10 Blockbuster Movies That Nearly Didn't Happen
Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody finally made its way to theaters this past weekend (November 2), after years of development hell and production woes.
The film was beset by difficulties right from the start, with scripts being tossed out, lead actors leaving the project, and a last-minute director changeup, with Eddie and the Eagle's Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle) stepping in.
That's nothing, though, compared to some other productions in movie history. Below are ten blockbuster films that were so beleaguered, they almost never saw the light of day at all, but thankfully now are the stuff of Hollywood legend.
1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
This timeless classic almost didn't make it to theaters. First there were the multiple rewrites and changes in directors, then original Tin Man actor Buddy Ebsen had a near-fatal allergic reaction to his aluminum make-up, while the little dog who played Toto misbehaved, ruining take after take, and Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, was burned during the filming of a Munchkinland scene. Phew. There's no place like home, indeed.
2. The Omen (1976)
It's hard to know where to start on this production: scriptwriter David Seltzer's plane was struck by lightning; Gregory Peck's son killed himself shortly before filming began; the IRA bombed one of the hotels the crew members were staying at; a plane the cast was due to take was rescheduled and subsequently crashed, killing everyone on board; and one of the animal handlers was killed by a lion.
If that wasn't ominous enough, then what happened to special effects consultant John Richardson ought to clinch it: he supposedly crashed his car in the Netherlands on August, Friday 13, 1976, by a road sign that said Ommen, 66.6km.
3. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Things went so disastrously wrong on the set of Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness, a documentary was made about it. Not only did they film in the Philippines, where bad weather extended the shoot from five months to over a year, but Martin Sheen had a heart attack, and Marlon Brando had his own ideas on how to play Colonel Kurtz, leading to major rewrites.
Despite all of the setbacks, it was somehow finished and went on to be called one of the greatest films of all time. Coppola said of the production later, "We were in the jungle. And little by little, we went insane."
4. Blade Runner (1982)
Director Ridley Scott has famously never been entirely happy with this seminal sci-fi movie: since it was first shown to test audiences in 1982, he's recut it no fewer than three times. Before that, he had caused unrest on set with his unorthodox methods, and before all that, the script had undergone multiple rewrites, after Philip K. Dick, the author of the short story it's based on, was thoroughly unimpressed by early drafts. "It was a long slog," said its star Harrison Ford last year. But worth it.
5. Alien 3 (1992)
The whole sorry saga of the making of Alien's third outing was captured in the making-of documentary, Wreckage and Rage, the full version of which was only released in full on 2010's Alien Anthology box set. It covered the concern that Sigourney Weaver might not return, creative differences between director David Fincher and the studio, and the laborious special effects that almost bankrupted production.
6. Groundhog Day (1993)
The making of this film led to the breakdown of the partnership between Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, founded in Chicago's Second City comedy troupe in the 1970s and led to Ghostbusters (1984) and Caddyshack (1980). A fundamental difference of opinion caused the tension: while Ramis was intent on the film being a comedy, Murray wanted something a bit more philosophical. The two men reportedly didn't talk for 20 years after it was made.
7. Titanic (1997)
It's appropriate somehow that a production set on a famously ill-fated ship voyage should have been such a disaster. Actors were subjected to torturous conditions in cold water, filming overshot the intended production schedule, and the gigantic budget began to mount, but nobody was prepared for what came next: a disgruntled member of the crew spiked the lobster soup with a hallucinogenic drug, resulting in over 50 people — including director James Cameron — being rushed to the hospital.
8. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Danny Boyle's tale about a poor kid (Dev Patel) from the streets of Mumbai who wins big on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? almost never made it to theaters. USA Today reports the film was originally set to be released by Warner Independent, which was then closed by Warner Bros., leaving the movie in limbo for a while and looking like it might only get a straight-to-DVD release. Thankfully it was saved by Fox Searchlight, and went on to snag eight Oscars.
9. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
This long-awaited Mad Max sequel may have bagged five Oscars and been nominated for Best Picture, but it was riddled with on-set drama along the way. Production began way back in 2009, but unexpected rainfall, a director with an unassailable vision in the form of George Miller, and tension between the stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron all frustrated what was already a grueling schedule. It paid off, however, resulting in one of the best action movies of recent times.
10. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)
Terry Gilliam's long-gestated and epically delayed take on Miguel de Cervantes' classic novel finally made it to the big screen this year, but it had been a whopping 29 years in the making. The production suffered wrecked sets, collapsed funding and bad luck, not to mention the death of two of its stars, John Hurt and Jean Rochefort. The twists and turns were worthy of a Monty Python sketch, and documented in 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha.
Are you glad these movies made it?