The magic of movies can help us escape reality and get lost in the story portrayed on screen. But some of the risks taken in creating these scenes are very real and have resulted in serious injuries or even death. The most infamous example of this is the tragic tale of Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow. While filming a scene where his character got shot by thugs, an error from the production crew resulted in Lee getting shot for real and losing his life at the age of just 28.
Thankfully, these kinds of accidents are a rarity in Hollywood, particularly nowadays with all the experts and health and safety measures required on sets. However, there are still multiple examples of movie shoots that only narrowly avoided disaster and included stunts that almost killed famous actors. Here is a list of just 10 of these almost-tragic stunts.
1. Eli Wallach / The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
During the production of The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, Eli Wallach, who played the role of Tuco, narrowly avoided possible death not once, not twice, but an incredible three times!
As revealed in Wallach’s 2005 memoir, The Good, the Bad, And Me, the actor had numerous close calls on set, which began when he accidentally drank some acid. Unbeknownst to Wallach, a crew member had poured some acid into a soda bottle and carelessly left it near Wallach’s drink. After consuming the acid, the actor was rushed to a nearby hospital, where doctors were able to pump the poison out of his stomach and prevent disaster.
Another scene called for Wallach to be sat on a horse with his hands tied behind his back. During the shoot, a gunshot spooked the horse that Wallach sat on, and it took off running, dragging the actor with it for almost a mile before members of the production were able to stop the horse.
If that wasn’t enough of a scare for Wallach, a third scary incident occurred when director Sergio Leone insisted that he perform a stunt that involved him laying next to a train track as a train sped by and cut him free from his handcuffs. The film crew failed to realize that the train had low-hanging steps protruding from the carriages. These steps missed Wallach’s head by a few inches, and if he had lifted his head at any point, he would have likely been decapitated.
2. Johnny Depp / The Lone Ranger
One of the most recognizable names in Hollywood barely avoided a catastrophic accident on the set of the 2013 film The Lone Ranger. Johnny Depp was thrown from his horse while shooting a scene.
Footage of the accident shows just how close Depp came to suffering a serious injury. In the clip, you can see Depp begin to slide down the side of the horse as it is galloping at full speed. The actor eventually falls to the ground and miraculously avoids getting trampled as the horse leaps over him.
Incredibly, Depp only suffered minor injuries during the incident and was able to continue shooting the movie after being checked over by medics.
3. Michael J. Fox / Back to the Future, Part III
In the mid-to-late ‘80s, the Back to the Future movies catapulted Michael J. Fox into the mainstream and made him a household name in Hollywood. However, a stunt went awry during the production of the third film that almost cost the actor his life.
In his rather aptly titled memoir Lucky Man, Fox described how when shooting the scene where Marty McFly is getting hanged by Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen and his gang, the drama got all too real. Although the scene had been rehearsed with the stunt coordinators many times, when it came to shooting the scene, the rope around Fox’s neck tightened too much, and he genuinely couldn’t breathe.
The scary thing was that the whole crew believed that he was simply acting and didn’t immediately realize they were watching a man fighting for his life. Luckily, the filmmakers recognized something was wrong in time to save him, although Fox did lose consciousness during the ordeal.
4. Isla Fisher / Now You See Me
Like Michael J. Fox, a real-life tragedy almost occurred on the first Now You See Me film set when the crew mistook a genuine struggle for a convincing piece of acting.
Fisher plays an escapologist in the movie and is shackled inside a tank of water in one particular scene. During the shooting of this stunt, the chains became entangled, and she was legitimately struggling to free herself.
But since the scene called for Fisher to bang on the glass in panic, the crew didn’t initially think anything was wrong. Fisher had to try and free herself from the danger but could not reach a safety button, which would have drained the water, and a safety diver with a canister of oxygen wasn’t close enough to help her.
The stunt coordinator eventually realized something was wrong and helped the Australian actress free herself. Fisher told the Daily Mail: “Luckily, I managed to get free and stay level-headed and got out before it went even more horribly wrong.”
5. Kate Winslet / Titanic
Although Titanic is the film that launched Kate Winslet’s career, she has often spoken about the difficulties she faced on set, particularly with director James Cameron.
Winslet genuinely feared for her life while shooting one scene when the coat she was wearing snagged on a gate, and she became briefly stuck and submerged underwater. The actress told the Los Angeles Times about the incident and spoke of Cameron’s unsympathetic nature, saying: “I had no breath left. I thought I’d burst. And Jim just said, ‘OK, let’s go again.’ That was his attitude.”
This isn’t the only time Cameron has almost had one of his actors drown on his set. Ed Harris also nearly drowned while shooting Cameron’s 1989 movie The Abyss. Perhaps actors should think twice before agreeing to a film with James Cameron involving scenes in and around water.
6. Viggo Mortensen / The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The character of Aragorn is no stranger to a battle, but the actor behind the character also found himself in some dangerous situations while shooting the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
Viggo Mortensen, who played Aragorn, performed all his own stunts on set and also insisted on using real knives and swords where possible. Unfortunately, this almost came back to bite him while filming The Fellowship of the Ring when a real knife was inadvertently thrown directly at him, and he had to deflect it away with his sword—an incident that made it into the final cut of the movie.
Then, during the production of The Two Towers, Mortensen not only broke two of his toes after kicking a helmet, but he also nearly drowned while shooting the scene where Aragorn’s unconscious body floats down a river. The weight of the armor that the actor wore dragged him underwater, and he was caught in an undertow that could have put him in real danger.
7. Dylan O’Brien / Maze Runner: The Death Cure
The Maze Runner movies are a series of sci-fi films based on the novels of author James Dashner. So far, three movies have been made, and it was during the production of the third installment that lead actor, Dylan O’Brien, was involved in a terrifying accident.
On the set of Maze Runner: The Death Cure, O’Brien was shooting a stunt when he was pulled from one vehicle and collided with another. The incident left the young actor with multiple serious injuries, including a concussion, a facial fracture, and brain trauma.
Production of the movie was shut down for almost a year while O’Brien spent time in the hospital, requiring reconstructive surgery. Thankfully, O’Brien was able to recover from his injuries and resume his acting career.
8. Jim Caviezel / The Passion of the Christ
There are not many bigger roles for an actor than that of Jesus Christ. So when Jim Caviezel was cast in the iconic role for Mel Gibson’s 2004 epic The Passion of the Christ, it must have felt like a blessing.
But the actor’s experience on set sounded like anything but a blessing, with Caviezel suffering multiple injuries during the shoot. Caviezel was left with multiple bruises and scars, as well as a dislocated shoulder; therefore, he may have been forgiven for believing he was somehow cursed by this role, particularly when he was struck by lightning!
While shooting the “Sermon on the Mount” scene, Caviezel was hit by a lightning bolt that reportedly saw him “lit up like a Christmas tree.” Incredibly, he was unharmed in the incident.
9. Sylvester Stallone / Rocky IV
The Rocky movie franchise is one of the most iconic in cinema history. The fourth installment is a firm favorite among fans of the series, as Rocky comes up against Russian boxer Ivan Drago.
During production, the writer, director, and star of the movie, Sylvester Stallone, had the bright idea to let the nearly 6’5” powerhouse Dolph Lundgren, who played Drago in the film, punch him for real. Stallone told Lundgren: “Just go out there and try to clock me.”
Shockingly, this didn’t go too well for the Rocky actor, and he ended up spending nine days in the hospital due to his heart being knocked against his breastbone, which cut off the blood and oxygen supply to the heart and caused it to swell.
10. Jackie Chan / Armour of God
Jackie Chan has had more than enough on-set injuries to make up a list like this all by himself. Chan is notorious for doing his own stunts in his movies and has broken almost every bone in his body throughout his career.
Some of his more infamous stunts include his terrifying fall on the set of Project A, when he drops from a clock tower through two cloth rooftops and lands on his head, almost breaking his neck. Or his incredible leap in Police Story, when he dives from a balcony in a mall, sliding down a pole of lights and smashing through a glass roof.
However, Chan’s closest brush with death came when shooting the 1987 film Armour of God. While leaping from a cliffside to a tree, one of the branches on the tree snapped, which sent Chan plummeting to the ground, landing on his back and smashing his head on a rock.
The collision with the rock fractured his skull and pushed a piece of bone into the actor’s brain. Chan admitted that he “almost died” after this accident, but that didn’t stop him from making more action movies and continuing to do his own stunts.
Damn, Jackie Chan, you scary.