Filmmaking has always been controversial. That’s especially true for low-budget affairs that often involve doing stuff on the fly without proper regulations, but even big-budget projects can be affected by controversy. It can involve casting, say, an Anglo actor in a role meant to be Asian or being tone-deaf when it comes to racial matters. There can be fights on set and a lot of clashes between talent. There can be some major arguments between studios and actors that can even get physical. This can result in bad press, overshadow a movie, and make it a flop. But some cases are more unique in that they actually get people in trouble, not just with the press, but with the courts as well.
We aren’t talking about a minor lawsuit or such. These are problems that got massive reactions in bad ways. In some cases, it was sheer outrage over what was on screen, either the sexual overtones or graphic nature. Other times, it can be what went into filming it; a behind-the-scenes move that got way out of control. And sometimes they’re combined, both the movie and the production becoming a total mess that got the filmmakers in trouble. There have been injuries, lawsuits, arrests and even deaths which led to Hollywood arrests.
It’s amazing to see how even modern filmmakers get into truly hot water over what happens in their films. Here are 15 movie scenes that got the filmmakers involved in serious trouble, making them memorable for all the wrong reasons.
15. A Bystander Got His Car Crushed – The French Connection
The French Connection is a rarity: a box office hit crime drama that was also an awards darling. It won Oscars for Best Picture, director William Friedkin and actor Gene Hackman. It was a thriller with Hackman’s Poppy Doyle tracking a deadly drug gang in New York and is still hailed for its gritty realism and power. The highlight is the spectacular car chase scene across New York as Doyle chases an L train and is still a thriller today. Back then there was no CGI so it was all real cars in the middle of New York in broad daylight. Naturally, this led to some major twists and the filmmakers had to be careful mapping it all out first. However, the shooting had the cars twisting and spinning wilder than expected. That included Doyle’s car sideswiping a couple of parked cars and nearly driving one off the road.
Most of them were set up for this… except one. That’s right, one poor car owner came out to find the side of his car smashed in because of the movie. The fact that the whole thing was done without city permits got the producers in hot water and they had to pay out for repairs before the owner of the smashed car sued them. Things died down after the movie became a hit (and that driver was happy to see his car on screen) but it shows how one of the greatest chase scenes ever was truly wild.
14. Tippi Hedren Was More Terrified Of Hitchcock – The Birds
Alfred Hitchcock was a complex man. He was a brilliant director and master of suspense movies but was also a troubled figure with a serious misogynistic complex. More than one actress found themselves going from merely Hitchcock’s “muse” to an object of near obsession. Tippi Hedren had it the worst of them, a beautiful woman who was put through hell by the director. That came up in The Birds, the classic thriller where birds seem to go insane and attack humans. Hedren assumed it would be an okay shoot, but was unprepared for how far Hitchcock was going to go. For one scene, instead of a prop, Hitchcock instead had a real bird attacking Hedren, claiming the mechanical ones didn’t work. That seemed to be a lie as Hitchcock just wanted it to look realistic. He thus hit Hedren with slews of birds clawing at her face and hair and even tied them to her costume.
It took five days to film this scene and nearly drove Hedren to a breakdown. It also got Hitchcock in trouble with the studio and animal groups for his brutal use of the birds and nearly shut the movie down. The film succeeded but this incident casts a shadow over the master’s legacy.
13. A Rough Bath Got Creators Attacked By Animal Rights Groups – A Dog’s Purpose
A Dog’s Purpose looks like a movie that should have been a good experience. Based on a popular novel, it focused on a dog who finds himself reincarnated and helping each owner to a better life. It was a warm movie and pushed for families as who doesn’t love dogs? But just one week before its release, a video was released online showing the filming of a scene where the dog (in the body of a German Shepherd) is given a bath. The dog appeared to be reluctant and so was dragged to the shower while resisting. This caused a huge outcry from animal rights groups and got the moviemakers in trouble. PETA also responded to investigate and Universal canceled the initial showings of the film. Eventually, things were settled with evidence the video had been edited and the Humane Society stated that it looked like everything had been okay on set. However, it shows you can do a lot but hurting an animal is where many folks draw the line.
12. Ryan Gosling Was Almost Arrested By Real Cops – Lost River
There’s such a thing as being well prepared for a role but this might be taking it too far. Ryan Gosling has impressed people by going from just a clean-cut young star into an actor with Oscar noms and known for his dedication. While making The Ides of March in 2011, Gosling decided to take advantage of filming to scout out locations for his next movie, Lost River. He found himself investigating some abandoned buildings in Detroit, shooting some footage on a small camera to be used for a scene of his character exploring the city. At which point, a pair of police officers came up, not recognizing Gosling at all and mistook him for a scavenger. Gosling claimed he was arrested but the Detroit police made it clear he was taken off, then given a citation for trespassing. The case was dismissed for lack of evidence yet shows Gosling may have gone too far with his “guerrilla shoot” style of filming.
11. Vincent Gallo Was Kicked Out Of Cannes – The Brown Bunny
Usually, the Cannes Film Festival is a great thing, one of the key red carpet events of the year. Movies get big premieres and it often builds up early buzz for the Oscars. But if a movie is bad, the crowd can be very vocal to kill its chances. In 2003, Vincent Gallo premiered The Brown Bunny, directing and starring in this drama. It was meant to be a big deal but audiences reacted very badly to a quite graphic love scene between Gallo and Chloe Sevigny. The way the camera kept it up had audiences squirming, then booing loudly. Gallo reacted badly and his antics basically had him kicked out of the festival before the closing.
But the true heat was saved when Roger Ebert savaged the film in his Cannes write-up. Gallo fired back by calling Ebert a “fat pig with the physique of a slave trader.” Ebert fired back “I will one day be thin but you will still be the director of The Brown Bunny.” Gallo later released an edited version which was better received but picking a fight with one of the most revered critics on the planet isn’t the right move for your career.
10. That Was A Real Horse – The Godfather
The Godfather is not just a movie, it’s part of American culture. The dialogue has become our lexicon with classic lines like “make him an offer he can’t refuse” and much more. There are so many iconic moments but one of the biggest has to be the message sent to a movie producer. The Don is trying to get a singer (obviously based on Frank Sinatra) a part in a major movie as a favor. Tom Hagen goes to the producer to ask nicely, but it’s bad news as the singer has deflowered a young actress the producer was mentoring and he thus contends he will never cast him. The man shows off his estate, particularly his prized stallion whom he’s hoping to enter into a race. He blows off the offer as just something minor. The next morning, he wakes up to find himself covered in blood and pulling back his sheets to show his stallion’s head in the bed. Needless to say, the deal is made.
Obviously, one would think this was a very realistic-looking prop. But no, incredibly, this was a real horse’s head. Keep in mind, this was 1971, a decade before movies adopted the stance of animal protection. Francis Ford Coppola just didn’t find the mock head looking right so reached out to a ranch about to put down an ill horse and asked it to be sent when it was done. Naturally, people were upset and Coppola found himself clashing with animal rights groups and is still slammed by them today. The movie is a classic but might have gone too far with this scene.
9. The All Too Real Attack – Irreversible
There are some movies that can get just a bit too realistic. Irreversible surely has to rank on that list. Roger Ebert spoke for many with how it was “so violent and so cruel that most people might find it unwatchable.” Directed by Gaspar Nole, it focuses on two men who unite to seek revenge after their mutual friend (Monica Bellucci) is attacked. The focus of the film (shown in reverse chronological order) is on that attack, lasting over ten minutes. It is ultra-detailed and shown in extremely graphic manner with Bellucci selling every instant of agony. That’s followed by her beaten and driving a harsh movie highlighted by a man smashed up by a fire extinguisher. When it was shown at Cannes, audience members stormed out and the outrage over the scene was massive. It hurt the movie’s standing along with accusations of homophobia on the director. The cast and crew defend the film but it shows that trying to sell a real brutal attack can work out worse for the audience.
8. A Real Tragedy On Set – The Twilight Zone
For all his great movies, John Landis is always going to be haunted by what happened on Twilight Zone: The Movie. Based on the classic TV show, it was an anthology of stories by a variety of directors. Landis was handling the tale of a bigot (Vic Morrow) who’s taught a lesson by being forced to live as a Jew in Nazi Germany, a black man chased by the Klan and more. The ending has him sent to a concentration camp– a rather dark turn. But originally, it was supposed to have Morrow saving a pair of children in Vietnam, returning to the present and changing his ways. But an on-set tragedy changed that. For that key scene, Landis ordered a full-scale helicopter to be lowered on a crane just above Morrow and the children. The crane snapped and ended up crushing all three of them.
That was already ugly, but got worse as word got out that the children were acting without visas and there were accusations of lack of proper safety protocols. It was a shadow over the movie and Landis himself faced both criminal and civil charges in trials lasting over a decade. He was eventually found not guilty by criminal courts, but Steven Spielberg (who also directed a segment for the film) broke off their friendship. Landis has a lot of great credits but always overshadowed by this tragedy.
7. The Crucifixion Was Way Too Real – The Passion Of The Christ
Mel Gibson’s reputation has taken a lot of hits over the years. Once, he was a huge box office star with Lethal Weapon and other movies as well as a leading sex symbol. He was also an acclaimed director, winning an Oscar for Braveheart. However, Gibson was known for a temper and other issues that made folks wary. In 2006, he released one of the most controversial movies ever made, The Passion of the Christ. A retelling of Jesus’ final days, the movie rocked critics with its shocking violence, showcasing his torture at the hands of Romans and his end. James Caviezel was put through the wringer with realistic whipping and other segments and making the torture feel real. That got the movie huge reactions with talk of how audiences were fleeing theaters over the actions, including the crucifixion. That didn’t stop the movie from becoming a hit but Gibson was slammed by various religious groups for being so harsh about the whole thing. Gibson, of course, got in major trouble not long afterward for his anti-Semitic tirades but this scene was something that got him in hot water by folks on various sides of the religious fence.
6. Lindsay Lohan Was A Mess – Georgia Rule
In 2007, the decline began. For a few years, Lindsay Lohan had been the “It Girl” of Hollywood, gorgeous, talented and rising high with hits like Mean Girls. Georgia Rule was meant to give her more credibility as she played a trouble-making young girl sent to live with her grandmother (Jane Fonda). Sadly, Lohan was getting too much into her character with real-life partying and that soon popped up on set. She showed up late and sour and kept complaining about her not treated right. Worse was Lohan just not showing up for a key scene, keeping the cast and crew waiting hours before finally calling it quits. When she did arrive, she kept flubbing her lines, causing constant reshoots of the scene until Fonda snapped at her. Fonda and Felicity Huffman both criticized Lohan who claimed exhaustion but it was clear she was partying hard. The movie flopped and the bad press over Lohan’s actions was the first step in her downward spiral.
5. Kevin Costner Nearly Drowned – Waterworld
It’s hysterical that Waterworld was to be made by legendary B-movie director Roger Corman. But he balked at how it would cost an “outrageous” $5 million. Eventually, director Kevin Reynolds got hold of it and cast his frequent partner Kevin Costner in the lead. A sci-fi film set in a future where the icecaps have melted and flooded Earth, Costner plays a “merman” helping find dry land. The shoot is now legendary for storms hitting but the real storm was between the director and star. Already on the outs, Reynolds and Costner went at it big time with huge arguments. It reached its height when Costner got his foot caught in a jet ski, dragged underwater and nearly drowned. He accused Reynolds of setting this up, leading to a near fistfight on set. Reynolds walked and Costner finished the movie himself. It was a big bomb but amazing how one scene nearly sunk so many involved.
4. Marlon Brando And The Butter – Last Tango In Paris
For all his amazing work as an actor, Marlon Brando was affected by a horrible ego and his intensity led to trouble. He had returned to the A-list for The Godfather and had Hollywood at his feet. For his follow-up, Brando picked a dark romance of two people in Paris. It was a gripping film, shockingly graphic for its time and was hailed by critics with Brando getting another Oscar nod for it. However, Brando and director Bernardo Bertolucci went a bit too far making it look good. The topper is the infamous “butter scene” as the two decided to go ahead with it without warning actress Maria Schneider first so her reactions would be real. The woman was rocked hard by it, keeping quiet at the time. But she came forward with it years later and it has naturally spoiled the entire movie and the reputations of both men. The film should be well received but the controversy over that scene clouds it and the actor and director for good.
3. A Train Crash Became Too Real – Midnight Rider
Meant to be a big drama, Midnight Rider starred William Hurt as legendary singer Greg Allman. It was set up to look at his life and career with the crew about to start filming. The first scene shot took place on a railroad trestle above the Althama River in Georgia. The scene was to have a dream of Hurt on a hospital bed rolling down the tracks. While filming, a train came barreling down faster than expected, the crew barely able to get away. Camera assistant Sarah Jones was struck by debris and propelled toward the train. She later died at the hospital while others in the crew were injured.
It soon came out that, despite their talk to the crew, producer/director Randall Miller and Jody Savin had not gotten permission from the county to shoot at that location. Thus, the train conductor had no idea the movie crew was there. The two were arrested and charged with manslaughter, Savin cutting a deal to turn on Miller, who was sentenced to two years in jail. Naturally, the movie was never completed and shows that the desire to get a “secret shoot” in can lead to serious consequences.
2. Cops Busted Actors – The Minnesota Delivery
Sometimes you can go a little too far making something look amazingly realistic. The 2013 movie has a calm Minnesota native’s life overturned when his criminal cousin from Chicago comes in and pulls him into a robbery. The big scene was an armed hold-up of an armored car, a daring daytime heist that drives the film over. Filming in St. Paul, the directors went all out with a realistic crash followed by masked men with guns attacking the car. At which point, roughly ten police cars pulled up and officers racing out to demand everyone surrender. Incredibly, someone had forgotten to ask permission from the city or inform people in the neighborhood of this. They defended it on their budget but it was still astounding and thus residents thought they were seeing a real robbery going down.
The actors and director Timothy Christian were held in jail for a full day before the whole thing was sorted out, the cops realizing it as the guns and money were fake. But they decided to leave the gang in jail a bit longer for a lesson. The movie even made use of this in its publicity to show how the lines of reality and fiction can be blurred.
1. The Director Was Tried In Court – Cannibal Holocaust
In the annals of shocking movies, Cannibal Holocaust is high up there. Ruggero Deodato directed this 1980 Italian movie, a precursor to the “found footage” genre. It showed what was supposed to be film of a missing crew and dramatized what happened as they found themselves lost in the jungle. Taken in by a tribe, they’re soon subjected to some of the most brutal and unsettling events ever put on film. What was shown frankly can’t be reprinted and the movie has found itself banned in several nations. Deodato put a lot of detail to make this movie look real. That worked against him as the Italian government soon became convinced what they had seen was a snuff film and had Deodato arrested for obscenity and then for murder. He defended himself, bringing in the actors to prove they were alive and how they put it all together. Thus the murder charges were dropped although the movie has remained banned in numerous nations. Goes to show you really can go too far making things look real.
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