The transcript below is from the video “Top 20 Actors Who Almost Died On Set” by

Ed Harris (Actor, Producer, Director & Screenwriter):

You don’t have any air supply of your own. They’re going to drag you 200 feet across the bottom of this tank while you’re acting.

Welcome to WatchMojo and today, we’re counting down our picks for the top 20 actors who almost died on set.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1990):

I just knew that if I wanted to live, it was my choice. If I wanted to die, that was my choice too.

For this list, we’re looking at the actors that nearly lost their lives to their roles and the stunts, mistakes and mishaps that nearly paved the way. We’ve excluded brave stunt doubles as they’ve gone into the profession knowing what they signed up for. What onset near-death story did you find most shocking? Let us know in the comments.

#20. Dylan O’Brien – Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

A post-apocalyptic world doesn’t make for a safe work environment apparently. In March of 2016, it was reported that actor Dylan O’Brien had been struck by a car while on set working on the death cure, resulting in multiple injuries. The exact nature of the injuries were not initially revealed to the public but he was rushed to the hospital.

The production was initially put on hold for a little under 2 months before being extended indefinitely. It was close to a full calendar year before shooting resumed. It turns out that Dylan had suffered a facial fracture, concussion and brain trauma as well as other injuries.

Dylan O’Brien (Actor):

You know, it was a really personal and scary thing to go through.

#19. Jackie Chan – Armor of God (1986)

Jackie Chan is well known for performing his own stunts. In this particular one, the stunt resulted in him falling over 16 feet from a tree.

For Armor of God, while attempting to jump from a wall toward a branch, Chan landed hard and in the process his skull collided with a rock. This pushed bone into his brain which required surgery to remove. Everyone’s favorite martial artist still has a hole in his head though it’s been filled with a plastic plug. Luckily Chan seemingly escaped the incident without lasting brain damage. More on his stunt work later.

#18. Isla Fisher – Now You See Me (2013)

Remember when escapologist and magician Henley Reeves pretends to be stuck in a tank of water as piranhas pour in? Well, it turns out pretending to be stuck and being stuck looked very similar. During the filming of this Now You See Me scene, actress Isla Fisher banged on the glass to tell the cast and crew she was stuck, but since that’s what her character was supposed to do no one thought much of it. Thankfully, she managed to free herself in time. Practical effects shouldn’t need to be this real. What happened to movie magic?

#17. Viggo Mortensen – The Lord of the rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Depending on who you asked, Mortensen came close to dying in middle earth twice. Viggo almost drowned doing one of his own stunts which is well established. Aragorn was supposed to be doing a dead man’s float down the river, but the speed of the current coupled with the weight of his costume made for real danger.

Viggo Mortensen (Actor, Author, Musician, Photographer, Poet & Painter):

So, in any case I didn’t float to exactly the same spot they had, and I hit this spot where the current hit this rock and went straight down.

Mortensen was pulled under water and nearly stayed there. But it’s also been reported that a scene where Aragorn deflects the Urukai’s throwing knife was actually a mistake and the deflection was actually self-preservation. Planned or accidental, Viggo’s clearly got some survival skills.

Viggo Mortensen (Actor, Author, Musician, Photographer, Poet & Painter):

I guess I must have eventually kicked against the wall or the rock and got just out of where this current was pushing down. Came out of it and it was really scary.

#16. Kate Winslet – Titanic (1997)

Few things are scarier than a near drowning incident. Can you imagine having to run from a giant wave?

During the Titanic scene in question, Kate Winslet caught her coat on a gate and got pulled underwater. James Cameron continues to dismiss the idea that she was in any real danger, claiming they only let her think she was going to drown. He also claims to know what he’s talking about because he’s almost drowned on many occasions.

Let’s put this incident aside for a second and ask ourselves; Why does James Cameron keep nearly drowning?

#15. Ed Harris – The Abyss (1980)

James Cameron consistently pushes the boundaries of visual effects. But when it comes to water scenes, he prefers the old-fashioned way. Titanic wasn’t the first time Cameron reportedly almost led a cast member to a watery grave, just ask Ed Harris. For one particularly elaborate scene in The Abyss, Harris was dragged without oxygen many feet underwater. When he ran out of air, Harris called to cut but due to complications, he wasn’t given oxygen until he was on the edge of passing out.

According to the actor, the traumatic episode caused him to weep that night. Rumor has it, he also punched Cameron in the face.

Ed Harris (Actor, Producer, Director & Screenwriter):

You don’t have any air supply of your own. They’re going to drag you 200 feet across the bottom of this tank while you’re acting.

#14. Jaimie Alexander – Thor: The Dark World (2013) & Blindspot (2015-20):

This Sif actress got defeated by the most humble of foes in the second Thor flick, a flight of stairs. After tripping over in heels, Jaimie Alexander chipped 11 vertebrae, knocked out her left shoulder, slipped a spinal disc and tore a rhomboid. Don’t worry though, she was largely healed and back to filming within a month.

However, we couldn’t finish this entry without mentioning the injury she sustained on the American crime drama Blindspot. During a Today appearance, the actress needed to consult her smartphone to remember the multitude of injuries she sustained on set.

Jaimie Alexander (Actress):

Herniated discs T3, T4, T89, broken nose, dislocated right shoulder, broken right index finger, broken left foot, left two toes three times.

The only conclusion you can make is, she’s a real life Asgardian warrior.

#13. Sylvester Stallone – Rocky IV (1985)

By the time Stallone was filming the first Expendables movie, he was already in his 60s but he was still doing many of his own stunts and fight scenes. This resulted in an inadvertent neck fracture for the Italian stallion, courtesy of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. It wasn’t his first onset injury, of course. While filming Rocky IV Stallone once asked his mountain of a costar to punch him as hard as he could. His co-star Dolph Lundgren obliged, and sent Stallone to the hospital with a swollen heart. Without medical attention, it’s very likely Stallone would have died from the punch.

#12. Michael J.Fox – Back to the Future Part III (1990)

The Back to the Future series isn’t known for its realism. The time traveling car and flying skateboards made sure of that. Yet, one scene of the trilogy was all too real for lead Michael J.Fox.

In the series final installment, Marty McFly is captured by bandits and hung with a noose until the dock rescues him. If McFly’s squirming looks genuine, it’s because the actor really was being hung. He even passed out for half a minute before he was saved. Luckily director Robert Zemeckis caught on in time that, in the words of Michael J.Fox; he wasn’t that good of an actor.

#11. Kevin Costner – Waterworld (1995)

Waterworld is widely considered to be one of the greatest cinematic failures in the history of the industry. From production through to the box office, everything that could go wrong, did. For one scene, Kevin Costner was strapped to the mast of his character’s boat, 40 feet in the air. When a storm picked up conditions proved too difficult to get Costner down safely. And he was left there to be assaulted by the storm for 30 minutes. The Hawaiian set was regularly hammered by brutal weather. But unable to shield himself from this particular storm, Costner claims it nearly cost him his life.

#10. Halle Berry – Various Films

This Academy award-winning actress has had more than her fair share of onset accidents. While filming Die Another Day, a stunt involving a helicopter resulted in Berry getting shrapnel in her eye, which had to be medically removed. On the set of Gothika, Robert Downey Jr. accidentally broke her arm while shooting a confrontational scene. And on two occasions Berry’s actually suffered head trauma. While shooting Catwoman, lighting equipment hit her over the head. And in 2012, she hit her head on a concrete floor during a fight scene for The Call. Thankfully, neither proved serious.

#9. Johnny Depp – The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone Ranger already had to suffer being panned by audiences and critics. But imagine how much hate it would have received if it had been the cause of Johnny Depp’s demise.

During one horseback riding scene, Depp’s saddle slipped. Johnny held onto the horse’s mane before letting go and falling in front of the horse. Luckily, the horse’s hooves just missed his head, meaning he received only minor wounds from the fall. Obviously, Depp survived and the only thing the film did any permanent damage to, was his career.

#8. Eli Wallach – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Wallach has had his fair share of accidents but they all happened during a single film. While shooting Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, Eli nearly bit the dust a whopping three times. In one instance, he had to be rushed to the hospital after someone left a bottle of acid next to his prop bottle of soda, which he drank. Another time a bound Wallach was put at risk when the horse he was mounted to was spooked and ran off for a mile. And then there was the incident where he was nearly decapitated by the heavy iron steps of a speeding train. Remarkably, he survived, dying at age 98 in 2014.

#7. Jason Statham – The Expendables 3 (2014)

You’d feel pretty safe hanging out with The Terminator, Rambo and Terry Crews, wouldn’t you? In fact when these guys are together, the biggest fear might be that the continent they’re on could run out of protein. Yet, Jason Statham did nearly die doing a stunt for The Expendables 3. While driving a truck, the brakes gave out and the actor drove off a cliff into the black sea. The transporter’s driving may have let him down but fortunately, his expert level diving skills helped him escape the wreckage and swim to shore.

#6. Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad (2008-13)

Did you know that Jesse Pinkman was supposed to be killed off in the first season of Breaking Bad? The idea was ditched early on because you know, Jesse is awesome. But the writers may never have had the chance to save Jesse if Aaron Paul wasn’t a perfectionist. In episode 6 of the first season, Paul asked to change the position where he was standing. This was very lucky because a boulder fell down off the roof of an RV and landed exactly where Aaron had been standing during the filming of the scene.

#5. Martin Sheen – Apocalypse Now (1979)

An infamously troubled shoot, the cast and crew of the critically acclaimed film, have said that much like Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz, many involved in the production kind of lost their minds. Those involved partied very very hard, getting lost in the jungle atmosphere and losing themselves in their roles. Martin Sheen, who was already hitting the bottle, began to lean even more heavily into alcohol throughout the high-stress shoot.

Ultimately, his body responded in the form of a heart attack and nervous breakdown. He survived, but the entire experience would continue to haunt him for years.

Martin Sheen (Actor):

…that if I wanted to live, it was my choice. If I wanted to die, that was my choice too.

#4. Tom Hanks – Cast Away (2000)

Tragedy nearly struck when actor and generally nice bloke Tom Hanks cut himself on the set of this adventure drama. While only a minor cut, it quickly became infected. When he finally went to the hospital, a doctor told him the cut could poison his blood. So Hanks was kept in the hospital.

This incident set filming back three weeks, but Hank’s fully recovered and we’re certainly glad he didn’t die. Who would have broken the news to Wilson?

#3. Jim Caviezel- The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Shooting in the countryside outside of Rome, the cast and crew of The Passion of the Christ continued to work through some less than favorable weather conditions. While recreating the sermon on the mount, Jim Caviezel was literally struck by lightning. He walked away unscathed but he clearly got off lucky. Roughly 24,000 people die from lightning each year although very few of them are actors.

Assistant director Jan Michelini, who was standing beside Caviezel also got struck, although for him it was the second time in production. Think somebody was trying to tell them something?

#2. Tom Cruise – The Last Samurai (2003)

The Last Samurai is about as close to two hours of pure sword porn as a film can get. Combine this with the fact that Tom Cruise likes to do his own stunts, and it seems like he was bound to get hurt on its set. In one scene, Cruise and his Japanese co-star were seated on mechanical horses. These two horses were hurtled towards each other, and his fellow actor’s sword missed Cruise’s neck by an inch, thanks to his martial arts skills. Still, that was relatively tame. Another fight scene featuring four attackers, apparently had 70 instances in which Cruise could have been wounded.

Before we unveil our #1 pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

–  Charlize Theron – Eon Flux (2005)
–  Margaret Hamilton – The Wizard of Oz (1939)
–  Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Premium Rush (2012)
–  Brandon Fraser – The Mummy (1999)
–  Matthew Fox – Lost (2004-10)

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#1. Jackie Chan – Police Story (1985)

This action legend has put life and limb on the line enough times to earn his stunt work top 10 lists of its own. Of course, with that sort of commitment comes serious risk. One of Chan’s scariest on-set moments came while filming Police Story, which he wrote and directed himself. The 1985 film included a scene where he had to slide down a 70-foot pole surrounded by string lights. For his trouble, he received second-degree burns, a dislocated pelvis and two damaged vertebrae in his spine. Chan not only survived but also went on to film countless other awe-inspiring feats.

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