Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams were constantly at each other’s throats during the shoot, with Gosling demanding director Nick Cassavetes remove McAdams from the set during a heated argument: “Take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?...I can't do it with her. I'm just not getting anything from this.”
The harmony the lead characters shared did not reflect what was going on behind the scenes, ultimately proving that two great actors can indeed fake their on-screen chemistry. This antagonism did settle down after the wrap, with the stars eventually dating.
10 Fifty Shades of Grey
Despite its underwhelming reception from critics, Fifty Shades of Grey made a killing at the box office and spawned two sequels. This certainly did not mean the film was trouble free. With a controlling author at the helm of a controversial franchise, and a director striving for her own vision of the film, conflict was bound to arise.
E.L. James expressed opinions on everything, from costume design to dialogue, and director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s changes to the details of the book for the movie version. This created a daily stand off forcing the director to leave the sequel. To add flame to the fire, sources say that locals disrupted a rain scene shot in a Vancouver neighbourhood; with one elderly man shaking a cowbell during takes.
9 Terminator Salvation
Christian Bale’s dramatic breakdown during Terminator Salvation became a viral sensation in 2009. The subtitled recording was uploaded to YouTube. Bale was out of control, unleashing a barrage of f-bombs and threatening to walk off set when Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut attempted to adjust a light before barraging director McG. Bale apologised and has since repaired his relationship with Hurlbut.
8 Three Kings
Despite his best efforts, Director David O. Russell developed a reputation in Hollywood as a hard man to work for. His muse Jennifer Lawrence may protest, but other actors have borne witness to the maniacal director’s true nature. In 1999 on the set of the gulf war movie O. Russell reportedly subjected Three Kings the crew to verbal and physical abuse. This forced star George Clooney to take control of the stressed working environment, leading to a momentary physical altercation with the director. Clooney and O. Russell say they have overcome this rocky patch in their relationship but it’s unlikely they will be seen working together anytime soon.
7 The Shining
Stanley Kubrick is a director who is known for pushing his actors to the point of near-insanity. While filming The Shining, he set a world record with 127 takes of a scene with spoken dialogue. Not every actor suffered - Kubrick and Jack Nicholson had a productive working relationship during filming. He and Shelley Duvall, on the other hand, did not to the point where she physically started to deteriorate from the abuse he dished out. The intensity of Kubrick’s nit picking caused the actress to lose some of her hair and constantly drink water on set because he made her cry so much.
6 World War Z
A global scale, action-horror film with a director on board known mostly for dramas had a potential for chaos that almost didn’t pay off. The issues started in the writing stage. Marc Forster, the director, wanted more action in the movie but the initial screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski was heavily opposed to the idea and was eventually let go. Forster claimed he had no knowledge of the animosity with Straczynski.
Finally shooting began with more trouble rearing its ugly head. Forster did not get on with his lead actor and producer, Brad Pitt, and had creative differences with John Nelson (senior member of the VFX team) and had to let him go. A restaurant refused to close during one scene and an actress trashed her hotel room with producers concerned she would leave. This was topped off by an incident involving a counterterrorism unit that seized 85 weapons during the movie that supposedly hadn’t been disarmed correctly. With the addition of a failed alternate ending that had to be reshot, World War Z nearly didn’t make it through the door. Then miraculously, at the very last minute, the film came together and became a hit with audiences. Will the sequels be as problematic to make? Only time will tell.
5 Star Wars
When the original Star Wars film was green lit for production, the studio and actors all failed to realise the significance of the movie they were making. In a 2004 documentary titled Empire of Dreams, director George Lucas also revealed that working with the British film crew was no walk in the park. The shoot had to stop at 5:30pm every day because of strict union rules, unless Lucas could win over the crew to keep shooting, which he never could. Lucas also clashed with Gill Taylor the lead cameraman, who took offence to the idea of the young maverick director giving him suggestions.
The immense stress of the shoot took a physical toll on Lucas. He checked into a local hospital and was diagnosed with hypertension and exhaustion. Lucas needed a break, but the shoot overran and he was forced to move right into post-production, with yet more issues. The first editor of Star Wars had to be let go early on in the process, due to creative differences, and Visual Effects supervisor Jon Dykstra revealed in an interview that “[Lucas] was disappointed in [ILM’s] work” on the film. Yet despite all those headaches and potential heart attacks, the film became a global phenomenon nominated for 10 Oscars.
4 The Island of Dr. Moreau
The events that took place during the making of The Island of Dr. Moreau was director Richard Stanley’s dream project. He secured Marlon Brando for the lead role of Dr. Moreau and Bruce Willis for Edward Douglas, a UN negotiator stranded on the island. Suddenly tragedy struck. Brando’s daughter Cheyenne hanged herself, forcing him to initially drop out. Stanley also lost Wlliis and had to replace him with Val Kilmer, who proved to be a menace, reducing his workload, changing roles and refusing to cooperate with the director during scenes, including one incident where he refused to get up off the floor.
Kilmer’s replacement Rob Morrow was replaced by David Thewlis, and New Line Cinema eventually replaced Stanley himself with John Frankenheimer. When Brando finally returned from his hiatus, he brought with him a long list of bizarre changes to the script such as wearing white make-up on his face, an ice bucket on his head and constantly being accompanied by a midget dressed the same as his character. Brando also had his dialogue read to him through an earpiece and would yell out lines from a nearby police scanner that interrupted the broadcast. Frankenheimer struggled to keep Brando and Kilmer under control until Peter Elliot, the animal behaviour specialist, had to step in. The madness doesn’t stop there. At one point, Stanley snuck his way back onto the set in a dog-hybrid costume in an attempt to sabotage his own dream project.
3 The Revenant
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu won Oscars for Writing, Directing and Best Picture at the 87th Academy Awards, before taking on a brutal story of survival and revenge that earned him multiple nominations at the 88th Academy Awards. Iñárritu may have earned respect from every major player in Hollywood, but more than a few members of his crew became disgruntled working with him on The Revenant. The shoot was long and arduous thanks to a combination of hellish weather conditions, treacherous terrain and long hours waiting for the perfect natural light before cameras could even roll on a given day. Several crewmembers dropped off the production during shooting and described the experience as a “living hell”.
The tension got so bad that actor Tom Hardy joined the director in an on-set tussle. Iñárritu has since referred to his directing choices as “irresponsible”, but remains adamant that the crew were never lied to. They all knew what they were getting into and naturally some of them wouldn’t be able to stick it out. Everyone has their limits and they were certainly tested during this ferocious filmmaking experience.
2 Fantastic Four (2015)
Now here is a film that definitely suffered from the tension behind the scenes. Director Josh Trank was adopted by 20th Century Fox to be the next J.J. Abrams - a young filmmaker with a unique voice able to inject new life into a stale franchise. For a while this plan had serious traction. The studio welcomed Trank’s pitch for a new Fantastic Four movie with very little micro-management, at least at first. Fox were desperate to hold on to the rights of the Fantastic Four characters so they green lit the production and allowed Trank to cast his controversial first choice for the lead role, Miles Teller. Then filming started, and cracks began to appear.
Trank was a maverick and a loner on set and his focus on a bleak acting style made the performances flat. Kate Mara became Trank’s emotional punching bag, and Miles Teller nearly became Trank’s literal punching bag with the two engaged in an aggressive stand off during one scene. Off set, an article in the Hollywood Reporter suggested Trank had “caused more than $100,000 worth of damage to his rented house in Baton Rouge.”
The studio took action. Scenes were scrapped, a new ending created and Trank heavily supervised for the remainder of the shoot. This could’ve all been swept under the rug, if it weren’t for one angry tweet posted by Trank explaining his dissatisfaction with his own movie, which naturally encouraged a reaction from the studio. To counter his argument, evidence of Trank’s shortcomings were shared with the public and the director lost an opportunity to do a Star Wars Anthology film.
1 Apocalypse Now
It’s all in the title. Apocalypse Now is the granddaddy of movies with tension behind the scenes. Unlike the previous entry on the list, this masterpiece of practical filmmaking was a certified hit but the disastrous road the cast and crew had to take to make the film make it a wonder they managed to survive the journey at all. Most of all, director Francis Ford Coppola suffered under the mammoth task of controlling a film plagued by misfortune. The set was destroyed by a typhoon, Marlon Brando showed up overweight and underprepared, Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack on set, and Dennis Hopper had a monstrous cocaine habit to satisfy.
Meanwhile Coppola’s recreation of filthy war conditions, made worse by the inclusion of real human corpses to fill out the scenes with dead bodies, led to disease spreading through the cast and crew during shooting. The anxiety of a $30 million personal investment ate away at Coppola as problems increasingly grew on set. At one point he fell victim to an epileptic seizure and also threatened to commit suicide several times but managed to fight through to piece together something spectacular.
There will always be a certain degree of tension on the set of any film. Whether that tension will affect the outcome of the movie – or even add to its creative intensity - is entirely up to the filmmakers, and a source of fascination for film enthusiasts.