A work of imaginative fiction which is beset with a cluster of inexplicable problems almost from the start. The production could be in any medium, but, especially if it has a supernatural dimension, its production difficulties (which can extend to development as well) lead observers to speculate that it has somehow attracted a Curse. In its most extreme form, a series of tragedies and disasters start afflicting the cast and production crew, up to and including serious injury and death. This trope takes over as a courtesy detail after Development Hell and Creator Killer have taken their toll on a work.
Even though the tragedies, viewed objectively, are randomly clustered and coincidental, it doesn't take much for them to become "evidence" of a curse or supernatural activity.
A classic example might be the Exorcist franchise of horror movies: news coverage and popular legend (possibly assisted by shrewd press releases) points to inexplicable deaths, tragedies, and ill-fortune coming to people associated with the production. Then there is the Superman movie series - think Christopher Reeve's personal tragedy, of falling off his horse and becoming paraplegic; or Margot Kidder lapsing into extreme mental distress and requiring confinement to a secure facility for treatment.
Tragedies happen, and no causal link or actual curse is presumed. But popular imagination, aided by sensational news reporting, can be relied upon to attribute a "curse", and to make it a trope. And in Real Life, businesses or individuals who associate to a "cursed" production, or to a celebrity who died a tragic premature death, can also suffer inexplicable ill fortune.
Such incidences are often seen as having a Fortean dimension, belonging in the twilight zone between the completely explicable and the putative area of the supernatural.
Please append any instances to a work's Trivia tab. Not to be confused with Star Trek Movie Curse, which is a specialised form of damnation afflicting only odd-numbered films in the series.
Examples in real life:
- Scatological satirical adult comic Viz subverted this concept by inventing a completely spurious curse on long-running TV comedy Dad's Army. It excitedly reported that twenty years on from the final episode, all but one of the core cast had died in unexplained circumstances that the BBC was concealing from the public. It even listed them: Clive Dunn, died age 82; John leMesurier, died age 71; Arthur Lowe, died age 77; Arnold Ridley (died age 98); John Laurie (died age 83). Viz observed that the last surviving cast member, Ian Lavender (then around 45) must be quaking in his boots waiting for the inevitable moment the curse claimed him.note
- Superman left some weird legacy. For starters, his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster frequently were at odds with DC Comics regarding credits and payments, specially as despite conceiving the flagship superhero both at times lived near the poverty line. The most notable was during production of the 1978 movie, as their contract granted them no share of film royalties on their comic creation and they subsequently sued.
- A really tenuous link, but worth noting: The Other Wiki says "In 1963 John F. Kennedy's staff approved of a Superman story in which the hero touts the president's physical fitness initiatives, scheduled to be published with an April 1964 cover date. On November 22, Kennedy was shot and killed." Yes, Superman has been implied to be the other gunman in Dallas.
- George Reeves, the original TV incarnation of the Man of Steel in The Adventures of Superman, was found dead in suspicious circumstances, shot in the head with a loaded pistol near his hand. This was put down to suicide but it has been pointed out that the corpse must have remained alive for just long enough to clean any fingerprints off the weapon (a recently-oiled Luger with checkered grips, which would not retain prints that 50s-era CSI could detect).
- The two protagonists of the 1978 film endured hard times: Christopher Reeve famously became paralyzed due to a riding accident, and Margot Kidder was said to suffer real life Sanity Slippage following the movies.
- Other actors who played Superman struggled to have success outside of the iconic role. Henry Cavill could get a pass, Dean Cain kept working consistently, but it did not work not so well for Tom Welling and Brandon Routh though Routh has since averted the curse as he now plays Ray Palmer in Legends of Tomorrow.
- One production worth mentioning despite never having been filmed is the curse of the Atuk adaption. Atuk is the story of a fat Eskimo trying to make it in the big city. The first victim of this cursed script was John Belushi, who the creator had in mind to play the title role; he was preparing for the part when he died of a drug-overdose at the age of 33. The second victim was Sam Kinison- who nearly got around to making it but then freaked out and pulled out of doing it, and later died in a fiery car crash. Third victim was John Candy, who was in the process of reading the script when he died of a heart attack, and the last victim was Chris Farley who died of a drug overdose at the age of 33 much like his hero John Belushi- he wanted Phil Hartman to be his co-star, and Hartman later got shot by his own wife.
- Played with: Norm of the North is considered to be a spiritual successor to Atuk, but thankfully, no one involved with the film has suffered an untimely death. However, the flick has gone down in history as one of the worst animated films ever made.
- Blade Runner provides something of a variation on the theme: it suffered a similar curse, but instead of cast and crew members, it was the sponsors that got hit:
- Atari would go on to cause The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 with an ill-advised video game adaptation of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial;
- Bell would be broken up as a monopoly;
- Cuisinart would go bankrupt in 1989 and be acquired by Conair Corporation;
- Pan American Airlines was already undergoing problems since the Oil Embargo of '73. Then the Tragedy of Flight 103 happened, and everything went to hell in three years, the final straw being the price hikes caused by the Persian Gulf War;
- Coca-Cola would go on to create the infamous New Coke, which, though it wasn't enough to bring down the company (which is still going strong today), helped its chief rival Pepsi take the lead in the Cola Wars.
- Possibly the worst luck in film in history had The Omen (1976):
- During filming scriptwriter David Seltzer's plane was hit by lighting, as was star Gregory Peck's, as was executive producers Mace Neufelds'.
- A hotel Neufeld was staying at during production was bombed by the IRA, as was a restaurant the director and actors were scheduled to eat at. Luckily, no one died.
- One of the film's tiger handler's died. Gregory Peck's son shot himself. A plane scheduled for use in the film, which was rescheduled and used for a commercial flight instead, crashed and killed everyone on board.
- An assistant to special effects consultant John Richardson on the other hand, wasn't quite as lucky. On Friday the 13th of August 1976, Richardson crashed his car in Holland. His assistant was sliced through by the car's front wheel. Scrambling out of the wreckage, Richardson looked up and saw a road sign: Ommen, 66.6km.
- The Conqueror. Years after the making of this film, members of the cast and crew, most notably the superbly mis-cast John Wayne, were diagnosed with cancers and leukemia. Until somebody pointed it out, the common link to the film was never realized. It turned out to have been shot in the deserts of southern Utah, not far away (and more importantly, downwind) from a nuclear test site in Nevada. Even worse, they trucked the hot (radioactive) dirt from the desert back to Hollywood to finish off the sets they were building for verisimilitude. The cluster of cancers was due to having lived and worked on the film set, where the fall-out was densest... this is unique, as the cause of the "curse" - thirty years on - was so unmistakably clear, with ample evidence to back it.
- Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was so plagued with problems that production was shut down permanently after six days of filming. The documentary about the "unmaking-of" the film, Lost In La Mancha, is a little heartbreaking. The film was resumed and completed only in 2018, over thirty years after it was first mooted.
- To be honest, a lot of the production trouble was self-inflicted by Gilliam, who chose to make the movie without American money and employ several smaller European producers despite the story's necessary big budget (which led to financial disputes with each of them); shoot in the more picturesque Bárdenas Reales rather than in La Mancha (discovering too late that there is a reason why the Bárdenas Reales are not developed for human habitation after all); and cast very old actors to play the physical Don Quixote role, even though he isn't actually that old in the source material. The final ironic nail was the making-of (or "unmaking-of", as they called it): Gilliam began doing making-ofs of his films after the production of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen almost collapsed, in order to have something to show of his work if a production collapsed for real. When this happened to The Man who killed Don Quixote and Lost in La Mancha was released in its place, The Man who killed Don Quixote gained popularity as a cursed film, scaring potential investors and stars from plans to resume the project.
- The role of Don Quixote went through Jean Rochefort (born 1930), who injured his back in a riding scene; Robert Duvall (born 1931); Michael Palin (born 1943), who dropped out during a new round of financial trouble; and John Hurt (born 1940), who was diagnosed with pancreatitic cancer right before filming. In the end, the role fell ironically to Jonathan Pryce (born 1947), who had been part of the production since the beginning but was cast originally in a small role. Johnny Depp held on the main character role for a long time, but was eventually forced to drop out due to his commitment to to Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean and The Lone Ranger.
- Nearly all of Gilliam's films after Man of La Mancha run into trouble, causing Gilliam to say that he had been cursed by his failure to bring The Man who killed Don Quixote to the screen. The Defective Detective starring Nicholas Cage also collapsed; the adaptation of Good Omens was abandoned after studios deemed it too dark to film in the aftermath of 9/11; his choice cinematographer was fired from The Brothers Grimm by the Weinstein brothers; and lead Heath Ledger died during the filming of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
- The movie of A Confederacy of Dunces has been in Development Hell for years, initially since every fat comedian announced to be playing the lead died (John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley), and then when Will Ferrell and a supporting cast was announced, the head of the Louisiana State Film Commission was murdered. Then Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. And that seems to be the end of the attempts to make the film for now.
- Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers actually got its title because of this. Producer Moustapha Akkad asked screenwriter Daniel Farrands for a title idea. Because of problems with the weather during shooting (unseasonably early snow) and constant on-set re-writes that totally derailed the story, Farrands jokingly suggested "The Curse of Michael Myers" to suggest the production was cursed. Akkad ran with it. And this was BEFORE star Donald Pleasence died and extensive reshoots had to be done without him or the actor who had been playing Michael.
- The Exorcist had a Troubled Production many felt the Devil himself must have inflicted (though Prima Donna Director William Friedkin helped), and the cast and crew suffered afterwards:
- Actress Ellen Burstyn suffered a lifelong, crippling, spinal injury when a special effects stunt went inexplicably wrong - the wire she was on to simulate her possessed daughter throwing her across a room pulled with ten times the expected force, badly injuring her back.
- The child star Linda Blair later on developed mental illness that some excited people thought was demonic possession.
- This film employed a Roman Catholic priest to act as on-set chaplain and counsellor, not to act a technical adviser but to allay some very real fears among cast and crew, generated by the subject matter and what was acknowledged to be a genuinely creepy atmosphere. After one set (of the possessed girl's bedroom) caught fire and after the injury to Ms Burstyn, the Rev. Thomas Bermingham S.J. obligingly performed blessings in each new set in a way stopping short of actual exorcism note .
- Jason Miller, who played exorcist Father Karras, lived in a Jesuit seminary for a while to totally immerse himself in the manners and mind-set of a Catholic priest. A senior Jesuit who felt the film's subject matter was just asking for trouble gifted Miller a protective amulet of the Virgin Mary and explicitly warned him that there would be trouble ahead. A day or two later, Miller's eldest son was critically injured in a road accident.
- Ellen Burstyn herself is a convinced believer that this film was cursed. She lists nine people close to the production who she feels died in suspicious circumstances. Some can probably be discounted, like the ninety year old mother of a supporting actress with a very small part who died some years later. Others, like the carpenter who died in an on-stage accident building the set, or another carpenter who lost all the fingers on one hand in a freak accident with a power saw, seem more plausible "curse victims".
- Editing and post-production on the film was done in a studio whose address was... 666 Fifth Avenue, New York. Given the pre-publicity for the film that was already circulating, this cannot have been accidental?
- Even the sequels got a share of it, complete with a prequel that had to be shot twice.
- Poltergeist. This movie is popularly thought to have attracted a curse. It has been pointed out that real corpses were used as props in some scenes.
- Dominique Dunne, who played Dana in the first movie, died in November 1982 at age 22, after being strangled by her abusive former boyfriend John Thomas Sweeney.
- Julian Beck, 60,who played Henry Kane in Poltergeist II: The Other Side, died in September 14, 1985 of stomach cancer (diagnosed before he had accepted the role).
- Will Sampson, 53, who played Taylor the medicine man in Poltergeist II, died as a result of post-operative kidney failure and pre-operative malnutrition problems in June 1987.
- Heather O'Rourke, who played Carol Anne in all three movies, died in February 1988 at the age of 12 after a hospital misdiagnosis led her to be treated for the wrong ailment.
- Actress Jo-Beth Williams claimed that during the filming, a poltergeist was active in her own home: she would return home from set to discover things askew and out of place from the way they had been when she left earlier.
- Rosemary's Baby (1968)
For God's sake, Rosemary, drop that knife!
- Roman Polanski's career and personal life nosedived after making this creepy movie about the conception of Satan's child. He only escaped the massacre of his wife, the film's star Sharon Tate and five others, by being in London at the time. (The perpetrators of the Manson Family were alleged to be Satanists themselves)
- The film's composer died of a brain clot one year after making the film, the same way a character in the film dies.
- Producer William Castle nearly died of kidney failure shortly after the film was completed; he was heard reciting lines from the movie while in a near-death coma, such as
- The Return of the Musketeers (1988): British character actor Roy Kinnear was fatally injured on set when a formerly placid horse he was riding, one thought suitable for the actor, became uncontrollably wild and galloped away, eventually bucking him off into a wall. He died a day later from complications to a broken pelvis. Kinnear's family successfully sued the film makers for negligence. Director Richard Lester was so shaken by the incident (he had worked many times with Kinnear and considered him a friend) that he retired prematurely from the film business, despite a series of successes.
- The Wizard of Oz
- Buddy Ebson, the first actor cast as the Tin Man, was hospitalised after inhaling the aluminum powder that was used for his make-up, forcing the rule to be recast (with safer metallic greasepaint).
- Both Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West, and her stunt double Betty Danko, were seriously injured in separate accidents involving the pyrotechnics used for the Witch's appearances and disappearances.
- Four months after the movie was released Frank Morgan, who played the Wizard, was involved in a serious car accident.
- His chauffeur/house servant was killed in the December 1939 smash in New Mexico and Franks wife Alma was injured. Frank and his son George escaped unharmed.
- Like Linda Blair, Judy Garland's post-child star life was plagued with depression, mental illness, and other calamities. Some have said the Curse even encompassed her daughter, Liza Minelli.
- Virtually all adaptations of author Roald Dahl's works have done poorly at the box office. Ironically, his adaptation of Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice is still one of the 5 highest grossing Bond films of all time, adjusting for inflation.
- Pretty much any videogame adaptation, regardless of financial success or failure, is destined to get weak reviews.
- Similar to the A Confederacy of Dunces example above, a Fatty Arbuckle biopic has been stalled several times since every fat comedian announced to be playing the lead died (John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley).
- Hammer films given their subject matter, have been surprisingly free of manifestations of this trope. Except once. Their adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel The Jewel of the Seven Stars, subtly retitled Blood From The Mummy's Tomb, bcame known as "Hammer's cursed production". Star Peter Cushing dropped out of the film only three days in, when his wife died suddenly. A month into filming, the director dropped dead of a heart attack. One scene in the film involved filming the aftermath of a motorcyle accident and the retrieval of a corpse from the scene. A member of the production crew died in a motorcycle accident just as filming got to this point.
- Bewitched: All three lead actors went on to die in their early 60s, two out of three of them of cancer (they were all heavy smokers). First came the two Darrin actors, Dick York in 1992 from emphysema,note aged only 63; his replacement Dick Sargent in 1994 from prostate cancer, aged 64; and then Samantha actress Elizabeth Montgomery in 1995 from colon cancer, aged 62.
- Although it's a relatively low-key case, Babylon 5 fans have been saddened and spooked by the disproportionate number of the regular cast who have died at a relatively early age:
- Richard Biggs (Dr. Stephen Franklin) died of a ruptured aorta in 2004 aged only 44.
- Tim Choate (Zathras) died in a motorcycle accident later in 2004 aged 49.
- Andreas Katsulas (G'Kar) died of lung cancer in 2006 aged 59.
- Jeff Conaway (Zack Allan) died from drug-abuse-related illnesses in 2011 aged 60.
- Michael O'Hare (Jeffrey Sinclair) died from a heart attack in 2012 aged 60. It was subsequently revealed, by pre-arrangement with him about what would happen on his death, that he had developed schizophrenia during the making of his season of the show, and struggled with it for the rest of his life.
- Jerry Doyle (Michael Garibaldi) died from an alcoholism-related heart attack in 2016 aged 60.
- Stephen Furst (Vir Kotto) died from diabetes complications in 2017 aged 63.
- The Seinfeld curse, in which Jerry Seinfeld's co-stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richards failed to find success after the end of the series, as all tried to launch new sitcoms as title-role characters and almost every show was canceled quickly, usually within the first season. However, the Emmy award-winning success of Louis-Dreyfus' The New Adventures of Old Christine and later Veep led many to believe that she had broken the curse, at least for her.
- Weird things reportage magazine Fortean Times loves things like this and reports on new cases as they arise; interested students are directed to the magazine and its extensive archives.
- The alleged Sports Illustrated Curse, which says that anyone on the cover will soon have a career setback. Which is sort of true; you usually get on the cover for being a standout sportsman, but nobody is a standout among standouts for long.
- This is also said of British celebrity magazine Hello, which went through a phase of interviewing celebrity couples and taking lots of photographs of how happy they were in their multi-million-pound country home only to discover that in every case, messy and acrimonious divorce followed shortly afterwards.
- In 1991 a letter to the Radio Times wondered if it had a similar jinx; several sportspeople had been featured on the cover through the summer, and each one had subsequently underperformed or been injured.
- What makes Spiderland by Slint so mysterious and alluring, once you get past the album cover, is the story behind the recording - singer Brian McMahan threw his vocals and vomited after recording, the stressfulness of the album caused the band to break up before the album's release; but most infamous of all, two of the band members getting institutionalised. With the album's abstract and dark composition, it makes the album a very different experience.
- The Medal of Dishonour page notes that even the biggest awards in any field can become this. There are certain awards from the big award shows that some people are a little suspicious of because of a track record that they might be cursed. For example, Best New Artist at the Grammys: The award is notorious for its completely erratic track record. You either go to soaring new heights or you completely disappear from the public eye. Almost every Best New Artist winner is asked afterward if they're worried about the curse. More specifically, the 1990 award, which was awarded to Milli Vanilli and was later revoked. They had planned to give the award to one of the other nominees (Neneh Cherry, the Indigo Girls, Soul II Soul, or Tone Lōc), but none of them wanted it.
- BBC Radio Scotland in the late 1960s decided to really spice up Hallowe'en broadcasting, by having a simulated Black Mass in the studio to broadcast to the nation. This was despite objections from the Church. The play's producer went home that night, trying to shake off a conviction that something bad would happen. He found his house empty save for a scribbled note from his wife to say she'd had to rush their daughter to A&E. Finding them at the hospital, he discovered earlier that evening a feral rat had got into the house and badly bitten the child's face, leaving a permanent scar. Next day he recounted this to a Church of Scotland minister who was broadcasting a God-slot. The priest listened, then said: "Well, what can ye expect? You called on the Wee Man and he answered you knocking on his door. Only he didnae come to the studio. He made it a wee bit more personal than that, aye."
- Various editions of Wraith: The Oblivion mention this in their afterwords over things like schedules, art issues, missed deadlines, and contract disputes. And it was "confirmed" when Wraith was the first of the original The World of Darkness lines to be canceled due to low sales. Even the 20th Anniversary Edition kickstarter blog has a post about it, which is amusing since Wraith 20 itself suffered multiple delays in production.
- The mystique that has developed concerning Shakespeare's Macbeth. Macbeth universally is thought of as this trope embodied. For that reason it's usually referred to as The Scottish Play by superstitious actors.
- When Lawrence Wright put his thirteenth play on the stage in 1938 titled On With The Show, he avoided prompting fear among traditionally superstitious actors by saying that it was actually his fourteenth. The fates now thwarted, he went ahead. First, the theatre burnt down and all the props were destroyed. On the replacement smaller pavilion one musician slipped and sprained his wrist while two others were rushed away with gastric troubles. A main character lost his voice while another had to have all his teeth pulled out, leaving him helpless throughout the run. A dancer was ordered to take complete rest, two members of the chorus suffered from sprained ankles and a separate dancer fell upstairs and hurt her leg. The manager collapsed one day while the wardrobe organiser fell and sprained her arm. It was then discovered that there were thirteen people in the cast, thirteen musicians in the band and thirteen songs in the show.
- There's a long-standing legend about the Madden Curse where, ever since EA stopped using John Madden's likeness on the cover of their NFL sports game, the Pro NFL player featured on the cover of each new Madden game will either a) he or his be part of a team won't be up to snuff in the next season or b) he will suffer a Career-Ending Injury or at least be sidelined for the rest of the year. It's gotten so bad that it's alleged to be spreading to other EA Sports games.
In-Universe examples:Establishing a difference between events in Real Life and fictionalised variants.
- A Cock And Bull Story, in which Steve Coogan, playing himself, faces all sorts of problems while trying to make a film of Tristram Shandy - itself a book about the problems the author encounters trying to write the book.
- Inland Empire has, among its other myriad plots, a theme of the remake of an atmospheric European thriller that is taking place on an unhappy set, beset with calamities and inexplicable accident.
- In Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! trilogy, author James Joyce is inflicted with blindness by the evil Illuminati, because he just will not quit writing books that reveal crucial occult secrets that the secret society do not want to see out in the open, in any form. It is also hinted that Ludwig van Beethoven was given the deafness treatment for encoding Freemasonic secrets in his Fifth Symphony. The curse, in both cases, attends the work of art they created. Of course, we only have Hagbard Celine's word for this...
- The King in Yellow revolved around an eponymous, cursed play, the mere reading of which causes madness and worse. According to H.P. Lovecraft's friend and fellow writer August Derleth, actual live performance of The King in Yellow is even less advisable, as it's a summoning ritual for an Eldritch Abomination.
- Royal Pains once had Hank serving as a doctor on an amateur movie shoot. The cast and crew are siblings who are shooting one of their father's scripts as a surprise, but one actress claims that the script was never shot because it was believed to be cursed. During the amateur shoot, the lead's stunt double repeatedly passes out at inopportune moments (usually in the middle of stunts). It later turns out the stunt double is passing out because of a head injury she sustained which is exacerbated by the contact lenses she has to wear.