The Story of Roar; The Most Dangerous Movie Ever Made

More and more animals are heading towards extinction with every passing year, and the primary reasons for that are trophy hunting and deforestation. Tigers, mountain lions, snow leopards, eagles, whales, African elephants, and red wolves are only some of the endangered animals that are actively being hunted by humans for various reasons. Some hunters like to get high on adrenaline, while others hunt simply because it feels therapeutic to them. Then, some hunters salvage certain parts of animals like elephant tusks and whale blubber for commercial use.

Unless we restrain our feral urge to feel superior, and unless we stop treating animals as if they don’t matter, we might end up alone on this planet. To prevent that from happening, we need to spread awareness regarding the issue. Every single one of us should be an advocate for animal rights because being the voice of the voiceless is what makes us human.

In a bid to emphasize just how important the need for global animal welfare was, Tippi Hedren, along with her husband and director, Noel Marshall, spent upwards of 11 years working on Roar, which is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous movies of all time. In this article, we will walk you through the history of the film, including its production, the challenges faced, and the reception.

The Most Dangerous Movie Ever Made

There have been a lot of dangerous movies made over the years; some involved fight scenes on skyscrapers, while others involved deep sea filming; however, it’s hard to argue that the production of any of those movies involved more risks and dangers than Roar.

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When you shoot crazy race scenes which involve drifting and power sliding, most of the time stuntmen are users who are experts at performing the most dangerous moves. Similarly, with the use of deceptive CGI, bloody fight scenes can also be simulated without many risks. However, when you make a movie with predatory wild cats on set, the level of danger is unprecedented.

Made to Send A Message

Tippi Hedren is regarded as the brains behind the whole project. She was a vehement animal rights activist at the time she decided to make a movie with her then-husband, Noel Marshall, regarding animal exploitation.

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The idea of the movie was positive, and the message it was supposed to send was very powerful, but conceiving something so dangerous almost seemed impossible in the beginning. However, the adamant duo was able to find enough willing team members to start the project.

Production Lasted For 11 Years

Most movies are completed within 2-3 years. Actors can’t attach themselves to a movie that takes more than a couple years to get ready, as it’s not financially viable for them. However, for this movie, Tippi and Noel were able to find willing actors and crew.

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The movie was produced over some time of 11 years. After the crew was set up and the animals were assembled in 1970, the production began, and it didn’t end till 1981 when the movie was released across Europe.

A Bloody Affair

Roar isn’t the most dangerous movie ever made because the idea of having huge wild cats on set can be frightening; it is the most dangerous movie ever made because around 120 members of the cast and crew suffered injuries during production.

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The predatory animals were left free on set, and naturally, they ended up mauling a lot of the team members. Many had to be restricted to bed after suffering from bone fractures and scalping, while others only suffered minor bruises and scratches.

A Box Office Failure

The movie was a complete financial failure. Even though the primary objective of the film was to get the message out to the general public, the moviemakers were surprised by the lack of business it did.

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Around 17 million US dollars were spent on the production, marketing and release of the movie, but it only garnered $2 million in sales. The film was re-released in 2015, but even then, it didn’t really make the rounds much.

The Story of a Kenyan Biologist

The movie tells the story of a Kenyan biologist who lives in a two-story house along with seven different species of wild cats. One day, his separated wife and 3 children come to visit him, but because he is late to receive them, they take a bus directly to the house.

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When they reach there, they are welcomed by a hostile pack of huge cats. The Humane Society did release messages claiming that no animals were harmed during the production, but no such claim was made about the crew.

One of Its Kind

The filmmakers didn’t want to use CGI to depict animal attacks, so many actors and crew members had to get mauled on screen for scenes. They were subsequently shipped to the ER. In addition to those, a lot of mauling also went on behind the scenes.

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Because the lives of so many people are put at risk when making such movies, nobody really attempts or even thinks about trying them anymore. Roar was indeed one of a kind.

Noel Marshall Was a Go-Getter

Noel Marshall spent early childhood in Sothern Chicago, where there were one too many gangs running the show. He had eleven younger siblings, and he developed a knack for protecting at a very tender age.

Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren with their animals on their San Fernando Valley compound. 25th January 1982. (Photo by Sanderson, Eddie/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

He started his career as an agent for Hollywood actors, and then a producer. He first gained worldwide attention for being the executive producer of The Exorcist. He was known to be very ambitious, impulsive, and dedicated towards all his projects.

Tippi Hedren Was a Model-Turned-Actor

Tippi was Marshall’s agent before she became his wife. Before they got married, she used to work as a model until she appeared in a commercial, which caught the attention of a certain Alfred Hitchcock. She went on to sign a 5-year contract with the legendary director.

Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren and his sons John and Jerry with their animals on their San Fernando Valley compound. 25th January 1982. (Photo by Sanderson, Eddie/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

During the time, the pair made two movies together; Marnie and The Birds. Working with Hitch gave her the courage and liberty to think freely and out-of-the-box, which ultimately led to her risking her life to make a movie about animal welfare.

Owning a Pet

Owning a bear or a leopard (or to a lesser extent, a dog) as a domestic pet, is a way of bringing the wild into our “civilized” lives. Even though people like to believe that our civilization is free of predators and violent animals, that is not the case.

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Human civilization is still ridden with predators that possess malice and ill intent. So, in a way, owning a pet is accepting the truth: our most domesticated, homey, “civilized” places are filled with predators.

Hitch and Hedren

Even though Hitchcock introduced Hedren to mainstream Hollywood, she believes he did more bad for her than good. After staying civil for a small time, Hitch started stalking Hedren. He used to drive by her house and stare at her from within his limo for hours on end.

Alfred Hitchcock and American actress Tippi Hedren explore Cannes together after the premiere of his latest thriller ‘The Birds’ in which she plays the title role. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

He even forbade male actors from touching her and left food baskets at her doorstep with notes that contained words like “Eat me.” Hedren claims that he stared her even when he was deep in conversation with crew members.

The Bedroom Pecking Scene

There were many strange scenes filmed for The Birds, like in most Hitchcock movies, but the birds pecking scene easily topped the charts for this particular movie. As Hedren arrives in the room, she is attacked by a huge flock of angry pigeons, gulls, and ravens.

American actor Tippi Hedren and a group of children run away from the attacking crows in a still from the film ‘The Birds’ directed by Alfred Hitchcock. (Photo by Universal Studios/Getty Images)

For the scene, there had to be a sense of surprise involved. Hedren was startled to see the birds come at her out of the blue. They pecked at her face as if they liked the taste of her. They were even tied to her so that they couldn’t fly away. The filming for this scene lasted 5 days.

Hedren Never Finished Marnie

Hitchcock once said, “Blondes make the best victims. They resemble virgin show which shows the bloody footprints perfectly”. The unapologetic harasser assaulted Hedren during the shooting of Marnie, while she was in her dressing room.

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After Hedren rejected his advances, he threatened to end her career and claimed that he would destroy her, but Hedren didn’t succumb to the threats and fled the scene. The pair never talked again, and the movie was completed via the use of intermediaries.

Everybody Knew the Truth About Hitchcock

The saddest part in all of this was that everyone knew the truth about Alfred Hitchcock. Bear in mind that we are still talking about the 1960s; a time where feminism hasn’t really become a global phenomenon and women are used to being treated as the inferior gender.

Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) and Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) walk among Dead Sea gulls in a scene from the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock horror, The Birds. (Photo by John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

It’s believed that Hitchcock’s wife, Alma was also aware of these lowly acts of harassment, but nobody felt like questioning the famous and influential director who was stepping on people as if he was the Overseer.

Hedren and Marshall; A Match Made in Heaven?

Well, not really. If we talk about compromise heaven, then maybe, but the two definitely didn’t marry out of love. Hedren herself admitted that she got married in an attempt to escape her past and Marshall was the most convenient distraction she could think of.

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Marshall was an impulsive, towering figure too, but there wasn’t malice or savagery in his intentions; he was a beast yes, but of a different kind. Hedren once said that she is more than willing to work with lions, but ravens are a definite no-no.

Feline Poaching Was at an All-Time High

After getting married, Hedren and Marshall went on a safari across the Serengeti in Tanzania. During the 1960s, wild feline poaching was at an all-time high. Experts believed that big cats might be completely wiped out before the turn of the century.

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During this innocuous safari, the couple noticed something that became the inspiration for Roar. They saw a house that was filled with immense pride of lions. There were predatory cats everywhere you see; the balcony, the hallway, the dining room, the roof, and even beside windowsills. This was their great epiphany moment which resulted in them saying, “Let’s make a movie.”

Lions, Lions, and More Lions

Many movies are given peculiar names in the beginning. A lot of filmmakers, off the top of their head, think of something that’s often not catchy, only to change it at a later time. The same happened with Hedren and Marshall when they named the movie something completely different in the beginning.

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Even before the script writing began, they had decided to call the movie, “Lions, Lions, and More Lions.” If it sounds like they went with the first idea that popped in their head, that could pretty much be the case. However, it wasn’t set in stone, and they decided to rename the movie later on.

A Pride of Lions on Set Is Tricky Business

Figuring out the logistics of a movie set which was supposed to be filled with wild animals was no joke. Hedren and Marshall were informed that to comply with the moviemaking standards, they would need at least two experienced trainers per beast. This would mean that they would need around 300 trainers for the 150 animals present on set.

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A handling expert suggested raising their own cubs for the movie instead. This was before the Endangered Species Act of 1972, and you could basically order a tiger via mail. As word spread around Hollywood, many predator parents donated generously for the movie.

The Cubs Had a Flying Time

The first set of carnivores arrived in 1971. They were kept in Hedren and Marshall’s Beverly Glenn home, which was situated alongside the Bel Air, within the mountains. Most of the cats were cubs, and they had a flying time living life in the posh home.

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They spent their days wrestling each other around the huge house. They chewed $2000 couches and $3000 shoes, shredded a lot of expensive designer clothing, and were fed with some of the most exquisite meals ever made for animals.

The Neighbours Weren’t Amused

Having cute cubs roaming around the house and trying to bite your toes with their tiny, round teeth is fun until the neighbors start to complain. It makes sense too; you might compromise on the roars because of the cuteness, but to them, it’s just a bunch of loud, never-ending roars.

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At every daybreak, the lions would leave the house and let out a few unapologetic howls and rumbles. The thunder of their voices echoed across the mountains, and the neighbors weren’t impressed. Hedren famously convinced the first complaining neighbor that the sounds were made by a motorcycle.

Raising Cubs Isn’t Child Play

Pets like to move in and out of the house of their own accord, but as the owner, you have to establish a set of rules regarding outdoor and indoor time. However, implementing those rules is often not the most straightforward task in the world.

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Dogs might not escape through the doggy door once you give them a small talking-to, but it’s a whole different ballgame to try and ask lions to stay in the house when they don’t want to. Hedren found it out the hard way.

Out and About

One day while out on a stroll, Hedren saw one of the male lions out and about when she thought he was in the house. He was casually loitering in the middle of the road and was headed towards Beverly Hills. She had to gallop and stop her from going any further.

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Another day, as a neighbor made his way to his garden, he saw four huge lions yawning next to his lawnmower, with their teeth glowing in the afternoon sun. The inevitable finally happened when an animal control officer visited Hedren and Marshall and issued a lion eviction notice.

Marshall and Hedren’s Shenanigans Aren’t Too Bohemian

Having a whole pack of lions in your mansion does sound lucrative, but when you really think about it, the modern-day pet owners and animal lovers are not too different. We all know someone who owns multiple dogs and cats that gnaw at their expensive household items and drool at everything that exists.

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We also know people who adopt stray and deserted dogs one after the other, only to find their homes crowded with dogs of all breeds and sizes. A lot of people complain about their neighbors’ animals roaming around their backyards, infiltrating their lawns, and barking at everything that moves.

Where to Move the Cats?

Anyway, the big cats had to be moved someplace. So, the pair purchased a huge ranch just outside Los Angeles. In addition to the 71 lions, they also ended up adding two elephants, four leopards, two Jaguars, four cranes, nine panthers, 26 tigers, ten pumps, and one tigon to the mix.

September 1966: American actor Tippi Hedren stands with her husband, the American movie producer Noel Marshall, her daughter, future American actress Melanie Griffith, and three unidentified boys at the opening of the ‘Ice Follies,’ Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Max B. Miller/Fotos International/Getty Images)

They were also thinking about a hippo, but they decided against it. To give the animals a comfortable place to live in, they got a colonial mansion made; with a flat roof and all. They transformed the California desert to look like the Tanzanian Serengeti within a matter of a few months. A lot of Mozambique bushes, cottonwoods were planted.

They Went to Great Lengths

The pair went to great lengths to make sure the animals felt at home, and a vivid image of the Tanzanian Serengeti was portrayed. They even created a lake near the house by damming a creek. Terrence Minogue, the composer for the film actually got his piano moved to the house. He sat down alongside the lions to compose a score with their growls in the background.

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Marshall was the main scriptwriter. After he had come up with the first draft, he persuaded Japanese and British investors to provide the funds for the movie. The most significant expense was food, as all the animals needed around 10 to 25 pounds of fresh meat every day.

Hedren As the Lead

Marshall believed in his wife’s ability to lead the line; that’s why he cast her as the mother; the lead role in the movie. To further keep things close to the family, the pair decided to cast their own children as the Kenyan’s children in the movie. To be fair, they were all also actors.

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Hedren was adamant at getting Jack Nicholson to play the role, but he wasn’t interested in being that close to a hungry set of predators; nor was any other actor. So, naturally, Marshall had to be cast as Hank, the Kenyan biologist.

The Leader, Director, Actor, Producer, Lion Tamer Nearly Died on the First Day

After casting himself as the lead actor, Marshall was set to make history. However, he almost died on the very first day of production. To entice more investors, Marshall stirred up a fight between some male lions and picked up the camera.

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There was feline turmoil everywhere. Tens of lions quarreled each other with their paws, claws, and teeth. Loud roars emerged from the feline stomachs as if they were hungry for each other’s blood. One of the points the movie wanted to make was that deep down, lions were friendly and peaceful creatures who just wanted the right kind of leadership to pacify them. To prove the astuteness of that point, Marshall jumped in to be that pacifying alpha-male but ended up getting his hand bitten poorly. All this was caught on camera, and the scene did make the final cut.

Blood Poisoning

Getting bitten by angry lions with sheer ferocity can leave you with scars that last a lifetime; but Marshall contracted something else from the bites too: blood poisoning. The things got so out of hand that he was within 10 hours of coma or death.

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Filming had to be suspended, and the periodic suspensions continued on and off for the next 5 years. Rearing predatory cats and making them act according to your needs is a full-time job. Marshall and Hedren were entirely owned by the cats.

Hedren Didn’t Remain Unscathed Either

While Marshall was still recovering from the aftereffects of his injuries, Hedren got scalped by an infuriated lioness. She tore into Hedren’s cranium as if it were made of rubber. The crunching sound of the bone breaking, Hedren claims, has gotten forever etched in her memory.

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Hedren’s injury knocked her out, and she was lucky that there were lion tamers present nearby who saved her life. She contracted black gangrene from the incident. She also had to remain hospitalized for a long time.

Other People Also Suffered Gravely

Hedren and Marshall weren’t the only ones who suffered from serious injuries. The same lioness who got the better of Hedren ripped Jan de Bont, the cinematographer’s skin from neck to the end of his forehead. He got “peeled like a grapefruit.”

Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage

The attack was so ferocious that De Bont’s assistant director, who had just started work that day, quit the job. In addition to him, twenty other crew members also hung up their boots. Melanie Griffith, Helen’s daughter, was also attacked by a 3-year-old lioness. She had to undergo reconstructive surgery to get her face back.

Animals Weren’t Too Kind to Each Other Either

Keeping the animals away from the humans was only one half of the problem; preventing them from tearing each other apart was the other. An elephant almost took out another. One cheetah was able to jump over a 12-foot fence.

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A lion incredibly escaped from the premises, and the search for him lasted for 3 days. Hedren had to spend $3000 on a helicopter which eventually spotted the elusive cat casually taking a nap under a bridge.

Victims Also Included Outsiders

The crew and cast members knew exactly what they were signing up for when they signed the contracts, but people who had nothing to do with the production of the movie also got mauled by the furious, captive lions.


A neighbor was interested in seeing those many lions up close, and when allowed to visit, he also brought along his children. His 9-year-old boy got mauled by a lioness, a few seconds into the visit. The book “The Cats of Shambala” by Hedren includes a photo o the incident. Needless to say, the photo is not one for the weakhearted.

The Lone Survivor

Amidst all this bloody chaos, there was but one person who survived the production unscathed. Kyalo Mativo, a Kenyan native, was a member of the cast who had appeared in a few German films in the past.

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Motivo’s role was of a friend who helps the protagonist in cleaning the house before his trip to the airport, which he also helped him with. Unlike Marshall, Mativo knew the cats deeply. He would abandon the set when his scenes weren’t being filmed, and would only return when needed. “Where I come from, we don’t kiss or cuddle wild animals; we respect them, care for them, but we don’t expect them to be gentle caresses.”

Watching the Movie is Terrifying

When you see Marshall, Tippi, and other cast members try to escape the grasp of the huge lions, you feel your heart pound and your eyes open as wide as possible. You fail to acknowledge the fact that there is no CGI involved in the filming, and these people are actually, willingly, trying to avoid death while holding hands with it.

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The finished product actually was quite depictive of the efforts the crew and production team put in. In the scene where the family comes face-to-face with the lions, you can see them running and hiding behinds wardrobes, lockers, and basically anything that they can find. The terror on their faces and the urgency in their body movements do feel as real as it can possibly get.

Keeping the Lions Friendly Was Not the Only Production Obstacle

The production team was hit with many obstacles during the filming process. When almost 80 percent of all scenes had been completed, a 10-foot-high wave of water hit the premises. Thousands of tons of liquid submerged the compound; the first floor was ridden with mud, and a lot was destroyed.

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The editing bay was wiped out, and the water also took out a lot of the plantation. Cages and walls collapsed, allowing a lot of the animals to escape. The jailbreakers included Robbie, who was the star of the film; the only gentle giant. Robbie tragically ended up getting killed by the Sherriff Department. So much for being gentle.

The Most Plague Riddled Production Ever

Soon after the set was resurrected, a 250-mile-long blaze surrounded the ranch. The animals were covered in smoke and ash, but thankfully, they did stay away from the fire. The flood, the blaze, the injuries, and the chaos led one critic to call Roar “the most plague-riddled production ever.”

Ellen Degeneres & Tippi Hedren (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

The only reason Roar was completed was that nobody wanted to let all the sacrifices go in vain. They wanted something to come out of it. The movie ended up costing a staggering 17 million dollars to the investors and producers.

The Aftermath Wasn’t Nice

Nobody came off unscathed after the movie; not physically, not emotionally. Life for Hedren and Marshall became very uneasy, and they soon became distant. Hedren claims that the pair had stopped exchanging gifts by 1978.

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The $17 million figure would today be equal to $80 million. That’s definitely a lot, even considering the circumstances. The movie only made $2 million in return and was never released in America, because Marshall had a falling out with American studios.

Critics Weren’t Too Kind Either

Roar was a critical nightmare. Not one critic lauded the film, and everybody seemed to find something unique to dislike about the film. The voiceovers weren’t good at all, and the cinematography could have been a lot better.

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The dialogues were really corny and predictable, the camera work was very dodgy, and the jump cuts were just one too many. The plot was also very weak, and it looked as if the storyline was put together on the fly.

The Real Objective of the Movie Was Never Realized

When Marshall and Hedren stepped out to make a movie about a family trying to adjust with lions living in their house, they wanted to have a no-holds-barred kind of setting, but even though they didn’t have much fencing, there were still one-too-many mental walls.

Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

So many possibilities could have been explored, so many scenes could have been filmed a little more cautiously, and so many injuries could have been avoided. When you are doing something risky, you should at least ensure that you do it right.

The Re-Release

Despite being berated by critics and fans alike, the movie’s screening rights were purchased by Drafthouse Films in 2015. Roar did eventually make it to American soil, albeit 25 years late. A movie that involved close encounters with lions was actually going to hit the cinemas.

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A trailer was released, and the hype was created, but sadly, once again the movie failed to live up to the bidding. Marshall and Hedren had given up on the film, and their relationship a long time ago. They divorced after the film was a commercial failure, with Hedren deciding to spend life with the animals, and Marshall going back to the commercial-making life.

A Story That Could Have Been Told Better

After the failed endeavor to make a cinematic statement, Hedren laid the foundation for The Roar Foundation in 1983. She became outspoken on her stance of being against owning carnivores, after learning from her experiences during Roar filming.

Photo by Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic

Despite being a commercial and cinematic (for the most parts) failure, Roar was an effort that had the right motivation, just not the right implementation. Marshall died in 2010 from brain cancer, but both always maintained that if they were to do it all over again, they would do a lot of things very differently.