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The 12 Most Expensive Movie Stunts Ever

In an age of CGI and digital wizardry, physical stunts are becoming fewer and far between but that doesn't mean that they are not still around and often they look a darn sight better than their digital counterparts. That being sad, they can also be a heck of a lot more expensive and really add to a movie's budget.

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Here we look at some of the priciest stunts to have ever been filmed.


12. The General - Train Crash

Buster Keaton was one of silent cinema's elite performers and knew exactly how to use his stony facial expressions to convey emotion without sound and it was what led him to the top of the Hollywood pack that allowed him to write, direct and produce his 1926 film The General about a civil war train that is stolen.

 

handed a budget of $750,000, Keaton spent $42,000 of that plunging a train off of a bridge in what would cost around half a million dollars in today's money.  The scene was filmed in one take just outside the Oregon town of Cottage Grove where workers were given a town-wide holiday in order to watch the stunt and the train wreckage went on to become a tourist attraction for nearly 20 years after the film was released.


11. The Amazing Spider-Man - Web Slinging

For those of us who remember the original Spider-Man trilogy with Tobey Macguire as the web-slinging wall climber, they may remember how weird the superhero looked when swinging on his webs and this was because they were digitally animated and he moved at the same speed during his downswing and upswing and anyone with a basic knowledge of physics knows this is instinctively wrong.

Determined not to ake the same mistake, director of The Amazing Spider-Man films wanted a physically accurate swinging and so had a specially built stunt rig and actor Andrew Garfield train in gymnastics for the stunt to have the web swinging look much more accurate. 


10. Terminator 2 - Helicopter Crash

In a stunt that the cameraman deemed too dangerous so that director, James Cameron, had to film it himself, a helicopter is flown the length of the Long Beach Terminal Island Freeway in LA which required over 10-miles of electric cable to be laid down and needed the assistance up to 1,000 crew members.

The helicopter flies under an underpass during the chase and eventually crashes all was done for real which is probably why $51m of the $105m movie budget went on stunts.


9. The Dark Knight Rises - Plane Hijack

The Dark Knight Rises was the final film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and with the first two being pretty darn good, it needed something extra-special to make it stand out and so he opens the film with a plane getting hijacked and the director wanted as little as possible of the $257m budget spent on CGI.

 Shot over the desolate Cairngorm mountains in Scotland, a group of henchman storm one plane from another and then explode the first in a shoot that took 3 days to film after several months of planning.


8. Swordfish - Schoolbus Airlift

$15m for just one scene in a movie is an absolutely staggering amount of money but if you consider that CGI wasn't up to much yet and the director wanted an authenticity to his heist movie, when one of the scenes requires a school bus of hostages to be airlifted and then crashed into a building before being landed atop another.

 

The crash had to be done with CGI, as did the explosion of the falling bomb but everything else was done with the use of cranes and actual vehicles and the helicopter pilot received danger money in the region of $25,000 an hour.


7. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

To Cruise is a man who likes to do his own stunts and so when the film requires him to scale the world's tallest building in specially designed climbing gloves, he did it himself attached to a harness for up to 10 hours a day against the superheated glass of around 100º F from the harsh Dubai sun.

 

The only CGI used in the scene was to then remove the harness and wires and the cost came from insuring a star as high profile as Cruise as well as from the crane and safety crews.


6. The Spy Who Loved Me - Ski Jump

Although the skiing now looks ridiculous, the actual jump and subsequent parachute off the ridge was all real and was done in one take as James Bond flees would-be assassins. The stuntman received $30,000 for his work but was slower than anticipated on take off and he also got his legs tangled and fell for longer than anticipated—dropping out of shot of the aerial camera.

 

A backup rig caught the shot fortunately and so we have one of the most iconic scenes in cinema.


5. Cliffhanger - Airplane Transfer

In what became the most expensive aerial stunt in movie making history, a stuntman had to walk on a transfer, between two aircraft flying at 150mph with no safety harness. The air pressure, plane speed and cold all could have killed him and insurance companies refused to bankroll the stunt and so star Sylvester Stallone paid for it out of his own pocket.

 

That included the $1m the stuntman made from his work on the shot.


4. Iron Man 3 - Air Force 1 Rescue

As a plane is shot in the side of the President's plane, his administration is sucked out of the side and start to freefall toward the ground only for Iron Man to come and save them. Using the Red Bull Air Force parachuting team to play the bureaucrats, they fixed cameras to their heads to capture shaky in air footage to lend an air of authenticity to the scene.

 

Obviously, some CGI was used for the flying hero, but for the most part, this actually happened.


3. Inception - Rotating Hallway Fight

In a scene where two men are fighting each other inside someone else's dream, the hallway starts to rotate as this person falls in real life and so has their perception of balance skewed. Director Christopher Nolan is a bit of a special effects purist and so actually had the hallways built around a massive centrifuge which they actually rotated.

 

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt had to train for two weeks to get his balance right on the spinning set.


2. The Matrix Reloaded - Freeway Chase

The sequels of The Matrix trilogy were largely disappointing for the incomprehensible plot and babbling characters but the fight scenes and action were simply spectacular as the had to up the ante on the groundbreaking original which introduced mainstream cinema to the bullet time phenomenon which is now common place.

Not allowed to film on a public freeway, the production crew built a road of their own for $2.5m, before filming the actors jumping from car to car. Parts of it were very real, including much of the motorbike work, whilst parts of it were CGI that proved a melding of the two could be done with great effect.


1. Ben-Hur - Chariot Race

In a time when the film industry was desperate to get viewers out of their homes and into theaters with the rise of television sets, Ben-Hur went all out in a massive spectacle that saw a chariot race that took three months to film  and involved more than 15,000 extras, 78 Andalusian and Lipizzan horses and 18 chariots, costing an estimated $4 million. The arena was carved out of an Italian rock quarry over the course of 12 months and a fully-staffed infirmary was built next to the set to treat any injuries that occurred during filming.

 

The actors had to train for weeks to become accomplished charioteers and the scene is now iconic for its sheer scale and scope.

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