Tragedies happen on movie sets more often than studios would like to admit. And while some of these incidents become high-profile cases, often because they involve a celebrity, there are many more that seem to get brushed under the rug by the studios and media. Here are some you may not have heard about:
Note: Mentions of death, violent accidents, and animal cruelty ahead.
1.In 2020, Amanda Smith, a production assistant on the CW‘s Batwoman (2019–2022), was left paralyzed from the waist down after a terrible accident on set two days before production was shut down due to the COVID pandemic.
During a location shoot setup at the Georgia Viaduct in Vancouver, the bucket of a lift lowered onto Smith's head while she had her back to the machine. A friend and colleague told the Vancouver Sun, “She was literally just sitting there and it came down on top of her."
Deadline reported, "Smith suffered serious spinal injuries, including burst vertebrae, and was rushed to Vancouver General Hospital for emergency spinal surgery. ... The producing team of Batwoman reached out to Smith and her family to offer assistance."
2.In 2010, an Australian stuntman, Scott McLean, was almost killed and suffered severe brain damage after a car crash while filming The Hangover Part II (2011).
It was reported at the time by the Hollywood Reporter, "The production source described the stunt as one that had been choreographed and rehearsed. McLean was in a moving vehicle leaning out the window, as planned, when the car driving towards it to pass skidded suddenly and hit him. A further prognosis report is expected in a few days."
As of 2013, years after the accident, McLean was still "battling" with Warner Bros. over medical costs, while reportedly facing stress-related seizures on top of his rehabilitation and needing 24-hour nursing care.
3.Gabriella Cedillo, an extra on the film Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), sustained permanent brain damage after the car she was driving for a scene involving a stunt was hit by a large piece of metal.
According to ABC7, "Gabriela Cedillo was just finishing college in September 2010 when the car she was driving in a Transformers 3 scene was struck by a piece of metal. It was attached to a tow cable to flip a stunt car in the westbound lanes of Cline Avenue in Hammond. Instead, the metal bar broke free, and it smashed through her windshield into the right side of her head."
In 2012, Cedillo received an $18.5 million settlement from the film's producers.
4.In 2011, while filming The Expendables 2 (2012) in Bulgaria, a stuntman, Kun Liu, died from wounds sustained during an on-set explosion at the Ognyanovo Reservoir. Another stuntman, Nuo Sun, was seriously injured in the same incident and had to undergo surgery.
In 2012, Liu's parents filed a wrongful death suit against Millennium Films (the production company) and stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski. They claimed the filmmakers and Stahelski "negligently and carelessly failed to provide adequate protection from harm to the participants of the stunts."
5.During the filming of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), as many as 27 animals died at a farm where they were being housed. The animals, which included horses, sheep, goats, and chickens, apparently died from various causes like dehydration, exhaustion, or drowning.
According to wrangler Chris Langridge, the first horse to die was a miniature named Rainbow. Landridge said, "When I arrived at work in the morning, the pony was still alive but his back was broken. He’d come off a bank at speed and crash-landed. He was in a bad state.” Rainbow had been slated to be a hobbit horse but had to be euthanized instead.
A week after the incident with Rainbow, another horse, named Doofus, got caught in fencing and sliced his leg open. (Doofus, luckily, survived.) Landrige eventually quit the film and was replaced by another wrangler named Johnny Smythe. Smythe found a horse called Claire dead. Claire had fallen over a bluff and her head had been submerged in a stream. And then a third horse died, possibly from digestive problems.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, "Smythe said the six goats and six sheep he buried died after falling into sinkholes, contracting worms or getting new feed after the grass was eaten. He said the chickens were often left out of their enclosure and that a dozen were mauled to death by dogs on two separate occasions."
Despite reporting these incidents to the American Humane Association (AHA), the trainers were told a "lack of physical evidence would make it hard to investigate the claim further." The film was later given these carefully worded credits at the end: "American Humane Association monitored all of the significant animal action. No animals were harmed during such action."
6.Also in 2011, a crew member, Mike Huber, was killed on the set of G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation (2013) in New Orleans. Huber was a local hire who was tearing down the set at the time of the accident. He had been on a high-powered scissor lift when it reportedly tipped over, causing him to sustain fatal injuries.
In a statement, Paramount Studios said, "Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with the [crew member's] family at this time."
7.In August 2014, Bryce Dion, a sound technician working on the TV show Cops (1989–present), was accidentally shot by the Omaha Police Department in Nebraska.
It was reported that the show's crew had followed police to a robbery at a Wendy's restaurant. There, the crew became separated from the police, with Dion ending up on the opposite side of the restaurant. After the suspect pulled out a weapon, Omaha police officers fired at him, killing both the suspect and Dion, who was nearby. Police later determined the weapon pulled by the suspect was a pellet gun.
Dion's estate later filed a wrongful death suit against the city of Omaha, but in 2019, the lower court said that the officers reasonably responded to the incident and dismissed the case. An appeal was filed by Dion's estate and the case went to the Nebraska Supreme Court, where the lower court's ruling was upheld.
8.David Ritchie, a set dresser on the film Jumper (2008), was crushed and killed by frozen sand, earth, and ice that fell from an exterior set.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, "David Ritchie, 56, a veteran set dresser, was killed instantly, a second man was sent to hospital with serious head and shoulder injuries, while a third man escaped harm. Investigators found that the sand and earth frozen to the wall of the exterior design came unstuck as the set was being torn down and crushed Ritchie, causing his death. The workplace mishap occurred as separate crew members were dismantling the exterior set for shipment to Baja, California, for reshoots of outdoor scenes."
9.Olivia Jackson, a stuntwoman, was seriously injured on the set of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016) and needed to have her arm amputated.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, "While standing in for Milla Jovovich during the 2015 shoot in Cape Town and riding a motorcycle at high speed, Jackson collided with a crane-mounted camera vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. She would spend 17 days in a coma, with her left arm having to be amputated above the elbow. She was also left with a twisted spine, paralysis of the top left quarter of her body including her neck, a dislocated shoulder, a severed thumb, punctured lungs and broken ribs, and still suffers lasting nerve damage and facial scarring."
In 2020, after a four-year legal battle, Jackson, who can no longer work in her field and continues to suffer from chronic pain, won a court ruling in South Africa that placed blame on the driver of the camera vehicle. However, the victory was bittersweet as, according to the Los Angeles Times, "Under South African law, her only financial recourse now is with the country’s Road Accident Fund," which caps compensation for medical expenses and payouts. According to Jackson's attorney, "That could be less than $15,000 a year."
10.Harry O'Connor, a former Navy SEAL and one of Vin Diesel's stunt doubles in XXX (2002), died while performing a paragliding stunt for the film.
According to Newsweek, "While filming a paragliding scene in Prague, the 45-year-old collided with a pillar of the Palacky Bridge, breaking his neck. He died from his injuries. The fatal accident occurred on O'Connor's second take of the stunt; his first take was successful and can be seen in the 2002 film."
Later, director Rob Cohen released the following statement about the terrible accident: "We had 500 stuntmen involved with this picture; 499 didn't get a scratch. It shows you the lengths to which we will go to bring this kind of intense experience to the viewer. Stuntmen know they are in danger. They make their living through danger. Most of the time, it's all right. Sometimes, unfortunately, it isn't."
11.Sarah Jones, a camera assistant on the film Midnight Rider (which remains unreleased), was struck and killed by a train on set.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, "Jones was struck and killed by a train in Wayne County, Georgia, while the Gregg Allman biopic she was working on was filming a dream sequence on the tracks. While the crew scrambled to get out of the way of an oncoming train, they could not remove a prop bed from the tracks in time, and when the train hit it, a part of the bed pushed Jones into the locomotive’s way, a Georgia police investigation revealed. Jones was hit by the train’s fuel tank and died instantly."
As a result, the film's director, Randall Miller, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served jail time.
12.Joi “SJ” Harris was killed while performing a stunt on a motorcycle for the film Deadpool 2 (2018).
According to the Hollywood Reporter, "Harris was killed ... while performing a stunt that involved riding a high-powered Ducati motorcycle down a ramp laid atop a set of stairs. According to several people who had been working with her in the days leading up to the stunt, Harris was not properly prepared for the stunt. When it came time to do the scene, Harris rode the motorcycle down the stairs but then lost control. The bike, which Harris still clung to, careened across a street and hurled her into a building, killing her instantly."
20th Century Fox eventually settled out of court with Harris's family in 2019. Here was Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds' statement at the time of the accident:
13.David Holmes, a stunt double for Daniel Radcliffe, broke his neck and became paralyzed from the chest down while working on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010).
In the 2023 HBO documentary David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived, it was explained that Holmes was injured during rehearsal for a stunt where he gets jerked back. Connected to a cable pulley system, David was essentially pulled back too fast and too hard. Holmes said, "I remember hitting the wall, my chest folded into my nose, I was fully conscious throughout the whole thing." And he knew right away that his neck had been broken.
In 2013, Holmes established Ripple Productions, and in 2020, released a podcast called Cunning Stunts, where he teamed up with Daniel Radcliffe to "highlight and pay tribute to the amazing work that [our] Stunt Coordinators and Performers do whilst on set in the name of entertainment."
14.Michael Davidson, a firefighter in New York City, died while battling a fire that broke out on the set of Motherless Brooklyn (2019).
According to ABC7, "Michael Davidson, 37, got separated from his fellow firefighters and fought through dense smoke as the air in his tank ran out. He hit the talk button on his radio but never said anything. ... The investigation found that plywood walls created as part of the set concealed the size of the fire, and the polyurethane foam used in the set's upholstery generated large quantities of dense black smoke."
In 2020, a judge ruled that Davidson's widow, Eileen Davidson, could file a lawsuit against film company Class 5, Inc. (Edward Norton's production company) and the building landlord.
15.In 2016, an unnamed construction worker was killed working on Blade Runner 2049 (2017) while dismantling a set.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, "A 28-year-old Hungarian construction worker was killed on the set of the untitled Blade Runner sequel in Budapest on Aug. 25 (2016). 'The worker was underneath a platform, upon which the set was constructed, when it suddenly collapsed,' read a statement by Origo Studios."
Deadline also reported, "A spokesman for Alcon Entertainment, which is producing the film, said the local worker was not a member of the film crew but was employed by a subcontractor to tear down the set. The still-unidentified worker was reportedly working under a platform when scaffolding collapsed on top of him."
16.Another unnamed construction worker was killed on the set of Silence (2016) after a structure collapse in 2015.
The accident happened on the backlot of CMPC Studios in Taiwan. And, according to CNN, "A structure on the Taiwan set of [the] Martin Scorsese movie collapsed ... killing a studio construction worker and injuring two more, Taipei police said. The workers were repairing a building used for scenery when it collapsed. ... Two men were hospitalized, one in serious condition."
This was the statement given by CMPC Studios to the Hollywood Reporter at the time: “Our studio was rented for the use of a production team. The production team has hired contractors to build sets, and the construction has led to an accident, injuring the contractors. The production team immediately reported the accident to the emergency services, while our company also gave assistance. Our company and the production team had reached an agreement for the production team to be held responsible for the health and safety of the personnel of the studio and the set."
17.In 2019, Joe Watts, a stuntman on F9 (2021), had to be put into a medically induced coma after a serious accident while filming.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, "The accident — described as a 'serious head injury' after a major fall — saw the production shut down at Warner Bros.’ Leavesden Studios as paramedics and air ambulances were called."
It was reported by Surrey Live in 2020 that Watts "has since had to learn to speak again after suffering a horrific fractured skull and brain damage when he fell onto a concrete floor from around 25 feet," but is still suffering from the injury and has to take on "multiple rehabilitation sessions with a neuropsychologist, physiotherapist, and occupational therapist among others."
18.Cinematographer Chan Kwok-hung was killed on the set of the Jackie Chan film Skiptrace (2016) after a boat capsized.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, "Hong Kong police said the vessel capsized 100 feet from the shore, with seven crew members able to swim back to the shore after the accident. Tragically, Chan Kwok-hung did not make it, and was found unconscious and later declared dead at North Lantau Hospital."
At the time, Tenky Tin Kai-man, chairman of the Movie Production Executives Association (of Hong Kong), said his association was working on raising money for Chan Kwok-hung’s family.
19.Finally, just this week, a crew member died on the set of the upcoming Marvel TV series Wonder Man at Radford Studio Center in Studio City, Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Times reported, "According to the Los Angeles Police Department, officers arrived Tuesday at the 4000 block of Radford Street for a death investigation upon receiving a call that a 50-year-old man had fallen from a catwalk onto a stage."