They are responsible for some of the most thrilling moments we witness in the movies. Yet most stuntmen (and women) are largely unknown to the general public. They toil away, putting themselves at great risk to pull off death-defying car chases, falls and fight scenes. And all the while letting the marquee actors take the credit and get the glory. Yet if it weren’t for professional stuntmen and women, the movies we love would not be as exciting and the bank vaults in Hollywood would not be as stuffed with money. We here at Goliath feel it is time to give some long-overdue recognition to legendary stunt performers.
Here are 10 of Hollywood’s greatest stuntmen and their famous roles. Enjoy!
10. Sir Eddie Kidd
British stuntman Eddie Kidd is so revered in the industry that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, and he now goes by the handle “Sir Eddie Kidd.” An expert motorcycle rider and jumper, Eddie Kidd holds several world records for the longest motorcycle jump. One of his most famous motorcycle stunts can be seen in the 1979 film Hanover Street starring Harrison Ford. Doubling for Ford on a motorbike, Eddie Kidd jumped a 120-foot railway cutting while traveling at 90 miles per hour – a then-world record. However, Kidd is best known for doing stunt work in several James Bond films – doubling actor Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights (1987) and Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye (1995). Sadly, Eddie Kidd suffered a serious brain injury and paralysis due to a motorcycle crash he had in 1996. A reminder of the dangers of the stunt profession.
9. Hal Needham
You know you’re a legend when director Quentin Tarantino presents you with a lifetime achievement award and spends more than 20 minutes regaling the audience with your list of accomplishments. And that’s exactly what happened to veteran stuntman Hal Needham in 2012 when Tarantino presented him with the “Governors Award” from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, an award that is presented to honor a person’s lifetime achievement in the movies. Hal Needham was a Korean War veteran who began his career working as a stuntman on television westerns in the 1950s. He graduated to movies in the 1960s, and by 1971 he had formed the company Stunts Unlimited and was working as a stunt coordinator. Having doubled actor Burt Reynolds in several of his early movies, Hal Needham was asked by Reynolds to direct the 1977 car chase movie Smokey and the Bandit, which is an extended car chase. The movie was a smash hit and Hal Needham went on to direct several other cars chases flicks starring Burt Reynolds, including Cannonball Run and Stroker Ace. Hal Needham was also involved in setting several land speed records and helped develop the Budweiser Rocket that broke many records. Hal Needham died in 2013 at age 82.
8. Michelle Yeoh
She is best known for starring in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (where she did all her stunts). However, Michelle Yeoh is primarily a stunt performer and coordinator, and one of the top stuntwomen in Hollywood. She has helped plan out and performed stunts for movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Sunshine. She has also worked with Asian martial arts master Jackie Chan on several of his films, most impressively in Supercop, where she performed some truly awesome motorcycle stunts. Jackie Chan is such a big fan of Michelle Yeoh that he has said she is the only person he trusts to help him map out stunts on his film projects. High praise indeed!
7. Colin Follenweider
If there is one guy who is everywhere in the world of stunts these days, it is Colin Follenweider. The movie franchises he’s performed stunt work on including Terminator, James Bond, Die Hard, X-Men, Transformers, Avatar, Spider-Man, Captain America and Iron Man. He also recently completed stunt work on the upcoming movie Dr. Strange. Actors he’s doubled for include Bruce Willis, Daniel Craig, Kevin Bacon, and Shia LaBeouf. A martial arts and fight scene expert, Follenweider is the guy you see on many fast-paced martial arts styled fights that are popular in the movies today. Still not even 40-years-old, Follenweider promises to have many more great stunts in his future as he has earned a reputation for being the “go-to guy” in Hollywood for fight stunts. His diminutive stature also enables him to double many different actors in the movies, placing him in even more demand.
6. Richard Bradshaw
Although he operates in modern movies, stuntman Richard Bradshaw is a bit of a throwback, as he is an experienced horseback rider and is great at any stunt involving horses. This hearkens back to the golden age of Hollywood when Westerns were all the rage and most stuntmen in the movies were experienced cattle hands or real-life cowboys. His ability with horses has enabled Richard Bradshaw to work on movies such as Cowboys and Aliens. But he has also shown his versatility performing car chase stunts and high wire work. During his career, Richard Bradshaw has doubled actors such as Hugh Jackman, Matthew McConaughey, Guy Pierce, and even Hugh Grant.
5. Wendy Leech
Probably the greatest stuntwoman ever, Wendy Leech has performed stunts in many of the most legendary movies ever made, including the first three Superman movies, the first three Indiana Jones films, and The Omen. If that weren’t enough, Wendy Leech was the stunt double for C-3PO in the original Star Wars movie (1977). She is in the C-3PO suit in place of actor Anthony Daniels in several action sequences in the film. Other credits of Wendy Leech include the movies Krull, the original Total Recall (doubling actress Sharon Stone) and Red 2. Wendy Leech was born into stunt work as her father was a stunt coordinator. And she is married to legendary stuntman Vic Armstrong. (More on him later).
4. Jackie Chan
He is best known as a martial artist and comedic actor. But Jackie Chan is also a world-renowned stuntman and stunt coordinator, who not only maps out all of the stunts in his films but who also performs all of his stunts. And some of his stunts have been truly mind-blowing. The fight sequences, parkour moves, and jumps in movies such as Rumble In The Bronx, Supercop and the Rush Hour film series have been spectacular. And this doesn’t even take into account his earlier Asian martial arts films, where he battled his way through cult classics such as Hand of Death, Drunken Master and New Fist of Fury. That Jackie Chan has been able to escape all of his fights and stunts intact is a testament to his skill and intelligence when it comes to plotting out action sequences.
3. Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton should follow Jackie Chan on this list, as Chan has often cited Keaton as his hero. Often referred to as the “original stunt performer,” Buster Keaton was a star during Hollywood’s silent film era in the 1920s. And his movies were known for featuring some very elaborate, very impressive and very dangerous stunts – all of which were designed and performed by Buster Keaton himself. And this was before CGI and other special effects. When Keaton jumped from a moving train or narrowly escaped a building falling on him, those things happened. A director as well as an actor, Buster Keaton delighted in pushing the envelope with his stunts and thrilling audiences. To watch his movies today is to marvel at what he was able to pull off with virtually no special effects at his disposal.
2. Vic Armstrong
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Vic Armstrong is the most prolific stunt double in Hollywood history. And what a stunt double he has been! Vic Armstrong doubled Christopher Reeves in Superman and Superman II, Harrison Ford in the first three Indiana Jones movies and George Lazenby as James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Vic Armstrong has also coordinated many of the action sequences in James Bond films, including most of the skiing sequences, and he is the man responsible for the stunts in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (pretty damn impressive). For his work, Vic Armstrong has received a Technical Achievement Academy Award and a lifetime achievement award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). He is married to stunt woman Wendy Leech (wonder what their dinner conversations are like).
1. Dar Robinson
Celebrated as the greatest stuntman of all time, Dar Robinson broke 19 World Records and set 21 World’s Firsts in stunts during his lifetime, which included jumping off the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada in 1980. Dar Robinson also invented the “Decelerator,” a dragline cable rather than an airbag for stunts that involved jumping from high places. The Decelerator allows the cameraman to film a top-down view of a stuntman as he fell without showing an airbag on the ground. During the 1970s and 1980s, Dar Robinson did stunts for hugely popular television shows and movies including Magnum Force, Rollerball, The Fall Guy and To Live and Die In L.A. One of the last movies that Dar Robinson worked on was the first Lethal Weapon film, which is dedicated to his memory. And in his entire career, Dar Robinson never broke one bone in his body. Sadly, this accomplished stuntman died in 1986 when he accidentally drove his motorcycle off a cliff while filming a stunt for the movie Million Dollar Mystery. An inquest into the death ruled that Dar Robinson accidentally hit the motorcycle’s accelerator rather than the brake, causing it to launch off the cliff.