Film and TV

The Top Movies With Behind-the-Scenes Stories Almost as Good as Their Plots

Forget the whole Rosebud mystery, the greatest Citizen Kane plot may be how the film came to be.
Forget the whole Rosebud mystery, the greatest Citizen Kane plot may be how the film came to be. Wikimedia Commons/Alexander Kahle
Given the wide accessibility of Blu-Ray special features, YouTube behind-the-scenes videos and real-time social media updates, film fans have more knowledge than ever before about how movies are made. Sometimes, the story of a film’s creation is enough to justify a story of its own.

Last year’s Mank is one of many recent films that explored the behind-the-scenes story of an iconic cinema classic. The Netflix film depicted the inception of Citizen Kane, widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all times, and how the relationship between screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and Orson Welles (Tom Burke) fueled the film’s creative process.

Exploring how a masterpiece came to be is becoming a popular trend; it was recently announced that Oscar Isaac will play Francis Ford Coppola in a film about the making of The Godfather, and Ben Affleck is developing a project based around the creative minds responsible for Chinatown.

Movies don’t even have to be good to have an origin tale, and some of the most fascinating true Hollywood stories revolve around films that are regarded as “so bad that they’re good.” Tim Burton’s Ed Wood explored the mind of the cult filmmaker behind such bombs as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda, and more recent films have centered on the making of disasterpieces like The Room (in The Disaster Artist) and Dolemite (in Dolemite Is My Name).

Superheroes aren’t the only ones who have origin stories now, so prepare to see film classics get a thorough deconstruction of how they came to be. Here are some other famous movie shoots that could inspire a good biopic.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Like Citizen Kane or The Godfather, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film that every film professor will cite and every “greatest movies ever” list will mention. It was hardly a sure thing though, as Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke didn’t even know the ending until halfway into production, resulting in a maddening creative process that alienated studio heads and befuddled crew members.

Superman II (1981)

The 2017 Justice League film courted a good deal of controversy surrounding the replacement of dark and brooding director Zack Snyder with the more upbeat, playful Joss Whedon, but this was hardly the first time a Superman movie swapped directors midway into production. Richard Donner, who helmed the original Superman: The Movie, was fired and replaced with Richard Lester on the sequel, leading Donner down a 25-year odyssey to see his version of the film finished (Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released in 2006).

The Searchers (1956)
The Searchers is known not only for being one of the most influential Westerns ever made, but the first major Hollywood production to prompt an in-depth behind-the-scenes featurette, which helped to inspire many great filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. It’s also worth exploring for the ironic collaboration between staunch conservative icon John Wayne and progressive filmmaker John Ford, who somehow made 14 films together.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)
Monty Python icon Terry Gilliam’s attempt to tell a modernized story of the Don Quixote fable is perhaps the most fraught in cinematic history; Gilliam stopped and started production for 30 years, resulting in multiple re-castings, reworkings and lawsuits. The history of Gilliam’s obsession with the project is far more interesting than the film itself, which debuted quietly in 2018 and has been rarely talked of since.

Apocalypse Now (1979)
This quintessential Vietnam movie was inspired by the Joseph Conrad classic Heart of Darkness, which chronicled a man’s descent into obsession and madness. Ironically, this is exactly what happened on the set of Apocalypse Now, as director Francis Ford Coppola dealt with issues like an uncooperative Marlon Brando, sets destroyed by weather, Martin Sheen’s heart attack, and an amount of raw footage deemed “uneditable."

Jaws (1975)
Notoriously one of the most chaotic film shoots ever, Jaws was beset with problems from the beginning that extended filming from 55 days to 159. Many of the film’s most iconic moments came from creative problem solving — most famously, the malfunctioning mechanical shark forced Steven Spielberg to obscure the creature, resulting in some of the tensest scenes in film history.

The Exorcist (1973)

There’s certainly a lot about The Exorcist worth exploring, not just for its hectic production — which involved many creepy accidents that gave the film the reputation of being “cursed” — but for the reaction that it inspired. The terrifying film caused audience members to become sick in theaters, and the depiction of Roman Catholicism courted major controversy from religious parties.

The Crow (1994)
Here’s a sad one, but sometimes Hollywood tragedies make for the most compelling storylines. After an accident killed actor Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow, cast and crew struggled to produce a film without a leading man and pondered the loss of the beloved actor.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.