Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Actors Who Almost Died On Set

Most people think that acting in movies and TV shows is easy: Actors arrive on set, say what's on the page, and go home. In many cases, however, actors participate in dangerous yet thrilling action set pieces or stunts that are shot on location. While they're fun to watch on screen, filming these complex scenes is anything but. It usually involves many moving pieces that need to be kept in check to promote safety and to ensure the scene looks convincing in the end.

Sometimes, filming is risky enough that actors come close to dying. Whether a piece of clothing gets stuck or part of the set malfunctions, these accidents usually give the actors something to think about. While the casual moviegoer may not notice what happened on set, the actors who almost lost their lives usually reveal these hidden details in interviews or behind-the-scenes special features. We're here to discuss some actors who almost died on set.

Elizabeth Shue (Cocktail)

The 1988 romantic dramedy Cocktail isn't exactly an action-heavy film, yet one of the main actors, Elisabeth Shue, almost died on set. 

This story comes from the movie's aerial camera operator Bill Bennett, who shared it in a Facebook group Crew Stories (via The Sun) on April 27, 2021. He explained that the crew was shooting aerial footage from a helicopter, which would land every couple of takes so that Cruise and Shue would come over to watch the recordings and receive notes from the director. Since the crew was only on the ground momentarily, the pilot would keep the tail rotor at the back of the helicopter running. "The rotor is invisible when it is spinning, and if you walk into it, it will kill you instantly," Bennett wrote. "It is a totally 'no go' area when working around helicopters."

One time, after the two actors watched footage in the helicopter, Shue "took off suddenly" and ran towards the back of the vehicle. As a trained airplane and helicopter pilot who immediately saw the danger, Cruise lunged towards Shue, grabbing her legs and tackling her to the ground. When Shue started yelling, "Why did you do that?" Cruise pointed at the tail rotor, which was a couple of feet away, and screamed that she almost died, causing her to turn white. Talk about a close call!

Tom Cruise (Edge of Tomorrow)

Tom Cruise is known for performing his own stunts in movies, but the one instance where he almost died wasn't his fault. When his Edge of Tomorrow co-star Emily Blunt appeared on Conan to promote the film, she discussed a scene where she was driving an old car very fast with a trailer attached to the back and with Cruise in the passenger seat. 

"We do first take, it went really well. Stunt guy came over and he went, 'Okay, just do it again but go even faster.' I was like, 'No problem," said Blunt. "So we start. I tear down this park and Tom's being very quiet behind me and suddenly I just hear him under his breath as I approach the right-hand turn, I hear him going, 'Brake, brake, brake. Brake. Brake, brake, brake, brake, brake, brake. Oh god, oh god, Em. Brake, brake, brake. Oh, Em! Brake! Brake the car! Brake the car!' and I left it too late and so drove us into a tree, and I almost killed Tom Cruise."

While many would expect Cruise to be angry after almost dying in a car crash, Blunt said that he was laughing with her. "I told him, I said, 'I thought you were being so annoying when you told me to brake,' and I apologized." At least he took it well!

Dylan O'Brien (Maze Runner: The Death Cure)

Dylan O'Brien has appeared in all three chapters of the Maze Runner trilogy. An on-set accident during the making of the final film,  Maze Runner: The Death Cure, nearly killed him. On March 18, 2016, Variety reported that O'Brien was hospitalized after a car hit him and caused him to suffer multiple injuries, which were later revealed as a concussion, facial fracture, and lacerations. Production shut down immediately after, but O'Brien's co-star, Giancarlo Esposito, told "E! News" a few weeks later that filming would resume on May 15. Unfortunately, these injuries were more serious than expected, and The Hollywood Reporter confirmed on April 29 of the same year that production would remain paused. Almost a full year passed before filming resumed.

O'Brien spoke about this incident on an episode of The Big Ticket podcast released on Oct. 15, 2020. The actor admitted that the accident "completely rewired" how he felt about filming and that he wasn't sure if he'd ever step foot on a set again. Unsurprisingly, he has also become much more cautious about doing stunt work. "Whenever I'm put in a rig...I'm vetting every piece of that rig," said O'Brien. He's also "just really dialed in and close...with the stunt team that [he's] working with rather than just sort of blindly putting [his] trust in other people's hands." At least O'Brien learned from this situation and hopefully won't have to live through it again.

Brendan Fraser (The Mummy)

Brendan Fraser performed many dangerous stunts in the 1999 action film The Mummy, but one nearly cost him his life.

Speaking with Entertainment Weekly in 2019, Fraser admitted that he almost died filming the scene where his character, Rick O'Connell, is being hanged. A stuntman wore a harness for the wide shots while Fraser had a noose around his neck for the close-ups. After the second take, however, is when things went wrong. "So, the stuntman took up the tension on the rope, and I went up on the balls of my feet, then I guess he took the tension up again, and I'm not a ballerina, I can't stand on my tip-toes," explained Fraser. "I remember seeing the camera start to pan around, and then it was like a black iris at the end of a silent film. It was like turning down the volume switch on your home stereo, like the Death Star powering down. I regained consciousness and one of the EMTs was saying my name. There was gravel in my ear and s— really hurt."

Although writer/director Stephen Sommers said that Fraser tightened the noose, the actor attributed that to doing what the director told him. Maybe next time, he'll leave hanging scenes to stunt performers. 

Bob Denver (Gilligan's Island)

Bob Denver is best known for playing the goofy and fumbling Gilligan on the classic sitcom Gilligan's Island. Despite the lighthearted nature of the work, he had a serious on-set accident, almost dying in an attempt to perform one of the show's comedic moments. 

The scene in question has Gilligan stuck in the Howell's Hut to avoid a lion. He piles furniture at the door to keep the lion out, but the creature is already inside with him. Gilligan notices the lion standing on a pair of twin beds for the scene and tries to scurry away. In response, the lion lunged at Denver, but the twin beds split apart and the trainer tackled the animal mid-air. Denver's co-star, Dawn Wells, told HuffPost in 2015 that Denver's immediate response was to "karate chop" the lion.

Prior to his passing, Denver said in an interview that the twin beds splitting apart saved him and that this instance was the only close call that he and his castmates faced while making the show. 

Gerard Butler (Chasing Mavericks)

Gerard Butler has starred in several action movies such as 300 and Olympus Has Fallen, but the scene that almost cost him his life was in a drama. While filming a surfing scene for the 2012 Jay Moriarity biopic Chasing Mavericks, Butler tried to ride a 10-to-12-foot maverick wave on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011. Unfortunately, two waves submerged Butler, who was then hit with four or five more waves on the head and washed through the rocks on the inside. He was picked up and rushed to the Stanford Medical Center. "I just didn't come back up, really. I was down for that wave and I was down for a long time. Turning, turning," said Butler on "Good Morning America." "And then the next wave came over, and I started to think, 'Wow, I'm gonna die making a movie.'"

While Butler's recovery was quick, his rep confirmed to People magazine a few months later that he completed rehab because he became reliant on prescription drugs after the accident. His misfortunes didn't end there; in 2017, he was in a horrific off-set motorcycle crash. Thankfully, he's doing fine now.