Tragedy can strike anywhere, even in Hollywood. In fact, it sometimes happens on film sets. Even though all sets have serious safety precautions in place, horrible accidents still happen and sometimes actors, crew members, or both, are killed. Here is our list of some of those tragic stories when people died on a film set.
These entries are hard to read, but it is important to remember the victims who died doing the work that they loved and dedicated their lives to.
The most notable death in recent years on a movie set is, of course, the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust. Hutchins was killed when actor Alec Baldwin fired what he thought was a prop gun at the camera. Tragically the gun was real and fired a single projectile. Hutchins was shot in the chest and the bullet traveled through her and director Joel Souza was struck in the shoulder. Despite life-saving efforts, Hutchins was killed.
Stunt performers are always at risk on film sets. The brave men and women who fill in for the stars on stunts put their lives on the line all the time, sometimes with tragic consequences. For Joi “SJ” Harris, this was the case while filming Deadpool 2. Harris was doubling for Zazie Beetz in a motorcycle chase scene when she lost control and crashed. The crash killed her.
The Right Stuff
Stuntman Joseph Leonard Svec, a military veteran and skilled parachutist was killed performing a jump during the filming of The Right Stuff in 1983. Part of the stunt involved smoke, and Svec was rendered unconscious by it. He failed to open his chute and was killed when he hit the ground.
Tom Cruise is famous for doing his own stunts, but during the filming of American Made, it was stunt pilot Alan D. Purwin, and his co-pilot Carlos Berl who were killed in a plane crash as they were returning to an airport after filming concluded.
Blade Runner 2049
Construction sites anywhere are dangerous, and film sets are no exception. In 2016, while breaking down a soundstage used for Blade Runner 2049 in Hungry, a construction worker was killed when the stage collapsed on him.
The Expendables 2
The Expendables franchise is known for its over-the-top stunts, explosions, and action sequences. It was just such a sequence during the shooting of The Expendables 2 that killed a stuntman and critically injured another. While the second unit was filming an explosion, stuntman Kun Lieu was killed and fellow performer Nuo Sun was hospitalized after something went wrong and they were too close to the pyrotechnics.
The Dark Knight
Director Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has some of the best action sequences ever put to film, but sadly, one of those scenes came at a deadly cost. While filming a car chase scene for The Dark Knight, cameraman Conway Wickliffe was killed when the SUV he was filming crashed into a tree.
Vin Diesel did a lot of his own stunts in XXX, but one he didn’t do had tragic consequences. Stuntman Harry O’Connor was killed while doing a second take for the parasailing stunt on a river in Prague. O’Connor struck a pillar on a bridge over the river and died, but he did successfully complete the stunt on the first take, which was used in the movie. XXX is dedicated to O’Connor.
Proof Of Life
Actor David Morse was lucky, but, unfortunately, his stand-in, Will Gaffney, was not. In a scene Morse was scheduled to film, a truck Gaffney was riding in went over the edge of a cliff while filming Proof of Life in Ecuador. Morse had left the production for a few days to visit his dying stepfather when the accident occurred. Morse praised Gaffney and his family and the film was dedicated to the young stand-in.
Stunt pilot Art Scholl was one of the best in business when he signed on to work as a pilot and cameraman for Top Gun. While filming a “flat spin” scene in the movie, he lost control and his plane crashed into the ocean. Scholl’s body was never recovered and the film is dedicated to him. Sadly, it was a case of life imitating art, as it was the same kind of spin that killed Goose (Anthony Edwards) in the movie.
Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner‘s movie, The Bodyguard was an enormous hit, helped by the huge success of the song “I Will Always Love You” from the movie’s soundtrack. Production came at a cost, however, as a crew member was killed during the filming when he was crushed between two lighting cranes.
Gone In 60 Seconds 2 (1989)
1974’s Gone In 60 Seconds is a b-movie cult classic. It inspired the 2000 remake starring Nicolas Cage, but the director and creative force behind it, Toby Halicki was tragically killed filming a sequel in 1989. Halicki was killed filming a dramatic stunt in the movie when a telephone pole fell on him, crushing him. The sequel was never completed, but his widow was a producer on the Cage-led remake.
Director and stuntman Bennie Dobbins was an accomplish stunt coordinator with big credits to his name, including The Running Man and Commando. It was on another Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Red Heat, that Dobbins died after suffering a heart attack while filming in Austria at age 55.
Twilight Zone: The Movie
One of the most infamous on-set deaths happened during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Actor Vic Morrow and the two child actors he was working with, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, were killed when a helicopter stunt went wrong and the helicopter crashed on top of them. Director John Landis and other members of the crew were charged with involuntary manslaughter but were acquitted at trial. Like other films on this list, production continued despite the deaths.
The Squeeze is justifiably not remembered as one of Michael Keaton’s best films. It’s not a very good movie, and worse, it’s most infamous today because of the death of stuntman Victor Magnotta, who was killed performing a car crash into the Hudson River. Magnotta was trapped in the car underwater and drowned.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
The Rambo franchise has produced a fair amount of injuries throughout the years, but in one case, a special effects specialist was killed. Clifford Wenger was an industry veteran, but in a effect gone wrong, he was tragically killed while filming Rambo: First Blood Part II. During an explosion, he lost his footing and fell into the water in Mexico where he was submerged for five minutes before the crew could get to him.
For Your Eyes Only
Even the James Bond series isn’t immune to tragedy. While filming For Your Eyes Only, during one of the most exciting sequences in the movie, a bobsled being driven by stuntman Paolo Rigon overturned on the track with Rigon trapped underneath. Rigon succumbed to his injuries.
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Tora! Tora! Tora! tells the dramatic story of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. While rehearsing, pilot Guy Thomas Strong was killed when his plane crashed as he and other pilots depicted the Japanese raid. His plane dove nose-first into a sugar cane plane.
Second unit director John Jordan was a daring filmmaker. While filming You Only Live Twice, Jordan lost a foot when he lost his footing and it fell into the rotors of a helicopter during the famous “Little Nellie” scene. Undeterred, he was again filming a flying sequence for Catch-22 when he fell out of the airplane he was filming from.
Howard Hughes’ epic 1930 film Hell’s Angels was groundbreaking. It was, in a way, the first action movie. Production, however, was dangerous. In a time before there were many rules and laws around this kind of thing, it seems like the production flew very much by seat of it’s pants and as a result, three pilots were killed in the filming, and Hughes himself sustained serious injuries when a plane he was flying crashed.
Brandon Lee’s death while filming The Crow is possibly the most notorious of all time. Lee, son of kung fu legend Bruce Lee, was killed when a projectile was fired from a weapon on set at the actor. Because the gun was not properly loaded in rehearsal, a bullet was stuck in the barrel of the weapon and when a blank was fired, it pushed the stuck bullet through the barrel and into Lee’s stomach, killing him shortly after.
Vampire In Brooklyn
The Eddie Murphy movie Vampire in Brooklyn is not one of the comedian’s finest movies, nor was the production of it, either. In one of the more terrifying examples on this list, stuntwoman Sonja Davis fell 42 feet to her death in a falling stunt gone wrong. According to a lawsuit filed by Davis’ mother, the airbag Davis was supposed to land on actually made her bounce high in the air, slam into the building she was falling from, and land back on the ground, killing her.
A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
No one would expect a death on a movie set, but especially not a movie about the life of Mr. Rogers. Still, soundman James Emswiller died during the production of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood when he had a heart attack and fell off a balcony during filming.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter sounds like it had a total nightmare of a production. First, stuntwoman Olivia Jackson was almost killed in a motorcycle stunt gone wrong, and then Ricardo Cornelius was crushed and killed by a Humvee later in production.
The Lone Ranger
The Lone Ranger was not a great movie, though at least it was saved by its ending. Sadly, one person died while the film was in production. A diver named Michael Bridger suffered a heart attack and drowned while cleaning a large water tank that was used for filming.
Midnight Rider: The Gregg Allman Story
Sarah Jones was working as a second unit camera operator on the production of Midnight Rider: The Gregg Allman Story when she was struck and killed by a freight train on a train trestle in 2014. Other crew members were also injured in the accident. The film’s director, Randall Miller, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison because of the accident. A producer was also convicted. The silver lining to come out of this horrendous accident is the Safety For Sarah movement, which has highlighted the dangers some crew members face on film sets. The film was never finished.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
A crew member helping strike a set for G.I. Joe: Retaliation was killed when the scissor lift he was working on tipped over and caused his death. Yet another example of how things one wouldn’t think would be all that dangerous can turn deadly in a hurry.
Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection
In the ’80s, Chuck Norris made a whole bunch of B action movies, including Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection. Tragedy struck the production when a helicopter carrying crew members crashed, killing all five on board.
There may be more notorious a production than director Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. The film has become more legendary for the insane stories about the filming than for the movie itself. Numerous injuries occurred during the filming, and one indigenous man was killed when he drowned.
The Sword And The Sorcerer
1982’s The Sword and the Sorcerer has become a cult classic over the years, and even in its time was one of the most profitable films of the year. Shot on a shoestring budget, it sadly had deadly consequences when a stuntman named Jack Tyree performed a fall from an 80-foot cliff in Los Angeles but missed the airbag and was killed.
The Final Season
2007’s The Final Season, starring Sean Astin, Powers Boothe, and Rachel Leigh Cook, is a feel-good story about a high school baseball team. Sadly, during filming, cameraman Roland Schlotzhauer was killed while shooting aerial shots for the film. The pilot and a producer were injured in the accident but recovered.
Braddock: Missing In Action III
Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action franchise was a staple on late-night cable in the 1980s, but it came with a tragic backstory for Braddock: Missing in Action III. While filming in the Philippines, four crew members were killed in a helicopter crash.
Stunt performers and other crew members generally operate in safe conditions and take their safety very seriously. Sometimes, however, things go wrong. We can only hope that all these tragic deaths can teach the industry how to be safer on set. It’s also long past time that stunt performers get their own category at the Oscars, as many have called for, for years.