Times movie fight scenes used real weapons on purpose

There's certainly been no shortage of violence in the history of film. From epic gun battles to massive historical conflicts to brutal knife fights, pretty much every conceivable way to kill somebody has been represented onscreen. Of course, it's all for show: dulled edges, blanks, and gallons of fake blood offer the illusion of real violence without putting any of the actors in harm's way. In this day and age, there's a long list of rules and regulations that keep people safe, and any shot that might hurt someone has a lot of safety precautions built into it.

But there are still times when real weapons were actually used. Often, these aren't the big-budget blockbusters that can afford safety experts. Sometimes, they're micro-budget movies made by budding auteurs who can't afford anything but the real thing, or older films from before safety regulations were put in place; in fact, they might be the films that got the regulations made in the first place. From live ammunition to actual broken bottles to a chainsaw that very nearly was a Texas massacre, here are some times when movie fight scenes used real weapons.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant

Sometimes, even the big-budget movies screw up. The Divergent Series is not a tiny independent film, but a high-concept young adult franchise with lots of crowds, battles, and visual effects. In other words, it's a movie with money, and therefore, with a lot to lose. It's the kind of Hollywood tentpole that can't afford the bad press of a major accident. So how about hundreds of major accidents, all at once, and with child actors, no less? Well, the third movie in the series, Allegiant, very nearly found out what that might look like.

Apparently, for one of the key set pieces in the film, a large crowd of adult extras were supposed to use farm tools as weapons against younger extras. To do so, a whistleblower contended that the production armed the adults with actual metal tools: scythes, axes, and machetes. And yes, they were sharp. While no injuries were reported (thankfully!), the potential for disaster was extreme. That's one way to get some realistic action into your movie, though.

Thanks to the whistleblower, the metal weapons were replaced with rubber for the rest of the production. No word was ever given as to why sharpened metal tools were given out by the prop department, though the thinking is that it was a simple cost-saving move. But when you have child actors in the scene as young as four years old, maybe it's worth the extra expense to get the rubber versions. Scratch that — it's worth the added expense for actors of any age.

Act of Valor

A lot of movies feature Navy SEALs, one of the US military's elite special operations units. That normally means actors portraying SEALs, but for Act of Valor, the filmmakers went the extra mile: the commandos in their film were portrayed by actual, real SEALs. Realism was the goal of the movie, which was in part intended to inspire a wave of recruits into the Navy. Well, it doesn't get much more real than live ammunition — which is exactly what they used for the film's shoot.

SEALs are very serious operators, and even during training, they always use live ammunition. So when they were brought onboard Act of Valor, they decided to carry over that philosophy into the actual production. All the scenes featuring the American military firing their weapons weren't faked in any way: those are actual SEALs firing actual bullets. Naturally, they weren't firing at the other actors. Nevertheless, the standard safety protocols of Hollywood films went out the window for this one. But then again, this wasn't a standard film.

Act of Valor's experiment in realism was never continued: later military-themed films went back to using actors firing blanks. That leaves the film as a singular exercise in getting fiction as close to reality as humanly possible.

Come and See

In Soviet Russia, movie shoots you. And in the case of Come and See, a 1985 Soviet film set during World War II, it really did. Despite having a 14-year-old in the starring role, the production used actual bullets during the battle sequences. The Soviet film industry was a very different beast than its Hollywood counterpart, so it's likely that it's safety regulations were different as well. And fortunately, it doesn't appear that anyone was hurt during filming. Still, even for Soviet Russia, this seems like an extreme case of carelessness.

That said, the movie itself went on to be a hit. Come and See drew praise even from Western publications, and is considered a classic to this day. Its unflinching portrayal of guerrilla warfare against Nazi occupiers, from the point of view of a teenager no less, is at once harrowing and provocative. Despite the praise, director Elem Klimov never directed again afterwards. After creating his magnum opus, he didn't feel he had any more to say — or maybe he just didn't feel like getting shot at again.

The Evil Dead

While it's a legendary film now, when then-nobody director Sam Raimi set out to make his first feature film, he had to do battle with his primary antagonist: namely, money. To get The Evil Dead made, he basically had to beg his own family and friends for cash. Scrounging up whatever he could, Raimi would have to shoot the film on the tightest budget he could get by on, so expensive items, like prop guns or blanks, weren't exactly in the cards. It was much easier, and cheaper, to borrow somebody's actual gun, with their actual bullets. So that's exactly what Raimi did.

As you might imagine, there was no budget for any safety experts, either. So when actor Bruce Campbell was firing off his live ammunition, he was shooting at a real cabin, doing real damage. This was out in the woods, where real animals were just going about their business. To Hollywood, with lawyers and public relations to consider, this cavalier approach would have been unthinkable. But to a young director and actor with insufficient money and an unstoppable will to get the movie made, nothing mattered but the end result.

The Evil Dead went on to become a cult classic, and lead to the bigger-budget sequel-cum-remake Evil Dead II, which in turn kicked off an entire franchise that continues on with the TV series Ash vs Evil Dead. And no matter where Ash goes, he always has his boomstick with him. Though nowadays, the bullets aren't real.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was another ultra-low-budget film made by then-unknown talent way, way outside the Hollywood system. While the movie is famously not as bloody as other horror films of the era, its grim, dirty, relentless style has earned it a place in the cult pantheon. It remains a truly disturbing film to watch. It was also, apparently, a very disturbing film to make. Especially when you consider that all of the weapons used in the film were real.

Everything from the chainsaw to the sledgehammer were actual tools. Though there was a prop sledgehammer, a real one was used during a climactic scene. Even though the bad guy swinging the hammer is supposed to miss his target, a mistake here could have been seriously damaging. And of course, a running chainsaw is dangerous in any situation, but even more so when an actor is swinging it at cars, doors, and other actors. It wouldn't have taken much for the film's title to come true.

Fortunately, though there were injuries during the shoot, none of them proved serious. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has remained a classic horror film for decades, so at least the filmmakers got something for all the pain involved. Still, this was clearly a case when making the film became more important than keeping everybody safe. That makes it, truly, a horror film.

Enter the Dragon

Bruce Lee is still the world's best-known onscreen fighter, and for good reason. The man was essentially a martial art unto himself, and trained obsessively on the techniques shown in his films. Already a star in Asia, in the early 1970s he turned his piercing gaze on the West. Lee wanted to make a movie with global crossover appeal, combining American sensibilities with Asian action sequences. The result was the instant classic Enter the Dragon.

According to cinematic legend, many of the weapons used in his films were the real deal: his famous nunchucks, for example, were said to be real, not props. That might just be to burnish his image a bit — something like "if Lee didn't have such great control, he might kill someone on set" — but one thing that's for certain is that, during one fight in Enter the Dragon, a broken bottle was portrayed by an actual broken bottle. While it wasn't supposed to touch Lee anywhere, a mistimed stunt meant that he smashed his fist right into it. Though Lee was fine, he apparently took his revenge by actually kicking the stuntman who'd cut him.

Sadly, Enter the Dragon was Lee's final film, as he died due to a cerebral edema shortly before the movie was released — but as any fan of martial arts movies could tell you, his legend survives.

Throne of Blood

Akira Kurosawa is one of Japan's most famous directors, especially in the West. Though his long filmography includes movies across a broad variety of genres and settings, he was and is most famous for his samurai stories. Kurosawa also had a keen interest in William Shakespeare's timeless plays, and eventually began combining his two interests by adapting the Bard's works into samurai stories. Sure enough, Shakespeare's tales of greed, love, and power worked just as well in feudal Japan as they did in old Europe.

The first play he would adapt was Macbeth, and the resulting film was called Throne of Blood. In the climactic scene, legendary actor Toshiro Mifune's power-hungry samurai lord is surrounded, alone, by his own men. Though he berates them as cowards and traitors, they aren't swayed; in fact, they loose a volley of arrows at him. To get the effect of the arrows sticking into the walls around Mifune — and into Mifune's armor — actual sharpened metal points were used on the arrows. This meant that Mifune, whose head was uncovered, faced serious risk of injury. The lord was supposed to die in that scene, but if one arrow had gone astray, the actor might have gone down with the role, as it were.

Fortunately, Mifune didn't die, and went on to star in many other films. Throne of Blood is still considered one of the best Macbeth films ever made, and even one of the best Shakespeare films. Though to be fair, it's much easier to like a movie if nobody dies in it. How very un-Shakespearean.

The Public Enemy

In the 1930s, gangster movies were a rising genre in Hollywood. And few actors ever came to embody the tough guy like James Cagney, who could portray thoughtful, layered men with a penchant for violence. Already a rising star, Cagney's breakout film was The Public Enemy in 1931. Exceedingly brutal for its time, the movie even featured a scene in which Cagney — gasp! — hits a woman… with a grapefruit. The moment was so shocking that it captivated audiences and made Cagney a star.

And yet, The Public Enemy shoot contained far more danger than a mere grapefruit. For shots (of the film) that involved shots (from guns), real bullets were used, even if Cagney himself were in the frame. While other films on this list used live ammunition as well, it's something else again to use actual bullets when your star is in the shot. Then again, using real bullets on a film set at all is rather crazy, so maybe The Public Enemy isn't all that different.

Cagney survived the shooting (of the film and the gun) and went on to be a major Hollywood star for decades. To our knowledge, no other grapefruits were ever harmed.

The Captive

For a period in Hollywood history, no name loomed larger than Cecil B. DeMille. The tireless filmmaker would write, produce, and direct dozens of films across every genre, and even successfully jumped from the silent into the sound era. But in 1915, DeMille was just getting his start. Not that he was taking things slowly: The Captive, a sweeping romantic tragedy set in the Balkans, was already DeMille's 16th film just a year after directing his first feature. A different era, indeed.

But apparently, rushing films to completion at that speed came loaded with a lot of risks. To get the realism he wanted during a scene in which soldiers storm a building, he insisted the soldiers' guns be loaded with real bullets. Tragically, during the shot, one of the guns went off and killed an extra, a 30-year-old by the name of Charles Chandler. Perhaps modern Hollywood productions are slower because of the sea of regulations they have to navigate, but incidents like this prove why those regulations are there, and why they matter.

But this was, indeed, another era, and DeMille finished his film, released it, and rolled right onto the next one. His career went on for decades. Poor Charles Chandler's career, needless to say, did not.

Birth of a Nation

D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation remains one of cinema's most incendiary films. The second half is an unapologetically loving recreation of the Reconstruction-era American South and the rise of its supposed saviors, the Ku Klux Klan. Of course, that bit hasn't exactly aged well. It's a time capsule of a certain mindset that is, to many, repulsive.

In fact, this latter half of the film is so infamous that the movie's first half is often overlooked. It chronicles the American Civil War itself, and includes what were, for the time, the largest and most elaborate battle sequences ever put onscreen. Griffith pulled out nearly every cinematic trick yet invented in order to bring these scenes to life. "Yet invented" being the key term here, because some tricks — like fake explosions, didn't yet exist. So in order to film cannons firing, and cannon shells bursting, there was only one thing for Griffith to do: fire actual cannons, loaned from the U.S. Army. Of all the real weapons mentioned in this article, none were bigger than full-on artillery.

Griffith's film was bigger, grander, and more ambitious than any other up to that time, and stunts like real cannon fire were part of the reason why. Today, however, the film's most explosive elements have nothing to do with the artillery, but with its profoundly disturbing views on race.