7 Films That Were Incredibly Difficult to Make

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Most movies are easy to make. Then there are these monuments to the determination of their directors, casts, and crews.

1. The Wizard of Oz

The original tin man—Buddy Ebsen—was hospitalized because his aluminum powder makeup had coated his lungs. He had to convalesce in an iron lung. Toto was a pain to work with, too. It took more than 12 takes to get the dog to follow the gang down the Yellow Brick Road. The film changed directors no fewer than five times, and Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch) suffered severe burns to her hands and face when her makeup caught on fire.

2. Apocalypse Now

Looking to make the Vietnamese landscape as real as possible, director Francis Ford Coppola shot the movie in the Philippines. Filming was supposed to take five months and ended up taking over a year. Typhoon Olga destroyed the set and ruined one month’s worth of shooting. Martin Sheen also suffered a heart attack.

3. Fitzcarraldo

The most famous scene from Werner Herzog’s classic depicts a huge steamship getting dragged up a hill. Most directors would have pulled the scene off with miniature effects. But Herzog was not like most other directors. His team tugged a real 320-ton steamship up a hill—all without special effects.

4. Titanic

At one point during the filming of Titanic, an angry crewmember spiked the team’s soup with a hallucinogen—over 50 people had to be rushed to the hospital. Shooting was also delayed when cast members came down with colds and kidney infections. Turns out that spending hours in cold water is bad for your health!

5. Jaws

Spielberg’s three mechanical sharks—all named Bruce—consistently malfunctioned. It took 14 people to operate them. Pneumatic hoses filled with salt water, internal frames fractured from water pressure, the skin corroded, and the sharks got tangled in seaweed. To make life easier, Spielberg revised the script so the shark made as few appearances as possible. The decision made the film more suspenseful. “The shark not working was a godsend,” Spielberg later said.

6. Cleopatra

The 1963 epic starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was originally budgeted for $2 million, but Cleopatra racked up a $44 million bill. (The team burned through $4 million before shooting a frame!) Cleo started in London, relocated to Rome, switched directors, and saw numerous big name actors ditch filming mid-shoot.

7. American Graffiti

The cast and crew had trouble behaving on and off set. Harrison Ford was arrested during a barroom brawl, a crewmember was arrested for growing pot, Paul Le Mat hurt Richard Dreyfuss after throwing him into a swimming pool, and someone set George Lucas’ hotel room on fire.

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8 Surprising Facts About Jean-Claude Van Damme

Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Patrick Aventurier, Getty Images

While Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were considered the apex of the 1980s action movie hero, genre fans found a more graceful alternative in Jean-Claude Van Damme. The Belgian-born actor and martial artist used his flexibility to great effect in action classics like 1988’s Bloodsport, 1989’s Kickboxer, and 1994’s Timecop. For more on the “Muscles from Brussels,” including his competitive fighting background and why he once challenged Steven Seagal to a real fight in Stallone’s backyard, read on.

1. Jean-Claude Van Damme was a ballet “nerd.”

Actor Jean Claude Van Damme attends the Jean Claude Van Damme Photocall at the Majestic Beach during the 61st International Cannes Film Festival on May 17 , 2008 in Cannes, France.
Jean Claude Van Damme attends the Cannes Film Festival.
Francois Durand/Getty Images

Kicking out of his mother’s womb on October 18, 1960 in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Brussels, Belgium, the future Van Damme was born Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg. (He used the stage name “Frank Cujo” before settling on Van Damme.) A self-described “nerd,” Van Damme studied karate and ballet in his youth, the latter for five years. He said his father encouraged him to take karate in order for the bespectacled Van Damme to be able to toughen up. But Van Damme also said ballet greatly aided his martial arts ability and screen presence.

“I was always attracted to ballet because of the dexterity, the stretching, the grace, and the fact that you are able to control without showing any pain on your face,” Van Damme told the Chicago Tribune in 1993. “I mixed the grace and the movement with the power of karate. It’s been a big help in my movies.”

2. Jean-Claude Van Damme worked as a bouncer for Chuck Norris.

Van Damme operated a gym in Brussels and had success in bodybuilding and modeling, but he wanted to act. Heading to Hollywood in his early 20s to pursue his dreams of stardom, Van Damme picked up bits parts in films like 1984’s Monaco Forever (he was officially credited as “Gay Karate Man”) and a future GIF-worthy scene in 1984’s Breakin’ while working as a cab driver, waiter, and bouncer, among other odd jobs. Most notably, he bounced for Woody’s Wharf, a bar owned by martial arts icon Chuck Norris. “American people are big people,” Van Damme told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019. “I didn’t have any fight, thank God. I was a good schmoozer, simpatico and no incident happened.”

3. Jean-Claude Van Damme got his big break by throwing kicks at a producer’s head.

Jean-Claude Van Damme in 'Bloodsport' (1988)
Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport (1988).
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

After a tense shoot on 1987’s Predator, in which Van Damme was cast as the titular alien but was replaced during production, the actor wanted to find a role better-suited to his talents. One day, he found himself crossing paths with B-movie producer Menahem Golan. Seizing the opportunity, Van Damme began launching kicks at Golan, stopping short of connecting. This earned him a meeting in Golan’s office, in which a shirtless Van Damme convinced Golan he was skilled, charismatic, and most importantly, cheap. Golan cast him in 1988’s Bloodsport, a martial arts tournament film ostensibly based on the real-life exploits of Frank Dux. Van Damme helped re-cut the film with screenwriter Sheldon Lettich and Carl Kress, an editor who worked on 1974’s The Towering Inferno. Bloodsport went on to make $65 million, turning Van Damme into an overnight star.

4. Jean-Claude Van Damme once threw a papaya at a producer’s head.

The success of Bloodsport led to steady work for Van Damme, who appeared in 1989’s Kickboxer, 1990’s Lionheart, and 1991’s Double Impact. In the latter, he played twins out to avenge the death of their father. But the production was troubled. In 2019, Van Damme told Yahoo! that the producer of the film was attempting to divert funds from Double Impact to 1991’s Stone Cold, an action vehicle for NFL star Brian Bosworth. Van Damme grew so upset that he threw a papaya at the producer’s head. “Thank God he ducked,” Van Damme said. “[It splattered] all over the wall. And he just ran away to the airport. I was crazy at the time. You just don’t touch my movie.”

5. Jean-Claude Van Damme once challenged Steven Seagal to a fight at Sylvester Stallone’s house.

According to Sylvester Stallone, a fight between the two action stars nearly happened off-camera. In 1997, Stallone invited both Van Damme and actor Steven Seagal to a house party at Stallone’s property in Miami, Florida. At some point, Van Damme expressed irritation that Seagal had previously claimed he could best Van Damme in a fight. Van Damme demanded Seagal follow him outside to settle it, which Stallone claimed Seagal avoided. Later, the two were at a nightclub when Van Damme again confronted Seagal, who slipped out “like Houdini,” according to Stallone.

6. Jean-Claude Van Damme knows his film titles can get repetitive.

Many Van Damme films have some variation of “death” or “dead” in the title, a fact Van Damme is well aware of. Promoting his Amazon Prime series Jean-Claude Van Johnson in 2017, the actor joked about the generic flavor of the films. “For a while, I was kind of forgotten there,” he told Rolling Stone. "'OK, Jean-Claude, what’s he doing?' Sudden Death, March of Death, Dead Dead Dead, and Double Dead, and what was the last one? Dead on Dead.” Van Damme's most recent live-action feature was 2019's We Die Young.

7. Jean-Claude Van Damme gave one of Time magazine’s Great Movie Performances of 2008.

At times dismissed for being more of a physical performer than an actor, Van Damme earned critical praise in 2008 for JCVD, a meta film in which he portrays himself dealing with both a bank heist and the torment of self-reflection. In one six-minute monologue, Van Damme lays himself bare. TIME dubbed it one of the great performances of the year.

8. Jean-Claude Van Damme has two statues dedicated in his honor.

In 2012, a statue paying tribute to Van Damme debuted in Brussels, Belgium in front of the Westland Shopping Center. The towering sculpture depicts Van Damme in a martial arts posture, ready to strike. Van Damme also has a second statue sporting his likeness, this one in the country of Azerbaijan. The piece, which features Van Damme doing his trademark splits, is located in the village of Vandam.