The once-astonishing Matrix franchise came to a slow, arduous, painful
Movie studios love it when movies stay on schedule and under-budget with the cast, crew, and director happy with the experience. Smooth productions, however, don’t always mean a great movie, or even a good one. Some of the best movies ran into all kinds of problems along the way, be it on-set fighting, unexpected weather, or the death of a star or producer (or both). Here are 7 terrific movies that had a hell of a time getting made.
Mad Max: Fury Road – Mad Max: Fury Road wasn’t released until 30 years after Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome because director George Miller had the absolute worst luck possible. First, the movie was ready to film in Australia, and then it rained in the region for the first time in 15 years. As Miller put it, the ground sprouted and “became a flower garden.” After waiting a year to see if the region would dry out again, Miller decided to move the production to West Africa.
In 2001, the World Trade Tower attacks happened, and the American dollar collapsed, stopping production again. When the production started to come back together again, Miller lost his star Mel Gibson, who was going through some problems of his own at the time. The film started pre-production again in 2003. However, there were safety concerns with the current travel and shipping restrictions, and with the Iraq War going on, the studio was concerned that American audiences wouldn’t be receptive. In 2007, it looked like the film would move forward and possibly with Heath Ledger in the role of Max, but then Ledger died in January 2008. Tom Hardy was cast in the role of Max in 2010. Principal photography didn’t start until 2012, and it fell behind schedule and went over-budget, with additional reshoots in 2013.
Despite all of its problems, Mad Max: Fury Road got almost unanimous critical praise and made $45 million domestically its opening weekend.
Some Like It Hot – Marilyn Monroe clashed with director Billy Wilder on-set, arriving late to work and arguing about filming the movie in black and white. She also had trouble with memorizing her lines, and because she was deeply insecure about her acting ability, she would get flustered easily and flub her lines even more. In order to get through filming, they started hiding her lines in dresser drawers or around the set.
Wilder blamed production delays on the problems with Monroe, saying, “Sometimes this stretched out to three days something that we could have completed in an hour, because after every bad take Marilyn began to cry, and there would have to be new makeup applied.”
Some Like It Hot might have been tough to film, but the work paid off. The film made $14 million during its theatrical run and is considered one of the best comedies of all time.
Dallas Buyers Club – When Dallas Buyers Club won three Oscars at the 2014 Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, it was hard to believe that Dallas Buyers Club had such a difficult time getting made. The script was sold all the way back in 1996 with Dennis Hooper attached to direct and Woody Harrelson in the lead role. Unfortunately, the production fell apart when the company that bought the screenplay went bankrupt, and screenwriter Craig Borten had to write a new script with Melisa Wallack, which was sold to Universal with Marc Forster directing and Brad Pitt as the star, but they lost their director and star to World War Z. Next, Craig Gillespie signed on as director with Ryan Gosling as the star, but again, it was not to be. The whole experience was so terrible for Borten that he ended up in rehab for drugs and alcohol.
The movie seemed to hit a turning point when Matthew McConaughey signed on to star, but then the production lost investors as they were about to start filming in New Orleans. Their situation was so dire that a producer was using her personal credit card to pay for food for the film’s crew, but in the end, the sacrifices were worth it. On a production budget of only $5 million, Dallas Buyers Club went on to make over $55 million worldwide.
Three Kings – David O. Russell’s Three Kings got excellent reviews from the critics, but it had a rough production because Russell did not get along with the film’s star, George Clooney. Clooney didn’t like the way Russell spoke to him or the crew.
In an interview with Playboy, Clooney claims that Russell shoved, pushed, and humiliated people working on the film, and when he confronted Russell about it, they got in a fist fight. Clooney has called his time working on Three Kings “the worst experience of [his] life,” and when asked if he would ever consider working with Russell again, he replied, “Life’s too short.”
Spartacus – Spartacus is considered a classic old Hollywood epic, but its production was plagued with problems. The first screenwriter didn’t work out, and the second screenwriter Dalton Trumbo had been blacklisted and forced to write under other names. Once production was underway, the film’s first director Anthony Mann was replaced by Stanley Kubrick, and Kubrick hadn’t worked on a film of this massive scale (and budget) before.
Though Kubrick was inexperienced, he had a strong vision of how he wanted the film to look. As a result, he clashed with the film’s cinematographer Russell Metty and even with star Kirk Douglas, who Kubrick worked with previously on Paths of Glory.
Feuds aside, the film was very successful, winning four Academy Awards, and the “I am Spartacus” scene is considered an iconic moment in cinema history.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opened in the United States in on Christmas Day in 2013, but Hollywood has been trying to make it happen since the early 90s. In 1994, Jim Carrey was attached to the project. Three years later, Ron Howard was rumored to be signing on as the film’s director, but he moved on to direct EDtv. In 1999, Chuck Russell (The Mask) rewrote the script and scheduled filming for the next year, but again, the film was delayed while Peter Tolan (Analyze This) rewrote the script. The movie floundered until 2003 when Steven Spielberg was brought on to direct with Zach Helm doing more script re-writes, but the next year, Spielberg left the project for War of the Worlds.
At that point, Richard LaGravenese wrote a completely new script, and Mark Walters was brought on in 2005 to direct it. Carrey left the project after being attached for over a decade, and Owen Wilson took over in the title role only to leave only a few months later. Mike Myers was the next actor attached to star, signing on in 2007, with Jay Kogen rewriting the script. The project floundered for 3 more years before the film signed on Sacha Baron Cohen to star, Steven Conrad to write the screenplay, and Gore Verbinski to direct.
Finally in 2011, Ben Stiller was cast in the lead role, and he would eventually take over directing the film as well. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was somewhat divisive amongst critics, but it did make over $188 million worldwide and win a handful of awards from the National Board of Review and Key Art Awards.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – Most of Terry Gilliam’s productions have run into problems, most famously with his yet unmade Don Quixote film and the editing disputes on Brazil, but there is no way a director can prepare for the death of a lead actor. Partway into filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the film’s star Heath Ledger died suddenly. Initially, Gilliam shut down production and thought the film would never be finished, but he later decided to finish filming using three other actors to play versions of Ledger’s character in the magical realms.
Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law shared the role and went to great lengths to make their schedules work with the film’s production schedule. Depp was the most difficult to accommodate because he was filming Public Enemies at the time. He was only able to be on set for one day and three hours, so his part in the film was blocked out so Gilliam could shoot it as one long take. Unfortunately, after principal photography was done, producer William Vince died of cancer, and Gilliam was hit by a car and cracked a vertebrae.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus ended up earning over $61 million worldwide on a $30 million budget, and the film was nominated for Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction at the Academy Awards.