On the big screen, actors and their stunt doubles pull off some truly amazing things every single day. We regularly see people jump off of large buildings, race and crash in speeding cars and get shot over and over again.
While CGI, camera tricks, stunt props and such can often account for a lot of the “magic” in film, people still have to put themselves in a bit of danger to make it look authentic. For example, if a person jumps off of a building in a movie, they do indeed have to jump while shooting the scene. Though instead of landing on the concrete, they land on a soft mat or in a net.
To get the best and most dramatic shots for the films, actors are often out in potentially harmful positions. However, most of the time, the security measures in place to protect them do their job. But unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the crew, some things can still go wrong.
Throughout the years, there have been several tragic accidents on Hollywood film sets. Some of the accidents occur due to error with machines or props, while many others have human error to blame. Whoever or whatever was to blame; there is no doubting that these accidents were horrific.
Here are 15 of the worst and most tragic movie set accidents in film history.
15. Top Gun Plane Crash
Top Gun is one of the most iconic films in the legendary career of Tom Cruise. And while it did a lot for the career of Cruise, it ended the career of Art Scholl. Art Scholl was a world-renowned aerobatic pilot, aerial photographer and educator from California. He was brought in to help with the filming of Top Gun because of his major expertise in the field. All was going well during filming until something awful happened. Scholl was performing a flat spin in a camera plane and when he couldn’t recover from the spin in a timely manner, his plane plummeted into the Pacific Ocean. Observers watched this all happen live and Scholl even alerted the crew over the radio system and said he had a big problem. The exact cause of the crash was never found, and neither Scholl’s body nor the plane he was flying have ever been seen since.
14. The Dark Knight Car Crash
The Dark Knight was released to a ton of praise and had one of the biggest openings in film history. But what people may not know is that something truly dark took place while filming this blockbuster. In fact, the horrible accident you are about to learn about didn’t actually take place during the filming of an official scene, but actually the test run of an action scene. It was a car chase scene in which special effects cameraman Conway Wickliffe was filming the action from a separate car. The scene they were testing was the one where the Batmobile blows up. However, the driver lost control of the Nissan 4×4 vehicle that the cameraman was in and it crashed into a tree, which resulted in the death of Wickliffe. Wickliffe had worked in a number of different big budget films in Hollywood and was revered for his special effects camera work.
13. The Accidental Shooting of Brandon Lee
This is without a doubt one of the more famous on-set deaths of all time. For those unfamiliar with Brandon Lee, he was the son of the famous martial artist, cultural icon and actor, Bruce Lee. However, Brandon was beginning to make a name for himself in the entertainment business. In the early 1990s, he was shooting the movie The Crow, but disaster struck when the film was nearing its end. Lee’s character in the film was supposed to be shot and killed, but the shooting turned out to be very real. A bullet was lodged in the barrel of a gun and went unnoticed by the crew. When a blank cartridge was loaded, no one noticed the bullet still. So when the blank was ejected from the firearm, the real bullet came along with it. As a result, Brandon Lee was shot in the abdomen and died from his injuries.
12. Actor Falls off of a Horse To His Death
While a lot of the injuries and deaths in this article will be from extraordinary falls or terrible mishaps, this accident happened from something that likely occurs every day. People ride horses all over the world and a ton of them accidentally fall off or are bucked off of a horse, and most are generally okay. However, when an actor was knocked off a horse while filming The Return of the Musketeers in 1989, the consequences were horrific. When Roy Kinnear fell of the said horse, he sustained a broken pelvis. Because of this, he was taken to a hospital and the following day, he died as a result of a heart attack. This affected a lot of people who were working on the movie. In fact, the director of the film (Richard Lester) actually quit his own Hollywood directing and film career because of the accident and subsequent death.
11. The Shocking Animal Deaths in “The Hobbit”
In this article, most of the horrible injuries, deaths and accidents have humans as the victim. But as you know, humans aren’t the only living things that can be hurt. The Hobbit was a very popular movie, but there was a very dark secret that happened on the set. The film used a ton of different animals in it, however the animals didn’t have it too great on the set. In fact, about 27 different animals died on set. Most of the animals were goats and sheep, and most died from dehydration, malnourishment, exhaustion and drowning. When news of this broke, there was a ton of negative backlash towards the film and its studio and there were a fair amount of protesters out there boycotting the film. The agency that was in charge of watching and protecting the animals also got in trouble for covering up the harm that was caused to them.
10. The Twilight Zone Helicopter Accident
The horrific accident that took place during this movie far overshadowed the movie itself. In fact, the main reason why The Twilight Zone movie is even talked about today largely has some connection with the terrible accident that happened on its set. Nowadays, CGI is used for a lot of stunts using dangerous props or aircraft, but back in the early 1980s, that wasn’t the case. In this film, there was a scene that called for an explosion to occur under a flying helicopter. Unfortunately, the helicopter wasn’t flying high enough and was affected by the explosion. As a result, the helicopter spun out of control and ended up decapitating two actors and crushing another. Two of the victims were children (Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen) and one was an adult (Vic Morrow). This led to Hollywood largely abandoning helicopter stunts for years until CGI became more prevalent and popular.
9. The Many Strange Happenings During Filming for “Troy”
Troy was an epic and huge production that featured massive names like Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom. However, even they weren’t able to dodge the various strange and horrible things that happened during the filming of this movie. First of all, Brad Pitt (who played the character of Achilles) had a very ironic injury during filming. He tore his Achilles tendon, which is a very painful injury. However, that wasn’t even close to the worst injury on the set. That distinction goes to a bodybuilder named George Camilleri. Camilleri broke his leg during a scene and was later operated on but died from complications of his injury soon after. Also, numerous different hurricanes had to be dealt with during the shooting of this film. Despite all of these incredibly hard things to deal with, the movie finally got completed and actually went on to be a huge hit at the box office!
8. Set Disaster During “Jumper”
The situation that caused this horrific tragedy is fairly different than most that we have seen so far in this article. While most of the issues here arose from human error or a machine malfunction of some kind, this was completely different. It was actually the movie set itself that was the culprit here. During the filming of Jumper (a thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson), there was a very interesting mixture used for special effects on the set. The crew used a mix of sand, dirt and ice to create some exterior set pieces. However, this turned out to be a bad idea. When set dresser David Ritchie was working on the removal of that part of the set, a large piece of that mixture fell off and crushed him, killing him instantly. This death could have likely been prevented if some other kind of product was used or if the crew was more careful in the removal of the set.
7. Cameraman Dies While Filming From a Helicopter
This horrible movie set accident took place during filming of the 2007 film The Final Season. One of the cameramen of this film went by the name Roland Schlozhauer and he is unfortunately the victim of the terrible accident. In the film, there is a parade scene that needed to be filmed from a helicopter. He, a producer and the pilot were all present during the helicopter scene. However, disaster struck when the helicopter was flying too low and collided with some power cables. As a result, the plane crashed out in a corn field and while the producer and pilot were merely injured, but survived, the cameraman was not so lucky. His wife later took legal action for this and was eventually rewarded with over $7 million in the settlement. This accident could have definitely been avoided and it is a shame that the cameraman (who was in no way in charge of the flight) was the only one who perished as a result of the crash.
6. An Explosion Scene in The Expendables 2 Goes Wrong
If you have to think about the most action-packed series of films in the past few years, the Expendables series has to be at or near the top of that list. The cast of these movies are full of some of the biggest action stars of all tie such as Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Bruce Willis and many more. As you would expect, there were a ton of huge stunts and major explosions during this film. However, one in particular went completely haywire. An explosion scene was responsible for the death of one stuntman and led to some horrible injuries for another. The injured stuntman later sued the film studio behind the film over the scene, and claimed it was recklessly staged. There is a good chance that if the stunt would have been staged a bit more intelligently, that the deceased stuntman would still be very much alive today.
5. The Radioactive Set of “The Conqueror”
This is one of the strangest and most tragic accidents on this list. You may remember The Conqueror as the film where legendary western star John Wayne portrayed the vicious ruler Genghis Khan of the Mongol empire. However, most people will remember and talk about this movie for one reason, the fact that it caused cancer. The film was shot in Utah in 1955 and of the 220 people who worked on the movie, almost half of them were later diagnosed with cancer. In fact, by the early 1980s, 91 different people had contracted cancer and 46 of them had died of it. John Wayne was one of the affected individuals as well as many other actors and crew members. The exact reasons why the location this movie was filmed caused cancer was not known, but many believe that it was from radioactive fallout from bomb tests that were done nearby.
4. xXx Stunt Double Death
In a movie as action-packed and thrilling as xXx, it is not surprising that something horrible happened. While the star of the show was Vin Diesel, and he looks to be a pretty in shape and capable guy, he didn’t do a lot of his own stunt work in the film. A stunt actor named Harry L. O’Connor performed the majority of the stunts as Vin Diesel’s stunt double for the film. While a majority of them went well and he was doing fine, something terrible happened during one particular stunt. In the particular stunt, he was supposed to rappel down a line and land on a submarine. However, he didn’t rappel fast enough and smashed into a bridge at a very high speed and died on impact. The death was caught on camera, but it was not included in the film out of respect for the deceased stunt double.
3. John Jordan’s Terrible Luck
While there have been a lot of accidents listed in this article, Hollywood sets are generally pretty safe. Every day there are thousands of potentially harmful and dangerous situations, but very few ever result in an accident. As a result, it is very rare that a person is involved in a bad accident, and almost unheard of to see a person become involved with two. However, director John Jordan was involved in two. First of all, Jordan lost his leg while filming You Only Live Twice. The rotor blades of a helicopter were the responsible culprit for causing his leg to be cut off. While filming Catch 22 a few years later, he decided not to wear a harness while flying in a plane while shooting the film. Unfortunately, he was sucked out of the plane and fell thousands of feet to his death. Talk about some really bad luck.
2. Harry Potter Stunt Double Becomes Paralyzed
The Harry Potter series of films is without a doubt one of the most successful franchises ever. These films are enjoyed by children and adults alike and have grossed millions and millions of dollars, but there have been some dark things that have happened on set. One of the worst was definitely a tragic accident that took place during filming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 1. The stunt double of Daniel Radcliffe (named David Holmes) had worked for numerous films in the franchise, but this particular film would be his last. In a particular scene, Holmes was thrown against a wall, and unfortunately the scene and stunt didn’t go as planned. Holmes was thrown too hard and didn’t hit the wall right and as a result, he fractured his neck. Unfortunately, this accident also caused injuries that led him to be paralyzed from the neck down, ending his stunt double career in its tracks.
1. The Tragic Death of Steve Irwin
Steve Irwin was one of the most famous figures in American and Australian culture. Irwin was an actor and big time lover of animals. In fact, he actually grew up in his parents’ wildlife park. Most people know of him and know that he tragically passed away some years ago, but you may not know what he was actually doing when he died. That’s right, the beloved animal lover’s death actually occurred on set. As most people know, Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray that stabbed him right in the heart. His death took place in 2006 while he was filming his documentary titled The Crocodile Hunter: Ocean’s Deadliest. It is unfortunate and ironic that the creatures that Irwin loved most in the world, ultimately led to his demise. He is remembered fondly by those who used to watch his show, his friends and family and animal lovers everywhere.