Raise a glass to the movie stuntmen, who risk their necks (and other parts of their bodies) on a regular basis for the amusement of movie fans. They fall, they burn, they blow up, they crash and much more, all simply to enhance the realism and entertainment value of the movies most people take for granted. Here are seven of the most dangerous stunts in movie history.
Falling Wall, "Steamboat Bill, Jr." Buster Keaton is famous for having performed virtually all of his stunts in his wild comedies from the 1920s. And undoubtedly his most famous stunt of all appears in "Steamboat Bill, Jr.," which features Buster getting knocked all around by a particularly strong hurricane. In one sequence, a huge wall of a house is collapsing, apparently right on to Buster. But instead of running, he just scrunches up his shoulders a bit, allowing the wall to fall right on top of him – save for an open window that just happens to allign itself with Buster perfectly.
The Clock, "Safety Last." Harold Lloyd, is another silent-era comedian famous for his death-defying stunts. And this is his most famous – he's a desperate man who, to impress a girl, scales the side of a building, and ends up hanging desperately on the face of a clock on the top. Some trickery was involved in making Lloyd appear higher than he was, but other than that, this stunt was real. If you can watch it without gasping, you're made of strong stuff. And this was a comedy. To say "they don't make 'em like that anymore" would be a cliche, but they don't, luckily for today's comedians.
Apache Horse Leap, "Stagecoach." In "Stagecoach," stuntman Yakima Canutt jumps from one horse to a team of horses, is shot, and falls in between two horses to the ground, and the entire stagecoach passes right over him. The danger is obvious—one false move and he could have been crushed to death. He made it though and the result is one of the great action scenes of all time.
Full-Body Burn, "The Thing From Another World." The monster in this 1950s classic wreaks havoc on the people in the movie. In order to defeat the monster, they set him on fire. And while it may be just a movie, some poor stuntman had to be one of the first (if not the first) to have his entire body set on fire in order to get the shot. The effect was achieved without any injury, and full-body burns became common in horror movies and thrillers for decades to come.
Chariot Race, "Ben-Hur" features some of the most impressive (and dangerous) stunts in film history. Multiple stuntmen are thrown violently from various chariots, and many seem to just narrowly avoid getting trampled. It's no wonder that the urban legend persists that a stuntman can be seen dying in the movie—a legend that is strongly denied by almost everyone who worked on the film.
Car vs. Elevated Train, "The French Connection." Director William Friedkin is not known for responsibility or caution. No greater evidence of this can be found than the famous chase scene in the movie, where Gene Hackman barrels through New York City in order to stop someone on an elevated train. There are several heart-stopping moments in the movie, particularly if the viewer knows many of the shots in the movie are "real," meaning traffic was not closed off in order to shoot the scene. Some instances of cars that were supposed to narrowly miss oncoming vehicles accidentally collided, many of which you can still see in the movie.
The Long Take, "The Protector." Martial arts superstar Tony Jaa is famous for his incredible action stunts. The most impressive can be found in "The Protector," in which Jaa fights his way up a tall structure, beating up bad guys and throwing them over the railing fighting in and out of several rooms. The impressive part? The entire scene is filmed in one unbroken four-minute take. By the end of it, Jaa is visibly tired, and it's not hard to understand why.