10 Crazy Movie Stunts Hollywood Actually Did For Real

Misson: Impossible – Rogue Nation

by Jordan King |
Published on

Ever since the dawn of cinema, stunts have been at the heart of the medium. The very first motion picture, Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 reel The Horse In Motion, captured a jockey riding a horse at speed — cinema’s first stunt! And ever since then, fearless stunt people have been engaging themselves in the ultimate game of one-upmanship, putting their bodies on the line and minds at work to help make movies soar higher, go faster, hit harder, and be bigger than ever before. Even if the Oscars still aren’t ready to recognise that just yet with a Stunt category (seriously, what’s with that?), we don’t need an awards ceremony to pay tribute to the crazy folk who do this stuff for real.

To celebrate the stunt community – and mark the release of stunt-tastic action extravaganza The Fall Guy take a look back over the craziest movie stunts that were actually done for real. From high-speed chases to high-altitude heroics, painstakingly choreographed set-pieces to miraculously-captured one-take wonders, mad skills to acts of, well, pure madness, prepare to awaken the adrenaline junkie within. Lights. Camera. ACTION!

Catching the (air)bus

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Film: Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (2015)
Starring: Tom Cruise, an Airbus A400M

Altitude: 5,000ft
Number of takes: 8

Realistically, this entire list could consist of Tom Cruise’s death-defying escapades across the Mission: Impossible franchise. From climbing the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol, to performing a HALO jump in Fallout, to riding a bike off a literal cliff in Dead Reckoning, Cruise has been risking his life to entertain us for over a quarter of a century now, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. But if we really have to pick just one crazy Cruise stunt, then hanging off the side of a plane during take-offreally does take some beating.

Yes, when Ethan Hunt clings to the side of an Airbus A400M as it takes off during Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’s cold open, that really is Cruise up there. Sure, there were some harnesses, cables, and special debris-proof contact lenses involved in the making of this stunt — for “safety”. But no matter which way you cut it, you’re still seeing Tom Cruise reaching an altitude of 5000ft, traveling at speeds of up to 160mph, hanging from a military-grade Airbus. Oh, and did we mention that Cruise, director Christopher McQuarrie, and stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood shot the stunt eight times?

Bringing the house down

Steamboat Bill Jr

Film: Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
Starring: Buster Keaton, a house façade

Façade weight: 2 tonnes
Proximity to death: 2 inches

When we talk about the craziest stunts throughout film history, all roads invariably lead back to Hollywood’s original action hero: Buster Keaton. At a time in cinema where actions quite literally spoke louder than words, Keaton — apocryphally nicknamed Buster for his ability to land a fall unharmed — was writing soliloquies with his stuntwork. And though, like Cruise, Keaton’s back catalogue is stacked with astonishing feats (the train sequence in The General! The leap from The Three Ages!), nothing comes close to the house collapse in 1928’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Often imitated but never bettered, Keaton’s craziest stunt sees cinema’s ‘Great Stone Face’ coolly stand — only an empty attic window and a two-inch perimeter from certain death — as a two-tonne house façade crashes over and around him. Of the high-stakes stunt, Keaton later reflected: “Cameramen, electricians and extras prayed as we shot that scene, and I don’t mind saying I did a little praying myself.” Thankfully for him — and us — those prayers were answered. Whilst Steamboat Bill, Jr. would sadly end up being Keaton’s last independently-produced picture, this extraordinary stunt’s success allowed Buster Keaton to bring the house down, on his own terms, one last time.

The pole slide

Police Story

Film: Police Story (1985)
Starring: Jackie Chan, a metal pole, lots of glass

Height: 6 floors
Burn level: Second-degree

Nicknamed ‘Glass Story’ for the 700 lbs of sugar glass that Jackie Chan and his legendary stunt team barrelled through during production, it’s not without good reason that Chan himself describes Police Story as “one of the best action films ever made.” Part vaudevillian comedy, part violent crime thriller, Chan’s 1985 actioner — on which he served as writer, director, stunt choreographer, star, and theme tune singer — is 100 minutes of adrenalised action mayhem. And the stunt that almost shattered its star is truly on another level. Or six.

The movie’s breathless, mall-set climax sees Chan’s impulsive cop Ka-Kui launch himself from a sixth-floor guardrail and slide down an electrified metal pole, through decorative lights and a glass kiosk ceiling, in a desperate last-ditch attempt to take down mob boss Chu Tao (Chor Yuen). With no time to spare, no rehearsals, no wires, no safety mat, no safety anything, Chan — in one miraculous take — leapt eight feet from a standing start, got the money shot, and then launched straight into a killer fight sequence. And all this despite having sustained second-degree burns from the light-heated pole, dislocated his pelvis, and nearly paralysed his back in the process. Keaton would’ve been proud.

The chariot race


Film: Ben-Hur (1959)
Starring: Joe Canutt, Charlton Heston, and a chariot

Cost: $1 million (and two shattered $100k 70mm lenses)
Horses unleashed: 72

Over the years, the shooting of the chariot race in William Wyler’s 1959 classic Ben-Hur has become the stuff of myth, a lurid cornerstone of cinematic folklore. But the truth of how it all came together is no less remarkable. Shot over five long, hot summer weeks on a purpose-built 18-acre race track at Rome’s Cinecittá Studios, the movie’s climactic chariot race — in which Charlton Heston’s fallen Jewish prince faces his former friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) — is, fittingly, an epic of biblical proportions.

Singling out one stunt in a scene featuring 111 stunt people, 72 horses, as many as 7000 extras, and 18 chariots is difficult – but it’s hard to top the moment Heston’s Judah is dramatically launched from his chariot. Very much not in the script, stunt legend and second unit co-director Yakima Canutt’s 21-year-old stuntman son Joe was in the rider’s seat when — rounding a corner at well over 35mph — he was thrown from his vehicle. Miraculously, Canutt Jr. managed to avoid being crushed by the half-tonne chariot or its steeds during the incident, emerging unharmed (save for a bump on the chin.) In fact, his brush with death not only gave the race its most heart-in-mouth moment, but also offered cinemagoers a sage reminder of the unparalleled risks stuntmen take for their art.

The final car chase

Death Proof

Film: Death Proof (2007)
Starring: Zoë Bell, a ‘71 Dodge Challenger, a leather belt

Top speed: 100mph
Weeks to shoot: 6

Before the release of Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 Grindhouse feature Death Proof, everybody at least knew of Zoë Bell’s work. The Kiwi stuntwoman had played Uma Thurman’s body double in Kill Bill Vol. I and II, Halle Berry’s in Catwoman, and Lucy Lawless’ in Xena: Warrior Princess. But after Death Proof, everybody knew Zoë Bell’s name in her own right. Playing a fictionalised version of herself, Bell absolutely steals the show during the movie’s jaw-slackening climax, in which she clings to the bonnet of a ’71 Dodge Challenger – desperately scrabbling for a leather belt strap to hold on to – as Kurt Russell’s murderous Stuntman Mike chases her (and her friends) down in a high-speed chase across the barren highways of Tennessee.

Shot over six weeks, the chase — which sees its motors reach speeds of up to 100mph — is a petrol-fuelled paean to cinematic car chases, with particular nods to Tarantino favourite Vanishing Point. The sequence’s craziest stunt sees Bell — working alongside stunt coordinator Jeff Dashnaw and fellow stunt performers including Terry Leonard, Tracy Keehn-Dashnaw, and Buddy Joe Hooker — hanging unaided to the Challenger’s hood, as Stuntman Mike’s ‘69 Dodge Charger actively tries to run her off the road. Bell once said that the success of the sequence hinges on the fact that “there is no bullshit, there’s no double, there’s no CGI.” And it’s hard to disagree.

Flying under the overpass

Terminator 2

Film: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Starring: Charles A. “Chuck” Tamburro and a Bell JetRanger chopper

Speed: 60 knots (70mph)
Number of takes: 2

Existing at the nexus where practical moviemaking and CGI wizardry meet, James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day is blockbuster filmmaking at its boldest. Nowhere is this more evident than in the movie’s dynamite third act, which sees the relentless T-1000 (Robert Patrick Martin) chase our heroes down the Long Beach Freeway and under the overpass. Not in a car, or on a bike, but in a full-on Bell JetRanger helicopter. To defer to Cameron’s own director’s commentary, “See this helicopter going under a freeway overpass? That’s a helicopter going under a freeway overpass.”

A then-unheard-of $1 million was allocated to stunts on T2, and veteran stunt and Vietnam pilot Charles A. “Chuck” Tamburro (Predator, Scarface, Blade Runner) more than earned his cut with this low-flying, high-stakes feat of crazed genius. With only five feet of clearance vertically and four feet either side of him, Tamburro flew the ‘copter at a speed of sixty knots — or 70mph — to pull off the stunt. And with the camera crew understandably refusing to risk shooting such a dangerous manoeuvre, Cameron — never one to shirk putting his money where his mouth is — actually shot the sequence himself. Not just once either, but twice!

The corkscrew car jump

The Man With The Golden Gun

Film: The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
Starring: Loren “Bumps” Willert, a ‘74 AMC Hornet X Hatchback

Optimal corkscrew speed: 48mph
Number of takes: 1

Whether on foot (Casino Royale), on skis (The Spy Who Loved Me), or even aboard a speedboat (Live And Let Die), James Bond is a man who can handle a hot pursuit. And rarely has 007 looked cooler than the moment in 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun where Roger Moore’s superspy, tailing Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) in Bangkok, nabs an AMC Hornet X and executes a perfect corkscrew jump across a river in it. “Ever heard of Evel Knievel?” Moore quips. But perhaps the better question would’ve been, “Ever heard of Loren “Bumps” Willerts?” Because he’s the stuntman who made the leap happen.

On 1 June, 1974, with 100 members of the European press gathered along the banks of Thailand’s Klong Ransit canal, Willerts — who’d never even driven the specially-modified AMC before, let alone attempted a jump in it —  hit his computer-calculated 48mph mark and pulled off the dizzying 360° leap in just a single take. And not only does the stunt, designed by crash reconstruction pioneer Raymond McHenry and guided by stunt coordinator W.J. Milligan Jr., look perfect in the finished movie. Willerts’ corkscrew jump also represented the first computer-modelled stunt in movie history.

The airplane zipline


Film: Cliffhanger (1993)
Starring: Simon Crane, a DC-9 plane, and a JetStar jet

Top altitude: 15,000ft
Cost: $1 million

As ‘90s action-thrillers go, Rennie Harlin’s 1993 Sly Stallone vehicle Cliffhanger is certainly one of the more memorable ones. Set amidst the Italian Dolemites, Harlin’s stunt-packed extravaganza sees Sly get into high altitude hijinks with a John Lithgow-led gang of thieves when they drop their ill-gotten monetary gains among the peaks. It’s all cheesier than a buffet at Wallace and Gromit’s gaff – but, to this day, remains the Guinness World Record holder for the most expensive film stunt performed in the air.

British stunt co-ordinating legend Simon Crane (Rogue One, Edge Of Tomorrow) netted himself a cool $1 million for his role in the film’s plane-to-plane heist set piece, in which several cases of cash are exchanged between vehicles across a cable at high altitude. Riding a zip-line between a DC-9 and a JetStar at 15,000ft with only a mask and a couple of concealed parachutes for protection is already enough to make Crane’s stunt an all-timer. But throw in temperatures of -32°C, the 150mph speed both jets had to match so as not to dissever Crane’s limbs, and the last-minute winds that nearly sucked the stuntman into a jet engine, and suddenly that $1 million price tag seems awfully cheap. Good luck to whoever’s charged with topping it on Cliffhanger 2.

Flight of the polecats

Mad Max: Fury Road

Film: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Starring: Darren Mitchell, Sebastian Dickins, and several pimped-up, pole-mounted cars

Pole height: 40ft
Top speed: 50mph

Boasting over 300 stunt sequences and almost as many stunt workers among its ensemble, George Miller’s post-apocalyptic blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road is absolutely stacked with crazy practical setpieces. And the movie reaches new heights — literally — during its breathtaking finale, which sees Max (Tom Hardy), Furiosa (Charlize Theron), and members of the Vuvalini racing towards the undefended Citadel aboard the War Rig. It’s here that — amidst enormous explosions and colossal 75-car chase sequences  — we see the Polecats in action.

Swinging from atop 40-foot poles as their DIY rides hurtle across the desert, the sight of the leather-clad Gas Town settlers bearing down on the War Rig remains one of the most mind blowing images of Fury Road. To make this acrobatic feat of derring-do possible, it took stunt coordinator Guy Norris and his team — stuntmen Darren Mitchell and Sebastian Dickins among them — eight weeks of intense training in the Chinese pole techniques of the Cirque du Soleil. And if that’s not crazy enough for you, then consider this: the whole stunt was inspired by a street performer Norris encountered while working on, of all projects, Babe: Pig In The City (a fellow, albeit totally different, Miller joint). Max Porkatansky; is that anything?

Danger Ehren vs. the bear

Jackass Forever

Film: Jackass Forever (2022)
Starring: “Danger” Ehren McGhehey, Kodi the Kodiak bear

Time spent with bear: 30 minutes
Number of takes: 1

It’s easy to forget that the pranksters behind the Jackass franchise are also among the business’ most driven and fearless stunt performers – a troupe as dedicated to the fine and timeless art of the pratfall as to the well-placed nut-shot. That the gang’s second movie climaxes with ringleader Johnny Knoxville recreating Buster Keaton’s iconic Steamboat Bill, Jr. house collapse stunt isn’t a coincidence — it’s a loving tribute. But even the Great Stone Face’s cool would’ve cracked during Jackass Forever’s craziest stunt, which offers OG cast member “Danger” Ehren McGhehey up as bait for a real actual live bear.

The stunt begins with McGhehey being lured into an empty room under the ruse of being given a lie detector test by Knoxville. However, once there, he quickly finds himself being strapped to a chair, drenched in honey, and loaded up with salmon chunks. Knoxville leaves the room, and then in comes Kodi, a hungry-looking Kodiak brown bear. The madcap stunt’s pièce de résistance is the moment when Kodi — having already emptied McGhehey’s salmon-stuffed trousers — starts eyeing up the strapped-up star’s fist as a potential tasty treat, prompting the bear’s handler to leap into action. It’s chaotic, stomach-churning, and undeniably hilarious. Pure Jackass, then.

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