Roar (1981) has been called “the most dangerous movie ever made.” How did it earn such a dubious distinction, you ask? Well, the cast and crew of the film worked with more than 130 wild animals—including panthers, tigers, lions, and elephants—that were allowed to roam free while the cameras rolled. The actors often appear to be genuinely terrified as these animals pursue them, knowing they could strike at any moment (and they often did). 70 people were injured during the making of the film.
Roar was the brainchild of Noel Marshall, one of the executive producers of The Exorcist, and his wife, actress Tippi Hedren, most famous for her lead role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Over a period that lasted more than a decade, Marshall and Hedren, along with Noel’s sons John and Jerry and Tippi’s daughter Melanie Griffith, lived with these animals, while simultaneously shooting Roar. The entire family starred in the film, which Noel wrote and directed.
Roar has also been called the most expensive home movie ever made, costing $17 million. It tanked upon release, grossing just $2 million. Marshall, who died in 2010, would never direct another motion picture.
Roar defies categorization. On the surface, it’s an action/adventure film, but there are also elements seemingly taken from horror movies, documentaries, and slapstick comedies. At times it feels like you’re watching a bizarro-world live-action Disney film! This movie is totally captivating, comical, suspenseful, and terrifying. In short, Roar is nuts.
Alamo Drafthouse CEO/founder Tim League is a big fan of the film. In fact, he’s so passionate about Roar that he became an expert on its history and secured the rights to re-release it. A limited theatrical run in select cities begins April 17th, with Blu-ray/DVD/On Demand availability coming this summer.
I emailed Tim League a number of questions about this one-of-a-kind motion picture.
It took eleven years to make Roar—what took so long?:
Tim League: I like to think of Roar as a sort of Boyhood where the family expands beyond the mom, dad and children to include an adopted family of more than 130 lions, tigers, leopards, panthers and jaguars. Tippi Hedren and Noel Marshall first had the idea to shoot Roar back in 1971 when they were on safari and saw an abandoned house overrun with lions; they thought the concept of a family living in a house with lions would make an excellent premise for a film. Daktari had been wildly popular a few years prior, and they figured Roar would be a similar hit while upping the stakes. So, they immediately sought out world-renowned big cat experts to find out if such a thing could be done. These experts responded unanimously with words to the effect of, “You must be brainsick. Do NOT do this.” Undeterred, Marshall and Hedren set about the ten-year process of bringing big cats into their Hollywood home in small batches, one after another, to acclimate the animals to the family. The theory was that if they lived together with the lions from the time they were cubs, they would then escape injury when on set with these “familiars.” The other factors that caused delays with the production were two floods that wiped out the entire set, one raging forest fire, and times when the entire crew would quit after a particularly harrowing day. They also lost their financing halfway through the production and stopped to gather personal funds to get the film across the finish line. Most experts consider Roar to be the most disaster-plagued film in the history of Hollywood.
More with Tim League, plus an exclusive clip from ‘Roar,’ after the jump…