Movies are one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the world. Big budget studio films typically employ thousands of people to do various jobs from producing and acting to set design and makeup. There are also many dangerous positions on set, especially those involving stunts and special effects. While most films are made without any major issues, some iconic movies weren’t so lucky. In this article we’ll look at a variety of on-set disasters, some that caused minor injuries and setbacks to others that resulted in destruction and even death.
Many safety precautions are taken to ensure that productions are smooth no matter how complicated the actual execution may be. As much as this planning can prevent mistakes, nothing is ever guaranteed. The disasters discussed here will include stunts gone wrong, the mishandling of props, set malfunctions and full-blown breakdowns. And these things have been happening throughout Hollywood history. This article will cover incidents from early movie making all the way up until today. First we’ll look at a couple of the most notoriously disastrous film sets, but stick around until the end to learn about some tragedies that were so bad the movies were completely cancelled…
Some say Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was the very first summer blockbuster. But the production of the horror masterpiece was riddled with problems, some so bad they almost kept the movie from being finished. Bruce, the mechanical shark, was later called the “great white turd” due to it constantly malfunctioning. Props mess up all the time, but when they’re the centerpiece of the film, things can get complicated. This caused the movie to go over budget and behind schedule, and they didn’t even have a finished script when they started filming.
The cast, which was difficult to put together in the first place, didn’t always get along. Robert Shaw, who played Quint, was apparently the most difficult to work with. And the actors weren’t the only ones who were unhappy. Once the shooting schedule doubled and even tripled the length of time it was supposed to take, the crew began to turn on Spielberg, causing him not to sleep and genuinely worry that he’d never work again. But somehow all of these disasters resulted in an amazing movie that will go down in history as one of the greatest ever made.
Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is arguably the best war film of all time. It truly captured the chaos of Vietnam. This might have something to do with its legendarily disastrous production. Many who worked on the movie even equate the filming to its own kind of war. Casting was a nightmare and Martin Sheen, the lead actor, was struggling with alcoholism. A completely unprepared Marlon Brando, who hated the other lead Dennis Hooper, refused to cooperate until Coppola told him he could do whatever he wanted.
The cast wasn’t nearly as difficult as the actual location. Filming in the Philippines presented its own set of challenges like a set-destroying typhoon. Beyond this, the unfinished script created a lot of down time which resulted in rampant alcohol and drug use that caused the cast and crew to start going crazy. After suicide threats, a heart attack, an epileptic seizure and multiple meltdowns the six-week schedule ended up taking over a year, but resulted in a masterpiece. Unfortunately, many of the other movies in this article weren’t as successful and, unlike Jaws and Apocalypse Now, their production disasters resulted in permanent damage.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Tom Cruise is possibly the biggest movie star in the world. He’s gained a reputation for doing almost all of his own stunts, which is incredibly uncommon for lead actors. While this has resulted in some spectacular shots, he was recently injured on the set of the new Mission: Impossible film. He was supposed to jump across two buildings but fell short and slammed his leg into a wall causing a broken ankle that shut down production for months.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Harrison Ford was reluctant to step back into the role of Han Solo in the new Star Wars trilogy, and maybe he was right to be. During a scene on the iconic Millennium Falcon a hydraulic door, that weighed as much as a small car, malfunctioned and crushed him. He was lucky to walk away with only some minor injuries and a broken leg considering he could’ve been killed.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure
In one of the more publicly known on-set disasters, the Maze Runner: The Death Cure’s lead actor Dylan O’Brien almost died during a driving stunt gone wrong. The accident left him with a concussion, facial fracture, and brain trauma among other injuries. The road to recovery was long and even caused the star to wonder if he’d ever be able to get back in front of a camera at all.
John Wayne is an absolute icon, and even he couldn’t escape the threat of behind-the-scenes disasters. The 1956 movie The Conqueror was filmed on a former nuclear testing ground. While the filmmakers were assured that it was safe, within less than three decades almost half of the over-200-person crew, including the director and Wayne himself, were diagnosed with cancer.
On-set disasters are still happening today, some in movies that haven’t even come out yet. The sequel to the incredibly successful Deadpool was halted when a stuntwoman was killed after crashing her motorcycle. Controversy around this tragedy included information that suggested she wasn’t ready for the scene and that the filmmakers were even warned about this before the filming took place.
The Dark Knight
Super hero movies are full of elaborate sequences that require a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation and execution. The Dark Knight, widely considered the best comic book film of all time, featured a stunt gone wrong that was sadly similar to the one on the set of Deadpool 2. The car crash resulted in the death of a special effects technician who was attempting to capture the scene.
Titanic won multiple Oscars and is still one of the highest grossing movies in history. The daring stunts that brought the real-life tragedy to the big screen weren’t easy to pull off. But beyond many injuries, including star Kate Winslet’s bout with pneumonia, it was actually a crazy prank that was the shoot’s most memorable disaster. 50 crew members ate clam chowder that had been mysteriously laced with PCP, or angel dust.
Waterworld was another aquatic-based movie that had its own set of problems. The star Kevin Costner and the director Kevin Reynolds didn’t get along. Apparently Costner didn’t really get along with anyone. This was made worse when the filming went over budget and was then halted by terrible weather and issues with jellyfish stings. At one point, one of the stuntmen was even lost at sea for hours.
Shooting on the water and in tropical locations has proven to be very challenging. Mega star and fan favorite Tom Hanks almost died during the filming of Cast Away in Fiji. After receiving a small cut on his knee, he developed a staph infection that could’ve given him blood poisoning if it had gone untreated. And it almost did, Hanks admitted to ignoring the problem thinking it wasn’t a big deal.
Movie stars are definitely not immune to on-set disasters. During the filming of the big budget epic Troy, Brad Pitt, who played Achilles, actually tore his Achilles tendon in what is maybe the most ironic injury yet. Beyond this, the production of the movie was riddled with issues that affected the shoot, from not just one but two hurricanes and a stunt accident that later resulted in death.
The Lone Ranger
After surviving five Pirates of the Caribbean movies relatively unscathed, Johnny Depp was injured on the set of 2013’s The Lone Ranger. This qualifies as another accident involving an actor who wanted to film a stunt instead of a stand-in. During a sequence that required him to ride a horse at high speeds, he was thrown from the animal and almost trampled to death.
The Cannonball Run
Burt Reynolds starred in The Cannonball Run but neither he nor any of the actors were injured in its production. It was actually Farrah Fawcett’s stunt double Heidi Von Beltz who was involved in a horrible on-set accident. The competitive skier and aspiring actress was paralyzed in a car crash that destroyed her cervical spine.
During the filming of AEon Flux Charlize Theron was injured in an accident that almost left her paralyzed. She was shooting a sequence that required her to do a series of backflips, but she slipped and landed on her neck, herniating a disc near her spine. This injury stuck with her and she has since been much more careful on set.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Milla Jovovich’s stunt double Olivia Jackson had worked on many sets prior to filming Resident Evil: The Final Chapter when her arm was pulverized and eventually had to be amputated after a serious motorcycle accident. In a separate incident a crew member was killed when an unsecured car slid off of a rotating platform and crashed into him.
Now You See Me
Any film involving magic is sure to present some on-set challenges. During the production of Now You See Me, a sequence called for lead actress Isla Fisher to be submerged in a water tank. In the scene she was meant to act like she was drowning, but when a prop messed up she was actually trapped underwater. The crew thought her terrified screams were part of the performance.
Back to the Future Part III
The last incident isn’t the only one where a mishap became part of a scene. While filming Back to the Future Part III Michael J. Fox’s character Marty McFly was supposed to be hanged by the movie’s villain Mad Dog Tannon. But Fox lost consciousness and was unable to breathe. The crew continued shooting until someone finally noticed he wasn’t acting and saved his life.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
Sylvester Stallone is one of the biggest action stars ever, but even they can be injured on set. He’s been critically hurt more than almost everyone else, having suffered from shingles, cracked ribs, a swollen heart and even a broken back. Although, the disaster on the set of Rambo: First Blood Part II involved an explosives technician who died doing the very dangerous job.
The Expendables 2
That wasn’t the only Stallone film to have a tragic behind-the-scenes death. Beyond his own on-set injury, the aforementioned broken back, a second unit team was involved in an explosion gone wrong. A couple of the crew members were too close to the blast which left one seriously hurt and the other dead.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The Transformers movies feature some of the most action-packed sequences fans have ever seen. During the shooting of the third entry in the franchise, a steel cable holding a car suddenly snapped free and hit one of the extras in the vehicle. She flew right through the windshield and was critically hurt, suffering severe facial injuries and permanent brain damage.
The shooting of the film Catch-22, which was based on the classic novel of the same name, involved one of the most tragic movie disasters of all time. The highly regarded aerial photographer John Jordan, who was known in the industry for developing a special camera and operator harnesses for capturing footage from helicopters, died during filming. He was sucked out of a plane in mid-air.
Die Hard has been described as a perfect movie, but its production is another story. Bruce Willis reportedly almost went deaf as a result of firing guns that had been modified to make extra loud noise. Read ahead to learn about another movie star who almost lost her hearing. And she happens to be one of the most famous actresses working today. But first…
Another iconic ’80’s action film is Top Gun. While Tom Cruise was discussed earlier in the article, he wasn’t injured on the set of this movie. Art Scholl, the world-renowned aerobatic pilot, was hired to do the in-flight camera work. After a particularly dangerous scene involving a “flat spin” he encountered a problem with his plane, which crashed into the ocean. He and the aircraft were never recovered.
A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece A Clockwork Orange was very controversial when it came out, and still is today. One of its most iconic scenes sees the main character Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell, having his eyes propped open. The sequence lasts for a painful amount of time. Apparently his eyes were kept open for so long that the actor suffered temporary blindness and a scratched cornea.
In one of the more rare behind-the-scenes disasters, an actual set on the movie Jumper was to blame. The crew built it with a mix of sand, dirt and ice, which reportedly was able to make it though filming. But when one of the set dressers was working on removing a part of the structure, it fell off and crushed him, killing him instantly.
Another case of an injury that happened on and off screen was when movie star George Clooney seriously hurt his back and neck filming a torture sequence for the movie Syriana. He tore his dura, which is part of the spine, and this resulted in a grueling recovery process. He also won an Oscar for his performance.
Vin Diesel is considered to be on the same level as many of the other action stars in this article, which also translates to his stunt men. His movie xXx features many extreme sports sequences, giving his double a lot of dangerous things to do. Tragically, one of the parasailing stunts resulted in the death of the man who had worked with Diesel on multiple films.
Fellow rising action star Channing Tatum suffered a unique injury of the set of The Eagle. A scene required him to wade in freezing cold water, which he did wearing a wetsuit. But it could only do so much to keep him from freezing, so a crew member poured hot water on him. Unfortunately, it was boiling and caused burns all over his body.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Jennifer Lawrence actually went deaf in one ear for months following an injury on the set of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. After a series of ear infections caused by filming in water, something that has been discussed all throughout this article, her eardrum was then punctured in a completely separate incident.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1
Another one of the most popular series ever is the Harry Potter franchise. The number of stunts involving young actors and their doubles made some of the shoots significantly more dangerous than usual. During the first of the final two movies, Daniel Radcliffe’s stuntman was thrown too hard against a wall and his neck was fractured, leaving him paralyzed.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
There might not be any fantasy films held in higher regard than The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But filming on location in New Zealand wasn’t easy. Many actors were injured in various ways, with Sean Astin injuring his foot, Orlando Bloom cracking a rib and Viggo Mortensen breaking two toes, chipping a tooth and almost drowning.
The Hobbit Trilogy
While the actors in The Hobbit trilogy weren’t hurt during the filming of the series, many of the animals were. Apparently, 27 animals died during the production due to terrible conditions on set. This was investigated and eventually attributed to the lack of Hollywood’s standards of self-regulation.
The Passion of the Christ
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was controversial for many reasons. People might’ve been even more critical of the film if they’d known what was happening behind the scenes. Star Jim Caviezel dislocated his shoulder, injured his ribs, suffered from pneumonia and hypothermia and was even struck by lightning.
In one of the most notorious tragedies in Hollywood history, Bruce Lee’s son Brandon Lee was accidentally killed on the set of 1994’s The Crow. While the gun that shot him was loaded with blanks, it hadn’t been properly cleaned, so when it fired, a small piece of debris from the dummy round flew like a bullet into his chest. The film was finished using his stunt double and has since become a cult classic.
Twilight Zone: The Movie
Another very well known on-set tragedy happened during the production of the movie adaption of the television show The Twilight Zone. This one is especially horrific considering it involved kids. A helicopter being used in a scene was accidentally hit by an explosion, sending it crashing into three actors, two of whom were children.
The Final Season
One of the lesser known movies in this article is The Final Season. But the disaster on its set also involved a helicopter. When one of the cameramen was filming a parade scene, the helicopter collided with some power cables, crashed and killed him. The others on board, the pilot and a producer, were merely injured.
Gone in 60 Seconds 2
Before Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie starred in the remake of Gone in 60 Seconds, the original came out in 1974. It was successful enough to plan a sequel, but the filming was cancelled when a stunt went wrong and killed the director instantly. A water tower was supposed to collapse, but the cables holding it malfunctioned and snapped and the giant structure collapsed on top of him.
Another movie production that was shut down due to a tragic accident was Midnight Rider: The Gregg Allman Story. On the very first day of filming, a scene involving active railroad tracks went wrong. A crew member was killed when an actual train unexpectedly appeared and people on the set rushed to get all of the equipment out of its way. The movie was cancelled and the director and some of the producers received criminal charges.