The most scandalous film sets in Hollywood history

Most movie sets are populated by professional filmmakers who just want to clock in, make the best movie they can and clock out. It only takes one Hollywood hellraiser, however, to turn a prim and proper movie production into a hotbed of sordid activity. 

Whether it’s down to drink, drugs or good old-fashioned sex, the following films are legendary, not just for what you see on-screen, but for the debauchery that took place off it…

The Blues Brothers (1980)

John Belushi did not know the meaning of the word moderation. The Saturday Night Live comedian was a huge star by the time it came to film The Blues Brothers with partner Dan Aykroyd and his reputation for being a party animal preceded him.

That meant on his nights off, members of the public would offer him cocaine in bars. Unable to resist, Belushi’s narcotic intake put the movie behind schedule – on one occasion, Aykroyd found him asleep on the sofa of a nearby house during shooting. Director John Landis had coke addict Carrie Fisher keep John on the straight and narrow (great hire), but considering the cast’s drug and alcohol intake it’s a miracle The Blues Brothers was even completed. “We had a budget in the movie for cocaine for night shoots,” remembers Aykroyd.

Easy Rider (1969)

Seen by many as the last word in counter-culture cinema, Easy Rider is an American classic – but that doesn’t mean making it was easy. In fact, director and star Dennis Hopper was almost permanently stoned during production and frequently had drug-induced paranoia attacks. The marijuana that the cast smoked on film was real, and multiple takes took their toll on Nicholson. 

“The acting job became reversed,” he said. “Instead of being straight and having to act stoned, I was now stoned and having to act straight.” Peter Fonda confirms the cast’s drug intake was legendary. “Everyone had their drug of choice on Easy Rider,” he said. “Dennis had his drink, Jack smoked joints and the crew dabbled with acid and dope. When we were shooting, I said that if the film made enough money, I would quit acting and buy a farm in Madagascar and grow grass and smoke it all day.”

Caligula (1979)

Another example of life imitating art (although you’d be hard-pushed to call this swords and sandals smut-fest ‘art’), the making of Caligula was almost as hedonistic as the action depicted on-screen. How do you a rescue a sure-fire disaster? Why, you add more sex, of course! Screenwriter Gore Vidal distanced himself from the Roman epic after clashing with director Tinto Brass, then Brass was fired by financier Bob Guccione, also the founder of Penthouse magazine. 

Now in charge and with the movie in post-production, Guccione hired adult actors and shot 14 additional minutes of hardcore sex to sprinkle throughout the film, plus additional scenes so depraved (urination being the only one we can write about here), even liberal star Helen Mirren called the final cut “an unmitigated disaster”.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Despite their excess of stretchy spandex, superheroes are always chaste and never let sex get the better of them. The same can’t be said of the actors who play them. The 60s-set X-Men prequel saw an inordinate number of cast hook-ups – it must have been all the short skirts – including Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult, and Michael Fassbender and Zoe Kravitz.

The most salacious bunk-up, however, was between actress January Jones (who played Emma Frost) and the mystery man who would eventually become her babydaddy nine months later. Unconfirmed tabloid reports initially suggested director Matthew Vaughn (married to supermodel Claudia Schiffer) could have been the guilty party, though he strenuously denied it.

Dazed & Confused (1993)

Who would have thought making a movie about partying teenagers would have led to so many teenagers partying? We were as shocked as you. Director Richard Linklater had some pretty radical ideas on how to cast his comedy: he held a casting pizza party and then coupled together actors and had them kiss each other to test their chemistry. One couple in particular, Shawn Andrews and Milla Jovovich (pictured above) got on so well that they eloped to Las Vegas during filming, though the marriage was annulled as the actress was only 16. 

Matthew McConaughey, however, was cast when Linklater met him randomly in a bar – two hours later they were kicked out for being drunk and disorderly. Once the director had assembled his young cast, they were all holed up in a Texas hotel for two months, where their downtime consisted of much the same as their uptime – drinking, smoking and sex. Oh, and for that real authentic feel, several of the cast have admitted they were actually stoned in several scenes, despite Linklater admitting that contrary to movie folklore, the on-screen marijuana was fake.

The Canyons (2013)

Kickstarted into existence with American Psycho scribe Bret Easton Ellis penning the script and Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader directing, steamy LA thriller The Canyons looked like a hot prospect…until Lindsay Lohan was cast in the lead role. Hurricane Lohan did not disappoint her tabloid audience: Lindsay drank like a fish and partied until dawn with the likes of Lady Gaga only to call in sick the next morning, then disappeared for days on end. 

Once collared, she escaped from her car on the way to the set. When informed she was fired, she had a tearful meltdown and banged on Schrader’s hotel room door for 90 minutes. Later re-hired, Lohan refused to shoot her sex scenes with adult star James Deen, so Schrader had to strip naked himself while rolling. And as for Deen? He kept flying out of state to shoot porn. The end result? The making of The Canyons was infinitely more interesting than The Canyons itself.

Goin’ South (1978)

When Jack Nicholson is in the director’s chair, you know you’re going to be in for a wild ride. Nicholson directed and starred in this 1978 Western with a cast that included Mary Steenburgen and John Belushi, and according to Belushi’s biography written by Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, mountains of cocaine (among other substances) were used daily by actors and filmmakers alike. 

The finished film was forgettable at best and critics’ reviews couldn’t help but make mention of Nicholson’s “stoned eyes” and “fogged manner”. One writer even said Nicholson “talks as if he needed to blow his nose” – heaven knows what would have come out of it if he had.

Caddyshack (1980)

The biggest improv comedians of the 80s didn’t give two hoots about your ‘script’ or what their ‘lines’ were – the only lines that Caddyshack funnyman Rodney Dangerfield cared about were the two he snorted during his audition. Production on the seminal golfing comedy continued in the same vein: stars Dangerfield, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray would consume unholy amounts of illegal substances on set and party all night, driving golf carts around the course at top speed. 

One morning, Murray was found asleep in a bunker. Production on Caddyshack was so debauched, that when a huge explosion on the course was detonated, the hungover filmmakers forgot to inform the authorities – it was called in to the emergency services as a suspected plane crash. Oops.

Image credits: Rex Features