'Ghostbusters'

Movies that ruined actors’ lives

Making any movie requires some kind of sacrifice. It can cost loads of time and money just to make a bad film. Imagine if you score even a small role in a movie that becomes a certified blockbuster, and that film follows you for the rest of your career, maybe even your life. Would you regret taking the part? If you could go back in time, would you stop yourself from auditioning and right all the world’s wrongs like you said you would in every drunken hypothetical argument you’ve ever had? That’s what these movies did to some actors.
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‘Ghostbusters’

'Ghostbusters'
Columbia Pictures

If Ghostbusters is one of the greatest comedies of all time, then Walter Peck is one of the greatest villains of all time. The annoying EPA investigator who tries to shut down the team’s operations during one of New York City’s biggest paranormal events became a bigger villain than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Actor William Atherton, who played Peck, did such a good job that the abuse he took didn’t stop at the edges of the screen.

According to the DVD commentary track featuring director Ivan Reitman, Atherton endured angry screams from fans who couldn’t separate reality from fiction and tried to pick fights with him in bars. Harold Ramis, the screenwriter who played Egon Spengler, says an entire bus of New York City tourists spotted him and called him…well, let’s just say they called him “Richard-less.”

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‘Abduction’

'Abduction'
Lionsgate Entertainment

Twilight star Taylor Lautner had a movie that most actors with well-defined pectorals dream of having every time they hit the gym. Not much followed that, and a big contributor is this 2011 action movie that didn’t require him to spend most of his time on screen without a shirt. Clearly, the studio hoped the teen action flick Abduction would be a vehicle for Lautner’s rising stardom, but it barely made it out of the driveway before stuttering to a loud stop.

It seemed to have everything working for it. Abduction had a top-tier supporting cast, an acclaimed director with Boyz in the Hood filmmaker John Singleton, and a lot of loud, stinky action. Unfortunately, the story was a stinking mess that tried to cram teenage angst and espionage together, even though neither complements the other. The film tanked, and Lautner’s star power plummeted.

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‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’

'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs'
Walt Disney Pictures

Walt Disney’s animated retelling of the classic fairytale isn’t just the first and biggest jewel in the Disney empire’s crown. Every feature-length animated movie that followed its blockbuster release owes a debt of gratitude to Disney’s 1937 hit. However, the film itself owes a lot to its main voice actor, Adriana Caselotti.

The actress who voiced Snow White got the role thanks to a talent scout looking for an endearing female speaking and singing voice who happened to ask her father for recommendations. She beat out 150 other performers for the role and received a total salary of $970. She didn’t even get a ticket to the premiere. She had to sneak into the theater, only to learn that her voice would be used for the world’s first feature animated film and one of the biggest box office grossers of her time. Worst of all, she didn’t even get a screen credit.

Her contract with Disney forbade her from ever identifying herself as the voice of Snow White or from doing any other voice acting work because Walt Disney wanted to preserve the illusion that his characters were real. Almost 40 years later, with very few mainstream roles on her resume, The Walt Disney Company finally revealed her as the voice of Snow White.

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‘Showgirls’

'Showgirls'
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists and Carolco Pictures

A film like Showgirls is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of movie but not in a good way. The NC-17 film from director Paul Verhoeven and Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas garnered the kind of hype and controversy (aka free publicity) that even the ballsiest marketing agency can’t concoct. Then people saw the movie, and the word got out fast just how bad this thing was. It tanked hard.

The dialogue was ludicrous and even bewildering as characters talk in forced, vulgar similes and reminisce about having to eat dog food (no, really). Showgirls’ dismal failure also eclipsed the promising career of its lead actress Elizabeth Berkley. She became famous as Jessie Spano on the hit Saturday morning sitcom Saved By the Bell and took on the role to show audiences that she could do straight drama, but the totally bonkers script about a Las Vegas dancer who’s willing to do anything to get in front of her competition unfairly took her down with it.

Berkley told People in 2020 that she felt “left out in the cold” and a “pariah” in the industry because of Showgirls. She felt cruelly treated and bullied for just turning out a performance she and Verhoeven thought was appropriate for such a troubled, drug-addled character.

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‘Syriana’

'Syriana'
Warner Bros.

Clooney may be a big-time movie star now, but he had a tough time transitioning from his starring role on TV’s ER to a film career, and that’s impressive considering that he had to overcome Batman & Robin.

He became an official movie star with his role in Syriana, an acclaimed political thriller about the blurry line between government and corporate influence in the Persian Gulf that won him an Academy Award. Syriana sounds like the ideal role for any working actor until you look at the production and the toll it took on Clooney’s health and even mental well-being.

Clooney suffered a severe spinal injury in 2005 while shooting a simulated torture scene for Syriana that went south. His recovery was not easy, and that’s putting it mildly. He told Rolling Stone that he couldn’t move while his spine healed after surgeries and suffered chronic pain and headaches that felt like “you’re having a stroke.” Clooney says he started to become suicidal to the point where he contemplated a plan. To numb the emotional pain, he turned to alcohol. He recovered but still suffered bouts of pain from the injury and had to learn just how to live with it since painkillers could create more unwanted side effects.

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‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace’

'Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace'
Twentieth Century Fox

A lot of fans had to suffer through the first of the Star Wars prequels near the start of the millennium, but two of its principal cast members had to endure something much harder than a disappointing sequel.

Actor Jake Lloyd, who played the pint-sized Anakin Skywalker, thought he scored the role of a lifetime, but the movie’s release made his life hell. The grind of promoting the film took a toll on his mental health. Then he started getting bullied in school to the point where he started to hate Star Wars and turned his back on acting. He tried to get a filmmaking career going, but it appears it didn’t happen as he had hoped when he led police on a car chase in 2015.

The other actor who saw his life upended by the most overhyped movie of its time is Ahmed Best, who voiced the role of Jar Jar Binks. The bumbling Gungan was designed to be a lighthearted comic relief of sorts for the first Star Wars episode, but fans turned on him. Hate sites and angry commentators flooded the internet voicing their displeasure with Jar Jar. Best’s role was supposed to be the starting point of a promising career, but he told Wired in 2017 that he felt like the fans turned against him online, especially at a time when social media wasn’t nearly as present. He relocated to Los Angeles before the movie’s release in anticipation of the changes he thought his career would make, but he had trouble shaking Jar Jar’s shadow and found his role greatly diminished in the second and third Star Wars prequels.

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‘Psycho’

'Psycho'
Universal Pictures

Alfred Hitchcock’s most successful and famous film about a timid serial killer caught in a homicidal identity crisis changed the course of a lot of lives, and not all of them went in a positive direction.

One of the most jarring moments happens 30 minutes into the film when Psycho’s supposed leading lady Janet Leigh gets hacked to death without warning or provocation in the movie’s iconic shower scene. The scene didn’t just traumatize the audience. It also traumatized Leigh, who famously said in several interviews decades after Psycho’s release in 1960 that she only took baths instead of showers because she never realized how vulnerable people are in that position. She also became so associated with her role in Psycho that she got pigeonholed into the horror genre for the rest of her career.

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‘The Great Dictator’

'The Great Dictator'
United Artists

Chaplin’s comedy touched a lot of hearts and minds through his iconic silent films featuring his lovable tramp character that became his trademark and his most successful film, The Great Dictator, in 1940. The satiric comedy beat the stuffing out of the world’s iron-fisted rulers who wield armies, the commonwealth of their people, and the never-ending threat of war the way a schoolyard bully threatens to beat you up and take your lunch money at recess. The stirring speech Chaplin gives at the end implodes the ills of the world, like intolerance, greed, and ignorance, and implores the audience to seek peace, prosperity, and reason so humanity can “live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery.”

American intelligence agents, however, saw the movie as a symptom of a communist sympathizer and attempted to get Chaplin kicked out of both nations. In 2012, Great Britain’s National Archives released documented evidence that MI5 investigated Chaplin after the huge success of The Great Dictator at the behest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S. because his film “raised up the common man against the rich.” The investigation got Chaplin unofficially kicked out of America on allegations that he was a communist sympathizer, even after MI5 dismissed the claims. The greatest comic actor and filmmaker of his time and one of Hollywood’s biggest stars never had a hit as big as The Great Dictator. He lived the rest of his life in Switzerland and only set foot on American soil once to receive a lifetime achievement award at the 1972 Academy Awards.

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‘Roar’

'Roar'
Filmways Pictures

The legendary Roar also touched a lot of lives, but the kind of contact we’re referring to included a lot of lacerations, broken bones, puncture wounds, and real, actual violence.

The 1981 family comedy starring celebrity couple Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren attempted to tell the story about a family who travel to Tanzania to catch up with its patriarch Hank, who is on a mission to study and protect lions, but everyone involved was trying to survive the situation. The set became one of history’s most dangerous attempts at filmmaking as the cast and crew were outnumbered entirely, with upwards of 150 untamed lions roaming the set.

The lions constantly injured crew and cast members causing between 70-100 injuries. One crew member got scalped and needed 120 stitches. Hedren and Marshall’s daughter, Melanie Griffith, got so beaten up by one lioness that she almost lost one of her eyes and had to undergo facial reconstruction surgery. The constant injuries turned a six-month shoot into a five-year-long ordeal as the crew’s turnover rate skyrocketed with each new injury. The effort produced a movie that bombed with audiences and critics. The grueling and dangerous shoot also destroyed Hedren and Marshall’s marriage, and they divorced shortly after its release.

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‘Armour of God’ (‘Long Xiong Hu Di’)

'Armour of God' ('Long Xiong Hu Di')
Long xiong hu di

When it comes to injuries on film sets, few people can hold a candle to film legend Jackie Chan. The martial arts star lives to do his own stunts, even if it means putting his body on the line for the perfect shot. Pretty much every film he’s done has caused at least one serious sprain or broken bone.

The one that almost ended Chan’s career happened during a very dangerous stunt in 1986 on the set of Armour of God. The problems started in the morning when he had to drink a beer on camera, requiring several takes. For the next shot, he’s supposed to jump through a large tree and swing himself off one of the branches. They did one take without a problem, but Chan wanted to go again, and the second time, the branch gave way.

Chan fell and landed on his back on a rock. The fall cracked his skull and splintered into his brain, causing a severe hemorrhage. Even though he recovered from the very bad fall, the injury caused a dramatic drop in hearing in his right ear and left a permanent hole in his head that he keeps covered with a medically installed plug.

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‘The Blair Witch Project’

'The Blair Witch Project'
Haxan Films

When The Blair Witch Project hit theaters in 1999, the shaky-cam, found footage horror film felt very real to a lot of audiences. The real horror wasn’t just limited to the edges of the screen.

Actress Heather Donahue, who played herself as did the rest of the cast, had the most memorable moment in the film as she tearfully films what audiences thought were her last living words before the Blair Witch took her. The filmmakers wanted the audience to question the very idea of reality. They went to great lengths to hide their cast’s identities by publishing false obituaries on the Internet Movie Database. The indie horror film became the biggest sleeper hit of the year and launched Donahue into a whirlwind of publicity that took on a life of its own.

Fans worldwide started sending her real mother condolences, including one from a relative who thought Heather had died. Once some fans realized the movie was just a cleverly constructed story that toyed with their perception of reality, they openly criticized her on the internet and in real life. The harassment and intrusions into her life continued long after the film’s release, and she decided not to pursue an acting career. She even turned down an offer to reprise her role in the 2016 reboot because of the adverse effects of the first film.

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‘Kill Bill Vol. II’

'Kill Bill Vol. II'
Miramax Films

It’s not uncommon for directors to throw their actors into scenes without warning or preparation so they can get a natural reaction from them. Director Quentin Tarantino decided to do that with Uma Thurman for his Kill Bill series, and one of these scenes put his leading lady in very real jeopardy.

Towards the end of the shoot, Tarantino wanted to get a shot of Thurman driving The Bride’s iconic blue convertible instead of a stunt double. Even though she felt uncomfortable operating a real vehicle on set, she reluctantly agreed. Thurman drove the car down a sketchy dirt road when it began to skid and crashed head-on into a palm tree. According to a video she released of the crash in 2018, the camera was in the back seat filming Thurman from behind at the time of the accident. Her head slammed into the steering wheel and knocked her unconscious. After several minutes, she could walk away from the accident, but she’s since said she sustained permanent damage to her knees. Even worse, some of the project’s leaders, including disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein, tried to hide evidence of the crash and working conditions that caused it.

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‘Jacĸass Forever’

'Jacĸass Forever'
Paramount Pictures

Hearing that someone on the set of a Jacĸass  movie got injured might sound redundant, but one scene went so wrong it ended Johnny Knoxville’s long career of getting hit by large animals.

Pretty much every Jacĸass movie features Knoxville dueling one on one with a giant pile of livestock, but his most recent showdown became his most serious injury in a long career of broken bones and concussions. He’s said in interviews that he loves shooting with large animals because they always produce great footage, even if it risks his health. In Jacĸass Forever, Knoxville tries to perform a magic trick for a charging bull, but the bull completely ignores the trick and launches Knoxville into the air. The bull charged at Knoxville’s feet, launching his body into a double flip. During the second flip, Knoxville careens head-first into the ground knocking him unconscious. The stunt caused a brain hemorrhage that created some severe brain damage. He suffered a steep decline in his cognitive abilities and even sunk into depression during recovery. Still, he got the shot.

 

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