With CGI and stunt doubles, it can be a rarity to find actors who want to stick their ass on the line to perform their own stunts. But there are few who have the guts to jump from burning buildings, trudge through dangerous terrain, or get knocked in the face to bring realism to their craft. While these actors often get bumps, bruises, and fractures in the process, they believe in creating authentic performances, and have the agility, strength, and talent to make it happen.
The Rules: We’re looking at performers who are primarily actors here, so stunt-woman Zoe Bell doesn’t make the count for her acting role in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. And we’re only admitting one actor per list, so you can find the rest of Tom Cruise’s crazy stunts in this article.
Here are the 10 Best Movie Stunts Performed by Real Actors.
Jackie Chan – Police Story
Jackie Chan was at the forefront of martial-arts cinema in the 1980s. Chan worked with different Hong Kong studios to churn out one film after another in order to capitalize on the popularity of this type of film.Chan gained a reputation as a daredevil for doing all of his own stunts and is known for creating perfectly choreographed fight scenes.
Chan has performed many death-defying stunts throughout his career. One of the most memorable (and probably painful) was in the film Police Story, released in 1985. Chan plays officer Kevin Chan, who must clear his good name after he is framed for the murder of a dirty cop. At the end of the movie, Chan is at the top of a mall watching the villain escape. To catch him, Chan slides down a pole covered in lights that explode as he goes down, and then shatters through a pane of glass.
The stunt was visually superb, but there were some errors in its execution. Actual bulbs were used, and heated up the pole prior to the stunt. This caused Chan to suffer second-degree burns all over his palms.
Jason Statham – Crank
In Crank, Statham plays a British assassin who is injected with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops below a certain level. To survive, he takes drugs, gets into fights, and has sex in public, all with the purpose of keeping his heart-rate up. At the end of the movie, as the villain tries to escape on a helicopter, Statham clambers on to the helicopter landing skids. The men engage in a fight 2,000 feet above downtown L.A., where Statham pulls the villain out the helicopter and they both free fall toward their deaths.
Statham didn’t want to shoot the helicopter scene in CGI because he thought it would look to fake. All that was stopping him from falling off the skids was a small belt and thin wire. Statham has noted that filming the scene was pretty scary.
Tom Cruise – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
It is well known that Tom Cruise likes to perform his own stunts – and there’s a plethora to choose from. The most jaw-dropping stunts have most notably been in the Mission Impossible series. We have seen him crash through a water tank, dangle from a cliff, climb the Vatican wall, and scaling the side of the Burj Khalifa to name a few.
Arguably the most epic stunt was in the latest Mission: Impossible installment: Rogue Nation. In the opening scene, Cruise is dangling from the side of a prop plane. Cruise was hanging on for his life as the plane took off and pushed triple-digit speeds. To accomplish a realistic performance, Cruise didn’t want to feel like he had any safety on him, so the only thing keeping him strapped to the Airbus was a single harness.
Daniel Craig – Casino Royale
While Daniel Craig has admitted that he doesn’t do all of his own stunts, he is behind one of the most extreme ones in the James Bond franchise. Casino Royale marked Craig’s debut as 007 and he wanted his performance to be as authentic as possible. In the opening sequence, Craig chases the bad guy on to a building site and up a couple of construction crane 200 feet above ground. Craig looks seamless jumping from crane to crane. And knowing that he performed the death-defying leaps in the sequence makes them that much more impressive.
Craig followed this up with an equally impressive stunt in the next Bond installment Quantum of Solace. In the film, Craig makes a terrifying leap from a three-story building on top of a moving bus. Timing was crucial to make this scene work – Craig had to jump off the building before the bus was beneath him.
Buster Keaton – Steamboat Bill Jr.
Joseph “Buster” Keaton started performing his own stunts at the ripe age of three in a vaudeville act with his parents called The Three Keatons. In the act, he had a special talent for falling without injuring himself. He was billed as “The Little Boy Who Can’t Be Damaged.” Legend has it that Keaton took the first name “Buster” at 18 months of age when Houdini commented that one of his falls was “a real buster.”
Arguably Keaton’s most famous gag was in Steamboat Bill Jr., which was his last stunt with his independent production team and gag writers. In the scene, Keaton makes his way through the devastation the cyclone caused when a two-ton building collapses onto him. Fortunately, Keaton was standing directly below the attic window, and survives when the house wall falls around him rather than on him. Had Keaton been slightly off in his positioning, he could have been killed.
Harrison Ford – Raiders of the Lost Ark
Harrison Ford performed many of his own stunts in the Indiana Jones series. He has admitted that for what he is paid, he expects to do his fair share while filming. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ford did 75% of the stunt work on the horse, along with all of the close-up shots when his character was being dragged behind a truck.
One of the most famous scenes from the series comes at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which Jones is chased out of an ancient underground temple by a giant boulder. The almost 800-pound, 12-foot-high prop was made of wood, plaster and Fiberglass, and Ford had to outrun it in two different takes. A mechanical arm and poles could have been used to slow the boulder if necessary, but Spielberg has stated that he was an idiot for letting Ford do the stunt, as he could have been easily injured (it was only the second week of shooting). Nevertheless, Ford’s quick footedness help create one of the most iconic adventure films of all time.
Keanu Reeves – Speed
While filming Speed, Keanu Reeves was initially hesitant about getting involved in the action scenes. But as filming progressed, he took more interest and actually ended up performing a lot of his own stunts. In one of his more notable stunts, Keanu jumped from a Jaguar on to a bus, where his character inform passengers that there’s a bomb on the bus with them.
Director Jan de Bont told Reeves that he didn’t want him to perform the stunt because it was too dangerous. But against his director’s wishes, Reeves secretly rehearsed the scene. On the day of filming, Reeves insisted on doing it. He ended up executing perfectly, but almost gave de Bont a heart attack in the process.
Steve McQueen – The Great Escape
Steve McQueen, i.e. “The King of Cool,” was known for his love of motorcycles and race-cars, and jumped at the opportunity to perform all the stunts his insurance would allow in both Bullitt and The Great Escape. While McQueen only did about half of the driving in Bullit, he did most of the motorcycle riding in The Great Escape.
The Great Escape is a film about allied POWs who escape from a German camp during World War II. In one of the most famous scenes in film history, McQueen tries to outrun the Germans on his Triumph motorcycle. For the chase scene, McQueen attempted the final jump over the six-foot-high barbed-wire fence, but he ended up crashing, so it didn’t make the final cut. Instead, his friend and motorcycle shop owner Bud Ekins is featured in the film making the epic leap.
It was hard to find a biker as skilled as McQueen, so director John Sturges allowed him to dress up as a German soldier and ride another bike for the scene. Through the magic of editing, McQueen is chasing himself during the chase sequence.
Angelina Jolie – Salt
Angelina Jolie may be known as one of Hollywood’s greatest humanitarians, but she’s also a badass on film. In Salt, Jolie plays a CIA agent who goes on the run after being accused of being a Russian spy.
Jolie performs all of her own stunts in the film. And while there are many to choose from, our favorite stunt occurs when Jolie jumps leaps off a bridge, lands on top of a truck, jumps on top of two more moving trucks, and then jacks a motorcycle and escapes between lanes full of stopped traffic. Yep, it was actually Jolie doing all of the jumps in that scene.
Many would think that with small children Jolie wouldn’t want to take on such dangerous stunts. But Jolie has stated that her children are one of her primary motivators to do them, as they will think the stunts are cool.
Arnold Schwarzenegger – Conan the Barbarian
Arnold Schwarzenegger has performed many of his own stunts over the years. In fact, his willingness to do them helped him land his first movie roles. As he became a bigger celebrity, studios would have preferred a stunt double for certain scenes, but they often had a hard time finding one that resembled Schwarzenegger’s build.
For Conan the Barbarian, Schwarzenegger trained with a broadsword for two hours a day for three months. He learned climbing techniques, how to fall, roll, and jump from 15 feet in the air. In the movie, he did all of the horse riding and fight scenes, which were plentiful throughout. Additionally, the dogs director John Milius used to chase Schwarzenegger were actually dangerous and attacked their trainer. In that sequence, “The Governator” is legitimately running for his life.
In numerous films after Conan, we see Schwarzenegger jumping out of planes, shattering through glass without flinching, wrestling with wolves, and a whole lot more! He performed most of his own stunts in Terminator Genysis, which is pretty impressive considering he’s now 68 years old.
Don’t agree with something on this list? Or did we forget an epic stunt? Sound off below!