The Deadliest Movie Sets

Matt Risley
Yahoo UK Movies Features30 March 2012

No matter the wealth of Health & Safety regulations, professional stunt performers or extreme costume padding, the sad reality is that movie sets are as prone to workplace accidents as everywhere else.

And when there are as many hair-raising, big-budget stunts and risky set-pieces as only Hollywood's finest blockbusters know how, small mistakes can make a huge, tragic difference.

We take a look at some of the movie shoots that led to the untimely deaths of those taking part…

[Related story: Lily Collins injured on set of Mirror Mirror]

The Conqueror (1956) – 90+ Deaths
While Howard Hughes' 1956 warlord action flick swiftly became known as one of the biggest critical and commercial flops of all time, its true tragic legacy was that it indirectly led to the deaths of over 90 people - including John Wayne and Susan Hayward. Out of over 200 people who worked on location in Utah, 91 of them contracted cancer (triple the number that doctors say, statistically, should have in normal circumstances). In nearby Nevada (a mere 220km upwind), the US were carrying out atom bomb tests – and numerous doctors have since attributed the symptoms to radioactive fallout.


Delta Force 2 (1990) - 5 Deaths
80s action legend Chuck Norris has a cinematic CV boasting countless staged death scenes, but the making of ‘Delta Force 2’ proved more dangerous than all of them combined. During filming in the Philippines, a helicopter crashed due to an engine failure, killing five and seriously injuring two others.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) - 3 Deaths
‘The Twilight Zone’ was a series renowned for its creepy, unsettling vibe, but the movie adaptation possesses a far more upsetting legacy than anything its sci-fi creators could ever dream up. Director John Landis was filming an action scene involving a low-flying helicopter, when a misplaced explosive charge detonated, causing the helicopter to spin wildly out of control and instantly kill all three actors in the scene - decapitating actor Vic Morrow, and crushing and beheading young child actors Renee Shin-Yi Chen and My-Ca Dinh Le.

Noah's Ark (1928) - 3 Deaths, 1 dismemberment and numerous injured
Predominately responsible for the safety regulations now standard across the whole movie-making business, 1928's disaster movie lived up to its genre name in every way. During the filming of the movie's epic finale flood scene, the sheer volume of water that was used overwhelmed the cast, drowning three extras, injuring one so badly they had to have their leg amputated, and causing countless other serious injuries and broken limbs. One year later, the industry had stunt safety regulations as standard.


The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) - 1 Death, 1 Seriously Injured
1965's desert-set 'downed plane' drama was scene to an eerily plot-mimicking accident. Stunt pilot Paul Mantz died whilst filming a scene in which he was attempting to land the titular ramshackle plane - everything was going smoothly until the contraption literally broke apart mid-flight, crashing upon landing, and killing Mantz whilst seriously injuring another stuntman.

The Expendables 2 (2012) - 1 Death, 1 Seriously Injured
While there was never any question about ‘The Expendables' sequel being bigger, bolder and more bombastic than the already OTT original, its stunt-heavy schedule came with a cost. While filming a staged explosion on a rubber boat, one stuntman was killed and another left in critical condition.

The Crow (1994) - 1 Death
One of the most infamous accidental deaths of modern times, Brandon (son of Bruce) Lee was gunned down during his big acting break, in supernatural superhero movie ‘The Crow’. His on-screen nemesis Funboy (Michael Masse) fired a gun at Lee as scripted - however, part of a bullet dislodged by a previous blank round was lodged in the barrel when Masse shot, causing it to fire properly (and fatally) with the second blast.

XxX (2002) - 1 Death

It's all too easy for audiences to complain when their favourite leading men and women pass the action reigns to stunt doubles, but Vin Diesel's career could have been a lot shorter had he not used stuntman Harry L. O'Connor. When Diesel's superspy character Xander Cage was required to rappel down a parasailing line onto a submarine, O'Connor stood in. However, a timing mistake led to O'Connor hitting a bridge at high speed and he died instantly. Director Rob Cohen kept an edited version of the footage in the movie to honour O'Connor's work.

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