Let’s talk about blooper reels and the genius of Jackie Chan. The tradition of stringing together a series of on-set mistakes—flubbed lines, stunts gone wrong, intracast pranks—goes back to Hollywood’s Golden Age, when Warner Bros. producers embarrassed lead actors like Bette Davis and James Cagney with their professional screw-ups at an annual studio dinner.
The blooper reel made the leap from private joke to audience-thrilling bonus at the end of the ’70s. In 1979, the Peter Sellers vehicle Being There famously rolled credits over a painful three-minute clip of the comedy star helplessly stumbling on his lines; Sellers was not amused.
Then there was Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), which set itself up for critical zingers by rolling credits over star Burt Reynolds’ flubbed dialogue. (“It seems deplorable but appropriate that the end titles are illustrated not with scenes from the film but with out-takes,” wrote the Washington Post’s Gary Arnold when the film debuted. “The whole movie suggests a feature-length out-take, something tossed off by professionals unable to get in the mood for working.”)
This brings us to another vehicular comedy, 1981’s The Cannonball Run. With this flick, you get more Burt Reynolds, more direction by legendary director/stuntman Hal Needham, and yet another blooper reel. But you also get a bit role by a young Chinese actor named Jackie Chan as “Subaru Driver #1.”
Needham brought the blooper reel to mass audiences. He also introduced the idea to Chan, who reportedly loved it so much that he included a (sometimes grisly) gag reel for as many of his later films as he could get away with. Chan’s blooper reels raised the bar by introducing a retroactive element of danger after the final scene went dark.
These gag reels are also something of a public service; in a post-Jackass world, kids really do need to see that jumping off of tall structures can lead to very real injuries. Chan himself has a hole in his head from a stunt-gone-wrong while filming Armour of God (1986), and he’s broken just about every bone there is to break.
Here’s the thing about all of those injuries Chan documents in his blooper reels, though: Somebody had to pay for the ensuing delays. If it’s not the producer, it’s the insurer. The fact is, movie bloopers can get so expensive—and even tragic—that they’re not funny in the slightest. Here are some of the most extreme examples:
1. The Hateful Six-String
There’s a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 ensemble Western The Hateful Eight that plays a little too real. Jennifer Jason Leigh co-stars as the guitar-strumming fugitive Daisy Domergue. When she antagonizes her captor, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) in song, the bounty hunter grabs the guitar out of her hand and smashes it to pieces.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” says Domergue—and Leigh. The reaction was genuine. The guitar, you see, was not the low-cost replica that was meant to be used for the scene, but a $40,000 Martin from the 1870s. Russell had no idea the real guitar hadn’t been swapped out for a fake one. Leigh did know, which is why she reacted so believably when her co-star destroyed the relic.
“Kurt felt terrible; he had no idea,” Leigh later told Billboard. “When he found out, his eyes literally welled up. It ended up being great for the scene, but very sad for the guitar, and for my guitar teacher, and for me.”
The Martin Guitar Museum lent the instrument to the production with the understanding that it would come back in one piece. When then-director of the museum, Dick Boak, found out the circumstances of the guitar’s destruction, he was not pleased.
“We want to make sure that people know that the incident was very distressing to us,” Boak told entertainment news outlet SSN Insider. (The company’s website is down, and it hasn’t tweeted since May 2017, but the story was quoted extensively in Reverb and Newsweek.)
“We can’t believe that it happened,” Boak continued. “I don’t think anything can really remedy this. We’ve been remunerated for the insurance value, but it’s not about the money. It’s about the preservation of American musical history and heritage.”
Anyway, this won’t happen again. After the guitar’s destruction, the museum “will no longer loan guitars to movies under any circumstances,” Boak said.
2. The Financial Apocalypse of “Apocalypse Now”
The Vietnam War epic/Heart of Darkness reboot Apocalypse Now was shot in the Philippines under conditions that crew would later say didn’t feel too different from actual combat. By some accounts, Coppola ran a chaotic shoot, firing crew left and right, changing the script as he went along, and replacing the original star, Harvey Keitel, with Martin Sheen two weeks into shooting.
Then the typhoon hit. The whole project ground to a halt. The storm utterly destroyed an entire village set Coppola had built for the film. Luckily, Coppola had general production insurance. His insurer, Fireman’s Fund, ended up replacing the entire village, to the tune of $1.5 million.
3. A Maelstrom of Money
After a string of nominations, Edward James Olmos finally won the Saturn Award for Best Actor on Television in 2009. The accolade was, of course, for Olmos’ memorable role as Admiral William Adama on the 2004-2009 remake of sci-fi classic Battlestar Galactica.
Olmos’ performances were always believable, sometimes painfully so. Take the heart-wrenching scene from Season 3, Episode 17: Maelstrom. Olmos’ Adama, grieving for the loss of pilot and daughter figure Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, smashes a model ship in his office. As Olmos told a crowd at Planet Comicon 2012, he improvised that scene. That’s just as well; there’s no way the director would have placed the action in the blocking.
The ship wasn’t a cheap prop, as it turned out. It was on loan from a museum, Olmos says, and cost about $200,000.
4. The Accidental Bond Villain
Daniel Craig’s second turn as 007, in Quantum of Solace (2008), brought the actor face to face with danger that might make even James Bond nervous. The actor did many of his own stunts—which eventually led to a costly accident.
Craig was shooting a scene in which Bond, true to his nature, gets into a fist fight…only this one involves a lot more than fists. Craig’s on-screen rival aimed a kick at the actor’s face, intending to get close enough to fool the cameras, but nowhere near close enough to do any damage. Let’s just say there was a miscalculation.
That’s right: Daniel Craig was kicked in the face for his art. While he paid the price in pain, we’re pretty sure the studio (or their insurance company) paid it in cash. Craig had to have eight stitches. Somehow, he even managed to sever a fingertip in the accident. His face was damaged enough that the star had to have cosmetic surgery to get back into spotlight-ready shape.
The accident was “a stupid inconvenience, because we had to stop filming,” Craig later told Elle magazine, as quoted in E! News. “But they gave me an excellent plastic surgeon.”
The exact dollar amount behind Craig’s too-real fight scene is unclear, but plastic surgery doesn’t come cheap, and delays in filming are costly—especially on a film with a budget of $200 million. Until the Quantum of Solace producers open up their books, we won’t know exactly how costly that kick heard ’round Hollywood was. But one thing’s for sure: It was not pocket change.
5. The Financial Cost of a Hollywood Tragedy
The accidental shooting of Brandon Lee during the filming of The Crow (1994) is one of the most tragic on-set accidents in Hollywood history. It ended the promising, 28-year-old actor’s life and launched a thousand dark rumors. Lee’s father, Bruce Lee, was cursed, people said. The film itself was cursed.
Curse or no curse, Lee’s passing was the culmination of many risk factors. The shoot was partially nonunion, so filmmakers blew through union-required 12-hour breaks between shooting sessions. Cast and crew were exhausted.
By March 30, close to completing the film under its $14 million budget, producers let their firearms consultant go. The tough shots were finished. Regular crew could handle the rest, they figured.
Then the fateful accident: Part of a dummy round fell off into the prop gun’s chamber. When the cameras began rolling for another violent scene, actor Michael Massee pointed the weapon at Lee and pulled the trigger. The blank round propelled the fragment like an actual bullet, piercing the star’s torso. Lee’s heart failed in the hospital 12 hours later.
The human cost of this tragedy is incalculable. But, this being Hollywood, there was also a hefty financial price to pay. The production was underwritten by an insurer called CNA, which paid out a claim of $8 million to complete filming after the disaster.
Another young star taken before his time, Paul Walker, precipitated an expected claim of $50 million to complete Fast & Furious 7 when he passed away in 2014. Carrie Fisher’s passing could cost Disney’s insurance company another $50 million for Fisher’s obligations to the Star Wars franchise.
Tragedies, it seems, are costly in every sense of the word.