We love hearing about injuries in film. No, it’s not that weird. Ok, it’s a little weird, but there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why we’re interested. First of all, actors get injured all the time. Even though they have stunt doubles for most of the dangerous stunts, most films still require some light action from the stars, and whenever there are moving parts involved, there’s a chance of an injury. But we don’t care about most injuries. Yeah, that poor kid from the Maze Runner franchise, Dylan O’Brien, was run over by car and suffered some pretty serious injuries, but we’re not looking at just any old injuries; we’re looking at injuries that happened while filming and it actually made it into the final cut. Either the accident or the aftermath. We’re interested in injuries like these because these rare moments are like beautiful unicorns; we all know they exist, we just so rarely see them. With the elevated standards of today’s film sets, they become a little rarer each year, but they do happen, and we have them here.
There’s something about seeing an actor get injured in film that makes the scene more special. Maybe it’s because, in our minds, if an actor is going hard enough or doing something dangerous enough to get injured while doing it, it must be more than just basic acting. Seeing a film transcend into reality, even if it’s just for a moment, makes it feel different than usual. Plus, there’s always the human interest story behind it all. These are, after all, celebrities. Many people are ravenous when it comes to consuming inside information about films and their stars, and what’s more inside than information about real-life injuries? Knowing that we’re watching a stunt that the actor actually got injured performing makes that stunt all the more real and all the more exhilarating. Enough hype; let’s countdown from worst to first. Here are 15 on-set injuries that made it into the movie.
15. Leonardo DiCaprio And The Glass – Django Unchained
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know the story, and we’ve heard about the life that story has taken on since the filming of Django Unchained. What started with Leonardo DiCaprio cutting his hand on a glass that he smashes on camera, turned into something much crazier. People nowadays be like, “he cut his hand off, held up the detached limb to the heavens like Simba, then threw it in Kerry Washington‘s face.” Yes, Leo did cut his hand and finished the scene with a real bloody hand. No, he did not wipe real blood on Kerry Washington’s face. That’s assault brotha. They cut the scene, cleaned the real blood and fixed up the wound. Then they put artificial blood on Leo’s hand, which is what he wiped all over Washington’s face. Still interesting, just not as interesting as what it became.
14. Jake Gyllenhaal Hates Mirrors – Nightcrawler
In the scene in Nightcrawler that has Jake Gyllenhaal yelling at a mirror, hitting it, shaking it and eventually breaking it, the actor badly cut his hand and wrist on the shattered glass. While the cut or the act of being cut can’t be seen in the film, we can use our imaginations. Knowing he had been cut, Gyllenhaal stayed in character and walked away from the mirror where the scene ends. Since he required several stitches and had to be bandaged up, it was difficult to hide for the remainder of the shoot. Therefore, you might notice that in certain scenes, Gyllenhaal hides one hand from the camera. Now you know why.
13. Viggo Mortensen And The Hard Helmet – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
When Viggo Mortensen‘s character, Aragorn, finds out (mistakenly) that his little hobbit friends had been killed and burned by the marauding Uruk-hai in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, he freaks out a bit and kicks a helmet on the ground. After this kick, he drops to his knees and start to scream. You’re thinking, that’s a heck of a scream. Well, it was a real scream, a scream of agony and embarrassment because that kick actually really hurt him. It actually broke two of the ranger’s toes and he needed to do the rest of the film with only eight good toes (possibly more or less depending on how many he started with).
12. James Franco Headbutts A Tree – Pineapple Express
In one scene in Pineapple Express, when James Franco and Seth Rogen run around in the forest at night for no particular reason, Franco’s character runs straight into a tree. What was meant to be a silly little physical gag became something more though. We learned that Franco performed this stunt himself and mucked it up. He smashed his head a little too hard on the tree and cut himself open. For many of the shots after that, Franco is seen wearing a headband. This isn’t a coincidence. That grey headband was added in to cover the bandaged up wound, not to make a fashion statement. So now you know. Franco only wears headbands when it’s necessary.
11. Joe Pesci And The Cursed Rib – Raging Bull & Casino
Two movies with Robert De Niro, two injuries to Joe Pesci, one troublesome rib. On the set of Raging Bull (1980), De Niro beats on Pesci and throws him through a glass door. While it might be hard to distinguish between them, there are plenty of fake cries of pain in the scene and one real cry of pain. When Pesci went through the window, he broke a rib on the door frame. The cry that follows that crash is the real one. Then, 15 years later, on the set of Casino, Pesci is beaten to a pulp and thrown into a hole with his dead brother. As he slumps down into the hole, you hear him grunt in pain when he lands. Turns out the poor little guy broke that very same rib in the fall.
10. Nicole Kidman In A Wheelchair – Moulin Rouge
Speaking of ribs, Nicole Kidman broke two on the set of Moulin Rouge. First, she fell down some stairs while dancing and broke a rib and fractured her knee. Production was halted to give her some time to recover, but it wasn’t enough. Later, when trying to fit into a corset to give her a Vivien Leigh look from Gone with the Wind, Kidman broke another rib (or the same one again, we’re not sure). Due to her injuries, specifically her knee, many of the shots in the film (including almost all of the shots of her waist up) Kidman is actually sitting in a wheelchair. This allowed her to take strain off the knee and the ribs at the same time. Clever girl.
9. Halle Berry Breaks An Arm – Gothika
Halle Berry has had several injuries while filming, which is a bit weird because, if you watch Catwoman, almost every time she is required to move at more than simply a brisk walk they use CGI to accomplish it. Yet, in Gothika, there is a scene in which Robert Downey Jr. and Halle Berry are wrestling on the ground and RDJ pins back her arms with some force. While filming this struggle, Berry’s arm broke while being pinned back. They cut and she was taken to the hospital. Berry, apparently, held a grudge against the newly reformed RDJ for a long while afterward because she felt his apology was somewhat insufficient.
8. Sylvester Stallone And His Broken Rib – First Blood
There’s a scene in First Blood, where Rambo falls through the trees and lands on a branch. He is required to scream out in pain a bit to give the shot some realism. Well, the first time they ran this the director wasn’t too happy with it and wanted to see it again. On the next fall, Sylvester Stallone increased the speed but he hit the branch with too much force and actually broke a rib. The director asked him to do the shot a third time and that’s the one that made the final cut. The screams of pain in that scene were real as Stallone realized right after that something was wrong. After shooting, they drove Stallone to the hospital in a limo to get it looked at.
7. Martin Sheen Also Hates Mirrors – Apocalypse Now
When Martin Sheen‘s character, Captain Willard, is drunkenly dancing and doing karate or whatever that is at the beginning of Apocalypse Now, it’s really half acting, half real Sheen. Prior to doing the shot, Sheen had been up for 24 hours partying and was completely wasted filming the scene. Basically, they were just filming Sheen doing Sheen when he punched the mirror in the hotel room. At first, he didn’t realize that his hand had been cut open (or he didn’t care) and continued the scene. When he finally realizes it, he starts to play with the blood, wiping in on his face and body. Soon after filming this scene, Sheen had a heart attack.
6. And Channing Hates Mirrors, Too – Foxcatcher
Channing Tatum suffered a few, very real, injuries while filming Foxcatcher. In one of the scenes, Mark Ruffalo smacks Tatum in the face a few times and accidentally boxed his ear, bursting Tatum’s eardrum. The most visible injury was suffered in the scene that Tatum headbutts through a mirror. The set designers had set up a mirror to be broken but didn’t expect Tatum to go as hard as he did. Rather than just hit the mirror once, Tatum hit it multiple times with such force that he broke through the mirror and through the wall on the other side. From that point forth, Tatum and his character carried a cut on their head from the event.
5. Margaret Hamilton Gets Burned – The Wizard of Oz
When the Wicked Witch (Margaret Hamilton) vanishes from Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz, she does so in a ball of smoke and fire. The plan was to have Hamilton disappear through a trap door behind the smoke. There was a delay on the fire so that it went up only after she was safely through the trap door. The problem was that the first take showed too much of the trap door because the smoke didn’t have time to get thick enough to hide it. They decided to try the shot again, but this time they would delay the trap door opening so that the smoke had more coverage. But this is where things went wrong. The delay meant that Hamilton couldn’t get through the trap door in time before the fire came up. It would end up burning her quite badly on her face and hands. Hamilton would spend some weeks off recuperating, coming back on the terms that she would not work with fire again on set. Keen eyes might notice some scenes with Hamilton in green gloves as opposed to painted green hands. These are the post-burn scenes as her hands were still healing from the second-degree burns she suffered.
4. Brad Pitt vs Car Windshield – Se7en
When Brad Pitt is chasing John Doe in Se7en, his character falls off of an apartment building ladder and appears to hurt his arm. We assume this because, from that point on, he is clearly laboring it as he runs through the streets and, after the chase scene ends, he has it casted. The real story here is that he really did suffer an arm injury while filming that scene and it was completely unplanned. Even though we don’t see the exact moment he was injured (he actually fell while filming the chase scene and put his arm through a car windshield, breaking it and his arm), the script was changed to include Pitt’s newly broken arm. Producer Arnold Kopelson explains, “I’m not going to tell you what I said. Some expletive . . . He wasn’t supposed to break his arm, but that’s what we’ve done. We worked his injury into the story line.”
3. Ellen Burstyn Busts Her Coccyx– The Exorcist
During the filming of The Exorcist, there were a number of injuries reported from the set, but none made it into the final film like Ellen Burstyn’s injury. Playing Chris MacNeil, Regan’s mother, Burstyn had one scene which required her to be picked up and slapped backwards by the possessed little girl. To achieve the right effect, director William Friedkin, attached a rope to Burstyn’s waist and had a guy pull her backwards and down to the ground. After the first take, Burstyn complained to Friedkin that the force of the pull was too much and that she was going to be hurt. Friedkin, though he argued it a bit, (apparently) obliged and told the guy not to pull so hard. But, on the next take, the guy pulled even harder and yanked Burstyn to the ground so hard that she damaged her coccyx (tailbone). The injury was so bad that Burstyn was left with a permanent spinal injury. That was the last shot for that sequence, so the final cut of the film includes the real scream of pain by Burstyn.
2. Jackie Chan Hides A Cast – Rumble in the Bronx
Jackie Chan is legendary for filming most of his stunts throughout his enormous career. During this time, the man has suffered numerous injuries, but the vast majority are able to be shot again or edited out of the film. There is one that was unable to be taken out though and that is in Rumble in the Bronx. The scene in question required Chan to jump from a bride onto a hovercraft. He landed awkwardly in the jump and twisted and broke his ankle. Chan then had a shoe made that could fit over his cast to hide it in order for him to complete the movie.
1. Buster Keaton Busts His Neck – Sherlock Jr.
In the 1924 silent film, Sherlock Jr., Buster Keaton performed a stunt that was no more dangerous than what he was used to but would prove to have the biggest impact on his life. In this particular scene, Keaton was running on top of a train and he grabbed and hung onto a water-tank spout. As the spout lowered him closer to the ground, water began rushing out on top of him. The next thing you see is Keaton rising up from the ground underneath the water and walking away. It appeared as if that was all part of the plan, but it turns out that the water pressure was much worse than Keaton expected. Although it is tough to see, Keaton doesn’t get out of the water unscathed. The force was so great that it actually drove him into the ground where he hit his head on the railway track. He said that he was ok afterward, but he would begin to suffer from headaches for the next while. It wouldn’t be until several years later that he went for x-rays which revealed that he had broken his neck in the fall.