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25 Movies That Were Cursed With Horrifying Tragedies

Jay Dawson September 6th 2016 Entertainment
We all want the actor’s dream life. For a few million dollars, all you have to do is pretend to be someone else. Easy, right? Well, maybe not. Aside from long, grueling working days on set, having to lose and gain weight on a director’s whim, and being constantly hounded by paparazzi, there are some movies that just seem to invite disaster. From lightning strikes to flash floods, and haunted houses to bizarre accidents, just one look at these horrifyingly cursed movies and you’ll be happy you stuck with accounting.
The Crow
Although a brilliant and brooding gem in its own right, The Crow is probably more famous for the bizarre and tragic end of its lead actor, Brandon Lee. In a case of life imitating art, the dark and unsettling vision of director Alex Proyas spilled out into the real world of the set and cursed it with a series of gruesome accidents. On the first day, a member of the team ran a crane into a power cable and was so badly electrocuted that he was rushed to hospital with fourth-degree burns.
Not only that, but a storm ravaged the set and almost completely tore it apart, and in a separate incident the props room was destroyed when another crew member ran his car through it. Later, a construction worker accidentally drove a screwdriver through his own hand. But Brandon Lee’s death was perhaps the scariest of everything that happened. A revolver that was supposed to be firing blanks somehow already had a bullet lodged in the barrel, and as a result Brandon Lee was actually shot in the abdomen while filming a key scene. We lost a star in the making, but learnt a valuable lesson.
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Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now couldn’t have had a more fitting title. At times during filming, this masterpiece would have looked like the end of World War Three. Aside from those boring old tropical diseases decimating cast and crew, helicopters being commandeered for a real war raging around them in the Philippines, and real dead bodies being used as props, director Francis Ford Coppola was simply making most of the movie up as he went along. Various addictions led to Martin Sheen having a heart attack and Dennis Hopper going crazy, while Marlon Brando added his own lunacy to the mix by deciding to improvise most of his lines.
Brando and Hopper refused to shoot scenes together. Coppola was so stressed, and so close to financial ruin, that he had an epileptic fit one night and considered suicide on three separate occasions. When crew members started having epic pool parties instead of working, and diving off the hotel roof, it’s no wonder he considered pulling the plug. In the end, though, out of the chaos emerged a certified classic.
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The Omen
This one’s a little more famous. Well, a lot more famous. In fact, this 1976 horror classic was so cursed that we barely have space to write down everything that went bizarrely and horrifically wrong. Let’s see: the director, Richard Donner, got hit by a car and a restaurant he was at was bombed by the IRA. Two planes, one carrying Gregory Peck and the other carrying David Seltzer (the screenwriter), were both struck by lightning. Another plane originally chartered for the shoot crashed, killing everyone on board.
A guard was mauled by a lion used in filming. Trainers were set upon by their own dogs. Another lightning strike. Another car crash, and a decapitation. And on, and on, and on. In the end, though, The Omen made a hell of a lot of money. So I guess we can write it all off as the routine dangers of showbiz.
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Don Quixote
Clocking in at well over 1,000 pages, Don Quixote - the classic 17th century mega-novel by Miguel Cervantes – is a notoriously long read. It’s also notoriously difficult to film. Two legendary directors, Orson Welles and Terry Gilliam, have tried. Two have failed.
In Orson Welles’s case, it’s more than likely that he was the curse. Production for the film started in 1957, and after rewrites, endless re-imaginings, financing problems, and the deaths of a few stars, it was still incomplete by the time Welles died himself in 1985, almost thirty years later. When Terry Gilliam, director of Twelve Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, tried his hand, it wasn’t his fault. After a flash flood swept away half of his equipment and fighter jets repeatedly ruined his audio, his star, Jean Rochefort, got a herniated disc and production was wisely halted. You have to give Gilliam credit for perseverance, though: to this day he’s still planning to make the film. Good luck.
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The Conquerer
In this 1956 epic about the Mongolian conqueror Genghis Khan, the baffling decision to cast John Wayne in the title role was only the tip of the dumb-idea iceberg. For unknown reasons, the producers of the film also decided to shoot it downwind from a nuclear testing facility in Nevada - with fairly obvious results. Over the next few years, almost half of the 220 strong cast and crew developed cancer and almost a quarter died, including the director and John Wayne. This wasn’t helped, of course, by yet another directorial brainwave: when they shifted filming back to Hollywood, they took 60 tons of irradiated soil back with them!
Aside from that, a flash flood nearly swept away the entire crew and a panther nearly tore apart lead actress Susan Hayward. Oh, and when it finally did get released, it was (understandably) a massive flop, at one point being named one of the 50 worst movies of all time. John Wayne probably should have kept to cowboy movies.
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The Passion of the Christ
You might have thought that a film about Jesus Christ would be blessed in production. However, it seems that God had other plans for the star, Jim Caviezel, and the crew. Or maybe He thought the screen made him look fat? Either way, lightning struck an incredible three separate times during filming – and assistant director Jan Michelini got hit twice!
As for Jim: well, he got the rougher end of the cross. He got struck by lightning, too, then developed a horrendous and agonizing skin infection from the make-up and fake gore they put on him. Not only that, while filming the crucifixion he dislocated his shoulder, had hypothermia, got pneumonia, and developed a nasty lung infection. All in a day’s work for JC.
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Fitzcarraldo
If you ever want to make a movie which isn’t going to be plagued by production problems, here’s our hot tip: don’t film it in a wild, savage jungle. If only the makers of Fitzcarraldo, the 1982 film about a would-be rubber baron, took our advice. Instead, they suffered through dysentery, gangrenous limbs, snake bites, two plane crashes, and a midnight attack on two locals who were cast as extras.
That wasn’t the only attack. Seriously starving tribes-people raided the film set at one point, shooting one crew member in the throat and another in the stomach with arrows. Although both they and the film survived the onslaught, tropical diseases claimed the lives of several other extras. And that, my friends, is why we invented the green screen.
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Atuk
Unless you’re a real die-hard, you’ve probably never heard of Atuk. The reason? It was so cursed that it never even got made. It was so cursed it barely got past the screenplay stage. The script, about an Eskimo arriving in New York (with the usual wacky results), pretty much killed everyone who touched it. KGB, take notes.
First, John Belushi read the script, loved it, then promptly died of a drug overdose. Sam Kinison, a comedian, took the main role, and after a dragged-out attempt at production, he died in a car crash. John Candy took up the flame and immediately had a fatal heart attack. Finally, after a few years in script hell, Chris Farley was keen (or stupid) enough to take the lead. Drug overdose. Who knows where the script is now – hopefully in the incinerator.
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The Exorcist
The Exorcist was another horror flick where everything went horribly wrong. It was so cursed that its legacy extended beyond its release, and several actors and crew members died mysterious deaths and suffered disturbing injuries not only during filming, but also after it had wrapped. According to legend, everyone became so scared that a priest was called in during filming to perform a real-life exorcism on the set.
No wonder. Only a few weeks into filming, the entire set burnt down (except, oddly, the bedroom). At one point the actors walked into the set to find snow on the ground. Indoors. Both Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair suffered serious injuries in production, and a carpenter manage to saw off his own fingers. You could have just filmed it as a documentary and it would have been just as terrifying.
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The Twilight Zone Movie
If you don’t count funding problems and rewrites, Twilight Zone: The Movie seems to have had a relatively happy production. Oh, except one thing: three actors, two of them children, died on-set in a particularly tragic freak accident. When a helicopter used in filming was hit by pyrotechnic blasts and span out of control, it crashed to the ground right in the middle of the set. Vic Morrow and the seven-year-old Myca Dinh Le were decapitated instantly, while six-year-old Renee Shin-Yi-Chen was crushed to death.
It was another case of the director cursing the film: John Landis broke several rules while on set, including paying child actors off the books - in order to circumvent labor laws - and using live ammunition rounds during filming. Surprisingly, he went on to have a successful career and is still actively making films today. Let’s hope he hasn’t taken the curse with him.
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The Dark Knight
It’s hard to tell whether Christopher Nolan’s gritty re-imagining of the Batman franchise is actually cursed, given the amount of money it’s generated. But with a who’s who of freaky villains and a pitch-dark undercurrent running through the trilogy, it’s no surprise that there was a score of accidents on set. During filming of the Dark Knight, a cameraman was killed during a chase scene when his camera truck crashed into a tree, and pyrotechnics explosions prompted calls from residents concerned that a terrorist attack had taken place.
And then there’s the most famous incident: the life of Heath Ledger was brutally cut short when he died in his Manhattan apartment, while the film was still in post-production. While it was deemed an accidental overdose, many have speculated that the intensity he gave to his ghoulish performance as The Joker drove him to a brink that he couldn’t turn away from. Whatever it was, it can’t be denied that sometimes even the psychological feel of a movie can affect us in profound and tragic ways.
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Troy
This swords-and-sandals blockbuster just goes to prove that even curses have a sense of humour. Brad Pitt, who plays Achilles in the film, had an accident on set and tore one of his tendons. Guess which one? That’s right, the Achilles.
That wasn’t the only problem on set. During one of the takes, George Camilleri broke his leg and, strangely, died two weeks later from surgical complications. Not one, but two hurricanes lashed the set on the coast of Mexico in a single month, but luckily no-one died. It seems that even the biggest of budgets isn’t enough to sooth the savage film-making gods.
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Milo and Otis
Listen up, cats and dogs: if you want to be a star, don’t work on a Milo and Otis film. Sure, it looks like fun and games and adorable pets, but underneath the surface lies a deep, dark, secret curse. This curse doesn’t affect the humans making the film (and the money), though: just the animals. You didn’t realize you’d be doing your own stunt work, did you?
According to various animal rights groups and sources surrounding the film, it was a particularly grueling one for the stars. No-one from the American Humane Society was there for the filming, and if you believe the awful rumors, up to 30 cats and dogs sadly died during filming. You’ll never watch the movie the same way again.
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The Poltergeist
Our third entry in the “Horror Films That Were Totally Unsurprisingly Cursed” category, Poltergeist was – as legend has it – a victim of its own stupidity. To cut a long story short: next time you’re thinking about using real skeletons as props, don’t. Despite a Native American cleansing ritual being performed on the set of the sequel (in the middle of the night, as you do), the curse dogged stars of the film for years afterwards, resulting in a string of grisly and strange deaths.
Dominique Dunne was strangled in her driveway mere months after the film was released, while the six-year-old star of the film died of septic shock and cardiac arrest died six years later. Another character in the film, played by Lou Perryman, was murdered with an ax in his own home. Two movies, two more deaths, and one plane crash later, they decided to reboot the franchise in 2015. Here’s a tip, guys: stop.
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The Wizard of Oz
Dorothy’s travel through Oz in the iconic 1936 film was perhaps a little easier than what the production team had to go through. Both actors playing the Tin Man had problems with the suit: the first developing lung problems from silver dust, and the replacement getting an eye infection from the makeup. That wasn’t the only replacement: a grand total of five directors worked on the film at various stages, each quitting or getting fired for their own reasons. Maybe they knew about the curse.
Both Margaret Hamilton and her stunt double, who played the Wicked Witch, sustained injuries after bizarre accidents. The first burned her hands and face in an accident involving a trapdoor and Munchkinland, and the other set her legs on fire with pyrotechnics. Skywriting. On a broomstick. I guess with a film as far out as The Wizard of Oz, you’re bound to have some weird things happen... but surely not that weird.
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Titanic
James Cameron’s record-smashing blockbuster had more than its fair share of problems during filming. Far more. His military style approach and harsh insistence on perfection ensured that it wasn’t just the cinemagoers left in tears, but the cast and crew, too. A grand total of nine injuries occurred on set, with three stuntmen breaking bones, but countless others came down with colds, flus, and infections. Kate Winslet almost drowned twice.
The most bizarre incident, however, occurred during filming in Canada. Lobster chowder served to the film crew was somehow laced with PCP, a highly powerful dissociative drug. After hallucinations, vomiting, and a lot of rolling around, more than fifty of the cast and crew ended up in the hospital. It may have been a disgruntled crew member. Or it could have been the ancient ghost of a Titanic passenger wreaking some decidedly modern revenge. I guess we’ll never know.
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The Conjuring
James Wan is no stranger to horror, co-creating and directing Saw and guiding it into a hugely successful franchise. It wasn’t until The Conjuring, though, that the real horrors began to visit him on set. Based on a true story of a real-life haunting and the demonologists who were brought in to control it, a series of frightening incidents on set proved that the haunting had never been stopped at all.
Wan’s pet dog was the first to sense that something was up. When working on the film late into the night, Wan heard him growling. He turned around in his chair to find his dog staring at an empty corner. There was a mysterious hotel fire where the cast and crew were staying, and phone calls suffered from heavy static and frequent dropouts. Actress Vera Famirga found her laptop one day with five claw marks slashed across it. And when the original haunted family, the Perrons, visited the set, they were knocked about by a sudden and unexplained gust of wind. You would think they had had enough the first time around.
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Annabelle
It seems like The Conjuring just wasn’t enough for James Wan. Reaching into depths of his stupid-bag, he came up with a really, really great idea: film a prequel for it, and make it even creepier. Forget about some average haunting. Let’s put a demonic doll in it.
And the curse continued. While filming Annabelle, two crewmembers suffered injuries. One, an actor, was knocked in the head in the exact same set corridor where he was meant to be killed by the film demon. More strange claw marks appeared – this time across a set window – which matched precisely the number of fingers of the psychotic demon. The real-life doll on which the film is based is now locked up in a museum somewhere. For good measure, they should probably do the same to the movie.
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Rebel Without a Cause
Hopefully this list has been enough to put you off acting, filming, rigging, or even catering a movie for life. Unfortunately, we’ve got some bad news for you. Even if you’re nowhere near the movie, the curse can still get you. Don’t just stay away from movie sets: stay away from movie cars, too.
James Dean’s death just before the release of the 1955 troubled youth classic, Rebel Without a Cause, is well publicized. What is less known is that two of his co-stars, Natalie Wood and Sam Mineo, also suffered tragic and violent fates – a drowning and a stabbing, respectively. And what is even less known is the fate of Dean’s car, which he drove while filming and was driving when he suffered his fatal head-on crash. Instead of being sunk to the bottom of the ocean like it should have, wreckage of the Porsche 550 Spyder was eventually sold off and used to restore two other cars. Both of the other cars then had head-on collisions, and both car owners died. Now that’s what they call once-in-a-lifetime memorabilia.
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Superman
“But which Superman movie?” we hear you cry. The answer, sadly, is pretty much all of them. DC has made many attempts to bring their marquee superhero to the small and big screens. Some of them have been moderate successes, while others have been killers. Literally.
An astonishing 17 cast and crew members, from 1940 to 2006, have been associated with the now legendary “Superman curse”. While some of them have only suffered minor misfortune, failed careers, and failed romances, many believe that the deaths of stars George Reeves, Christopher Reeves, and Marlon Brando can all be traced back to their work on the various Superman incarnations. Some might call it plain bad luck, but we certainly won’t be putting on the blue spandex any time soon.
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Roar
Somewhere deep in this list is the message that human folly is perhaps the greatest curse of all. Take the 1981 movie Roar, for example. What started out as a fairly simple idea for a thriller – a family walk into a plantation infested by fierce animals – turned into an 11-year production nightmare when yet another awful decision was made by the director, Noel Marshall.
It’s not exactly hard to see what went wrong. In a psychotic (and probably criminal) stab at realism, Marshall and his wife Tippi Hedren opted to use 150 wild animals – lions, tigers, cougars, elephants, and more – for filming, resulting in an oddly foreseeable bloodbath. Over seventy of the cast and crew members were mauled, bitten, broken, punctured, scalped, clawed, fractured, and terrorized by the vicious animals, and much of their horrific ordeal made it into the final cut of the film. “The Most Dangerous Movie Ever Made”, the tagline screams. It can’t be far off.
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The Sword of Tipu Sultan
We’re going to stretch the definition of movie for this one, if only because the appalling on-set tragedy needs to be documented somewhere. The Sword of Tipu Sultan wasn’t a movie at all, but a highly successful and popular Indian TV serial. Mainly filmed in the sweltering city of Mysore, the stellar cast and swashbuckling adventure gained it many long-time fans. And, one fateful day, some long-term suffering.
Conditions at Premiere Studio that day were a recipe for disaster. The set had no fireproofing, ventilation, extinguishers, or even evacuation route, and the thermometer had reached 121 degrees. The roaring inferno was ignited by a single spark from a mess of exposed lighting wires, and it consumed the studio within seconds. Although a handful of people survived, and even fewer escaped unscathed, 62 people sadly lost their lives. Despite the star being hospitalized for 13 months, the show went on.
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The Possession
Just when you thought it was safe to go back onto a horror movie set… oh, wait. It never was. Here’s another one for the list: 2011 flick The Possession. We’re starting to feel like tremendous nags here, but we’ll say it again. Do not, under any circumstances, mess with, or make a film about, real-life possessed artefacts. This one was just an innocent wine cabinet. Innocent, that is, except it contained a malevolent demon which terrorized countless owners for decades.
Until some bright spark decided to make a film about it, and the demon moved on from terrorizing poor bargain-hunters to terrorizing the filmmakers. During production, unlit lights exploded over the director, and five days after filming all the props burned down in a Vancouver storage fire. The fire remains unexplained, of course, and luckily no-one was hurt. On the other hand, clearly no lessons were learned.
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Noah’s Ark
Passion of the Christ wasn’t the only religious film to suffer from a curse of biblical proportions. Way back in 1928, a romantic melodrama based on the story of Noah was also hit with the fury of God. Oh, and water. Lots and lots of water.
You see, it wasn’t quite enough for the director Michael Curtiz to use traditional miniatures and just simulate the flood. He had a plan: to actually flood the set with 600,000 gallons of water. The results were aptly catastrophic. Three crew members drowned, one broke his leg so badly it had to be amputated, several others were badly hurt, and the star caught pneumonia. What’s your next brilliant idea, Curtiz? Film David and Goliath with an actual giant?
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The Flight of the Phoenix
While the 2004 remake was only cursed by a severe lack of imagination, the 1965 original was hit with something far more strange. The film follows the fortunes of a group of men, stranded in the Sahara Desert after a plane crash and desperately trying to escape. Salvaging pieces of the wreckage, they decide to do the impossible: build a new plane out of old parts.
Which is exactly what the film’s producers tried to do, too, when they hired aeronautical engineer Otto Timm. Cannibalizing parts from four other planes, he built his own “Phoenix”, which they used for filming. As we should all know by now, though, art has a nasty habit of imitating art. While putting the Phoenix through some touch-and-go landings in front of the cameras, famous stuntman Paul Mantz misjudged the plane’s handling and sent it smashing into the runway. As the plane flew apart and went cartwheeling into the desert he was killed instantly, while another stuntman was badly injured. They used regular planes for the remake, which is probably the first good decision we’ve seen from Hollywood.

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