Actors crave authenticity above all else. Some spend weeks, months getting in character. Heath Ledger filled journals with things his Joker would write for The Dark Knight. Daniel Day Lewis often gets so in character he doesn’t break in between shots, living as Lincoln or Hawkeye for months on end. It’s the kind of dedication to craft one can only admire.
Others are just damn crazy. Take Jared Leto, who mailed used condoms to the cast of Suicide Squad (because…I guess the Joker did that?). Or his unsung performance as Mark David Chapman – for which he gained 67 pounds to turn in a meandering, lisping, silly performance. Ultimately what we’re saying is simple: please return that Oscar, Jared, we made a terrible mistake and it’s clearly gotten to you in the worst way.
Then there are those willing to do anything. These Fear Factor candidates have provided audiences with the most entertaining, realistic stunts ever filmed. It’s easy to spot Arnold‘s body double during that motorcycle chase through the L.A. drainage system in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Such moments can be incredibly distracting. What follows are a few actors willing, accidentally or on purpose, to put themselves on the line.
15. Jason Statham – The Expendables 3
It’s a stretch to consider Jason Statham an actor. He’s more a stuntman with dialogue. You would expect his brush with death to be a kind of blaze of glory, a la Chev Chelios in Crank. For that film, he did drive a motorcycle at high speed through the streets of L.A. in nothing but a hospital gown, which is fairly impressive.
But the one that almost guaranteed a memorial service is much less eventful.
His most dangerous stunt occurred on the set of Sylvester Stallone‘s third rogues gallery Expendables film. After crashing a truck into the black sea in Bulgaria, Statham became trapped underwater, nearly drowning.
14. Michael J. Fox – Back To The Future Part 3
When you think action, Michael J. Fox probably isn’t the first name that jumps to mind. The Parkinson’s-stricken actor is beloved by all, particularly for his early role as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy. It’s impossible to hate the guy.
But Fox was almost lost to the world while shooting Back to the Future Part III (shot at the same time as Part II) during an early scene in which Biff Tannen’s distant relative hangs McFly from the famous clock tower. Fox agreed to actually be hung, his hand in between the rope and his neck. During one take, his hand missed. He was literally choking to death, the crew standing in awe, believing it to be a particularly good performance. They didn’t realize it was real until he passed out.
13. Jackie Chan – Police Story
Jackie Chan is well known for performing his own stunts and fights, from sliding down a curtain from on high in Rush Hour to drunkenly jumping on stage to sing along with Taiwanese musician Jonathan Lee in real life.
His most famous franchise, Police Story, ends with one his most famous stunts. After dispatching countless henchman at a mall, he spots the film’s central villain running away four floors down. No time for the elevator (despite the villain being elderly and slow moving), Chan jumps on a metal pole covered in lights, shattering every last one on the way down. Then, without a cut, he leaps onto a busted kiosk, grabs a hunk of shattered glass (at this point in the film, shattered glass was really easy to get a hold of) and holds it to the neck of the age-challenged bad guy.
12. Buster Keaton – Steamboat Bill Jr.
Buster Keaton may be slightly less famous than Charlie Chaplin, but he was an even better physical comedian. And he was willing to put life and limb in jeopardy to prove it. Take one of his most famous stunts from Steamboat Bill Jr. You’ve probably seen it parodied more times than the actual footage. After being blown around by a cyclone, the front wall of a house falls toward Keaton. However, he’s place directly under where the open window lands, leaving him unharmed.
Keaton had driven a nail in the ground to mark where he needed to stand, but even that only allowed him 2-inches of clearance space on either side. Keaton later reported that he saw crew members praying before the stunt was performed, and the cameraman looked away while filming. Said Keaton, “I was mad at the time, or I never would have done the thing.”
11. Matt Damon – The Bourne Supremacy
When Matt Damon took on the role of Jason Bourne, he insisted on performing most of his own stunts. Reportedly, he was most frightened shooting any scenes underwater, as “to drown is a very human fear.” True, but so is being crushed in a multi-car pile up, and that didn’t stop Damon from performing all of the car stunts in the series. The most significant comes at the climax of The Bourne Supremacy, when he smashes another car against a divide under a tunnel.
10. Viggo Mortensen – The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Acting in a make-believe world created by Peter Jackson can have you sword fighting impossibly named creatures or dismembering zombies with a lawnmower, depending on which role you landed. For Viggo Mortensen, his role as Aragorn (a name I’m shocked didn’t need to be spell checked) in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was the former. Mortensen actually lost a tooth during a fight scene. Ever the trooper, he had it repaired over lunch and was ready to finish the day of shooting.
Mortensen performed even more dangerous stunts during the filming of Hidalgo, in which he had to race a horse at breakneck speed. Stuntmen refused to ride that fast, so Mortensen – an experienced rider – did so himself. He came through with no injuries.
9. Sylvester Stallone – Rocky IV
Never ask Dolph Lundgren to beat you up. That’s what Sylvester Stallone did during the filming of Rocky IV. Lundgren played Russian nemesis Ivan Drago who promised he would break Stallone’s Rocky Balboa. Just before filming their climactic fight, Stallone asked Lundgren to really try to knock him out for the first 45 seconds or, in his words, “go for it.”
After Lundgren landed a few punches, Stallone yelled to cut. That night, his blood pressure shot up to 260 and he was rushed to the hospital.
Stallone, at 61, also performed most of his stunts in Rambo. Originally, carried away by fanboy love, he told Aintitcoolnews that he wanted to do another film which would essentially be Rambo vs. Predator. People would surely pay good money to hear the Italian Stallion say, “for the first few seconds, really try and pull my spine out, just go for it.”
8. Halle Berry – The Call
Brad Anderson’s The Call is not the most physically challenging film, as much of it involves Halle Berry sitting in a chair talking to a child in distress. However, at the film’s climax, Berry’s 911 operator confronts serial killer Michael Eklund in his lair. During that fight, Eklund misjudged the distance from head to concrete, slamming the actress directly into the cold floor. Berry wound up in the hospital.
7. Bruce Campbell – Evil Dead
Evil Dead star and nerd-cult icon Bruce Campbell is known for his enormous chin, comic timing, and pearly white grin. It’s still a wonder to look back at the Evil Dead franchise and realize it all began with a short film called Into the Woods, later adapted to feature length (edited by Joel Coen, no less) low-budget horror classic. The original Dead film is much, much darker and more gruesome than its sequels, which leaned heavily on Sam Raimi’s twisted, Three Stooges-inspired sense of humour.
Dead did establish a franchise staple that is still used in the Starz series Ash Vs. Evil Dead: that of the POV camera acting as a malevolent, unseen evil that chases the characters relentlessly (it was made visible at the very end of Evil Dead 2 in the form of a giant tree monster, but that was the only glimpse we have seen so far). A low budget all but guarantees no stuntmen, but nothing particularly dangerous seemed to occur during the shooting of dead. That is, until during one of those POV shots. The camera operator slipped while filming, knocking out the actor’s front teeth.
6. The Cast of Inglourious Basterds
In Quentin Tarantino‘s alternate history take on World War 2, Hitler and all the major players in the Third Reich are executed during a screening of Nation’s Pride, the film within the film about a sniper who single-handedly took out hundreds of enemy soldiers. Hitler himself is machine gunned in the face, all while another revenge plot unfolds and the entire theatre erupts in flames.
The fire was real, and quickly grew out of control. A Swastika flag was in place over the balcony where Hitler’s death takes place. It was held in place by steel cables. However, once the fire reached nearly 2,000 Fahrenheit, those cables liquefied and the flag unexpectedly fell. Had the actors remained on the balcony just a few seconds longer, they would have been there when it collapsed into the fire below.
5. Tom Cruise – Mission: Impossible
Tom Cruise appears desperate to meet Xenu, or whatever happens when you die in Scientology (The Richest didn’t have the budget to allow me to reach the thetan level that tells you). There’s literally no stunt the man won’t do. From sitting atop the tallest building in Dubai for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol to his latest bout of insanity for Rogue Nation in which he hangs from the side of a plane during take off. For the same film, he also was adamant about staying under water for up to six minutes, despite a stunt crew on set just in case he had a moment of clarity.
The actor also flew his own jets in Top Gun, performed the motorcycle chase in Knight and Day, and allowed himself to be blown forward by an explosive in Edge of Tomorrow. Surely, there must be some stuntman union regulations he’s breaking, taking work from hardworking daredevils.
4. The cast and Crew of Fitzcarraldo
It’s hard enough working on a Werner Herzog set without nearly dying for a shot. For Fitzcarraldo, the story of a wild-eyed Klaus Kinski bringing the opera to the Amazon by way of carrying a steamship over a steep hill, Herzog recreated the true-life event. In reality, the steamship was a mere 30 tons, not the 320 tons Herzog decided to use.
In between shooting, the eccentric and unpredictable Kinski grew increasingly hard to work with – to the point where the Amazonian natives offered to kill him for Herzog. In the documentary My Best Fiend, you can actually see Herzog genuinely consider the murder of his best friend for a moment. The only reason he refused was Kinski’s necessary presence to finish the film.
3. Keanu Reeves – Speed
Keanu Reeves first hit the scene in the late 80s, playing the clueless but lovable stoner Bill in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Reeves and co-star Alex Winter have been trying to get a third sequel made for over a decade). He’s an actor that’s easy to mock for his deadpan, seemingly clueless delivery, but his turns in My Own Private Idaho and River’s Edge suggest he may be more in on the joke than we think. Also, in addition to being reportedly one of the nicest people in Hollywood, he donates anonymously to cancer charities, even setting one up himself without attaching his name to it.
Also, the man happens to be dedicated to his craft. While shooting his second major action picture Speed, director Jan De Bont refused to allow Reeves to perform a stunt in which his character jumps from car to bus at high speeds. The actor secretly rehearsed the stunt for days and, on the day of shooting, performed it flawlessly.
2. John Krasinski and James Badge Dale – 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
“It was a mutual respect and it was a trust,” said John Krasinski of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi director Michael Bay. How anyone would entrust their life to Michael Bay is unfathomable, however that’s exactly what Krasinski and co-star James Badge Dale did when they ran into a flaming room, their characters attempting to rescue the doomed American ambassador. Bay has been known for his tyrannical directorial style, with Megan Fox famously comparing him to Hitler, but when you’re just coming off of being the straight man on a hit U.S. sitcom, chances are you’ll do anything to avoid typecasting – including letting Michael Bay risk your life for a non-partisan action film no one saw.
1. Harold Lloyd – Safety Last!
Harold Lloyd may not be a household name, but you’ve likely seen his most famous stunt. If you haven’t, you’ve seen it paid tribute in Back to the Future, where Christopher Lloyd‘s (no relation) Doc Brown dangles from the clock tower.
For a scene in the 1919 silent, Lloyd was supposed to carry a prop bomb. Only the bomb wasn’t so much a prop as, you know, a bomb. It exploded, and Lloyd lost an index finger and a thumb.
Dangling from a clock on the side of a skyscraper occurred in Safety Last! Surprisingly, Lloyd died of prostate cancer in 1971, rather than some convoluted, Rube-Goldbergian disaster.