From “The Shining” to “Titanic,” 9 Hit Movies That Almost Didn’t Get Made

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Some moments in movie history will never fade from public memory: Jack and Rose’s embrace on the Titanic (1997), Doc Brown and Marty McFly’s time-traveling escapades, Dorothy’s trot down the yellow brick road. However, many cult classic films were once at risk of never finishing production. Countless movies have experienced tons of production issues, whether due to poor casting, outrageous budgets, bad directing, or set mishaps. Still, the most resilient flicks have pulled through to make their mark. These are 9 hit movies that almost didn’t get made.

The Shining (1980)

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This thriller is one of Stephen King’s most popular tales. However, the Torrances’ fight for survival against the Overlook Hotel almost didn’t get an adaptation. Director Stanley Kubrick sat at the epicenter of the film’s struggles. A perfectionist, Kubrick required extensive, exhausting shooting days. Shelley Duvall, the Shining‘s leading lady, told US Weekly, “Stanley pushed me…further than I’ve ever been pushed before.” Her co-star, Jack Nicholson, testified that Duvall suffered from hair loss, ailing health, and related symptoms during filming. By the end of the 250 shooting days (150 days over schedule), the crew could hardly believe they’d finished. Kubrick’s intensity didn’t satisfy Stephen King, who told the NYT that Kubrick “didn’t have the chops.” However, fans are glad that Duvall and her castmates stuck around to see the terror through.

Gremlins (1984)

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This quirky ’80s monster movie nearly dodged production. In Gremlins, a young man gets an odd Christmas gift: a unique creature called a mogwai. After breaking three rules surrounding its care (no water, no light, and no food after midnight), the young man inadvertently causes an outbreak of gremlins in his town. Screenwriter Chris Columbus never planned on releasing the script, as he distrusted directors. Even after overcoming his reservations, the production odds remained stacked against Gremlins. The strange film had a low budget, complex special effects, and an ever-changing script. The producers grew restless, and pre-CGI special effects made for a rocky and elongated filming process. Somehow, they toughed it out and successfully wrapped filming. The flick remains a spooky holiday favorite!

Back to the Future (1985)

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Great Scott! Did you know that ’80s teenager Marty McFly almost didn’t take Doc’s time-traveling DeLorean back to the 1950s? Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale got over 40 pitch rejections before Universal said yes. Securing a producer didn’t end the film’s complications. The DeLorean was “by no means a performance car,” and frequent breakdowns caused production delays. Worse still, they decided that the original McFly actor, Eric Stoltz, was the right fit for the role five weeks into shooting. Gale fired a heartbroken Stoltz and brought in Michael J. Fox, prompting $4 million in reshoots. The decision paid off, and the movie has grossed billions since its release.

Titanic (1997)

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Filmmaker James Cameron created one of the highest-grossing films in history, but producing Titanic wasn’t smooth sailing. Behind-the-scenes hurdles hindered this film from start to finish. Long hours spent in cold water led to widespread kidney infections, injuries, and colds. One irate crew member spiked everyone’s soup with PCP, a hallucinogenic drug, causing 50 hospitalizations. By the end, Cameron and co. had driven up their budget to the $200 million mark. Cameron turned in the 3-hour film to Fox producers, who rejected the lengthy cut, demanding a shorter version. However, Cameron refused to shave off scenes, telling Fox that he’d give up his profits before cutting down the time. Fortunately, the ultimatum worked out in his favor.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

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With a $140 million budget, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl had to succeed. However, the crew struggled to work in wet, freezing, and subpar conditions. A massive fire at Disney Burbank’s studios caused an estimated $500,000 damages to the Pirates set. Additionally, producers hated Johnny Depp’s character, Captain Jack Sparrow; his eccentric performance didn’t channel their ideal swashbuckling pirate. Kierra Knightly was only 17 during filming, and she had limited confidence, both in the film and in herself. She told Richard Curtis, another director, that her next project was “some pirate thing — probably a disaster.” That “disaster” ended up delighting audiences, with Depp’s performance garnering the film its huge fanbase.

Star Wars: Episode IV (1977)

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“In a galaxy far, far away”… Star Wars nearly fell out of production. Disney and Universal rejected George Lucas’ story before Fox signed on. During production, he struggled to match his grand vision with the reality of his budget. This wasn’t all Lucas’ fault—enormous special effects were required for the other-worldly flick. At the time, though, the atmosphere became strained by the expenses. Bad weather threw production off, as did Lucas’ insistence on reshooting dozens of scenes. Cast morale sank to incredible lows, with many actors feeling that the film would flop. Producers nearly pulled out, yet Lucas charged on. The franchise that emerged from this near-canceled flick remains wildly popular, inspiring dozens of additional films, shows, and storylines.

Jaws (1975)

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The most frightening thing about this Spielberg flick is that it nearly didn’t exist. Jaws stars a killer shark, (called “Bruce” by the cast and crew), that terrorizes a small beachfront community. Bruce’s animatronic nature was haunting for audiences, yet it experienced several mechanical errors. Three versions of Bruce were produced, with one pricey model capsizing in the ocean. The costs amassed from repairing/replacing Bruce ended up tripling the film’s initial budget. Spielberg feared that Bruce’s failures would bring production to an end…and demolish his career. However, the footage survived the complications, and the flick remains a must-watch thriller.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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When MGM secured the rights to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, they didn’t expect such a wicked production. They reviewed over 120 actors when picking out their stars, yet filming with them was no yellow brick road. The original Tin Man, Buddy Ebsen, was hospitalized after a severe allergic reaction to his silver makeup. The Wicked Witch, Margaret Hamilton, endured burns to her body due to a hot smoke cloud. Judy Garland also struggled with various issues onset, later citing sexual harassment from castmates. Not to mention that the film cycled through three directors and countless rewrites.

Roar (1981)

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The cast and crew of Roar weren’t sure they would outlast the course of filming. The flick follows Hank (Noel Marshall), a naturalist who lives in Africa amongst wild animals. Marshall wanted to film with real lions and tigers, despite the warnings of animal experts to avoid mixing big cats. Recruiting over 100 live animals, injuries quickly stacked up. A lion chomped on Marshall’s hand, almost leading to amputation. Cinematographer Jan de Bont was scalped. Actress Melanie Griffith got mauled and had to undergo facial reconstructive surgery. Despite all of this, they kept filming until the end. Tippi Hendren told Variety, “I don’t know how we survived it.”