It's easy to forget how much goes into making a film—how many people it takes, how much time is spent, and all the foibles and faults that can disrupt the process along the way. Audiences are given a shiny finished product, and then they decide whether or not they like the film. This judgment determines the film's fate, completely disregarding how much blood, sweat, tears, and money has gone into the overall production.
But a lot happens on set that audiences rarely find out about, from love affairs to financial drama and from health issues to near-death experiences. In fact, sometimes it's all the drama and chaos that actually ends up making the film a better work of art. Taking a glimpse behind the scenes of a film set is a chance to actually see the artists at work and observe their passion and process up close.
To get a better sense of what went into some of the world's most beloved films and take an unfiltered look at the stars and technicians behind them, Stacker compiled behind-the-scenes photos from 45 of the greatest movies of all time. In order to determine which films belonged here, Stacker used its data-backed ranking of the 100 best movies of all time.
Director Alfred Hitchcock is seen here with the star of "Psycho," Janet Leigh. The groundbreaking horror film contained a major plot twist for Leigh's character, Marion. Despite the film being one of the most successful of Hitchcock's career, the two never worked together again.
Errol Flynn, arguably the world's first action movie star, is pictured here listening to notes from director Michael Curtiz. Olivia de Havilland played Maid Marian, and "Robin Hood" was her third film playing opposite Flynn. This was also the first film from Warner Bros. shot with the three-strip Technicolor process.
In this photo, "Singin' in the Rain" stars Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly sit and chat with Fred Astaire. Although Astaire was not involved in the film, he gave dance advice to Debbie Reynolds, who also starred in the film, after he found her crying, feeling exasperated by Kelly's rehearsals.
Actor Tony Curtis, on the left wearing a dress, and Marilyn Monroe, right, talk to the film's director Billy Wilder. Wilder was hesitant to cast Monroe, and her behavior on set reportedly caused more work for everyone involved. Nevertheless, the film was a huge success and has had a lasting impact—the American Film Institute lists it as the #1 comedy of all time.
Director Marcel Carné basks with his crew under the glow of the set lights. "Children of Paradise" was made during the German occupation of France and it has since been acknowledged as one of the best French films ever made.
Mia Farrow, who plays the eponymous Rosemary, rehearses a scene in front of Tiffany and Co. while director Roman Polanski takes a look through the camera. "Rosemary's Baby" was a hit and has since become influential in the horror and suspense genre. The film features scenes in the now-storied Dakota apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Sitting in a carriage, stars Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh take direction from Victor Fleming. By 2020, the film maintained its status as the highest-grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation, and it was responsible for the first Oscar given to a Black actor—specifically, Hattie McDaniel for her portrayal of Mammy. However, the film has long been criticized for its overall stereotypical portrayal of African Americans and lighthearted approach to depicting slavery.
Omar Sharif has a moment with director David Lean on the set of "Lawrence of Arabia." Sharif would go on to work with Lean a few years later when the former starred in "Doctor Zhivago," with both films being larger-than-life epics that have had a lasting influence on cinema.
Stars James Hong, Faye Dunaway, and Jack Nicholson wait on set with director Roman Polanski. Screenwriter Robert Towne won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for "Chinatown" and the film is widely regarded as one of cinema's greatest film noirs.
Star Cary Grant takes direction from director Alfred Hitchcock. Grant made four films with Hitchcock, and "North by Northwest" was their final collaboration. Hitchcock enjoyed playing off of Grant's good-guy persona and handsome looks—elements that added surprise to his films' sinister and anxious undertones.
Here, Shirley MacLaine sits with director Billy Wilder. MacLaine has since discussed the spontaneousness on set of the romantic dramedy, and how she and co-star Jack Lemmon weren't always sure how the film's plot would conclude. The film won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, while Wilder won Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, the latter award with co-writer I.A.L. Diamond.
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks stand on the beaches of Normandy while filming the opening sequences of the film, which depicted the storming of the beaches on D-Day. Unlike a normal film production schedule, "Saving Private Ryan" was filmed almost completely in sequence from the first scene to the last. The production started with these intense scenes on the beach, which amount to about 25 minutes of the film.
A young Martin Scorsese stands with a young Robert De Niro, who stars in "Taxi Driver" as Travis Bickle. This was the pair's second collaboration, and the 2023 film "Killers of the Flower Moon" is their 10th collaboration.
"Anatomy of a Murder" director Otto Preminger watches as Duke Ellington works on the film's score. The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2012 and is one of the earliest films to use jazz music as its primary soundtrack.
Actors Tim Holt and Walter Huston join Huston's son and director of the film, John Huston, on set. Both father and son won Oscars for the film, for Best Supporting Actor and Best Director, respectively, with John also winning an Oscar for the screenplay.
Director Francis Ford Coppola sits at the camera with the film's star Robert De Niro standing in costume. "The Godfather Part II" is the second in Coppola's trilogy and his first and only collaboration with De Niro. Both Coppola and De Niro won Oscars for the film, and it was the first film sequel to ever win Best Picture.
Stars Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters share a look at a book while in costume. The horror film was the only film to be directed by prolific actor Charles Laughton.
Director George Lucas sits with actor Sir Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the film. The groundbreaking science fiction film, which began a multibillion-dollar franchise that continues today, was shot in a number of alien-like, picturesque locales, from Tunisia to Death Valley in California.
"Dr. Strangelove" stars Peter Sellers and Sterling Hayden are joined by director Stanley Kubrick, who is using a director's viewfinder. The satirical film has been ranked by the American Film Institute as 26th on its list of best American movies, and third on its list of funniest American movies. It has also been selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.
Director Federico Fellini directs actress Anita Ekberg. Ekberg's fame skyrocketed after her seductive scene opposite Marcello Mastroianni. She once reportedly shot an arrow at a paparazzo, striking him in the hand.
Director Stanley Kubrick is seen here with actor Kirk Douglas in costume as Dax, a colonel in the French Army during World War I. The film is thought to be one of the most influential anti-war films ever made.
Actor William Holden, on the right, speaks with director Sam Peckinpah. The movie was filmed in Mexico; many scenes were set deep in the dusty desert or at Parras de la Fuente, where the Americas' oldest winery can be found, which had still not adapted to electricity at the time of filming.
Director Carol Reed speaks with star Orson Welles in a dark tunnel in Vienna. Welles plays Harry Lime, a shadowy and mysterious character who barely makes an appearance—though his entrance has become one of the most iconic film entrances of all time. The film is noted for its innovative use of camera angles and dramatic, near-expressionist lighting.
From left to right sits Sally Stewart, Margaret Lockwood, director Alfred Hitchcock, and Googie Withers. An earlier Hitchcock film, "The Lady Vanishes" has become widely influential—so much so that it inspired two remakes.
Star Bette Davis is shown here sitting poised as ever on set. The film was the first movie ever to receive 14 total Academy Award nominations and it remains the only film to receive nominations for four different woman performers—Anne Baxter and Davis for Best Actress and Thelma Ritter and Celeste Holm for Best Supporting Actress.
Director and screenwriter Ingmar Bergman looks in the direction of his camera alongside his cinematographer Sven Nykvist. Nykvist has been acknowledged by many as one of cinema's greatest cinematographers—he won the Oscar for Best Cinematography for this film.
Star Barbara Stanwyck speaks with director Billy Wilder on the set of noir film "Double Indemnity." Though Stanwyck was Wilder's first choice for the role, she initially hesitated to accept it, daunted by the facts of the very real murder the script was based on.
Orson Welles, who starred in the film as well as directed and produced, sits in a wheelchair, smoking a pipe on set—Welles had chipped an ankle bone during filming. Although the film was initially a box-office flop and unsuccessful at the Oscars, the film has since been considered one of the best ever made, topping numerous lists including AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies and the British Film Institute's "Sight & Sound" decennial poll of critics.
Director Alfred Hitchcock speaks with Kim Novak, the star of "Vertigo." Hitchcock, who has since become known for his misogynistic behavior, clashed with Novak on set. Novak ultimately left acting to focus on painting and become a mental health advocate.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" star Marlon Brando has a discussion with the film's director, Elia Kazan. During the peak of his success, which coincided with McCarthy-era politics, Kazan found himself at the center of controversy when he appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and named eight friends who were fellow former members of the American Communist Party.
Actor Dennis Hopper, in costume as an American soldier in Vietnam, stands with director Francis Ford Coppola. The filming process for "Apocalypse Now" has been described as chaotic and extremely stressful—Coppola, who had invested $30 million of his own money into the production, had an epileptic seizure during filming and the film's star, Martin Sheen, suffered a heart attack.
Director Ridley Scott looks thoughtful while standing by his camera. The original "Alien" film has become a lauded and influential science-fiction and horror feat. The film's iconic protagonist Ellen Ripley, played in the film and three sequels by Sigourney Weaver, was initially supposed to be a male character.
Director and star Charlie Chaplin fixes the hair of his co-star, Paulette Goddard. "Modern Times" was Chaplin's final appearance as his iconic and unmistakable character, the Little Tramp.
Akira Kurosawa gives direction to his costumed cast. "Ran" is a reimagining of Shakespeare's "King Lear" set in 16th century Japan. The film earned Kurosawa his first Academy Award nomination for Best Director.
Producer Albert Ruddy speaks with the film's star Marlon Brando on set. Ruddy was an integral part of getting the real-life Mafia to cooperate and bless the film's production—the story of which is told in the Paramount+ show "The Offer."
French film star Alain Delon receives an adjustment from director Luchino Visconti. The film was shot in Sicily and is noted as a landmark of Italian film.
Sergei Eisenstein directs alongside his cinematographers Vladimir Popov and Eduard Tisse. "Battleship Potemkin" features an iconic and suspenseful sequence set on the Odessa Steps, a scene whose influence can be seen in similar scenes from "The Untouchables" and in a number of other films.
George Cukor directs John Howard, Katharine Hepburn, and Cary Grant on set. Prior to this film, Hepburn had spent a few years starring mostly in box office flops before she took on the role of the glamorous but messy (and ultimately relatable) Tracy Lord.
Alfred Hitchcock frames a shot with his stars Grace Kelly and James Stewart. "Rear Window" famously used only a single set and was entirely filmed in a constructed apartment as the location.
Director Frank Capra and star James Stewart laugh on the set of "It's a Wonderful Life." The Christmas film was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and has become a mainstay of holiday movie marathons.
Cinematographer Gregg Toland has a discussion on set with director William Wyler. "The Best Years of Our Lives" won Best Picture and Best Director as well as five other Academy Awards that year, and it was among the first 25 films chosen by the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry.
Alfred Hitchcock sits with his star, Ingrid Bergman. The film is known for the intense chemistry between Bergman and her co-star Cary Grant, a chemistry that also comes thanks to Hitchcock's famous affection for his leading lady.
Actors James Stewart and John Wayne flank director John Ford on set. Ford was famous for his Westerns, and his collaborations with Wayne have become influential and emblematic of classic American cinema.
Director Jean-Pierre Melville adjusts the helmet of a soldier on the Champs-Elysées. "Army of Shadows" was not seen in the United States until 2006, after which the film finally received numerous accolades including becoming that year's top pick by The New York Times.
The cast of the film, including Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, and Janet Leigh. Welles was also the director of the film, which didn't perform well at the box office and gave Welles limited career prospects in America. Decades later, Welles' preferred cut of the film was discovered and has received high acclaim ever since.
Story editing by Chris Compendio. Copy editing by Tim Bruns.