It's well known that Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Vietnam epic is one of the greatest films of all time. The sheer scale and audacity of it keeps the pace burning along while we endure Captain Willard's emotional anguish and revel in his search for the renegade colonel.
But there's much more to Apocalypse Now than the bold and monumental three hours that we see on screen. The making of the film, with all of its chaos and ruin, perfectly embodies the Vietnam War.
Containing jaw-dropping caveats of alcohol, drugs, heart attacks, monsoons, and mental breakdowns - here are 10 incredible facts about the craziest film ever made, Apocolypse Now:
It Started As It Was Destined To Continue
1. When a flurry of Hollywood A-Listers turned down the role of Captain Willard (including Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino!), Coppola tossed all five of his Oscars out of the window of his San Francisco apartment. He recovered just one of them.
Monsoons And Money Problems
2. Coppola eventually alighted upon Harvey Keitel for the role, but it quickly became clear he didn't have the gravitas required to play Captain Willard. Keitel was sacked and Martin Sheen was flown in on a private jet. When he arrived, the film was already millions of dollars over budget and filming had barely begun. He described the set as "chaos."
3. What Sheen meant by "chaos" was a quagmire of mud and mayhem and a set in ruins because Coppola had persistently ignored weather forecasts telling him that the annual monsoon was on the way.
3. If that wasn't bad enough, Sheen then had a heart attack within the first few weeks of filming. Apparently induced by a severe alcoholic phase and the hot Filipino climate, Sheen was found crawling through the jungle looking for help. Hours earlier, he had shot the scene where a drunken Willard has a violent mental breakdown. The reason why that scene resonates so well is because Sheen was ACTUALLY drunk. When he punched the mirror, he was so out of it that he didn't realize he had cut himself quite severely and that blood was streaming all over him. Coppola and the rest of the film crew were apparently terrified he was going to punch someone.
4. When Coppola learned of Sheen's heart attack he himself had an epileptic fit. Apparently he felt responsible and ordered a complete media blackout on Sheen's condition. He is reported to have said, "Even if he dies, he's not dead until I say so."
5. The combined effect of the monsoon and Sheen's heart attack delayed filming by two months. Some cynics had by then renamed the film to "Apocalypse When?", others "Apocalypse Never."
6. One on set confrontation epitomises the making of the film more than any other. Dennis Hopper, who plays an American photojournalist, was so stoned on marijuana, cocaine, speed (or any of the other drugs that were consumed by the hundreds of actors), production staff and extras on set said that he couldn't remember his lines. When Coppola realized what was going on he launched into a tirade of abuse. But it didn't last long, as Hopper quickly reminded him that he hadn't given him any to learn, which was true.
Coppola Went Crazy
7. With the film millions of dollars over budget, barely shot, and only partially written, Coppola started to go crazy. Not only was he annoyed about the money, he also saw little artistic worth in what had been produced so far. He told his wife, Eleanor, "We are all lost!... I have no idea where to go with this." Coppola later said, "We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane."
8. It later took Coppola nearly three years to edit the footage.
9. Some of the dead bodies that littered the set were real! An enthusiastic props manager suggested hiring a guy who supplied the corpses to local medical schools. When it transpired the guy had actually been robbing graves to acquire the bodies, members of the Apocalypse Now production team were arrested and their passports were confiscated.
A Very Real War-zone
10. Filming was halted yet again when the fleet of helicopters being used to shoot the famous helicopter attack scene were called away by the Filipino President Marcos to fight rebels on a nearby island.