Background actors, or extras as they’re more popularly known, serve a largely thankless, albeit important role in film production. The whole purpose of an extra is to make scenes more believable, so the best background actors are the ones you never notice (which feels like the antithesis of wanting to be on camera in the first place). And while extras have an easier job than the main players in the foreground with actual lines, acting “normal” while the camera rolls is still a difficult skill to master … so it’s no surprise that there have been many instances of background actors completely blowing it. Here are 15 of our favorite instances of extras forgetting how to do their job.
15. Goodfellas – Distracting Diner Extra
In Martin Scorsese’s Academy-Award winning 1990 gangster flick Goodfellas, there’s a pivotal scene involving Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill and Robert De Niro’s Jimmy set in a diner, in which Henry figures out that his fellow mobster and longtime friend is about to have him killed. The scene is supposed to be focused on the two lead actors having an important conversation, but a husky extra sitting at the next table becomes more and more distracting as the scene goes on. We all know that extras are supposed to function as window dressing, in that you’re not supposed to notice them, but this gentleman constantly draws attention to the fact that he knows he’s on camera with his not-so-subtle attempts to NOT look at the camera. If you watch him closely, you can see his eyes constantly darting around to not stare directly into the camera, which of course leads to him doing just that at one point. The whole thing is made even worse by the use of Scorsese’s trademark freeze-frame, as you can see the man looking off into space when the camera freezes on De Niro at the 1:47 mark in the video below:
14. Everything Must Go – Frozen Kids
In the 2010 drama Everything Must Go, which sees Will Ferrell in a rare serious role as an alcoholic who attempts to restart his life by selling off most of his possessions in a giant yard sale, there’s a scene that seems like a straightforward conversation between two adults until you notice something horrifying going on in the background. Ferrell’s character Nick visits one of his old high school classmates Delilah (Laura Dern), who has two children. We see the children playing together in Deliliah’s front yard but when the scene cuts back to the children in the background, they are frozen in place. The shot lasts about 6 seconds too and the children are motionless for that whole span, while Nick and Delilah continue to talk as if Delilah’s children aren’t stuck in some sort of time loop about ten feet away. This one can likely just be chocked up to a bad composition job, but it’s still surprising that the editors let this one slip through the cracks!
13. North by Northwest – Kid Plugging His Ears
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, is a near-flawless classic, but still contains a pretty big goof that is admittedly more adorable than distracting. Just before the film’s climactic chase scene on Mount Rushmore, Roger Thornhill (Grant) confronts Eve Kendall (Marie Saint) in the National Park’s cafeteria. The scene ends with Kendall fatally shooting Thornhill (it’s later revealed that the gun fires blanks), but the scene itself required multiple takes to get right. As you can imagine, having to hear a gunshot go off repeatedly would not be pleasant to the ears and one little boy in the background opted to plug his ears in anticipation of the gunshot. You can see the boy plug his ears well in advance of the gunshot going off which, if we were to accept at face value, suggests that he was in on the ruse the whole time …
12. Kingsman: The Secret Service – Chair Guy
This one isn’t very noticeable but once you do see it, it kind of mars an otherwise perfectly choreographed fight scene. During the brutally epic church fight scene in Kingsman: The Secret Service, you can spot a guy in the background swinging a wooden chair up and down. At first glance, it looks like he’s using the chair to bash someone’s head in but upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that he’s just moving it up and down through the air; in fact, there isn’t even anyone close to him! The best part is that the camera actually cuts away to something else at one point and when it turns back, the chair guy is still doing the same pointless motion. It’s certainly not the worst gaffe by an extra in movie history but then again, we just wanted an excuse to highlight this scene because wow is it a banger.
You can first spot crazy chair guy around the 2:17 mark in the clip below:
11. 10 Things I Hate About You – Arrow Girl
In 10 Things I Hate About You, aka the movie that first clued everyone in that Heath Ledger, was a dreamboat, there’s a scene where some kids are shooting arrows on the football field and the coach ends up getting hit by one. There’s a girl in the background who runs over the call 911 and when she runs back to the other side of the frame, she slows down and looks directly back at the camera, no doubt thinking she had made it out of the frame. Sorry girl, your blunder is immortalized in cinematic history for all to see!
10. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory – Jawbreaker
In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, when the local candy store owner launches into the “Candy Man” to sing the praises of Wonka and his scrumdiddlyumptious bar (come to think of it, is this guy sponsored by the Wonka corporation?), there’s a moment early in the song where he lifts his counter hatch to let the children behind the counter. As he does it, you can see a little girl standing right in front of the hatch quickly jerk her head back to avoid getting smoked in the face. Look for the moment at the 2:19 mark in the video below:
9. Coach Carter – Shake Your Fist
When Richmond High School varsity basketball coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) cancels the upcoming big game with Fremont because of his undefeated team’s poor grades, the school’s passionate fan base is none too pleased with his decision and a crowd of them get up in his face about it. One fan, in particular, gets a bit overzealous in his distaste as he comically shakes his fist in anger at the coach as if he read the stage directions on the script and decided to go over-the-top in his faux outrage. It kind of reminds us of another instance of exaggerated fist-shaking …
8. The Last Samurai – Hoof in the Groin
In the frankly underappreciated The Last Samurai, there’s a scene where Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) returns to the front lines of his Samurai allies and as he dismounts his horse, you can see his charger kick one of the Samurai extras right in the groin with its back leg. Incredibly, the extra shrugs it off and lines up back information, but we imagine he must have doubled over in pain right after the cameras stopped rolling. It’s not as good as Football in the Groin but then again, Football in the groin had football in the groin.
7. Teen Wolf – Fly Undone
A cinematic goof so famous that Family Guy once did a bit on it, the undone fly from Teen Wolf is truly a classic when it comes to background actors messing up. The scene in question comes right after the Beacon High School Beavers win their basketball game towards the end of the movie. In the bleachers, there’s a student in a red sweater cheering the team on who has their jeans unzipped and the best part is that they notice the problem and take the time to zip their fly back up while the scene plays out. Interestingly, it was rumored at one point that the extra had their penis sticking out of their pants, but it’s since been discovered that the extra was, in fact, a woman, as she can also be seen in several other shots during the basketball game.
6. Mr. Nanny – Guy Throws Dog Into Water
The 1993 Hulk Hogan movie Mr. Nanny isn’t exactly memorable, but it has achieved internet fame due to what’s become known as the “dog tossing” scene. Toward the beginning of the film, there’s a scene that shows Hogan’s character riding his motorcycle through Palm Beach, Florida. As he passes a body of water, a man in the background can be seen throwing his dog into the water. Technically, this guy wasn’t an extra in the movie, as it appears that the whole thing was unplanned and the reason for the random man’s display of animal cruelty is still unknown to this day. Perhaps it was just a really hot day and the guy wanted to give his canine pal a quick bath, brother!
5. You Only Live Twice – Cat Freakout
This list wouldn’t be complete without an animal extra blunder, which brings us to perhaps our all-time favorite: Blofeld’s cat freaking the hell out in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Blofeld is known for his affinity for white cats and for the most part, his cat is always calm and serene in his arms and/or lap. However, when an explosion goes off inside the villain’s base, the cat gets spooked and desperately tries to escape from actor Donald Pleasence’s arms, whom it must be said does an admirable job holding the feisty feline in an inescapable death grip. The best part is that it looks like Sean Connery has to stifle his laughter at the whole situation.
4. Quantum of Solace – Worst Sweeping Ever
Here’s the one you’ve likely seen before. In the 007 films Quantum of Solace (2008), during James Bond’s mission in Haiti, there’s a scene where Bond is on a pier using his phone and in the background, a man is sweeping… well, nothing. He’s just sweeping air and never once touches the ground. This guy has never held a broom in his life and must have been hired to spy on Bond. That’s the only explanation that makes sense.
3. Back to the Future III – Hold Your Pee
The Back to the Future trilogy saved its most prominent background distraction until the very end it seems. After Back to the Future Part III, Doc Brown returns to Hill Valley in the year 1985 in a brand new time machine made from a locomotive, with his new family in tow. As Doc is introducing his family to Marty and Jennifer, his youngest son Verne, played by Dannel Evans, can be seen waving everyone in and then pointing to his groin. One can only assume that Evans needed to go to the bathroom and was crying out for help, but was too much of a professional to stop the take. Given the number of times we’ve struggled to hold our pee in while watching movies in the theater, we feel your pain kid!
2. The Dark Knight Rises – Ouch, You Hit Me!
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is well-recognized for having pretty mediocre fight choreography, but we didn’t know things were this bad! Case in point: during The Dark Knight Rises rooftop scene where Batman and Catwoman are fighting off a bunch of Bane’s henchmen, there’s a guy framed up in a fighting stance over to the left who falls over without getting hit. The worst part is that neither Batman or Catwoman is anywhere near the guy. How this takes made it into the final film is anyone’s guess, but perhaps you could explain it away as the guy being so afraid of fighting either masked vigilante that he just decided to play dead. Wouldn’t you?
1. Star Wars – Stormtrooper Hits His Head
In the original Star Wars, when Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca are trying to find a way out of the Death Star’s trash compactor, a group of Stormtroopers manage to unseal the blast door to the control room R2-D2 and C-3PO are hiding in. As they make their way through the entrance, one of the Stormtroopers can be seen hitting his head off the blast door, thus lending credibility to Luke’s earlier statement that you “can’t see anything” in these helmets. Arguably the most famous background gaffe in cinematic history, this shot has been so embraced by the Star Wars community that director George Lucas didn’t even try to remove it in the special edition; instead, he added a “thud” sound effect to draw even more attention to it!