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15 Directors Who Endangered Actors Lives Ranked From “Worth It” to “Totally Worth It”

Great directors are known for pushing boundaries in the film-making process. These often obsessive visionaries will go to unprecedented lengths to get the shots they need for their films to make an impact and stand the test of time. But when they go so far as to put actors in harm’s way to achieve their goals, do the ends really justify the means? The answer is of course an emphatic “Yes.” But by how much, exactly?

Today we look at filmmakers whose demanding approaches to the craft have nearly cost actors their lives and ranked them from “Worth it” all the way to “Totally fucking worth it” to see who has accomplished the most with the expendable lives assigned to them.

15. Michael Bay

It seems by all accounts that the only thing worse than watching a Michael Bay movie is being in one. He’s well known for clashing with actors, most notably his infamous feud with Megan Fox who compared him to Hitler. His films often involve explosive stunts that jeopardize the lives of actors and stunt crew alike. Given that the end result is usually a movie so devoid of substance it may as well have been made by AI, we’re giving Michael Bay’s endangerment of lives on set our lowest possible grade: Worth it.

14. James Cameron

It’s a good thing Cameron is committed to those Avatar movies now because, to him, live actors are clearly just things. It’s safe to say anyone who can make Ed Harris pull over and cry on the way to set every day isn’t nice. If you had a dollar for every time someone almost died making “The Abyss,” you would have more money than “The Abyss” made. It seems everyone involved in that film has some story about nearly drowning or running out of oxygen during a take. Then again, that movie paved the way for “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” so, totally worth it.

13. Martin Scorsese

Scorsese ranks low on the list, which is not to say his filmography is not worth the sacrifice of human life, which it is! Scorsese is such a pro he’s somehow managed to make great movies without putting actors in harm’s way. The only reason he’s on here at all is because he once stayed up all night drunk with a loaded gun in his lap contemplating the murder of an executive who wanted to cut the end scene of “Taxi Driver.” Ultimately he decided to desaturate the scene instead. That’s what separates Martin Scorsese from a murderer—two degrees of saturation. Anyway, if he had killed the guy, would have been worth it.

12. Akira Kurosawa

While filming his Macbeth adaptation “Throne of Blood,” Kurosawa faced a problem. He needed a wide shot that made it appear that Toshirô Mifune, his lead actor, was being showered with arrows, but there was seemingly no way to make it look realistic. Then, in a true “Eureka!” moment, he came up with a solution. He showered Toshirô Mifune with arrows and filmed it using a camera. It’s the sort of innovation/reckless endangerment you can’t learn at film school. Totally worth it.

11. Michael Cimino

He had Robert de Niro and John Savage jump out of a for real helicopter 15 times while making “The Deer Hunter.” On the 15th shot, the helicopter got caught in a bridge cable and nearly fell on them. You might be thinking “Geez, wouldn’t having your lead actors perform an insanely dangerous stunt 14 times have been enough?! Well, footage of de Niro and Savage yelling at the pilot not to crash was used in the final cut of the film, so clearly, it was necessary. Necessary and very, very worth it.

10. Werner Herzog

“Fitzcarraldo” tells the story of a man whose obsession with building an opera house in the middle of a jungle forces him to have a steamship carried across a mountain. When tasked with portraying this on screen, Herzog figured why not carry a fucking steamship across a fucking mountain? It was by all accounts one of the most brutal productions in film history. Tensions were so high Herzog’s lead actor and frienemy Klaus Kinski tried paying local tribesmen to kill Herzog. He was such an asshole the tribesmen not only told Herzog but offered to kill Kinski instead. Herzog claims the only reason he refused the offer was because he needed to finish his movie. This ones worth it for the story alone.

9. Francis Ford Coppola

It’s one thing to work an actor so hard he collapses from a heart attack. It takes a true auteur to bring that actor back for reshoots the moment he can walk again.

8. David Lynch

At the end of “The Elephant Man,” John Merrick dies by laying down to sleep “like a normal person,” which his condition prohibits him from safely doing. Coincidentally, the prosthetic makeup John Hurt wore to play The Elephant Man made the same thing true for him. He needed to remain upright at all times in order to breathe, a fact he often forgot leading him to almost suffocate several times during production. It’s almost disappointing to find that in his entire career, David Lynch only endangered the life of one actor. His work is worth so much more!

7. John Landis

You have to respect a director with more than one confirmed kill under his belt. Was creating 1/4th of “Twilight Zone: The Movie” really worth three innocent lives at the hands of his negligence? We don’t want to weigh in on that, and luckily we don’t have to because the jury at his manslaughter trial already ruled “Yes the fuck it was.”

6. John Boorman

For his breakout film “Deliverance,” Boorman cut costs by letting the actors perform their own stunts. All of them almost died several times. John Voight nearly fell off a cliff. Burt Reynolds claims he still has dreams about the rushing water stunt that left him stripped naked and nearly drowned with a fractured tailbone. That all seems pretty reckless and irredeemable until you remember it netted Boorman an Academy Award Nomination and two Golden Globes. Totally worth it.

5. Noel Marshall

“Roar” has been called the most dangerous movie ever made. When approaching animal trainers about the idea of making a movie with over a hundred big cats Marshall was called, and this is a direct quote, “insane.” Still, he soldiered on, going so far as to fill the lead role himself because no one in their right mind would do it. Over 70 people were injured during production and Marshall himself was almost killed several times. His various lion attack wounds—that’s right, fucking various lion attack wounds—became gangrenous and gave him a rare virus. The movie cost 17 million dollars to produce and made $2 million so in a literal sense it was not worth it, but we have this bat-shit crazy movie to look back on now so yeah the fuck it was.

4. Sam Raimi

If you know anything about the relationship between Sam Raimi and his frequent star Bruce Campbell you know that Sam relished every opportunity to torture Bruce on set. For the end shot of “Evil Dead,” Raimi needed the camera to fly directly at Bruce Campbell. There are a million ways to do this, but the way Raimi chose was to hold a camera in one hand while driving a motorbike directly at Campbell. This one really walks the line between near fatal accident and straight-up assault. Still, “Evil Dead” rules, and had the wheel not missed Campbell’s head by inches, what, no Brisco County Jr? Who cares, worth it!

3. Tobe Hooper

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was sort of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of film sets. Tobe Hooper displayed little regard for the well-being or even the lives of his stars. That’s a real chainsaw Gunar Hansen is waving around at everyone which led to a number of nearly fatal accidents, including the Leatherface actor slipping in some mud and nearly impaling himself with the thing. The infamous dinner scene was filmed for over 24 hours straight in an extremely hot unventilated room causing several cast and crew members to collapse from heat exhaustion. Hooper’s negligence seems irredeemable until you watch the movie and go “Hey, that was great, and who cares if everyone involved suffered, I don’t even know those people.” Totally fucking worth it.

2. Michael Curtiz

He drowned 3 extras making “Noah’s Ark” and nearly killed many more, among them a young pre-fame John Wayne. He also made “Casablanca,” so, you know.

1. William Friedkin

If there were an Oscar for endangering lives to get the shots you need—and there SHOULD be—William Friedkin would have died with a shelf full of them. He was a true master of reckless endangerment. He would fire guns on set and slap people before a take just to get the reactions he wanted on film. He hired mob-affiliated firebugs to do pyrotechnic work professionals deemed too dangerous. His crowning achievement is the chase scene in “The French Connection” in which Gene Hackman chases a train with a car through New York City. He achieved this by actually chasing a fucking train with a car through New York City without permits or anything, endangering the lives of cast, crew, and regular people like you and me. Totally fucking worth it, rest in power king.