If Hollywood is known for one thing, it would be how faked everything is. Movies sets are reduced to green screens, props, and some great acting. Today, stunts have been made to look real by professionals sitting behind a computer editing film for hours on end – but the art of the stunt has not been completely forgotten by some actors that feel the need to put themselves in harm’s way to make a great performance.
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After Daniel Craig took up the role of super-suave James Bond in Casino Royale, he was faced with the challenge of doing most of his own stunts. Sure, he went through loads of punch-ups and acquired scratches and bruises all over, but the real challenge came when he was cast for Quantum of Solace in 2008. Craig was faced with one of his most challenging stunts yet – a leap of faith from three stories up, onto a moving bus. Now this may seem like a cakewalk for most stuntmen, but Daniel Craig has a fear of heights. This stunt was so dangerous ultimately because he had to know exactly when to jump – moments before the bus would be under him. Had he missed his cue or jumped too soon, he would have either been run over by a large motor vehicle, or hit the hard ground.
Buster Keaton was known in the physical comedy era as “The Great Stone Face” because of his famous deadpan expression. Some of his more dangerous stunts can be seen in the 1920’s flick Sherlock Jr., where he actually broke his neck in a scene involving a water tank on a railroad. Topping that came when Buster was in a gag that involved a 2,000-pound, 3-story house which fell onto him, and the only thing stopping him from getting crushed was a window that let him pass through the house with only a few spare inches around him. Buster Keaton managed to live a long and successful life, despite all of the dangerous stunts he pulled off. He died of lung cancer in 1966 at the age of 70.
Another great actor of the silent (and sometimes not) classic comedy films, Harold Lloyd made nearly 200 films between the years 1914 and 1947. Lloyd was known as a true movie daredevil, most of his films had him performing some thrilling stunts, which kept his audiences in a sweat. In 1919 he was in a scene in Haunted Spooks where he was to carry around a prop bomb; however, the prop bomb was actually functional, and it exploded. In the explosion, Lloyd lost his index finger and thumb. Lloyd’s other famous stunts involved walking on skyscrapers and hanging from a clock tower in Safety Last! Harold Lloyd died in 1971 of prostate cancer at the age of 77.
As Jason Bourne, Matt Damon had to do the majority of his own stunts. Damon said he was especially nervous when he was doing a scene in the water, because “to drown is a very human fear.” When panic sets in, a stunt can be dangerous to all of the stunt cast and crew, but luckily Damon had it under control. Another scene in a Bourne film had him jumping over off a bridge, which was also fairly unnerving for the actor. He also did all the car crash stunts in the series. Matt Damon has also done other stunts in films such as Saving Private Ryan, and Courage Under Fire.
Christian Bale is no stranger to the danger of a good stunt. In Batman, he did all his own kicking, punching, and running. In Rescue Dawn he swung from a helicopter – dangerous, yes, but insane? No. What was insane was losing 63 pounds in a matter of months for his role in The Machinist. Bale went on a crash diet of nothing but coffee and apples. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll notice that his character starts out at a healthy weight, and then deteriorates. Director Brad Anderson never asked Bale to perform such a task, but in the end Bale was quoted as saying that it was “very calming mentally.” At his peak of weight loss, he tipped the scale at 121 pounds.
Jackie Chan’s long list of stunts are almost equally dangerous, to the point where choosing a ‘most dangerous’ one would not do him enough justice. He got cuts, bruises, 2nd degree burns and almost paralyzed himself while shooting Police Story, injured his neck in a clock tower free-fall in Project A, cracked his head open to the point where he bled out of his ears in Armor Of God. His most dangerous stunt is one that if done wrong, would have definitely killed him. In Who Am I? he had to fight off bad guys on top of a very high building in Holland. He had to get down to the ground below using the quickest way possible – which was to slide down the side of the 21-story building (which was slanted about 45 degrees). Jackie Chan remains one of the most inspirational stuntmen in modern film.
In his breakthrough role as Aragorn in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Viggo Mortensen performed all of his own stunts. Peter Jackson referred to Viggo, and two other stuntmen as “the walking wounded” due to all of the injuries they sustained while filming the trilogy. While filming a fight scene, Viggo actually had one of his teeth knocked out and had it repaired over lunch, and returned to work immediately afterward. However, his most dangerous stunts were actually performed in the movie Hidalgo, where he was to race at breakneck speeds on horseback – a stunt that the professional stuntmen would not even attempt. Luckily Viggo is a skilled horseback rider and did not sustain any injuries at all during filming.
Surprisingly, Tom Cruise’s most dangerous stunt was not jumping up and down on Oprah’s sofas. Cruise has been known to do his own stunts in action movies, but in Mission: Impossible he was quite adventurous. He dodged trucks, did some extreme rock climbing and could have even drowned. In the scene where a large number of aquariums inside a restaurant were broken, shards of glass and a flood of 16 tons of water came rushing towards our dearest hero and could have easily killed him. Originally the stunt was to be done with a stuntman, but the director felt that the scene wasn’t real enough without having Cruise to do it himself, so he stepped up to the plate and pulled it off like a champ.
Keanu is one of those guys that you poke fun of for having a lack of any emotion, expression, and most of the time, a lack of presence. That being said, Keanu is a man of action. He’s not afraid to get down and dirty to pull off a stunt. Most notably in the movie Speed, Keanu’s director, Jan de Bont, would not allow him to attempt one of the movies more dangerous stunts where Keanu’s character Traven was to jump from a car onto the bus at high speeds. However, Keanu secretly rehearsed the scene, practicing day in and day out without the director knowing – and on the day of the scene Keanu insisted on doing the stunt himself and almost gave de Bont a heart attack by executing it flawlessly.
Harrison Ford’s most famous roles include Han Solo from Star Wars, as well as the Indiana Jones series. As Indy, Harrison Ford was set up to do many of his own stunts. Even in the most recent Indiana Jones flick, Harrison Ford did 90% of his own stunts. Not bad for a 65 year-old man! Harrison’s stunts were only really considered dangerous because of his age, but he would repeatedly attempt the same stunt until he got it right, without taking a break.
Even Rambo himself can’t stop the aging process. Sylvester Stallone, at the age of 61, performed a great deal of his own stunts in the most recent Rambo movie, proving that age is only a number. Of course, his ripped physique and a lot of experience led this actor to do his own risky stunts in the entire Rambo series.
You’ve seen him in movies like Snatch, The Italian Job, and The Transporter. His passion for stunt driving has lead him into some very dangerous situations, like when filming the movie Crank. Statham had to drive high-speed through the streets of LA on a motorbike – wearing nothing but a hospital gown. Had he crashed, he would have not only taken a fair bit of road-rash, but also a fair bit of public embarrassment. Statham also did his own stunts in Death Race.
Bruce Lee was a great action movie hero and a professional in martial arts. His son, Brandon Lee was following in his father’s footsteps when he died. In the movie The Crow, the stunts were not so extreme, but in the end it was an unknowingly dangerous stunt that lead to a fatal injury. In a prop malfunction, a blank bullet had been lodged into the gun and on the next trigger pull, Lee was shot. When the director yelled, “cut” Lee was unresponsive. He died hours later at the age of 28.