Francis Ford Coppola's epic Vietnam saga chronicles the mission of Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), a special-ops vet tasked with leading a team into the jungles of Cambodia to take out a fellow American - decorated colonel turned self-proclaimed god Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Their surreal trek down the Nung River has become not just a Hollywood classic, but also a cinematic testament to the impact of war on all its players.
Top 10 Fun Facts
- A long time ago in a jungle far, far away: before Francis Ford Coppola signed on to direct, Star Wars mastermind George Lucas expressed interest in the project.
- Steve McQueen was reportedly the first choice to play Captain Willard. After he turned it down, the part went to Harvey Keitel (keep reading).
- Keitel didn't last long in the part. When Coppola decided the actor was having trouble playing Willard as "a passive onlooker," the director flew back to Los Angeles and hired Martin Sheen instead.
- While Coppola's re-casting choice was a big break for Sheen, the role came at a price. Sheen suffered a heart attack while filming in the jungle, and had to struggle a quarter of a mile to find help.
- To nab Marlon Brando for the role of Kurtz, Coppola promised him $3.5 million for one month's work - an unheard of fee at the time. That's over $116,000 a day, if you're keeping score.
- Coppola had to compensate for Brando's significant weight gain by dressing the actor in black, filming mostly close-ups of his face and using a body double for wide shots. And you thought YOUR workplace conversations were awkward.
- Young Laurence Fishburne lied about his age to score a part in the film - he was only 14 when the production began. These days, we call that "pulling a Mila Kunis" (don't tell Laurence).
- The film won the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It lost the Oscar to divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer. Meryl Streep strikes again!
- The American Humane Association gave the film an "unacceptable" rating for the climactic water buffalo slaughter scene. Yep, that was a real water buffalo.
- Coppola's wife Eleanor took extensive notes and filmed behind-the-scenes footage during the making of the film. The material was eventually released in 1991 as Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.