Hollywood blockbusters only succeed by raising the pace, scale or budget of the on-screen action. These days it's safe to assume that the craziest stunts and sequences are made possible with plenty of green screen or CG artistry. But when a director and crew are committed to realism, or there's simply no way to fake a shot, there's no limit they'll go to until the job is done.
Here is our list of 9 Incredibly Hard to Shoot Movie Scenes.
Not every movie stunt or sequence needs to be on an epic scale to be a serious challenge. CG was used heavily in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, but it was Tobey Maguire's role as the awkward Peter Parker who got people to care about his computer-generated counterpart. Peter first discovers his superpowers in a high school cafeteria, in a sequence the studio actually wanted cut in order to stay on schedule. Raimi insisted it was needed for the origin story, and went on to film a 16-hour day, with a stunt involving Peter's 'Spidey Sense' largely to blame.
Using his heightened senses to catch Mary Jane and the contents of her lunch one item at a time, audiences assumed some trickery was at play. But the actor really did pull off the trick for real (aided by some glue to keep his hand stuck to the tray). It took hours to finally pull off the trick, but the scene would become one of the most heavily-marketed, and a fan-favorite moment that helped establish Spidey as a lighthearted but talented hero.
Advances in moviemaking and cameras mean that the concept of a “long take” or extended Steadicam shot are more common than the used to be. Movie fans are sure to have their favorites, and with his first Kill Bill, director Quentin Tarantino tried something especially ambitious. While most long takes follow behind or in front of an actor, the film’s nightclub sequence flew around, under, over and through the set, laying out the environment and character locations.
With so many wide angles and precisely-timed moments, it took over six hours of rehearsals before cameras could roll – an insane amount of time, considering the shot itself is just two minutes long. After the seventeenth take, veteran Steadicam operator Larry McConkey apparently collapsed from exhaustion. What’s most impressive about the shot is that unlike other long takes, Tarantino puts the sights and sounds of the entire set in the spotlight, encouraging the audience to take it all in, barely thinking about the camera capturing the footage, or the person holding it.
Saving Private Ryan
Steven Spielberg became a household name for fantastic adventures, from Jaws and E.T. to Indiana Jones. So when he decided to tell a story set in World War II, audiences couldn't have known just how dedicated the director would be to showing the war as faithfully as possible. Recreating the D-day assault on Omaha Beach for Saving Private Ryan's opening meant outfitting an army of 1500 extras, including 1000 Irish soldiers, and countless hours of preparation. Entire days were spent to make single shots possible, with Spielberg using the action, not storyboards to picks his angles and shots on set. The tremendous effort put into the half-hour sequence paid off, earning Spielberg the US military's highest civilian honour, with Saving Private Ryan seen by many as the most realistic recreation of the war ever seen on film.
Iron Man 3
Despite acting as the face of Marvel's movie universe, once Robert Downey, Jr. puts on the Iron Man armor, it's special effects teams who make the character a box office hit. But when Iron Man 3 called for the hero to rescue a dozen free-falling Air Force One passengers, someone decided to give the Red Bull Skydiving Team a call. The veteran adrenaline junkies didn't disappoint, and agreed that even if the backgrounds would have to be changed in post-production, strapping cameras to skydivers and capturing actual jumps would be worth it in the end.
The team spent a week jumping continuously - without goggles, and from the extreme heights possible without air tanks - wearing parachutes hidden under their costumes (that can still be spotted in a few shots). Some on the team were even given roles as part of the plane's crew prior to the sequence, just to drive home the point: when their characters are scrambling to link hands or fall in formation, the audience is seeing what actually took place thousands of feet in the air.
The Lord of the Rings
There was plenty of green screen work and CG wizardry in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy – but not as much as you might think. Different sized sets were constructed to make Hobbits seems just a fraction of the size of their human co-stars, but the director wanted to film real models, real actors and real scenes as much as possible. To do it, the filmmakers turned to some old school tricks, using forced perspective, not computers to shrink or enlarge their stars.
By placing Frodo much farther away from the lens than Gandalf, audiences were instantly fooled. But when the two were forced to interact inside Frodo’s home, the crew had to pioneer a brand new approach. Even a small pan of the camera from side to side meant moving one of the actors along with it, sliding Sir Ian McKellen in front of the lens, and shifting parts of the set just to maintain the illusion. Seeing how the shots were constructed is still hard to believe, but the award-winning results and realistic feel speak for themselves.
When he began work on his tale of a failed mission to the moon, director Ron Howard expected to shoot the movie's zero-gee sequences like usual: by faking it. But to give his cast an idea of what weightlessness would really feel like, he scheduled them a trip on NASA's "Vomit Comet" - an airplane used to prepare astronauts for the experience of zero gravity. By flying quickly to cruising altitude before dropping the plane into a steep dive, passengers on board are rendered essentially weightless.
One trip was all it took for Howard to change his mind, convincing NASA to let him build sets inside the plane, and film his weightless sequences during each one of the Comet's 25-second dives. His stars rose to the challenge, enduring 60 to 80 dives a day for a total of 612, resulting in less than 4 hours of footage. But it was worth it in the end, even if the zero-gee action is taking place a bit closer to Earth than in the original mission.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
With director Brad Bird at the helm of Mission Impossible 4, the franchise returned to the top of the box office, thanks in large part to one incredible sequence set inside - and outside - Abu Dhabi's Burj Khalifa hotel, the largest building in the world. The script called for IMF agent Ethan Hunt to climb, run and swing alongside the hotel's glass exterior - with Tom Cruise performing the stunt himself.
The crew built a replica section of the building to prepare special rigs, harnesses and equipment ahead of time, before filming on the real building. That included a rig that would allow the director and camera man to lie facing out from the building, in order to watch Cruise run towards them, leap over, and continue down with the camera catching every second. The finished scene was a total success - even if the studio had to change insurance companies to make it possible.
Movie fans know that these days, the importance of safety and studio insurance means modern stunts will never be as dangerous as those in the past. But even in the old days of death-defying Hollywood stunts, some were deemed too dangerous to encourage. In Sylvester Stallone’s mountain-climbing action movie Cliffhanger, the most memorable stunt isn’t set on any cliff, but thousands of feet above them, when one of the villains slides down a rope from one plane to another. There’s no trickery to the shot, only stuntman Simon Crane performing it exactly as it appears, 15,000 feet above ground.
The studio refused to encourage or pay for such a dangerous stunt, meaning Sylvester Stallone offered to cover the costs out of his own pay. After months of preparation, and calculating the proper altitude and speed for Crane to survive, he made it down the line to the waiting door and crew, but a burst of turbulence sent him over the plane’s body, forcing him to detach and parachute down. It was close enough for the finished movie, and the stuntman walked away with his life, and a world record – receiving a cool million dollars for a single scene.
Stuntmen and women known that their work on a movie set could result in injury, but the stars can usually rest easy knowing they won’t be put in harm’s way. But in the underwater adventure The Abyss, director James Cameron knew there was no easy way to bring his vision of a drilling rig on the ocean floor to life. Building the sets in a 7 million gallon structure, the demands of filming meant scenes needed to be shot at night, in heavily chlorinated water. With the cast forced to spend hours underwater, diving without oxygen, and fleeing from flooding rooms and hallways, some emotional breakdowns were widely reported, particularly after star Ed Harris’ near-drowning scare.
The only thing keeping the actors from revolting was Cameron’s commitment to enduring just as much strain, reviewing footage in a decompression chamber after spending the entire day in a diving helmet. As perfect evidence of why so few movies are shot underwater, the fact that almost half of the film was captured below the surface meant fans can take their pick of stressful, risky, or downright dangerous scenes.
So what do you think of our list? Did we miss any truly challenging movie scenes? Let us know in our comment section and don't forget to subscribe to our channel for more videos like this one!
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