A lot of my Phenomenal 5 lists have been fun, playful, or downright silly. Others have focused on actors, actresses, or different movie years. This week I’m taking a more somber tone and looking at some of the saddest moments in filmmaking. So much time and effort are put into making the movies that we watch and talk about. Unfortunately there have been instances of real life tragedy that makes us wonder if it’s all worth it. The five tragedies caught headlines and changed lives. Unfortunately there were several of these to pick from so I won’t say this is the definitive list. But the sad reality of these 5 movie set tragedies is most certainly heartbreaking.
#5 – “DELTA FORCE 2”
I liked the original “Delta Force” movie with Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin. But as was the case with many films in the era, there just had to be a sequel. “Delta Force 2” had some pretty good action scenes but overall it wasn’t a good movie. During filming in the Philipines there was a horrible helicopter crash that took the lives of four crew members and the pilot. Sadly, the crew was only a few days away from wrapping up shooting. The crew was set to do some filming when eyewitnesses said the chopper veered left before crashing into a ravine. It’s said shots of the helicopter was used in the film. To add another layer of tragic mystique to the story, this was the second Chuck Norris movie that experienced a fatal helicopter crash in the Philipines.
#4 – “TOP GUN”
One of the signature movies of the 1980’s was Tony Scott’s “Top Gun”. It was all the buzz and it put Tom Cruise on the bedrrom walls of teenaged girls everywhere. But the movie was also scarred by a tragic accident during the filming of one of the many air combat scenes. Art Scholl, one of the most renowned aerobatics pilots of the time, was killed after putting his plane in a flat spin for one of the movie’s key scenes. While getting some camera shots himself, Scholl would radio in that he had a serious problem. He was unable to recover and his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Neither Scholl or the plane was ever recovered leaving the full cause of the accident still in question. It was such a tragedy and the finished “Top Gun” movie was dedicated to Art Scholl.
#3 – “THE CONQUEROR”
Regarded as a huge flop, “The Conqueror” remains a shining example of what not to do when making a film. It starts with the terrible casting decisions most notably John Wayne as Genghis Kahn. But the film would be remembered for something far more tragic. “The Conqueror” was filmed around St. George, Utah less than 150 miles from a government nuclear test site in Nevada. For weeks the cast and crew worked within the vicinity of the tests. It wasn’t until later that the effects of the tests would be revealed. Despite the government’s assurance, 91 cast and crew members died from cancers that are believed to have resulted from nuclear fallout. All of the main cast including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, Pedro Armendariz, and John Hoyt were cancer casualties as was director Dick Powell.
#2 – “THE CROW”
Bruce Lee was an amazing martial artist and action movie star. Sadly his life ended early on a movie set. Years later his son Brandon Lee, also an accomplished martial artist, found a place in the action pictures of the late 80’s and early 90’s. His most popular film was “The Crow” from 1993. It would turn out to be his last movie. With only eight days of filming left Brandon Lee was killed when a gun prop fired a live round. The accident occurred during an action scene involving a shootout. A lodged live round was mistakenly fired which struck Lee in the abdomen. He would die a short time later after the bullet lodged in his spine. Many called the accident a Lee family “curse”. I think it’s simply a horrible tragedy that took the life of a great up and coming action star.
#1 – “TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE”
In 1983 Steven Spielberg and John Landis co-produced “Twilight Zone: The Movie”, a collection of four shorts bookended by a prologue and epilogue. It was based on the classic TV show and I remember seeing it in the theater. But the movie was forever scarred by a gruesome and horrific accident that took place on the set. In a segment about a racist who ends up in the shoes of the different groups he hates, the great actor Vic Morrow and two young children were tragically killed in a scene where they were fleeing from a helicopter. Pyrotechnics caused the pilot to lose control of the low-flying chopper and it crashed on Morrow and the two children he was carrying. Both Morrow and one of the children were decapitated while the other was crushed. Scandal followed after it was learned the use of the two children broke numerous rules including several of California’s child labor laws. Landis never took any kind of responsibility for the accident which forever soiled his relationship with Spielberg. Most importantly is that three people lost their lives in a heartbreaking tragedy that probably could have been avoided.
There are 5 heartbreaking movie set tragedies that will forever be linked to their movies. What are your thoughts on these sad moments in moviemaking history? What are some others that come to mind? Please take time to share your thoughts below.