It’s not that uncommon for actors to get injured onset of a major Hollywood film. Usually, though, it’s the stuntmen or women that get the beating. But then there are those actors and actresses who get harmed while filming a scene. And THEN some get injured while the camera is rolling and they just bite the bullet and roll with the punches. Sometimes, these injuries make the final cut.
Some onset injuries are minor, like bruising a rib. Some are worse, like breaking a foot and continuing to run. And some are major, like getting paralyzed. In more than one case, the blood we saw on the screen was real. This list isn’t just a compilation of onset injuries – it’s a testament to the ability of some actors to remain in character, even while suffering. Now that you’re going to see which actors and which movies, the next time you see the movie (or just that scene), you’ll have some insider knowledge.
Enjoy the show!
Channing Tatum stars as Olympic champion wrestler Mark Schultz in the sports drama/biopic ‘Foxcatcher.’ During a scene in a hotel room, Tatum’s character has a breakdown, where he hits himself in the face and smashes his head into the mirror – more than once. The scene gets pretty bloody. And the thing is – that’s Tatum’s actual blood.
The actor cut his head on the mirror. Even though the mirror was coated with safety plastic, Tatum bashed his head into the mirror so hard that he broke it all the way through to the wall, breaking the wall, too. Director Bennett Miller said: “He punched that thing with his head three times and shattered it, and put his head through it and through the frame behind the mirror and through the drywall that the mirror was hanging on and left a divot two inches deep,” Miller said.
There’s an emotional moment in ‘The Two Towers’ where Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) boots his helmet across the screen and lets out a cry of agony. Well, according to director Peter Jackson, the scream Mortensen lets out wasn’t just great acting. The cry was legitimate because he happened to break two toes when filming that scene.
Needless to say, the take was brilliant, and they kept it in the final cut. Mortensen and Jackson revealed in an interview that the injury was due to Jackson’s directing. After four takes, Jackson thought that if Mortensen gave him one more try, it would be just perfect. That last try was so good it broke his toes.
Not all injuries on set happen to male actors. Here is a couple that happened to women. The fire was a problem for the producers of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Not only was Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, injured, but so was her stunt double. When the witch disappears behind the flames in Munchkinland, Hamilton didn’t descend in time through a trapdoor. She suffered severe burns to her hands and face.
That injury she suffered while making that scene ended up making the final cut. After the film, she couldn’t work for a month. And then there was Hamilton’s stunt double who was badly burned on her legs from pyrotechnics during a broomstick scene. She had to stay in the hospital for a few weeks after that.
Since we’re on the topic of an old film, here’s another old film that also featured an onset injury. In 1936’s ‘Follow the Fleet,’ the famous dancer and actor Fred Astaire received a great slap from the arm of his co-star, Ginger Rogers. During the dance scene for “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” Rogers wore a beaded, flowing gown with sleeves that Astaire said, “must have weighed a few pounds each.”
During the first take of that scene, Rogers made a quick turn, and those heavy sleeves smacked Astaire right in the face. Sounds minor, yes, but it actually injured the actor’s cheek and eye, leaving him “somewhat maimed.” As the filmmakers looked over the film, everyone thought that, regardless of the injury, it was really the best take. Thus, it stayed in the film.
2014’s ‘Nightcrawler’ is an intense film about violence and ethics. If you haven’t seen it yet – you should. And a large part of that intensity is thanks to Gyllenhaal’s great acting. And when you learn the level of passion Jake Gyllenhaal put into playing the lead character Lou Bloom, it gets even more intense.
During a scene that took place in the bathroom of Bloom’s apartment, the angry photojournalist smashes up the mirror. That mirror wasn’t supposed to break, though, and the scene ended up badly injuring his hand. The actor even had to be sent to the hospital as a result. But the impressive thing is that he stayed in character, and you can see his bloody hand in the movie.
Every movie buff knows that Quentin Tarantino is a perfectionist when it comes to making his films. Because of this, it probably won’t come as a surprise that, during Diane Kruger’s character’s death scene in ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ Tarantino took things into his own hands – literally. With her consent, of course, Tarantino choked Kruger with his own hands rather than leave it to Cristoph Waltz to do the job.
So, essentially, this means that Tarantino strangled Kruger – for effect. According to Kruger, “you feel it when someone is choking you… it was very strange being strangled by the director.” Some sources have claimed that she actually passed out on camera, but this hasn’t been verified. Not yet, at least.
Speaking of Tarantino, here’s another onset injury that made it into the final cut. And let me say that it takes a very good actor to stay in character through challenging moments on set. And who’s better than Leonardo DiCaprio? The intense Candyland table scene? Well, when DiCaprio smashes his hand on the table and breaks the glass, it was his actual blood.
It was just too good for Tarantino to cut it out from the film. DiCaprio accidentally cut his hand, but instead of seeking immediate medical attention, he stayed in character and used the injury to improve the scene, even choosing to smear his own blood across the face of an unsuspecting Kerry Washington. Only later did DiCaprio get stitches for the cut.
Not only is the film a complete insanity trip, but who can forget the image of Malcolm McDowell with his eyes pulled open to capacity in the Ludovico technique scene in ‘A Clockwork Orange’? Definitely not McDowell, since the actor scratched his cornea and went temporarily blind from that scene.
The doctor standing next to McDowell in the scene, dropping saline solution into his eyes, was a real doctor who was there to make sure the actor’s eyes didn’t dry up. McDowell’s eye injury, and the real-life doctor, can be seen in the final cut of the film. Aside from his near blindness, McDowell also cracked some ribs filming the film’s stage show scene.
The well-known horror film, ‘The Exorcist,’ broke many boundaries (and ruined many of my early nights since I couldn’t get the girl’s rotating head out of my mind). But there was a scene that also nearly broke the film’s lead actress, Ellen Burstyn. While shooting, a crew member had to pull Burstyn on a wire to add to the special effects.
Burstyn had even expressed concerns for her safety, and director William Friedkin acknowledged them. He assured her that the crew wouldn’t yank her too hard. That was before he told the wire operator to yank her as hard as possible. The wire ended up pulling Burstyn across the room, landing hard on her tailbone. She was in a lot of pain, but Friedkin continued to film her before ever calling the ambulance.
In the opening scene of the film ‘Apocalypse Now,’ Captain Benjamin Willard, who was played by Martin Sheen, is alone in a hotel room. In the scene, he goes completely stir-crazy, drunk and falling all over the room, and staring blankly at the ceiling fan for hours. At one point, he injured his own hand and wiped the blood all over his face.
While many viewers my chalk it up as some regular movie magic, the truth is that the blood was actually Sheen’s. He chose to stay in character the whole time. And even though it’s pretty impossible to confirm, sources have claimed that Martin Sheen was very drunk while filming that scene. I mean, it does explain a lot. And according to Sheen himself, he had issues with alcohol for many years.
During the final scene in ‘Patriot Games,’ Harrison Ford and Sean Bean have a showdown on a speedboat, where Ford hits Bean in the face with a metal hook. The hook actually hit Bean, and blood started coming out of his head. It can be seen in the film’s final cut. Oh, and Bean still has a scar above his eye.
Luckily for Bean, he’s almost always the bad guy in his movies, so the scar only helps with his villainous appeal. Harrison Ford also got injured when he was playing Han Solo. A part of the Millennium Falcon fell off and landed on Ford’s leg while filming the latest film in the Star Wars saga. “They closed the f***ing door on me!” Harrison Ford told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show.
The original Blade Runner film is dark and gritty, and it too is not without its on-screen accidents. One of them involved Daryl Hannah. While playing the replicant Pris, she flees when she gets discovered by scientist and inventor J.F. Sebastian. In the scene, you can really see Hannah slip as she runs, and her elbow hit the parked van.
As it turns out, her elbow was chipped in eight places, and she was severely cut. Hannah still has a scar from the stitches that she had to receive after the scene wrapped. At the time, Hannah was an up-and-coming actress. Director Ridley Scott chose to cast a number of then-unknown actors in the film.
When Sonny Corleone (James Caan) attacked Carlos Rizzi (Gianni Russo) in ‘The Godfather,’ some real injuries occurred. The fight itself was brutal, but it was even worse than most people thought. When Caan hit Russo with the trash can, he accidentally broke Russo’s ribs and shattered his elbow.
“Sonny and I had a problem all through the movie, on and off the set,” Russo said, claiming that his familiarity with the neighborhood likely “pissed [Caan] off.” But Russo said that he intended to leave the drama on the screen. “With this being my first film, I didn’t want to complain,” Russo explained. “Jimmy and I are not friends at all, believe me. The guy’s nuts.”
During the opening scene, Chan jumps from a wall to a tree. During the second take, the branch broke, and he fell over 15 feet to the ground. The fall, in which Chan smashed his head on a rock, resulted in a piece of bone getting lodged into his brain. The crew on set quickly took him to a hospital where he had to undergo emergency surgery.
Chan still has a hole in his skull as well as partial hearing loss. The guy nearly died. Throughout his career, Chan has done his own stunts, which is the main reason why he’s become so famous. He’s had dozens of broken bones and near-death experiences. In 2013, a Japanese poster of his film ‘Raising Dragon’ was an anatomical map of all Chan’s injuries and the films in which he sustained them.
Shotgun blasts are very loud, which is something Linda Hamilton learned the hard way when she was filming the 1991 sequel to ‘The Terminator.’ During the scene where Sarah Connor escapes the psychiatric hospital, she and her son and Arnie run to an elevator with T-1000 in hot pursuit, and a shootout between the two Terminators takes place.
Between takes, Hamilton forgot to put her earplugs back into her ears, and so when Schwarzenegger let off a round of (fake) bullets in the elevator, she had to suffer the unmuted sounds of bullets in a confined space. To this day, Hamilton still suffers from permanent hearing loss in one ear.
If we’re already on the topic of hearing loss, then I might as well mention what happened to Bruce Willis while he was filming ‘Die Hard.’ An injury similar to Hamilton’s happened to Willis, involving the sound of fun shots. Willis was too close to a firing gun, which caused “two-thirds partial hearing loss” in his left ear.
The permanent injury affected the actor in both his personal and professional life. When defending her father’s tendency to not talk very much during press conferences, Rumer Willis explained that it was because her dad still has trouble hearing interview questions. I wonder if it’s only interview questions that he has a hard time making out.
In 2005, George Clooney said that an injury he sustained on the set of ‘Syriana’ made him “contemplate suicide” because the pain was so bad. He’s referring to the scene where he was taped to a chair and beaten up. The chair was then kicked over, and he hit his head. Clooney went into detail: “I tore my dura, which is the wrap around my spine that holds in the spinal fluid. But it’s not my back; it’s my brain. I basically bruised my brain.”
Before the surgery, Clooney said it was the “most unbearable pain” he had ever been through. Now a decade and a half later, Clooney still feels the pain from that injury. In 2014, he visited a hospital in Germany to have it looked at. Oh, and maybe it’s worth noting that the harmed actor won his first Oscar for that role.
Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman didn’t speak for after a scary accident that took place on the set of ‘Kill Bill’ that could’ve been prevented if a stunt driver was used instead of Thurman herself. Despite her vocal concerns that the rickety old car the ‘Bride’ drives in the opening scene might not be in the best condition, Tarantino convinced her to do the stunt anyways.
She ended up going 40 miles per hour down a dirt road before losing control of the wheel and crashing into a tree. It left her with a concussion and serious damage to both her neck and knees. Many years later, Thurman still has chronic pain as a result of the accident. Beyond the physical pain is Thurman’s lack of trust in Tarantino as both a colleague and friend.
The beloved survival tale, featuring Tom Hanks and his friend Wilson, could have been the superstar’s last film. Before leaving the island, Hanks cut his leg. It was a small cut, so Hanks didn’t give it much thought. But by the time he got home, it was swollen and painful. His doctor told him that he had a staph infection, and if he had waited any longer to get medical attention, he could have easily suffered from fatal blood poisoning.
In an interview with the National Enquirer, Hanks explained how “Something got in there. I flew home and, boy, was my leg hurting! The weekend we were home, it swelled up really big, so I finally went to the doctor, thinking he was going to clean out my knee and give me some antibiotics, but it turned out I had a staph infection that was close to giving me blood poisoning.”
As it turns out, the movie ‘Aeon Flux’ could have actually been the end of Charlize Theron’s career. Why? Because it almost paralyzed her. The actress said that she was almost paralyzed after trying a back handspring and landing on her neck. Only ten days after beginning the dystopian film, Theron performed the unsuccessful backflip.
The injury put the production on hold for eight weeks. As a result of the flip, she suffered a herniated disc. Her doctors even believed that she would suffer from prolonged paralysis. But miraculously, Theron made a full recovery. If she hadn’t, she would most likely have stopped making any films. So let’s be thankful that we can still see the beautiful blonde on screen.
Brad Pitt is the kind of actor that an onset injury will get written into the script. The actor slipped in the chase scene, and his arm went right through a windshield, severing a tendon. Director David Fincher then chose to use it in the film. “He wasn’t supposed to break his arm, but that’s what we’ve done,” producer Arnold Kopelson said about giving Pitt’s character a cast following the scene.
About a decade later, one of the most ironic film injuries occurred in history. Pitt, who played the Greek hero Achilles in ‘Troy,’ actually tore his Achilles tendon and couldn’t shoot for ten weeks. It happened during the Battle of Troy scene, the climax of the movie, and Pitt landed on his foot strangely. In the final cut, you can see the very real pain on his face.
During one of his roles as James Bond, Daniel Craig suffered a bad knee injury at the hands of his costar and former WWE wrestler, Dave Bautista. When speaking to the press, Craig downplayed the seriousness of that injury: “It could have happened to me getting out the shower. It’s one of those injuries. I hit it at the wrong angle, and it just went. Bautista was picking me up and throwing me! So I wasn’t getting out of the shower.”
The actor also confessed that it wasn’t his first injury, and he resisted surgery. “My fear was if I had a proper surgery on it, it would stop filming for a long time. The amazing thing was, I didn’t need it. It slowed me down. I couldn’t run without pounding pain. So I took two weeks off, had the surgery, and got back to work.”
Halle Berry suffered while filming her mixed martial arts movie ‘Bruised.’ Production was delayed as a result of the 54-year old actress’s injury during a fight scene. Executive producer Brian Pitt didn’t specify exactly what the injury was, but made it clear that it was “nothing serious.” After the injury, the producers rescheduled the gym scenes.
But her latest film isn’t the only one she got injured on. According to reports, Berry had some bad luck with movie sets. The Los Angeles Times reported that Berry has been “knocked out during The Call, broken her foot on Cloud Atlas, broken her arm on Gothika, injured her eye on Die Another Day, and suffered a head injury on Catwoman.”
During a scene in the third installment of Back to the Future, where Michael J. Fox was supposed to be hanging from a building, the actor was nearly hanged for real. Fox agreed to have the rope tied around his neck, you know, to make the scene more believable. But, of course, something went wrong. Fox didn’t get his hand into place quickly enough to spare his neck from the noose.
Fox wrote in his autobiography: “It was a full 30 seconds before anyone noticed. Thankfully Bob Zemeckis, a fan of mine though he was, realized that I wasn’t that good of an actor.” I don’t even want to imagine what it would have been like if no one noticed!
During the promotional tour for ‘The Expendables 3,’ Sylvester Stallone joked about his accident-plagued career at a press conference: “I usually grade the quality of the film by the intensity of the injury. In this one, I ended up really taking a fall on my back and ended up having some metal inserted in there. So if I’m squeaky, then it’s not my shoes.”
In the years leading up to that film, Stallone injured his neck while filming the first film in The Expendables series. After that, he had to have metal plates inserted, which made the more recent back surgery something akin to familiar territory. And really if anyone knows what ‘no pain, no gain’ means, it’s Sly.
Beauty is pain, right? But what do you call it when someone literally breaks bones just to zip up an outfit? Nicole Kidman’s time on the set of Moulin Rouge in 2001 had a lasting effect. Apparently, the actress was so obsessed with carving down her waist that she told her dressers to tighten her corsets more and more.
It ended up aggravating an injury she already endured by falling off a trapeze in an earlier scene. “I had this thing that I wanted to get my waist down to 18 inches, which Vivien Leigh had on Gone with the Wind and I was just like, ‘tighter, tighter!’” Kidman said. The incident halted production for two weeks. She made an Academy Award-nominated performance, too.
While filming ‘The Eagle’ in Scotland, Tatum and other cast members had to endure freezing waters. Tatum claimed that he suffered an unfortunate penis injury when he was trying to stabilize his body temperature. “The only way to keep warm was by pouring a mix of boiling water and river water down your suit.”
When they were done shooting for the day, one of the crew guys asked Tatum if he wanted to warm up before he left. “Thing is, he’d forgotten to dilute the kettle water.” He suffered serious burns as a result of the boiling water being poured down his skin-tight water suit, leaving his skin down there partially burned away. Ouch. Just ouch.
The South African stunt actor was enjoying a successful career getting work in on films like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ ‘Mad Max: Fury Road,’ and ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ before a stunt went horribly wrong. The life-threatening accident happened in 2015, while she was a stunt double for Milla Jovovich in ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.’
She was driving helmetless on a motorcycle when she collided with a camera crane. The crash resulted in a long list of injuries, including a punctured lung, a partially crushed face, a paralyzed left arm, a severed main artery, five nerves torn out of her spinal cord, and brain trauma. She was medically induced into a coma for 17 days. Sadly, she had to get her arm amputated a few months later.
The actress, former champion skier, and stuntwoman experienced a devastating injury during the filming of the 1981 comedy ‘The Cannonball Run.’ She was the stunt double for Farrah Fawcett. Von Beltz’s task that day was to sit in an Aston-Martin and help operate a smoke machine that would make it look like the car was on fire as it sped along.
But the car didn’t have seatbelts, and so when it accidentally crashed into a van, she was launched through the windshield. She broke her neck and tragically; she was left a quadriplegic. After a court battle, she was given $3.2 million, which mostly went towards paying legal and medical bills. The only good thing about this? Her accident led to the film industry establishing new safety guidelines, making seatbelts mandatory on all car-related stunt work.
Aside from the insane things he has been known to do, Tom Cruise is respected for the stunts he performs himself in most of his films. And sometimes, it comes at a cost. He broke his ankle performing a stunt in ‘Fallout.’ During a rooftop chase scene filmed in London, his foot didn’t fare so well.
“I was chasing Henry and was meant to hit the side of the wall and pull myself over, but the mistake was my foot hitting the wall,” Cruise explained. “I knew my ankle instantly was broken, and I really didn’t want to do it again, so I just got up and carried on with the take. I said, ‘It’s broken. That’s a wrap. Take me to the hospital.’ And then everyone got on the phone and made their vacation arrangement.”
It’s not easy for an Asgardian, especially when heights are the problem. Jaimie Alexander told MTV News that she slipped and fell from something “very high.” The fall did some serious damage when she reached the ground. “I herniated a disk in my thoracic spine, dislocated my left shoulder, tore my right rhomboid, and chipped 11 vertebrae.”
And that’s not even the end of it. She explained that the next morning, she got in a car to go to the hospital and sat basically compressed her spine a little bit, which led to being paralyzed in her right leg and right hand. After a week in the hospital, a month in therapy, and some perseverance, she was back in action – literally.
Yes, the show’s famous ending left us all saying, “Wait, what?” But as it turns out, the ending could have been much worse. The episode features Matthew Fox facing down Terry O’Quinn (John Locke) in a cliff-side knife-fight. Fox was supposed to be stabbed by a collapsible prop knife. Since it was a low-risk scene, the production didn’t force Fox to wear a pad.
But stunt coordinator Michael Trisler stepped in at the last second, and thankfully so. They used a piece of Kevlar under Fox’s shirt. A prop mix-up meant that O’Quinn was given a real knife instead of the fake one. Fox only suffered minor injuries thanks to the Kevlar. But if it wasn’t for Trisler, it could have been way worse.
Charles McGraw wasn’t the most famous of actors, but you’ve probably seen his movies. He made appearances in all kinds of films, but the most popular was the 1960’s ‘Spartacus,’ where he played Marcellus, the gladiator trainer, and villain. It was during the soup scene that McGraw ended up seriously getting injured.
Kirk Douglas, who played Spartacus, was supposed to force McGraw’s head into the soup. But his hand slipped, and McGraw’s jaw hit the side of the soup pot, which happened to be an actual iron cauldron. The shot made it into the film, and you can see the hit and the dazed expression on McGraw’s face. To literally add insult to injury, Douglas blamed McGraw for the accident!
Mel Gibson’s 2004 R-rated depiction of Jesus was a dark and gritty crucifixion story that involved its own violence. Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus, suffered quite a bit during production. A weird line of injuries happened to him on set, and more than one could have killed him. In the scene where Jesus carries his own cross while being whipped by Roman soldiers, one of the extras accidentally whipped Caviezel for real.
It left a 14-inch gash on his back. Not to mention that the cross prop itself weighed 150 pounds. The prop fell on Caviezel at one point, leading him to fall face-down in the sand and badly bite his tongue. This shot stayed in the film, and the blood pouring from his mouth? Real.
If that wasn’t enough for one actor to endure, Jim Caviezel was also struck by lightning while making the same movie. “I knew it was going to hit me about four seconds before it happened,” the actor told the Christian Broadcasting Network. “I thought, ‘I’m going to get hit.’ And when it happened, I saw the extras grab the ground… What they saw was fire coming out the right and left side of my head.”
In a true miracle, Caviezel walked away without serious injuries. But, the rest of the production was still hard on the guy. He suffered a separated shoulder, hypothermia, pneumonia, and lung and skin infections.
In a rather morbid way, I’ll end this list with an onset injury that ended up taking the life of an actor. And not just any actor – Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon Lee. The kid had a promising career ahead of him with a father like his in the industry. In 1993, he scored his first major leading role, as Eric Draven in the comic book series The Crow.
The film, as it was being made, was shaping up to be the ultimate goth film. It was full of melodrama, people dressed only in black, and a soundtrack with all the good industrial and metal bangers. But the film took a dark and somber tone after March 31, 1993.
Brandon Lee was accidentally shot and killed on the set of the film. During a scene where his character is meant to be shot, things started off smoothly. The gun, which was loaded with blanks, went off, and Lee hit the ground – as planned. But soon, the crew members noticed blood pooling around Lee. He was rushed to the hospital and died hours later.
The production team later pieced together what happened. In a previous scene, they filmed a close-up of the prop gun getting loaded with dummy bullets. But then they removed and replaced with blanks for the upcoming shot, where the gun was supposed to be fired. The props department didn’t notice that a piece of the dummy bullet was lodged into the gun. The dummy bullet fragment and the blank combined to effectively make a live round. It was the most costly mistake imaginable.