You know how they always say that no animals were harmed in the making of a movie? It's usually true, but that doesn't mean that the animals didn't have an interesting time along the way.
Many of science fiction's most famous movies have featured non-human actors, and there are loads of fascinating stories about how they were trained and wrangled to perform on cue. Here are some of the wildest stories about animal actors in science fiction and fantasy movies!
Most of these stories come from the American Humane Association, which keeps a huge list of reviews of almost every film ever made, strictly from the standpoint of how animals were treated during the filming. It's a treasure trove of weird animal trivia, and we've culled through it to learn all the stories of how animals starred in our favorite movies. (Including a few films that did, sadly, mistreat animals in one way or another.)
What does this movie have in common with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? The same bats appear in both. The bats in this movie are mostly CG, except for the scene where Bruce has a flashback to his childhood, where bats fly in front of Young Bruce. The bats were trained to fly past the camera and then land on a perch just outside camera range. But some of the bats only wanted to land on their trainers' perches, so the trainers stood off-camera with their arms outstretched and became human perches. The bats were rewarded with banana pieces after each take. Just goes to show — the dark creatures of the night just want a friendly arm and a banana piece.
On the other hand, no live bats appeared in this movie. When action was called, a crew member would run at the camera, waving a cardboard bat on a pole. Bats were added in post.
The penguins in this movie had a 24-hour guard and two 40-foot trailers. Each trailer had a temperature-controlled swimming pool with a filtration system. Plus an outdoor 2,000-foot pool. The set was kept extremely cold for the penguins, and just the "penguin refrigeration" bill for this movie was over a million dollars.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (and subsequent movies)
Captain Picard had a pet fish, named Livingston, in his ready room. But Patrick Stewart didn't like this idea, because he thought it was immoral for Captain Picard to be holding another creature captive, on a show that's all about "the dignity of different species." So the producers finally had Captain Jellico get rid of the fishtank during his brief stint in command.
At one point during this James Cameron movie, a man's pet rat is submerged in oxygenated liquid to show how a person could breathe that mixture. The rat struggles and freaks out, and then is pulled out by its tail, expelling the liquid from its lungs. The American Humane Association was not amused, giving this film an "unacceptable" rating. But at least Cameron and the rat came to an understanding — he adopted the rat as his personal pet.
Dr. Dolittle (1967)
It sounds as though this film could have used someone who could talk with the animals. At one point, during a scene with ducks, all of the ducks sank to the bottom of the pond due to the time of year — they'd lost their waterproof feathers already. Some sheep repeatedly peed on Rex Harrison during a scene where he was singing to them. A fawn ate a gallon of paint and needed to have its stomach pumped.
A scene involving a hamster running on a wheel was supposed to take five minutes, but instead took all day to shoot because the hamster wouldn't run. This led to people referring to Terry Gilliam's perfectionism as "the Hamster Factor," which became the name of a making-of documentary. Also, in the scene where a gorilla paces in a cage, it's actually a man in a gorilla suit.
Men In Black I & II
The same pug plays Frank in both movies, but since he's way older in the second film, they made him wear makeup to hide the gray around his muzzle.
I Am Legend
Will Smith wanted to adopt Abbey, the dog who played Samantha in the film, but her trainer said no.
On the other hand, Abigail Breslin was allowed to adopt the shelter puppy that played Tallahassee's puppy in this movie's flashbacks. Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson needed to make sure the treats he fed to a dog in flashback scenes were totally vegan — because the dog was going to lick his face in another scene.
The Black Knight
Also, the leeches used in this movie were adopted by a crew member who had a degree in zoology.
Speaking of which, when Alexander is given a bowl full of bugs to eat, they include 50 live leeches, who were given a nice piece of liver to cling to. Plus 30 millipedes and 20 roaches, plus some "pre-deceased bugs." Says the AHA, "All of the bugs had a jolly good time."
The four-eyed goats were real Angora goats, enhanced by CG.
The X-Files: Fight the Future
This movie used approximately 300,000 bees. They were wrangled by Dr. Norman Gary, who'd studied bees for over 50 years. And they were super-pampered, transported in specially designed box cages and fed sugar syrup and water, and sprayed occasionally to keep them cool and hydrated. A special imitation queen bee pheromone, along with a gentle vacuum, was used to collect them after filming. An expected 2-3 percent of bees died during filming, and those were used in scenes where the live bees might have gotten hurt.
Wild Wild West
Tarantulas had to crawl over a cake — actually, they were inside the cake, with specially hidden holes, then prodded to come out into the light.
Star Nicolas Cage admitted that he ate two live cockroaches during the filming of this movie — earning it an "unacceptable" rating.
Team America World Police
In the scene with panthers attack, regular black housecats were used to carry out the attacks — trainers put pieces of chicken inside the puppets to get the cats to attack them. And the shark attack in Kim Jong Il's palace was real nurse sharks, attacking a puppet with squid pieces inside it.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The bottom halves of the centaurs were actual horses that were filmed separately and then digitally combined with the actors.
Transformers 1 & 2
Both of these films feature Michael Bay's own dog, who appears in all of Bay's movies. In the first film, he's the dog that Miles is washing. In the second film, he's Mikaela's dog. Actual chickens are tossed in the air during the desert scenes in the second movie. But as the AHA points out: "For these scenes, the chickens were gently tossed by well-rehearsed actors and were never near any explosions."
Iron Man 2
Mickey Rourke actually owns a cockatoo in real life, although it's not the same one as his character had in the film.
Lord of the Rings
The Hobbiton Pig named Daisy was actually raised for slaughter, when the production chose her for the role. As the AHA says, "Newly exposed to dirt, air, the woods, other natural elements and the generous treats fed by the children in the cast, Daisy rooted her way into the hearts of the cast and crew." They purchased her and adopted her out to a farm, with the written understand that Daisy would be kept as a pet and never slaughtered.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
A raven on the set was specially trained to pluck a fake eyeball out of a dummy corpse, and the filmmakers liked this so much they incorporated it into the script. To keep things interesting for the raven, the trainers had to make sure the eyeball was firmly attached and would offer some resistance, otherwise the raven would "lose interest in the game."
Planet of the Apes (2001)
The actors were bonded with the chimps in the film before filming, and Mark Wahlberg became good friends with a chimp named Jacob. One stunt man became so bonded with the chimps when he was in his own ape costume that they had to reacquaint themselves with him when he was out of makeup.
Unfortunately this film wasn't quite as humane — the trainer punched the chimp who played Chim Chim in an "act of impulse" at one point.
When a monkey had to suffocate in this movie, they used actual carbon dioxide in an airtight set, so the monkey was forced to breathe carbon dioxide. Says AFI, "When he was just about to pass out, a waiting veteranarian immediately treated him with oxygen." But somehow, the film still claimed no animals were harmed.
Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer
These movies, filmed in Spain where animal rules were more lax, both earned "unacceptable" ratings from the AHA, for their rampant abuse of camels and horses. Horses get tripped and pulled over, including one scene where a horse is pulled into some pointed stakes. Another horse gets caught in a "toe trap," a special device that pulls its front legs out from under it. A camel also has wires attached to its rear legs, which are pulled forward so it's forced to sit down.
This movie also gained an "unacceptable" rating for horse abuse.
Peter Parker gets bitten by a brown-colored Steatoda, a non-lethal cousin of the Black Widow, covered with red and blue non-toxic paint. The spider was carefully positioned to drop onto Tobey Maguire's hand from its own spider web.
Animal rights protestors blocked a truck transporting fake rubber whales, mistaking them for real orcas.
Food of the Gods
Lots of 1970s horror films killed tons of critters on screen — for example, Kingdom of the Spiders slaughters lots of live spiders — but Food of the Gods is one of the most brutal. Here's the ending. Warning: this clip contains mass animal slaughter.
Additional reporting by Katharine Trendacosta, Mandy Curtis and Gordon Jackson.