Nightmare Film Shoots: The Most Grueling Films Ever Made, from ‘Deliverance’ to ‘Mad Max’ to ‘Avatar 2’

Sometimes you have to go through hell to make a great movie. Just ask Alexander Skarsgård, who said that the grueling shoot for Robert Eggers’ “The Northman” left him “so exhausted that you want to cry.”

Like “Jaws,” “Apocalypse Now,” and “Titanic” before it, “The Northman” overcame filming hardships to earn rave reviews, and the brutal production anecdotes only added to its legacy. (Eggers left no stone unturned in his quest for historical accuracy, making his actors do dozens of takes of long, complex shots in grueling outdoor conditions.) But not every movie with a hellish production history can be so lucky. Just ask the casts and crews of films like “Heaven’s Gate” and “Waterworld,” who were put through hell only for their films to become notorious box office flops.

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Movie shoots can be painful for myriad reasons: difficult actors, loopy directors, dangerous conditions, and even acts of God can impact what ends up on screen. Something that sounded like a good idea during pre-production (Noel Marshall’s idea to use real tigers and lions on “Roar” seemed awesome!) can prove disastrous in an instant (the director nearly lost his arm!) and send both the movie’s schedule and budget spinning.

Few directors knows the highs and lows of these nightmarish productions like living legend James Cameron. The filmmaker famously hated his production experience on “The Abyss,” which much like Cameron’s later “Titanic” forced the film’s actors into large water tanks for hours at a time and left more than a few experiencing symptoms of decompression sickness.

Of course, never one to shy away from a challenge, Cameron returned his fans to the watery depths in December of last year for the long — long, long, long, long, long, long — awaited “Avatar: The Way of Water.” While preparing for the sequel in 2017, Cameron reportedly said his teen and child actors had already learned to hold their breath underwater “in the two-to-four-minute range.” Toss in numerous rewrites, and the aforementioned the decade-plus waiting for audiences, and the sequel — finally streaming on Disney+ as of June 7 — more than qualifies for this list.

Here are 30 of the most taxing, miserable film productions ever mounted.

[Editor’s note: The following list was first published in 2019 and has been updated multiple times since. With editorial contributions by Zack Sharf and Alison Foreman.]

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