Movies that permanently damaged actors' bodies

When it comes to starring in a major Hollywood film, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can transform an ordinary actor into something amazing. They don't call it "movie magic" for nothing, after all. But while many performers are willing to transform themselves for roles, from gaining and losing weight, to prosthetics, and more, some actors have taken it to the extreme. Ah, but it's for the art! Right? Well, sure, but art can only take you so far, especially when your life and health is on the line. 

While there are Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes, for outstanding acting work, there aren't any awards we can give out for "most pain endured in the performance of a role." But if there were, these actors — who all permanently hurt their bodies in the name of acting — would win.

Jared Leto in Chapter 27

Jared Leto is another Method actor who doesn't hold back when it comes to transforming his body. He's lost weight for films such as Requiem for a Dream and Dallas Buyers Club, but it was gaining weight for the 2007 indie Chapter 27 that really did a number on the actor.

Playing Mark Chapman, the man who shot and killed John Lennon, Leto admitted he gained so much weight so abruptly that he suffered gout. He told the L.A. Times, "The script didn't say, 'Page 1: You gain 67 pounds, and you're miserable for two months.' But as I started to research, I realized that the physical representation of this guy had so much to do with who he was."

He said the weight gain hurt his body so much, towards the end he couldn't even walk. "I had a definite problem with my feet," he said. "Towards the end of the shoot, one of the glaring issues was the pain I had with my feet. I couldn't walk for long distances. I had a wheelchair because it was so painful. My body was in shock from the amount of weight I gained. It took about a year to get back to a place that felt semi-normal. I don't know if I'll ever be back to the place I was physically."

Well, at least dying his hair green and donning metal teeth to play the Joker in Suicide Squad left no indelible marks.

Tom Hanks in Philadelphia and Cast Away

The affable Tom Hanks isn't necessarily known to be one of those actors who loses himself in roles, but he has gone to a few extremes here and there—and has won an Oscar for his efforts. Both in the 1993 Philadelphia, in which he plays a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS, and the 2000 Cast Away, in which he's stranded on a desert island for four years, Hanks lost a lot of weight.

The 60-year-old thinks losing and gaining the weight back, along with possibly being "genetically inclined," may have been contributing factors to being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. At the 2013 London Film Festival (via The Daily Mail), the actor said he probably won't be taking on any more roles which require him to drastically change his size. "The gaining and the losing of weight may have had something to do with it because you eat so much bad food and you don't take any exercise when you're heavy. I've talked to a number of actors who have gained weight for roles and just out of the sheer physical toll on one's knees and shoulders, no one wants to do it again. I think that's more or less a young man's game."

Thankfully, Hanks is definitely looking trim and healthy these days.

George Clooney in Syriana

George Clooney has his own horror story about suffering for his art, which didn't involve gaining or losing weight. While filming a torture scene for the 2005 Syriana, he cracked his head open during a stunt and severely injured his spine.

He told Rolling Stone at the time that the injury was so bad, he considered taking his own life. "I was at a point where I thought, 'I can't exist like this. I can't actually live.' I was lying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm, unable to move, having these headaches where it feels like you're having a stroke, and for a short three-week period, I started to think, 'I may have to do something drastic about this.'"

Doctors couldn't quite pinpoint where the injury was at first but finally noticed fluid leaking from Clooney's spine, and realized that the condition was more serious than anyone had thought. The actor revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that he was forced to take strong pain medication as part of a long process. "They'll hand you a giant tub of Vicodin, which is not a good drug for me; I had a lot of stomach pain and I really didn't like the high it gave me. Then there were other drugs. I was on morphine for awhile, which created this horrible anxiety where I really thought I was in trouble."

He finally turned to therapy, explaining, "I went to a pain-management guy whose idea was, 'You can't mourn for how you used to feel, because you're never going to feel that way again.' I've gone from where I can't function… to, 'I've got a bad headache'… My ears will literally pop and my head goes apeshit. But I'm scrappy."

At least he got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his pain.

Jackie Chan in...basically all of his movies

Jackie Chan has never held back—he views any injury he sustains while filming a stunt as just part of the gig. It's the one reasons Chan is considered a true legend in the martial arts genre. He has broken fingers, noses, ankles, tailbones, even his hip; he's dislocated his shoulders more than few times (very painful); he's suffered multiple concussions and spinal injuries. The injury list is as long as his resume.

However, there's one particularly serious injury that made a lasting impression on his banged-up body. Chan once told Parade, "The most serious injury I had was during the shooting of Armour of God II. It was actually just a simple stunt, jumping from a slope. But I was seriously injured and had a surgery to my brain. I still have a metal plate in my head and can feel the indentation from the impact." Yikes.

At age 62, Chan shows no signs of taking a break. He has two action films coming out in 2017 (Bleeding Steel and The Foreigner), and is currently filming the fantasy actioner Journey to China: The Mystery of Iron Mask. Bring on the pain!

Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables 3

As a longtime action movie star, Sylvester Stallone knows a thing or two about cuts, bruises, broken bones and the whole shebang. In fact, he once joked, "I grade the quality of a film by the intensity of the injuries. When I shot Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, I never got hurt. Through Rambo and The Expendables, I break my neck and my spine and I dislocate both shoulders." In 2014's The Expendables 3, in which he reprised his role as mercenary Barney Ross, Stallone admitted he suffered his worst on-set fall to date, permanently injuring his back. "In this one here, I end up really taking a fall on my back and had some metal put in there, so if you hear any squeaking, it's not my shoes but my back. But I'm getting better."

The third installment in the Expendables franchise also almost killed co-star Jason Statham. While he was driving a truck on a loading dock, the brakes failed and the truck plunged 60 feet into the Black Sea. Thankfully, Statham—who once competed as an Olympic diver—was able to get free and swim to safety. Dangerous movie, this one!

Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Linda Hamilton's badass turn as Sarah Connor in 1991's Terminator 2 set a precedent for female action stars to follow. She took the role very seriously, training her ass off to play the hardcore mother of the leader of the future world. But for all the fight sequences and stunt work, it's hard to bounce back when a shotgun blast goes off near your ear. While shooting the scene in which Sarah is trying to escape the psych ward and has to reluctantly accept help from Arnold Schwarzenegger's new and improved Terminator, the actress forgot to put her earplugs back in after a take. When Schwarzenegger let off a round in the elevator, trying to stop the liquid Terminator T-1000 (Robert Patrick), the amplified sound caused Hamilton permanent hearing loss. Those suckers are really loud.

Bruce Willis in Die Hard

The same type of injury also befell Bruce Willis while he was making his action thriller breakthrough Die Hard. According to the actor, after firing off a fateful round, he suffered "two-thirds partial hearing loss" in his left ear. He added that now has the "tendency to say, 'Whaaa?'" Rumer Willis, his oldest daughter with ex-wife Demi Moore, concurred, explaining (via ContactMusic) that the reason her dad isn't as talkative while promoting a movie is because he sometimes struggles to hear the questions. "I think part of the problem is sometimes he can't hear… because he shot a gun off next to his ear when he was doing Die Hard a long time ago, so he has partial hearing loss in his ears. If me and my sisters get together and he's at a dinner table and we start talking about fashion and things, the poor guy…" Indeed.

Jaimie Alexander in Thor: The Dark World

Playing an Asgardian god does have some drawbacks. While making 2013's Thor: The Dark World, Jaimie Alexander—who plays the warrior Sif, part of Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) team and secretly in love with the big fellow—described a painful-sounding injury. Speaking with MTV News, Alexander explained she slipped and fell from something "very high" and did some serious damage to her body. "I herniated a disk in my thoracic spine, dislocated my left shoulder, tore my right rhomboid, and chipped 11 vertebrae."

She thought maybe she was going to be okay, but the actress said the next morning, it was still pretty bad—and then it got worse: "I got in a car to go to the hospital, and I sat in the car and compressed my spine a little bit, and went paralyzed in my right leg and my right hand." With a month of physical therapy, Alexander was back on set swinging a sword, but you have to believe those spinal injuries linger. Wonder if she took it easier in the upcoming third Thor movie, Thor: Ragnarok, due out in November?

Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

It comes as no surprise Michelle Yeoh injured herself during the spectacular Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. With all the incredible stunt choreography involved, there had to be a misstep, and at one point in filming, Yeoh landed wrong and her knee gave out. She told USA Today about the experience, recalling, "The first action sequence was very intensive. I was doing a forward jump kick that I've done thousands of times but I had a mishap landing… I thought, 'I'm fine, I can keep going.' You have to give it your all because celluloid is forever. But I knew it was bad when I turned left and my leg kept swinging right." Sure enough, the action star completely tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her knee. Yeoh had to have surgery and months of physical therapy, and while she was able to recover, she admitted, "You never get all the way back to what it was."

Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher

You'd think for all the crazy stunts Tom Cruise performs in his many action movies, he'd have a myriad of lingering injuries to hamper his abilities. Maybe he does and just doesn't tell anyone, which would be par for Cruise's course, but he has described what he considered his "worst injury."

In 2012, Cruise appeared on The Tonight Show and told host Jimmy Fallon (via E! News) he hurt his foot while making Jack Reacher. Falling from a building? Jumping from a car? Nope. It was having to kick a guy in the groin over and over again. Cruise explained, "There's a scene where I'm kicking a guy in the balls, the testicles… It was a human being, [but] no testicles were injured in the making of the film! We had to do the take over and over again, and the first 10 times it was like 'Yeah!'" he joked. "After about 50 times in, my foot was swelling… I kept having to loosen my shoe." Just so long as the guy's crotch survived…

Angelina Jolie in Salt

Angelina Jolie is another star who never does any of her action movies half-assed—especially her 2010 action thriller Salt. Jolie plays a CIA officer accused of being a Russian spy who must prove her innocence while on the run. To prep for fight scenes, Jolie had to learn a combination of Muay Thai and Krav Maga, which she did during two-hour sessions three to four times a week. Some of her stunts included walking on a narrow ledge atop a 12-story building and jumping off a highway underpass onto a moving truck. But it was a "ridiculously" easy scene, she said, that caused her to scar her face. Speaking at Comic-Con at the time, she said it happened during a scene which involved her rolling onto the floor—and left her with a permanent scar. Her stunt trainer Simon Crane told Us Weekly, "During her final fight with Liev [Schrieber] … She had to dive through an opening door firing a gun … as she carried the sequence on, she rushed into a corner piece of a set and bumped her head." At least they got the shot.

Daniel Craig in Spectre

Daniel Craig's time playing James Bond has left him with his fair share of injuries, as the stunts became more elaborate with each film. In Casino Royale, two of his teeth were accidentally knocked out during his first stunt and had to be capped, and in Quantum of Solace, he suffered several injuries. There was a blow to his face that required plastic surgery, and he was rushed to hospital after slicing off the top of his finger. He also tore a muscle in his shoulder, and suffered badly bruised ribs.

But it was Craig's time on Spectre that left him permanently injured. While filming a fight scene with the hulking villain Mr. Hinx (Dave Baustista), he injured his knee. It required surgery and threatened to halt filming for six months, but Craig didn't want to wait and put off the surgery, working through the pain. He told Empire (via Daily Mail), "This has been a two-year process since we began talking about the script. It gets to this point and you say: 'We can shut down for six months and you can go have surgery and come back then.' I was like: "F— that." I don't give a f—. Stick two planks of wood on it and I'll f—ing crack on." Crack on he did, and in the end, production was stopped for only two weeks. Craig has since had a few surgeries to repair his knee, and has joked he'll keep playing 007 so long as his knees hold out.

Dylan O'Brien in Maze Runner: The Death Cure

The final chapter in the Maze Runner series was finally released in early 2018, almost two years after production on the YA flick was suspended indefinitely due to a horrific on-set accident involving Dylan O'Brien. The franchise's young star suffered severe brain trauma when a stunt involving a motorcycle went wrong and he "broke most of the right side of [his] face," as he put it when he recounted the ordeal during an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.

"[I have] four plates that will be a part of me forever," the American Assassin star said of the extensive reconstructive surgery he underwent after the accident. "I feel really lucky to have come away from it — in terms of coming away from it at all on the day, and really how my face has healed." The grateful actor went on to thank his "brilliant doctor" for the miracles he performed on his face. "He salvaged a lot of what I used to look like," O'Brien added. "To anybody who saw me after it happened, I think it's really astonishing how well everything healed and how my doctors fixed me up."

A defiant O'Brien gave it his all when he returned to complete his scenes as Thomas for The Death Cure — though sadly, the movie was met with largely negative reviews.

Mila Kunis in Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller Black Swan was nominated for several Oscars in 2011, but it was leading lady Natalie Portman who stole the show. She was named Best Actress by the Academy, praised for her harrowing performance and dedication to the role — she put herself on a strict diet and lost 20 pounds to play the part of fragile ballerina Nina. She wasn't the only one to take a method approach to her character, though her co-star Mila Kunis didn't get nearly as much attention for her transformation.

"I had to look skinny in order to look like a ballerina," Kunis told Howard Stern (via ET). "You fake it. So, the best way to fake it is to unfortunately look like it." The former That 70's Show star revealed that she resorted to an old habit to help her keep the weight off during the shoot. "I used to be a smoker, and so I smoked a lot of cigarettes and I ate a limited amount of calories. Twelve hundred calories, and I smoked. I don't advocate this at all. It was awful."

Kunis later revealed that her body has "never been the same" since Black Swan, telling Harper's Bazaar that going back to her former body type has proved impossible. "My shape is different," she explained. "When I got down to 95 pounds, I was muscles, like a little brick house, but skin and bones. When I gained it back, it went to completely different areas."

Blake Lively in The Rhythm Section

Blake Lively's career took a bit of downturn after she appeared opposite future husband Ryan Reynolds in the disastrous 2011 adaptation of DC's Green Lantern. The former Gossip Girl star had a hard time establishing herself on the big screen after that, but in 2016 she reminded audiences what she could do with a critically acclaimed shark attack thriller that came out of nowhere. The Shallows proved that Lively had some genuine action chops, delivering a "powerful performance," according to Rotten Tomatoes critics. She was duly rewarded with a part fronting her own spy thriller.  

Sadly, things went south again for Lively, as an on-set injury she sustained while filming an action sequence caused The Rhythm Section to cease production indefinitely. Sources informed The Hollywood Reporter that Lively's hand injury (which happened in December on the film's Dublin set) wasn't thought to be all that serious at first, though the surgery she underwent after sustaining it apparently failed to fix the issue.

Production was shut down and further surgeries planned, with both Paramount and Lively awaiting instruction from surgeons on how best to proceed. Whether going under the knife for a second time will correct the problem remains to be seen, but as of right now, Lively's hand certainly remains damaged, and she's been declared unfit for work as a result.

Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Volume 1

If it weren't for the string of sexual abuse allegations leveled at Harvey Weinstein in 2017, the truth about Uma Thurman's "dehumanizing" experience making the Kill Bill movies might never have come out. In a candid interview with The New York Times, Thurman broke her silence over the disgraced producer, who she said assaulted her after she starred in 1994's Pulp Fiction. But she also had some revelations about director Quentin Tarantino, who reportedly forced her to perform a dangerous driving scene for Kill Bill that left her with lasting damage.

"Quentin came in my trailer and didn't like to hear no, like any director," she said. "He was furious because I'd cost them a lot of time. But I was scared. He said: 'I promise you the car is fine. It's a straight piece of road. Hit 40 miles per hour or your hair won't blow the right way and I'll make you do it again.' But that was a deathbox that I was in. The seat wasn't screwed down properly. It was a sand road and it was not a straight road."

Thurman lost control of the Karmann Ghia and it veered off the road, crashing into a tree and leaving her in a crumpled heap, in so much pain that she believed she'd "never walk again." It took Tarantino 15 years to agree to release the footage, but it was too little, too late for Thurman, who was left with a "permanently damaged neck" and "screwed-up knees."