Famous movie scenes that nearly killed actors

Thrilling cinematography and seamless, state-of-the-art special effects have come such an incredibly long way in the modern movie industry that it can be very easy to forget that there's actually still a fair amount of real, honest-to-goodness danger that goes along with making all that Hollywood magic happen. When things don't go exactly the way they're supposed to on the set, some of our favorite stars can end up paying a painful—and lasting—price for the privilege of bringing the audience entertainment. With that in mind, we've put together a look at some of the most memorable times when it all went wrong and stars were seriously injured on set.

Halle Berry

Halle Berry is an Oscar-winning talent and a seemingly ageless wonder—unfortunately, she might also be one of the most accident-prone actresses in Hollywood. Berry has been injured multiple times while filming over the course of her career, and it's occasionally actually been fairly serious. She broke an arm during Gothika, hit her head on a lighting rig during Catwoman, broke and re-injured her foot during Cloud Atlas, and smashed her head on the floor during The Call. Most embarrassingly, Berry had a scarily close brush with death while filming Die Another Day…when she choked on a fig during a sex scene with Pierce Brosnan. Sadly, that is not a euphemism.

Jason Statham

Starting with his breakout role in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Jason Statham has been one of Hollywood's go-to tough guys for high-intensity action movies. Which is why it was no surprise when Sylvester Stallone cast him in The Expendables, the film franchise that basically says "Yo dawg, I heard you like action. So I put action in your action so you can watch action while you watch action." Each one of these films exponentially ratchets up the insanity, and for the third and latest installment, Statham nearly drowned, got blown up, or was crushed to death— whichever one of those happens when you drive a truck off a loading dock and into the Black Sea, as Statham did after something went wrong with the brakes and he went crashing into the water. The truck quickly plunged 60 feet, but Statham—who once competed as an Olympic diver—was able to get free. When asked about on-set injuries, he joked, "I snapped a shoelace in the very first scene." This guy is tough as nails and has a sense of humor. Ladies?

Tom Hanks

You wouldn't necessarily think that a movie about a guy living all by himself for years on a deserted tropical island would end up being all that dangerous for its star to make, but you'd be wrong. Just ask America's dad, Tom Hanks, who nearly died while filming Cast Away—a film that ended up being notoriously hard on his body in a surprising number of ways. After gaining and losing 50 pounds in order to accurately portray a marooned Fed Ex delivery man—a process that takes a definite physical toll—Hanks suffered a cut on his leg that reportedly swelled for two weeks. When he finally went to a hospital, he was diagnosed with a life-threatening staph infection. Thanks for nothing, Wilson.

Jennifer Lawrence

Hilariously accident-prone Jennifer Lawrence has a habit of taking a spill while walking onstage to accept awards, but it was no laughing matter when a smoke machine malfunctioned and almost suffocated her on the set of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. According to "an insider" on the set, "Filming came to an abrupt halt when this fog machine broke and began spewing so much dense smoke during a tunnel sequence that Jennifer literally disappeared from sight." Luckily, she escaped with only a bit of vertigo and nausea, but this wasn't the only time The Hunger Games series knocked her around. During training, she ran into a wall, sparking rumors that she damaged her spleen—which turned out to be false, but she did have to get an MRI just to be sure. The next time everyone freaks out when Lawrence asks to be paid the same as her male costars, maybe we should all remember that she's willing to bleed for our entertainment.

George Clooney

George Clooney put audiences on the edge of their seats with his 2005 geopolitical thriller Syriana—and he put himself in unbearable pain, and eventually the hospital, in the bargain. While filming a torture scene for Syriana, Clooney was severely hurt when he sustained a head injury. While he knew he was in pain, doctors were unable to diagnose the exact nature of his injury for many weeks, and his agonizing condition was left untreated. It wasn't until Lisa Kudrow's brother, a neurologist, discovered that Clooney was actually leaking spinal fluid that he was finally able to receive proper treatment. Reportedly, the pain was so intense that Clooney contemplated suicide at one point—which, not that we're holding a grudge or anything, is pretty much how Batman & Robin made everyone else feel.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been in a Batman movie, a time-traveling assassin movie, and a G.I. Joe movie—so it makes sense that he incurred a near-death injury while playing a bike messenger in Premium Rush, right? Well, kind of, since the actor actually shot scenes in which he cruised between moving cars at speeds up to 30mph. That might not sound very fast, but on a bicycle—smashing unprotected into the back window of a cab—it's going to hurt. A taxi drove over safety cones during filming and into his shot, cutting Gordon-Levitt off, sending him through the rear windshield and badly slicing up his forearm. Director David Koepp feared he was dead, and later told MTV, "For a moment, you're watching the monitors, and for a moment, he leaves frame, and he's wearing a body mic, so I can hear the most horrible crash. For about 18 seconds before I could get there to see what happened, I'm thinking, 'Did I kill him? Did I actually kill an actor?"

Gordon-Levitt ended up getting 31 stitches and actually laughed the whole thing off, as seen in the above video, smiling as blood gushes out of his arm. We wonder if he thought it was so funny when the movie's worldwide gross came in $4 million below the production budget?

Jackie Chan

According to this comprehensive breakdown of Jackie Chan's endless on-set injuries, he's broken almost every bone in his body, torn ligaments, been badly burned, and damaged his spine on several occasions. But wait, there's more! On the set of Armour of God II, he sustained an injury so bad, he had to have brain surgery. Chan later told Parade, "I still have a metal plate in my head and can feel the indentation from the impact."

Compared to some of the stuff he's done—like free-falling 60 feet, sliding down the side of a skyscraper, and getting hit by a real, flying helicopter—the Armour of God II stunt was relatively tame. He was jumping from a slope and into a tree when he missed and fell to the ground, smacking his head on a rock, which sent a piece of his skull into his brain. Amazingly, this happened in the early '90s, and Chan continued to make many more films, performing almost all of his own stunts—in other words, the exact opposite of what any normal person would do, which is nothing even remotely dangerous ever again. "Oh, you guys are going on that rollercoaster? I'm cool. I'll be over here on this safe, motionless bench, not having a piece of my brain shoved into my skull again."

Sylvester Stallone

Being a Hollywood action hero can be difficult and dangerous work—but don't take our word for it. Just ask the legendary Sylvester Stallone, whose blockbuster action thriller filmography has put him in real-life harm's way on more than one occasion. Sly required surgeries after filming two of The Expendables movies, and broke multiple ribs during a jumping stunt as Rambo in First Blood. Those were just flesh wounds compared to Stallone's scariest and most life-threatening on-set injury, however. While filming the fourth installment in his long-running Rocky saga, 1985's Rocky IV, Stallone bravely (or foolishly—you decide) insisted on actually sparring with his castmate Dolph Lundgren, who played the villainous Ivan Drago. Lundgren isn't a bad guy in real life, but he obliged, hitting Stallone so hard that his heart swelled, resulting in a hospital stay (and an actual IV).

Matthew Fox

During a fight scene in the final episode of Lost, Terry O'Quinn accidentally stabbed co-star Matthew Fox with a fixed prop knife rather than the collapsible one generally used for body blows. According to this breakdown of fellow Lost castmate Jorge Garcia's description of the incident on his podcast Geronimo Jack's Beard, there was confusion over which knife was to be used for which scenes, as well as what kind of padding Fox was going to wear to protect himself. Luckily, he was wearing a kevlar vest when the potentially fatal blow was dealt, leaving him only with "a nasty bruise." Not to mention a probably pretty chilly work environment for the rest of the day. We can just imagine O'Quinn trying to have awkward small talk about the quality of the craft services potato salad while Fox just glares at him, then down at the cutlery, then back up at him again.

Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen was definitely the most injured actor during the filming of the second installment in director Peter Jackson's blockbuster adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books, released in 2002 as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. While Mortensen's castmate Orlando Bloom was also wounded during filming, hurt in an on-set incident that left him with a cracked delicate Elven rib, Viggo chipped a tooth while shooting an intense battle scene—and as if that wasn't painful enough, the poor guy also broke a couple of toes after kicking a helmet.

Donald Sutherland

Most of the people on this list were badly injured—and yes, could have been killed in their on-set accidents—but none went through quite the nightmare Donald Sutherland experienced on the set of Kelly's Heroes in 1968, when he contracted pneumococcus bacterium (meningitis) from the Danube River and actually momentarily died. Sutherland claims he had an out-of-body experience and watched himself slide toward a blue light for several moments before somehow being ripped back to reality. His description of the incident to Smithsonian is truly chilling.

"And then, just as I was seconds away from succumbing to the seductions of that matte white light glowing purely at what appeared to be the bottom of it, some primal force fiercely grabbed my feet and compelled them to dig my heels in," Sutherland recalled. "The downward journey slowed and stopped. I'd been on my way to being dead when some memory of the desperate rigor I'd applied to survive all my childhood illnesses pulled me back. Forced me to live. I was alive. I'd come out of the coma. Sick as a dog, but alive." Wow, that's both poetic and terrifying at once, especially because it took him over six weeks to recover. Which reminds us: we need to make a note to never, ever, ever set foot in the Danube River. Ever.

Charlize Theron

Even at its absolute best, the late-night MTV cult favorite Aeon Flux never made much sense as a surrealist cartoon—and it made even less as a box office flop, failing to earn back its reported budget by a $10 million margin. The audience suffered for star Charlize Theron's art, but she suffered plenty too: in fact, one of the film's acrobatic stunts left her seriously injured. Early during filming, while performing a backflip, Theron herniated a disc in her spine, nearly damaging her spinal cord. Theron's mishap halted filming for a month, and required six weeks of physical therapy. Fortunately, she healed—just in time to undergo the years of career therapy she needed after Flux tanked at the box office. All's well that ends well.

Isla Fisher

The 2013 crime caper film Now You See Me packs a ton of magical visuals, but the magic of CGI meant the actors never really had to get in harm's way. Right? Well…not quite. One of the stage performances had Isla Fisher's character Henley drop, handcuffed, into a giant water tank so she could escape in front of a cheering crowd. Her chain gets stuck, but moments from death, she escapes in the knick of time. Only in real life, the drama wasn't entirely fake. Just like her character in the movie, Fisher got stuck in the water tank and spent almost three full minutes struggling to get out. She told Chelsea Lately, "Everyone thought I was acting fabulously. I was actually drowning. … No one realized I was actually struggling."

Michael J. Fox

The Back to the Future movies are known for laugh-out-loud comedy and time-traveling shenanigans, but not necessarily their death-defying stunts. Maybe that's why franchise star Michael J. Fox felt safe performing his own stunts during a key sequence in the Wild West-set Back to the Future III, forgoing the use of a stand-in during a scene in which his character Marty McFly is hanged by Mad Dog Tannen and his posse. While Fox would generally protect his throat with his hands during rehearsals, they didn't seem to help during actual filming, and Fox was asphyxiated and lost consciousness during the actual filming of the scene. Fortunately for Fox and audiences everywhere, the crew eventually jumped in and averted a real-life crisis when they realized that he wasn't just a good actor—he really couldn't breathe.

Kevin Costner

You could safely say that there's never been a better movie about post-apocalyptic boat fights than Waterworld. Which isn't saying a lot, obviously, but there it is. In that genre, Waterworld is king. But the fact that it exists at all is what's truly surprising. Amid the many, many production difficulties—a ballooning budget, entire sets sinking to the bottom of the ocean, and jellyfish just everywhere—one story tends to sink to the bottom of the pile: that time Kevin Costner almost died.

While he was filming a scene that had him tethered to the top of a sailboat's mast, a sudden storm swept over the set and caught Costner dangling from the rickety mast. Wind and waves smashed into him repeatedly, but the squall made it too dangerous for the crew to pull him down. According to People, Costner later told a friend that he'd "almost died" during the 30-minute ordeal.

Daniel Day-Lewis

When we talk about Method acting, a short list of names and roles generally pops up. Take, for example, Christian Bale in The Machinist or Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon—and of course, Daniel Day-Lewis as any character he's ever played. Day-Lewis actually trained for three years with former champ Barry McGuigan while preparing for his role in The Boxer, and McGuigan later said he "could have turned professional." But those actual beatings he took in the ring weren't as dangerous as the pneumonia he contracted on the set of Gangs of New York after refusing to wear anything other than his ragged 19th-century wardrobe coat despite frigid temperatures.

He also apparently fought random strangers while filming in Rome just to keep in character as Bill the Butcher, who he described to The Independent as "a bit of a punk, a marvellous character and a joy to be—but not so good for my physical or mental health." "A joy to be" is an interesting way to describe getting your ass kicked by Italian randos and coughing up blood, but then again, we're talking about a guy who spent years getting punched in the head for a movie, so maybe everything he says isn't going to make the most sense.

Ellen Burstyn

Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn has played some harrowing roles in her career, but few of them came with the level of intensity she experienced on the set of 1973's The Exorcist. As Chris MacNeil, the mother of little demon-possessed Regan, Burstyn went all out in portraying the horror her character experienced during her daughter's progression from a doe-eyed schoolgirl to the potty-mouthed pawn of Satan. But director William Friedkin wasn't always sold on her performance, so he took measures to make sure things got as real as possible…measures that included giving Burstyn permanent spinal damage.

During the infamous scene when Regan slaps her mother across the room, Burstyn was tied to a cable that yanked her to the floor. After multiple takes, Friedkin told the guy pulling the cable to just yank the hell out of it for the next one. He did, slamming Burstyn against the floor so hard that she reportedly broke her tailbone and spent years dealing with the injury. Sure, spinal damage can be deadly, but anything for a shot, right? That take—and Burstyn's real cry of pain—made it into the final cut.

Jaimie Alexander

Superhero movies come with big action—and even bigger safety precautions. The boring truth is that every high-wire stunt and car chase that makes its way in front of a camera is backed by teams of safety personnel waiting to step in at the slightest mishap. And yet accidents can still happen, as actress Jaimie Alexander, who plays Sif, unfortunately proved on the set of Thor: The Dark World. While she didn't reveal the scene in which the accident happened, Alexander did say that she majorly damaged her back in the accident: "I herniated a disk in my Thoracic spine, dislocated my left shoulder, tore my right Rhomboid, and chipped eleven vertebra….The next morning 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. So I was in the hospital for a week."

Cary Elwes

The Princess Bride is a movie made of memorable moments, but only one of them landed lead actor Cary Elwes in the hospital. And after you know about it, you'll never be able to watch the scene the same way again. After Westley and Buttercup escape the fire swamp, they're ambushed by Prince Humperdinck and Count Rugen. The scene ends with Rugen bopping Westley on the head to knock him out, but during filming, Christopher Guest, who played Count Rugen, was afraid to really hit Cary Elwes. Finally, Elwes said basically, "Look, just go ahead and hit me for real." The actor obliged and accidentally whacked Elwes unconscious, presumably after sarcastically muttering "As you wish…" In the scene you see in the movie, Cary Elwes is actually collapsing unconscious from the blow.

Brad Pitt

One of the most intense sequences in 1995's Se7en is the scene when Brad Pitt's character, Mills, chases John Doe out of his apartment building. The sequence has Mills fall off a fire escape onto his arm, then get whacked in the same arm by a crowbar, so it makes sense when Mills shows up with a cast on his arm later in the movie. But what most moviegoers didn't know was that the cast was was real. While filming that scene, Pitt had to leap across the rain-slicked hoods of moving cars. According to reports, he slipped on one of them and smashed through the windshield, slicing through one of the tendons in his arm. Considering how much worse the accident could have been, an armful of stitches probably didn't seem that bad.

Kate Winslet

If there's one thing you remember about Kate Winslet in Titanic, chances are it isn't the scene of her running through the ship's hallways to escape the floodwaters. But while the drawing scene (and plenty of others) almost embarrassed her to death, it was the flooding sequence that came a couple breaths away from killing her. In the scene above, Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio had to run through a narrow hallway below deck while a wave of water crashed over them and swept them against a locked gate. Winslet's big coat got caught on the gate, though, and kept her from coming up for air. Winslet was traumatized, but director James Cameron? He let her catch her breath and then set up for another take, since Winslet had just ruined that one with her silly near-death experience.

Jim Caviezel

Mel Gibson's 2004 epic about that guy in the Middle East was polarizing, to say the least. To this day, the controversies over The Passion of the Christ still lurk in the background whenever Gibson makes the news, even when that news has nothing to do with Passion. (We just can't stop resurrecting it.) But the man who played Christ himself, Jim Caviezel, has at least one story worth retelling. While filming the Sermon on the Mount, Caviezel was struck by an honest-to-God lightning bolt. And not just a glancing blow—as Caviezel put it, "I was lit up like a Christmas tree! … What [the extras] saw was fire coming out the right and left side of my head. Illumination around the whole body." Was it the wrath of God? Or was Caviezel simply standing on a hill during a lightning storm? Who can say?

Martin Sheen

They say war is hell, but war never visited the set of Apocalypse Now. The infamously troubled production drove plenty of people—including director Francis Ford Coppola—to the brink of insanity. But the one event that came the closest to grinding the production to a standstill was 36-year-old Martin Sheen's heart attack in the middle of the jungle. According to the Daily Mail, the crew found Sheen "crawling along a road looking for help." Keep in mind that this was the star of the movie—and they lost him long enough that they had to find him on the side of the road. As Coppola relates it, that incident was nearly the final straw that sent him into a nervous breakdown.

That wasn't the only time Sheen damaged himself on the set. In the opening scene (above), he broke the mirror in his room in an unscripted moment, but he was too drunk to realize that his hand was gushing blood where the glass cut him. That's definitely…some kind of dedication. Probably.

Buster Keaton

Pioneering actor/director Buster Keaton inspired everyone from Jackie Chan to Mel Brooks with the death-defying stuntwork and masterful visual imagery he pulled off in his silent-era classics. He took his life into his own hands countless times simply for the sake of entertaining his audience with a one-of-a-kind spectacle, but the stunt cited most often is from one of his final features, 1928's Steamboat Bill Jr.

In the memorable, palm-dampening scene, the entire front of a prop house (weighing two tons) falls forward and crashes to pieces, while Keaton stands motionless so his body goes through a window instead of being crushed to death. Kevin Spacey talked about this scene during an American Film Institute event, saying, "He had to stand on a mark. I'm told it was a nail … if he moved an inch to one side he would have been crushed to death." Anyone who rolls their eyes at silent black-and-white films and writes them off as cheesy, outdated relics needs to be introduced to Buster Keaton—the original badass, arguably the greatest of the early Hollywood legends who elevated "doing your own stunts" to an art form.

Margaret Hamilton

The Wizard of Oz dazzled moviegoers in 1939 with its technicolor vision of Oz, but not all of the actors escaped that movie magic unscathed. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, came away with the worst of it after a stunt left her with third-degree burns. During the scene in which the Wicked West interrupts the festivities in Munchkin Country, Hamilton makes a dramatic exit by disappearing in a cloud of fire and smoke. The trick was, she fell through a trapdoor in the set that was hidden by a plume of smoke, and once she was safely out of harm's way, a jet of flame completed the effect for the camera. In one take, however, the trapdoor didn't open when it was supposed to, and Hamilton got caught in the pyrotechnic flamethrower, which severely burned her hands and face. In that big black witch's robe, it's a miracle she didn't completely catch on fire.

Diane Kruger

Working with Quentin Tarantino is a dream for most actors, and Diane Kruger is no exception. She told Parade, "I think Quentin's female characters are just so smart and so fierce. They're impossibly glamorous yet they're as tough as nails. It's such a pleasure to play that kind of role." With that in mind, check out this clip of Quentin Tarantino telling Graham Norton how he literally strangled her and briefly cut off her air supply during her death scene in order to get a more realistic reaction.



That's not even acting anymore—that's just reckless abandon for someone's life. Sure, there was a stuntman standing by, but how was he supposed to know the exact amount of pressure it takes to cause "psychological injury (PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, memory problems, nightmares, anxiety, severe stress reaction, amnesia and psychosis), neurological injury (facial or eyelid droop, left or right side weakness, loss of sensation, loss of memory and paralysis) and even delayed fatality"? According to DomesticShelters.org , all of those can result from less than ten seconds of strangulation. It's one thing to have a Tarantino movie on your resume; it's another thing entirely to have a droopy eye for the rest of your life because the director of Pulp Fiction thought it would look super rad if he choked you for reals.