Stunt performers are Hollywood’s shadow heroes, the backbone of action thrillers who straddle the line between bravery and insanity. Here are 10 of the top - with a few secrets spilled along the slippery, exploding path ahead.
One of the most exciting Fast & Furious franchise stunt sequences has to be the skyscraper jump in Furious 7. Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) steal a Lykan HyperSport car while in the tower, crash it into a nearby building then smash into a third tower. How did they do it? The crew actually did throw a stunt car out of a window (there were 10 cars in all) but nobody flew through buildings. Stunt coordinator Andy Gill said they built multiple 40-foot tall glass and steel enclosures on a soundstage, so a driver could smash through glass walls. The rest was CGI and special effects. Awesome x 7.
Shauna Duggins’ first big-action stunt was hanging off a helicopter in Charlie’s Angels: “I’m 20 years old and I’m told, ‘Hey, just hang from the skid, drop down from your knees, catch Lucy Liu’s character and you’re safetied off,’” Duggins said. She won the World Stunt Award for her aerial work and hasn’t looked back. Duggins has been blown away with Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man 3 and worked as Jennifer Garner’s longtime stunt double on Alias, among her many other gigs. She’s also the first female Emmy-Winning stunt coordinator and has now turned to directing.
When Daniel Craig’s 007 stuntman Bobby Holland Hanton dived into a Ford B-Max the world held its breath. Hanton was dropped from 32 feet above the car at full speed knowing the wind could throw him off course. “Dude, I’m not going to lie. It was hairy,” Hanton later said. It made the rest of his movie work seem tame in comparison - almost. This is a man who jumped between balconies without a safety net in Quantum of Solace and was set on fire in Game of Thrones. In Batman: Dark Knight Rises, Hanton performed a 100-foot freefall where he was caught by a cable. “I remember swinging into the wall headfirst and crunching my neck,” Hanson recalled, but he was still happy to check the stunt off his bucket list.
A martial artist from the age of six, Caitlin Dechelle’s fighting and mastery of weapons brought Wonder Woman to life. She actually has an incredible 95 martial arts world titles to her name. “I learned sword in my first style: Chinese Kenpom,” Dechelle said. “My favorite martial arts trick is a webster (an aerial one-footed forward somersault).” Dechelle is so talented Jackie Chan sought her out to act in Chinese Zodiac. Dechelle also doubled for Ronda Rousey in Fast & Furious 7 - you may have seen her flying over the balcony and crashing into the DJ booth. “It was a really cool stunt to do,” she said.
Ross Kananga certainly earned his $60,000 fee (about $500,000 in today’s money!) for a death-defying crocodile walk in Live and Let Die (1973). He finally nailed the crossing after five terrifying takes. The 007 team stumbled across Kananga’s farm while filming in Jamaica, intrigued by his welcome sign: “Trespassers Will Be Eaten”. Sure enough, one of the crocodiles went straight for Roger Moore. “Well, gunshots went off. Ross Kananga himself got in,” recalled Jane Seymour who played Bond’s Solitaire.
As 007 stunts go, no list would be complete without Bond’s incredible 722-foot bungee jump off Switzerland's Verzasca dam in GoldenEye (1995). It was performed by legendary British stuntman Wayne Michaels who took two weeks to prepare for the six-camera jump. Michaels had to plunge from a suspended platform to avoid banging into the steel pegs studded along the face of the dam (yeow!). The jump, captured in one take, set a world record at the time. “It's pushing the limits of what can physically be done," Wayne told the BBC. Bravo!
If Casey O'Neill is around, heart-pounding, death-defying action can’t be far behind. O’Neill has worked as the stunt coordinator for Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick, among his many other movies. He also doubled for Antonio Banderas as Zorro, spending his days falling down collapsing staircases, sliding down zip wires, slamming into trees, fencing, running from exploding buildings, and - quite literally - swinging from the chandelier. Then he’d do it all again the next day.
Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen) is an American POW in Nazi Germany who tries to flee on a motorbike in The Great Escape (1963) - still one of the all-time great war movies. McQueen did almost all of his own motorbike stunts - including dressing up as a Nazi to chase his own character - but for insurance reasons McQueen couldn’t jump a fence. That stunt was performed by McQueen’s racing buddy Bud Ekins who accelerated his modified TT Special 650 Triumph to 60mph to clear the six-foot fence: “I can remember being up in the air and there was dead silence,” Ekins recalled. He landed perfectly and it became one of the most memorable stunts of all time.
Buster Reeves started studying karate at age 11 and earned a Guinness World Record for ‘most kicks to the head in a minute’ - an incredible 218 kicks, which he then shattered with a new record of 256 kicks. His best stunt? It’s difficult to choose as he’s worked on The Bourne Ultimatum, War of the Worlds, Troy, and Die Another Day, among others. Reeves took home the Taurus World Stunt Award for his fight scene in the Batman flick The Dark Knight. If there was an Oscar for lifetime achievement as a stunt performer, Reeves would likely be high on the nomination list.
Ormer Locklear was a WWI US Army Air Service pilot who became a professional wing walker and aerial stuntman. It’s an unusual speciality but Locklear started wing walking while executing in-flight engine repairs and later made a living jumping from plane to plane. In one stunt, he used his teeth to hang from a plane. Sadly, Locklear died doing what he loved, in a fatal crash while filming The Skywayman. He was 28.