Performing stunts is no joke. While some actors insist on doing the challenging work themselves, most of the time stunt actors have to step in to do the more dangerous things. However, some stunts don’t always go as planned; mistakes happen, and injuries cause some actors to question their jobs in show business.
Unfortunately, even the most skilled actors and stunt actors have experienced tragedy on a movie set. While the stunts look incredible as they unfold on the screen, people forget the danger is real for the people performing them. From Isla Fisher almost drowning to Sylvester Stallone winding up in the hospital, here are the actors who risked their lives for the perfect shot.
Kate Winslet Almost Drowned During Titanic
Throughout the second half of Titanic, everyone is screaming, panicking, and running around trying to get off the sinking ship before it plunges to the bottom of the ocean. One of the people trying to get to safety is Kate Winslet’s character, Rose. We see her wading through the water-filled hallway, but it wasn’t so easy to film.
When Rose and Jack get into the elevator as it is filling with water, it looked as though they would drown, which almost happened when they were filming the scene. Winslet’s coat got caught in the elevator gate as the water level rose, and luckily, she was able to get herself free before the water got too high.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt Hit a Cab
It’s safe to say that Joseph Gordon-Levitt had no idea what he was doing when he filmed some of the bike scenes for Premium Rush. His character is a bike messenger who rides through heavy New York traffic with a single gear and no brakes.
While he admits that he didn’t do all his own stunts, JGL still got injured on the job. While shooting one of his scenes, JGL accidentally collided with a taxi resulting in a large cut on his arm. He needed more than thirty stitches, but it was better than him landing on his head. At least his character is smart enough to wear a helmet.
Margaret Hamilton Got Second-Degree Burns
Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz is one of the most iconic characters in film history. The scary yet sassy green witch tried to get her sister’s ruby red slippers back from Dorothy throughout the film, and she had a grand way of exiting.
Hamilton’s character would leave people frightened as she disappeared with a red spark and a thick cloud of smoke. One of the flares produced sparks that reacted with the petroleum in Hamilton’s green makeup during filming. It started a fire, and she was left with second and third-degree burns on her face.
Diane Kruger Was Almost Choked to Death
In Inglorious Basterds, Diane Kruger showed off her acting skills playing Bridget Von Hammersmar, a film student turned Allied spy. While her role was filled with a lot of action, she went above and beyond during one scene of the film. Towards the end of the film, Christoph Waltz’s character strangles Kruger’s character.
However, Waltz wasn’t the one performing the stunt. Director Quentin Tarantino performed the vicious POV scene. While Tarantino says that Kruger consented to the act, he choked her, and she passed out. He believed that actually strangling her would make the scene perfect and hyper-realistic, even if it put her life in danger.
Alec Baldwin Killed and Injured People With a Prop Gun
While this is not an incident that is the first of its kind, the tragic events on the set of the Western film Rust have rocked the film industry. Baldwin discharged a prop firearm while rehearsing, and he accidentally fatally shot the film’s cinemaphotographer, Haylna Hutchins, and injured the director, Joel Souza.
The police investigation is currently ongoing, but it has been reported that an armorer checked the gun. The assistant director then pronounced it a “cold gun” (does not contain live rounds). No one knew that there were live rounds still inside before the tragedy.
Sylvester Stallone Ended Up in the Hospital for a Week
The Rocky movies were some of Sylvester Stallone’s greatest works, and he took his role very seriously. He would go all out for many of the fight scenes to get the perfect shot, and in Rocky IV, he told his on-screen opponent, Dolph Lundgren, to punch him right in the face.
Stallone felt fine at the end of the scene but wound up in the ICU the following day. The punch caught his ribs and hit his heart against his ribcage. The doctors told Stallone that type of injury usually occurs in head-on collisions. Stallone joked, “Close. I did hit a bus, of sorts.”
Jason Statham Drove a Truck Into the Black Sea
Although Jason Statham is a seasoned action star, nothing can prepare an actor when something goes wrong with a prop on set. While filming a scene driving a truck in Expendables 3, the vehicle’s breaks gave out, sending him over a cliff and into the Black Sea.
The truck went down about 60 feet, but Statham was lucky because they took the doors off before the scene. He swam to the surface, and the vehicle sank to the bottom. His accomplished swimming skills saved him because he was wearing heavy boots and gun belts, which would have caused anyone else to drown.
Brandon Lee Was Killed on the Set of The Crow
While filming the final scenes of The Crow, Brandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee) died after he was fatally shot with a prop gun. In the film, Michael Massee, who played drug dealer Funboy, shot Lee with a gun he thought only had cardboard wadding inside the cartridge.
Tragically, the gun was improperly loaded. The metal tip from a dummy bullet broke off and remained in the gun. It hit Lee in his abdomen, causing a fatal wound. After hearing about the Rust shooting, Lee’s family said, “No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period.”
Jackie Chan Broke His Back During a Stunt
Jackie Chan is known for doing all his own stunts, and he is a master martial artist. However, he has put himself in danger numerous times throughout his lengthy career. While filming Police Story, Chan attempted to pull off a stunt where he jumped from a roof and slid down a pole.
It seemed like a simple stunt for Chan, but he jumped from a railing on an electrical light stand and fell on a glass roof. He damaged his spinal cord and his 7th and 8th vertebrae, almost paralyzing him. Chan had to get emergency surgery to repair the damage.
Isla Fisher Almost Drowned Filming a Magic Stunt
She may not be Harry Houdini, but in the film Now You See Me, Isla Fisher had to perform a death-defying trick that went too far. In the scene, her character is chained to the bottom of a water-filled tank. However, the chains were too tight.
Fisher was trapped on the bottom of the tank and started drowning. At first, the crew thought it was part of the scene and didn’t realize she was in real danger. Luckily, someone got her out in time, but it made Fisher realize they never set up a safety word or signal.
Jon-Erik Hexum Was Fatally Wounded While Playing With a Prop
In 1984, Jon-Erik Hexum rose to fame for landing the lead role of Mac Harper in Cover Up. His character was a handsome CIA operative posing as a male model. Sadly, the show only had one season because of the tragic accident on the show’s set.
The show featured several prop weapons, including a gun. Between scenes, Hexum played around with the prop gun and shot himself in the temple. Wadding from the blank cartridge shattered his skull. He was rushed to the emergency room but pronounced brain-dead a few days later.
Charlize Theron Was Almost Paralyzed
In Æon Flux, Charlize Theron embodied an anime character in skintight leather with elegant poses. However, the film asked too much of her because humans can’t move like anime characters. While performing a free fall, she miscalculated the landing and fell on her neck.
Theron was just centimeters away from becoming paralyzed. She spent eight weeks in the hospital, and the injury left her dealing with eight years of pain management because she couldn’t get rid of the spasms or nerve damage. She had to get surgery again eight years after the injury.
Vic Morrow Was Crushed by a Helicopter
In 1982, Vic Morrow starred in Twilight Zone: The Movie. Morrow and two child actors were filming a scene where their characters attempted to escape a deserted Vietnamese village from a pursuing US Army helicopter. The helicopter was hovering 24 feet above them.
The heat from a pyrotechnic explosion caused damage to the rotor blades, and the helicopter crashed on top of them, instantly killing all three. Director John Landis, the pilot, and three others were charged for their deaths. They were later acquitted of the charges after a high-profile trial.
Jaimie Alexander’s Time in the MCU Was Almost Cut Short
Jaimie Alexander played Lady Sif in Thor: Dark World, but her time in the Marvel cinematic universe almost ended prematurely. During one of her scenes, she fell off a piece of the set, which left her with horrible injuries that nearly paralyzed her.
Alexander has a herniated disk, and she dislocated her left shoulder, tore a muscle near the top of her spine, and chipped eleven vertebrae. She lost feeling in her right leg and hand, so she was in the hospital for a week. She went to physical therapy but was back a month later to film fight sequences.
A Stunt Pilot Crashed During Top Gun
The Tom Cruise classic about US Navy fighter pilots in training is an iconic film, but during the shoot, tragedy struck. Famed stunt pilot Art Scholl was filming a scene in an upside-down spin in a camera-equipped aerobatic biplane. As he performed the stunt, something went wrong.
As Scholl was filming the trick, people heard him say over the radio, “I have a problem; I have a real problem.” His Pitts S-2 plane plunged into the Pacific Ocean when he lost control. Sadly, his body and aircraft were never recovered.
Tom Hanks’ Infection Delayed Production for Castaway
Filming Castaway was no easy feat for Tom Hanks. The actor had to put his body through a lot, and a leg injury on set almost killed him. After cutting his leg, Hanks thought it was no big deal, and he would be fine. However, the cut became infected, and he was hospitalized.
Hanks said, “I got an infection from a cut, and it was eating its way through my leg.” The doctor put him in the hospital because the infection could have poisoned his blood. Production was shut down for three weeks while his skin recovered.
Daniel Radcliffe’s Stunt Double Was Paralyzed
David Holmes performed as Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double on all eight Harry Potter films, but his career as a stuntman ended while filming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Holmes was seriously injured while rehearsing a flying scene in 2009.
Holmes was performing a jerk-back, where a stuntman is pulled backward by a wire. Something went wrong, and Holmes broke his neck, paralyzing him from the chest down. Since the injury, he has had to adjust to live with limited mobility in his arms and hands.
Ed Helms’ Stunt Double Suffered a Severe Brain Injury
During The Hangover Part II, Ed Helms’ character hangs his head out of the car window during a high-speed chase through Bangkok. His stunt double, Scott McLean, knew it should have been a simple shot, but the driver didn’t swerve in time.
McLean’s head collided with a truck, leaving him with a severe brain injury. The accident put him in a coma for two weeks. McLean regained his ability to walk and talk, but it ended his career. When the shots of the accident made it to the final cut and were used in the trailer, his family was angry.
Michael J. Fox’s Death Scene Was Almost Too Real
Scenes involving a noose can be scary for any actor. An entire team makes sure everyone involved is safe, but that was not the case for Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future Part III. Fox was supposed to be hanged by a group of outlaws.
When he filmed the scene, Fox started to get strangled by the rope and lost consciousness. The crew rushed to get him down, and luckily, he was fine. It was a scary accident that could have turned out much worse, but that didn’t deter Fox from his acting career.
Uma Thurman Was Forced to Drive a Stunt Car
Like most directors, Quentin Tarantino doesn’t like to hear “no” from actors. While filming Kill Bill, he persuaded Uma Thurman to drive a stunt car against her wishes. He promised the car was fine, but she soon realized he wasn’t being honest, and it almost ended her career.
When Thurman drove the car on the sand road, Tarantino told her to go fast, or she would have to film it again. The vehicle ended up crashing into a tree, and she was severely injured. She suffered a concussion and permanent damage to her knees. Thurman was furious with Tarantino.
Johnny Depp Was Thrown From a Horse
Johnny Depp has been in countless movies throughout his career, but one he might have regretted making is The Lone Ranger. Not only was the film not as successful as his other works, but he almost got trampled while filming. Filming with animals isn’t always safe, and Depp learned the hard way.
While Depp was filming a scene riding a horse, it bucked him off and almost trampled him to death. His saddle slipped off, and his life flashed before his eyes. Depp was only left with a few bruises and walked away pretty much unharmed.
Zazie Beetz’s Stunt Double Was Thrown From a Motorcycle
In Deadpool 2, Zazie Beetz plays Domino, and her stunt double, Joi Harris, was supposed to perform many harrowing tricks. While completing her first stunt, Harris was thrown from a motorcycle and crashed through a plate-glass window, killing her. Everyone was devastated by the loss.
A report found that Fox failed to conduct a risk assessment addressing safety controls, the bike’s speed, and equipment limitations. They also failed to ensure that Harris was wearing safety headgear. The inadequate supervision cost Harris her life, and producers paid a $300,000 fine.
This Film Had a Title Change After Someone Was Killed
In the 1969 Burt Reynolds film Shark, stuntman Jose Marco was fatally injured on camera when a great white shark bit through a protective net and attacked him. The film was initially titled Caine, but producers changed it to Shark after Marco’s death.
Writer Sam Fuller clashed with the producers because they used Marco’s death to promote the film, so he quit. The film’s poster read, “A realistic film became too real.” Fuller wanted his name removed from the project because it was so badly butchered, but the producers refused.
This Stunt Ended Olivia Jackson’s Career
While filming Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Olivia Jackson was filling in for another stuntwoman. As she sped down a street on a motorcycle, the camera was supposed to swoop over her, but it didn’t move. Jackson went flying into the crane attached to the camera.
The crash caused Jackson to sever an artery in her neck, causing her brain to bleed and swell. She also ripped nerves in her spine, broke several bones, and damaged her lung. Jackson was in a medically induced coma, had to have her arm amputated, and had to learn how to walk again.
Halle Berry Was Knocked Out During a Fight Scene
Fight scenes always look so realistic when you see them on screen, but filming them is challenging. While shooting The Call, Halle Barry’s character gets into a fight with Michael Eklund’s character. They took the scene a little too far, and it was quite scary.
As they were acting out the fight, Eklund pushed Berry down a little harder than necessary because he miscalculated how far away the floor was. The actress hit her head so hard that she was knocked out. Luckily, Berry was able to return to work the next day.
Meryl Streep Was Pulled Under the Water
Everyone knows Meryl Streep is an incredible actress, and she pushed her body to the limits in the 1994 film The Wild River. She performed many of her own stunts, which made her tired by the end of the day. However, that didn’t stop director Curtis Hanson from asking her to do one more.
Towards the end of the filming day, Streep filmed a scene on a boat. She somehow fell out of the boat into the ice-cold river and got sucked down by the current. Her costar, Kevin Bacon, was there to save the day and pulled her out of the water to safety.
Tom Cruise Broke His Ankle and Kept Running
Tom Cruise is known for performing many of his own stunts, and he takes them to the next level. Sometimes, things don’t always go as planned, and one mistake caused production to shut down temporarily for Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
In the scene, Cruise leaps from one rooftop to another during a foot chase. The stunt went according to plan, but he broke his ankle against the side of the building. He didn’t want to film it again, so he pulled himself up and kept running. Cruise only had a slight limp in the scene.
Leonardo DiCaprio Injured His Hand and Kept Rolling
In one of the most intense scenes in Django Unchained, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character slams his hands on a table to emphasize a point. He shatters a crystal glass in the process. His character isn’t fazed at all and calmly picking shards of glass out of his hand.
While it might have looked like something written into the movie, DiCaprio wasn’t supposed to break the glass. He did accidentally and decided to improvise by picking the glass out of his palm and rubbing blood on Kerry Washington. Quentin Tarantino kept it in the final cut.
Sean Bean Got a Scar From Harrison Ford
In film and on TV, Sean Bean’s characters often meet their demise. Bean played the villain opposite Harrison Ford in the 1992 film Patriot Games, and one of the scenes left him with a permanent reminder of the dangers of acting.
During a tense scene where Bean and Ford’s characters fight on a runaway speedboat, Ford actually hits Bean in the face with a boat hook. This left him with a gash that appears in the final film, and he has a distinctive scar. However, he wasn’t too upset about it.
Daryl Hannah Broke a Van Window and Her Elbow
Blade Runner was Daryl Hannah’s breakout film where she played Pris, the basic “pleasure model.” Although she might not have been the studio’s first choice, Hannah certainly committed to the role. In a scene where her character runs away from J.F. Sebastian, she accidentally injured herself.
As she was running, Hannah slipped on the wet pavement and smashed her elbow through the window of a van. The fall resulted in her chipping her bone in eight places. However, she kept filming, and the shot made it into the film. Hannah still has a scar from the accident.
Ellen Burstyn Permanently Injured Her Spine
Filming a movie like The Exorcist looks intense. During the making of the 1973 film, sets were cooled to sub-zero temperatures, actors were jerked around on wires, and the throw-up nozzle misfired. While being sprayed in the face with pea soup isn’t fun, it’s nothing compared to Ellen Burstyn’s experience.
Burstyn played the mother of possessed Regan MacNeil, and in one scene, Regan slams her mother onto the floor. Burstyn was connected to a wire, and someone off-camera was supposed to pull her down. They pulled too forcefully, and she permanently injured her spine.
This Filming Tragedy Shook Vin Diesel
Harry O’Connor worked as a stunt double on the 2002 action film XXX starring Vin Diesel. He was an experienced stuntman, but he was also a perfectionist. After practicing a stunt in which he was hooked to a speedboat that glides under the Palacky Bridge in Prague, O’Connor wanted to try it one more time.
During the final practice run, O’Connor made a steering mistake and crashed into the bridge instead of going under it. He died instantly, and everyone was devastated. Diesel said it was a huge eye-opener to focus more on safety and rehearsal.
A Mistake Left This Stuntwoman a Quadriplegic
The Cannonball Run, starring Burt Reynold, Jackie Chan, and Farrah Fawcett, might have been a great movie, but the props weren’t safe. Fawcett’s stunt double, Heidi von Beltz, filmed a scene riding in the passenger seat of an Aston Martin but didn’t know how dangerous the car was.
The car didn’t have seatbelts, the tires were bald, and the steering was defective. However, director Hal Needham didn’t want to waste time on repairs. The car sped off and crashed as they were filming the scene, throwing von Beltz into the windshield. She was left a quadriplegic and sued Needham for $4.6 million.
Michael Douglas’ Stunt Double Thought He Was Going to Die
In the 1984 film Romancing the Stone, there is an iconic scene where Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner have to jump for their lives as their car goes over a waterfall. Terry Leonard was Douglas’ double, and there was a malfunction with the platforms attached to the car to help them jump out of the way.
Leonard fell into a whirlpool below and thought he was going to die. He used all his strength to swim free. Vince Deadrick Jr. (Turner’s double) also hit the water and had to be fished out by firefighters before the second, bigger waterfall just around the bend.
Daniel Craig Passed Out With a Plastic Bag on His Head
Even for seasoned action stars like Daniel Craig, stunts can go wrong. While filming The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Craig’s character is lifted into the air with a plastic bag over his head. When they shot the scene, the crew didn’t know he actually couldn’t breathe.
Craig started to suffocate, but they continued to film because they thought he was acting. He then passed out with the bag over his head and was resuscitated. The director gave him the rest of the day off after their mistake.
Everything Went Wrong for Jim Caviezel
While performing stunts in Passion of the Christ, everything was going wrong for Jim Caviezel. During the film, he suffered from hypothermia, pneumonia, and a lung infection. He also got a head injury to make matters worse. He must have had the worst luck out of anyone on set.
During a scene, Caviezel carried a 150-pound crucifix down the path when it fell right on top of him. The cross hit him in the head and buried his head in the sand. When it happened, he bit through his tongue. It was one of the most challenging movies he ever filmed.
Brendan Fraser’s Hanging Stunt Went Terribly Wrong
In The Mummy, there were many incredible stunts performed, but one didn’t go as planned. Brendan Fraser’s character Rick is seen meeting “his end” at the gallows early in the film. Unfortunately, Fraser’s stunt almost turned deadly, but his stunt double did a great job.
One of Fraser’s stunt doubles performed the hanging scene; the director wanted a close-up shot of Fraser’s face. The rope was too tight around his neck, causing him to blackout. He was terrified, but the crew got him free before it was too late.
Jennifer Lawrence Suffocated From a Smoke Machine
Katniss Everdeen was Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout role, but playing the part was not easy. Her character fights to survive the Hunger Games, and Lawrence had a challenging time during the stunts in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. She had to be rescued in one instance.
In one of the scenes, a smoke machine malfunctioned inside a tunnel, spewing more fog than a person’s lungs can handle. Lawrence was inside the tunnel when it happened, causing her to choke. She suffered from nausea and vertigo after she was rescued from the fog.
Lorenza Izzo Was Swept Down a River
In The Green Inferno, Lorenza Izzo experienced something she will never forget, and that is not because she was surrounded by actors pretending to be cannibals. At the start of the film, Izzo’s character is on a canoe with cannibals and tries to escape by jumping in the river.
The current on the Amazon River was powerful, and Izzo was almost pulled under the water. The crew thought her screams were part of the scene, but she was actually struggling. She clung to rocks until the stunt coordinator rescued her.
George Clooney Was Leaking Spinal Fluid
In Syriana, George Clooney stars as a CIA operative tied to a chair and harshly questioned when he is captured. He didn’t use a stunt double for the grueling scene, and he was fine until the chair fell backward and Clooney hit his head.
The ground was cement, and Clooney knew he had to go to the hospital. He was flown from Morocco to LA’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Doctors discovered that spinal fluid was leaking, and he tore the outermost layer of his spinal cord. He had surgery to repair it but suffered from headaches after.
Gerard Butler Faced a 20-Foot Wave
The ocean is not something to mess with because it is such a powerful force. While working on the surfing movie Chasing Mavericks, Gerard Butler was taken down by a massive wave that pulled him under the water, tossed him around, and nearly drowned him.
Although most people would be thinking about how to save themselves, other things were on Butler’s mind. As the wave tossed him around, Butler thought, “there’s a whole film crew up there.” He didn’t want to be embarrassed, but he was lucky to be alive.
Bruce Willis’ Stunt Double Miscalculated a Jump
In the iconic movie Die Hard, Bruce Willis stars as John McLane. His character goes through a lot in the film, and one memorable scene wasn’t written in the script. As McLane tries to get down a ventilation shaft, the stuntman is supposed to make it to the first ledge safely.
Willis’ stunt double miscalculated the jump and fell. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and editor Frank Urioste managed to cut the film to include the fall. He switched the shot to show Willis grabbing the edge of the next shaft with his fingertips.
Martin Sheen Improvised This Dangerous Stunt
In the documentary Hearts of Darkness, behind-the-scenes stories from Apocalypse Now were revealed by director Francis Ford Coppola. The documentary showed the scene where Martin Sheen’s character falls apart in his hotel room, and it was mostly ad-libbed.
It was Sheen’s 36th birthday, and he was so drunk he could barely stand. When he looked in the mirror during the scene, he smashed the glass, cut his hand, and smeared blood on his face. Everything about the moment was genuine and made it into the movie.