Dangerous Sci-Fi Stunts The Actors Actually Performed

There's every reason in the world for an actor to not do their own stunts. Stunt performers make up an entire sub-industry in the filmmaking world. It's simple enough to find a stunt person whose physicality matches the actor's, allowing them to serve as the celebrity's double without making the audience bat an eye. On top of that, the inherently dangerous nature of stunt work isn't just a liability to the production, but a risk to the performer's safety. Why not leave it to the professionals?

Because stunts come with serious street cred, that's why. Okay, so the actual reasoning might be a bit more nuanced. The different explanations for why an actor might want to perform their own stunts are as varied as the stunts themselves. Whether they're jumping out of a building or being lifted off 80 feet into the air, each actor has their own motivations for putting themselves in danger. Here are a few stunts from sci-fi movies that the actors actually performed, as well as the reasons why.

Adam Driver was a dyad in the Force... of stunts

Kylo Ren provides stunt performers with the ultimate cheat. Since he often wears a mask, a double could sub in for Adam Driver and the audience wouldn't be able to tell the difference, even in close-up shots. However, that easy out didn't hinder Driver's passion for performing Kylo Ren's stunts himself. For 2019's "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," this meant engaging in complex martial arts-esque choreography, which was particularly difficult while fighting in a deluge of rain on the remains of the second Death Star.

"The physicality of Kylo, I'm very protective over. I wanted to do all of the things," Driver says in the documentary "The Skywalker Legacy," arguing that the consistency in his performance preserved the character's integrity for the audience.

Eunice Huthart, stunt coordinator on "Rise of Skywalker," told FanSided that Driver's stunt double never even put on the supreme leader's costume during the shoot. In addition, Driver's, well, drive stood out to Huthart compared to some other actors she's worked with. "Sometimes, they're just not capable. They want to be in character. They want to be a part of everything. But they just can't do it where it's a believable level as the character should be," Huthart said. "Adam Driver, on the other hand, is as good as any stuntman. He's absolutely fantastic."

A rig lifted Olivia Wilde high above her horse for Cowboys & Aliens

Before pioneering innovative digital filmmaking techniques on projects like "The Mandalorian" and the live-action remake of "The Lion King," Jon Favreau directed 2011's "Cowboys & Aliens." As such, it would be natural to assume that Favreau and his crew on the sci-fi western found ways to fake the death-defying stunts on screen — but that's not the case at all.

For example, when an alien ship attempts to abduct Olivia Wilde's character, Ellen Swenson, as she rides horseback, you might assume that the outrageous action is computerized. However, that's the real Olivia Wilde in the real desert being lifted off of a horse to a very real height of 80 feet. In a behind-the-scenes video, stunt coordinator Thomas Robinson Harper reveals that he originally planned to use a stand-in for Wilde. The ratchet, though, involved new technology that made it "easier on the person," meaning a principal actor might not need a double.

"That was really fun," Wilde reflected. "Although I'm an experienced horse woman and I've been on horses since I was a kid, being yanked off a horse into the air was a new experience."

Charlize Theron narrowly avoided a major injury filming Aeon Flux

Charlize Theron stars as the title character in "Aeon Flux," the 2005 film adaptation of the 1990s MTV series. During filming, she wanted to perform most of the action choreography herself. However, while doing a backflip, Theron didn't stick the landing and slipped a disc in her neck. Reflecting on the incident, in 2017, Theron told News.com.au, "I was a centimeter away from being completely paralyzed for the rest of my life."

Although things could have been much worse, the incident led to years of neck pain and eventually necessitated a neck fusion. But that didn't deter Theron from continuing to take on stunts in future films like "Mad Max: Furry Road" and "Atomic Blonde." "I love storytelling through the physical," she explained. "I think it's the ballerina in me, the fact that I started as a dancer. I'm not interested in doing stupid things, but I am interested in learning new things. It's different to getting on a motorcycle and doing something stupid — it's precise."

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss took a leap of faith for The Matrix Resurrections

When some actors discuss the art form of filmmaking, their tone communicates a clear passion for the industry. When Keanu Reeves stopped by "The Late Show" in 2021 to chat with Stephen Colbert about "The Matrix Resurrections," the star grinned ear to ear and rubbed his hands together when Colbert asked him about performing stunts in the film.

Reeves said that his wildest stunt for the movie required him and co-star Carrie-Anne Moss to jump off a building "around 46 stories" tall roughly 20 times. The actors were attached to wires, but everything else about the stunt was very real, a point Colbert playfully questioned when considering modern digital technology. Why did they have to jump off a real building when the crew could have faked it with visual effects? Reeves answered, "Because it's [directed by] Lana Wachowski and it's 'The Matrix' and you need natural light and you want to do it real."

Reeves also spoke about the need to compartmentalize in order to execute a stunt like that. "By the time you get there, my heart rate was a little raised, but after the first time, you can't think of the possibilities. You can't think of the fear. You have to, not block it, but deal with it, absorb it, and then just be there and do." The final verdict? "It was awesome! Can you imagine? Just leaping off of a building with wires?"

Joseph Gordon-Levitt became a master of rotating hallways for Inception

In "Inception," Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, Arthur, finds himself in hand-to-hand combat inside a rotating hallway. The crew could have achieved this effect a number of ways. They could have spun the camera to simulate the hallway's movement. They could have animated a computerized version of Gordon-Levitt in post-production. But go big or go home, right? To film the hallway sequence, the "Inception" crew actually built a rotating set that slowly revolved. They kept the camera firmly planted to the floor, and Gordon-Levitt actually pivoted from wall to wall as Arthur fought for his life.

CineFix breaks down the sequence on YouTube, saying Gordon-Levitt practiced for two weeks and imagined listening to Bach to maintain his cool. The actor's steadfastness was a step above that of some of his collaborators, as director Christopher Nolan and stunt coordinator Tom Struthers both experienced motion sickness on the rotating set. CineFlix also shares audio from Gordon-Levitt in which the actor describes his prep for the sequence. "It looks like we're jumping on the ceiling. In order to actually get it done, I couldn't think of it that way. I had to think of it as, 'This is the ground. Ok, now this is the ground. Ok, now this is the ground.'"

Emily Blunt was up for anything on the Edge of Tomorrow set

When filming "Edge of Tomorrow," Emily Blunt wore bulky military gear, performed martial arts-based combat, and narrowly avoided explosions on the regular. The actor elaborated on her process during a promotional interview, in which she said that her "Edge of Tomorrow" co-star, Tom Cruise, motivated her to do her own stunts. "He's so courageous with his stunts and he's willing to try anything and go the extra mile, which is always inspiring," Blunt said. "I learned a lot from Tom about just having [the] guts to try it and that you've got to persevere."

Cruise emphasized another part of the stunt work that's easy to overlook. "It's not just doing the stunts. It's you have to act and [do] the stunts. Working on these characters was key to the story." It's true. It would be easy — and totally understandable — for an actor to be so focused on the physicality of the stunt itself. Capturing a shot, though, is a completely separate task from playing a character — and yet, the moment a crew films a stunt, the tasks become one and the same. The scene can't read as Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise hitting their marks. It has to be Sergeant Rita Vrataski and Major William Cage escaping death. A skilled actor does both, hopefully so effortlessly that the audience doesn't even think twice about it.

Will Smith jumped out of a window while filming Men in Black 3

Will Smith's Agent J has to make a quick getaway in 2012's "Men in Black 3." There's just one problem: The party he's attending is on the third floor, and Agent J's target has just jumped out the window. The only way to catch him? Follow suit. However, while the runner takes a giant leap from the third floor to the cement below, Agent J is a bit more careful. He jumps onto a platform level with the second floor, then closes the difference to finally land on the ground. Still, it's a significant distance from window to sidewalk, and Will Smith played Agent J for the whole thing.

Back in summer 2011, when production was still underway, Metro shared images that XposurePhotos captured of the shooting location in New York City. The photos clearly show Smith performing the jump. During a press interview promoting the original "Men in Black," Smith spoke of director Barry Sonnenfeld's desire for Smith to perform his own stunts. Smith obliged, albeit with the playful warning that, if he ever got hurt, he had a buddy on set who would "knock [Barry] the f*** out." By the time Smith stopped by "The Tonight Show" to discuss "Bad Boys For Life" in 2020, the actor noted that his ability to handle huge stunts with ease had diminished over the decades.

Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson went zero Gs for Moonfall

Patrick Kerton, stunt coordinator of 2022's "Moonfall," discussed the creation of the film in press materials Lionsgate distributed prior to the movie's release. There, Kerton stressed how director Rolan Emmerich emphasized from the beginning of production that he wanted the actors to perform as many of their stunts as possible.

"All the actors had stunt doubles, but the stunt doubles never really got on the stage," Kerton said. "They did all the testing. They did all the rehearsing. They did the camera set-ups, but then the actors had to go in and perform. All the actors perform magnificently." These performers included Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, and John Bradley, who acted in scenes simulating zero gravity as their characters' spaceship traveled the stars.

One stunt that crossed the line and necessitated a stand-in? A shot of a huge tidal wave that pummels Bradley's character. That's not actually Bradley, but a double. However, Kerton noted that the crew doused Bradley in water for the remainder of the day for his close-up shots.

Brandon Perea got scraped up filming Nope

In 2022's "Nope," Brandon Perea plays Angel, a Best Buy employee who helps Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer's characters attempt to film an extraterrestrial in the middle of a barren California valley. As the alien glides over the area, it pulls Angel along for a tumultuous ride; it's Angel who takes the brunt of the California desert's wrath.

In an interview with Metro, Perea explained his excitement at performing his stunts when possible. "It was cool to be able to do the rolls myself because I use my body all the time," Perea said. "I'm a break-dancer. I do flips, martial arts, all that, so I know how to fall, but they would tell me how to do it and I'd just do it. I got some bumps and scrapes for sure."

Brad Pitt performed a simulated parachute jump for Ad Astra

 Brad Pitt's astronaut, Roy Richard McBride, begins 2019's "Ad Astra" onboard an antenna, relatively close to Earth but far enough into the sky to be considered in "space." Following a series of unexpected explosions, McBride plummets into the atmosphere, headed straight for the ground. He barely maintains his wits enough to release a parachute that helps him land safely.

To pull off the scene, the crew actually launched Pitt into space and then set off a series of explosions that sent the actor falling back home. Okay, not really. Pitt did, however, perform at least part of the sequence himself. The Sun snapped photos of the filming of the stunt in Los Angeles; in them, you can see Pitt, dressed in his full astrosuit regalia, and a parachute attached to the giant rig that swung the actor through the air for the sequence's close-up shots.

Ryan Reynolds showed off his martial arts skills in The Adam Project's big finale

An actor with prior experience in action movies can be helpful to a stunt coordinator. Ideally, the performer already knows their limits, and can more accurately discern which stunts they can and can't handle. Further, if their abilities fall more in the "can" category, the crew can leverage the actor's skills to add extra dimensions to the film. Such was the case with Ryan Reynolds' "The Adam Project," in which the "Deadpool" star performed much of the complex martial arts choreography, including the final battle against the baddies.

"Ryan is a very physical actor," director Shawn Levy said in a promotional video. "He's obviously done a lot of action movies, so as much as possible, we are choreographing pieces in longer sections where the real actors are doing the real stunts of real martial arts so that the audience understands they're seeing something authentic." Not to be outdone, newcomer Walker Scobell tried his hand at a few stunts, too. Playing a 12-year-old version of Reynolds' character, Scobell flew into the climactic battle attached to wires, nailing his character's self-proclaimed "superhero landing."

Stunt coordinator Jim Churchman elaborated how he balances principal actors with stunt performers. "The challenge is always where to draw the line," Churchman said. "How much do we do practically? How much do they do digitally? Typically, I like to push the line as far as we can. I think you get some of the best action when you have a nice marriage of the two disciplines."