The credits are almost over and a familiar phrase flashes across the screen: “No animals were harmed in the making of this movie”. The words are so familiar they have become part of popular culture.
The American Humane Association is the only organisation allowed to bestow the disclaimer on a movie after trade-marking the first four words. They’ve been working to ensure animal actors – such as Uggie the dog in ‘The Artist’ or the equine thesps in ‘War Horse’ – have been treated humanely on movie sets since 1940, when a horse was needlessly killed during the filming of ‘Jesse James’.
They monitor as many films and TV shows as possible – though the trend towards shooting outside the US means more and more big-budget Hollywood films escape their jurisdiction.
On-set observers monitor scenes featuring animals and give the film a rating based on how well they are treated. Those judged “Outstanding” now get the famous credit, while the films which are merely “acceptable” are allowed to put “American Humane Association monitored the animal action”.
Projects are rated “unacceptable” when film makers ignore safety rules and animals get hurt or even killed. The rating has been extremely rare in recent years and can only be found on a handful of films, but some are extremely famous or surprising.
We looked at the AHA’s database of film reviews to find which films were denied the famous credit and why. They include…
Snow Buddies (2008)
The film: A straight-to-DVD sequel to Disney’s ‘Air Buddies’, about five mischievous golden receivers. Not a classic.
What happened? Basically, five puppies died on set. Disney unknowingly used underage and ill dogs during production, and several had to be put down after contracting parvovirus. Dogs used on movie sets must be at least eight-weeks-old, and these weren’t. The breeder who supplied the poor creatures was charged with fraud for falsifying health documents. Not the best PR for a Disney flick.
Speed Racer (2008)
The film: Misjudged attempt by Andy and Lana (formerly Larry) ‘The Matrix’ Wachowski to bring animation ‘Speed Racer’ to the big screen.
What happened? This notorious flop was a shambles behind the camera as well. Firstly, five piranhas died for unknown reasons on set. Then one of two chimps playing comedy relief ape Chim-Chim bit the hand of a young actor standing in for Paulie Litt (Spritle Racer) for no reason. Finally, towards the end of filming, the chimp’s trainer hit him “in an uncontrolled impulse”.
The Lord of the Flies (1990)
The film: Duff adaptation of William Golding’s classic book about boys stranded on a desert island.
What happened? The AHA doesn’t go into much detail here, but apparently puffer fish were killed while shooting scenes in Jamaica. No laws were broken, but it was still a needless loss of animal life.
Vampire’s Kiss (1988)
The film: Mental Nicolas Cage effort; he plays an advertising exec who thinks he’s turning into a vampire. Famous because…
What happened? …it features a scene where Nic’s character eats a live cockroach. He did this for real, and then did another take. The AHA was not impressed.
One Man’s Hero (1999)
The film: Forgotten historical drama about Irish gang the St Patrick’s Brigade – who caused trouble in Mexico back in the day. Stars Tom Berenger.
What happened? The AHA weren’t on set for this, but they reckon (after several anonymous tip-offs) that horses were tripped with wires during production - which is illegal. The producers did not co-operate and - even worse - slapped the ‘No animals were harmed’ disclaimer on the credits without permission. Speaking of which…
The King’s Speech (2010)
The film: Oscar-winning yarn about King George VI and his stutter.
What happened? We’re almost certain no critters were actually harmed in this, but the film got into bother for the unauthorised use of their famous credit. The AHA weren’t on-set and threatened legal action. Producers said they didn’t realise the phrase was copyrighted. This is rated ‘not monitored’.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
The film: Classic almost mute fantasy flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the buff warrior-king.
What happened? Serious abuse of horses throughout the film – at one point a nag falls over pointed spikes. It was shot in Spain, which (at the time) had rather lax laws about animal welfare. The AHA were not allowed onset but organised a protest outside cinemas on its release. Sequel ‘Conan the Destroyer’ was also deemed unacceptable for camel abuse.
First Blood (1982)
The film: First and by-far the best ‘Rambo’ film that starred Sylvester Stallone as a mentally damaged Vietnam war vet.
What happened? An animal care official on set saw rats burnt by an actor, thrown against a wall and “squeezed” by production staff. Apparently the director and crew were laughing at the abuse. Not nice.
Fast & Furious (2009)
The film: Lesser instalment of petrol-head action franchise.
What happened? There’s a cockfighting scene. It was shot in Mexico – where the blood sport is legal – and the film’s producers wouldn’t pay for the AHA to fly out and oversee the sequence (according to their site anyway). After watching the footage they reckon the birds may have actually been fighting - in violation of their rules - and invited the public to complain to studio Universal.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The film: Trippy Vietnam War epic starring Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando.
What happened? The finale saw Willard (Sheen) hack Kurtz (Brando) to death while natives sacrificed a water buffalo with machetes. The footage of animal slaughter was obviously real and it got the ‘unacceptable’ rating.
Heaven’s Gate (1980)
The film: Nihilistic western starring Christopher Walken that is infamously Hollywood’s biggest-ever flop.
What happened? All sorts - and most of it horrible. Without going into too much detail, there were cockfights, chicken decapitations and a horse was “blown up”. One owner sued for the injuries his horse suffered and the case was settled out of court. An upshot was that the nastiness prompted Hollywood unions to contractually authorise the AHA to oversee animal actors, so at least the beasties didn’t suffer in vain. Another reason not to watch a truly awful film.
Would you now skip these films knowing their production history? Let us know in the comments section below…