While simple movie stunts are easy execute, highly elaborate ones actually take an incredible amount of planning to ensure the safety of everyone involved. But regardless of how much time and preparation are put into these scenes, things can still go wrong sometimes, resulting in accidents and even deaths. Below are 30 of the most dangerous movie stunts captured by cameras.
Accidental firing of a dummy bullet at Brandon Lee’s abdomen (The Crow, 1994)
Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son, died of a gunshot wound he got while filming a scene for the 1994 superhero movie The Crow. In the now-infamous scene, Eric Draven, aka The Crow (Brandon), walks into his apartment and discovers his fiancée being beaten and raped. The Crow is then fired at by Funboy (Michael Massee) using a Smith & Wesson Model 629 .44 Magnum revolver.
In the scene preceding the fatal moment, a gun was loaded with cartridges from which the crew had removed the powder charge. The crew, however, had forgotten to remove the primer from the cartridges. This caused one of the rounds to fire and lodge a bullet inside the barrel. For the fatal scene, which called for the revolver to be fired at Brandon from a distance of 3.6–4.5 meters, the emptied cartridges were replaced with blank rounds. When the blank round was fired, the bullet lodged in the barrel was propelled forward with almost the same force as if the round were live and struck Brandon in the abdomen.
Just hours after the accident, Brandon died of internal injuries, blood loss, and heart failure. A month after, North Carolina District Attorney Jerry Spivey announced that Brandon’s death was due to negligence on the part of the film’s crew and not foul play.
Bane’s plane hijack (The Dark Knight Rises, 2012)
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises opens with an action-packed midair plane-to-plane hijack. When Tom Hardy’s Bane was brought onto a plane for transport by the CIA, the villain’s mercenaries attacked the CIA’s plane from above. The henchmen literally propelled down from their plane and attached cabling to the CIA’s plane, causing it to tip nose down and begin to break apart.
While Nolan could have done portions of this scene with CGI, he decided to film all the hijack’s exterior scenes practically. He reportedly spent a few days filming the stunt in Scotland using a South African EMB-110 for the CIA’s plane and a Lockheed C130 Hercules for that of Bane’s minions. But when it came time to destroy the CIA’s plane, Nolan replaced the real plane with a prop version. Still, the stuntman had to drop down to the prop to capture the moments when the CIA plane is being destroyed. The Lockheed C130 Hercules towed the prop plane during this time, with Nolan allowed to drop the prop into the Cairngorm Mountains.
Batmobile blowing up (The Dark Knight, 2008)
Actors and stuntmen aren’t the only people who put their lives on the line every time a stunt is being rehearsed or filmed. For instance, special effects technician Conway Wickliffe was killed while rehearsing a portion of The Dark Knight’s climactic chase scene in which the Batmobile is blown up.
Wickliffe, 41, was riding in the back seat of a Nissan 4×4 when the car crashed into a tree at 20mph. He had been leaning out of the window and operating a camera, which was shooting a stunt car traveling parallel to the vehicle he’s riding. According to The Guardian, the Nissan, driven by another special effects technician, Bruce Monroe-Armstrong, failed to make the 90-degree turn required at the end of its run and hit a tree.
Billy Score free-falling from Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency Hotel (Sharky’s Machine, 1981)
In the action-thriller Sharky’s Machine, Henry Silva’s villainous character Billy Score free-falls from Atlanta’s 220-foot Hyatt Regency Hotel, which doubles for the film’s Westin Peachtree Plaza. Carried out by professional daredevil Dar Robinson, the death-defying stunt stands as the highest free-fall stunt ever performed from a building for a commercially released film. Though it’s a record-setting fall, only the beginning of the stunt, as Billy goes through the window, was used in the movie. A dummy was used for the outside wide shot of the fall beside the skyscraper.
Free-falling from Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency Hotel was a small feat for Robinson, as he had already free-fallen off Toronto’s CN Tower, at 1,170 feet two times before filming the aerial stunt for the Burt Reynolds-directed flick.
Chariot race scene (Ben-Hur, 1959)
The climax of William Wyler’s Ben-Hur features an electrifying chariot race around Rome’s Circus Maximus that sees Charlton Heston’s titular hero jumping over a fallen chariot. Professional stuntman Joe Canutt doubled for Heston in the scene, and the former can be seen in the final print actually toppling forward in the seat as the chariot lands.
Considered as one of the most dangerous movie stunts ever, the heart-stopping scene made a lot of people believe for years that Canutt was killed in the crash. But according to John Baxter’s 1974 book Stunt; The Story of the Great Movie Stunt Men, Canutt’s only injury was a gash on his chin which required four stitches.
Corkscrew car jump (The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974)
Though considered by many as the worst James Bond movie ever, The Man with the Golden Gun features one of the most spectacular stunts in the 007 series. At a key moment in the Guy Hamilton-directed flick, Bond (Roger Moore) steals a red AMC Hornet from a car showroom ― coincidentally with a vacationing Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) in the passenger seat ― to chase down the villainous Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). During the chase, Bond and Pepper find themselves on the other side of a river, forcing the former to not only jump the Hornet over the river, but also twist it in midair.
The corkscrew car jump was performed by stunt driver Loren “Bumps” Willert. According to Hamilton, Willert “had never driven the car before or ever done it” but “he wasn’t concerned because as long as it had the run-up, so long as it’s 48 miles per hour, the rest is automatic. You hang on, cross your fingers, and bingo he did it in one take.” Some people didn’t believe that they actually did the stunt, so Willert did it once again for an assembled crowd that included about 100 press people from Europe.
Domino’s motorcycle stunt (Deadpool 2, 2018)
Doubling for actress Zazie Beetz, motorcycle road racer Sequana Joi Harris died while filming a scene for Deadpool 2. On her very first day as a stuntwoman, Harris was driving a bike in downtown Vancouver in Canada when she lost control of the vehicle, hit a curb, and was thrown into the Shaw Tower. She died on the scene.
Harris was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident because Beetz’s character, Domino, does not wear one in the scene being filmed, and there hadn’t been enough time to create one for her to fit underneath the character’s wig. Though veteran stunt double Melissa Stubbs was available and willing to do the stunt during the filming, the inexperienced Harris was preferred due to her skin color being a match for Beetz. The film’s credits include a dedication to Harris.
Explosion at the Ognyanovo reservoir (The Expendables 2, 2012)
While filming a staged explosion on a rubber boat at the Ognyanovo reservoir in Bulgaria for The Expendables 2, an explosive device apparently misfired, killing stuntman Kun Liu and injuring another named Nuo Sun. The film’s stars, which include Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Chuck Norris, were not present during the accident.
Liu’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the producers of the film, Nu Image and Millennium Films, and stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski. The suit alleged that conditions for the stunt were unsafe. Sun, meanwhile, underwent a five-hour operation, which left him in stable condition. The Expendables 2 credits contain a dedication to Liu’s memory.
Flipping the Joker’s truck over (The Dark Knight, 2008)
In the second instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, the crew literally flipped a truck over as part of a gripping chase sequence in which the Joker (Heath Ledger) pursues Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), thinking he’s Batman (Christian Bale). But the real Batman attaches the Joker’s tractor-trailer with super cables to the street of Gotham, causing it to tumble upon itself.
At the helm of the cartwheeling 18-wheeler truck was stuntman Jim Wilkey, who only had one chance to get it right. Wilkey survived the stunt without a scratch, and the no-CGI truck flip appears in one continuous take in the film.
Helicopter chase scene (Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983)
Sci-fi horror anthology film Twilight Zone features four stories and director John Landis’ segment, titled Time Out, stars Vic Morrow as Bill Connor, a man who becomes unstuck in time, landing in various episodes of the past. An outdoor set in California doubled as one of Bill’s destinations, the Vietnam War.
Filming went well until the last day when shooting called for Morrow to be chased by a helicopter for a scene. The chopper lost control after a special effect damaged it. It then crashed into Morrow and two child extras, subsequently killing them all. The footage of their deaths was destroyed, and a lengthy legal battle over fault ensued.
Hooper jumping over a 325-foot gorge (Hooper, 1978)
A tribute to stuntmen, Hooper follows Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds), an aging Hollywood stuntman who signs up as the stunt coordinator for a big-budget action movie with a pushy director (Robert Klein) and a clueless star (Adam West). Ready to retire from the physical abuse of his profession, Hooper is gearing up to make the film’s climactic stunt his biggest ever, but cocky young stuntman Ski Chinski (Jan-Michael Vincent) aims to steal the glory with his more scientific, technology-oriented stunt methods.
Hooper’s climax features a Mayan Red 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am car jumping across a 325-foot gorge. Stuntman Buddy Joe Hooker doubled for Reynolds in the scene, which some people believe to be fake. Director Needham, however, once told NPR that he hates fake stunts: “A guy jumps off a 250-foot dam, and it cuts to the water and he bobs up, like he’s a duck. And you go, ‘Wait a minute. Give me a break. A guy would kill himself doing that. There’s no way he could do it.’ To me, it takes all of the reality out of the show. I just can’t stand it. Even as a director, I never did that stuff. We did it for real.”
Horrific train track scene (Midnight Rider)
Though producers of the abandoned Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider didn’t get permission to shoot on a bridge crossing over Georgia’s Altamaha River, the cast and crew still set up there to shoot a dream sequence. And as William Hurt, playing as Allman, was laying down on a hospital bed on the train tracks, an actual train showed up, prompting everyone to leave the tracks as quickly as possible. But the train struck the hospital bed and parts of which hit camera assistant Sarah Jones, pushing her into the train’s path and killing her on the scene.
Director Randall Miller received two years in jail, while assistant director Hillary Schwartz got a decade of probation for Jones’s death. The film was never completed.
Indiana Jones being dragged behind a truck (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981)
A key scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark sees Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) dragged behind a truck driving away with the Ark of the Covenant. Director Steven Spielberg and writer George Lucas wanted the stunt to look as realistic as possible, so Ford himself did some parts of the action sequence, reportedly bruising his ribs in the process. The most dangerous portions of the stunt, however, were performed by stuntman Terry Leonard.
Prior to performing the stunt for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Leonard actually tried to do the same stunt for 1981’s The Legend of the Lone Ranger but failed to execute it properly. Thrilled at the chance of having another shot at it, Leonard agreed to do it but only if his friend and colleague Glenn Randall Jr. was driving. According to Brothers-Ink.com, the truck was specially constructed to be higher above the ground than normal so as to allow clearance for Indy to pass underneath safely. The center of the road was also dug out to allow more clearance.
J.W. Ewing’s horse-dragging stunt (Comes a Horseman, 1978)
Alan J. Pakula’s Western drama film Comes a Horseman includes a scene in which Jason Robards’ villainous character J.W. Ewing is dragged by his horse, presumably to his death. Stuntman Jim Sheppard, who doubled for Robards in the scene, died when the horse dragging him veered from its course and caused Sheppard to hit his head on a fence post.
The stunt made it into the final cut of the movie, but it is cut right before the horse passes through the gate where Sheppard received the fatal blow.
Jackie Chan crawling on hot coals (Drunken Master II, 1994)
A sequel to the 1978 film Drunken Master, Drunken Master II stars Jackie Chan as Wong Fei-hung, a martial arts master and folk hero who uses drunken boxing style to beat up his enemies. During a fight scene in a steel factory, Chan was knocked backwards onto a pile of real hot coals. He then did a “crab walk” on the coals, severely burning both of his hands. Not content with how it looked the first time, Chan did the stunt one more time.
An outtake of the stunt gone wrong is shown during the closing credits of the film, and it captures how the crew members quickly extinguish the fire on Chan’s costume following the extremely perilous stunt.
Jackie Chan sliding down a six-story vertical pole (Police Story, 1985)
In the latter part of Police Story, a briefcase containing important pieces of evidence falls to the bottom of the mall’s atrium where it is picked up by the mob boss. Desperate and out of options, cop Chan Ka-Kui (Jackie Chan) launches himself off the guard rail from the mall’s top floor and slides down a six-story vertical pole. Electric lights shoot sparks all around him as he slams through strings of decorative lights on his way down. Ka-Kui lands by crashing through a glass panel into a kiosk. And without missing a beat, he hops back on his feet and detains his adversary.
The stunt, of course, was performed by Chan himself, who actually did the scene not once, not twice, but thrice. The action sequence is considered by many as one of the most dangerous movie stunts, as Chan and his team did not rehearse the scene. According to Film School Rejects, there were also no wires, crash mats, or safety nets, so if Chan missed the pole there would be nothing to catch him or break his fall.
Jackie Chan’s clock tower stunt (Project A, 1983)
Set in 19th century Hong Kong, Project A follows a marine lieutenant (Jackie Chan) who teams up with a navy admiral (Hak Suen Lau), a police captain (Biao Yuen), and a crafty thief (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) to defeat an evil pirate (Dick Wei) and his underlings who have been terrorizing local waters.
The martial arts action-comedy film features spectacular stunts, including one that sees Chan hanging and falling from the hand of a clock tower some 60 ft high, tearing through awning canopies before hitting the ground. Though Chan landed on his head and damaged his spine, the actor continued doing his own stunts until 2012.
Jamie Lee Curtis being rescued from a limousine (True Lies, 1994)
In a climactic scene from the James Cameron’s True Lies, Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) rescues his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) from a limousine about to speed off a bridge. Harry, who’s in a helicopter, grasps Helen by her arm just as the chopper heads out over the water. The woman seen dangling below the helicopter skid is not a stunt double, but Curtis doing her very own stunt.
Curtis had previously shared that it was Cameron’s idea for her to do the helicopter stunt. “Oh, yeah. And just where are you going to be while I’m dangling way up there in the air, Jim?” Curtis recalled asking the filmmaker the first time he asked her to do the stunt. “And he said, ‘Hanging out the door filming you with a hand-held camera.’” Cameron’s answer made Curtis agree to do the stunt, which was ultimately filmed on her birthday.
Jumping from Chicago’s Willis Tower (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, 2011)
When the Decepticons have completely sealed off Chicago at the height of the action in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the strike team NEST led by Colonel William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) makes their way into the city by diving from a military aircraft, flying-squirrel style.
The jump was actually a flight made possible through a special jumpsuit called wingsuit. Made from nylon, a wingsuit was sewn in such a way that it has fabric wings under the arms and between the legs, allowing professional daredevils to carve through the air at 100 mph. “It doesn’t feel like you’re falling so much as it feels like the buildings are growing,” said stuntman J.T. Holmes on what it was like jumping off the 110-story Willis Tower for one of the most exhilarating scenes in the movie.
Maverick’s fighter jet going into a flat spin (Top Gun, 1986)
In the gloomiest moment of Top Gun, Maverick’s (Tom Cruise) fighter jet goes into a flat spin, forcing him and his radar intercept officer and best friend Goose (Anthony Edwards) to eject themselves from the aircraft before it crashes. The accident kills Goose and almost ends Maverick’s piloting career.
Sadly, while filming a similar flat spin for the Tony Scott-directed film, renowned aerobatic pilot Art Scholl lost control of his plane. His aircraft was observed to spin through its recovery altitude, at which time Scholl radioed, “I have a problem… I have a real problem”. He was unable to recover from the spin and crashed his Pitts Special biplane into the Pacific Ocean. Neither Scholl’s body nor his aircraft was recovered, leaving the official cause of the accident unknown. Top Gun was dedicated to Scholl’s memory.
Melting the Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)
In dire need of work during the Great Depression, actress Margaret Hamilton signed on to play the Wicked Witch of the West in Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, she suffered third-degree burns while filming a scene involving a smoke-and-sparks effect that was meant to show her character vanishing.
According to reports, when pyrotechnics were set off around Hamilton, the trap door on which she was standing failed to drop her out of sight, prompting crew members to quickly extinguish her burning witch costume.
Oddjob’s electrocution (Goldfinger, 1965)
Played by Harold Sakata in the third Eon Productions-produced James Bond movie, Oddjob is the dependable henchman of wealthy bullion dealer and criminal, Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe). Oddjob’s weapon of choice is a flying bowler hat that could easily take heads off.
Despite Oddjob’s fancy weapon, Bond (Sean Connery) manages to defeat him by tossing a live wire at him, which toasts him to death. While Oddjob’s death scene is a visual spectacle, Sakata actually got some serious burns when the pyrotechnics meant to simulate his character’s fatal electrocution torched his sleeve and injured his hand.
Porta potty slingshot scene (Jackass 3D, 2010)
Jackass 3D features over 40 extremely stupid stunts but the most notorious of them all is the porta potty slingshot scene. Hilariously called Poo Cocktail Supreme, the highly dangerous and disgusting segment sees Steve-O strapped inside a feces-filled porta potty that is hooked to two tall cranes with bungee cords that make the porta potty fly several stories up into the air.
If you don’t mind watching stomach-churning tricks like this, then you can watch the entire Jackass 3D porta potty slingshot nonsense here.
Speedboat jump stunt (Gone Fishin’, 1997)
Filming for the comedy film Gone Fishin’, which reunited Lethal Weapon’s stars Danny Glover and Joe Pesci, turned into a tragedy when a stunt gone wrong killed stuntwoman Janet Wilder and hurt four other stuntmen.
The stunt required a speedboat to go up a ramp, soar over a stand of mangrove trees, and land between two boats. But the vessel apparently missed a V-shaped guide groove in the center of the ramp that would have kept it on the right path. So, it slid to one side, spun and flipped over, then smashed into two boats, which then hit the people. The two stunt actors in the airborne boat were not hurt.
Tom Cruise’s Burj Khalifa stunt (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, 2011)
All Mission Impossible films feature death-defying stunts and for the fourth instalment of the action spy movie, Tom Cruise literally climbed the side of the tallest building in the world. With only a harness on, Cruise, who plays the role of Ethan Hunt in the movie, bravely performed Spider-Man-like stunts high above the UAE city of Dubai.
Considered as one of the most dangerous movie stunts to date, the heart-stopping scene almost didn’t materialize. The film’s original underwriter reportedly said no to the highly unsafe stunt work. But being the thrill-seeker that he is, Cruise fired the insurer and did the gravity-defying moves anyway.
Tom Cruise’s airplane stunt (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, 2015)
In an apparent attempt to one-up himself after climbing the side of Burj Khalifa, the then-52-year-old Tom Cruise attached himself to an airplane as it takes off in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.
Featured in the opening of the Christopher McQuarrie-directed movie, the heart-stopping scene sees Cruise’s Ethan Hunt attaching himself to the side of an Airbus A400M as it takes to the skies over England. Cruise was wearing special contact lenses while performing the stunt because it’s impossible to keep one’s eyes wide open midair.
Tom Cruise’s helicopter stunt (Mission Impossible: Fallout, 2018)
At one point during the climactic high-speed aerial chase between Tom Cruise’s superspy Ethan Hunt and Henry Cavill’s villainous August Walker in Mission Impossible: Fallout, Cruise himself is seen not only hanging from a helicopter but actually piloting it. To show that it was in fact, Cruise, and not a double or dummy in the pilot’s seat, special camera mounts were fixed to the helicopter for the crucial moment.
While it would have been much easier to shoot the stunt on a studio backlot against a green screen, Cruise himself wanted to do it for real. “Everyone always asks me if this is Tom Cruise just going mad and wanting to do all this stuff, but it’s really not that,” director Christopher McQuarrie told the Los Angeles Times in 2018. “He approaches everything in a calculating fashion. He would have been a great stunt man if he wasn’t a great actor.”
Tornado scene (Steamboat Bill, Jr., 1928)
Steamboat Bill, Jr. follows college boy William Canfield Jr. (Buster Keaton) who reunites with his boat captain father in a Mississippi River town. Though flummoxed by William’s citified appearance, the elder Canfield finds an ally in his son as he competes with fellow riverboat owner John James King (Tom McGuire). William eventually falls for King’s daughter, Mary (Marion Byron), but his priorities change when the weather suddenly turns bad and his father is arrested.
The Charles Reisner-directed silent comedy is best known for what may be Keaton’s most famous film stunt: The facade of an entire house falls all around him while he stands in the perfect spot to pass through the open attic window. The mathematically precise tornado scene is without a doubt one of the most dangerous movie stunts ever, as a mistake of an inch or two in Keaton’s position would have injured or killed him.
Xander Cage paragliding near Prague’s Palacky Bridge (xXx, 2002)
Former Navy SEAL and veteran stuntman Harry O’Connor doubled for Vin Diesel in one of the action scenes from xXx where the film’s hero Xander Cage paraglides near the Palacky Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic.
O’Connor’s first attempt was completed without any incident and can be seen in the final cut of the Rob Cohen-directed movie. O’Conner, however, hit one of the bridge’s pillars during his second attempt, which killed him on the spot due to heavy injuries.
Zoe Bell hanging onto the hood of a car (Death Proof, 2007)
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Death Proof stars Kurt Russell as Mike McKay, a Hollywood stuntman who preys on young women and uses his car to murder them. New Zealand stuntwoman Zoe Bell plays herself in a scene where she shows off her daredevil side by riding the hood of her friends’ car. Zoe’s daring exhibition, however, becomes a complete nightmare when Mike appears and tries to run them all off the road at high speed.
Prior to starring in Death Proof, Bell had previously worked with Tarantino on Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Kill Bill: Volume 1. An award-winning professional stuntwoman, Bell served as Cate Blanchett’s stunt double in the 2017 Thor: Ragnarok.