20 Film Scenes That Nearly Killed The Actor
In an effort to make their performance as real and authentic as it can possibly be, actors sometimes give absolutely everything to the role they are portraying.
‘Method actors’ such as Daniel Day-Lewis are known to lose themselves in roles by staying in character for weeks or even months, whilst action stars such as Tom Cruise carry out all of their own stunts to make the on-screen action the best it can be.
But have you heard the stories of actors who genuinely almost died whilst shooting a film?
Below are 20 film scenes that unbelievably almost killed the actor starring in them. We’re sure you’ll never watch these films the same way again, so read on if you dare…
20. Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future Part III)
We kick the list off with a scene from Back To The Future: Part III.
In Robert Zemeckis’ time-travelling sequel, there is a scene in which Marty is being hanged from the clock tower.
When filming, Michael J Fox agreed to actually hang from the rope, because it would look more realistic.
During the scene, Fox held the rope away from his throat with his hands in order to prevent actual strangulation.
However, at one point, he let go of the rope and was actually being strangled.
The film crew didn’t realise – they just thought it was really good acting – until Fox passed out.
19. Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist)
In a shot that actually made it into the completed film, Ellen Burstyn was pulled violently to the floor on the set of The Exorcist.
The actress was yanked by a cable after her character, Chris MacNeil, received a slap across the face by her demon-possessed daughter.
Things had gone fine in previous takes, but director William Friedkin wasn’t satisfied with what he was seeing.
As such, he instructed the crew member tasked with pulling the cable to yank it harder.
He did, and the resulting fall meant that Burstyn broke her tailbone, with her cry of pain in the finished film being totally genuine.
18. Halle Berry (Die Another Day)
If you’re going to die on a film set, perhaps there are worse ways to go than whilst acting out a sex scene with the gorgeous Pierce Brosnan.
During said scene, Brosnan is getting down and dirty with Berry’s character when he starts to feed her figs.
This sounds all extremely sensual, and was, until Berry started chocking on one of the figs.
In an interview with the BBC, Berry recounted it as one of her most embarrassing on-set moments.
“Well, choking on a fig was embarrassing. Especially since I’m on top of Pierce Brosnan, trying to be as sexy as I possibly can be, and then I start choking.”
17. Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now)
Famously, Martin Sheen almost died whilst shooting Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece Apocalypse Now.
In addition to the Malaria that was affecting the cast and crew, Sheen was at the time a heavy drinker. This caused him to suffer a heart attack early one Saturday morning of filming.
Sheen, who was alone and staying in a remote cottage in The Philippines, was waiting to join his wife in a hotel in Manilla.
He managed to crawl his way to the road, but described his heart attack as the worst pain ever.
Sheen has since said he reached for and ate grass – anything that could ground him to remain conscious during the crawl.
16. Isla Fisher (Now You See Me)
For one scene in Now You See Me, Isla Fisher was dropped into a water tank – so far, terrifying enough.
To make it even scarier, the Australian actress got genuinely stuck underwater for 3 long minutes.
Reports have it that the crew assumed Fisher was just giving a realistic performance and wasn’t actually in any real danger.
“They had a guy who was off camera, but he was a long way away with a can of oxygen,” the actress later said. “By the time I realised I couldn’t get up and beckoned for him, I realised that I had run out of air.”
There was a kill-switch nearby, which would have drained the tank in seconds, but Fisher was unable to reach it.
15. Sylvester Stallone (Rocky IV)
This little accident occurred during the shooting of Rocky IV and involved everyone’s second favourite Stallone (behind Jackie): Sylvester.
In an attempt to try and make a boxing scene look more realistic, Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren decided to start throwing real punches.
Unfortunately, Lundgren, being the big-boy that he is, punched Stallone so hard that it made Stallone’s heart swell.
This little mishap put the actor and hard-man in hospital for two months.
So word of warning to any actors out there: if you ever find yourself shooting a boxing scene with Dolph Lundgren, just make sure not to take any real punches – the man can kill you.
14. Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds)
The next two on-set occurrences took place on a Quentin Tarantino movie. Coincidence? Most likely.
First up we have Inglourious Basterds, a war movie set in Nazi Germany. In this particular scene, Diane Kruger’s character finds herself being strangled.
Unfortunately for Kruger, director Tarantino didn’t think it looked like she was being strangled enough.
As such, he stepped in to provide his hands to show them how it should be done.
So good was Tarantino at strangling, the director actually ended up cutting off Kruger’s air supply (though a stunt coordinator was present).
13. Uma Thurman (Kill Bill Vol 2)
It’s not just Diane Kruger; Quentin Tarantino also has an Uma Thurman injury to answer for.
During the filming for Kill Bill Vol. 2, the actress crashed a car whilst filming the scene where the Bride is driving a blue convertible on the way to kill Bill.
Thurman had been led to believe that the car was not in a good state of repair, which meant she didn’t feel comfortable driving it herself.
Apparently this made Tarantino ‘furious’. He managed to change Thurman’s mind, convincing her to perform the stunt herself.
Unfortunately, her fears were realised when she crashed the car into a tree head on, giving her a “permanently damaged neck and screwed-up knees.”
12. Matthew Fox (Lost)
Towards the end of the very last episode of Lost, there is a fight scene that pitted co-stars Matthew Fox and Terry O’Quinn against one another.
Fox’s character of Jack is meant to be stabbed with a knife. Rather unhelpfully, there were two identical knives on set.
One of the knives had a blade that collapsed when stabbed, and one was a fixed-blade knife, which had a rigid blade.
Unsurprisingly, there was quite a bit of confusion on set and it was unclear what armour and padding Fox should be wearing in which scenes, and more worryingly, which knife was to be used in which scenes.
O’Quinn stabbed Fox with the fixed-blade knife, but luckily he was wearing a Kevlar vest. Luckily, however, instead of a serious injury, he was left with severe bruising.
11. Kate Winslet (Titanic)
Rather unsurprisingly, during the filming of Titanic, Kate Winslet had to run away from vast amounts of water.
In the film, there is one scene in which Winslet and co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, playing Rose and Jack, have to run through a narrow hallway while water barrels towards them, sweeping them into a locked gate.
During one of the takes for this scene, Winslet’s coat became stuck and she was unable to come up for air.
Once the star had recovered from this terrifying experience, director James Cameron allowed her to catch her breath and they went straight into filming the scene again.
Winslet was reportedly – and expectedly – traumatised by this near-drowning experience.
10. Donald Sutherland (Kelly’s Heroes)
Back in 1968, Donald Sutherland was filming Kelly’s Heroes when one scene required him to swim in the Danube River.
Sutherland contracted meningitis from the river, which is probably the last danger you think about from swimming in a river.
As a result of the meningitis, a deadly disease, the actor eventually ended up in a coma and was medically dead for a brief period of time. So technically, we guess this scene did kill the actor.
Sutherland has since described a bright white light pulling him upwards, but he resisted the urge to reach it.
After he woke from his coma, it took Sutherland over six weeks to recover and get back to work.
9. Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ)
In Mel Gibson’s 2004 film Passion of the Christ, Jim Caviezel plays the Son of God himself, Jesus Christ. What could possibly go wrong with making a film like that?
Well, whilst filming the scene in which Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount, Caviezel was hit by a lightning bolt. Ouch.
Reports from members who worked on the set say that Caviezel’s whole body was illuminated, before it started to smoke.
Passion of the Christ producer Steve McEveety told Variety: “I’m about a hundred feet away from them when I glance over and see smoke coming out of Caviezel’s ears.”
Apparently the lightning bolt struck Caviezel on the last day of the shoot. Divine intervention? Probably not, but a great story all the same.
8. Jackie Chan (Armour of God)
As a result of doing his own stunts throughout his career, Chan has broken multiple bones in his body, including his ankle, nose, shoulder, chin, fingers and even his eyebrow bone, which almost caused him permanent blindness.
If that wasn’t enough, Chan also smashed his tailbone, which caused him to be temporarily paralysed. Despite all of this, however, his most serious injury occurred while filming a stunt for Armour of God in Yugoslavia.
In the scene, Chan’s character has to jump from a castle wall to a nearby tree. Unfortunately, Chan misjudged the jump.
As he jumped, Chan missed the tree branch and fell several metres to the ground below. Upon hitting the ground, Chan cracked his skull which resulted in a fragment of bone shooting into his brain.
He was immediately taken to a nearby hospital for immediate brain surgery. A metal plate was inserted into his skull and a sizeable dint can still be felt on his head today.
7. Tom Hanks (Cast Away)
During the filming of the cult classic Cast Away, Tom Hanks put his body through some pretty gruelling stuff.
In the film, Hanks plays a FedEx worker who is stranded on a desert island after a place crash. In order to portray the character accurately, Hanks gained and lost over 20 kilos rapidly, so that his body would look as thin and worn as if he had really been stranded.
It seems that things were just as perilous on set as they were for the character, however, because at one point Hanks seriously cut his leg.
As a result, his entire leg began to swell and it was only after two weeks that he went to hospital to get it checked out.
Hanks was told that he had a deadly staph infection and that he was lucky to come in when he did – if it had been much later he would have died.
6. Jason Statham (The Expendables)
One of Hollywood’s go-to tough guys for years now, it was no surprise when the great and original tough man himself, Sylvester Stallone, cast the Brit in The Expendables.
Each film in the series ramps up the action and the insanity, and during the third and latest instalment, Statham nearly drowned.
Statham also could have gotten blown up, or crushed to death – whichever one of these is most applicable when you drive a truck off a loading dock and into the Black Sea.
This is exactly what Statham did on the set of The Expendables 3, after something went wrong with the brakes and he went crashing into the water.
The truck sank 60ft in a short space of time, but Statham, who once competed as an Olympic diver, was fortunately able to get free.
5. Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1)
Jennifer Lawrence is famously prone to accidents, as has been seen on various occasions where the actress has slipped up on stage collecting awards.
However, Lawrence’s accident-prone nature was no laughing matter on the set of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, when a smoke machine malfunctioned.
This malfunction almost suffocated Lawrence. A set insider later revealed: “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, Lawrence only suffered vertigo and nausea, but this wasn’t the only occasion that she suffered because of The Hunger Games.
During training for the role, Lawrence ran into a wall, sparking concern that she damaged her spleen. An MRI revealed the actress had avoided that fate, at least.
4. George Clooney (Syriana)
George Clooney had everyone on the edge of their seats in the geopolitical thriller Syriana, which won the actor a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2006. The cost? He put himself in unbearable pain and eventually hospital for the role.
While filming a torture scene for the film, Clooney was severely hurt when he sustained a serious back injury.
Clooney knew he was in pain, but unfortunately for him, doctors were unable to diagnose the exact nature of his injury for many weeks, and his agonising condition was left untreated.
It wasn’t until a neurologist – coincidentally, Lisa Kudrow’s brother – discovered that the pain was caused by leaking spinal fluid. As a result, Clooney was finally able to receive proper treatment.
Reportedly, the pain was so intense that Clooney contemplated suicide at one point.
3. Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)
Viggo Mortensen was easily the most injured actor during the filming of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
Chipping a tooth while shooting an intense battle scene, Mortensen also broke a couple of toes after kicking a helmet in Fellowship of the Ring.
These weren’t the most serious injuries that Mortensen sustained for Rings, however.
The worst incident came whilst Mortensen was filming a scene in which Aragorn falls off a cliff into a river, and is swept downstream.
Mortensen, as Aragorn, was actually swept away in a current and almost drowned, the situation exacerbated by the heavy costume Mortensen had to wear.
2. Charlize Theron (Aeon Flux)
Aeon Flux, a critical and box office flop that failed to even earn back its budget, was a case of audiences suffering for the actors’ art rather than the other way around.
This didn’t stop Charlize Theron from suffering plenty herself, though, as one of the film’s acrobatic stunts left her seriously injured.
Early on during the production, Theron was performing a backflip. The actress herniated a disc in her spine, nearly damaging her spinal cord.
Theron’s accident stopped the filming for a month, and forced her into six weeks of physical therapy.
Fortunately, Theron healed – just in time to undergo the years of career therapy she needed after Flux bombed.
1. Brad Pitt (Se7en)
In one particularly intense sequence in Se7en, Brad Pitt’s character, Mills, chases John Doe out of his apartment building.
Mills falls off a fire escape and onto his arm, and then gets whacked by a crowbar on the same arm.
As such, it makes sense when the character shows up later on supporting a cast on his arm.
This wasn’t just part of the costume, though – the cast was real and was very much in use.
While filming the 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.