Watching movies has become such a normal aspect of everyday life that not much thought goes into the harsh details of what the actors and production crews go through to produce them. Weeks of tireless work, millions of dollars, and hundreds of retakes are used and undergone before the final picture is accepted.
Over $38 billion dollars is brought in to the American box office every year. That’s impressive, but it’s estimated that, by 2020, this will have increased to $50 billion due to the ongoing support and increase of demands by film fanatics. Hundreds of millions of people pay each year to watch their favourite actors toy with their emotions and alter their perceptions of reality.
That being said, actors still are some of the most scrutinised individuals in entertainment, because of how easy their job seems to some people. Money, fame and glory – it’s all glamorised by the media as celebs live it up on the big screen. But not all is as it seems, as we list fifteen harrowing near-death experiences some of your favourite actors have battled through on set.
15. Michael J. Fox – Back To The Future Part III
During the filming of a scene in Back To The Future Part III, in which his character Marty is hung before being saved by Doc Brown, Michael J. Fox was thrown into a life-threatening situation when he made a slight mistake in an attempt to improve his performance. The actor recalls in his autobiography that he was executing the scene with a box beneath his feet, as his whole body wouldn’t be in the shot and it’d still look like his character had been hung. However, he felt it wasn’t realistic enough.
He decided to remove the box and apply his hand between the noose and his neck after the shot to ensure he wasn’t actually hung. It was the 7th shot by the time he had thought of this and he was tired. When he was supposed to apply his hand, he mistimed the cue and was actually hung, becoming unconscious. Fox stated that “it was a full 30 seconds before anyone noticed. Thankfully Bob Zemeckis, a fan of mine though he was, realised I wasn’t that good of an actor.” Filming was halted and, thankfully, Fox recovered from his near-death experience. If the error wasn’t spotted sooner however, the result may have been fatal.
14. Isla Fisher – Now You See Me
Actress Isla Fisher almost drowned whilst filming a scene for Now You See Me. In the tense scene of the 2013 film, Fisher’s character escapes a submerged tank of water, whilst in shackles, in front of an impressed group of onlookers. Speaking to the press after production, however, Fisher revealed her distress and panic whilst filming the scene.
“After swimming to the bottom, the chain got stuck, I really couldn’t get back up“, recalled the Australian actress. “There was a release button inside the tank but I couldn’t get to it, there was also a stuntman with oxygen off camera but I couldn’t get to him either. Everyone thought I was acting but I was actually struggling, beginning to drown! Luckily however, I managed to get free and get out before the situation got even worse.” In spite of this, the Australian brushed herself off, forgot about the incident, and proceeded to shoot the rest of the film – and she still performed her own stunts!
13. Sylvester Stallone – Rocky IV
Sylvester Stallone was critically injured whilst filming the final fight scene for Rocky IV. In the scene where Rocky Balboa proceeds to knock out and defeat the Russian man mountain that is Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), both actors are actually throwing real punches, after they had agreed to engage in a real sparring session. By doing this, Stallone felt that it allowed the audience to really capture the true emotions and atmosphere of the fight.
For one of the last punches, however, Stallone told the actor to hit him as hard as he could – a decision he would soon regret. He was hit so hard in the chest that his heart actually began to swell up. Fortunately, Stallone recovered after 8 days in intensive care and the incredible fight scene was included in the film. After recovering from the incident, Stallone joked that “it was like being hit by a truck”, whilst also stating that Lundgren was so talented that he could easily compete in the real heavyweight boxing division.
12. Harold Sakata – Goldfinger
Goldfinger is argued as being one of the best James Bond films ever made; with Sean Connery as 007, the best soundtrack to a Bond film, the Aston Martin DB5 and quite possibly the best villain seen in the series in Auric Goldfinger. In the film, Goldfinger plans to profit from economic chaos caused by an atomic bomb being detonated, making all of America’s gold reserves radioactive for years.
His henchman is Oddjob, a Korean brawler known for his deadly bowler hat and his ability to easily match Bond in combat. In one of these brawling scenes, Bond electrocutes Oddjob with a loose wire. Harold Sakata suffered terrible burns due to this, as sparks shot out of his hand. He needed instant medical attention. However, he braved the pain and continued to hold onto the hat with which he was being electrocuted until the scene was over.
11. Gunnar Hansen – Texas Chainsaw Massacre
With a very low budget and the unpredictability as to what the reception would be from fans, Tobe Hooper did a tremendous job in the production of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A fan favourite for over forty years now, the film sees murderous maniac Leatherface chase and terrorise five friends to fulfil his family’s wishes. Icelandic actor Gunnar Hansen was the man behind the mask as he portrayed the chainsaw-wielding psychopath. When wearing the mask, Hansen stated that his vision was extremely poor and so he had to go off what the other actors and directors told him to do in order to complete scenes.
Now, due to the film being low budget, Hooper decided to include real danger by using actual running chainsaws in all scenes involving them. In spite of this, the shooting of the scenes were successful and surprisingly, nobody was hurt. However, only a matter of inches saved Hansen from severe injury or possibly even death. Whilst shooting a scene in which Leatherface was running with the chainsaw, the actor slipped over in mud and the chainsaw was flung into the air. Luckily this real tragedy was avoided, as the chainsaw landed inches away from the actor’s head.
10. Tom Hanks – Castaway
Perhaps the film that was most gruelling on Tom Hanks’ body, Castaway, tells the story of FedEx worker Chuck Noland who became marooned after the plane he was on crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Chuck had to learn how to survive on an uninhabited island in the hope that he would one day be rescued.
Hanks spent time filming the first half of the film as a normal FedEx worker but, after all these scenes were filmed, production was halted for a year so Hanks could spend it dieting and exercising. He spent this time transforming his body to look like that of Chuck’s who had then been deserted for four years. During the filming of the other half, however, he suffered a deep gash on his leg that swelled for two weeks. After these weeks, Hanks finally checked himself into hospital where he was diagnosed with a life-threatening infection. The American actor made a full recovery, however, and filming was resumed, with Castaway gaining many positive reviews as a highly popular film.
9. Jason Statham – The Expendables 3
English actor Jason Statham narrowly avoided death whilst on the set of The Expendables 3. He was test driving a three-ton truck that was supposed to be used in the production of the film, when the brakes suddenly went out and the truck plunged 60 feet straight into the Black Sea. With Statham wearing heavy gear and the sea quite aggressive on that day, a fatal accident seemed inevitable.
Fortunately for Statham and the crew, he knew just how to handle it. In case of emergency the crew had already taken the doors off the truck, so when the truck began to plummet Statham dived out of the vehicle into the sea where he was able to swim to a nearby shore. Perhaps unbeknown to many people is the Englishman’s accomplishments in diving. Jason competed in the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand, on the platform before setting his heart on becoming the tough-as-nails actor that everyone knows today.
8. Harrison Ford – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Whilst filming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 74-year-old actor Harrison Ford was knocked to the floor and then crushed by a heavy door after he had walked onto the set, not knowing it was live.
Speaking of the incident, the American actor said in an interview: “Now we had lots of money and technology and so they decided to build a fucking great hydraulic door that closed at light speed. The door came down and hit me on my left hip because I was turned to my right. It flung my left leg up, dislocated my ankle and then drove me into the floor. As this happened, my legs slapped against the ramp and both bones in my left leg were shattered.” The incident was investigated and the company responsible, Foodles Production, pleaded guilty to two breaches under health and safety legislation in court. It was just lucky for Ford that there was an emergency stop button that was pressed, otherwise the result may have been much more tragic.
7. Jennifer Lawrence – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence was reportedly in danger of choking to death whilst on the set of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 when a smoke machine malfunctioned and began releasing dense smoke into the tunnel the actress was in.
People on set reported that the smoke was so thick that they quickly lost sight of the American and so filming was abruptly stopped. Lawrence was rescued and carried out by some of the crew members who published in a report that she was “hacking and gagging as she struggled to breathe“. The actress was given a few days off after she complained of nausea and vertigo. Lawrence was able to make a steady recovery and continue filming a few days later. In addition it was reported that there were several other unidentified actors that were also reportedly affected by the smoke, as to whom also made a full recovery.
6. Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Premium Rush
Despite featuring in many popular high action films in his career, Joseph Gordon-Levitt suffered an awful injury whilst shooting a scene for perhaps one of his least known films, Premium Rush, in which he was acting as a bike messenger.
In the action shot scenes, the American actor was racing among moving cars at speeds exceeding 30mph whilst he was on a bicycle. This may not sound fast, but for a bicycle to be going at that speed to then collide into the back of a taxi – injury is almost certified. According to those present on set, a taxi accidentally drove over safety cones during filming into the scene and Gordon-Levitt smashed right into it, launching him through the rear windshield and badly mutilating his arm. Director David Koepp believed the actor was dead at first, saying this to MTV: “For a moment, you’re watching the monitors, and for a moment, he leaves the frame. He’s wearing a body mic and so I hear the most horrific crash. For about 18 seconds before I could see him, I thought he was dead. At the time, I’m thinking ‘Did I kill him? Did I actually just kill an actor?” Gordon-Levitt ended up getting 31 stitches in his arm but managed to recover from the horrific collision.
5. George Clooney – Syriana
George Clooney is an actor who is injury prone. The American actor has admitted to suffering injuries on many of the film sets on which he has performed, but none are as bad as the accident which actually left him contemplating suicide whilst shooting the 2005 thriller Syriana.
Whilst filming, Clooney injured his spine so severely that he actually considered ending his life to put an end to the pain. The doctors that were asked to examine Clooney and his injury had no idea as to what was wrong with him and this is what encouraged his suicidal thoughts. The actor recalls “I was lying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm, I was unable to move and I was having these horrible throbbing headaches that really hurt. It got to the point where I actually started to think that I may have to do something about it. You start to think in terms of, you don’t want to leave a mess, so go in the garage, go in the car, start the engine. It seems like the nicest way to do it.” He admitted that he was suffering from great depression at the time, which really took him a while to recover from.
4. Jackie Chan – Armour Of God
Kung Fu star Jackie Chan is also an actor. He is known worldwide for his portrayal of badass characters in movies. He is another actor who enjoys performing his own stunts and is successful in most of his attempts.
Whilst Jackie was in the process of shooting Armour of God in Yugoslavia, he was required to make a jump from a castle wall to a tree. Something that Chan could handle right? Not entirely. He missed the tree branch and fell straight to the ground, with his head taking the brunt of the impact. The medical staff on the scene rushed him to the hospital, where he underwent immediate brain surgery and had to have a plastic plate inserted into his head where his skull was damaged. Jackie still has that plate in his head after not making a complete recovery and it is a constant reminder of his brush with death.
3. Arnold Schwarzenegger – The 6th Day and True Lies
Yes, even Arnold Schwarzenegger has suffered injuries whilst on set! The Austrian former bodybuilder revealed that he narrowly avoided certain death while shooting The 6th Day and True Lies due to a horse shifting its weight in a different direction.
Perhaps known everywhere for his role as the titular cyborg in the Terminator films, Arnie seems like a man with nerves of steel, due to his tremendous size – and he needed nerves of steel in this situation. He spoke about the incident in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session, saying : “There was a shot where the horse had to stop at the edge of a building. They built a little ramp to give the horse more time to stop. But whilst measuring the ramp, the camera crew accidentally dropped the arm of the camera onto the horses’ nose – making it go crazy. The ramp was only 4 feet wide and was hanging over the edge of the building, I managed to slide off the horse in the midst of this mix up and get out of there, otherwise it was a 90 feet fall to a cement floor.”
2. Andrew Garfield – The Amazing Spider-Man
British-American actor Andrew Garfield also joins this list after he revealed that he almost died on the set of The Amazing Spider-Man.
In the 2012 Spider-Man offering, Garfield portrayed main protagonist Peter Parker, who wentup against Dr. Curt Connors, a mad scientist who turned into a killer giant lizard after testing genetic formulas on himself. Garfield however revealed that he almost suffocated after diving into a pool with his Spidey suit on – which he found was not tailored to suit water at all. In 2014, he told the New York Daily News “I had to get wet, so I just kind of dove in and didn’t realise that water in the mask made it impossible to breathe, So I was kind of like, suffocating and I couldn’t help myself, I couldn’t get any oxygen!” Luckily for Garfield and Spidey fans, fight coordinator Andy Armstrong saw the whole thing unfold and dove in after Garfield and helped him remove the mask so he could resurface and breathe.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio – Before The Flood
Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the most recognised actors in the world, supported by millions for his parts in many films such as Titanic, The Wolf Of Wall Street and The Revenant. He is regarded as a very talented and successful actor by many, but even Leo has had his encounter with near-death.
The 41-year-old actor released a documentary last year named Before The Flood, a project that addresses the ongoing issues of climate change. After the release of the film, director Fisher Stevens told the story of how DiCaprio came under severe difficulty whilst shooting an underwater scene. He recalls how DiCaprio first volunteered to shoot oceanographer Sylvia Earle, before participating in the actual diving with Fisher, Sylvia and Edward Norton. “Leo bolts away with Sylvia, and Edward goes in front of me – after twenty minutes however, I’ve lost them. Then, I suddenly see Leo barely breathing because his oxygen tank was leaking – Edward had to save him!” Norton assisted DiCaprio to the surface again and the actor was able to get his breath back.