Gunfire, car crashes, explosions, aerial tricks, explosions – Hollywood’s ability to stage these stunts so believably is what makes many action and thriller films so spectacular. While most of these feats come off without a hitch, but sometimes, no matter how careful the planning, stunts go so wrong they kill a film’s stuntmen or actors.
5 “Flight of the Phoenix” (1965)
Aerial stuntman Paul Mantz, a legendary pilot in Hollywood who once tutored famed female aviator Amelia Earhart, met his end in a tragic plane crash caught on film. While filming multiple takes in a plane cobbled together from plywood and pieces of other aircraft, the plane snapped in half. As the plane continued to break apart, the co-pilot was thrown clear, but Mantz was pinned beneath the wreckage—he died instantly.
4 “A Vampire in Brooklyn” (1996)
Stuntwomen take just as many risks as their male counterparts, and sometimes –as happened to Sonja Davis—tragedy occurs. As the body double for Angela Bassett on the set of “A Vampire in Brooklyn,” Davis had her doubts about the safety of the 42-foot backward fall off a four-story building she was asked to perform without a safety line into a dubious air bag. While her mother and two siblings looked on, Davis fell as directed, only to partially miss the improperly placed air bag and smash into the pavement. Davis died of her injuries nearly two weeks after the accident, which led to her family to file a wrongful death claim against Paramount Pictures.
3 “Top Gun” (1986)
Audiences wept when Anthony Edwards’ character Goose tragically dies during a flight exercise piloted by best friend Maverick (Tom Cruise), but the true “Top Gun” tragedy occurred on set. While filming one of the aerobatic stunts for the film, top Hollywood stunt pilot Art Scholl went into an unplanned inverted spin. Scholl only had time to radio, “I’ve got a problem here,” to a stunt pilot manning another aircraft before his plane plunged into the Pacific Ocean. Only a bit of debris was found after the crash—neither the wreckage nor Scholl’s body were ever recovered.
2 “The Crow” (1994)
Appalling accident or the fulfillment of a family curse—some say both of these came into play the day Brandon Lee died. Son of famed martial arts actor Bruce Lee
(whose own death is the source of some speculation), Brandon was fatally wounded while filming a scene for “The Crow” when another actor fired a .44-caliber revolver at him that was supposedly loaded only with blanks. Brandon fell as planned and the presumably fake blood spilled, until he failed to get up after filming the death scene. Accident investigators soon discovered that the remnant of a prop bullet had been accidentally left in the gun that was then loaded with blanks powerful enough to launch it into Brandon with the speed of an actual bullet—an accident some blame on the production for not having a weapons expert present for the filming.
1 “Twilight Zone: The Movie” (1983)
All accidental deaths on set are tragic, but no other is quite so heartrending as the stunt that took the lives of veteran actor Vic Morrow and two young child actors, My-Ca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. The fatalities occurred while director John Landis filmed his segment of “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” in which Morrow was supposed to rescue the children from an attacking helicopter. Unfortunately, the low-flying chopper got too close to the accompanying pyrotechnics, causing a crash that crushed Chen and decapitated both Morrow and Le.