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 and as recently as 2012’s Expendables 2. Here are seven of the worst cases where mistakes and misfortune have collided to produce fatal consequences.
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.
The 2008 sci-fi thriller Jumper is the story of a young man with the amazing ability to teleport and his adventures escaping the clutches of a group of religious fanatics who inexplicably see this power as evil. The film, directed by Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), contains many action sequences and stunts, but the production’s lone fatality occurred during what should be one of the safest activities: striking the set.
Set dresser David Ritchie was helping to dismantle an artificial wall of sand and rock, when a large chunk collapsed onto him. Ritchie was killed instantly, and another crew member was injured in the freak accident.
The delightful and sappy tale of boundless friendship known in America as The Adventures of Milo and Otis is, for many, a fondly remembered 1986 film entirely starring animals. Cat Milo and dog Otis are best friends that help each other out of scrape after scrape, set to adorable frolicking music that fills every heart with glee.
But there are some things you might not know about the film. First, you might not know that it was a Japanese production known as Koneko Monogatari or The Adventures of Chatran. The narration by Dudley Moore was an afterthought for international release, since he was so inexplicably popular at the time.
The other, far more disturbing piece of information is an unconfirmed but widely spread rumor. Animal rights activists in the US and Japan protested the film strongly, claiming that the filmmakers knowingly put animals in danger, perhaps even purposely injuring them. One story includes a crew member breaking a kitten’s legs in order to get a shot of it stumbling.
It may be strange to see this film on a list of films where humans died, but the numbers involved here are quite staggering. If the animal societies are to be believed, as many as 30 Milos and Otises died during filming, including over 20 kittens.
Even though the film was approved by the American Humane Society, none of its officials were present during filming. They tried to investigate what happened, but could not confirm whether or not it was false.
The Conqueror, 1956’s sweeping biopic about Genghis Khan, is often listed among the worst films of all time. Besides the era-approved casting of Caucasian John Wayne as Genghis Khan, the production suffered much worse consequences from another decision.
The exteriors were shot near St. George, Utah, a barren, secluded area that could double for Southern Asia to the undiscerning eye of the time. Unfortunately, St. George lies downwind of one of the desert locations where the US Military had tested nuclear weapons just two years earlier. Over the next few years, 91 of the 220 cast and crew members contracted some form of cancer. 46 died, including John Wayne.
No lawsuits were ever filed, but experts agree that the percentage was high enough to show a clear causal connection between the illnesses and the leftover radiation. Producer Howard Hughes felt so guilty over the incident that he hid all the copies of the film away from the public for nearly 18 years. It is reportedly one of the only things the billionaire recluse would watch over and over in his later years, driving himself further into madness.
Although no one was ever found culpable, the US government is on record as having assured the filmmakers that the area was safe prior to filming.
W.C. Fields famously advised against working with animals or children. No child performer has ever caused the death of a beloved character actor, but any film where cast and crew work alongside large, powerful animals such as bears, elephants, and horses, carries with it an extra element of danger.
1989’s The Return of the Musketeers, a loose adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s sequel Twenty Years After, featured many swashbuckling action standards including swordplay, gunfire, and horseback riding. During a sequence on horseback, English actor Roy Kinnear, best known for his role as Veruca Salt’s father in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, suffered a fall while filming a scene.
The 54-year-old actor sustained a broken pelvis and died in a Spanish hospital of complications the following day. The film’s director Richard Lester was so shaken by the accident that he made a very permanent decision. He never made another film again.