9 Worst Movie Set Disasters

1The Conqueror (1956): the radioactive set that caused cancer to John Wayne and 90 more

Of the 220 persons who worked on The Conqueror on its location near Utah in 1955, 91 had contracted cancer as of the early 1980s and 46 died of it, including stars John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. Experts say under ordinary circumstances only 30 people out of a group of that size should have gotten cancer.

The cause? No one can say for sure, but many attribute the cancers to radioactive fallout from U.S. atom bomb tests in nearby Nevada.Produced by Howard Hughes, he thought the movie was so bad that he bought up every copy (which cost him about $12 million) and refused to distribute the film. For years thereafter, the only person who saw it was Hughes himself, who screened it night after night during his paranoid last years, this until 1974 when Paramount reached a deal with him. This would be the last film that Hughes would produce.

2The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983): a helicopter decapitated three actors

During the filming of a segment of the 1983 movie The Twilight Zone, producted by Steven Spielberg, actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6) died in an accident involving a helicopter being used on the set. The helicopter was flying at an altitude of only 25 feet (8 meters), too low to avoid the explosions of the pyrotechnics used on set. When the blasts severed the tail rotor, it spun out of control and crashed, decapitating Morrow and Le with its blades. Chen was crushed to death as the helicopter crashed. Everyone inside the helicopter survived sustaining minor injuries.

The accident led to legal action against the filmmakers which lasted nearly a decade, and changed the regulations involving children working on movie sets at night and during special effects-heavy scenes. The incident also ended the friendship between director Landis and producer Spielberg, who was already angered before the accident that Landis had violated many codes, including using live ammunition on the set.

3The Crow (1994): Brandon Lee, killed by a prop .44 Magnum

As one of the scenes of The Crow was being filmed, Brandon Lee –Bruce Lee’s son– was shot and killed by a prop .44 Magnum.The scene involved the firing of a full-powder blank (full charge of gunpowder, but no bullet) at Brandon’s character; however, unknown to the film crew/firearms technician, a bullet was already lodged in the barrel and hit Lee in the abdomen.

But that wasn’t the only accident; the set was plagued by numerous accidents even before Lee’s death. On the first day of shooting, February 1, 1993, a carpenter was severely shocked and received serious burns when the scissor lift he was driving came into contact with high-voltage power lines. On March 13 heavy storms destroyed some of the elaborate sets causing delays. Later a prop master discovered a live round in one of the prop guns and an enraged carpenter drove his car into the studio’s plaster shop. Also a worker was injured when a screwdriver was accidentally driven through his own hand and a stuntman fell through the roof of one of the sets.

After Lee’s death, a stunt double, Chad Stahelski replaced Lee in some scenes to complete the film. Special effects were used for digitally compositing Lee’s face onto the double. The original footage featuring Lee’s actual death is the source of some controversy. Some accounts claim it was destroyed immediately, without even being developed while others suggest it was later given to Lee’s family. Brandon Lee was buried beside his father.

4XXX (2002): Vin Diesel’s stuntman smashed into a bridge and died

Harry L. O’Connor, Diesel’s stunt double on the XXX action movie, was killed on a scene in which he was supposed to rappel down a parasailing line and land on a submarine. When O’Connor failed to rappel down the line fast enough, he hit a bridge at high speed and was killed instantly. His death was caught on camera. Director Rob Cohen decided to include the footage of the scene, with the final moments edited out, as a matter of respect for the stuntman’s final act.
NOTE: our reader Chris comments: “I think it is notable for the list that Diesel’s stuntman had already done the stunt successfully before he was killed. He felt that it wasn’t good enough, that he hadn’t got close enough to the bridge (for suspense purposes) and asked the director if he could do it again. It was during this second take that he was killed. I believe, as a side note, that his family had arrived in Prague just before the accident to watch his stunt and were present during his death.”
NOTE: our reader Robin comments: “I am Harry O’Connor’s sister and I wanted to correct the notation that his family had been present when he died. No one in our family was there. We had a terrible time geting his body home for a burial, The media showed a great deal of footage including the body bag being zipped up at the scene. This over-sharing cause our parents to spiral in their health – heart attachs, stroke, and very shortly after our mother’s death. “

5Top Gun (1986): an aerobatic pilot crashed after his scene

Tom Cruise’s worldwide most famous movie Top Gun was dedicated to the memory of Art Scholl.A renowned aerobatic pilot, the 53 year-old was hired to do in-flight camera work for the film and was engaged to fly the difficult “flat spin” scene. When he climbed into his Pitts S-2 camera-plane on the set of Top Gun – as he had so many times before – he had no idea of the dark fate that awaited him.During this scene, Scholl reported a problem with the plane; he was unable to recover from it and crashed his Pitts S-2 into the Pacific Ocean, off the Southern California coast near Carlsbad on September 16, 1985. Neither Scholl nor his aircraft were recovered, leaving the official cause of the accident unknown.

6The Final Season (2007): a camera man, killed on a helicopter crash

While filming the baseball movie The Final Season, released on October, 2007, camera man Roland Schlotzhauer was killed while filming some parade sequences. Roland was well-known for his ability to capture shots from helicopters and he was filming from a Bell 206 when it hit power lines. The helicopter then crashed into a field seriously injuring the pilot and a producer on board, while ending Roland’s life.

7The Return of the Musketeers (1989): actor Roy Kinnear felt from his horse and died

During the filming of the 1989 movie The Return of the Musketeers, actor Roy Kinnear fell from a horse in Toledo, Spain, sustaining a broken pelvis. He was taken to hospital in Madrid, and died from a heart attack the following day. The film’s director, Richard Lester, quit his own film career as a direct result of Kinnear’s death.

8Jumper (2008): set dresser fatally struck by frozen debris

While dismantling an outdoor set in wintry conditions for Jumper, a sci-fi thriller starring Samuel Jackson,set dresser David Ritchie was fatally struck by frozen debris. Investigators later found that the sand and earth frozen to the wall for exterior design came unstuck as the set was being torn down, falling and crushing Ritchie. The film kept going, eventually receiving widespread criticism and poor reviews from critics.

9Troy (2004): hurricanes, a broken leg, and ironically, Brad Pitt’s achilles tendon

What could go wrong in a gazillion-dollar epic production starring Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom and Diane Kruger?Ironically, during the filming of Troy, Brad Pitt who played Achilles had a mishap during the production and tore his left achilles tendon. But the worst was yet to come when George Camilleri, a keen bodybuilder, broke his leg while filming an action sequence at Ghajn Tuffieha. He was operated on the following day but suffered complications and died 2 weeks later. In addition to that, while filming in Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mexico, the production had to deal with two hurricanes in less than a month; the last hurricane came the last week of production, when everything was pretty much wrapped.Despite all of that, the movie kept going and was finally a box-office hit.