Unbelievable movie stunts that were totally real

In this age of CGI, it's really easy for filmmakers to use digital effects in place of actual stunts, and while the end result might look cool, it doesn't pack the same punch as a person putting him or herself in harm's way. As a result, audiences often suspect over-the-top stunts of being computer-generated illusions. However, sometimes these insane scenes are actually real-life gags, stunts so unbelievable that you would never guess they were totally real.

Live and Let Die (1973) - The crocodile bridge

Most humans prefer to stay far away from crocodiles, but then, James Bond isn't your average human. In Live and Let Die—Roger Moore's first outing as 007—the martini-drinking MI6 agent finds himself stranded on an island surrounded by hungry reptiles. But Bond isn't worried about a few cranky crocodilians, and instead of cowering in fear, he escapes by using the critters as a living bridge, jumping from croc to croc until he reaches the other side.

So how did the filmmakers create this scene of derring do/animal cruelty? Well, they used actual crocodiles. Of course, that's not Roger Moore out there risking his life. Instead, it's Ross Kananga, the man who operated the crocodile farm where director Guy Hamilton was shooting the picture. In order to prevent the reptiles from swimming around, Kananga tied their feet to concrete blocks, but he didn't worry about their mouths or tails. He then attempted to cross the bridge five separate times, and on a couple of occasions, he nearly wound up on the bottom of the food chain.

Once, Kananga slipped midway across the bridge, and for a moment, he was stuck on the back of an angry croc, stranded as animals on both sides tried to take a bite out of him. On another attempt, one of the beasts got a hold of Kananga's shoe, and the farmer found himself in a tug-of-war battle to keep his foot in one piece. But on the sixth try, Kananga finally got the stunt right, managing to keep all of his digits while giving us one of the wildest stunts ever put to celluloid.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) - Flying under the overpass

When it comes to pushing the envelope of special effects, James Cameron is without a doubt the king of the world. But this VFX revolutionary still believes in using practical effects whenever possible. (We're talking about the guy who built an 800-foot Titanic replica and then sank the thing in a 5 million-gallon water tank.) However, Cameron took his love for real-life stunts to death-defying levels in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, going so far as to jeopardize his own safety to get the perfect shot.

Near the end of the film, our heroes are trying to escape from the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), but unfortunately for John Connor (Edward Furlong), the shapeshifter has commandeered a helicopter. As a result, we get a thrilling chase where the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) attempts to outrun the chopper in a SWAT van. The sequence takes place on a Los Angeles freeway, and while some of the shots involve a mock-helicopter attached to a crane, there are quite a few scene where there's an actual aircraft buzzing down the road.

One of those sequences involves the T-1000 flying beneath an overpass. Cameron wanted to do this stunt for real, and pilot Chuck Tamburro (who cameos as the dude the T-1000 tosses out of the chopper) was totally up for the task. But first, he had to make sure there was enough room, and after wheeling the bird under the overpass, he found he had five feet up top and four on both sides. So yeah, it was going to be a bit of a squeeze.

In fact, the scene was so risky that the camera crew refused to film it. But Cameron is the kind of guy who laughs in the face of danger, so he shot the sequence himself. As Cameron sat in a car with a gutsy driver, Tamburro soared along at 60 knots (nearly 70 mph), pulling off what's got to be one of the riskiest aircraft stunts in cinema history.

Speed (1994) - The bus jump

Before he was Neo or John Wick, Keanu Reeves was Jack Traven, a policeman who finds himself aboard a bus that's rigged to blow if it drops beneath 50 mph. That's what you call a bad day at work, but things get even worse when Traven realizes the bus is heading up an elevated freeway and straight toward a 50-foot gap in the road. But thanks to the mad driving skills of Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock), the bus clears the gap without a hitch and lands safely on the other side.

Granted, the filmmakers digitally removed that missing chunk of concrete, but as the folks at CineFix point out, director Jan de Bont and stunt coordinator Gary Hymes really got that city bus to fly. Using a vehicle that was stripped down to bare bones, driver Joffrey Brown revved his engines and headed straight for ramp constructed on an LA freeway. He began driving from a mile away and managed to get the bus up to 61 mph before soaring 109 feet in the air. When Brown returned to Earth .49 seconds later, the landing pretty much obliterated the bus, but Brown managed to survive the impact courtesy of a special harness designed by Hymes.

Mission: Impossible II (2000) - The knife fight

When it comes to performing his own stunts, Tom Cruise is just one notch below Jackie Chan but miles above every other actor on the planet. For proof, look no further than the Mission: Impossible franchise. There's the Burj Khalifa scene from Ghost Protocol, the plane ride in Rogue Nation, and even that scene where he's dangling from the ceiling in the original film is pretty darn impressive. But for this list, we're focusing on Mission: Impossible II, the embarrassing black sheep of the Mission: Impossible family.

The plot…well…it's not that important because part two is a lousy movie, even if it was directed by Hong Kong master John Woo. What is important is how Tom Cruise risked his life in the name of entertainment. Take the opening sequence, for example. That's really Tom Cruise dangling from the side of a cliff, and as you probably guessed, he's not using a safety net. So when he flings himself from one rock to another, the only thing keeping the man alive is a thin cable.

Sure, that's impressive, but things got even more insane in the scene where Cruise faces off against a bad guy on the beach. During this fight scene, the villain pulls a blade and tries to stab Ethan Hunt in the eye. And naturally, Tom Cruise wanted to use a real knife because that's the way Tom Cruise rolls. To make sure he wouldn't lose a pupil, Cruise had a steel cable attached to the weapon and then positioned himself so the knife would stop about a quarter of an inch away from his eye. It's that kind of dedication that proves Tom Cruise is totally worth every cent he makes for each of his movies…and that he's totally nuts.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - The window jump

In the third and shakiest installment of the Bourne series, secret agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is chasing after an assassin named Desh (Joey Ansah). This pistol-packing gunman wants to murder Bourne's ally, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), but our amnesiac super spy isn't about to let that happen. Eventually, Bourne catches up with the undercover killer, and the two throw down in possibly the best fight of the franchise. But before they can start beating each other with every random object in sight, Bourne first has to leap across an alleyway and crash through a window.

Rest assured, there's no CGI here, just old-fashioned practical effects. To film the scene, director Paul Greengrass found the perfect alleyway in Tangier, Morocco, and then had a stuntman leap from one building to another, smashing his way through a false window on the other side. It's simple and elegant, but things get even more impressive when you look behind-the-scenes. In order to get the shot, second unit director Dan Bradley hooked another stunt guy to a wire rig, gave the man a handheld camera, and had him follow behind Matt Damon's body double.

In other words, to get the scene, two stunt men had to make a daring leap through the air, with one crashing through fake glass and the other dangling from wires. Crazier still, Greengrass says they filmed the scene "a couple of times" to get everything right, and once the cameraman's harness actually got stuck, ruining the shot. In total, the entire chase and fight sequence took two weeks to film, culminating in one of the most memorable set pieces in recent action movie memory.

Skyfall (2012) - The rooftop motorcycle chase

The 007 franchise is jam-packed with amazing stunts, from the parkour sequence in Casino Royale to the parachute jump in The Spy Who Loved Me. But for our money, it's pretty hard to beat the motorcycle chase from Skyfall. It would've been incredibly easy for director Sam Mendes and stunt coordinator Gary Powell to do this with a green screen, but instead, they decided to put actual motorbikes on actual rooftops in Istanbul, Turkey.

To prepare for the chase, the stunt performers practiced their moves on a former military site, jumping from dirt mound to dirt mound. When they were finally ready for the real deal, the crew made their way to the Middle East where the drivers maneuvered their bikes down precarious concrete strips that were about a meter wide. "A lot of the rooftops have old air conditioning units with metal stakes coming up," explained Bond stunt double Robbie Maddison, "things that can stab yourself if you were to fall on them. It definitely was not a place you'd want to ride with no helmet."

But ride without a helmet he did, and after one stunt-gone-wrong, Maddison says that if he'd "rolled a few feet further, I would've impaled myself into some rickety, old metal stuff." Fortunately, all of the stuntmen made it out of Istanbul in one piece…but you can't say the same thing about Istanbul. During one sequence while driving through a marketplace, stuntman Lee Morrison lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into a jewelry store, shattering its 330-year-old crystal glass window.

Iron Man 3 (2013) - The Barrel of Monkeys sequence

While it's one of the more divisive Marvel movies, we can all agree that Iron Man 3 features one of the MCU's best action sequences. We're talking about the "Barrel of Monkeys" scene, when everyone aboard Air Force One is sucked out into the wild blue yonder. Thinking fast, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) saves the freefalling crewmembers by having everyone form a human chain, allowing Iron Man to safely deposit them in the ocean.

Originally, Marvel executives wanted to do this entire scene with green screen, but luckily, they later decided to give their movie wings by hiring the Red Bull stunt team. In total, this diehard bunch of adrenaline junkies made approximately 600 jumps over the course of eight days, with each dive lasting about a minute. Every leap provided about 1.5 seconds of footage, but all that hard work definitely paid off.

Of course, there is a bit of CGI trickery here. Obviously, Iron Man isn't real, and since Marvel couldn't borrow Air Force One, they were forced to insert the plane digitally. The VFX crew also had to erase the team's parachute gear (although the Red Bull group did make about 480 dives with their equipment hidden inside their costumes), and since the stunt was filmed in North Carolina, the tech wizards used their computers to transform the scenery below into the Florida coast. In other words, it was the perfect marriage between CG and practical stunts, and even if you were bummed out by the big Mandarin reveal, the skydiving shenanigans more than made up for it.

Furious 7 (2015) - The airplane drop

This won't come as a surprise to Fast and Furious fans, but if you're new to the franchise, then you might be surprised to learn that a lot of the stunts you see on-screen are legit, even the super crazy ones. Like that scene where Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family parachute from a C-130 transport plane? Believe it or not, that wasn't cooked up on some computer. Instead, that was the work of stuntmen Jack Gill and Spiro Razatos, who spent months figuring out how to drop a bunch of automobiles from 12,000 feet in the air.

So here's how it all went down. After prepping for the big day—including a two-week period where they were experimenting by just tossing cars out of planes—the filmmakers rigged up four vehicles with parachutes and dropped them from the sky, two at a time. Each car was equipped with three cameras, but to really get that intense Fast and Furious feel, three skydivers strapped on helmet cameras and jumped out with the cars. These freefalling cinematographers had to watch out for debris that would occasionally fly off the vehicles, all while listening to spotters who were making sure they didn't get too close to these two-ton missiles.

Of course, there weren't any actors in the cars when they were pushed out of the planes—those shots were added later—but those parachutes were real, those planes were real, and that $1.5 billion that the film earned at the box office was definitely real too.

The Fate of the Furious (2017) - The wrecking ball run

In F. Gary Gray's The Fate of the Furious, Dominic Toretto, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), and the rest of the gang climb into their souped-up sport cars and tear into Berlin, aiming to steal an EMP from a Berlin military base. As you might expect, local law enforcement doesn't approve, and legion of security officers set off in hot pursuit of the Toretto crew. But Dom and his family are always prepared, and they manage to escape by smashing the bad guys into oblivion with the help of a gigantic wrecking ball.

While that might sound preposterous, stunt coordinator Andy Gill said the stunt is "70 percent real," which means they built a specially-made wrecking ball for the scene. This thing was crafted out of 1-inch steel plate, and it weighed 14.5 tons. The stunt drivers doubling for the good guys had to make sure they were out of the way when that thing came swinging down…but what about the cars that get turned into scrap metal?

Well, since they couldn't use human drivers, the filmmakers hooked all those vehicles up to tow cables and dragged the cars along at 40 mph, straight into the equally fast ball of death. Gill also told Thrillist that they fashioned a sort of "V-ramp" on the front of the ball, so it would lift the cars off the ground, adding to all the destruction. It's a pretty glorious scene and good reminder that modern-day movies don't always rely on CGI, even the big action blockbusters.

Baby Driver (2017) - 180 in, 180 out

Directed by Edgar Wright, Baby Driver is basically Heat, The Driver, and Singin' in the Rain all mashed up into one glorious movie. This 2017 heist flick follows a music-loving getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) who tries to leave his life of crime after falling head-over-heels for a waitress who resembles Cinderella (Lily James). Of course, his plans don't exactly pan out, and Baby is forced to do all sorts of crazy driving to evade a band of cutthroat bank robbers.

And as it turns out, almost every stunt Baby pulls is the real deal.

"We tried to do everything in camera," said Darrin Prescott, the film's stunt coordinator and second-unit director, "99 percent was practical." That includes the jaw-dropping "180 in, 180 out" gag from the movie's opening scene. While trying to escape the long arm of the law, Baby turns into a crowded alleyway full of moving vehicles. Never once losing his cool, our hero throws his Subaru into a forward 180, spinning around one truck, before throwing the car into a reverse 180, successfully dodging another automobile

Naturally, while Ansel Elgort did a lot of his own driving, this particular stunt was performed by Jeremy Fry. After rehearsing the move about six times on a parking lot, the crew set up in an actual alley, and Fry got up to 70 mph before sending his car into a tailspin, avoiding every obstacle in his path. "A different movie would have just done that…on green screen," Prescott told Entertainment Weekly, but the Baby Driver stunt doubles wanted to capture that realistic feel, even if it meant putting their lives on the line.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) - The motorcycle jump

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a smash hit for Sony, pulling in the big bucks and earning a shocking amount of critical praise. But while moviegoers and critics fell in love with the film's charismatic cast — including Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black — not as many people were talking about the visual effects. That's probably because most assumed every crazy action scene was pure CGI, but believe it or not, one of the movie's biggest stunts was pulled off with almost zero help from the VFX team.

The plot of Welcome to the Jungle involves four kids sucked into a video game where they morph into adult avatars. Stuck in bodies of various shapes and sizes, the four heroes must return a magical gem to a gigantic cat statue, all while avoiding a villainous hunter (Bobby Cannavale) and his crew of thugs. Near the end of the film, Johnson's character pulls off a pretty impressive move, riding his motorcycle down a mountain, doing a flip, and landing on top of the statue. And while it seems like 100 percent digital fakery, it's almost completely real.

Granted, the scene was shot in a sound stage. True, the statue was smaller in real life than it was in the film. And yes, Johnson's stuntman was wearing wires that were later erased. But as second unit director Jack Gill explained on the Blu-ray special features (via Screen Rant), the stuntman actually did "jump a real motorcycle off the end of the statue, swing around the nose and land on the top." Better still, it was all done in one shot. For a movie that relied on a lot of computer tricks to create the world and wildlife, it's impressive the crew took the time to create an actual, physical stunt. In fact, you could say this flip by Dwayne Johnson's stuntman totally rocks.