Major accidents that happened on the set of a film

Published 6:00 am Friday, January 21, 2022

Warner Bros.

Major accidents that happened on the set of a film

The October 2021 death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film “Rust” has focused industry and public attention on the safety of film sets.

There are many risks involved in a film’s production posed by the set, environment, weapons used as props, and stunts, among many others variables. One of the barriers to better safety measures is the inherent fragmentation of the industry itself, as laws and guidelines vary wildly by location. To look a bit deeper into these incidents, Stacker compiled a list of 10 major accidents that took place on a film set using various entertainment reporting sites.

Many of the worst on-set accidents have prompted initiatives to make things better. “Safety for Sarah” was a movement in response to the death of a camera assistant after an on-set train accident. Following a 1982 on-set helicopter crash that killed three people, a 24-hour hotline was set up as a way for people to call in their safety concerns. Unfortunately, as the “Rust” accident proves, on-set film accidents are hardly a thing of the past.

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These accidents include long-lasting injuries, amputations, and death. One accident took the lives of three people after a helicopter fell from the sky. Another saw a young woman killed on the first day of a film shoot when she was hit by a train. These accidents span multiple decades and prove that no matter how often on-set film safety guidelines are updated, accidents continue to happen.

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Amblin Entertainment

A helicopter accident kills three

In the summer of 1982, an on-set accident on “The Twilight Zone” movie changed the way films were made.

Actor Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed when a helicopter fell from the sky. Renee Chen was crushed, and Morrow and Myca Dinh Le were killed by the blade of the chopper. “I’ll keep you safe, kids. I promise. Nothing will hurt you, I swear to God,” was the line Morrow was meant to deliver but would never get to. While director John Landis continued to make films, changes did come in the industry. Warner Bros. vice president John Silvia founded a committee to create safety standards called the Safety Bulletins for all aspects of the filmmaking industry.

Paramount Pictures

A stunt pilot’s plane plunges into the Pacific

Art Scholl, a stunt pilot whose work included aerial stunt work and photography, worked on films like “The Right Stuff,” “Iron Eagle,” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

While working on the 1986 film “Top Gun,” Scholl was filming backdrop scenes while in his Pitts S-2 camera plane. He found that he couldn’t maintain altitude after a flat spin. The plane plunged into the Pacific Ocean and Scholl’s body was never recovered.

Crowvision Inc.

An up-and-coming actor dies when a gun isn’t properly cleaned

Brandon Lee, son of martial arts expert Bruce Lee, died on the set of the 1994 film “The Crow.” Lee was filming a scene where the character he played was shot. The prop gun hadn’t been properly cleaned, and when actor Michael Masse fired the gun, debris from a blank cartridge hit Lee in the chest. The actor was rushed to the hospital where he bled to death. Lee’s shots for the film were completed with his stunt double and CGI effects. They shot the film in North Carolina, so it did not have to adhere to the union standards in Hollywood.

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Warner Bros.

A popular actor suffers lasting debilitating injuries

George Clooney sustained multiple injuries in 2005 on the set of “Syriana.” “There was this scene where I was taped to a chair and getting beaten up, and we did quite a few takes. The chair was kicked over and I hit my head,” Clooney said when he spoke about the accident to NPR. “I tore my dura, which is the wrap around my spine, which holds in spinal fluid.” Initially, his injuries didn’t seem so bad, but the headaches became so intense that the actor later said he considered taking his own life. After several surgeries, he found relief and went on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for “Syriana.”

Warner Bros.

A vehicle crashes into a tree

The 2008 film “The Dark Knight” was dedicated to the memory of Heath Ledger who died of an accidental overdose during the editing of the film and to a crew member who died in an on-set accident. Conway Wickliffe had also worked on “Die Another Day” and “Batman Begins.” Wickliffe was rehearsing a scene when the accident happened. The 4X4 Wickliffe was riding in did not turn properly and his head was hanging out of the vehicle, which crashed into a tree. Special effects expert Christopher Corbould, who was in charge on set was cleared of any wrongdoing. Wickliffe was not wearing a seat belt.

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David McNew // Getty Images

A crew member is killed by a train

On the first day of filming the 2014 film “Midnight Rider: The Gregg Allman Story,” a horrible accident killed camera assistant Sarah Jones and injured other crew members. The crew was filming in Georgia on active railroad tracks. Jones didn’t have enough time to clear the area after she was given a one-minute warning to do so, and was hit by an oncoming train. The film’s director, Randall Miller, served a year in prison for trespassing and involuntary manslaughter. “Safety for Sarah” is a non-profit started in Sarah’s memory meant to foster on-set safety awareness.

Gotham Group

An actor is dragged under a vehicle

While filming the third installment in the “Maze Runner” series in 2016, lead actor Dylan O’Brien suffered several injuries, including fractured orbital sockets and cheekbones, as well as a concussion and multiple lacerations. While performing a stunt in which he moved from the top of one car to the top of another, O’Brien was dragged under a vehicle.

His injuries were far more serious than they originally seemed—production on the film was pushed back for a year to allow for O’Brien to make a full recovery. “Maze Runner: The Death Cure” was eventually released on Jan. 26, 2018.

Constantin Film

An accident causes an on-set death and amputation

During the 2016 film, “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter,” crew member Ricardo Cornelius was killed. A car that was not secured slid off a platform and pinned him against a wall. That wasn’t the only accident on set though. Milla Jovovich’s stunt double, Olivia Jackson, collided with a metal camera arm that didn’t function the way it was supposed to. The accident caused multiple injuries. The worst forced the amputation of her left arm.

Marvel Studios

A critical shoulder injury halts film’s production

Actor Letitia Wright was injured in a stunt rig accident on set in August of 2021 during the filming of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Her injuries included a concussion and a fractured shoulder. Wright was hospitalized with injuries that were thought to be minor at the time. In November, production on the film halted to give her more time to heal. Her shoulder injury was actually a critical shoulder fracture. Production resumed in January 2022.

Sam Wasson // Getty Images

A prop gun accidentally discharges

On the set of the Western, “Rust” actor Alec Baldwin in October 2021 killed the film’s cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza. The prop gun Baldwin was holding during a rehearsal accidentally discharged. The accident led to the filing of many civil suits, and law enforcement continues to investigate. The assistant director on the film, Dave Halls, admitted to investigators that he did not inspect every round in all the chambers of the firearms on set. A “lead projectile” was found in the gun used by Baldwin and other live rounds were also found on set.