A powerful kick knocks Batman to the fl oor. He is battling his former teacher, Ra’s al Ghul, inside a subway car.
Batman leaps up and throws a punch that slams al Ghul backward into a door.
Danger with Safety
That scene is from the 2005 fi lm Batman Begins. Christian Bale played Batman. Liam Neeson played Ra’s al Ghul.
During parts of that fi ght, however, neither one of them was on the screen. Stunt workers, dressed as Batman and al Ghul, threw the punches and took the falls.
Ghul, threw the punches and took the falls. Bale and Neeson are famous, highly paid actors. If either one had been hurt, a lot of time and money would be lost. That is why stunt workers—sometimes called stunt doubles—perform much of the action in today’s movies. They are the people who fall down stairs, crash cars, and
get blown into the air by explosions. Their special skills and training prepare them to carry out these actions with less risk of getting hurt than an untrained actor.
Filmmakers want movies to be exciting and to look realistic. That means stunt workers must sometimes do
things that are dangerous. Stunt workers do not take foolish chances, however. These men and women carefully plan everything they do. The stunts they perform most often in movies are fi ghts, falls, and fires.
Taurus World Stunt Awards
Actors have the Academy Awards, often called the Oscars. Stunt workers have the Taurus World Stunt Awards. These are given out each year for the best stunt work. Awards are given for the best fi ght, best work with a vehicle, best fi re, and more.
Stitches and Broken Jaws
Movie fi ghts look fast and furious. A fi ght that lasts just seconds on the screen, however, can take hours and hours of work. Every move is carefully planned. Each punch and kick is designed to miss—but only by an inch or so! Actors and doubles rehearse, or practice, the fight in slow motion many times. The fi lm director and stunt coordinator give them instructions as they practice. Many stunt coordinators used to be stunt workers themselves, so they know how stunts should be done. Every part of the fight is performed before the action is fi lmed. But accidents still happen. Daniel Craig played James Bond in the 2008 movie Quantum of Solace. Craig did many of his own stunts. In one fi ght scene, he moved the wrong way and got kicked
in the face. It took eight stitches to close the cut. Even experienced stunt workers can forget their moves.
John Foster has done hundreds of movie fi ghts. He says, “The only time I got hurt . . . I leaned into a punch when I should have pulled back. I ended up with a broken jaw.”
Stunt Worker Yakima Canutt
Eddie Canutt was known as “the man from Yakima” or Yakima Canutt. He came from Yakima, a city in the state of Washington. Canutt was a legend in Hollywood. In his most famous stunt, he was run over by a stagecoach and a team of horses without getting hurt. Canutt also invented many safety devices still used by stunt workers. He became a stunt coordinator after he could no longer take the physical wear and tear of stunt work. In 1967, he was given a special Academy Award for his work and for his inventions to make stunt work safer. (In general, there is no Academy Award for stunt workers.)
In the fi rst Spider-Man movie, Peter Parker, played by Tobey Maguire, is trying out his new “spidey powers.” He tries to climb a brick wall in an alley, but he loses his grip and falls. Chris Daniels was Maguire’s stunt double. On screen, it looked as though Daniels had fallen on the pavement. He really landed on a special airbag.
Today’s stunt workers fall on a two-part airbag. One is inside the other. The fi rst bag is soft. The stunt worker would bounce right off if it was hard! The soft, fi rst airbag collapses, letting the stunt worker fall into a second, much fi rmer, airbag. That stops the fall safely. It sounds like fun, but it can be very risky.
Playing It Safe
Fortunately, most stunt workers fi nish a day’s work without getting hurt. The work can be very dangerous. But because stunt workers are trained, know the risks, and use safety devices, most of the time they don’t get hurt doing a stunt. In 2007, for example, fewer than 3 percent of stunt workers were injured on the job. (Overall, almost 4 percent of American workers are hurt on the job, not counting government workers such as police offi cers and fi refi ghters.)
Paul Dallas had performed hundreds of falls. In 1996, he was fi lming a fall for a TV show. He had his own giant
airbag set up, but something went wrong. Dallas missed the center of the airbag. He hit the edge, fl ew off the bag, and slammed into the ground. Paul Dallas died that day.
In one scene in the classic movie The Wizard of Oz, which fi rst hit the screen in 1939, the Wicked Witch disappears in a fl ash of smoke and fl ame. Margaret Hamilton played the witch. At the time, actors still did many of their own stunts, especially if the stunts weren’t thought to be very risky. Hamilton was supposed
to drop down through a trap door just as the fl ames began. The door didn’t open, however, and Hamilton was badly burned.
Stunts involving falls can be deadly. So can those using fi re. In the 2005 movie The Fantastic Four, the character Johnny Storm turns himself into a pillar of fl ames. He is called “the human torch.” Stunts where people catch fi re are among the most risky.
For these stunts, a stunt worker wears a tight-fi tting suit. It is made of fi re-resistant material. The movie costume goes over the suit. A special protective gel is also used. It is smeared all over the stunt worker’s hair, hands, face, neck, and other exposed skin. This stunt gel is made so it does not catch on fi re, and it is very cold. The fi nal step is to cover the costume with something that burns quickly and easily, like rubber cement. The director wants a lot of fl ames in a very short amount of time to avoid hurting the stunt worker.
When everyone is ready, the costume is set on fi re. The stunt worker goes into action. People stand close by with fi re extinguishers and blankets. Most stunt workers trust only other stunt workers with this job. A “burn” like this lasts only 15 seconds. When the scene is over, the flames are put out immediately.
In movies, people fl y, get punched, get hit by cars, catch fire, and fall down stairs. We know it isn’t real. It’s all part of the magic of movies. Stunt workers make a lot of that magic happen. For these people, however, the magic can be very dangerous.