Making a movie starts with an idea, develops into a script, and then is bought by a producer if you’re lucky enough. But after that … absolutely anything can happen. Prima donna stars, tyrannical directors, and catastrophic medical scares are all potential troubles on the set of movies. As a result, film budgets quadruple, and films that were supposed to take 59 days become a five-month endeavor.
We’ve rounded up a list of the scariest, goriest, most disturbing cases that have happened on movie sets. From a near-drowning to a tragic paralysis to actual death cases, some events are so harsh that it’s a miracle the cameras kept on rolling.
The Set of The Exorcist Was So Cursed That a Priest Was Hired to Bless Everyone
A story about a little girl possessed by an evil spirit, The Exorcist managed to freak out its viewers when it was first released in 1973. The audience’s reaction to the film was so intense that some theaters handed out barf bags! Interestingly, making the film was no less scary. If anything, it was scarier.
While working on set, one carpenter lost a few of his fingers. In addition, the house used for the movie caught fire because an insect got trapped in a circuit box, and two actors died shortly after the movie’s release. Actress Linda Blair was so freaked out by the eerie off-set events that she had a nervous breakdown.
The Set of “The Conqueror” Was Cancer-Ridden
Arguably the deadliest movie ever produced, The Conqueror was shot in Utah, near nuclear test sites. 91 of the 220 people involved in making this film developed cancer, and 46 of them died. Experts all agree that the correlation between the shooting location and the unfortunate cancer diagnoses is hard to deny.
This Howard Hughes-produced epic turned out to be not only a medical disaster but a box office one as well. It’s considered one of the worst movies ever and has even been listed in the 1978 book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.
Isla Fisher Almost Drowned in “Now You See Me”
During the shooting of Now You See Me, actress Isla Fisher had to pull off a risky illusion: the water torture cell trick. Fisher was tied with chains and placed inside a large tank of water, with some safety measures like a safety diver with oxygen nearby and a panic button at the top of the tank. Unfortunately, none of the safety measures worked.
Fisher’s chains become entangled that she couldn’t get out. She also couldn’t reach the panic button because the tangled chains were holding her back. The result was that she banged on the glass and screamed for help, but everyone thought she was acting. Luckily, she managed to hold her breath for almost three minutes before unlocking her shackles.
The Apocalyptic Set of “Apocalypse Now”
The set of Apocalypse Now was apocalyptic, so to speak. Producers had to pause the shooting after a typhoon demolished the sets. Martin Sheen (the film’s star) suffered a heart attack mid-scene, and Marlon Brando showed up terribly unprepared and seriously overweight. It’s a miracle the movie was even released.
Luckily, the chaos on set didn’t reflect the movie’s success at the box office. To the producers’ surprise, Apocalypse Now turned out to be a massive hit. To this day, many consider it one of the greatest movies ever made (even though everyone on set suffered terribly).
A Tragic Shooting on the Set of “The Crow”
The set of The Crow was plagued by weird occurrences and tragic, tragic events. A violent storm wrecked part of the set, one guy from the crew jammed a screwdriver through his hand, another angry crew member drove his car right through the studio, and a crane suddenly hit live power lines.
But the last straw was the accidental shooting of Brandon Lee. The film’s leading man was tragically shot down by a dummy bullet that was left in the chamber of one of the guns. The film became a box office success, but its production was an absolute failure.
Fear on the Set of “Titanic”
With a budget of $305 million, Titanic is one of the most expensive movies ever made. But as the budget soared, so did the mishaps on set. Everyone was behind schedule; James Cameron’s aggressive directing style intimidated the actors (specifically Kate Winslet, who, at one point, thought she would drown); and an angry crewmember purposely contaminated the food on set with PCP, causing over 50 people to hallucinate.
The filming took 160 grueling days. But all that chaos was well worth it. Titanic grossed $2 billion, making it the first film to reach the billion-dollar mark. It reigned as the highest-grossing film of all time until 2010 when Cameron’s Avatar was released to cinemas.
Several Deaths on the Set of “Fitzcarraldo”
Making a movie about transporting a steamship over a hill is a recipe for disaster. Based on actual events from the 19th century, Fitzcarraldo is an impressive story but telling it resulted in numerous injuries and several deaths of indigenous extras who were hired to work as laborers.
In addition, one guy sawed his foot off after being bitten by a snake, and two planes crashed during filming, resulting in a serious case of paralysis. I think it’s fair to say that this movie should never have been produced…
The Set of “Jaws” Was Nauseating
The troubles on the set of Jaws began when an optimistic Steven Spielberg decided to be the first person to shoot a film on the Atlantic Ocean. It was the first major motion picture to be shot in the ocean, resulting in a seriously troubled production. Between tiring delays and one boat capsizing, the set of Jaws was nauseating.
The mechanical sharks stopped functioning every time the cameras turned on, and actor Robert Shaw spent half of his workdays drunk out of his mind and incapable of going through with several of his scenes. The movie’s budget kept increasing, and the schedule went from an optimistic 59-days mark to triple digits.
George Clooney Fought With the Director of “Three Kings”
This Gulf War adventure comedy was a tedious process to make. Amid all the explosions, gunfire, and hovering helicopters, George Clooney and director David O. Russell got into huge fights over David’s treatment of extras on set. Clooney didn’t appreciate the director’s tough attitude, so he often intervened and paused mid-scene to yell at him.
Producer Charles Roven told THR that, “George sees David talking to the extras, and it looks like he’s yelling at him. And George comes running over and goes, ‘I told you, mother**ker, if you’re going to pick on somebody, pick on me.’ And David goes, ‘Why don’t you just f**king remember your lines for once?’ And boom! They grab each other, and they’re tussling.”
A Constant Tug-of-War on the Set of “Rebecca”
The year is 1940, and director Alfred Hitchcock is battling producer David O. Selznick on the set of Rebecca. It’s a game of tug-of-war between these two notorious control freaks, each one fighting to have the last word on different aspects of the film. Selznick was a perfectionist who tinkered with the shots for hours, but Hitchcock argued that his technique and style were way more efficient, saving time and money.
In addition, actor Laurence Olivier was upset by the casting of Joan Fontaine over his preferred actress, Vivien Leigh, so he mistreated her throughout the shoot. When Fontaine approached Hitchcock for reassurance, he told her that everyone disliked her (just to get the desired distressed quality from her performance).
“Arrive Alive” Was Anything but Funny
If you don’t remember this dark comedy thriller from the early ’90s, no worries, it was shut down two weeks into shooting. Written by the late SNL writer Michael O’Donoghue, the film was set to shoot in Miami and was intended for actor Bill Murray, who politely refused because it was way too violent for his liking (the movie was supposed to begin with a whale ripping off someone’s head).
As they were shooting, producers realized that the script needed to be tweaked a bit because it was just … not very funny. But the lead star, Willem Dafoe, didn’t approve of the changes they made, ultimately walking away from the gig altogether. All in all, things were catastrophic on set, causing Paramount to close it all down.
The Set of “Heaven’s Gate” Felt More Like Hell
If your $12 million budget nearly quadruples, it probably means you did something wrong. Either that or you’re a maniacal perfectionist. In the case of film director Michael Cimino, both of these reasons apply. Cimino demanded that the set be broken down and built anew because the streets weren’t wide enough, and he also put his actors through absolute hell.
He delayed and prolonged shots just so he could capture the perfect cloud in the background. Things went so beyond schedule that several crew members doubted the film would ever see the light of day. Ultimately, Heaven’s Gate turned out to be a complete flop. It grossed a mere $3.5 million against its $44 million budget.
“Cleopatra” Cost the Studio a Fortune
Despite being one of the most successful films of 1963, Cleopatra cost 20th Century Fox so much money that the studio was nearly out of business by the time they finished it. The film’s star, Elizabeth Taylor, fell ill early in the shoot, which resulted in 16 unproductive weeks of filming.
Massive scenes (like the opening battle scene) had to be reshot, and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was fired while editing the film. He was rehired shortly after because he was the only hope the studio had of completing it. But his tiring editing prolonged the film to six hours, which obviously had to be cut down to three (because come on, who could stay put for a six-hour movie?).
Ego-Driven Fights on the Set of “Bonfire of the Vanities”
Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s 1987 satirical novel was a hyped-up attraction many folks were anticipating. The movie had everything going for it, from an endearing storyline to great actors, yet it ended up being a box office flop. What went wrong? Apparently, everything.
Ego-driven Bruce Willis disrupted production because of petty demands, studio executives couldn’t agree on anything, and there was a last-minute casting change that cost them $4 million. If you want to read more about this disastrous movie, check out author Julie Salamon’s book The Devil’s Candy. She gets into detail about the mess.
“Ishtar” Was a Disaster to Make
Before it was even released, magazines and articles all dished about the disasters on the set of Ishtar. Director Elaine May’s perfectionism forced the cast to redo the same scene multiple times, resulting in massive delays and just an overall tense feeling between crewmembers.
Things got so bad with May that producer Warren Beatty was pressured to fire her. May grew terribly sick at one point but miraculously managed to stick it out until the bitter end. Ishtar was finally released, grossing just $14 million on a $51 million budget.
“Alien 3” Was Completely Forced and Rushed
Alien 3 is the perfect example of what happens when you force a film into a release date. Producers pressured filmmaker David Fincher to get the movie done for a Memorial Day release date, causing him to crack under the pressure and compromise in areas that really shouldn’t be rushed.
Poor Fincher, he wasn’t even the studio’s first pick as a director. Both Renny Harlin and Vincent Ward abandoned ship before Fincher was hired with only five short weeks of prep time. “Philosophical differences” led to constant changes in the script, and the result was pretty chaotic.
Intentional Tension on the Set of “Eyes Wide Shut”
Eyes Wide Shut has been called both a masterpiece and a catastrophe. Either way, it’s clear that remaining indifferent to Stanley Kubrick’s erotic thriller is nearly impossible. Due to Kubrick’s fear of traveling, the whole film was shot near London and took a crazy amount of time to get done.
The film’s leading couple, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise were reportedly turned against each other by Kubrick in order to enhance their on-screen tension. Kubrick would direct each actor separately and forbid them to swap notes. Both Kidman and Cruise spent such a long time in the U.K. that their kids developed an English accent.
Chaos and Prima Donnas on “The Island of Dr. Moreau”
The set of The Island of Dr. Moreau looked more like an island of lunatics than an actual movie set. Director Richard Stanley was a stubborn maverick who refused to accept the studio’s notes once shooting began. And after being served divorce papers mid-production, actor Val Kilmer let his anger out on everyone.
Moreover, Marlon Brando refused to memorize his lines, insisting they be played to him via earpiece. Stanley was ultimately fired mid-shooting, but the studio had to hire extra security to ensure the bitter director didn’t try and sabotage the set. Sadly, all that trouble was for nothing because the movie was a total flop.
It Took Years to Release “Margaret”
The film Margaret was shot in 2005 yet only released in 2011. Yup, it sounds like something went terribly wrong. Even though it had a great script and a brilliant group of actors, the editing proved challenging. Writer and director Kenneth Lonergan edited the drama in a way that was seriously incoherent and messy.
Editing took three years, ending in 2008, but three additional years were added following two lawsuits against Lonergan. Thankfully, Margaret wasn’t shelved, and this epic teenage drama managed to see the light of day, although according to Lonergan, the final cut is not really what he had in mind.
The Turbulent Set of “Waterworld”
Yet another film to remind us how difficult it is to shoot on the ocean, the set of Waterworld was rocked by storms, causing both schedule and budget overruns. On the creative side, actor Kevin Costner couldn’t stop arguing with director Kevin Reynolds, and he also demanded rewrites from Joss Whedon, who called his time on set “seven weeks of hell.”
As the filming went on, the budget mushroomed from $100 million to $175 million. Unfortunately, the movie only grossed a little over $100 million. But it was able to make some additional money due to post-cinema sales like video games and exciting attractions at several Universal Studios around the world.
The Set of “Roar” Looked Like an Unconscious Suicide Attempt
Shot in L.A.’s Soledad Canyon, Roar is arguably one of the most dangerous movies ever made. It’s supposed to be a nice family drama, but, in reality, it looks more like an unconscious suicide attempt. With big cats roaming free and playing around with the cast, Tippi Hedren and her family were at serious risk.
Hundreds of participants were injured in the production of Roar, including cinematographer Jan de Bont, who had to get 220 stitches after being scalped by one of the lions. Moreover, Tippi Hedren’s daughter, Melanie Griffith, almost lost an eye after one particularly scary attack.
A Horrifying Accident on the Set of “The Twilight Zone: The Movie”
On June 23, 1982, Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Le, and Renee Shin-Yi Chen were killed on the set of “Twilight Zone: The Movie” by a helicopter that crashed on top of them. The explosions on set apparently caused the low flying chopper to spiral to the ground, taking the lives of these three actors.
Several crew members stood trial for manslaughter, including director John Landis, but, ultimately, no one was convicted. The tragic event made the whole film industry rethink its wild stunt work and enforce many new safety regulations and requirements.
Allergic Reactions on the Set of “The Wizard of Oz”
The set of this beloved film was a total disaster. Poor Tin Man (actor Buddy Ebsen) suffered an allergic reaction to his makeup, landing him in the hospital, and Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow makeup burned so much that it left him with permanent scars around his chin and mouth.
In addition, the Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton, was hurt during her departure from Munchkinland after a pyrotechnic malfunction left painful burns all over her body. Keep all of these disasters in mind next time you press play on this endearing story.
Angry Protestors Tried to Sabotage “Cruising”
William Friedkin had to deal with angry protestors while trying to film his cop thriller Cruising. A controversial tale about a New York detective trying to catch a homophobic serial killer, the LGBTQ community wasn’t too happy with how the gay club scene in Manhattan was portrayed.
The protestors felt that Friedkin was presenting an inaccurate view of gay life. So, they went ahead and blew air horns near the shooting location, doing everything they could to distract the crew, including messing around with their lighting. The protests worked, and much of the audio was scrapped and replaced by overdubbing.
“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” Was Doomed From the Start
This film’s production went wrong on the first day when everyone realized that the shooting location was right next to an aircraft testing facility. Moreover, on the second day, a flash flood wiped out the set, damaging the equipment and creating a significant schedule setback that was hard to bounce back from.
Several days into shooting, actor Jean Rochefort herniated a disc in his back and abandoned the project altogether. Poor director Terry Gilliam, he gave up on the film and spent more than a decade scraping together money so he could finally work on it again, this time, with different, healthy actors.
“Super Mario Bros.” Was a Sad Fail
The atmosphere on the set of 1993’s Super Mario Bros: The Motion Picture was horrible. No one could agree on anything. There were endless rewrites that left the actors in a state of absolute confusion and doubt. It got to the point where actor Dennis Hopper, dressed as a dinosaur with his hair gelled in a row of reptilian spikes, screamed at directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton:
“You rewrote my lines! You call this writing? This is shit! It’s shit! And the fact you’d do it without asking me?” This went on for 45 minutes. Unfortunately, it was just one of the many outbursts that were seen on set. Rocky and Annabel had great intentions coming into this production, but it looks like they took on more than they could chew.
Unexplainable Events on the Set of “The Possession”
Several creepy things happened on the set of 2012’s horror film, The Possession. Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan reported that were several exploding lightbulbs and that he had felt random cold breezes brush past him while filming. But the most worrying event was the sudden fire in one of the set’s storage facilities.
After a thorough inspection, investigators ruled out any electrical faults as the cause, stating that the fire was a complete mystery. The blaze remained “undetermined” by experts who came inspecting, which really makes you wonder whether it had to do with the creepy Dybbuk box in the film.
John Belushi Was All Over the Place on the Set of “Neighbors”
Comedian John Belushi’s substance abuse was at its worse during the filming of Neighbors, resulting in diva-like fits, mixed-up lines, and several, almost deadly accidents (he insisted on tying sandbags around his feet while performing a drowning stunt).
Belushi even tried to get director John Avildsen fired, arguing that he didn’t understand comedy at all and that he was turning the film into a bad joke. Belushi also recorded some songs for the film, which were all rejected by Avildsen and the producers.
Stalkers and Lice on the Set of “Harry Potter”
Hermione Granger suffered some uncomfortable moments as a Hogwarts student. Firstly, on the set of the second installment, she ended up with head lice that somehow got so bad that they had to put everything on hold for a while.
Secondly, she was visited on set by a man who turned out to be a total stalker (he had been stalking her outside her home for quite some time).
Emma Watson was definitely not the only star with freaky stories from the set. Matthew Lewis (Neville) accidentally had his eardrum ruptured by the actress playing the character Bellatrix Lestrange after she waved a wand at him.
James Franco Had to Get Three Stitches While Filming Pineapple Express
James Franco’s grey headband in Pineapple Express fit his character so well that no one thought to question that stylish pick. But in case you haven’t read Seth Rogan’s Tweet back in 2018, the reason Franco wore the headband had little to do with style and everything with injury.
Apparently, in the scene where Rogan and Franco’s characters are seen running through the woods, Franco hits his head quite badly on a tree. Unfortunately, that specific tree had a screw drilled into it that was holding a pad in place. Franco had to get three stitches, which he hid under his chic headband.
“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” Was Scarier Behind-the-Scenes
As scary as this film is to watch, it was even creepier and gorier to film. Director Tobe Hooper admitted that “The last day of shooting went on for like 26 or 27 hours. Maybe even longer. The lights were so damn strong that the bones [used as props] started cooking.”
Hooper explained that every time he would say “cut,” the whole cast would run to the window and vomit their guts out. “A doctor had to come out and administer Dramamine to help settle people’s stomachs,” he explained.
No Cellphone Service on the Set of “The Revenant”
Alejandro Iñárritu is a bold director, known for his intensity and guts. But he really took it a step further when shooting The Revenant. He demanded that the whole film be shot with natural light, and he also demanded it be shot in Alberta, Canada, at around -22 degrees Fahrenheit.
This led to several obstacles, one of the most serious ones being that there was absolutely no cellphone service on the set, so the whole crew had to rely on snowmobiles that went back and forth to communicate messages between both ends.
The Cast Had to Collect Money to Finish “The Evil Dead”
You usually assume that when a film is already in production, it’s got to be fully funded. Surprisingly, that isn’t always the case. Especially if you’re dealing with a low-budget film. The Evil Dead suffered some serious financial setbacks that forced the whole cast to go out and beg for money.
Director Sam Raimi explained: “We’d reach stretches where we’d run out of money and have to stop, put on our suits, get our briefcases, cut our hair short and shave, and go around knocking on doors asking for more money.” Raimi and other crew members all dropped out of school and worked as waiters, busboys, and cab drivers to help fund the film.
Horror on the Set of “The Amityville Horror”
Filming a horror film can be unsettling as it is but having a dead body float onto the set is, well, unsettling to say the least. The Amityville Horror was filmed in Toms River, New Jersey, and the crewmembers suffered a serious scare when a corpse floated their way.
Actress Melissa George reported: “We were filming, and the police came by and said they were around the water because they said they had discovered a dead body floating around. So, it was very eerie. We were like, ‘Awesome, now I’m much more comfortable shooting this movie.'”
Constant Changes in “Lord of the Rings”
The Lord of the Rings franchise was shot over a period of three years, so understandably the screenplay was in constant flux, evolving from episode to episode, with little changes made along the way. This presented a unique challenge for the actors, who sometimes had to read their lines while filming because they didn’t have time to memorize them.
In one scene, actor Sean Bean had to tape the new script to his knee while he played it out. “Sean handled it very cleverly,” director Peter Jackson said. “If you look at the movie during that scene, you’ll see he occasionally has his head bowed as if he’s dealing with the emotional weight of the horrors of Mordor. In actual fact, the new script page had been taped to his knee!”
Brad Pitt Hated Working on “Interview With the Vampire”
If it feels like Brad Pitt’s character in the movie “Interview With the Vampire” doesn’t want to be there, it’s because that’s exactly how the actor felt when he shot it. He wasn’t acting. “Six months in the dark. Contact lenses, makeup, and I’m playing the ‘bitch’ role,” Pitt revealed.
“One day it broke me,” he continued; “I called David Geffen, who was a producer. I said, ‘David, I can’t do this anymore. How much will it take to get me out?’ And he goes, very calmly, ‘Forty million dollars.’” Pitt was convinced to remain loyal to his commitment after that pricey realization.
Everyone Felt Sick on the Set of “Insidious”
On the set of James Wan’s film Insidious, the crewmembers and cast complained about feeling ill and queasy while filming certain scenes in the hospital. They also reported hearing noises and weird buzzing sounds from vacant areas of the set.
Actress Jennifer Spence told Cosmopolitan: “When we were set dressing in the basement for Insidious, there was this room full of crazy old records [of patients] from the’40s and ’50s. We were moving them around to do our set dressing, and everybody in the room started feeling sick and weird and heavy. We had to take a break because everyone felt overwhelmingly unwell.”
The Dark Reality on the Set of “The Dark Night”
Heath Ledger’s death shortly after The Dark Knight was released was not the film’s only tragedy (he also locked himself in a hotel for six weeks thinking about terrible things). One month after the movie’s release, Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) was in a car accident. Moreover, Anne Hathaway’s stunt double crashed into camera equipment.
Another crash happened when a special effects technician, Conway Wickliffe, who was working on a moving camera truck, crashed into a tree and died on the spot. As you can tell, the set of The Dark Night was very, very dark.