Stunts have been an integral part of filmmaking since the very beginning, providing the type of blood-pumping adrenaline rush that comes with seeing something unbelievable pulled off to perfection. There’s nothing we love more than staring openmouthed at a particularly incredible stunt, wondering how in the world they possibly did that without anyone getting seriously injured. With the prevalence of computer effects making it easier for filmmakers to throw some stunts into their movies without anyone actually having to do the stunts at all, the genuine article is even more precious.

Stunts have also gained a wider appreciation in recent years, with many even campaigning for the more prestigious awards bodies to create categories honoring the hard work that goes into these unforgettable scenes, often from people whose faces we never see, and whose names we never recognize. Stuntmen-turned-directors like The Fall Guy’s David Leitch and John Wick’s Chad Stahelski are working to bring stunts into the foreground, making them action movie centerpieces rather than cheat-shots and crazy camera angles that directors have to cut around. (Taken 3 fence jump, anyone??)

But this stuff has been cool for over a century, and for this list we’ve chosen 12 of the best stunts cinema has ever seen, starting from before movies even had spoken lines of dialogue. Stunt work is a collaborative business, and going through this list, it’s fun to see how some stunts are even carried over, repeated, nodded at from film to film, sometimes decades apart. Even when a stunt is an homage to another stunt, these filmmakers and actors and crew members make sure to show us something we’ve never seen before.

The Falling House in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

This is the stunt all other stunts were borne from. That feeling of something impossible pulled off at just the last second is the sort of effect that Buster Keaton, one of those actors who really did do all of his own stunts, traded in, imbuing his silent comedy films with the sort of high-octane stuff you’d expect from a Mission: Impossible movie (see below). In Steamboat Bill, Jr., which is otherwise a sort of Romeo and Juliet story about the star-crossed children of warring steamboat owners, a cyclone hits at the climax of the film, tearing apart buildings and sinking the jail that Bill Jr’s father is trapped in. As young Bill (Keaton) walks dazed through the collapsing city, the facade of a building falls right on top of him, almost crushing him, but he’s saved by the fortunate placement of an open attic window frame. The whole thing was done in camera, with no cuts or special effects, and only a nail driven into the ground at the exact spot Keaton had to stand in to avoid being seriously injured. The movie was a low point in Keaton’s career and was badly received when it came out, but has become one of his most famous and iconic performances. The falling house stunt has been recreated in everything from MacGyver to a Jackie Chan Hong Kong action movie to Arrested Development to, obviously, Jackass.

Flying a Plane Through a Hangar in Air Mail (1932)

John Ford’s Air Mail was made shortly after the heyday of Charles Lindbergh, where pilots, specifically delivery daredevils, were idolized for their fearless natures and their ability to fly through the most dangerous weather and forbidding terrain. The movie is mostly all right, with a fun look into the mechanics of flight and air traffic control as it was done in the 1930s, but it has one of the wildest flying stunts in film history. One of the hotshot pilots, “Duke” Talbot (Pat O’Brien) is known for his propensity towards barnstorming, and in order to indicate this, his character has a lengthy scene doing aerial tricks in the desert while a bunch of guys throw themselves to the ground so they won’t be hit by the wheels. One of the stunts the on-set pilot pulled off was flying the plane directly through a hangar, which is little more of a shack in the middle of a field. (The shot is queued up in the link to the entire movie above.) With a few feet of clearance on either side of the wings, it’s one of those stunts that takes a true expert to pull off, and could have been incredibly dangerous if not done exactly right.

The Horse Jump in Stagecoach (1939)

The movie that made John Wayne a star also featured two of Hollywood’s greatest horse stunts. Wayne’s friend Yakima Canutt was also the stunt coordinator on Stagecoach, parts of which still make Mad Max: Fury Road look like Hot Wheels. Canutt’s most incredible stunts come during the lengthy chase scene where the stagecoach and its passengers are menaced by a group of Apache horsemen. In the first stunt, Yakima, playing one of the native men, rides his horse abreast of the pair of horses hooked at the front of the coach and jumps from his horse into the space in between the leading horses. As the heroes riding in the stage shoot at him, Yakima ducks in between the horses, and then lets go of the reins, sliding onto the ground as the horses and coach run directly over him. In the second stunt, Yakima, as Wayne’s character, leaps from the top of the stagecoach onto the horses, and from horse to horse until he can take the reins of one of the lead horses and steer the coach out of danger. A tribute to the stagecoach slide appears in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indy gets dragged under and then behind one of the Nazi trucks.

READ MORE: The Best Indiana Jones Movie That Was Never Made

The Chariot Flip in Ben-Hur (1959)

For decades,Ben-Hur was plagued by a nasty rumor about the death of a stuntman during the big chariot race. Some versions even claimed that the actual death was left in the final cut by director William Wyler, against the wishes of the man’s widow, and the rumor has been attributed to pretty much every instance of onscreen injury in the film. It was so persistent that had to finally debunk it. But there was a very close call that was left in the film. During the chariot race, there’s a shot where Charlton Heston’s horses and chariot jump over a barrier in the middle of the arena, and during the jump Heston’s stunt double (Joe Canutt, son of Yakima Canutt) is hair-raisingly flipped over the front of the chariot, seemingly into the thundering back hooves of the horses. But Canutt caught himself at the last minute, and the shot was left in the film — they even shot Heston “recovering” from the mishap, pulling himself back into the chariot.

The Ski Jump in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The pre-credits scene of The Spy Who Loved Me, during which Roger Moore’s James Bond is chased on skis down a snowy mountain before jumping off the mountain and ditching the skis in midair, was inspired by a Playboy ad for Canadian Club Whisky performed by stuntman Rick Sylvester — who then recreated the shot for the Bond movie. In the scene, Bond skis down a snowy slope with a sheer cliff drop at the end, and instead of slowing, continues down and off the edge of the cliff. The soundtrack goes silent for a nail-biting 20 seconds while Bond plummets, both of his skis coming off, and just at the moment when it looks like he’s not going to make it, he pulls his parachute and a giant Union Jack unfurls behind him. Cue Bond theme trumpets, cue thunderous applause in the theater.

The Boulder Chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

It’s one of the best stunts of all time. In the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones activates an ancient system of booby traps that culminate in a giant spherical boulder rolling at breakneck speed down a ramp, like an enormous marble run. Indy sprints in front of the boulder in the scene’s final moments, running just ahead until he reaches the end of the cave and leaps to safety. The actual prop, while not as heavy as a huge rock, was still 300 lbs, made of plaster, wood, and fiberglass, and was controlled by a steel rod on a track in the wall hidden by fake rubber stones. Harrison Ford, who wanted to perform as many of his own stunts as possible, ran ten times to get all the camera angles, director Steven Spielberg later saying that it wouldn’t have looked as good if they’d had to use a stuntman concealing his face the whole time instead.

Michelle Pfeiffer Whips the Mannequins in Batman Returns (1992)

Most of the stunts we remember are the ones where people are hanging out of fast-moving vehicles or jumping off of high structures, defying death just to get an impossible shot. But even the less “thrilling” stunts take a massive amount of skill — the type that Michelle Pfeiffer displayed on the set of Batman Returns. As Catwoman, Pfeiffer carried around a long whip, which she utilized most memorably during the scene where she and Batman meet in the department store. Catwoman enters, does a couple of cartwheels, and then takes out her whip, swings it around her head, and knocks off the heads of four mannequins standing in a row. There are a couple cuts in the version that made it into the movie, so you can’t tell that Pfeiffer actually pulled this off in a single take, but just in case you’re not convinced there’s video evidence of that, too, ending in raucous applause from the crew.

Michelle Yeoh’s Motorcycle Train Jump in Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)

New fans of Michelle Yeoh might not be aware that she is a bona fide Hong Kong action movie star, and often did her own stunts. Her most memorable stunt appears when she starred alongside Jackie Chan in Police Story 3: Supercop, playing Jessica Yang, an agent of Interpol based in Beijing who goes undercover with Chan’s character to infiltrate a criminal organization. The climax of the film takes place on top of a speeding train: while Chan is fighting off the bad guys, Yeoh jumps onto the train while riding a dirt bike, riding on the roof of the train until the bike spins out of control over the side. Yeoh, who had never ridden a dirt bike before making the movie, genuinely did the stunt, but because she didn’t know how to stop, had to kick the bike away from her while its wheels were still spinning so she could roll down the train car and stop herself from falling off.

Zoë Bell on the Car in Death Proof (2007)

In Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino made a slasher movie that honors the hard work of stunt people, celebrating the fact that they court death (or serious injury) for a living. The movie stars Kurt Russell as an aging stuntman with a murderous streak, but Tarantino also cast actress Zoë Bell as herself, playing the stuntwoman that she is in real life. Bell was Uma Thurman’s stunt double in the Kill Bill movies, and Tarantino was so stunned by her work he cast her as one of the main characters in Death Proof — but she didn’t know how big her role was until she saw her name at the top of the posters. Bell and her friends take a Dodge Challenger for a spin, speeding down an empty highway. They decide to play a game of “Ship’s Mast,” and Bell climbs out of the passenger window and up onto the roof of the car, sliding down the windshield until she’s sitting on the hood, holding herself steady with a couple of belts tied to her hands as Tracie Thoms guns the engine. They’re all having a great time until Stuntman Mike shows up rear-ending the car multiple times before T-boning it, sending Bell flying. After a few moments when all seems lost, Bell emerges from a ditch, perfectly fine.

Pole-Whipping War Boys in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

It’s tough to pick just one stunt out of the hundreds that made Mad Max: Fury Road into a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, but if we had to pick just one, it’s the “Pole Cats,” the guys riding on top of the huge poles swinging from car to car at breakneck speed. One guy would perch at the top of the pole, and two others would be at the bottom, using a mechanism and their own counterweight to swing the pole from side to side—all while the car they’re riding on is speeding through the desert. The Pole Cats were inspired by the Chinese pole routines of Cirque du Soleil, and the Fury Road stunt crew trained with the circus performers to make sure the stunt was as safe as it could possibly be while doing it all without green screens. Still, it seems unbelievable that they pulled it off; as Steven Soderbergh said, “I don’t understand how they’re not still shooting that film and I don’t understand how hundreds of people aren’t dead.”

Tom Cruise Hangs Off a Plane in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)

This was the stunt that made headlines before Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation was released: Tom Cruise is going to actually cling onto the side of a giant airplane while it actually takes off into the air, without using a stunt double. The shot comes right at the beginning of the film, when Ethan Hunt and his crew are trying to stop a shipment of nerve gas being transported by the evil Syndicate. Unable to stop the plane from taking off, Hunt jumps onto the wing and climbs down to a passenger door on the side of the aircraft, where he hangs on for dear life waiting for his tech guy Benji to hack the door open. They had just 48 hours to film the stunt at the RAF base in Wittering, using a military transport Airbus A400M Atlas, and Cruise performed the stunt 8 times while they tried to get the best shot. He was attached to a couple of straps that were secured to the door, which were edited out of the footage. The shot that made it into the movie is pretty long, and Cruise keeps his head facing the camera for almost the whole thing, as if to say, yes, look at this, we really did this.

The Motorcycle Bridge Jump in RRR (2022)

Extensive VFX work was done in post-production to make RRR into the spectacle that it is, but that doesn’t mean its stunt work wasn’t also highly involved. One of the most impressive scenes kicks off the beginning of the film: a train explosion under a bridge causes a tough child to get stuck in the middle of the river, with fire lighting up the water all around him. Our heroes Ram, standing on the bridge, and Bheem, watching from the riverbank, lock eyes, and almost telepathically come up with a plan to save the boy. Bheem hops aboard a motorcycle and Ram commandeers a loose horse and some rope. The two meet at either end of the bridge, ride towards each other, and at the last second jump off opposite sides of the bridge, holding onto the rope and swinging themselves underneath. This shows how both Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr. performed most of the stunt work, speeding towards each other on motorized rigs and jumping off the edges of a set bridge into blue screens below. RRR is both a testament to great stunt work and to how visual effects can enhance action scenes without turning them into computerized sludge.

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