After watching a movie featuring animals in peril, we are always comforted by the message in the credits that none were harmed during filming. However, some of these animals do suffer tragedies on set. Much of the issue stems from the organization tapped to monitor the action, the non-profit American Humane Association (AHA). Most of the AHA’s budget is derived directly from the film industry itself. The conflict of interest is clear—it would be like your boss paying you to tattle on him and get him fired.

The American Humane Association is the only organisation allowed to bestow the disclaimer on a movie after trade-marking the first four words. They’ve been working to ensure animal actors – such as Uggie the dog in ‘The Artist’ or the equine thesps in ‘War Horse’ – have been treated humanely on movie sets since 1940, when a horse was needlessly killed during the filming of ‘Jesse James’.

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is director Francis Ford Coppola’s love letter to violence, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s book, Heart of Darkness. This grim vision of the Vietnam War sees a special forces operative sent into the jungle to eliminate a rogue agent named Kurtz. After a brutal journey, the op murders Kurtz with a machete. This attack is interspersed with footage of a water buffalo being ceremonially slaughtered (skip to 2:20 in the video above).

The buffalo was already marked for ritual sacrifice by the indigenous tribe cast as the disciples of Brando’s gone-native Colonel Kurtz, and the argument was that it would have been hacked to death whether or not the cameras were rolling. The movie, which was filmed in the Philippines, was not monitored by the American Humane Association and, not surprisingly, it earned an “unacceptable” rating by the group.

The Grey

2011’s The Grey is a bleak psychological thriller which features Liam Neeson leading a group of oil drillers as they flee from killer wolves in Alaska. Groups like PETA were already angered by the film’s disturbing portrayal of wolves—populations of which have only recently begun to rebound off the endangered species list in the US—when it was discovered that the production actually bought four wolf carcasses from a trapper. Two of the corpses were used as props for the film. The other two were actually cooked and eaten by members of the cast.

This bizarre repast was arranged because of a scene in the film where the men manage to kill and roast one of their attackers. When asked to describe the taste of the wolf meat, Neeson claimed, “It was very gamey. But I’m Irish, so I’m used to odd stews. I can take it. Just throw a lot of carrots and onions in there and I’ll call it dinner.” Talk about method acting.
8 The Adventures Of Milo And Otis

The Adventures Of Milo And Otis

Originally released in Japan in 1986, The Adventures Of Milo And Otis depicted the best-buddies relationship between a kitten and a pug. (A U.S. release, three years later, tacked on some Dudley Moore narration.) But as cute as the film is, it’s been dogged by rumors of animal cruelty, with particular emphasis on a claim that 20 kittens were killed in the course of filming. Though the rumors were never substantiated, animal-rights activists point out that the film’s end credits don’t use the standard American Humane Association disclaimer (as it was filmed in Japan) but instead a more vague, “The animals used were filmed under strict supervision with the utmost care for their safety and well-being.” Regardless of offscreen abuse, a lot of what made it into the film meets any reasonable definition of animal cruelty. While some of the more harrowing scenes were cut for U.S. audiences, others remained, like the one in which a cat plunges more than a hundred feet off a cliff into the ocean. Other controversial scenes include Otis the pug fighting a bear and Milo floating helplessly down a river, then being attacked by a crab; they’re hardly heart-warming moments.

The Charge Of The Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade is a 1936 film starring Hollywood leading man Errol Flynn. It details a real-life disastrous cavalry charge during the Crimean War between Russia and an alliance of the United Kingdom, France, Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey). The climax of the film takes place at the Battle of Balaclava, a deadly rout for British forces.

To duplicate the illusion of horses toppling after being fired upon, the battlefield set was rigged with trip wires (5:24 in the above clip). At least two dozen horses were killed outright or had to be euthanized shortly afterward, their legs hopelessly splintered. A stuntman also died during this sequence. In the wake of this bloodbath, Congress intervened, and several laws were put in place to determine how animals were used in film, including an explicit ban on trip wires.

Life Of Pi

Life of Pi is a visually stunning adventure drama revolving around an Indian boy named Pi who is stranded aboard a lifeboat adrift in the Pacific Ocean. His plight is enormously complicated by the fact that the boat is shared by a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, who had belonged to Pi’s family’s zoo. Most of the film’s effects were created by virtue of computer generated imagery, including the Richard Parker scenes, but some were shot with a real tiger named King. While shooting a sequence that involved King swimming in a water tank, something went horribly wrong, and the tiger nearly died before his handler managed to pull him to safety. Luckily, this story has a happy ending, but it is included due to the controversy it generated.

The water tank scene, shot in Taiwan, was presided over by an American Humane Association representative named Gina Johnson. Despite the tiger’s brush with death, Johnson reported that all was well on the set of Pi. A leaked email she sent to a colleague had this to say about the incident: “This one take with him just went really bad and he got lost trying to swim to the side. Damn near drowned. I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION THIS TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE! Have downplayed the f—k out of it.” Worse still, Johnson was revealed to have romantic ties with a production executive for the movie. In the wake of this news becoming public in November 2013, Johnson resigned from her job with the AHA.

Snow Buddies

Like many of the movies on this list, Snow Buddies is an incredibly saccharine venture concerning a band of golden retriever puppies who are stranded in Alaska and become sled dogs. As puppies tend to grow incredibly fast, production studio Disney acquired many to fill the necessary roles. Unfortunately, it appears that several puppies were brought onto the set before growing old enough to be separated from their mothers—at approximately six weeks instead of the compulsory eight.

Basically, five puppies died on set. Disney unknowingly used underage and ill dogs during production, and several had to be put down after contracting parvovirus. Dogs used on movie sets must be at least eight-weeks-old, and these weren’t. The breeder who supplied the poor creatures was charged with fraud for falsifying health documents. Not the best PR for a Disney flick.


For Manderlay, the ill-fated second film (after Dogville) in Lars von Trier’s incomplete trilogy about America, the director didn’t wait for the press conference to stir up controversy. His story about a ’30s Alabama plantation where slavery persists, roughly 70 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, was certain to be provocation enough. But while shooting on a sound stage in Sweden—von Trier’s fear of flying has kept him off American shores—he had the characters slaughter a donkey for food onscreen.

In response, actor John C. Reilly (best known for appearing with Will Ferrell in slapstick comedies) quit his role in the film. Von Trier eventually cut the donkey scene from the movie out of concern that the scandal would destroy his project, but went on to claim that the animal’s fate would have been far worse if he hadn’t purchased it.

Speed Racer

Speed Racer is a live action adaptation of the Japanese cartoon series, helmed by the Wachowskis (who directed the Matrix series). This is another one of the few films that the AHA refused to endorse, calling it “unacceptable.” This rating stemmed from an incident where one of the chimpanzees portraying the character of “Chim-Chim” bit an actor without provocation and was allegedly beaten in response.

Later on in the production, a chimp was struck out of frustration by a trainer while rehearsing. This occurred in front of an AHA monitor and was labeled a clear violation of AHA guidelines, which forbids physically punishing animals in favor of positive reinforcement methods. The monitor stopped the training session immediately and reported the incident to producers. Fortunately, the chimp was uninjured.


With their whirling, Batmobile-style wheel-destroyers, the chariot races in 1959’s Ben-Hur still stun audiences 50 years after the fact, but they’re nowhere near as dangerous as the scenes in the 1925 version. Directed by second-unit man B. Reeves “Breezy” Eason—whose nickname derived from his fast shooting methods, which unfortunately included a lax attitude toward on-set safety—the race sequences claimed the lives of a human stuntman and at least five horses. Eason intended to make the races as real as possible, offering a bonus to the winning driver and whipping the crowd of extras into a genuine frenzy, which apparently continued unabated even after some were nearly killed by a flying horseshoe.

Heaven’s Gate

In 1978, director Michael Cimino released The Deer Hunter, earning Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. Then he steered his career catastrophically into the toilet. His next movie, Heaven’s Gate, a drama centered around the conflict between land barons and immigrants in the Old West, was a ghastly disaster. A critical and financial failure (some claim that it’s the worst movie ever made), Heaven’s Gate also generated extreme controversy for the treatment of animals on the set.

The AHA was actually barred from the set of this film, and for good reason: The cruelty directed at the animals was unimaginable. Rumors from the set indicated that cows were cut to provide “fake” blood for the actors. During a battle scene, four horses were apparently killed, including one which was blown up with dynamite. Real cockfights were staged, and cattle were gutted to use their entrails as props. A lawsuit by one of the owners of a horse abused on the set settled for an undisclosed amount out of court. In the wake of this scandal, the Screen Actors Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers passed a referendum that would require the AHA to be on set for all future shoots.