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"I was actually drowning": 10 film sets where things went horribly wrong.

When you're working on a film, things are bound to go wrong from time to time.

But while many actors and stunt professionals aren't strangers to the occasional on-set injury, there are times when mistakes can go very, very wrong. So much so, that some have been left with life-threatening injuries, narrowly escaped death or have sadly passed. 

Watch: The auditions that scored actors their leading roles. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia. 

In the wake of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins' death on the set of Rust, and calls from Juliette Lewis and Kristen Bell for better working conditions in the movie industry, here are 10 examples of when things went terribly wrong on film sets.

The death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

Image: Instagram. 

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In October 2021 on the set of the movie Rust, it was confirmed that a prop gun had been discharged, killing the film's director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, and wounding the movie's director, Joel Souza. 

Alec Baldwin was in character, rehearsing a scene for his new Western film that involved him shooting a gun.

The crew had just returned from lunch, and according to an affidavit obtained by People, director Joel Souza told police that he was not sure if the gun in the scene had been checked since coming back to set.

Per The New York Times, an assistant director handed Baldwin one of the three prop guns and yelled "cold gun!" - an industry term meaning a weapon is not loaded with ammunition, including blanks. 

When the actor fired the prop gun, he struck two people: Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza. 

Halyna Hutchins, 42, the film's director of photography, was shot in the chest and flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where she later died. 

No one has been charged as of yet, but multiple media and social media reports have raised concerns about safety protocols on the set of the low-budget movie and have described a walk-out by several camera operators and their assistants just hours before the accident.

According to a crew member, Tom Cruise saved Elisabeth Shue's life on the set of the film Cocktail.


Elisabeth Shue and Tom Cruise in Cocktail. Image: Buena Vista Pictures. Actor Elisabeth Shue's close call on the set of the 1988 film Cocktail came to light after one of the film's camera operators, Bill Bennett, shared what happened in a Facebook post.

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In the post, which was shared in a group called 'Crew Stories', Bennett explained how Tom Cruise saved his co-star's life by stopping her from walking into a spinning helicopter rotor blade while filming a scene on the beach.

"The rotor is invisible when it is spinning, and if you walk into it, it will kill you instantly. It is a totally 'no go' area when working around helicopters," Bennett said in the post, according to The Sun. 

"So, after we had landed for the second or third time, Tom and Elisabeth came over, I opened the side door of the helicopter and they leaned in to watch the shot on the monitor. The director gave them a couple notes, and Elisabeth, getting quite excited, took off suddenly, running towards the back of the helicopter."

"Tom is a pilot, rated in both airplanes and helicopters, and instantly saw the danger. He lunged after her, but only was able [to] grab her legs, tackling her to the ground."

Bennett went on to say that he could see the "momentary anger" on Shue's face as Cruise rolled her over on the ground as she yelled, "Why did you do that?"

"By that time he is pointing at the tail rotor which is now a couple feet away, screaming at her that she almost died. She turned white, and he pulled her back towards the front of the helicopter and they walked away," he wrote.

"All of us in the helicopter were quite shaken up by the close call, but there was nothing to be said. Tom had, in that instant, truly saved her life."

Isla Fisher nearly drowned in Now You See Me.

Image: Summit Entertainment. 

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Aussie actress Isla Fisher had quite the close call on the set of 2013 film Now You See Me. 

In one scene, her character performs a magic trick where she has to free herself from shackles while submerged in a tank of water. But the stunt got very real when one of her chains got stuck and she started struggling under water. 

"I was actually drowning," Fisher told Chelsea Handler on an episode of Chelsea Lately.

"Everyone thought I was acting fabulously... no one realised I was actually struggling," she added.

"I had to really swim to the bottom; I couldn't get up."

The Aussie actress ended up escaping thanks to a quick-release switch and the help of a nearby stuntman. 

"Who wants to die in a swimming costume?" she joked.

Tom Hanks almost died while filming Cast Away.

Image: DreamWorks Pictures. 

Tom Hanks had a close brush with death while filming his 2000 cult film Cast Away.

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Speaking to the BBC in 2009, the actor explained that a cut to his leg saw him rushed to the hospital during production in Fiji. 

"[Cast Away] put me in the hospital. I was there for three days with something that, believe it or not, almost killed me," Hanks explained.

"I got an infection from a cut and it was eating its way through my leg. I didn't know it, I just thought I had a sore," he continued.

"I went to the doctor who took one look and said, 'I have to put you in the hospital because we have to get this infection out of you before it poisons your blood and you die'."

While Hanks recovered from the infection, production had to be shut down for three weeks.

A Hangover II stuntman nearly died filming a high-speed car chase.

Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. 

The Hangover franchise was incredibly successful: but what many don’t know is the near-fatal accident that happened behind the scenes. 

Australian stuntman Scott McLean, was almost killed during a high-speed stunt that went tragically wrong on the Bangkok set of The Hangover II in 2010.

He was doubling for actor Ed Helms when McLean’s head smashed into a moving vehicle.

His legal representatives noted to the Hollywood Reporter that McLean had been left with “likely permanent brain and physical injuries” which resulted in ongoing seizures, speech impediments, physical impediments, and brain trauma.

The company behind the film, Warner Brothers, are said to have paid his hospital bills.

In a statement at the time they said: “we were shocked and saddened by this accident and have been working closely with Scott and his family throughout his treatment and recovery. We have offered continual support since the accident occurred and we are working together to try and resolve any outstanding issues.”

Michael J. Fox accidentally choked himself in Back to the Future Part III.

Image: Universal Pictures. 

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Fans of the Back to the Future series will remember the scene in the third film when Michael J. Fox’s character, Marty, is hung by a rope. 

On the seventh take of filming the scene, Fox started to get tired and miscalculated the timing of his hand, which was meant to reach between the noose and his neck. As a result, the actor ended up choking himself and passing out for at least 30 seconds. 

"I swung unconscious at the end of the rope for several seconds before Bob Zemeckis, fan of me though he was, realised even I wasn't that good of an actor," Fox explained in his 2002 memoir, Lucky Man.

Charlize Theron was 'a centimetre away from being paralysed' in Æon Flux.

Image: Paramount Pictures. 

Charlize Theron suffered an injury that almost saw her completely paralysed while filming the 2005 film Æon Flux.

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Speaking to news.com.au, Theron explained that she fell and landed on her neck during a stunt for the film. 

"What happened on Æon Flux was a very unfortunate accident, and it was very severe. I was a centimetre away from being completely paralysed for the rest of my life," she told the publication. 

"It definitely woke me up to, okay, you have to be prepared. It was nobody’s fault, but it was just a freak accident where I landed on my neck."

The 45-year-old went on to explain that she had "eight years of pain management, where I just couldn’t get rid of the spasms and the nerve damage". 

"I ended up having a [neck] fusion four years ago, and it was the best thing I ever did. Now my body’s functioning perfectly again," she added.

On the latest episode of The Quicky, host Claire Murphy unpacks Alec Baldwin and the “prop” gun: how dangerous is a movie set? Post continues after audio. 


A professional stuntman died on the set of a music video for Bliss N Eso, involving a shotgun loaded with blanks.

Image. Instagram. 

In 2017, Gold Coast stuntman Johann Ofner was fatally wounded when a prop gun “loaded with blanks” was fired during the final scene of a Bliss N Eso video involving only professional stunt actors.

During the climactic scene, one of the actors pulled both triggers on the shotgun towards Ofner from a metre away. 

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Earlier this year, there was a coronial inquest into Ofner’s death. It found that the weapons were supplied by well-known armourer Warren Ritchie, the former owner of Fireworks Down Under. 

Police at the inquest reached the conclusion that the death was accidental but if a test fire of the shotgun had taken place during the rehearsal, “it was highly likely that this incident would not have occurred”.

If a risk assessment had taken place, the potential harm from firing blank cartridges at someone could have been found, said The Office of Industrial Relations. 

Jason Statham had a near-death experience while filming The Expendables 3.

Image: Lionsgate. 

Jason Statham came face to face with death on the set of The Expendables 3 when he jumped out of a truck before it plunged 60ft into the ocean. 

"He faced death. He was test-driving a three-tonne truck, and the brakes ran out," his co-star Sylvester Stallone told The Mirror in 2014.

"It went down 60ft into the Black Sea and became impaled... luckily we had taken the doors off before," he added. 

Stallone went on to say that Statham's diving skills helped save him.  

"If anyone else had been in that truck we would have been dead because we were all wearing heavy boots and gun belts. We would have drowned. But because Jason is an Olympic-quality diver he got out of it."

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Gerard Butler experienced his 'most dangerous' accident filming Chasing Mavericks.

Image: 20th Century Fox. Gerard Butler was rushed to hospital after being knocked down by giant waves and temporarily pinned down under water while filming the surfing movie Chasing Mavericks.

"I know when it came out, people were like, 'Oh, he got hit down and grazed his knee.' But it was pretty serious," he told The Hollywood Reporter about the incident.

Bulter went on to say that professional surfer Zach Wormhoudt, who was hit by the same waves, said it was one of his "top five wipeouts". 

While the 51-year-old has experienced his fair share of accidents during filming, he said this one was on a whole different level. 

"I've been in car accidents, I’ve been smashed on the edge of a roof - almost went over - I’ve been hit by a lot of stuff, almost lost my eye on my last movie - I was hit by a bullet casing... this was I think by far the most dangerous in my life, I think that was the closest I’ve come."

This article was originally published May 1, 2021, and updated October 27, 2021.

Feature Image: DreamWorks Pictures + Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc + Instagram

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