When we watch a finished movie, what we’re not seeing is the culmination of behind-the-scenes moments that led to an otherwise slick final product. The production process is often messy, unpredictable, and at times, even dangerous. Some of the most iconic films in history featured behind-the-scenes moments that you just couldn’t make up. From crazy directors to improvised lines, we’ve gathered together some of the most shocking examples of this.
1. The cast’s reaction during the chest-burster scene in Alien is 100% real
The scene in Alien where a Xenomorph comes bursting out of John Hurt’s chest is iconic in sci-fi cinema. As for the shock on the faces of everyone in the room, that was entirely genuine. None of the cast knew exactly what was going to happen, with the script simply reading, “this thing emerges.” When they arrived at the set, the crew were all sporting raincoats. Then, after a slight mechanical mishap during the first take, the second take revealed the alien bursting out of Hurt’s prosthetic chest.
Veronica Cartwright was so shocked after getting a face full of fake blood, that she immediately passed out. Yaphet Kotto left the set, returned to his trailer, and refused to speak to anybody. And all in all, it led to a scene that shocked audiences for decades to come.
2. George Clooney got into a fistfight with director David O. Russell on the set of Three Kings
David O. Russell is notorious in Hollywood for being one of the most volatile directors to work with. During the filming of Three Kings, that reputation was well-earned, when he verbally berated an extra. When the assistant director tried to calm him down, Russell threw his walkie-talkie to the ground, and the AD quit on the spot. Then, George Clooney got in on the action, telling the director, “you can’t shove, push or humiliate people who aren’t allowed to defend themselves.”
Clooney describes what happened next in an interview: “He turned on me and said, ‘Why don’t you just worry about your f**ked-up act? You’re being a dick. You want to hit me? You want to hit me? Come on, pussy, hit me.’ I’m looking at him like he’s out of his mind. Then, he started banging me on the head with his head. He goes, ‘Hit me, you pussy. Hit me.’ Then, he got me by the throat and I went nuts.”
3. During production, someone spiked the Titanic crew’s food with PCP
Titanic is most known for being one of the highest grossing films of all time. Production hit a slight snag before it was released though, when a “mysterious illness” moved its way through upwards of 80 members of the crew, all of whom were hospitalized with hallucinations.
Canadian police later stated that “testing revealed some of the meal contained the drug phencyclidine [PCP].” Despite a thorough investigation, the culprit was never identified.
4. The scenes on Hoth in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back were filmed in an actual blizzard
Not every location for the original Star Wars trilogy was a picnic for the cast and crew. Hoth really took the cake though. Those scenes were filmed in Finse, Norway during one of the region’s harshest winters in recorded history.
By the time the production arrived in Finse, all of the sites and equipment were buried in snow. To account for that unfortunate turn, the scene where Luke is escaping from the Wampa Cave was filmed directly outside the ski lodge where the production was headquartered.
No one had it worse than Harrison Ford though, who was scheduled to roll into Finse after the rest of the cast. According to Mark Clark’s novel, Star Wars FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Trilogy That Changed the Movies, Ford was only able to get to the set by riding “in the engine cabin of a locomotive snowplow sent to clear the avalanche. He disembarked in Finse around midnight, having downed a bottle of vodka with the engine driver.”
5. Marlon Brando read his lines for The Godfather from cue cards
Marlon Brando was famous for his refusal to memorize his lines, citing a need for spontaneity in order to really deliver a top-notch performance. In The Godfather, director Francis Ford Coppola got around this by utilizing cue cards attached to various surfaces (and actors), including lamps, walls, and in one case, they were held up by fellow cast-member, Robert Duvall, with his back to the camera.
6. The famous gunfight that never got filmed in Raiders of the Lost Ark
One of the most memorable scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark features Indiana Jones shooting a foe in the chest, after a drawn-out introduction hilariously seemed to hint at a much longer scene. As it turns out, that scene, shot on location in Tunisia, was supposed to be longer. “The script had a scene in which I fight a swordsman, an expert swordsman, it was meant to be the ultimate duel between sword and whip,” Harrison Ford described in a Reddit AMA.
Because Ford was fighting off a bout of dysentery, he was only physically able to leave his trailer for 10 minutes at a time. Realizing it would take days to shoot the scene, Ford “proposed to Steven [Spielberg] that we just shoot the son a bitch.”
“I was thinking that as well,” Spielberg answered. “The poor guy was a wonderful British stuntman who had practiced his sword skills for months in order to do this job, and was quite surprised by the idea that we would dispatch him in 5 minutes,” Ford recounts, “but he flourished his sword, I pulled out my gun and shot him, and then we went back to England.”
7. Michael Caine was so shocked when he first saw Heath Ledger as the Joker, that he forgot his lines
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone on the set of The Dark Knight who wasn’t impressed by Heath Ledger’s now-legendary performance as the Joker. That said, Michael Caine is also one of the most accomplished actors in Hollywood, so when even he is stunned beyond words, you understand just how incredible Ledger was.
“He’ll frighten the life out of you,” Caine admitted in an interview, “He did me the first time I saw him, because we did a rehearsal on the first day and we hadn’t met or anything. He had to come up in an elevator to our home, Batman’s home. I’m thinking I’m letting friends in, instead of which he’s killed them all and he’s coming up in the lift. So on the first rehearsal … when the bloody door opened on that lift, he came tearing out. I forgot every line. Terrifying.”
8. Daniel Craig appeared in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a First Order Stormtrooper
Star Wars: The Force Awakens featured a handful of celebrity cameos. Sneaking under the radar was Daniel Craig, masquerading as the First Order Stormtrooper that Rey Jedi mind tricked into releasing her. Listen closely to the conversation the two have in the film, and you can recognize Craig’s voice.
9. ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat’ was originally an inside joke among the cast and crew of Jaws
Recognized today as iconic, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” numbers itself among some of the most quoted movie lines of all time. The thing is, it wasn’t originally scripted for that scene. “[Richard] Zanuck and [David] Brown were very stingy producers,” recounts story editor Carl Gottlieb, “so everyone kept telling them, ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat.’ It became a catchphrase for anytime anything went wrong — if lunch was late or the swells were rocking the camera, someone would say, ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat.'”
In turn, the line was randomly improvised into the film in various scenes by Roy Scheider, until it was finally uttered in the perfect moment, when our heroes first laid eyes upon the great white shark terrorizing their beaches.
10. After acquiring the movie rights to Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock bought every copy of the novel he could find to keep the ending a secret
As the master of suspense, you can bet that Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t in the business of allowing any of his films to have their endings spoiled. He took things to a whole different level with Psycho though, buying up every copy of Robert Bloch’s novel in an effort to conceal the ending from his audience.
11. Sean Connery sported a toupee throughout his tenure as James Bond
To this day, Sean Connery remains the quintessential James Bond. Unfortunately for him, he also lacked the full head of hair sported by every other iteration of the character. He got around this by sporting a hair piece, but it’s interesting to think of a bald Bond nonetheless.
12. The true story behind Samuel L. Jackson’s purple lightsaber in the Star Wars prequels
If it seems odd that Samuel L. Jackson is the only Jedi in the entire Star Wars universe with a purple lightsaber … well, that’s because it is.
After discovering that his character would be in a large-scale battle with dozens of other Jedi, Jackson requested his own weapon be purple, so that it would be easier to see in a field of blue and green blades. The real kicker: He had “Bad Motherf**ker” inscribed on the handle after the film, in a nod to the wallet his character in Pulp Fiction carried.
13. The theater fire scene in Inglourious Basterds almost killed Eli Roth
At the climax of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, a blazing inferno burns down a theater, with Nazi officers locked inside. That fire was as real as it gets too, and came dangerously close to killing a whole lot of people.
As Eli Roth described in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the fire “was going to burn at 400 degrees centigrade and it burned at 1,200.” Steel cables liquefied in the 2,000-degree Fahrenheit blaze, and if it had gone on for another 10 to 15 seconds, “the structure would have collapsed.”
14. Boo’s dialogue in Monsters, Inc. was recorded by following 5-year-old Mary Gibbs around the set with a microphone
We all remember Boo from Monsters, Inc., the adorable 3-year-old that eventually found herself at the center of the story. Voiced by 5-year-old Mary Gibbs, it was difficult to get a full day’s worth of studio sound work from the young actress.
The solution: “They simply followed her around with a microphone and cut Boo’s lines together from the things she said while she played.”
15. The lengthy history of the Wilhelm scream
Ever get an odd sense of déjà vu every time a character in a movie screams? There’s a very good reason for that, and it’s called the “Wilhelm scream.” Originally featured in Gary Cooper’s 1951 Western, Distant Drums, it’s since become an inside joke among sound people across the movie industry, slyly inserted into a handful of Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, as well as the likes of Titanic, Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lord of the Rings, and lots more.
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