Stunts are something that we often take for granted. Audiences love watching large explosions, high-speed chase scenes, and insane aerial tricks. But at what cost? The job of a stuntman is a dangerous one. Most Hollywood actors don’t perform their own stunts; not only are they often life-threatening, but they require long hours of training and preparation to execute as safely as possible. Even then, many dangerous stunts can easily end in injury or death — even when being performed by the most skilled and highly trained professionals in the business. Here are some stunts that just didn’t work out right.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
Harry Potter isn’t typically a name that stirs up words like ‘dangerous’ or ‘paralyzed from the waist down’, but they’re appropriate when describing a botched stunt during the filming of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Potter himself, has multiple scenes in which he darts around through the air on a broomstick. It looks great, kids love it, and it’s completely fake. So fake that Radcliffe isn’t even the real subject being filmed in a lot of the crazy, action-packed scenes. Radcliffe had a stunt double for most of his flying sequences, one of which involved a explosion.
The stunt didn’t go as planned. During a practice run, the explosion knocked the stunt double onto his ass. His lights weren’t knocked out, but the feeling in his legs definitely was. The young man was rushed to a hospital where he hopes to make a full recovery.
Nicholas Cage has made some awful movies, including one where he dresses up in a bear suit and punches women and children square in the face. But the real tragedy in Cage’s career happened while he was filming an action movie in NYC, and it didn’t involve him at all. A stuntman was driving a ferrari through the crowded city streets of Times Square when he accidentally drove into an Olive Garden. Two customers were injured, but the driver was fine.
The Twilight Zone Movie
One of the most infamous movie stunts to go horribly wrong was the tragedy during the 1983 filming of The Twilight Zone movie. A helicopter being flown without taking the proper safety precautions took the lives of three of the movie’s cast — and it was all caught on tape. The video shows an explosion rending the tail rotor of a chopper flying at a dangerously low 25 feet, causing it to spin out of control and decapitate Vic Morrow and two children actors, only six and seven years old.
The horrible accident led to amendments of the regulations regarding children actors working on movie sets, and was the subject of a decade long lawsuit.
The Crow’s trivia is so popular that it’s almost common knowledge; the movie developed a cult following after it’s completion, largely due to the mishap which ended in a mysterious death. The film’s main character, Brandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee), was to get shot toward the end of the film with a prop gun. The gun was supposed to be filled with gunpowder only, but for some reason contained a fatal blank cartridge as well. The shot hit Lee in the stomach, and caused a death that was the summation of many mysterious accidents on The Crow’s set.
Earlier, a carpenter was injured but survived serious electrical burns from contact with high-voltage power lines. Another carpenter drove his car into the studio’s plaster shop in a fit of rage, a worker suffered injuries after impaling his hand on a screwdriver, and a stuntmen plummeted through the roof of a set.
XXX is the kind of movie that’s so great because of how absurdly terrible it is. It contains all the elements necessary to make a hilariously bad action flick: blatantly impossible stunts, a thin-as-paper plot involving saving the world, and Vin Diesel. Diesel plays an arrogant criminal named Xander Cage (yes, really) whose force is left unchallenged by the government, which eventually must recruit him in the war against an evil man attempting to destroy civilization as we know it.
Unfortunately, an individual named Harry O’Connor died during the creation of this C-grade movie. The first take of his stunt, parasailing in the background of a scene, was executed perfectly. The second take ran much less smoothly: O’Connor was killed instantly when he crashed into a bridge pillar. Needless to say, the first take was the one used in the film.
Top Gun is an 80’s classic, an action-romance film about a handsome young pilot attending Naval School where he must prove himself among a crowd of rowdy and judgmental students. Action packed and all about airplanes, this movie called for a number of risky air stunts.
A professional air stuntman named Art Scholl was hired to perform many of the in-flight camera work for Top Gun. Scholl was incredibly talented and experienced, and had done aerial filming for commercials, television and film like The Right Stuff and The A-Team. Top Gun would prove to be the last film he worked on. During a maneuver called a flat spin, Scholl was unable to recover the airplane to its regular position for reasons that still remain unknown. “I have a problem,” he said, “I have a real problem,” before crashing into the Pacific Ocean. Neither Scholl nor his airplane were ever recovered.
Remember Gothika? The one about Halle Berry waking up in a mental institution because she’s a psychiatrist convinced a ghost tried to kill her? No? That’s okay, neither does anyone else. At least Halle Berry did most of her own fights and stunts, something which cost her a broken arm. After one of her more “physically demanding” scenes got a little too physical, Berry was rushed to the hospital with a broken ulna. Her injury delayed filming, which was halfway done at the time of her accident, but was completed and released in the end of 2003.
The Lord of the Rings
Viggo Mortensen is generally known as that badass dad from The Road, but he started in a much different place. While performing his breakthrough role as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Viggo was referred to as ‘the walking wounded’ by the film’s director. He performed all of his own stunts and frequently suffered injury while doing so; he even knocked out one of his teeth during one scene. The tooth was repaired during the crew’s lunch break and Viggo promptly returned to work afterward.
Experienced stuntman Paul Dallas fell to his death during a free fall stunt being performed for television series LA Heat. Dallas was known as a “high faller,” and had years of experience flawlessly executing free falls that reached heights of over 100 feet in multiple movies and television shows. Only 34 years old, the stuntman was to fall 53 feet onto an air bag produced by his own personally owned air bag company.
Dallas was supposed to flip over the metal railing on a concrete ledge at a steam plant, lifted with the assistance of a so-called ‘apple box.’ The box was supported by four crew members, and the flip was expected to launch Dallas several feet into the air before he descended on the airbag below. However, his projection was miscalculated and much shorter than intended. The unlucky stuntman arched his body in mid-air — a clear sign that Dallas knew he was in trouble. The arch didn’t help him move further out into the air and he landed on the airbag with only the lower half of his body, causing him to rocket violently into the pavement head first. Dallas was declared dead on the scene of the accident.
Will Ferrel is known for his side-splitting comedies, which often contain ridiculous and hilarious imagery. Semi-Pro was no different, and one scene called for a giant grizzly bear for wrestle with the star himself. Bears can be trained to do all sorts of things, like ride bikes and even hang out in a hot tub with humans without mauling them to death. In fact, they can appear to be quite friendly after years of training by a skilled professional. However, the animals are still wild and unpredictable — no matter how well behaved they’ve been taught to act. The bear used in Semi-Pro upheld this theory when it lashed out in a shocking and unwarranted rage. Fortunately for Ferrel, his scene was completed without incident. The bear’s trainer, Randy Miller, was not so lucky.
While in the company of three trainers, the 7 foot tall grizzly named Rocky tore into the neck of Miller with its enormous jaws. Miller’s coworkers made a vain attempt to pry the animal’s mouth from its death grip, but Miller died on the spot from blood loss.
The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular
Indiana Jones is one of the most popular action series ever produced, and each film is packed full of dangerous and thrilling stunts. Although all Indiana Jones movies have been completed safely and successfully, the Walt Disney World’s version of the Jones legacy at Hollywood Studios was not as lucky. Called The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, the performance was intended to imitate a movie set that was capturing a series of fights, explosions, and flying stunts — all live.
Stuntman Anislav Varbanov died from head injuries while practicing a fast tumbling roll, only a week after a similar stunt show in the studios took another man’s life as well. Mark Priest was another to die of head injuries after hitting his head on a wall during a show based on the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Although he joked about his condition on the way to the hospital, Priest quickly fell into a coma and died.
The 1920s saw the insurgence of movie flight scenes, using the help of aerial performers who were gaining popularity across America at the time. One of the most popular stuntmen, Ormer Locklear, became Hollywood’s first famous stunt pilot. Known mostly for being able to walk on the wings of his plane during flight, Locklear was recruited to complete another frightening feat called “the transfer.” The stunt called for Locklear to remove himself from one aircraft and enter another — in mid air. Amazingly, Locklear performed this stunt multiple times without incident, performing both car-to-plane and plane-to-plane transfers.
Soon after, the renowned stuntman was to perform a simulated night time crash for a film called The Skywayman. Flares were attached to the side of the plane in order to make the plane appear to be on fire, but it was the lights from the movie studio’s spotlights which botched the performance. Blinded by the glare, Locklear spun out of control and crashed, dying instantly.
The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger wasn’t the only life lost in the making of 2008’s The Dark Knight. Stunt technician Conway Wickliffe was killed upon impact when a camera truck crashed into a tree. The tragedy occurred only a few weeks into filming.
A Vampire in Brooklyn
Sonja Davis was a respected and skilled stuntwoman who had performed in action films like Timecop and Deep Cover. She was no stranger to the business, and had done her fair share of ‘free falls’, a stunt in which the performer leaps from a great height and lands on a soft pad or net hidden off-screen. During the filming of Wes Craven’s 1995 comedy-horror Vampire in Brooklyn, Davis’s execution of a 45 foot backwards drop ended in tragedy.
Paramount Pictures were later cited for providing the stuntwoman with an airbag not equipped for a fall from such a height — one of the contributing factors which lead to her death. Although Davis landed on the landing pad, her head smacked the pavement just outside its edges. No emergency medical team was present on the team, and it took fifteen minutes for one to arrive in Davis’ aid. Paramount Pictures received another citation for this, along with an additional one for failing to properly train Davis for the stunt.
Romancing the Stone
Two lovers from opposite walks of life embark on a wild adventure to find hidden jungle treasure in the 1984 action film Romancing The Stone. The movie contains stunts similar to those in Indiana Jones – swinging from trees, insane explosions, battling the strong currents of violent waters. One stunt called for two stuntmen, doubling as the film’s two leads, to jump from a small car as it fell off the side of a 70-foot high waterfall. The couple were meant to land in the calmer water surrounding the high speed whirlpool at the bottom. Unfortunately, the small hidden platform which was meant to support their leaps buckled.
Terry Leonard, who was doubling for Michael Douglas, was unable to perform the dramatic swan dive he had hoped for and instead landed directly inside the whirlpool, which pushed him down beneath the current. Leonard was able to kick his way to the top where he was pulled from the water. Vince Deadrick, doubling for Kathleen Turner, also had to be rescued. He had landed nearby but suffered a harsh impact to his ribs, leaving him stunned but still alive.