Three of the Most Intense Movie Set Construction Projects of All Time

Movie making is an expensive business. Budgets into the hundreds of millions of dollars can include everything from A-list stars salaries,to catering, insurance, crew salaries, visual effects, and the construction of the physical sets themselves. Many studios are opting to add visual effects to their film scenes in post-production, however there are still the directors who, for many reasons, opt to construct their massive and elaborate sets from scratch. These impressive undertakings often include meticulous details and fully-functioning apparatus – all to give viewers the illusion of the actors being in fantasy environments and impossible locations. Be it a nod to tradition, or for purely artistic reasons, large temporary set construction (and the accompanying unbelievable budgets) along with the use of specialized vehicles and equipment, can rival the most expensive full-scale permanent construction projects.

1) The Matrix Reloaded (2003) –Wachowski Brothers,Directors


Known for its elaborate and innovative visual effects, it may come as a surprise that Matrix Reloaded, the second film in The Matrix trilogy, required quite expensive and elaborate real-life sets. One of the biggest, and most complex, of the various construction projects came in the form of the set for the freeway scene. Because the scene required elaborate shooting over a long period of time it was determined that there were no suitable existing roads on which to film. Instead the crew built their own road, at a cost of $2.5 million. The film’s highway chase sequence took almost three months to shoot, longer than many films’ entire shooting schedule.

The mile and a half-long “101 Freeway”, complete with 19 foot walls, load bearing overpasses, and an off-ramp, was constructed on runways of the decommissioned Alameda Naval Air Station, in Alameda, CA. One of the freeway signs during the scene says “Whipple Ave ½, Woodside Rd 1½, Marsh Road 3¾”, which are three real consecutive freeway exits on the 101 freeway south of San Francisco. Thousands of tons of concrete were used to create the set. After the close of shooting, the set was deconstructed and much of the materials were recycled, but the darker pavement on top of the lighter concrete runway is still visible in satellite imaging programs.

2) Full Metal Jacket (1987) – Stanley Kubrick, Director/Producer


It’s uncertain the total budget of this war film. We do know, however, that to achieve the realism of Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket, the crew acquired the abandoned Beckton Gas Works and then spent two months partially demolishing and reconstructing it to resemble the Vietnamese town of Hue. For added authenticity, Kubrick also acquired four M41 tanks from a Belgian army colonel (a fan), and Westland Wessex helicopters painted Marine green to represent Marine Corps Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw helicopters for the set.

3) Waterworld (1995) – Kevin Costner, Director/Producer

Waterworld set

Water world is a 1995 American post-apocalyptic science fiction action film given a starting budget of $100 million. The movie is famous not for its eventual modest box-office success, but more because of its numerous construction failures. The movie ran ridiculously over-budget ($75 million over-budget, give or take), the sets were badly damaged by storms off the coast of Hawaii, and the smaller of the two sets even sank! The sets were so huge and required so many raw materials that it actually created a steel-shortage in Hawaii and extra building materials had to be flown in from California.


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