The Shocking and Tragic Accidents Kept Hidden Behind-the-Scenes
By Sarah Norman | May 2, 2023
WaterworldSome of the most iconic movies and TV shows of all time were produced in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. From James Bond to The Dukes of Hazzard, Scarface to Top Gun, and Blade Runner to Terminator 2, these productions have stood the test of time, becoming beloved classics. However, what many viewers may not know is that behind the scenes, filming these works was often an incredibly risky business, with cast and crew members suffering serious injuries, and sometimes even losing their lives. From the cursed set of The Exorcist to the chaos of Apocalypse Now, this article will take a look back at some of the most shocking accidents that occurred during the making of some of the biggest films and TV shows of the 20th century. Keep reading to find out more.
While filming the movie Waterworld, actresses Jeanne Tripplehorn and Tina Majorino were thrown overboard from the trimaran they were on when the bowsprit broke. Luckily, nearly a dozen rescue divers were nearby and helped bring them back aboard. During filming, Kevin Costner was tied to the mast of his trimaran during a squall, which nearly caused him to die. Some cast and crew members also suffered from seasickness and jellyfish stings. Additionally, Kevin Costner's stunt double, Laird Hamilton, ran out of fuel on his jet ski and was lost at sea for a few hours after filming a scene.
The 1997 thriller Anaconda had audiences on the edge of their seats with its depiction of a documentary film crew's encounter with two giant anacondas in the Amazon. But it turns out that the film's production was even more harrowing than the story it portrayed. Due to budget constraints, the filmmakers opted to create two massive animatronic puppets to bring the snakes to life. However, these complex mechanisms malfunctioned during shooting, causing one of the puppets to attack star Jennifer Lopez for real. With over a ton of metal and wires bearing down on her, Lopez was in serious danger of injury or worse, but fortunately she escaped with only some footage of the snake's realistic movements to show for it.
The Passion of the Christ
During the filming of The Passion of the Christ in Italy, Jim Caviezel endured multiple whippings, which left gashes on his back. He also suffered from hypothermia and a separated shoulder from carrying a giant cross while portraying Jesus Christ. Assistant director Jan Michelini was hit twice by lightning during filming, and Caviezel was also struck shortly after. Fortunately, both individuals survived the incidents, but it must have been a frightening experience for everyone on set.
Deliverance was filmed on the Chattooga River, which separates South Carolina and Georgia. While the film's impact on the region is complex, it resulted in the creation of the Georgia Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment Office in the latter state. The scene in which Lewis plummets down the Tallulah Falls was originally supposed to be filmed using a dummy, but Burt Reynolds convinced director John Boorman to let him do it himself, believing it would look better. Reynolds went over the falls and immediately hit a rock, causing him to crack his tailbone. He then found himself trapped in a whirlpool before swimming downwards and emerging from the surface without his shoes or socks.
During the making of a Charlie's Angels TV episode called "Angel in a Box" in 1979, something went wrong. The stuntman Bobby Bass was under the influence of drugs while driving a car that two stuntwomen, Julie Ann Johnson and Jeannie Coultar, were supposed to jump out of. The car was going too fast and the women were hurt. Coultar had a concussion and was hurt in many places, but Johnson was hurt even worse. She was unconscious and moving around on the ground, so the stunt coordinator had to hold her down to keep her from getting more hurt.
The making of Brian De Palma's Scarface was known for being very difficult. The first problem was that they were kicked out of Miami by the tourism board. Then, they had some delays because of bad weather in California. During the filming, there were a few serious accidents. One time, Al Pacino hurt his hand when he was holding onto the barrel of a gun that went off by mistake while he was falling during a fight scene. There was also a premature explosion of a bomb during a scene where he wasn't present, and two stuntmen were hurt.
In The Wraith a teenager comes back from the dead to get revenge on the high school creep who took his life. The undead teen becomes a leather clad drag-racing spirit of vengeance, which frankly lends itself to people getting hurt on set. While filming a car chase, assistant cameraman Bruce Ingram was killed after a camera car that was loaded for bear crashed while driving along a mountain road.
In order to make the boxing match between Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago in the movie Rocky IV seem more realistic, Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren decided to actually spar with each other. However, during one of these sparring sessions, Lundgren hit Stallone so hard in the chest that he had to be airlifted from Canada to St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California. Stallone had to be placed in intensive care for eight days because Lundgren's punch had caused his heart to swell and his blood pressure to go up to over 200.
Stallone later said that he thought Lundgren could have been a real boxer because he was so good the physicality. However, the producer Irwin Winkler wrote about the same incident in his autobiography, saying that Stallone was punched by a stand-in, not Lundgren.
Art Scholl, a highly respected aerobatic pilot, was hired to film aerial footage for the movie Top Gun. The script called for a maneuver called a flat spin, which Scholl was supposed to perform while filming from the aircraft. During the maneuver, Scholl's plane spun too far down, and he radioed that he had a serious problem. He was unable to regain control of the plane and crashed it into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California near Carlsbad on September 16, 1985. Unfortunately, neither Scholl's body nor his plane were ever found, so the cause of the accident remains unknown. Top Gun was dedicated to Scholl as a tribute to his memory.
During the filming of James Cameron's Titanic, several extras were injured in the movie's dramatic sinking scene as they fell and hit different parts of the ship. The injuries ranged from a broken ankle to more severe ones, such as cracked ribs, a fractured cheekbone, and a ruptured spleen. While filming water scenes, Kate Winslet refused to wear a wetsuit under her dress and suffered from hypothermia. During a scene where Winslet and her co-star were running from a wave, her coat got snagged on a gate, causing her to be pulled down and nearly drowned. On the final night of shooting in Nova Scotia, about 80 cast and crew members were hospitalized after eating clam chowder that had been spiked with PCP at the catering area.
Conan the Barbarian
During the filming of Conan The Barbarian, the actress Sandahl Bergman was in a scene where she had to use a prop sword. The sword was made of fiberglass and had a blade that could be pulled back and spray fake blood. Even though the swords were not made of metal, they were still pretty sharp and could be risky. One time, while filming a fight scene, Bergman was working with an extra who didn't follow the plan correctly and cut her finger. She was taken to the hospital and the doctors were able to put her finger back on her hand.
During the filming of Cast Away, Tom Hanks suffered a severe cut that became infected, causing him to be hospitalized for three days. Hanks recalls that the infection almost killed him, saying:
[Cast Away] put me in the hospital. I was there for three days with something that, believe it or not, almost killed me.
Hanks explains that he didn't realize the severity of his condition, as he thought it was just a sore. He says:
I got an infection from a cut and it was eating its way through my leg. I didn't know it, I just thought I had a sore.
In an interview with Radio 1, Hanks revealed that he needed to be rushed to the hospital to prevent the infection from worsening and becoming life-threatening. He says:
I went to the doctor who took one look and said, 'I have to put you in the hospital because we have to get this infection out of you before it poisons your blood, and you die.'
Fortunately, Hanks recovered from his infection and went on to enjoy great success with the film Cast Away.
Michael Jackson Pepsi Commercial
In 1984, Michael Jackson was filming a commercial for Pepsi with his siblings at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. During the shoot, a pyrotechnic went off too early and set his hair on fire. Jackson suffered second and third-degree burns on his scalp and body as a result. He had to undergo treatment to hide the scars and also had his third nose job not long after. He sued PepsiCo for the injury and received a settlement of $1.5 million, which he donated to the Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, California, to create a special place for children called the Michael Jackson Burn Center.
Die Hard is one of the more stunt-heavy films of the 1980s, and by the time it was in production the way filmmakers thought about stunts changed shortly after a deadly accident happened during the making of Twilight Zone: The Movie. From then on, there was a greater emphasis on making sure the safety of the film crew was more important than anything else. However, despite this, Bruce Willis still wanted to do a lot of his own stunts. Audiences can see Willis rolling down sets of stairs and riding an elevator in the film which makes Die Hard feel all the more real. Unfortunately, during a scene where his character, John McClane, had to shoot a terrorist through a table, he suffered permanent hearing loss in his left ear because the blank cartridges used were very loud and fired close to his head.
Enter the Dragon
Enter the Dragon was a really popular movie that made Bruce Lee famous all over the world. Sadly, he died before it came out. He didn't even get to watch the finished movie, he only saw a rough version of it.
In the movie, Lee played a character who was really good at martial arts. He worked for British intelligence and had to go to a tournament held by a bad guy named Han. Lee was supposed to find evidence that Han was secretly smuggling drugs. But Han had another reason for being there. His bodyguard, O'Hara, had killed Lee's sister a long time ago.
The movie had a famous fight scene where Lee and O'Hara fought each other. Lee won and got revenge for his sister's death. This fight is well-known and some people believe that Lee actually got hurt during it. Wall explained:
[During shooting,] in the battle scene, for example, he said, “I want you to take the [bottle] in your right hand and try to stab me in my right pec,” and so I seriously tried to stab him in the right pec, and that was the one scene where he got cut, because he had to hit me between the wrist and the elbow, and the bottle flew away. But each time, I was getting faster in trying to stab him, he caught me [in the hand], so the bottle didn’t go anywhere and he jammed his fist into it. It was unfortunate mistiming, and both of us felt bad because we were good friends. But the reality is, you’re using real glass, and I’ve got to fall on that stuff. I went through four uniform tops -- cut the back. And once I fell on the glass, we couldn’t re-use it. It was real glass. So everything he did was very realistically oriented.
The Dukes of Hazzard
In 1980, something went terribly wrong during the making of The Dukes of Hazzard TV show. The assistant cameraman named Rodney Mitchell died, and eight other people on the crew were hurt when their camera truck flipped over during a practice chase scene near Lake Sherwood in California. The truck hit a soft part of the road, causing the accident. The wife and son of Mitchell sued the makers of the show and the Ford Motor Company for $3.5 million because they thought the truck had problems from the way it was made.
In 1980, a cameraman named Robert Van Der Kar died while working on Magnum P.I. Van Der Kar was riding in a helicopter that was flying low to grab footage of one of the islands and it crashed into the ocean near Hawaii. The pilot of the helicopter, named Robert Sanders, was hurt but he lived. Following the accident he was punished by a group called the National Transportation Safety Board by losing his license to fly for three months.
The Karate Kid Part III
Sean Kanan portrayed the character of Mike Barnes, a rebellious karate fighter, in the third film of The Karate Kid series. After he popped up in Cobra Kai, Kanan spoke to the Daily Mail about a severe injury he sustained while filming a fight scene in The Karate Kid Part III. He didn't even know that he was injured until he passed out in the Dunes Casino due to internal bleeding from his leg, which was dripping down onto his femoral artery.
Kanan felt pain in his thigh during the sixth week of filming, but he did not think it was significant and took aspirin for relief. He eventually lost consciousness and was hospitalized. The doctors informed him that he had been bleeding internally for a day and that they were unsure if he would survive the injury. However, Kanan was more concerned about being replaced in the film. "I knew if they cut through the abdominal muscles, I'd be out of the film," he said.
Although Kanan survived the surgery, the studio producing The Karate Kid III seemed indifferent to his plight. He said:
I got a call from the studio - no flowers, no balloons - just you need to be back at work in, I think it was like, 12 days or something, or we're going to recast.
After his injury, Kanan worked closely with director John Avildsen to continue doing his own stunt. He continued:
I wound up being able to do all my own stunts [with] the exception of, I think, one driving stunt I didn't do.
Kanan has a 15-inch scar on his abdomen, but he considers his experience in The Karate Kid III to be one of the most significant moments of his life.
During the making of the movie Blade Runner, there's a scene where Daryl Hannah's character Pris meets J.F. Sebastian. In the scene, Pris is supposed to be running away from Sebastian, but while filming Hannah slipped and hit her elbow on a nearby car window. If you're watching the film it looks like it's all part of the plan, but Hannah was actually hurt. She didn't tell anyone and just kept going until the scene was done. When she finally got her injury checked out, it turned out that her elbow was chipped in eight places.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Linda Hamilton delivers a standout performance as Sarah Connor, but filming one particular scene left her with a real injury. The action sequence in question takes place in Pescadero Hospital, where John and the T-800 are attempting to free Sarah from confinement. Pursued by the T-1000, the trio find themselves trapped in an elevator, which the liquid metal villain uses as a weapon. In response, Sarah and the T-800 engage in a shootout with the T-1000. Unfortunately for Hamilton, she forgot to put her earplugs back in between takes, and the repeated shotgun and handgun blasts resulted in permanent hearing loss in one ear.
Despite her pain, Hamilton remained committed to her performance, soldiering on even as her colleagues failed to recognize her distress. Her dedication to the craft and her character is a testament to her professionalism on set. While her decision to continue filming may not have been medically advisable, it speaks to the high standards she sets for herself and the value she places on her work. The elevator shootout remains one of the film's most iconic scenes, in no small part due to Hamilton's fierce and unrelenting performance.
Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, died on March 31, 1993, while filming a scene for The Crow in Wilmington, North Carolina. During the scene, his co-star Michael Massee fired a prop gun at him, not realizing that the gunpowder from the blank cartridge would ignite and shoot a bullet fragment at Lee.
Before the fatal scene, the same gun was used in a previous shot. However, the prop gun was improperly loaded with dummy rounds that had their powder charges removed. The special effects crew neglected to remove the primers from the cartridges, and at some point, one of the rounds had been fired. Although there were no powder charges, the energy from the ignited primer was enough to separate the bullet from the casing and push it partially into the gun barrel, causing a dangerous condition known as a squib load.
Lee later died in surgery. Massee was not charged with any crimes, but Lee's mother successfully sued the filmmakers for an undisclosed amount.
During the filming of Cyborg, Jackson "Rock" Pinckney, a henchman in the film, suffered a devastating injury when Jean-Claude Van Damme accidentally hit him in the eye with a prop knife. As a result of the incident, Pinckney lost his eye and later sued Van Damme in a North Carolina court. The actor was awarded a settlement of $487,500, a fraction of the film's $10 million box office gross. Despite the legal and financial repercussions, the incident served as a stark reminder of the dangers that come with performing stunts on set.
The Right Stuff
During the making of the movie The Right Stuff, a stuntman named Joseph Leonard Svec died while doing a parachute jump that was meant to look like a real-life event when Chuck Yeager escaped from an NF-104 plane that was stalling. When Yeager had done it for real, his helmet had caught on fire because of the heated exhaust from the ejection seat he was using. Svec had a smoke canister with him during his jump to make it look like his helmet was on fire too. However, it's possible that the smoke from the canister made him feel dizzy or confused, causing him to pass out. He failed to open his chute during his fall and fell to his death.
Twilight Zone: The Movie
One of the most tragic accidents ever to happen on a film set occurred during the making of the movie Twilight Zone: The Movie. The film was an anthology, which means it was made up of different stories with different directors, and while three of the stories went off without a hitch one was a disaster. On July 23, 1982, a helicopter crashed during the filming of the "Time Out" segment directed by Jonathan Landis. The crash killed actor Vic Morrow and two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. The accident happened when the helicopter's tail rotor was hit by pyrotechnics, causing it to spin out of control. Morrow and Le were hit by the main rotor and Chen was crushed by the helicopter.
This terrible event resulted in director John Landis being put on trial for involuntary manslaughter, though he was eventually found not guilty. It also led to significant changes in film production safety guidelines. Producer and co-director Steven Spielberg ended his friendship with Landis and publicly spoke out against the New Hollywood Era, where directors had almost complete control over the making of a movie. Co-director George Miller was so disgusted by what had happened that he left the post-production of his segment, leaving Joe Dante to oversee the editing. In 1984, the National Transportation Safety Board released a statement, saying:
The probable cause of the accident was the detonation of debris-laden high-temperature special effects explosions too near a low-flying helicopter leading to foreign object damage to one rotor blade and delamination due to heat to the other rotor blade, the separation of the helicopter's tail rotor assembly, and the uncontrolled descent of the helicopter. The proximity of the helicopter (around 25 feet off the ground) to the special effects explosions was due to the failure to establish direct communications and coordination between the pilot, who was in command of the helicopter operation, and the film director, who was in charge of the filming operation.
During the making of City Heat in 1984, Burt Reynolds was hurt while filming a fight scene when he was hit on the face with a metal chair and broke his jaw. This injury meant that he had to stick to a liquid diet, and he lost 30 pounds by the time the filming was finished. The media reported on his condition, and there were rumors that he was suffering from some kind of mystery illness.
However, in a recent interview with the film's director, Richard Benjamin, on Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast, the story of Reynolds' injury was contradicted. Benjamin said that the actor actually fell from a make-up chair and hit his jaw, causing the terrible injury.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
Early on in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes there's a stunning Hiller UH-12 helicopter crash, but that was never the plan. The problem was that the blades at the back of the helicopter hit the ground and made it spin out of control. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt by the flying pieces of debris, and the pilot only had minor injuries. The actors in the scene had to make up their lines quickly because the crash was unexpected, and the wreckage was set on fire. Much of the film's budget went up in flames with the helicopter.
Super Mario Bros.
The making of the 1993 movie Super Mario Bros. was a rocky road, despite its promising budget of $48 million and talented cast that included John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper. The film was plagued by constant rewrites and reshoots, leading to creative frustration for the actors. In fact, both Leguizamo and lead actor Bob Hoskins reportedly turned to drinking on set, with Hoskins often clashing with the directors, Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel.
The dangerous conditions on set took a toll on the cast and crew, and Hoskins himself narrowly escaped death on multiple occasions. In a 1993 interview with Entertainment Tonight, Hoskins revealed that he had been stabbed four times, electrocuted, and nearly drowned during filming. He even suffered a broken finger when a drunken Leguizamo accidentally closed the sliding door of the Mario Brothers' van on Hoskins's hand.
A behind-the-scenes mishap during the making of the James Bond classic Thunderball left one stunt double in serious danger. In a pivotal scene where a SPECTRE agent crashes a massive jet-powered bomber into the ocean near the Bahamas, the stunt double for the character of Angelo found himself in a life-threatening situation. According to reports, the stunt double for Emilio Largo accidentally disconnected both the prop oxygen line and the double's actual oxygen line, causing him to nearly drown. The harrowing incident left the entire crew shaken, and serves as a reminder of the real risks that come with bringing high-stakes action sequences to life on the big screen.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
The film series about John Rambo has a reputation for being extremely violent, with an increasing level of death and destruction that puts it on par with the latter day Friday the 13th films. The fictional bodycounts in these movies are in the hundreds, but sadly one there's a real death in those stats.
The character of John Rambo was created by David Morrell in his 1972 novel, First Blood. The book and movie both received criticism for being too violent and enjoying the brutality.
While the second movie started the trend of more and more deaths on screen, the filming of First Blood Part II was also the site of a tragic accident. A special effects worker named Clifford P. Wenger Jr. died during the filming when he got caught in one of the planned explosions. There are conflicting reports about what happened - some say the explosion went off too early, while others claim he fell down a waterfall while performing a stunt.
In Brian De Palma’s Carrie, actress P.J. Soles suffered a ruptured eardrum after pressurized water from a hose sprayed her in the ear during the filming of the prom scene. Soles made a complete recovery, and the shot was kept in the film. In 2021, Soles explained the incident to Yahoo:
For me, he thought it'd be fun to have the firehose batting my head around. The fire chief said, 'Well, it's really dangerous at full force,' and Brian said, 'So you could just make it a little less [forceful].' [The fire chief] said 'I really can't do it,' but the stunt coordinator said, 'I'll do it.' They didn't realize what it would be like. It was supposed to look like 'Whack, whack, whack,' and on the third 'whack' it just went full force into my ear and broke my eardrum. I slid down the bannister, and I think I blacked out and the grips carried me to my dressing room. I did go to the ER and they said, 'Yeah, you broke your eardrum.' I got workman's comp because that was my last day of shooting. I guess Betty was right, because they kept it in! You can see me wince and that's real pain. Brian's like, 'Yes!'
While shooting a scene for Catch-22, a black comedy war film based on Joseph Heller's 1961 novel, second-unit director John Jordan met with an unfortunate fate. Jordan was filming a bombing scene while aboard a B-25 Mitchell when he got sucked out of the aircraft's open tail turret at an altitude of 4,000 feet (1,200 meters). Jordan chose not to wear a safety harness while the plane was in motion, and he fell to his death.
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Prior to the production of Tora! Tora! Tora! in Oahu, Hawaii, a Vultee BT-13, which had been modified to look like a Japanese Val dive-bomber, crashed during aerial rehearsals. The incident resulted in the death of the pilot, Guy Thomas Strong. The crash occurred while the plane was attempting a torpedo maneuver, and its left wing struck a coconut tree before crashing on the Ford Island runway approximately 100 to 200 yards away. The plane sustained significant damage to its wing and tail, and came to a rest upside down. It is presumed to have been destroyed beyond repair.
A Clockwork Orange
In the movie A Clockwork Orange, the main character Alex is made to watch violent scenes in a cinema, resulting in intense screams of agony. This scene is important to the film's themes of pleasure and violence, as well as consciousness and the subconscious.
Actor Malcolm McDowell's portrayal of Alex is a major part of the film's legacy. During the scene where Alex's eyes are forced open, Kubrick and a standby physician assured McDowell that it was safe, with the doctor administering eye drops every 15 seconds. However, the actor's cornea was scratched during filming, causing temporary blindness due to the prolonged eye propping. McDowell also suffered cracked ribs during a stage brawl scene.
During the filming of The Godfather, tensions ran high and one scene became particularly intense when actor James Caan began to physically attack co-star Gianni Russo. Although Russo stated that a stunt double was used for some parts of the scene, he also claimed that Caan caused him serious injury during filming. Caan denied causing any harm, and instead insisted that he worked with a stunt double on the day of the incident. Russo said:
That’s me. He’s biting my hand. He’s banging my elbow with that steel garbage pail. He chipped my elbow. When I crawled out and he lifted me in the air, he broke two of my ribs, which was not in the rehearsal. That was me laying there. He discredits me even doing the scene. Unfortunately, we’re talking about a guy that’s dead, and to his dying day, that’s his story. He took it to his grave as we would say.
The Exorcist is one of the most successful horror films of all time, but it was plagued by several on-set injuries to both actors and crew members. Linda Blair suffered a spinal fracture due to a mechanical failure while filming a scene where her character levitates and thrashes violently. The fracture later led to scoliosis after Blair re-injured her back in a motorcycle scene in another film. Actress Ellen Burstyn also seriously injured her back in a scene where she falls over backwards after her possessed daughter backhands her, which was left in the film. Additionally, a carpenter lost a thumb and a lighting technician lost a toe in separate accidents on set.
During the filming of the prom sequence in Grease several cast members, involving Michael Tucci (that's Sonny to all you T-Bird fans out there), came down with heat related illnesses thanks to the lack of windows in the Huntington Park High School gym where the scene was filmed. Reports state that the temperature got up to around 116 °F, which is just way too hot for anyone to handle whether they're hand jiving or not.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
While filming 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers one of the worst things that can happen to an actor occurred during a scene where Donald Sutherland was running through the streets - he was hit by a Volkswagen Beetle. According to Sutherland, the hit was so intense that he was flung onto the car's windshield and could see the driver saying, "Oh God, not you!"
While filming Apocalypse Now Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack on March 5, 1977 while filming on location in the Philippines jungle and had to be flown to Manila immediately for treatment. He said:
They had to fly me in on a helicopter. I hated getting in those helicopters because we had so many close calls, but this day, it was an emergency. I could either go to Manila in a bus, which would take about four or five hours, or I could be there in 15 minutes in a chopper. Under the circumstances, I took the chopper!Sheen was put under immediate observation, keeping him from the set of the film for more than a month. Sheen says:
As they were wheeling me down the corridor, this little face appeared and stayed there during the journey. And I realized it was Janet, my wife. She smiled, leaned down, whispered in my ear: 'It's only a movie, babe.' And after that, I started to heal.
Sheen continued, saying that after he returned to set he decided not to take things so seriously:
I realized that I'd gone too far. I had bit off more than I could chew and I was choking on it. I've often said that if I had known going in that I'd have to endure what I did, I would've passed. But I have no regrets because it forced me to come to grips with parts of myself that I otherwise may never have embraced. I'm grateful to Francis for that.
While filming an episode of CHiPs in 1979, Erik Estrada lost his grip while riding his motorcycle and was thrown into a parked car. To make matters worse, his motorcycle - which weighed about 900 pounds - crashed into him Estrada fractured his ribs, his lungs partially collapsed, he fractured his right wrist, and he cracked his sternum and clavicle. We never expect TV shows like CHiPs to have gruesome injuries like this but this shows that it's just as dangerous to film a primetime hit as it is to make an action movie.
To say that Sylvester Stallone was injury prone while making First Blood is an understatement. When Rambo is running away from Deputy Art Galt and jumps off a cliff into a bunch of tree branches Stallone did the stunt himself, but he broke some of his ribs after doing it three times. They also had to film a scene where Galt hits Rambo with a nightstick many times, and Stallone got bruises all over his back from doing it 19 times. In another scene, Rambo goes into an old mine to get away from the guards, and Stallone hurt his hand really badly because he accidentally touched a squib that had explosives inside. The explosion was so strong that he almost lost one of his thumbs.
Pink Floyd – The Wall
During the filming of the scene for the song "One of My Turns," where the lead character rips his hotel room to shreds, Bob Geldof hurt his left hand while attacking a wooden closet door. The moment is actually in the film, you can actually see Geldof looking at his hand moments after he injures himself. Rather than try to cover up the incident, Geldof spends the rest of the scene with a t-shirt wrapped around his left hand.
While filming the "poison tooth" scene in David Lynch's Dune where his character spews green gas out of his torn cheek, Jürgen Prochnow suffered first and second-degree burns to his face. To accurately spray the gas, a tube connected to a pump was connected to a prosthetic cheek that was placed over Prochnow's face. The mechanism built to spray the gas overheated while it was attached to Prochnow and spilled burning liquid all over his face.
In the movie Police Story from 1985, there's a fantastic scene where Jackie Chan slides down a pole. That sounds simple enough, but during that scene Chan suffered third-degree burns on his hands, and he almost broke two of the bones in his spine. His pelvis was also dislocated, which means that he couldn't move it at all throughout filming. To make matters worse, while filming a scene where a group of actors were meant to land on a car after being thrown out of a double-decker bus, the actors missed their safe landing location and hit the hard road instead. Even though they got hurt, that scene made it into the movie.
In one of the most horrific on set accidents that we've heard about, cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi was seriously injured when when a radio-controlled lawnmower hit a piece of wood and shot splinters directly into his face while filming Maximum Overdrive. Some of the wood lodged in one of eyes, rendering it useless - and essentially ending his career. Nannuzzi sued director Stephen King of $18 million in damages in 1987, the suit was settled out of court, and King never directed another film.
During the filming of the movie Red Heat in 1988, stuntman and director, Bennie Dobbins, had a heart attack and died while filming a fight scene in a frozen exterior in Austria. The scene required Arnold Schwarzenegger and another actor to fight in deep snow while wearing very little clothing. Dobbins was coordinating the stunts in this scene when he collapsed. He was airlifted out of the location by helicopter to a hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
While filming The Abyss actor Ed Harris nearly drowned while filming a scene where he had to hold his breath underwater. When Harris ran out of water he tried to get director James Cameron to stop filming, but cameras continued to roll. Harris didn't get an assist with oxygen until he passed out. Understandably, Harris had a complete breakdown after he recovered.
Back to the Future Part II
Back to the Future Part II is one of the most fun and exciting sequels of the '80s, but the film features a brutal stunt gone wrong. During a scene where Biff is chasing Marty on his hoverboard, stuntwoman Cheryl Wheeler-Dixon was thrust into a pillar before falling thirty feet onto concrete, sustaining serious facial and wrist injuries after another stunt-person already injured themselves while testing the stunt.
Actor Gary Morgan said of the incident:
I was way in the corner, right next to the camera where Cheryl should’ve been. I opened my eyes and I said, ‘Where’s Cheryl?’ and somebody pointed outside. I got up and Cheryl was laying on the concrete and the pool of blood by her head was getting bigger. I thought she was dead. It was quite a moment, because you prepare for the worst in any stunt, but it just went wrong and nobody expected it to.
During the filming of the episode "Arena", which features Captain Kirk going head to head with the fearsome Gorn, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy developed tinnitus after standing too close to an explosion on set, likely the one that Kirk makes out of rudimentary supplies while fending off his alien attacker. Shatner says that the tinnitus sounds a bit like television static and that even though he's still dealing with it to this day he's learned to live with it.
Night of the Living Dead
While filming Night of the Living Dead in the Pittsburgh area multiple crew members were injured in the process of creating a modern masterpiece. Crew member Gary Streiner accidentally set himself on fire while trying to light up a prop with gasoline, and actor Bill Hinzman (the main ghoul from the cemetery scene) actually saved Streiner's life by extinguishing the fire. Ghoul or no ghoul, that's the kind of actor you want on set.
The Eiger Sanction
On the set of The Eiger Sanction, the 1975 Clint Eastwood picture about a former assassin who returns to the game for one more last mission, there were a series of accidents on set. The most upsetting accident involved 26-year-old English climber, David Knowles, a body double and photographer.
During the filming of a climbing scene, a cameraman named Michael Hoover and Knowles went down to a ledge to get some shots with a handheld camera. While they were packing up their equipment, a boulder rock fell and smacked into them. Knowles died on impact, and Hoover suffered a broken pelvis and bruising. The crew had a small gathering to remember Knowles, and the director, Clint Eastwood, thought about stopping the movie altogether. But the other climbers convinced him to keep going because they all knew that climbing was a dangerous activity, and they didn't want Knowles' death to be pointless.
The Great Waldo Pepper
The aerial scenes in the movie The Great Waldo Pepper were really exciting, and stunt pilot Frank Tallman was in charge of making them look good. He did a great job with two planned crashes, and nobody got hurt. But unfortunately, a third crash happened by accident when Tallman was landing a Nieuport biplane. A part called the rudder bar broke off when he was 400 feet above the ground, and the plane started to dive nose-first into a hill. Tallman was lucky to survive the crash, but he did get hurt. He had two cracked vertebrae and needed 58 stitches. After the accident, he took a break from filming for two weeks to recover.
For Your Eyes Only
One of the most dangerous scenes in the movie For Your Eyes Only was the high-speed bobsleigh chase. Unfortunately, the four-man bobsled went off course and hit a tree, killing a young stuntman named Paolo Rigon. It was a really tragic accident. But that wasn't the only stunt that went wrong during the making of the movie. In another scene, where James Bond and Melina Havelock are dragged across the ocean, the stunt doubles who were playing them got hurt. They had a lot of cuts and scrapes on their backs because they were dragged across a coral reef in the Bahamas, something that must have been a truly painful and scary experience for them.
During the filming of the hit TV series Airwolf, tragedy struck when stuntman Reid Rondell was killed in a helicopter crash. Rondell, who was the double for Jan-Michael Vincent in the action-adventure series that also starred Ernest Borgnine, was unable to be pulled from the wreckage before the helicopter burst into flames. An autopsy was performed to determine the cause of Rondell's death, whether it was from injuries sustained during the crash or the ensuing fire. Miraculously, helicopter pilot Scott Meher survived the crash. The Bell 205 helicopter involved in the accident was reportedly performing a routine maneuver, chasing another helicopter, when it collided with the side of a hill. Notably, the helicopter was not one of the three futuristic helicopters that are a centerpiece of the show.
Rumble in the Bronx
Jackie Chan's acrobatic feats are legendary, but they sometimes come with a price. During the making of Rumble in the Bronx, the action star suffered a serious injury while performing a stunt that required him to leap onto a boat. The mishap left him with a right leg injury that required a cast for much of the remaining shooting time. Undeterred, Chan and the crew pressed on, finding a creative solution to hide the cast during the film's climactic scenes. They colored a sock to match Chan's good foot and slipped it over the cast.
But Chan wasn't the only casualty on set. Lead actress Françoise Yip and several stunt doubles were also injured during the shooting of a perilous motorcycle stunt. The sequence proved too much for some, with multiple broken limbs and ankles reported among the crew. It was a high price to pay for a film that, despite its many challenges, went on to become one of Chan's most beloved works, capturing his signature blend of action, humor, and heart.
Even in a show as iconic as Friends, accidents can happen on set. During the filming of the Season 3 episode "The One Where No One's Ready," actor Matt LeBlanc found himself on the receiving end of an unexpected injury. In a scene that required him to leap into a chair, LeBlanc ended up dislocating his shoulder, halting production on the episode and leaving him with an injury that required a sling.
But LeBlanc was a trooper, and the show must go on. The injury was written into the following two episodes, allowing LeBlanc to continue playing Joey Tribbiani, albeit with a bit of added difficulty. Despite the setback, LeBlanc's willingness to go all-in for the sake of his craft is a testament to his dedication to his role and to the show's enduring legacy.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Even in the world of horror movies, real-life scares can happen on set. During the filming of 1988's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, actress Ellie Cornell found herself on the receiving end of an unexpected injury. In a rooftop scene, Cornell accidentally slipped and was cut by a large nail, causing her to lose a significant amount of blood.
Thankfully, Cornell was able to make a full recovery and soldier on with the rest of the production. Despite the frightening incident, she continued to bring her character Rachel to life on screen, a testament to her professionalism and commitment to her craft. It's just one example of the risks that actors and crew members can face when bringing a movie to life, even in the seemingly controlled environment of a movie set.
You Only Live Twice
During the production of the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, cameraman John Jordan experienced a gruesome on-set injury while filming an autogyro flight scene. Jordan, standing on the landing strut of the camera helicopter, was hit in the foot by the autogyro's blade in Miyazaki Prefecture. Despite receiving medical attention in the area, he eventually decided to have his foot amputated upon returning to the UK. Sadly, this was not the last tragic incident Jordan would face on set, as he later died during the filming of Catch-22.
Back to the Future Part III
During the filming of Back to the Future Part III, Michael J. Fox, playing Marty McFly, was involved in a frightening incident while filming a scene where his character is hanged by Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen and his gang. The actor lost consciousness for a few seconds due to being genuinely asphyxiated, before an extra realized what was happening and the noose was lowered. Fox recounted this traumatic experience in his autobiography, Lucky Man, providing a glimpse into the dangers that can arise during movie-making.
Highlander II: The Quickening
During the filming of Highlander II: The Quickening, both Christopher Lambert and Michael Ironside were injured. While filming a fight scene, Lambert chipped one of Ironside's teeth, and during a different sword-fight scene, Ironside accidentally severed part of Lambert's finger. Although both men recovered from their injuries, Ironside explained that it was difficult to execute precise thrusts and parries when wielding a 22-pound broadsword.
Actor Jan Fedder had a near-death experience while filming the German war film, Das Boot. In a scene where the U-96 was caught in a storm, Fedder lost his footing and was almost swept off the conning tower set. Actor Bernd Tauber noticed Fedder's absence and alerted the crew, all while the cameras were still rolling. Director Wolfgang Petersen initially mistook it for an improvisation and called for a reshoot, only to realize it was an accident. Fedder was hospitalized and his role was rewritten to accommodate his injury. Despite the incident, the scene where Fedder's character is nearly swept off the submarine remains one of the most iconic moments in the film.