Sci-Fi Actors Who Did All Their Own Stunts

Stunt coordinators and performers are an essential part of the film industry. Someone has to block, stage, and perform the larger-than-life stunts that make the "movie magic" happen! Computer-generated imagery can't match the authenticity of the real thing. Even if special effects augment a sequence, it helps a scene's believability if it's (at least) partially shot with real stunts.

Lately, there has been an ongoing movement to show appreciation for stunt artists – like when Helen Mirren told Indiewire that the Academy Awards should honor the craft. Currently, the Oscars don't have a category for best stunts, best stunt coordination, best stunt directing, or best stunt ensemble. Although the Screen Actors Guild Awards have awards in these categories, other televised award shows like the BAFTAs still don't recognize these talented professionals.

Recently, we've seen stunt artists rise within the ranks to become filmmakers for blockbuster-action films. Chad Stahelski, Keanu Reeves' stunt double on "The Matrix," directed his former collaborator in 2014's "John Wick" and its sequels. Stahelski's creative partner and stunt-double-turned-director David Leitch helmed "Atomic Blonde," "Deadpool 2," "Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw," and "Bullet Train."

Even if films use stunt doubles, actors that decide to do (or craft) most of their stunts deserve credit for caring enough to put in the extra work. Here's a list of sci-fi stars who performed most of their stunt work, meriting praise.

Ray Park, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

The "Star Wars" prequel trilogy redefined lightsaber duels. During George Lucas' original trilogy, fans didn't see many Jedi and Sith battles. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) hadn't perfected his training, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) and Darth Vader (portrayed by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) weren't in their fighting prime. But 1999's "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace" changed all that with the on-screen debut of Darth Maul (Ray Park). 

A ruthless Sith apprentice, Maul duels a young Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and his Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), in an epic duel on the planet Naboo. Maul's battle was faster and more intense than anything "Star Wars" fans had seen on-screen. With a background in gymnastics and martial arts training, Park came in prepared for the role. He helped the film's stunt coordinator, Nick Gillard, develop the unique fighting style that made the fearsome Sith apprentice so beloved among "Star Wars" fans by fusing his background in Wushu into Maul's lightsaber fighting style.

Park returned to the franchise for a live-action cameo in "Solo: A Star Wars Story" and reprised the voice of Maul in 2020's "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" series. But the Sith isn't his only sci-fi-action role. Park also appeared as the mutant Toad in 2000's "X-Men" and the assassin Snake Eyes in "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation."

Charlize Theron, The Old Guard

Keanu Reeves' work with David Leitch and Chad Stahelski on the "John Wick" franchise inspired Charlize Theron to undergo an intense training regime. She trained in the same gym as Reeves before starring in Leitch's "Atomic Blonde," based on the graphic novel "The Coldest City." Although Theron used a stunt double for the most brutal sequences in "Atomic Blonde," she did nearly all of her stunts in the sci-fi thriller, "The Old Guard." She was so committed to her role of Andy that Theron learned how to wield a battle ax.

Although "The Old Guard" is a superhero film, it's much more vicious than most. Inspired by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández's comic book series of the same name, "The Old Guard" follows a group of immortal warriors that work as mercenaries. Former CIA operative James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) hires Andy and her team to rescue a group of captive children in Africa. However, Copley secretly records the group in action, revealing his footage to the pharmaceutical tycoon, Steven Merrick (Harry Melling). Merrick is keen on studying the groups' powers and attempts to apprehend them.

Although Andy has advanced healing abilities, she's studied various combat styles for centuries. As the oldest immortal warrior, Andy was once a warrior in ancient Scythia. Theron's dedication to the role showed how Andy's amalgamation of skills has developed into a unique fighting style.

Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise's dangerous stunts in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise seem to become more death-defying with each subsequent installment. Between scaling the tallest building in the world, speeding through the streets of Europe, hanging on to the side of a plane, and learning to fly a helicopter, it seems like there's nothing Cruise won't do. He has shown the same level of commitment to his sci-fi projects.

Cruise and "Edge of Tomorrow" co-star Emily Blunt wore heavy metallic suits while filming the alien invasion movie with Cruise insisting on learning how to operate the armored suit. Neither Blunt nor Cruise walked away from the film unscathed. Cruise fell out of a car, and Blunt accidentally hit herself with a sword during stunt training. When Blunt was icing her injury, Cruise gave her a high-five and said, "Welcome to the club."

Thanks to Cruise's hard work, he has crafted some of action films' most unique characters, including Lt. Col. Bill Cage. The character is no hero: he is a former public affairs operator who doesn't know anything about putting his life on the line. When he's enlisted, Bill attempts to desert his duty. Demoted to the rank of private, Cage is shipped off to join the military's defense force. During the battle, he stumbles into a time loop. Blunt's Rita Vrataski teaches Bill how to fight, and together they develop a battle strategy against the aliens.

Sigourney Weaver, Aliens and Avatar

Sigourney Weaver's impact on the sci-fi genre is immeasurable. Her role as Ellen Ripley throughout the "Alien" franchise inspired decades of sci-fi heroes. Unlike Luke Skywalker, Ripley has no superpowers. She is an officer on a commercial spaceship. When a ruthless Xenomorph boards her spacecraft, Ripley must learn to fight. Ripley's crew dies one by one, pushing her to depend on herself for survival.

Although Ripley plays more of a "final girl" type in "Alien," she becomes a full-on badass in its sequel, "Aliens." In the 1986 film, Ripley reluctantly agrees to lead a group of Colonial Marines to investigate the planet LV-426. Almost immediately, the Marines are ambushed by Xenomorphs and stranded. At James Cameron's insistence, Weaver filmed her action scenes amidst freezing weather conditions. "Aliens" succeeded in showing Ripley's evolution as a character, becoming a fighter and maternal figure to the young Newt (Carrie Henn). Weaver's emotional performance earned her Academy Award nomination for best actress, a rarity for both science fiction films and sequels.

Cameron and Weaver's work in "Aliens" jumpstarted a fruitful partnership. Weaver trained to hold her breath for over six minutes underwater for a sequence in "Avatar: The Way of Water," per People. Weaver and her co-stars learned how to maintain their composure while submerged. Details about the highly-anticipated sequel are scarce. But the trailer for "Avatar: The Way of Water" teases it'll be well worth the wait.

Keanu Reeves, The Matrix

"The Matrix" changed sci-fi and action films forever. Mixing cutting-edge martial arts combat, neo-noir visuals, and Eastern philosophy, "The Matrix" felt refreshing. Since its debut in 1999, it's impossible to deny the film's impact on the industry. There have been countless "bullet time" sequences (inspired by "The Matrix") popping up in other movies.

Filmmakers Lana and Lilly Wachowski brought in Hong Kong martial arts director Yuen Woo-ping to choreograph the movie's fight scenes and wire-work. At the time, flipping and fighting mid-air were virtually absent from American action movie productions. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Carrie-Anne Moss trained for four months to develop their unique combat styles. Yuen thought each character's fighting style would reveal something about their personalities. As Neo (Reeves) grows more confident in his abilities, he realizes he truly is "The One." As Neo becomes a hero, leader, and ultimately, a martyr, his fighting style evolves to match those changes.

When Neo says: "I know kung fu," it feels like Reeves is speaking on-screen — and the star hasn't slowed down. Reeves has gone on record to say he now does about 90% of his stunts. He was eager to return to the franchise in "The Matrix Resurrections." Reeves told Stephen Colbert that he jumped off a building several times while shooting the film's exciting climax.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Total Recall (1990)

Before becoming an actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger had an extensive career as a bodybuilder. In 1967, Schwarzenegger earned the "Mr. Universe" title and won America's "Mr. Olympia" competition for six years consecutively. Renowned for his physique, action filmmakers relied on Schwarzenegger to do his own stunts.

"Total Recall" showed a different side of Schwarzenegger. He had to play an average guy wrapped up in a sci-fi adventure. Paul Verhoeven's thought-provoking mystery explores the nature of dreams, ending in a way that "Total Recall" fans still debate. Schwarzenegger stars as Douglas Quaid, a blue-collar worker who dreams of having adventures as a secret agent on Mars. Quaid's fantasies turn into reality when he travels to the red planet, finding himself pursued by assassins.

Throughout his career, Schwarzenegger has sustained many injuries. But shooting "Total Recall" was grueling. During the film's subway chase sequence, Schwarzenegger cut his wrists after smashing his gun into a window that was supposed to detonate ahead of time. He wasn't the only "Total Recall" cast member who got hurt during filming. During one of the film's fight sequences, Michael Ironside cracked his rib. Also, the cast and crew suffered from food poisoning while shooting in Mexico City. Despite the challenging production, "Total Recall" has stood the test of time as one of Schwarzenegger's finest films.

Hiroyuki Sanada, Life

As seen in David Leitch's latest action film "Bullet Train," it's clear that Hiroyuki Sanada isn't someone who messes around. Before his acting career, Sanada received extensive training in Shorinji Kempo and Kyokushin Karate. Sanada's dramatic sensitivity and first-rate combat skills have made him a favorite among Hollywood filmmakers for decades.

Sanada prides himself on his ability to do his own stunts, telling The Hollywood Reporter in 2017 that he grew up inspired by John Wayne and Steve McQueen films. Filmmaking and special effects have grown more complex since Sanada's childhood, but he continues to be a prominent action star. In "Life," Sanada performed his wire-work scenes and stunt scenes himself. The sci-fi film follows a team of astronauts discovering an unnamed space probe returning from the Martian surface. The probe's sole inhabitant, a biological life form nicknamed "Calvin," steadily kills off the engineer Sho Murakami (Sanada) and his crew. To immerse the actors in the film's setting, Sanada also told the outlet the crew designed "a full International Space Station and used the four biggest sound stages at Shepperton Studios."

Outside of "Life," Sanada has appeared in several sci-fi-action projects, including "Sunshine," Lilly and Lana Wachowski's "Speed Racer," "The Wolverine," Zack Snyder's "Army of the Dead," and HBO's "Westworld."

Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

When Adam Driver debuted as Kylo Ren in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," it was clear that he was a very different type of villain than the galaxy far, far away had ever seen before. Later revealed to be the child of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), he is brought to the dark side by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

However, "The Last Jedi" reveals that Ben's resentment for his family cuts much deeper than the anger of a spurned child. Ben feared that his uncle, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), was planning on slaying him in his sleep. Driver's performance here showed that his character lets his fears control him: he lashes out at those closest to him. As a result, he has a unique way of wielding his lightsaber. Ben's signature weapon, a red lightsaber with a cross guard, gives him extra protection during close-quarters duels — allowing him to inflict critical wounds on his opponents.

According to "The Rise of Skywalker" stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart, Driver insisted on performing his stunts for the "Star Wars" sequel trilogy. While many actors insist on doing their stunts, Driver felt that it was important for him to immerse himself within the character. She called Driver "as good as any stuntman," and shared that he didn't require a stunt double. Only Driver wore Kylo Ren's mask in "The Rise of the Skywalker."

Tom Holland, Spider-Man: Far From Home

Many Marvel fans claim that Tom Holland plays the best Peter Parker on the big screen. Although Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield have their fans, Holland's youthfulness is perfect for the teenage anxiety that courses through Peter. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Sony Pictures co-productions have shown that the Tom Holland-starring films understand Spider-Man's true essence: he is a kid who has bitten off more than he can chew — leading him to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders.

While Holland doesn't personally carry that responsibility, he's been tasked with pleasing generations of "Spider-Man" fans. But Holland has shown that he understands the Spidey phrase: "With great power, comes great responsibility." In the behind-the-scenes footage for "Spider-Man: Far From Home," Holland's co-star Jake Gyllenhaal shared, "no one commits to the physicality like [Holland] does." Gyllenhaal recalled that during their first days of shooting, Holland impressed him by doing a backflip off a trampoline. Showing off in front of your friends — now that sounds like Spider-Man!

Scott Adkins, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

Scott Adkins is one of the most underrated action movie stars in Hollywood. Although he's had smaller roles in well-known films like "Doctor Strange," "Zero Dark Thirty," and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," Adkins is the star of many great projects released directly to VOD services. Adkins has studied Karate, Judo, Kickboxing, Jujutsu, Krav Maga, and Ninjutsu, according to Men's Journal. In his action films, he performs his stunts.

In the sci-fi action film "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning," Adkins stars as a former soldier named John, who goes back into action after the brainwashed military leader Private Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) murders his family. When he learns that Deveraux has a terrorist clan that worships his commands, John sets out on a path of vengeance.

Although the first entry in the "Universal Soldier" film franchise from Roland Emmerich is corny blockbuster filmmaking at best, "Day of Reckoning" has a radically different tone. Instead of seeing Emmerich's trademark cheesy humor on-screen, the film uses disturbing, hypnotic visuals often found in psychological horror films. The murder of John's wife and child is shown from his point of view, giving the viewer a gruesome look at how Deveraux has changed. While they trade blows on-screen, Adkins told ScreenCrush that Van Damme inspired him to become a martial artist and movie star.