Nowadays, when you go see a big movie, you assume everything is going to be computer animation and greenscreen, and nothing is real. But a lot of the biggest, craziest movie stunts, past and present, have been entirely practical. Here are some of the most complicated stunt sequences that were created in reality.
Terminator 2: Helicopter Chase
The helicopter chase in Terminator 2 was so dangerous that the camera-man refused to film it. James Cameron ended up filming the sequence himself with the help of a camera car driver. The nighttime chase scene was not only incredibly dangerous, but also complicated to orchestrate. Crew laid out ten miles of electric cable to light the scene. At times the helicopter was only a few feet off the ground, and it really did fly under the overpass on the Los Angeles-Long Beach Terminal Island Freeway. It took three takes to film the helicopter crash. Cameron has called it one of his most exhilarating moments as a director. The movie's budget was record breaking, the largest at the time. $51 million of the budget was used for stunts and special effects, including the chase scene.
Inception: The Spinning Hallway
Christopher Nolan is known for his preference for practical stunts over CGI. He works diligently to ensure that his cast and crew and pull off whatever crazy scheme he's dreamed up. Inception is full of awesome practical effects, but the spinning hallway is one of the biggest and most complicated stunts ever. What began as a 40 foot corridor grew to over 100 feet. Engineers worked for weeks to build the set, which was suspended inside eight 30-foot-diameter rings. Each ring was rotated using an electric motor. Every detail of the design had to be perfect, or else they would have had major problems with vibration and timing while the actors (not stuntmen!) were filming. 500 crew members participated in the scene. The cast was given 2 weeks to rehearse, overcoming the challenges of timing and motion sickness in order to pull off one of the coolest scenes we've seen in years. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was right when he said: "There's no substitute for real human energy and performance."
Logan's Run: The Carousel Sequence
The stunts during the Carousel sequence are considered to be some of the most complex flying wire stunts ever done for a movie. It involved 36 stunt people being lifted in sync with the revolving floor. The original set up for the stunt led to tangled wires, and every person had to be untangled individually, leading to a total redesign of the equipment And some of the shots for this sequence had to be filmed upside-down, adding to the complexity of the shoot.
The Amazing Spider Man: The Web-Slinging
Sam Raimi's Spidey swung using computer-generated effects, but Marc Webb went a different direction. When stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong told people he wanted to make our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man actually swing they didn't believe it could be done. Getting him to swing from building to building in New York City would be no easy task, even with a talented team of stuntmen and engineers behind him. But Armstrong succeeded, and in most of the swinging scenes in The Amazing Spider-Man, there's a real person in the suit. Stunt directors Vic and Andy Armstrong revolutionized the process for the film by building new rigs for Spider-Man to swing from. Armstrong describes it as "a little like cracking a whip." The 200-300 foot machines consisted of a track being pulled by a winch with a stuntman on the end of the line, being cracked like a whip. One of rigs was built over hundreds of feet above Riverside Drive in Harlem, and they used it to swing a man through traffic down the street. Skilled stuntmen worked for months with the rig to make the stunts look as real as possible.
Transformers 3: Base Jumping and Car-Crushing
Not everything in Transformers 3 is CGI. The death-defying BASE jumping scene is one of the coolest moments in the franchise, and it's all real. no green screen, no wires, just a couple of guys flying around Chicago in wing suits with cameras. Michael Bay saw a 60 Minutes special featuring professional skydivers using wingsuits to soar through the air like flying squirrels. He knew he had to have it for Transformers 3, and he made it happen. In order to film the scene where they BASE jump off the Sears (WIllis) tower they shut down parts of downtown Chicago. In addition to that insanity, Michael Bay also destroyed 532 cars while filming the movie, a record breaking number. But don't fear, these cars were never meant to survive. Bay says: "These are cars that are flood damaged. And they apparently — car companies give it to us because by law, they have to be crushed. So I am the perfect guy to do that."
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: Free Climbing
For Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Cruise did many of his own stunts, including dangling off the tallest building in the world, the Burj Kahlifa in Dubai. The stunt wasn't as simple as having Tom Cruise climb a building. The team brought a special replica of the building from from Dubai to Prague so they could work out the kinks in their plans. They even used 50-foot-tall lights to replicate the temperature they expected the building to be on the day of shooting. The stunt team and Cruise rehearsed the scene for 200 hours before going to Dubai — an incredible amount of practice for a scene that lasts a mere six minutes and forty-five seconds. In order to film the scene, they had to design special safety equipment for the IMAX cameras —because when you're 2,723 feet above the ground you don't want any risk of falling. They also custom-built a wind machine that was stuck out a window to blow on Cruise's clothes and hair. He was attached to a safety wire, but when you're 123 stories up a cable the width of a piano wire doesn't give much comfort. Other safety measures included 2 full time engineers on set and all wires and tools being sent to an engineering facility to be brake-tested. Thanks to all that careful planning and preparation, it only took eight days to shoot the sequence. Stunt coordinator Gregg Smrz said of the experience: "I think I probably aged 10 years."
The Dark Knight Rises: The Aerial Hijack
From the first scene The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan tries to top the insane stunts in The Dark Knight. The movie opens with an incredible aerial hijacking. When Bane is held captive on a government plane, his henchmen rappel down from another plane to free him. They then destroy the plane, making it look like an accident. Nolan and his crew spent three days filming the stunt above the Cairngorm Mountains in the Scottish Highlands. After some initial scenes were shot, the smaller plane was replaced with a glider-mock up of the plane that had been rigged for the wings and tail to pop off. After the stuntmen were safely off the glider and back on the larger plane they cut it loose, letting it smash to the ground. Stuntman Dave Brown says that they had to use a special helicopter pilot while filming because: "When you get to that level of budget there's only a certain few pilots they allow to fly. For a film the size of The Dark Knight Rises it costs around £100,000 a day to film with full cast and crew, so they only use known pilots."
All the James Bond Movies: So Many Broken Records
James Bond films are known for their record-breaking stunts. Many of them are in the Guinness Book of World Records, while others just shock us with their daring and expense. The highest bungee jump from a structure in a movie occurred in GoldenEye. Stuntman Wayne Michaels dropped 759 feet at the Verzasca hydroelectric dam. Live and Let Die holds the record for longest speedboat jump in a film. Bond's speedboat leaps over a road, jumping an unbelievable 120 feet. Rick Sylvester holds the highest ski base jump on film record for the ski jump in The Spy Who Loves Me. At the time the ski jump sequence was the most expensive stunt ever filmed. It cost $500,000 and $30,000 of that went to Sylvester for daring to attempt the jump. Looking at more recent Bond films, the most cannon rolls in a car record occurred during filming for Casino Royale. Stuntman Adam Kirley rolled an Aston Martin seven times with the assistance of a nitrogen cannon. The amazing train chase scene in the beginning of the most recent Bond film, Skyfall, deserves a mention. Daniel Craig as Bond chases an assailant over a train crossing Turkey. With only a few exceptions, what you see in the movie is what actually happened during filming. No one can doubt that Craig is devoted to his role as Bond.
Iron Man 3: Air Force One Rescue
The film-makers enhanced the Air Force One scene with CG, but the foundation of the scene was all real. The Red Bull stunt team worked with the Iron Man cast and crew to pull off what Executive Producer Louis D'Esposito called "by far bigger than any kind of a sequence that's ever been done like that before." They spent two months building a testing hidden parachutes. In total they did six hundred parachute jumps and over four hundred eighty hidden parachute jumps. Kevin Fiege said of the sequence: "In our movies, there are certain things that you can do for real and there are certain things that that you do with CG. And while we love CG and we'd never be able to make a movie without it, if there's something that you can do practically, it's usually better to attempt to do it that way. This was by far the biggest practical stunt scene we've ever done in any of our films, bigger than anything in the previous Iron Man films and bigger than anything in The Avengers."
The Matrix Reloaded: The Freeway Chase
The second Matrix movie filmed for three months on a 1.5-mile stretch of freeway that they built from scratch on an old airplane runway at a former Alameda Naval Air Station. This movie destroyed 300 cars donated by GM and required insane amounts of synchronicity to allow stuntwoman Zoe Bell to ride between trucks ona motorcycle and avoid getting smushed.
Want more crazy stunts? Check here.