Movie-making is a chaotic sort of alchemy. You don't know what you're going to end up with until you're done, and maybe not even then. Still, it can be shocking to read about the making of your favorite movie, and discover that people on set had zero respect. Here are nine beloved films that people making them thought were a joke.
Many of the stories in this list have a few things in common: younger, inexperienced directors; somewhat obnoxious producers or studio people; veteran actors who were too old for this shit; and British crew. It's good to remember stories like this, so you can remember that it really is a miracle when a movie doesn't blow chunks, and you can't always tell halfway through.
1) Superman: The Movie:
Both director Richard Donner and producer Ilya Salkind have told this story at various times, but Donner's version seems the most coherent. When Marlon Brando was cast in this film, at an almost unimaginable cost, he announced that he thought Jor-El should be an animated character, with Brando providing a voiceover only. Brando suggested that since Kryptonians are aliens, nobody really knows what they look like — so maybe the Kryptonians are all "green suitcases." But then Brando came up with a better idea: Jor-El could be a green bagel, floating in mid-air — and this would be what makes him different from the other Kryptonians, who would all be suitcases. The opening scenes of the destruction of Krypton would have been pretty interesting if Brando had gotten his way. Gene Hackman, meanwhile, thought nobody would take him seriously as an actor after playing Lex Luthor. (There's also the fact that the producers were apparently scheming to fire Donner the whole time he was directing this film.)
John McTiernan hadn't directed a big studio picture before he was given the reins of this "Rocky Vs. E.T." movie, and it was a difficult shoot. American camera operators didn't know how to shoot action in the dynamic way that McTiernan wanted, the original Predator suit (originally occupied by a constantly complaining Jean-Claude Van Damme) looked awful, and the monkey in the red suit wouldn't play ball. (The monkey was standing in for the Predator during some scenes when it was invisible.) Carl Weathers remembers seeing McTiernan constantly sitting with his head in his hands, wondering "What the hell have I gotten myself into?" But most of all, the producers didn't have much faith in McTiernan — so they made him hire Shane Black (who just directed Iron Man 3) to play Hawkins, the guy who keeps making pussy jokes. Black had just written Lethal Weapon, and was there in case they needed a last-minute script rewrite.
As with Predator, this was David Cronenberg's first big picture. And production really was kind of a nightmare, since it was rushed into production early to take advantage of tax credits, and Cronenberg was writing the script in the middle of filming. By all accounts, star Jennifer O'Neill did not realize they were making a horror movie, and kept yelling at Cronenberg to take out all those exploding heads. But also, The Prisoner's Patrick McGoohan was constantly drinking on the set and openly lacked confidence in the film they were making. By some accounts, McGoohan made several attempts to wrest control over the project away from Cronenberg entirely. By Cronenberg’s account, McGoohan just didn’t know the Canadian director and lacked confidence in him.
4. Star Wars
Read any book about the making of the original Star Wars, and you'll be heartbroken at the way some of the crew, especially at Shepperton Studios, treated George Lucas. He was making this film at a time when science fiction movies were cheap and terrible, for the most part, and the crew were disrespectful towards the space-opera auteur. (He also tried to make them work longer hours than strict British union rules would allow, and messed with their lighting set-ups.) The crew would go to the pub and openly disparage Lucas, but worst of all Lucas lost cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (who'd worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey) and was instead stuck with Gilbert Taylor (Dr. Strangelove, The Omen) who had very traditional ways of doing things and could be heard loudly announcing on set that Lucas was an amateur. But then there's also the fact that Obi-Wan actor Alec Guinness thought the movie was "fairy-tale rubbish" and he was having to recite "rubbish dialogue" every day.