No one ever said that making a movie is easy. Whether it’s a stuffy old period drama or a stunt-filled big budget blockbuster, the film set can be a dangerous place. Many A-listers have injured themselves (whether accidentally or intentionally) in the pursuit of that perfect take and a few on set calamities have not only happened in front of rolling cameras – they’ve even managed to make it into the final cut.
10. James Franco Hits his Head in Pineapple Express
James Franco took method acting to a new level when shooting a scene in Pineapple Express where his character Saul runs into a tree. Franco collided with the tree so hard that he split his head open and required 3 stitches. He finished the shot and stayed in character before he was rushed to hospital, but for some later scenes he had to wear a headband to cover the stitches. Danny McBride also received his fair share of injury during shooting. During the movie’s big fight scene he almost suffered from a concussion when his was rammed through some drywall and he received a cut to the back of the head when he had a bong smashed over him.
9. Malcolm McDowell Scratched his Corneas in A Clockwork Orange
One of the most iconic scenes in A Clockwork Orange shows Malcolm McDowell’s character Alex being subject to the ‘Ludovico Technique’. Alex is heavily drugged and has his eyes propped open with clamps so that he is forced to watch violent imagery in an effort to keep him from committing further crimes. The doctor shown administering the eye drops during this scene was in fact a real doctor who was on hand to make sure that McDowell’s eyes didn’t dry out from being held open for long periods of time. However, the actor managed to scratch his corneas from the metal clamps and was temporarily blinded as a result.
8. Ellen Burstyn Injures her Back in the Exorcist
Director William Friedkin made life hell for the cast of the Exorcist. In an effort to capture more ‘genuine’ reactions on film, Friedkin slapped Jason Miller before a big emotional scene, fired a gun on set to make everyone jump and even shot some scenes of Regan’s bedroom in a freezer to capture the actor’s chilly breath on film (the crew were at least allowed to wear thick coats and jumpers). However, these incidents pale in comparison to the very serious injury Ellen Burstyn received while filming a scene where she is pushed to the floor. Burstyn was attached to a rope and a harness which was yanked by crew members to make the push seem real, but she complained to Friedkin that too much force was being used. For the final take, Friedkin allegedly communicated to the crew pulling the harness that they should yank it as hard as possible for the last attempt. The shot in the movie shows Burstyn violently hitting the floor and screaming in very real pain. Burstyn seriously injured her lower back as a result of the stunt and she was unhappy that the footage was used in the final film.
7. Joe Pesci Breaks a Rib in Casino & Raging Bull
During a sparring scene in Raging Bull, one of Robert Deniro’s blows actually cracked Joe Pesci’s rib. Although the scene quickly cuts to another shot, it’s easy to pick out the moment as Pesci can be heard groaning in pain from the punch. When he reteamed with director Martin Scorsese 15 years later for mob drama Casino, Pesci broke the same rib again while filming the scene where he is tossed into a makeshift grave in the middle of a cornfield.
6. Sylvester Stallone Cracks a Rib in First Blood
During the scene in First Blood where Rambo jumps off a cliff to avoid being shot at from a pursuing helicopter, Sylvester Stallone performed some of the stunt himself. Although he didn’t do the big leap off the cliff face, Stallone was filmed tumbling through the branches as Rambo falls into the trees below. The final shot of him screaming in pain after he hits a large branch seems so realistic because Stallone cracked a rib in the take that ended up in the movie.
5. Buster Keaton Fractures his Neck in Sherlock Jr.
Buster Keaton put himself in more life-threatening situations than any other actor. The master of physical comedy and stunt work, Keaton performed some seriously dangerous stunts for his early silent films. They’re all the more impressive when you realise that Hollywood wasn’t exactly known for its safety standards at the time and he refused to use stunt doubles for any shot (well, until he was forced to do so when he signed with MGM). One of the most iconic scenes in Sherlock Jr sees Keaton running across the top of a moving train carriage. He dives onto a nearby outlet tube on a water tower to let himself down, but this unleashes a torrent of water which knocks him forcibly to the ground. The scene made into the film and, although Keaton felt physically fine, he suffered from blinding migraines after shooting had wrapped. It wasn’t until he visited a doctor years later that he discovered he had actually fractured his neck – very nearly breaking it – from the stunt.
4. Viggo Mortensen breaks a Toe in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy saw its fair share of on set injuries which included a hobbit with cut feet, a dwarf with a knee injury and an elf with a cracked rib. However one injury which actually benefited the production happened to Viggo Mortensen during filming of the Two Towers. Coming across a pyre of burned orcs, Mortensen’s character Aragorn fears that the hobbits Merry and Pippin have been killed. Filled with rage and grief he kicks an orc helmet and screams at the sky. On the fifth take, Mortensen fell to his knees and kept screaming. Although Jackson didn’t realise it at the time, Mortensen had actually broke two of his toes from kicking the steel helmet and the actor had stayed in character as he fell to the floor in pain. Jackson was so pleased with the result that this was the take which ended up in the film.
3. Leonardo Dicaprio Slices his Hand in Django Unchained
During the unforgettably tense dinner scene of Django Unchained, Leonardo Dicaprio’s slimy antagonist Calvin becomes more and more unhinged when he suspects that his dinner guests have ulterior motives. At one point he smashes his hand down on the table, unintentionally crushing a glass in the process. Despite slicing his hand open and requiring medical attention, Dicaprio carried on and stayed in character for the rest of the take. The intense scene was used in the final movie, although we assume they used fake blood when he smears his hand over Kerry Washington’s face.
2. Jackie Chan breaks an Ankle in Rumble in the Bronx
Jackie Chan has truly suffered for his art. The legendary martial arts actor has broken almost every bone in his body during his 40 year cinematic career due to his insistence that he perform almost all of his own stunts. Although most of his injuries don’t typically provide salvageable footage to make it into the final cut (well, save for the blooper reel during the credits), footage of a stunt gone wrong had to be used for his Hollywood breakout hit Rumble in the Bronx. During the scene where Chan jumps off a bridge and onto a moving hovercraft, it’s easy to see that his right foot bends awkwardly at an angle when he lands. Chan actually broke his ankle performing the stunt and couldn’t do the scene again. Although he was told to stay off his foot while it healed, he returned to the set to finish the movie and had the crew paint over his cast to make it look like a sneaker. Now that’s dedication.
1. Martin Sheen Smeared Blood All Over Himself for Apocalypse Now
The behind the scenes drama of Apocalypse Now has gone down as one of the most chaotic and gruelling film shoots in Hollywood history, so it should probably come as no surprise that director Francis Ford Coppola captured Martin Sheen having a breakdown while filming the opening scene. The movie opens with Sheen’s character Willard drinking and hallucinating in a hotel room. Sheen was very drunk while filming the scene because it was his 36th birthday and he was battling with an alcohol addiction. The part where he smashes a mirror and covers himself with blood before breaking down sobbing seems so authentic because Sheen really did cut himself on the glass. The actor insisted that Coppola keep filming and later said that he was in a “chaotic spiritual state” at the time.