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The 20 Riskiest Movie Projects In History

08 August 2013 | Features, Film Lists | by David Zou

risky movie projects

Making movies is taking risks, it’s just like any business, bigger investment, riskier project. Bottom line for every producer and studio, they don’t want to lose money to make a picture. Sometimes it’s not only about money, the director’s reputation and the actor’s health are at stake as well. However, there are too many uncertainty in a movie project, you never know what could happen on a movie set.

The 20 movies on this list are all pretty well-known, what you don’t know is how many risks the guys involved in the project had taken. Some of these movies nearly bankrupted the studio, some received polarized reviews, some made big box-office success, and some became classics. But they have one thing in common, the high-risk behind-the-scene story is worth reading.


20. Watchmen


The Movie: The Hamlet of graphic novels added socio-political subtexts and headscratching meta-narrative to the superhero genre. Studios circled Alan Moore’s classic for years before finally bringing it to the screen.

The Risk: Several visionary directors – Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, Paul Greengrass -bailed on the project because they couldn’t figure out how to translate the comic’s nuances to the big screen. Enter Zack Snyder: “let’s just film the book!”

Did It Pay Off?: Faithful to the point of feeling strait-jacketed, the film confounded neophytes and frustrated fanboys, but – thanks to the source material – it remains amongst the most startlingly ambitious of modern superhero movies.


19. Lawrence Of Arabia


The Movie: David Lean’s WWI epic sees Peter O’Toole’s T.E. Lawrence unite the Arab tribes against the Turks, over four hours of retina-scorching desert spectacle.

The Risk: Buoyant after the success of The Bridge On The River Kwai, Lean went for it with extensive location shooting in inhospitable terrain, and the gamble of casting virtual unknown O’Toole in the central scene.

Did It Pay Off?: As the longest ever Best Picture winner, the benchmark for all subsequent big-screen epics and the launchpad for O’Toole’s long career, Lean’s hunches proved sound.


18. Ben Hur


The Movie: The second screen version of Lew Wallace’s Biblical epic raised the bar for silent era extravagance.

The Risk: The most costly film of the silent era, MGM threw millions at the screen. Even then, they couldn’t stop fights amongst the Italian extras, the death of a stuntman and several horses, or the entire reshooting of the chariot race after the initial set proved unsuitable.

Did It Pay Off?: Despite being a huge hit, it required a re-release before the film turned a profit. Its legacy lives on, notably because the famous 1959 remake pretty much copied the chariot race sequence shot-for-shot.


17. The Great Dictator


The Movie: Charlie Chaplin writes, directs and stars as both fascist dictator Adenoid Hynkel and his lookalike, a Jewish barber.

The Risk: Hollywood preferred to keep politics out of its comedies, yet Chaplin – independently wealthy – had no such qualms about taking on the tyranny of Hitler at a time when America was still officially neutral.

Did It Pay Off?: It became Chaplin’s highest grossing film and a landmark in screen satire, although Chaplin later admitted that – had he known the full extent of the Holocaust – he wouldn’t have been so flippant.

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  • Karen Evans

    You forgot “The Wizard of Oz”.