Films That Kill: 45 Films That Had On-Set Deaths



Across the Border (1914)

In a scene involving the crossing of a river, the boat capsized and cast member Grace McHugh was thrown into the river. Camera operator Owen Carter jumped into the river and pulled her out. Unfortunately, what he thought to be a sandbar turned out to be quicksand, and the rest of the cast and crew could only watch helplessly as they were sucked into the earth. This is the first reported death to occur during a film production. The film appears to be lost, if it was ever completed at all.

The Skywayman (1920)

Stuntmen Ormer Locklear and Milton “Skeets” Elliot died performing a dangerous nighttime flying scene. Originally planned to be shot during the day, using camera filters to make it look like night, Locklear insisted that it be shot at night after learning that his contract with Fox Studios was not being renewed, and this was likely his last film. In front of a large crowd of spectators, the two pilots were to do a tailspin down to the earth and pull up at the last second, using large studio lights to signal to them when to pull up. Unfortunately, the lighting cues did not go off, and the pilots crashed, dying instantly. Fox proceeded to rush post-production and release the film as soon as possible, in order to capitalise on the crash. The film is now lost.

The Warrens of Virginia (1924)

After finishing filming her scenes for the day, actress Martha Mansfield retired to her car to rest while still wearing her costume. A match was either tossed into the car by accident, or lit by the actress herself. In either case, her very flammable clothing caught on fire. Despite the efforts of leading man Wilfred Lytell and her chauffeur to put out the fire, Mansfield died the following day . She was 24 years old. The film was edited down to reduce her role, and is now considered lost.

Ben-Hur (1925)

A stuntman was infamously killed during the filming of the chariot race when his wheel broke while turning a corner, throwing him from the chariot. He later died of internal injuries. While this is the only confirmed death on set, there is still debate as to whether the studio covered up the death of extras during the naval battle scene. Many of the extras lied about being able to swim, and after a controlled fire became uncontrolled, some background fell into the water. When actor Francis X. Bushman told the director people were drowning, he reportedly replied ” I can’t help it, those ships cost me $40,000 apiece.”

Noah’s Ark (1928)

During the filming of the “great flood” scene, three extras drowned, one man lost his leg, and numerous people suffered broken bones, when 600,000 gallons flooded the area. This incident lead directly to the creation of safety regulations in film. The original 2 hour 15 minute film is considered lost, though a 108 minute version is in existence.

The Aviator (1929)

While aerial scouting for the film, cameraman Alvin Knechtel and actor/stunt pilot William Hauber died in a plane crash. The film is considered lost.

The Viking (1931)

While trying to film an iceberg for the film (originally titled White Thunder), an explosion rocked the ship that the crew was using. It is unknown what caused the explosion. In all, 28 people were killed in the explosion, the largest loss of human life in film production history. The ship that exploded was the SS Viking, and the production company proceeded to change the name of the film and rush post-production in order to capitalise on the event.

They Died With Their Boots On (1941)

Three people died during the production of this 1941 civil war epic. One extra fell off the back of his horse and broke his neck. A stuntman died of a heart attack on set. Finally, actor Jack Budlong insisted on using a real sabre during a cavalry charge scene. When an explosion knocked Budlong off his steed, he was impaled on his own sword.

The Horse Soldiers (1959)

During a climatic battle scene, stuntman Fred Kennedy fell off his horse and broke his neck, dying from his injury. Director John Ford was so distraught, he refused to film the planned finale of the film. As such, the film ends almost abruptly. According to those on the project, Ford simply lost interest in completing the project due to his grief.

Flower on Stone (1962)

Soviet actress Inna Burduchenko died from third degree burns she suffered from while on set of the Soviet drama. The scene involved the young actress being in a burning barn. The barn collapsed on top of Burduchenko, and she died fifteen days later. She was three months pregnant at the time of the accident.

Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

During the filming of a flight scene of the plane built from a wreckage, stunt pilot Paul Mantz was doing some touch-and-go landings. During the final landing, the fuselage buckled, and the plane broke apart, cartwheeling out of control, killing Mantz

High Jungle (1966)

During the final days of filming this adventure film, actor Eric Fleming passed away. During a scene in which him and costar Nico Minardos were canoeing over the Huallaga River in Peru, the canoe capsized. While Minardos was able to swim to safety, Fleming was swept away in the current and drowned. Fleming, best known for his role on the television series Rawhide, was planning on retiring after the film had wrapped.

Shark! (1969)

Stuntman Jose Marcos was mauled to death by a shark that was thought to be sedated. Originally titled Caine, the production company changed the name of the film and rushed it into theatres in order to capitalise on the infamy of the attack. The attack was completely caught on film, and part of it was released in the final version of the film.

Insee Thong (1970)

This 1970 Thai film lead to the death of producer and star Mitr Chaibancha. The film was the return of his popular character, the Red Eagle. On the final day of shooting, Mitr was to jump, grab the rope ladder of a helicopter, and fly off into the sunset. Mitr missed his mark and was only able to grab the bottom rung of the ladder. The pilot did not see this, and began ascending. Mitr lost his grip, and fell to his death. The accident was caught on film and left in the original theatrical cut of the film. It was later removed from the DVD release, replaced by on screen text paying tribute to the actor.

Catch-22 (1970)

Second unit director John Jordan refused to wear a safety harness while filming a bomber scene in this war film. He fell out of the open tail turrent and fell 4000 ft to his death.

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

Starring and directed by Clint Eastwood, the film is about a former assassin and mountain climber blackmailed into doing one final job. Eastwood made the decision to do the most dangerous filming on the first two days of principal production. Featuring world-renowned climbers as advisers and actors on set, the first days were being filmed at Eiger peak in Switzerland, nicknamed by the locals Morderwand, or “death wall”. On August 13th, 1974, after a light snow started, wrap was called after filming a rock-slide sequence. As the team were waiting for a helicopter, adviser and cameraman Mike Hoover realised they did not get any POV footage for the scene. Hoover and 26-year old climber David Knowles rappelled down to the set to get the footage on Hoover’s handheld camera. After getting the footage, and while packing up the gear, a boulder broke free above the two, crushing Knowles to death and severely injuring Hoover. After the incident, Eastwood almost cancelled the project, but the other climbers insisted the continue, stating that they all knew the risk, and that Knowles death should not be in vain.

Comes a Horse (1978)

Stuntman Jim Sheppard died while filming this western. In a scene where the character Jacob Ewing is supposed to be dragged to his death behind a horse, the horse veered of course and Sheppard’s head was driven into a fence post. The scene made it into the final cut of the film, cutting right before the horse veered of course.

Revenge (1979)

This project was abandoned when director Gordon Parks Jr., pilot Tedd Gugis, photographer Peter Gilfillian, and wildlife camp operator Miles Burton all died in a plane crash when their single-engine charter plane caught fire during take-off. They were on their way to filming near the Tanzanian-Kenyan border.

Steel (1979)

Stuntman A. J. Bakunas died while doubling for actor George Kennedy. A previous world record holder for the longest stuntfall at 70.1 meters (230 feet), Bakunas was wanting to retake his record. The film called for him to do a 96 meter (315 ft) freefall from the Kincaid Towers in Lexington, Kentucky. On September 21st, 1978, with a crowd of about 1000 spectators (including his father), Bakunas performed the fall, reaching speeds of 115 miles/hour (185 km/h). Unfortunately, his airbag split upon impact, and he died from his injuries the following day.

Kolilakkam (1981)

Indian film star Jayan died while filming this Malaysian disaster film. Jayan was famous for performing all his own stunts, and the climatic battle scene involved jumping from a moving motorcycle onto a helicopter in flight. The director was happy with the first take of the stunt, but Jayan insisted on doing another. During the second attempt, the helicopter lost it’s balance and crashed while Jayan was hanging onto the landing skids. He later succumbed to his injuries. A placecard was added to the beginning of the film Deepam, another Jayan picture that was in theatres at the time, informing the audience of his death. Many fans burst into tears and ran out of the theatre upon hearing the news, while others thought it was a marketing stunt for his upcoming films.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

During the final day of filming the bobsleigh sequence in the film, 23-year old stuntman Paolo Rigon was killed when he was trapped under the sleigh.

The Sword and the Sorcerer (1981)

During a 78-foot stuntfall, stuntman Jack Tyree hit the airbag off-centre, leading to a fatal impact. He was in heavy costume and make-up at the time, which may have hindered his vision.

Word War III (1981)

While filming the made-for-TV movie World War III, director Boris Sagal died from injuries sustained after filming for the day. He was partially decapitated after turning the wrong way while exiting the helicopter that was dropping him and some crew off at their hotel, walking into the tail rotor blade of the helicopter. He was replaced by director David Greene.

High Road to China (1983)

A Tom Selleck lead action-adventure film, filming took place in Yugoslavia. En route to the next filming location, a helicopter crashed, claiming the lives of pilot Nigel Thornton, stunt pilot David Perrin, and mechanic Jaron Anderson.

Midnite Spares (1983)

During the filming of this Australian action film, focus puller David Brostoff was killed in an accident at the Parramatta City Raceway. During a racing sequence, a car swerved off course, running Brostoff over and driving him through two fences. The filmmakers were criticized heavily for not having a stunt coordinator or stunt drivers on set.

The Right Stuff (1983)

During a freefall that was recreating the escape of Chuck Yeager from a stalled out plane, stuntman Joseph Leonard Svec died. The real life Chuck Yeager’s flight helmet caught fire during his exit from the plane. In order to simulate this, Svec carried a smoke canister with him during the freefall. Unfortunately, the smoke may have intoxicated and knocked Svec unconscious during the fall. He failed to release his parachute, and fell to his death.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

One of the most infamous and tragic on set accidents in film history. During the filming of a Vietnam war scene for the section “Quality of Mercy”, actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Ye Chin were killed in a helicopter crash. The helicopter was filming overhead when an effect was detonated directly underneath, causing the tail-rotor to fail and the vehicle to crash land directly on top of actors. Morrow and Le were decapitated, while Chin was crushed to death. During the subsequent trial, camera operator Stephen Lydecker testified that director John Landis had “shrugged off” warnings about the stunt, claiming Landis had said “we may lose the helicopter.” It was the first time in history that a director was changed due to a fatality on set. Years of legal battles followed Landis and the production company, though those involved in the accident were acquitted on manslaughter. Following the accident, on set accidents fell 69% over the next four years.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Stunt actor Cliff Wenger Jr. was killed by an explosion while filming in Acapulco, Mexico.

Runaway Train (1985)

Helicopter pilot Richard Holley died when his helicopter hit some power lines on the way to a location in Alaska.

Vendetta dal Futuro (1985)

During the filming of this Italian action film (alternative titles include Hands of Steel, Fists of Steel, Vendetta From the Future, and Atomic Cyborg), actor Claudio Cassinelli was killed in a helicopter crash caused by pilot error in Page, Arizona.

Top Gun (1986)

During the filming of an aerial tailspin, stunt pilot and aerial cameraman Art Scholl died. After going into a planned tailspin, he failed to pull up at the planned altitude. His last words through the radio were “I have a problem….I have a real problem.” He crashed into the Pacific Ocean, and neither Scholl’s remains nor the aircraft were ever recovered.

The Wraith (1986)

During the filming of a chase scene, a camera car was overloaded and unbalanced, causing it to overturn while travelling at high speeds. Camera operator Bruce Ingram lost his life in the accident.

Million Dollar Mystery (1987)

During the filming of a motorcycle race, stuntman Dar Robinson lost his life. The paramedics who had been on set had been dismissed earlier in the day after the major stunt had been completed. During a race scene later in the day, Robinson failed to brake in time, and drove off a cliff to his death.

The Squeeze (1987)

After performing the stunt of driving a car into the Hudson River, veteran stuntman Victor Magnotta drowned. He became pinned down by the vehicle, and was unable to escape.

Gone in 60 Seconds 2 (1989)

During the filming of this uncompleted film, director H. B. Halicki was killed during the largest stunt in the film. A water tower was meant to topple over for the climatic final chase. Unfortunately, a wire holding up the tower snapped unexpectedly, sheering off the top of a nearby telephone pole, which fell on Halicki and killed him instantly. Wishing to preserve his legacy, Halicki’s widow Denice Shakarian Halicki went on to produce the 2000 remake of the original film.

Bikini Island (1991)

During the first day off filming, stuntman Jay C. Currin missed the airbag during a 55-ft cliff fall, dying upon impact with the rocks below.

The Crow (1994)

Arguably the most infamous on set death in history, Bruce Lee’s son Brandon Lee was killed filming his most iconic role. During the filming of a scene in which Lee’s character gets shot at by actor Michael Massee, a defective blank cartridge was fired, discharging left over residue from the barrel into Lee’s abdomen with the force of a real bullet. The production had sent their gun safety expert home early, leaving it in the hands of the prop department, who did not know the proper rules for checking the firearms before and after being handled on set. Lee was rushed to the hospital, but after six hours of surgery, they were unable to save the young actor. He was 28 years old. The film was later completed using script rewrites, stunt doubles, and digital post-production.

Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

Stuntwoman Sonja Davis died performing a 42-foot backwards stuntfall. The airbag, instead of cushioning her fall, bounced her off, slamming into the building and onto the ground. She lingered in a coma for thirteen days before succumbing to her injuries. Davis’ family was present for her death. The family later sued the production company for inadequately providing safety equipment on set. Her last words were asking the stunt coordinator “Are you sure?”

Gone Fishin’ (1997)

Stuntwoman Janet Wilder was killed when a boat made to jump a ramp landed on top of her. Her husband and her father were both injured in the accident as well.

Exit Wounds (2000)

Stuntman Chris Lamon was killed during a chase scene. A van was being dragged upside down across the street, and Lamon was meant to roll to safety, but struck his head upon the exit. He died six days later.

xXx (2002)

Vin Diesel’s stunt double Harry O’Connor was killed during a parasailing action sequence during filming in Prague. O’Connor struck a pillar on the Palacky Bridge, dying instantly. The accident occurred during the second take. The first take, and O’Connor’s final performance, can be seen in the finished film.

CrossBones (2005)

Cinematographer Neal Fredericks, best known for his work on The Blair Witch Project, was killed when the private aircraft the crew was using to acquire some aerial shots crashed. The engine failed, crashing the plane into the sea. Though the other four crew members were able to escape, Fredericks had tied himself to the plane in order to operator the camera easier. He was unable to free himself before the plane was submerged, and drowned.

Jumper (2008)

David Ritchie, a 56-year old set dresser, was struck and killed by frozen debris that was part of the set they were dismantling in wintry conditions.

Midnight Rider (2014)

During the first day of filming, the production (unbeknown to the crew) was illegally filming on a railway trestle. Because of this negligence, second camera assistant Sarah Jones was struck and killed by a train that came across the trestle. Director Randall Miller, production coordinator Jay Sederish, first assistant director Hillary Schwartz, and producer Jody Savin later all plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing. Miller received a ten year jail sentence, while all others involved were sentenced to ten years probation, and being banned from any film position that puts them directly involved in safety procedures. The death of Sarah Jones has launched the Safety for Sarah campaign, which is trying to increase awareness for set safety around the world.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)

Days after an on set motorcycle accident severely injured stuntwoman Olivia Jackson, which left her in a two week coma and caused her left arm to be amputated, crew member Ricardo Cornelius was crushed to death by a US Army issue Hummer that was being used as a prop.
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