Been to see The Revenant? Thought that Leonardo DiCaprio and his fellow actors looked a bit chilly and forlorn?
That's because the cast and crew of Alejandro G. Inarritu's epic were infamously exposed to the punishing elements whilst making the movie in Canada, subject to sub-zero temperatures, blizzards, icy rivers and much more besides. The decision to shoot entirely in natural light often limited the hours of filming to just two a day – so it's little wonder that the danger and tension of The Revenant feels so real. (Thankfully the bear was CGI.)
However, it isn't the only movie that's nearly killed its cast and crew...
1) Apocalypse Now
The year: 1979
How difficult? A production so troubled it spawned its very own, acclaimed making-of documentary called Hearts of Darkness, Francis Ford Coppola's nightmarish Vietnam behemoth was as horrible to make as the fictional events it depicts.
Not only did a typhoon destroy the Philippine set, lead actor Martin Sheen had a severe heart attack (after original star Harvey Keitel was replaced), Coppola himself had a meltdown, Marlon Brando turned up late and overweight and actor Dennis Hopper was perpetually stoned out of his mind.
Even so, the tormented creation of the movie arguably helped to transform it into a classic: Coppola would later describe the movie in the following terms, "Apocalypse Now was our very own Vietnam."
2) The Abyss
The year: 1989
How difficult? Visionary action and sci-fi pioneer James Cameron has always been a notoriously tough customer, whether it's denying the crew loo breaks on True Lies or terrifying Kate Winslet with his dictatorial attitude during the intense making of Titanic. Even so, the production story of The Abyss manages to top everything else in his back catalogue.
In order to lend added realism and atmosphere to his 1989 aquatic adventure, Cameron had his actors film underwater within the darkened confines of an abandoned nuclear reactor. To simulate the feeling of being several fathoms beneath the surface, the director had any natural light blacked out with lead actors Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio often left stranded and twiddling their thumbs during the elaborate camera set-ups.
But that's not even the worst of it. On the first day of shooting, the main, 150,000 gallon water tank sprung a leak, and its repairs contributed to the budget going over $4 million. Added to this, Cameron, Harris and Mastrantonio all nearly drowned whilst making the movie, prompting the latter to break down and storm off the set screaming, "We are not animals!" Crikey.
3) Heaven's Gate
The year: 1980
How difficult? Quite possibly the most notorious production in cinema history, the making of Heaven's Gate is a tale of greed, hubris and indulgence in and of itself. In fact, the epic Western went so wildly over budget that it contributed to the collapse of United Artists, the legendary studio set up in the early 20th century by Hollywood royalty D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Yes, a massive piece of Tinseltown history went down the toilet with this one.
So what went wrong? It's hard to sum up the magnitude of the failure here (former UA bigwig Steven Bach wrote an entire book called Final Cut encapsulating the jaw-dropping debacle) but it essentially boiled down to director Michael Cimino, riding high after the success of his acclaimed Vietnam War movie The Deer Hunter, being given too much money, power and free reign by the studio itself.
With stories of the cast being sent to a six week rollerskating workshop, a minimum of 32 takes for every dialogue exchange, elaborate battle sequences that took months of planning and an irrigation system that destroyed the landscape around the set, the stories would be hilarious were they not so shocking.
4) The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
The year: 1998-2014
How difficult? Former Python Terry Gilliam has run into trouble on many of his movies including, famously, battling with Universal head honcho Sid Sheinberg over the final edit of his cult 1985 classic Brazil. (Gilliam ultimately took out a full-page trade advertisement in movie bible Variety to protest against Sheinberg’s meddling.) However, everything pales in significance next to his ongoing struggle to get the above project off the ground.
If ever there was a cursed production Don Quixote would appear to be it; having begun shooting in 2000, the beleaguered Gilliam forced to contend with floods destroying his Spanish sets, overhead fighter jets ruining the sound and lead actor Jean Rochefort being compelled to leave the production due to illness – having learned English specifically for the part. Eventually it was all shut down and repeated attempts to get the movie up and running again have all collapsed.
Even so, something good came out of it in the form of revealing 2002 making-of documentary Lost in La Mancha, detailing Gilliam and star Johnny Depp’s struggles to make the movie.
5) Mad Max: Fury Road
The year: 2015
How difficult? Recipient of 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director for George Miller, Fury Road has stormed into the lists of all-time-great action movies. But the road to the apocalyptic extravaganza was an infamously torturous one.
The movie was originally set to start filming back in 2001 with franchise veteran Mel Gibson back in the role of road warrior Max Rockatansky. However, the World Trade Center attacks necessitated a delay in production and Gibson’s personal troubles ultimately led to his role being recast.
Fast forward to 2011 and the movie is finally set to begin filming in Miller’s home country of Australia with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in the leads. Or is it? Widespread floods caused a change in the landscape needed for the movie, prompting the entire crew to decamp to Africa’s strikingly beautiful and sparse Namib Desert.
On top of all this were the physical stresses of the extraordinary stunts and practical effects, often with the actors placed right in the thick of the action, so there’s no denying the fraught nature of the shoot. Little wonder Hardy was reported to have had blazing rows with both Theron and Miller.
The year: 1982
How difficult? Bavarian director Werner Herzog pushes the envelope both in terms of his movies and how they’re made. Very often, Herzog will stretch his own physical and emotional limits during production in order to infuse a particular movie with palpable duress and strain. And his wonderfully off-the-wall Amazonian oddity Fitzcarraldo was one of the most difficult shoots from a career packed full of them.
If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know the central image is that of a paddle steamer being dragged over a mountain. Well that wasn’t a miniature or clever piece of camera trickery; that 320-ton boat really was dragged over a mountain deep within the Peruvian jungle for the purposes of the film. Herzog called himself the "Conquistador of the Useless." How’s that for commitment?
Added to this, infamously hot-tempered lead actor Klaus Kinski insulted the local tribes used in the filming; to add insult to potential injury, Rolling Stones member Mick Jagger was also set to feature but dropped out (later described by the director as the toughest loss he’s ever experienced). And on the flight back from Peru, Herzog was forced to contend with a call from his backers who were threatening to pull out of the production. Thankfully, it never came to that.