Movies are magical, but they are also dangerous. Back in the early days of Hollywood, a lack of regulation led to many on-set accidents and deaths. A stuntman and several horses were killed during an early attempt at shooting the chariot race in 1925’s Ben-Hur. According to legend, the final chase, and its climactic crash, was not a choreographed sequence, but a legitimate death race, caught on camera, and edited into one of the most legendary action sequences ever put on film.
1928’s Noah’s Ark film featured a breathtaking sequence of “The Great Flood;” hundreds of thousands of gallons of water were used in the sequence, and at least three extras were killed, with dozens of ambulances required to treat the wounded. The alarming frequency of incidents like this led to an overhaul of Hollywood’s safety protocols for stunt performers.
Despite these regulations, accidents still happen. Between the dangerous stunts, copious amounts of pyrotechnics, and the random chance of human error, making movies is still a risky proposition for actors, stunt performers, and even directors, as this list can attest. Here are 15 Tragic Accidents On The Sets Of Famous Movies.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
While anticipation runs high for the long-awaited conclusion to the Resident Evil film franchise (well, sort of), Resident Evil: The Final Chapter will likely be remembered more for its multiple on-set accidents than for wrapping up the tale of Milla Jovovich’s Alice and her entertaining crusade to stop the Umbrella Corporation while comically misrepresenting the video games upon which it is based.
Olivia Jackson is Milla Jovovich’s stunt double for the film, and also did stuntwork for such huge blockbusters as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and Mad Max: Fury Road. While riding a motorcycle during a chase scene, a metal camera arm she was racing towards did not move out of the way like it was supposed to. She collided with it at full speed, pulverizing her left arm (forcing it to eventually be completely amputated) and sustaining numerous other injuries. Her road to recovery is sure to be long and arduous, but if her Instagram account is anything to go by, she’s more than capable of getting through this tragic event with her sanity intact.
Meanwhile, in an even more tragic accident on the set of the same film, a crew member, Ricardo Cornelius, was killed when an unsecured car slid off of a rotating platform and crashed into him, pinning the man against the wall. Cornelius was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure
The Maze Runner is one of the better YA adaptations out there, thanks in large part to its charismatic and scrappy star, Dylan O’Brien, who fully embodies the classic Hollywood combination of vulnerability and strength, the mark of a true movie star. While shooting a complex stunt involving moving from the top of one car to another, something went wrong and O’Brien was injured, very nearly putting an end to his burgeoning career. Production on the final film in the YA trilogy was pushed back several weeks to allow for the 24-year-old Teen Wolf star to recover from his injuries, but it was quickly discovered that he was more badly hurt than previously believed.
The film was originally scheduled for release in February 2017, but has since been pushed back nearly a full year, to January 2018, to allow O’Brien time to fully recover from his injuries. There’s no word yet as to when the final film in The Maze Runner series will resume production, but O’Brien is expected to shoot his scenes for Teen Wolf’s sixth and final season starting in October, so we should expect some sort of announcement soon.
Against all odds, a third XXX film is on the way, bringing back Vin Diesel for another go-round as extreme sports enthusiast/secret agent Xander Cage. Time will tell if the film will resonate with audiences or if XXX is just too silly to be relevant, but by this point, we know better than to ever doubt the sheer tenacity of Vin Diesel.
The world of extreme sports and adrenaline seeking makes for great stunt sequences, but such a dangerous lifestyle can often lead to injury or death, as was the case for Diesel’s stunt double, Harry O’Connor, who had also worked on films like Charlie’s Angels and Soldier. The stunt involved parasailing, and O’Connor completed the stunt flawlessly on the first take. However, during the second attempt, he struck his head on part of the Palacky Bridge in Prague, and died before he even fell into the water. Parts of O’Connor’s final moments are included in the finished film, which is dedicated to his memory.
Gone in 60 Seconds 2
We know what you’re thinking: there’s a sequel to Gone in 60 Seconds? There isn’t, but there almost was. We’re not talking about the remake with Nicholas Cage and Angelina Jolie, but the 1974 original by the great king of car crashes, H.B. Halicki.
Fifteen years after smashing so many cars in the original Gone in 60 Seconds, a recently married Halicki was ready to do it again with a bigger and better sequel. Unfortunately, the film was never finished. While preparing for the film’s biggest stunt, in which a water tower would dramatically tumble to the ground, an accident occurred. One of the cables holding the tower up snapped off, crashing into a nearby telephone pole, which collapsed on top of the director, killing him instantly. Production on the film was immediately cancelled. Years later, most of the completed footage, of spectacularly vicious car crashes, was compiled as a short film and released on DVD.
The Dark Knight
We all know about the sad accidental death of actor Heath Ledger from a fatal cocktail of prescription drugs, but that was months after filming wrapped on this cinematic masterpiece. For this entry, we’re going to look at stuntman Conway Wickliffe, who had also worked on Batman Begins, Casino Royale, and Die Another Day, among many other films. While rehearsing the scene in which the Batmobile gets taken out by The Joker’s rocket launcher, Wickliffe was leaning out of a stunt car window to practice how the stunt would be recorded. However, the driver of Wickliffe’s vehicle was unable to clear a certain 90 degree turn, and accidentally collided with a tree at 20 miles per hour.
Though the driver of the car escaped entirely without injury, Conway Wickliffe suffered severe head trauma and died at the scene of the accident. The film is dedicated to his memory, as well as that of Heath Ledger.
Sometimes, an accident’s long-term effects aren’t immediately evident. Many injuries continue to cause lingering, chronic pain for months, years, and even decades after they happen. One such injury occurred on the set of Syriana, a scathing indictment of American imperialism for which George Clooney won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
During the scene in which Clooney’s character is tied to a chair and tortured, the chair is ultimately thrown backwards to the ground. Clooney hit his head and hurt his back, but, at the time, little was made of the seemingly minor injury. However, the actor was soon plagued with crippling headaches which were so bad, the actor considered taking his own life to dull the pain. To prepare for his role as an aged CIA field agent, Clooney had gained nearly 40 pounds in just one month, which surely exacerbated his situation. Fortunately for his fans, George eventually settled for a minor alcohol dependency, and finally, once doctors finally figured out the problem, several bouts of surgery put an end to his ailment. Still, pain from his injury prevented him from accepting the role of Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which was to be directed by Steven Soderbergh. Eventually, that film was directed by Guy Ritchie and starred Henry Cavill in the Solo role.
A great many people have a fear of flying. After all, if we were supposed to fly, then we’d be born with wings, or so they say. Technically, flying is still the safest way to travel, which is why plane crashes are so publicized on the news: because they’re so rare.
Art Scholl was one of the most famous stunt pilots of all time, and his aerial photography and daring aerial stuntwork were featured in dozens of films and television shows, including The Right Stuff, Iron Eagle, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. His final project was the 1986 celebration of military machismo and beach volleyball, Top Gun.
While performing aerial stunts aboard his Pitts S-2 camera plane, Scholl found himself unable to maintain altitude after performing a flat spin maneuver. Legend has it that his final words were, “I have a problem. I have a real problem.” Scholl’s plane crashed into the sea, and was never recovered. Thus, the true cause of the accident will never be fully understood.
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
Michael Bay is famous for running a tight ship when it comes to making his action blockbusters. Despite the reputation of the Transformers movies for being computer-generated orgies of sensory overload, he actually films most of his explosions and stunts “in-camera,” usually adding the CGI robots on top of real photography. Still, when dealing with massive explosions and throwing cars around as though they were toys, accidents can happen on even the most tightly secured productions.
While shooting the third entry in the massively successful Transformers franchise, a steel cable holding a car suddenly snapped free, hitting an extra, Gabriela Cedillo, right through the windshield of the car in which she was sitting. Cedillo was critically injured, suffering severe facial injuries and permanent brain damage. After months of lawsuits, Paramount Pictures settled with Cedillo and her family, to the tune of $18 million, cold comfort for the young woman whose life was irreparably changed by an unfortunate accident.
Gregg Allman’s life story was all set to be adapted for the big screen, with William Hurt and Tyson Ritter (frontman for The All-American Rejects) set to play the rock and roll icon at different points in his life. Unfortunately, on the very first day of shooting Midnight Rider: The Gregg Allman Story, a fatal incident took place.
While filming a dream sequence on active railroad tracks in Georgia, crew member Sarah Jones was killed by a train after being given only one minute’s warning by a lookout to clear the tracks of all personnel and props. It was found that the producers were criminally negligent, having failed to receive proper permission to film on railroad property. A huge outpouring of discontent over Hollywood’s increasingly lax safety standards led to actors dropping out of the project, Gregg Allman rescinding his blessing towards the film, and the eventual cancellation of the movie.
The Expendables 2
Sylvester Stallone is the king of righteous macho action with depth and soul. The Expendables and its first sequel are no different, offering larger-than-life stories of redemption and revenge while indulging in awesomely violent shootouts and brutal fistfights which fly in the face of the sanitized and stylized action of the superhero genre.
Stallone wrote and starred in The Expendables 2, but decided against returning to direct after the difficult production of the surprisingly personal first film (more on that in a bit). As a result, the more crowd-pleasing Expendables 2 benefited from the pre-production-prowess of director Simon West (Con Air, The Mechanic). Still, even the most meticulously planned action sequences can go wrong…
During a scene, shot by the second unit team, in which an explosion rocks a rubber boat, two stuntmen were too caught too close to the blast. Kun Liu was killed and Nuo Sun was injured, though he has since made a full recovery. Explosions are dangerous; even when a film crew thinks they’re in control, it only takes one mistake for disaster to strike.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
Twenty-five years before The Expendables 2, a similar explosion mishap may have claimed the life of a crew member on the set of Rambo: First Blood Part II. The first action-packed sequel to Stallone’s moody thriller about a Vietnam War veteran who brings the war back with him and carries it with him for the rest of his life, First Blood Part II’s complex political themes elevate the film above mere macho-exploitation, though it certainly ups the body count compared to its predecessor, and contains way too many gratuitous shots of Stallone’s oiled-up muscles glistening in the sun.
Cliff Wenger Jr. was a special effects technician tasked with rigging the film’s many explosions, but was sadly killed. Our research turned up conflicting reports that he either fell off of a waterfall to his death while setting explosives, or he was killed by a premature detonation. Either way, his death is a tragedy and a testament to how dangerous that type of work can be.
Sylvester Stallone is a Walking Disaster Zone
Speaking of Sylvester Stallone movies, it’s a miracle that the man who played Rocky and Rambo is still alive. The 70-year-old actor/writer/director has been critically injured more than any other action star out there, but, like a true professional badass, he always comes back for more.
In First Blood, Stallone did part of the stunt where John Rambo falls from a mountain into a tree and gets injured on his way down; Stallone broke several ribs when he slammed into the branch at high speed, and his haunting scream of pain in the scene is absolutely real. On the set of Rocky IV, while shooting the climactic fight between Rocky and Drago, Stallone was punched so hard in the chest by actor Dolph Lundgren that his heart got knocked around and started to swell, landing the Italian Stallion in the hospital for over a week with life-threatening injuries. Finally, while shooting his action-packed all-star shoot-em-up extravaganza, The Expendables, Stallone received yet another life-threatening injury, this time at the hands of Steve “Stone Cold” Austin. During their brutal fight sequence, Stallone literally broke his back, requiring insertion of a metal plate in his spine. Oh, and did we mention that he had a bad case of shingles while directing, writing, and acting? A lesser man would simply quit, but not our Sly.
One of the most famous and tragic stories in Hollywood history is the death of Brandon Lee, the son of legendary martial artist/actor Bruce Lee and star of 1994’s The Crow, based on the popular graphic novel. While filming a scene in which Lee’s character is shot, the improperly cleaned prop gun fired by actor Michael Masse sent a small piece of debris from a blank cartridge flying like a bullet into Lee’s chest. Despite the best efforts of medical professionals, Brandon Lee bled to death at the hospital.
After the incident, Michael Masse was so shaken that he quit acting for a year, and the film was completed using Lee’s stunt double and early uses of face-replacement CGI effects. The accident would likely not have happened if the film production had adhered to Hollywood union standards. However, the film was shot in North Carolina, a state with so-called “right-to-work” laws which don’t require union oversight or regulation. When a movie is being made with explosions and simulated danger, there is a dire need for watchful eyes making sure that proper safety measures are implemented. Guns are dangerous. Even when loaded with blanks or dummy rounds, proper care must be taken when handling these implements of death.
Between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, prequel trilogies to beloved fantasy sagas don’t have a great track record with critics or fans. While no humans died on the set of Peter Jackson’s three film, nine hour adaptation of The Hobbit, the film became notorious for its multitude of animal deaths.
According to the reports from The Hollywood Reporter, the fault lies with Hollywood’s lax standards of self-regulation; the American Humane Association, which monitors and protects against animal cruelty, was able to avoid holding anyone accountable for the deaths because they didn’t occur on-set during filming, but rather at the animal enclosure where over 150 critters were being kept. Animal wranglers claimed that no less than 27 animals died during the production. While some were surely due to natural causes, many died as a direct result of their shoddy living arrangements, where underground streams led to sinkholes which horses and other animals would fall into and drown, or break bones and asphyxiate. Hollywood is full of animal lovers, and incidents like these are a dark blemish on their reputation as a compassionate and caring community.
The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone is one of the most legendary television series of all time, its anthology format lending itself to a wide variety of stories and a broad range of subject matter, from horror, to comedy, to scathing social commentary.
In 1983, a feature film version of the show was released, with segments directed by superstar directors Stephen Spielberg, John Landis, George Miller, and Joe Dante. While John Landis’s chapter was in production, a tragic accident claimed the lives of veteran actor Vic Morrow (Blackboard Jungle, King Creole), as well as two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. The two children were hired illegally and paid “under the table,” so as to avoid Hollywood’s child labor laws, a point which was brought up at the subsequent trial.
The scene was to be Morrow’s character’s moment of redemption, running away from a menacing helicopter while carrying the two children. Unfortunately, things went terribly wrong. A stunt explosion went off too close to the rear of the helicopter, damaging the tail rotor, causing the helicopter to come crashing to the ground, killing the three actors instantly.
After nearly a decade of litigation, John Landis and other members of the film crew were acquitted of any charges. Safety overhauls to Hollywood productions ensued, but, as the aforementioned case of The Crow can attest, film studios continued to find ways to cut corners with regards to safety, putting lives in danger just to save a few bucks here and there.
Did we miss any major on-set accidents? Sound off in the comments.