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Actors Who Showed Off Their Actual Skills In Movies

Updated October 8, 2020 14.3k votes 2.2k voters 156.3k views15 items

List RulesVote up the most impressive scenes where you didn't realize the actor wasn't faking it.

Most of the time, audiences can settle into a cinematic experience safe in the knowledge that what they’re seeing on screen isn’t real - Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t really a robot from the future, and Chris Evans isn’t really a frozen super soldier from the past. But sometimes, the action on screen is more real than most realize, like when it’s Denzel Washington playing basketball against a pro - and succeeding - in He Got Game, or Daryl Hannah handing Harrison Ford an absolute beating with her gymnastics skills in Blade Runner.

Some actors, as it turns out, have talents and skills beyond the portrayal of fictional characters - and most relish the opportunity to show off their multifacetedness on the silver screen.

  • When Bill Murray’s Big Ern bowls three strikes in a row and earns himself a turkey in Kingpin, the reaction of the crowd is ebullient and enthusiastic. It’s also authentic, as it turns out, because they were witnessing Murray actually bowl three straight strikes, and doing so on his first attempt.

    As co-director Bobby Farrelly recalled:

    [W]hen we got to the final part and Bill had to get three strikes in a row, I figured it could take 10 to 15 rolls. It’s gonna take a while for him to get three strikes. But I explained the situation to the audience: "It’s the last frame, he needs a turkey here. And so on the first one, you guys clap big, and then the second one, you clap bigger, and on the third one, you explode because he needs all three." Of course, Bill gets up there: first one, strike. Everybody goes nuts. Second one, strike, the place goes crazy. Third one, strike. Three in a row. They were really blown away. Like, Bill just threw three strikes in a row when he had to and they erupted. It was not fake at all.

    Even more impressive is the fact that, if Murray himself is to be believed, he didn’t practice at all before filming the scene. 


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  • Tom Holland Really Can Do What is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Actors Who Showed Off Their Actual Skills In Movies
    Photo: Spider-Man: Homecoming / Sony Pictures Releasing

    Tom Holland scored the role of Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe primarily on the strength of his acting - but the fact that he can actually jump, flip, and tumble around like Spider-Man certainly didn’t hurt his chances. 

    A trained dancer and gymnast fresh off a stint as Billy Elliot, Holland inserted some gymnastics into his audition tapes, recalling:

    They gave me two scenes... and I basically did like a somersault into frame, and then a somersault out of frame, because I was like, "They may never see this, but if they do, I need them to know that I’ve got some gymnastic abilities and stuff."

    The gambit worked, as evidenced by Kevin Feige’s effusive praise for Holland’s athletic abilities:

    The notion that Tom could do it and not only be such an amazing Peter Parker but also the best Spider-Man stunt person ever... he’d be giving tips to the stuntmen on how to pose and land!

    Holland, of course, is careful to give credit where credit is due, noting:

    I did as many [of the stunts] as I could, but there are some things legally that I couldn’t do. There were stunt doubles who were all very, very talented guys who really supported me throughout the process. Whenever there was a stunt that I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable about, they would step in and show me how to do it, and coach me through the process.


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  • Keanu Reeves Got His Big Break is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Actors Who Showed Off Their Actual Skills In Movies
    Photo: Youngblood / MGM/UA Entertainment Company

    Growing up in Yorkville, Ontario, young Keanu Reeves demonstrated a proficiency for Canada’s preferred sport. To be more accurate, Reeves was a star goaltender nicknamed “The Wall” who was good enough to receive a tryout offer from a major junior club - but he gave it up to pursue a career in acting. As Reeves tells it:

    I loved hockey, but I never wanted it to become too serious. I never said, "I'm going to play for the Leafs." I just had this mental picture of a dressing room, guys with steam coming off their backs. It wasn't me.

    Then, after a handful of cameo appearances on television, Reeves’s story came full circle, and he got his big break because of his hockey skills. Reeves was cast as Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze’s goalie in the infamous hockey drama Youngblood, where his trademark deadpan deliverance probably earned him a few more lines than was originally intended. 

    It wouldn’t be too long after that Reeves would land a leading role in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and he’s been a Hollywood A-lister ever since - and all because he knew how to stop a puck. 

  • There may be no more famous swordfight in cinema than the one between Mandy Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya and Cary Elwes’s Westley in The Princess Bride. Patinkin came into the scene with a leg up, having studied fencing at Juilliard years later, but that didn’t save him from a grueling schedule of swordfighting rehearsal.

    To get the scene just right, Patinkin and Elwes trained for more than eight hours a day for two months, pouring all of their off-set time to the craft, learning the entire sequence backwards and forwards, and even being asked to learn each other's moves. And, yes, they both had to learn to fight left-handed. Soon, fencing became a way of life for both Patinkin and Elwes.

    Patinkin later reminisced:

    Every time [director] Rob [Reiner] said those words, "Cut. Print!", I was devastated, because that meant we weren’t going to do that part of the sword fight again.

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