There might not be a more dangerous job on a movie set than stuntman. When things go right, we’re left with movies that leave our jaw hanging, wondering how on earth these heroes could survive these death-defying stunts, but when it goes wrong you’re just left with death.
As you’re going to read, for 8 of our 15 stuntmen, they didn’t survive the stunt to tell the tale. Big falls, sharks, plane crashes – there is no shortage of ways that stuntmen have met their end on some of the biggest Hollywood movies of all time. Are you excited to watch the new xXx? You can bet they’re a lot more careful after a stuntman died during the first movie!
These are 15 movies where stuntmen have suffered severe injury. While some of them got to walk away from the set to live another day, that also doesn’t mean they’d be able to walk again.
15. Point Break 2 – Surfing Accident
Teahupoo gave me a good old fashion flogging yesterday on my 3rd wave. I let go of the rope on an a evil little west one. It was a pretty slow swell an although I should of kicked out I decided to go anyway. I could tell the lump of swell was going into the channel which generally means it's a close out or a really fast west one. I hit my head on the bottom an must have blacked out because the next thing I can remember is being in the lagoon gasping for air in calm water. Apparently there was a bigger wave behind an no one saw me surface so I'm not sure if I had a 2 wave hold down or the wave I was on sent me straight to the lagoon. Either way I'm really Lucky an grateful I'm still here. I got myself a broken jaw some stitches in my lip an eye lid whip lash to my neck an back and a couple small puncher wounds that went through my neck an into the back of my mouth that apparently just missed an artery. Just want to thank every one who helped me though out yesterday really appreciate it! I'm all good an as positive as ever! I'll be back when my jaw is good. In the mean time @bronandloz is coming to hang by my side because I can't fly for a while see ya soon!
There are a lot of people out there who don’t think there is any need to make a sequel to the 1991 film Point Break. But I bet Laurie Towner was pretty stoked about it. Towner is an Aussie big wave surfer who was hired to play the stunt double for the lead in the movie, who is played by Luke Bracey. Unfortunately, all the surfing experience in the world doesn’t always prepare you for the unpredictability of the water.
Towner took to Instagram to talk about his injuries sustained after hitting the reef saying
“I got myself a broken jaw, some stitches in my lip and eyelid, whiplash to my neck and back and a couple small puncher wounds that went through my neck and into the back of my mouth that apparently just missed an artery.”
14. Shooter – Stuntman Hit By SUV
Tom Sizemore was filming a stunt for his television show Shooter when a serious injury occurred to an unnamed stuntman. Tom Sizemore was supposed to run into an SUV and then sit there until the scene was over. Instead, Sizemore put the car in reverse and hit the gas, in the process running over a stuntman that was behind the car.
The damages of the man were not made public, but he had to be airlifted to a hospital. It was reported that 8 men tried to lift the SUV off of the man before they could get the proper equipment that was finally used to free him.
Sizemore’s representative responded saying that the stunt coordinator told him to “pull out” once he entered the SUV and that he was following instructions. He was unaware the stuntman was even there until he heard a thump.
13. Resident Evil – Motorcycle Accident
You might not know the name Olivia Jackson, but the talented stuntwoman has worked on Avengers: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Imagine having that on your resume. Sadly, by her spot on this list, you can also understand that she must have suffered a horrific injury.
Jackson was working on a scene for Resident Evil: The Final Chapter where she was doubling for Milla Jovovich for a stunt that required her to ride her motorcycle at high speed. Standard stuff, but unfortunately Jackson collided with a piece of camera equipment.
She lived to tell the tale, but I’ll let her words describe the injuries she sustained:
“2 weeks in a coma, brain bleed, brain swelling, severed main artery in the neck, crushed & degloved face, several broken ribs, paralyzed arm, shattered scapula, broken clavicle, broken humerus, broken radius & ulna, with an open wound and a 7.5 piece of bone missing, amputated thumb, torn fingers, 5 nerves torn out of the spinal cord…. not my funnest day on set.”
12. Live Free Or Die Hard – 25-Foot Fall
If you’re going to stunt double as Bruce Willis in a Die Hard movie, you definitely know you are going to have your work cut out for you. That dude pulls off things that look like they could kill, or in Larry Rippenkroeger’s case, severely hurt hm. Rippenkroeger was knocked unconscious after falling 25 feet from a fire escape and landing on the pavement. As a result, he suffered broken bones in his face, a punctured lung, fractures to both wrists and several broken ribs.
When talking about the experience, Rippenkroeger spoke of the emotional impact of such an injury, saying “The mental roller-coaster you go on is one of the hardest things, the nightmares … I would be drenched in sweat.”
11. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 – Paralysis
David Holmes had a great working relationship with Daniel Radcliffe as his stunt double, having been in the first six Harry Potter movies with him. Holmes was paralyzed after a stunt saw him getting hurled into a wall. There was a crash mat on the floor, but it was the impact with the wall that broke Holmes’ neck.
When talking about the experience, Holmes recalled “My stunt co-ordinator grabbed my hand and said, ‘Squeeze my fingers’. I could move my arm to grab his hand but I couldn’t squeeze his fingers. There was definitely a sense of tragedy for me, but also a sense of sheer determination to beat it and better it.”
Radcliffe has spoken out on several occasions about the positive impact Holmes has had in his life.
10. The Hangover Part 2 – High-Speed Crash
Hangover Part 2 may seem like a set that would be full of laughs, but one thing that definitely was no laughing matter was the significant injury sustained by Scott McLean. McLean was working as Ed Helms‘ stunt double and was involved in a significant injury after a head-on crash during a high-speed chase.
McLean was put into a medically-induced coma for two months and has sued Warner Brothers, Solberg (stunt coordinator) and the second unit director Brian Smerz for negligence. He also stated that he “suffered permanent brain and physical injuries” and has “ongoing seizures, speech impediments, physical impediments and brain trauma.”
9. Cannibal Run – Car Crash and Paralysis
Heidi von Beltz was an absolutely gorgeous stuntwoman, so much so that she was cast to come in and work with Farrah Fawcett on the 1980 movie Cannibal Run. Stunt coordinator Bobby Bass described the stunt as being a simple one, just sit in the passenger seat as a car speeds through a line of oncoming cars.
What he failed to mention was that the car had no seatbelts, a defective steering wheel, a malfunctioning clutch and bald tires. Bass confirmed to von Beltz that the car was fine, but as you can guess, it very much was not.
The car slammed head first into another car, causing von Beltz to get hurled into the windshield. The impact crushed her neck, leaving her paralyzed for life. She was hospitalized for the next six months, where she explained that doctors told her “I wouldn’t live until Christmas, and that during the few miserable, painful months before I died, I would never move again – not a finger or a toe.”
8. The Expendables 2 – Explosion Leads To Death
If you’re going to be appearing in The Expendables 2, you probably know you’re going to be in for your fair share of explosion stunts. But things went horribly wrong during a stunt in Bulgaria when Kun Lieu was killed following a stunt which saw Lieu and another man (Nuo Sun) sitting in a rubber boat.
Sun, who is allegedly the stunt double for Jet Li, was also significantly hurt in the incident. He later sued Millennium Films stating the stunt was needlessly reckless and that he has had severe injuries including suffering “severe shock and injury [to his] nervous system, neck, head, body, arms and legs, all of which injuries may be permanent and all of which injuries have caused and continue to cause plaintiff great mental, physical and nervous pain and suffering.”
7. Top Gun – Plane Crash
Art Scholl was an incredibly talented and well-known pilot, hell the guy even had his own Aviation school. So who else would they call in 1985 when they needed some stunts done for the movie Top Gun. The stunt wasn’t all that elaborate, they were just looking to capture some spinning scenery that they needed for the movie. Scholl was required to perform an inverted flat spin, but sadly all we know is that his last words were “I’ve got a problem” which he said at an altitude of 3,000 feet and then “I’ve really got a problem” when he was at 1,500 feet.
The wreckage and body of Art Scholl have never been found. People have hypothesized that it was the additional weight of the camera that may have caused the plane to fail. Others say that it may have just been a mechanical error, but either way, it marks one of the more tragic stories in Hollywood.
6. The Right Stuff – Skydiver Falls To His Death
This is a tragic example of real life just being too hard to replicate on the camera, and it came with disastrous results. In real life, Chuck Yeager escaped from a falling NF-104 and in the process, his helmet caught fire which led to smoke entering.
Definitely a great image, but when stuntman Joseph Leonard Svec had to re-create it for The Right Stuff in 1983, the best solution the film makers had was to give him a smoke canister to release during his free-fall. What they did not realize was that the canister, once released, caused Svec to become intoxicated and lose consciousness. As a result, he was unable to open his parachute and fell to his death.
5. Vampire In Brooklyn – 42-Foot Fall
Sonja Davis had some experience as a stuntwoman, but even she wasn’t comfortable with the stunt that was asked of her on the set of Vampire in Brooklyn, a 1995 Eddie Murphy movie. The stunt required Davis to experience a 42-foot backward fall and land on the air bag below. Instead, the bag acted like a balloon and the force of Davis hitting it caused her to get slammed into the wall.
Her mother and brother were both on set, and when asked about it, her mother said “She asked them three times (as she stood on top of the building before the stunt) if they were sure it was OK. I could feel her lack of confidence and then she paused.”
4. Million Dollar Mystery – Motorcycle Flies Off Cliff
To illustrate how much of a veteran Dar Robinson was as a stuntman, in his 19-year career he had never broken a bone during a stunt. So you can imagine he was feeling pretty confident when he was called to come and work on Million Dollar Mystery in 1987.
On November 21st the primary stunts had finished for the day, but there was one more to try and get of Robinson riding a motorcycle. Sadly, he went past the breaking point of a turn and in the process flew his bike off a cliff. While there are mixed reports on whether he fell to his death, or was impaled on a tree branch and then died, but either way it marked a tragic end to the fantastic stuntman.
3. The Squeeze – Drowning
Victor Magnotta had an extensive career in stuntwork in which he affectionately earned the nickname “The Bear.” But to be honest, his films probably came out before you were born because he sadly passed away in 1987 during a stunt on the movie The Squeeze.
The stunt required Magnotta to drive a car off a ramp going 40-55 mph and crash into the water. Sadly, when Magnotta hit the water the plexiglass windshield collapsed around him and made it impossible for people to get at him. It took 24 minutes to remove the car from the water, but by then he had sadly long passed away. At the time of his death Magnotta was the president of Stunt Specialists and was an incredible inspiration to people in the business.
2. Shark – Real Shark Attack
In 1969 the movie Shark suffered a tragedy when stuntman Jose Marcos was killed by a shark. While some claim that it was another great white shark that broke into the enclosure and ate Marcos, the more likely explanation is that the sedated shark they were using in the scene was not nearly as sedated as they had thought.
The story doesn’t end there as the film production then decided to use his death heavily in the promotion of the movie, saying “A realistic film became too real!” even though the death itself was not used in the final production.
Sam Fuller who wrote and directed the movie was so disgusted with the studio’s decision to promote it in such a way, that he quit the project immediately and asked (unsuccessfully) to have his name stricken from the project.
1. xXx – Paragliding Death
Harry O’Connor was an experienced stuntman and skydiver by the time he came along to work on xXx, the adrenaline packed Vin Diesel movie. The movie is not lacking in stunts, but one of them proved fatal for O’Conner.
Police in Prague discussed the injury, saying “He was being pulled at high speed on a paraglider and hit a pillar of the Palacky bridge. He died on the spot due to heavy injuries.”
The scene was actually included in the movie, of course with the death part being removed. While you may disagree with that decision, the director Rob Cohen said that he wanted to include the footage of the scene out of respect for the stuntman’s final act.
You can imagine they were a little bit safer when they were filming the sequel which is set to come out in 2017.