Hollywood’s All-Time Most Memorable Meltdowns


That Kanye West, he just keeps on giving. Gawker has gotten its hands on a surreptitiously recorded audiotape of West having a rather nonsensical meltdown after the Tyler Swift-VMA debacle back in 2009. It’s a pretty entertaining bit of tape, and it immediately reminded this viewer of the notorious David O. Russell tape, and other movie-related throwdowns. After the jump, a roundup of the most notorious tempter tantrums in movies — both on-screen and off.

David O. Russell, I Heart Huckabees

These days, David O. Russell is considered one of our best “actor’s directors,” getting Oscar-winning performances out of The Fighter’s Christian Bale and Melissa Leo and Silver Lining’s Playbook’s Jennifer Lawrence (along with three more acting nominations). But this wasn’t always the case. His flare-ups with George Clooney on the set of Three Kings are the stuff of Hollywood legend, culminating in an on-set fistfight between the two men. And he was so abusive to Lily Tomlin during the production of I Heart Huckabees that a crew member kept rolling on fluffed takes, circulating the tape around Hollywood before it made its way online in 2007 (again via Gawker).

Christian Bale, Terminator: Salvation

A couple of years later, a new tape became the Hollywood freak-out of choice. On the set of Terminator: Salvation, Christian Bale was apparently irritated by the film’s director of photography wandering into a shot and blowing the take. So he let the guy have it, at full voice and in full view of the entire crew — but crews stick together, and the sound recorder apparently kept the tape rolling. The tape was kept for insurance purposes, but this juicy couldn’t stay under wraps for too long, and TMZ broke the news before the release of the film. It may well have been heard by more people than ever saw the movie — thanks to countless uploads, remixes, and tributes.

Klaus Kinski, Fitzcarraldo

The shooting of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo would have been complicated enough without throwing in the flammable element of Klaus Kinski, whose relationship with the filmmaker was so fractious that Herzog titled his documentary about Kinski My Best Fiend. That film is the source for this clip, in which Kinski berates the production manager about the quality of food on the set (among other matters) before an exhausted Herzog insists they get back to work. This was far from the actor’s only temper tantrum on the production; there’s much more in both My Best Fiend and Les Blank’s documentary Burden of Dreams.

Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now

On-set flare-ups like these are hardly unusual — what’s unique about those incidents is that they were recorded, and then widely dispersed. When you go back a little further in Hollywood history, you can only take as evidence the incidents when said flare-up became part of the film itself. Take the notoriously troubled shoot of Apocalypse Now, which spun far over schedule and far over budget, taking a considerable toll on leading man Martin Sheen (who had himself been brought in after production began, to replace original lead Harvey Keitel). When the time came to shoot Willard’s breakdown in a Saigon hotel — on Sheen’s birthday — the actor decided getting good and hammered would help him go to a darker place. It did: he sobbed uncontrollably, cut open his hand while punching a mirror, and screamed at his director, who ended up using much of the footage in the film. Sheen had a heart attack shortly thereafter.

Rip Torn, Maidstone

For all his brilliance as an actor, Rip Torn has always been a bit of a loose cannon, from the scuffles with Dennis Hopper that got him booted from Easy Rider to his drunken, accidental bank break-in a few years back. So the idea of putting him together with the combustible personality and massive ego of Norman Mailer was probably a sketchy one to begin with — particularly since Mailer’s three films used a Cassavetes-inspired improvisational approach. And that apparently was all the go-ahead Torn needed to go after Mailer with a hammer while cameras rolled and capture the ugly, strange, ear-biting melee that followed.

Peter Finch, Network

As far as scripted on-screen movie meltdowns go, it’s hard to think of one that has permeated American culture quite as thoroughly as Peter Finch’s diatribe in Sidney Lumet’s 1976 classic. Suicidal has-been news anchor Howard Beale is on the way out at the UBS Evening News, but instead of going quietly, he comes on the air and implores his viewers to walk away from their televisions, open up their windows, and… well, you know the rest.

Paul Giamatti, Sideways

Would-be author and wine aficionado Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) has pretty much hit bottom when he has his big meltdown in Alexander Payne’s terrific adaptation of Rex Pickett’s novel: the girl of his dreams has dumped him, and he’s received yet another rejection letter for his book. So he goes to a wine tasting room to try to drown his troubles. He ends up losing control and even (shudder) drinking from the spit bucket.

Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment

Oscar loves a good temper tantrum, and Shirley MacLaine may very well have won her Terms of Endearment statue for this unforgettable scene. Her daughter (Debra Winger) is in the hospital with cancer. She gets a shot for her pain at 10:00. It’s after 10:00. The rest of the scene kind of speaks for itself.

Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

Another Oscar-winning explosion comes at the end of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 masterpiece, in the (spoiler!) final confrontation between Daniel Day-Lewis’ greedy oilman and the smug preacher who has been his antagonist for years. In the picture’s epilogue, after a detailed explanation of exactly how he’s consumed his enemy’s milk-and-ice-cream drink, he finally loses control.

Steve Martin, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

That grisly bit of business out of the way, we move to the “comic meltdown” section — which must begin with this priceless scene from John Hughes’ 1987 comedy classic. Poor Neal Page (Steve Martin) is just trying to get home for Thanksgiving. After various bits of traveling misfortune and far too much time in the company of a gregarious stranger (John Candy), Neal finally seems to be home free with a rental car. And then… well, he’ll explain it.

Chevy Chase, National Lampoon’s Vacation

John Hughes really was a master of the funny (yet utterly unhinged) conniption fit. Four years before Planes, he wrote the inaugural installment of National Lampoon’s Vacation, in which the Griswold family takes a disastrous cross-country trip to the Wally World amusement park. But when it all gets to be too much and his wife and kids suggest turning around and heading home, father Clark (Chevy Chase) goes off. (Hughes would revisit the beat with a similar scene in 1989’s Christmas Vacation.)

John Goodman, The Big Lebowski

Oh, like you didn’t know this was the eventual destination. The queen mother of all the John Goodman freak-outs, this is indeed what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps.