The Most Toxic Movie Sets in Hollywood History


It’s not that common to hear stories about problematic Hollywood celebrities. When we hear stories about their bad behavior, it’s easy to think these are just isolated incidents. And since we expect Hollywood heavyweights to be prima donnas, it’s easy to dismiss the occasional tantrum they throw on set.

Sometimes, though, the entire set is one big tantrum because it’s completely toxic. When someone in a position of power (often the director) abuses that power, it creates a toxic environment simply because it encourages others on set to act on their worst impulses.

To make matters worse, some of the most toxic movie sets ended up producing some legendary Hollywood films. However, that makes these sets no less problematic, nor does it undo the trauma that so many of the cast and crew experienced.

What, then, were the most toxic movie sets in Hollywood history? Keep reading to discover the surprising answers!

Terminator Salvation

Most of the time, onset drama is something we have to hear about secondhand from the actors or crew. However, every now and then an onset tantrum gets broadcast to the entire world. And there is no better example of this than Christian Bale’s infamous outburst on the set of Terminator Salvation.

As reported by TMZ, an audio recording of Christian Bale freaking out on the set leaked in February 2009. In the clip, Bale screams at the cinematographer for adjusting a light and then threatened to destroy the lights and even leave the film altogether if there were any further disruptions. Considering that Bale was the biggest star in the movie, his angry (and NSFW) outburst is a powerful indicator of just how toxic this set really was.

Pirates of the Caribbean

After his knockdown, drag-out legal battle with Amber Heard, you might expect to hear horror stories about him from the set of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. However, to hear Zoe Saldana tell the story, the issues on this set had nothing to do with Depp or the rest of his faithful crew of castmates. Instead, she has vivid memories of the executives and behind-the-scenes forces that made the film downright unpleasant to be a part of.

As reported by Yahoo, Saldana said of her experience on the film that “I’m not talking about the cast. The cast was great.” Continuing, she said, “I’m talking about the political stuff that went on behind closed doors. It was a lot of above-the-line versus below-the-line, extras versus actors, producers versus PAs.”

The kind of behavior she encountered included “people disrespecting me because they look at my number on a call sheet and they think I’m not important.” Understandably, she felt the set “was very elitist” and that the movie nearly made her “quit the business” altogether. 

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is nothing short of Hollywood magic. The movie has enchanted audiences across generations and shows how movies can transport our imaginations just as easily as this film transports Dorothy to Oz. Unfortunately, the set was so toxic that many of the actors wanted to leave that Yellow Brick Road and never return.

According to Indiewire, Dorothy star Judy Garland’s ex-husband Sid Luft made some explosive allegations in his autobiography. Describing the actors who portrayed the lovable Munchkins, Luft claimed that “They would make Judy’s life miserable on set by putting their hands under her dress.” And these weren’t exactly youthful indiscretions (though that would have been bad enough on its own): “The men were 40 or more years old.”

That wasn’t the only indignity Garland faced on set. According to Biography, the head of MGM himself, Louis B. Mayer, thought she was too overweight for the role and put her on an insane diet consisting only of coffee, cigarettes, diet pills, and chicken soup. 

Finally, while The Wicked Witch of the West famously melts in the movie, her actor, Margaret Hamilton, suffered a more gruesome fate. As reported by Rare, in the famous scene where she disappears into a cloud of smoke, she didn’t get enough time to leave the stage before a fire was lit. This resulted in third-degree burns on her hands and face! 

The Shining

The Shining is a unique movie because it balances both physical danger and psychological terror. Sure, it’s scary to see Jack Nicholson cutting through doors with an ax, but it’s equally frightening to watch his character’s mind descend into murderous madness. While filming, though, the one who almost descended into madness was his fellow actor Shelly Duvall!

That’s because director Stanley Kubrick cruelly manipulated Duvall in order to get an ostensibly more authentic performance from her. As reported by the Mirror, this included asking the crew to ignore Duvall entirely and never show her any sympathy. He also made sure to praise the performance of Jack Nicholson in every scene he was in and never paying Duvall a single compliment.

It all combined to create the worst onset experience for Duvall because almost everyone was in on it. As she eventually confided to the Hollywood Reporter, “To wake up on a Monday morning, so early, and realize that you had to cry all day because it was scheduled—I would just start crying. I’d be like, ‘Oh no, I can’t, I can’t.’ And yet I did it. I don’t know how I did it.” Even her costar Nicholson told her that he had no idea how she kept going!


Right now, James Cameron is “king of the world” again, thanks to the ongoing box office success of Avatar: The Way of Water. However, the original movie that crowned Cameron as one of Hollywood’s most successful directors was Titanic. And while that movie’s epic love story always brings us to tears, it turns out that making this movie happen was enough to make the cast and crew cry due to a variety of issues.

In some cases, the lives of the cast and crew were put in danger. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, film star Bill Paxton revealed that they were served clam chowder that had been spiked with PCP. This left him “so goddamn anxious I wanted to breathe in a paper bag.” People had to be sent to the hospital, and Cameron himself ate the drugged dish. Neither Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were onset that day.

And while Winslet may have dodged the spiked clam chowder, she faced other major threats to both her self-esteem and even her life. First off, as Rolling Stone reports, James Cameron gave her the cruel nickname “Kate Weighs-a-Lot.” This would be bad enough on its own, but it’s worse when you consider that the director himself joined the legion of alleged Titanic fans who tried to fat-shame Winslet (who, notably is nowhere close to fat in the movie).

To make things even worse, Winslet nearly died in, ironically, the famous scene where the bow of the boat sinks into the water. According to CBS News, Winslet’s coat got caught on some bars in this scene and pulled her into the water. The only thing that kept her from drowning was that she was able to narrowly shimmy out of the coat and fight her way up to the surface of the water.

Cameron’s response to the near-death of his star actor? To do another take of that scene, of course!

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