The 12 Deadliest Movies Ever Filmed

Twilight Zone The Movie

Throughout history, filmdom has seen its fair share of horrific on-the-set tragedies. Who could ever forget the fatal accidental shooting of Brandon Lee during The Crow and the litany of deadly stunts gone wrong in films like The Dark Knight and The Expendables II?

While some of these mishaps led to long and costly wrongful death trials (a stunt person’s death in Vampire in Brooklyn, for example, cost Paramount $50 million) only very rarely do filmmakers themselves face civil or criminal charges for the lethal accidents that transpire under their watch.

Unfortunately, on-set deaths, especially outside the parameters of Hollywood safety protocols, are much more common than one would assume. Even more surprising are just how many films in which multiple fatal accidents – in some cases, numbering in the dozens – didn’t halt production.

Here, you’ll find a dozen films that incurred numerous on-set deaths, ranging from pioneering biblical epics from the early, early days of sound motion pictures all the way up to international crime dramas from the 2000s that had the misfortune of filming at the very epicenter of a natural disaster.

Although the causes of each fatality differs (some can be attributed to directorial neglect, while others are just the end results of fluky technical errors) each of the twelve films below demonstrate just how dangerous the film industry can be – and, rather morbidly, give new meaning to that old hackneyed aphorism, “dying for your art.”


12. Noah’s Ark (1928)
Body Count: Three Fatalities

Director Michael Curtiz’s ambitious early talkie (its budget was more than $1 million – about $14 million in today’s dollars) is more or less responsible for Hollywood even having safety regulations.

More than 600,000 gallons of water was used for the movie’s big finale, which ultimately led to the drowning of three cast members. According to Hollywood legend, more than 30 ambulances were needed to tend to those injured – including one extra who later required an amputation – during the filming of the sequence.


11. They Died With Their Boots On (1941)
Body Count: Three Fatalities

This Errol Flynn vehicle helmed by director Raoul Walsh told a greatly embellished story about the supposed life and times of General George Custer. The production was riddled with mishaps, with no less than three cast members getting killed. One stunt performer broke his neck after falling off a horse, while yet another experienced a fatal heart attack with the cameras rolling.

One of the film’s leading stars, Jack Budlong, also died on-set when he was fatally impaled on a saber after a nearby explosive charge went off. Ironically, Budlong may have been inadvertently responsible for his own demise – according to legend, he opted to carry a real weapon on set instead of using a prop sword.


10. High Road to China (1983)
Body Count: Three Fatalities

An all but forgotten Tom Selleck adventure flick directed by Brian G. Hutton of Where Eagles Dare fame, this Indiana Jones wannabe claimed the lives of two pilots and a mechanic.

Filming on location in Yugoslavia, a helicopter carrying the three cast members – David Perrin, Nigel Thornton and Jaron Anderson – crashed while traveling to the set. Sadly, it would be but just the first of many, many high profile helicopter-related accidents to plagued Hollywood throughout the Reagan years …


9. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Body Count: Three Fatalities

… including quite possibly the most famous on-set tragedy of all-time. Yet another helicopter accident resulted in the on-camera deaths of three cast members, including star Vic Morrow, who was decapitated by a whirring propeller. Even worse, the other two victims were 6- and 7-year-old children – Shin-Yi Chen and Myca Dinh Le.

A manslaughter case dragged on for half a decade; although director John Landis committed numerous child labor and set safety infractions, he and his crew was nonetheless cleared of any criminal charges. The accident did, however, goad Hollywood into making several sweeping changes to its safety regulations, especially regarding the use of underage actors in potentially dangerous filming situations.


8. Revenge (1979)
Body Count: Four Fatalities

Gordon Parks. Jr. – the man who gave us the 1972 blaxploitation classic Super Fly – was among four killed during the filming of Revenge, a movie that (obviously) suspended production shortly after its director died.

Shot on location in Kenya, Revenge was the first film produced under Parks’ own movie company, African International Productions. He perished alongside director of photography Peter Gilfillan and two others when their plane crashed shortly after takeoff in Nairobi.


7. Braddock: Missing in Action III (1988)
Body Count: Four Fatalities

B-movie action kingpins The Cannon Group hired several Filipino soldiers and police officers to play extras in this Chuck Norris kill-a-thon.

While filming on location in Manilla in May 1987, a Philippine Air Force helicopter carrying nine people crashed in Manilla Bay; four passengers were killed, while five others – including production crew member Max Motschmann, who wasn’t even authorized to travel in the chopper – somehow survived.