Real accidents happen on the sets of big budget movies, but most of them don't cost the cast or crew their lives. Film productions follow a number of regulations to keep performers and crew members safe, but while shooting scenes of manufactured peril, performers sometimes put themselves in situations where the slightest miscalculation can quickly become deadly. Some occurred on nausea-inducing sets; others happened in seemingly commonplace situations.
What are some examples of people dying on movie sets? People have lost their lives on films as early as 1928's Noah's Ark. Here are some of the worst cases where mistakes and misfortune have collided to produce fatal consequences.
Alex Proyas's critically approved and cult-embraced adaptation of James O'Barr's The Crow tells the story of a man who rises from the grave to take revenge. A year after his death, rock musician Eric Draven is granted life and power by a mysterious crow; Eric uses his abilities to hunt down and kill the men that murdered him and his fiancee.
The role, a blend of gallows wit and martial prowess, should have skyrocketed actor Brandon Lee to superstardom. Instead, a series of incidents and a single misplaced slug cost the star his life. For a scene in which a character loads a gun, where a film would normally use fake bullets, the crew instead used real bullets, believing they had removed the possibility of danger by dumping the gunpowder propellant. Unfortunately, they left the primer attached, so when the trigger was pulled, the gun's firing pin shot the bullet slug into the gun's barrel.
The character of Eric's death scene flashback was saved for the end of production, reportedly so Lee could spend the last few days of production out of his intricate makeup. So when the time came for the villains to shoot blanks at Lee, the slug was already stuck in the barrel. The bullet shot out and struck Lee in the stomach, hitting his spine. Lee was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late, and Bruce Lee's son lost his life on the set of the film that made him famous.
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone is widely regarded as the greatest science fiction anthology of all time. 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie was John Landis and Steven Spielberg's love letter to the groundbreaking show.
Along with co-directors George Miller and Joe Dante, Spielberg and Landis adapted three of the series' best-known episodes and created one semi-original story. Landis's segment was a loose update of the episode "A Quality of Mercy," and starred actor Vic Morrow as a bigot forced to spend a night in the shoes of some of his favorite whipping boys.
During a scene in which Morrow was being attacked by American soldiers in Vietnam, some unknown error caused a helicopter to crash. The helicopter's main rotor decapitated Vic Morrow, along with child actors My-ca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen.
John Landis and four others were later charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter due to the illegal hiring of the children. After a very public trial where the court was shown footage of the accident, the jury decided that Landis did not expect the scene to be dangerous, and all defendants were found not guilty.
Top Gun is a romantic action film focused on the macho, highly competitive, overtly homoerotic pilots in a naval air squadron. The movie was one of the biggest hits of the 1980s and helped turn Tom Cruise into the most famous movie star in the world at the time.
Obviously, the film's in-air dogfights between all the awesome fighter jets weren't real, but there was no way to fake the shots of US fighter jets taking off, flying side by side, and doing barrel rolls and other stunts without using unconvincing miniatures. Skilled pilots were brought in to perform the aerial acrobatics.
Even though the pilots were trained professionals, and every precaution was taken to keep the crew as safe as possible, flying has inherent dangers that the performers flirted with every day. Pilot Art Scholl, while performing a flat spin, was unable to recover from his maneuver and ended up accidentally crashing his jet because of it.
The film was then dedicated in Scholl's memory.
Actor Alex Baldwin discharged a prop gun that led to the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust in New Mexico on October 21, 2021. Director Joel Souza was wounded. Authorities with the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office said they were investigating the incident and trying to determine "what type of projectile was discharged."
No charges have been made in the incident, and Baldwin, both a star and producer of the film, has been cooperating with authorities. Baldwin released a statement the day after the incident:
There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I'm fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.