9 Famous Movies That Were Ridiculously Difficult to Make

Back to the Future

Every great movie is filled with obstacles that a hero must overcome to achieve his goal. Sometimes great obstacles, however, don’t just stay on the script page. Instead, they become part of a film’s actual production. Movies are epic endeavors, especially when they’re helmed by filmmakers with grand visions. But along with those high standards and incredible goals come all sorts of production nightmares. The movies on this list almost didn’t get made thanks to production struggles that brought the process to a halt.

There all kinds of obstacles these movies overcame to get made. Costs skyrocketed on Cleopatra and The Abyss, one of those films nearly bankrupted one of the biggest movie studios in the world. Think everyone just gets along on a movie set? Think again. One famous actress got so upset with her director that she threw a cup of urine in his face. Two crew members from another production were so angry about being fired that they spiked the crew’s soup with PCP.

Read about those stories and find out about other movies that almost didn’t get made.

1. The Abyss

The Abyss

Obstacle: Shooting almost an entire film underwater.

There’s a reason why James Cameron is known as “the scariest man in Hollywood.” The making of The Abyss (1989) has been called one of the toughest films to shoot in history. Most of the sci-fi drama takes place under water, which is obviously an extremely difficult place to film a movie.

On the first day of shooting, the 150,000 gallon water tank built for the film started to leak. Once filming finally got under way, Cameron almost drowned in the tank while setting up a shot. The actors were even required to become certified divers, and there were no stunt doubles used in the movie.

Actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio suffered an emotional breakdown, as actors worked 12 hours a day, 40 feet underwater. The crew had it even worse because they were stationed even deeper, so deep in fact, that they would have to decompress in order to surface safely.

2. The Revenant

The Revenant

Obstacle: Extremely cold temperatures and all around difficult production. 

The Revenant (2015) is a true story about a frontiersman who courageously battles the extreme elements and somehow survives. Some crew members who worked on the movie called it the worst experience of their careers and a “living hell.” There were the extremely cold temperatures, the production nightmare of director Alejandro Iñárritu’s desire to shoot the movie in chronological order, and several crew members who couldn’t handle the ordeal and quit during filming.

In the end, it all seemed to work out. Both DiCaprio and Iñárritu won Academy Awards for their efforts, and The Revenant was a box office success.

3. Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now

Obstacle: You name it, it happened.

The entire production of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic masterpiece was riddled with issues. Lead actor Harvey Keitel was fired after two weeks and replaced with Martin Sheen, who was dealing with own alcohol issues. There was total chaos on the movie set, which was located in the Philippines: Coppola was writing the movie as it was shooting, cast members were coming down with horrible tropical illnesses, massive typhoons were hitting the islands, a fire broke out, there were tiger attacks, people threw wild parties with cocaine, and Marlon Brando had an epic diva complex.

After a typhoon hit and production needed to stop for a month, several crew members would not return to the jungle with Coppola. Martin Sheen decided to go back but with great reluctance, he even told friends, “I don’t know if I’m going to live through this.” And he almost did not, Sheen later suffered a heart attack on location.

4. The Shining

Obstacle: Stanley Kubrick’s desire for perfection.

The stories that have come out regarding the filming of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining (1980) are legendary. Kubrick is known as a perfectionist, one of the most meticulous directors in Hollywood history. He is also known as a multiple take director, often shooting scenes again and again, until he deems them perfect. For example, the famous, but very short, “Here’s Johnny” scene (above) which features Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) putting an ax through a door, took three days to shoot and used over 60 doors.

Production of the horror movie was only supposed to last 100 days; it lasted 250. Kubrick was reportedly so hard on actress Shelley Duvall that her hair began to fall out, and she almost suffered a nervous breakdown. Kubrick also decided to shoot the film in chronological order, which makes production inconvenient and extremely time consuming.

5. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Obstacle: Science fiction was considered a dead genre in the 1970s.

Young George Lucas signed a two picture deal with Universal for American Graffiti (1973) and this movie called Star Wars (1977). Even though American Graffiti turned out to be a box office success, Universal gave up its option (big mistake) on Star Wars because science fiction was considered a dead genre at the time. Plus, the marketing department couldn’t think of any way to sell the film. Insiders were so dismayed that many people involved with the project thought the film would become the laughing stock of Hollywood.

However, Lucas found a friend in 20th Century Fox president Alan Ladd Jr., who backed the young director, and stood behind him 100% throughout the entire process.

6. Titanic


Obstacle: James Cameron’s Nazi style of running of a movie production.

James Cameron’s epic love story (which unfolds on an “unsinkable” ship) had to overcome a lot of obstacles, mostly created by the director. Cameron’s $200 million-plus production (the costliest ever at the time) required building a studio that was six acres large, contained a 17 million gallon water tank, and had a 750 foot long replica of the actual Titanic.

There was also an incident where someone, probably two chefs who were fired, spiked the soup with PCP, which sickened 50 cast and crew members. Cameron also garnered the reputation of not being very actor-friendly, he reportedly made the actors wade in freezing cold water temperatures for long periods of time. Actress Kate Winslet said of her experience working with Cameron, “You would have to pay me a lot of money to work with Jim again. If anything was the slightest bit wrong, he would totally lose it. It was hard to concentrate when he was shouting and screaming.” Titanic won 11 Oscars in 1998, including awards for Best Director and Best Picture.

7. Waterworld


Obstacle: The production nightmare of making an epic film on the open sea.

Maybe this is one film that actually should not have been made? Because the film was shot on the open sea off of Hawaii, the production had to deal with hurricanes and the basic production headaches of having to set up a location on the water. The original $100 million budget swelled up to $180 million (or about $335 million today when adjusted for inflation), the most expensive film at the time.

The movie also experienced several last second script alterations and a slew of different script writers.

8. The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz

Obstacle: Several actors nearly died or were scarred for life.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) may be every child’s favorite movie, but it permanently scarred many cast members. Buddy Ebsen (who was originally supposed to play the Tin Man) had a reaction to his make-up that caused his lungs to fail and sent him to the hospital for two weeks. Margaret Hamilton (the Wicket Witch of the West) suffered severe burns to her hands and face from an on set fire, as did her stunt double. Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow) wound up with permanent scars on this face from the rubber mask that was glued on every day.

Additionally, the temperature on set needed to be extremely hot for the Technicolor process. The heat caused several actors and cast members to faint. Now, add several script changes and three directorial changes, and it’s hard to imagine how this classic ever got made at all.

9. Back to the Future

Back to the Future

Obstacle: No film company wanted to finance the movie.

Back to the Future (1985) may seem like the perfect movie now, but at the time, nobody wanted to make it. Director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale pitched the story all around Hollywood, and it was rejected over 40 times. Some thought the story was too saccharine and didn’t fit with the times. Then there was Disney, who couldn’t believe that anyone would pitch them a story that sounded like incest.

One of the company’s executives told Zemeckis and Gale, “Are you guys out of your minds? You can’t make a movie like this here. This is Disney, and you’re giving us a movie about incest! The kid with his mother in the car, that’s horrible!” Finally, Zemeckis took the script to his friend Steven Spielberg, who convinced Universal to make the picture.