Just because your movie is rated G, Dorothy, doesn’t mean it was without controversy.
Since the silent era, the movie industry has been a hotbed of scandals, gossip and cursed productions that have become part of modern American folklore. Stars have died in the middle of production, directors have stormed off sets and film premieres have even threatened major international incidents — but as they say, the show must go on. Here are just a few films whose backstories are just as fascinating as what ended up on-screen.
Brainstorm (1983) (iTunes, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play)
Nothing in 1980s Hollywood shocked people as much as the mysterious 1981 drowning death of Natalie Wood, who had been a celebrated star since childhood. At the time, she was shooting this ambitious science fiction film for director and visual effects wizard Douglas Trumbull, who had to rework the project significantly for its release almost two years later — and the end result actually holds together better than you’d expect.
The Crow (1994) (Hulu, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Amazon Prime)
One of the eeriest cases of history repeating itself came when Brandon Lee, son of the legendary Bruce Lee (who happened to die just before the release of his biggest hit — 1973’s “Enter the Dragon”), was fatally shot during the production of this comic book adaptation that would make him a household name.
Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) (Hulu, YouTube, Vudu, Amazon Prime)
The recently departed Olivia de Havilland had an astonishing roster of classics to her name, but none had a history quite like this Southern Gothic chiller, which paired her up with Bette Davis for director Robert Aldrich. Production during Aldrich and Davis’ previous film, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” turned into a busy rumor mill involving real or studio-encouraged animosity between Davis and fellow star Joan Crawford. (You can get a taste in the controversial limited series “Feud.”) Crawford was signed on to this film as well but left under testy circumstances during shooting — though you can still catch a brief glimpse of her in one shot.
Imitation of Life (1959) (Vudu, Amazon Prime, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play)
A drastically altered remake of a 1934 classic, this most famous film by director Douglas Sirk is now recognized as a complicated and emotional attempt to grapple with the racial divide in 1950s America. However, at the time, it also carried a scandalous allure thanks to star Lana Turner, whose daughter fatally stabbed Turner’s lover, Johnny Stompanato, in a situation strikingly similar to the mother-daughter conflict at the heart of this film shot in the wake of the incident.
The Interview (2014) (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play)
For a while, it looked like the world would never see this goofy political comedy featuring James Franco and Seth Rogen going to North Korea for an exclusive interview with Kim Jong Il as a ruse to carry out an assassination. The “dangerous” film ended up at the center of two firestorms at once, with North Korea threatening swift retribution and an unprecedented hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment resulting in a public blackmail scandal and the cancellation of the film’s wide theatrical release.
La La Land (2016) (Amazon Prime, Hulu, Vudu, iTunes, HBO Max, YouTube)
We recently featured 2016’s best picture Oscar winner “Moonlight,” but that movie also played a pivotal role in the most notorious moment in Academy Awards history when presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope live on camera and instead announced this splashy musical, the odds-on favorite at the time, as the winner.
It took 24 hours for the smoke to clear and the full story to come to light, and by that point, we were left with one of the most unforgettable and wildly entertaining awards show finales imaginable.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) (Vudu, Pluto TV, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime, iTunes)
It isn’t unheard of for the stress of a movie production to break up a marriage, but few have done it as dramatically as this acclaimed, award-winning occult chiller based on the classic Ira Levin novel. Star Mia Farrow was determined to play the traumatized expecting mother against the wishes of her husband, Frank Sinatra, who wanted her to star with him in “The Detective.” In retaliation, he served her with divorce papers in front of the film’s cast and crew, but few would disagree that she made the right choice in the end.
Some Like It Hot (1959) (Amazon Prime)
The amount of trouble on a production has little to do with the quality of the finished product, as proven by Billy Wilder’s all-time classic comedy with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon posing as female musicians in a girl band fronted by Marilyn Monroe in order to hide from the mob. Produced in defiance of the Motion Picture Production Code, the film was plagued with issues, including Monroe’s erratic behavior and inability to deliver her lines as well as the repeated interference of her husband, Arthur Miller. However, the end result more than justifies the turbulence encountered along the way.
The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield (1968) (Amazon Prime)
Speaking of Marilyn Monroe, she started a craze in the ’50s and ’60s for blonde bombshells, and few films following that trend are more bizarre than this posthumous tribute to Jayne Mansfield, the platinum-haired star who died in a much-publicized car accident while making this eccentric “mondo” travelogue, which sent her all over the globe.
In ghoulish showbiz style, the producers worked her demise into the film. They brought in her husband Mickey Hargitay to provide a coda and created a new fake Mansfield narration courtesy of busy dubbing voice artist Carolyn De Fonseca. You won’t believe what you’re seeing.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) (HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Vudu, iTunes, YouTube)
Dozens of stories inform the Hollywood legend surrounding the insane production of this film, including the rambunctious actors cast as the Munchkins; star Judy Garland’s punishing work schedule; the replacement of Tin Man actor Buddy Ebsen with Jack Haley after the former had a violent reaction to the silver paint used in his costume; and the last-second hiring of director Victor Fleming over George Cukor. This should all have been a recipe for disaster, but instead, we got one of the most beloved films of all time.