Between special effects magic and creative filming techniques, movies these days are pretty much assumed to be entirely fabricated. It makes sense for what's essentially a moving illusion to maintain a space of fiction, but sometimes, reality butts its way in the most brutal ways possible. That means real pain and real injury making its way into some of the most convincing movies ever filmed.
These are nine classic moments that utilized actual (and often unexpected) anguish to get the perfect scene.
1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Think back to the scene when Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn are reeling from the assumed deaths of their Hobbit friends Merry and Pippin. Because the remaining team feel like they failed to save their companions, they begin to break down. Aragorn, played by Viggo Mortensen, lets out his frustration by kicking a an orc helmet and plummets to the ground in a fit of screams.
In some behind the scenes footage, Peter Jackson revealed that Mortensen had, in reality, broken two of his toes while doing multiple takes of the scene. He continued to shoot with the pain, and the resulting shriek is one of genuine pain and provided for the best emotionally-charged moment.
2. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
While most of the entries on this list used authentic pain for unflinchingly dramatic scenes, leave it to Steve Carrell to use the same method for incredible comedy. The star of The 40-Year-Old Virgin insisted that he perform the now-famous waxing using his actual, heavily carpeted chest. Those spots of blood and the colorful swearing are all genuine reactions, and I can safely I've never more empathetic than when I saw this for the first time.
If you haven't seen it in a while, I highly recommend you take four minutes out of your day to experience it anew.
3. Enter the Dragon
If you only watch one video on this entire list, make it this one. Living legend Jackie Chan adorably describes his time working with Bruce Lee on Enter the Dragon. Back then, he was just an unknown trying to make his way into the industry, and he was beyond excited to have a fight scene with the undisputed star.
Unexpectedly for Chan, Lee went to feign an attack with a rod, but accidentally struck his adversary in the face. The two played it off like it was the plan all along. As Chan tells it, he temporarily lost his sight, but the resulting apologies from his hero more than made up for it.
4. Fight Club
Right after Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and the Narrator (Edward Norton) are really starting to get chummy, Durden challenges his new friend to hit him. Behind the scenes, director David Fincher told Norton to actually strike Pitt, even though that was not the original plan.
What you see here is a genuinely shocked reaction from Pitt, and that perfectly delivered line—"You hit me in the ear!"—was straight off the cuff.
5. Apocalypse Now
As part of the iconic opening scene of Apocalypse Now, Captain Willard, played by Martin Sheen, is having an extremely rough go of it. As he battles his internal demons, he has one of the most famous cinematic meltdowns and flings himself across his hotel room.
As the cast and crew behind the classic explain in the documentary Hearts of Darkness, Sheen had actually gotten extremely drunk before filming for an authentic loss of his inhibitions. When he smashes into the mirror, that's real, and his injury was a physical result. That means the blood he famously smears all over his face is his own blood, making this sequence even more impressive than I previously thought.
6. The Exorcist
When discussing painful repercussions caused by The Exorcist, it's common to hear about the shocked audiences that fainted in the aisles and vomited in their laps, but some of the cast had their own set of surprises while filming. In one particularly damaging scene, star Ellen Burstyn is violently thrown onto her back.
The effect was achieved by yanking Burstyn on a wire, and even when she plead for them to ease up, they continued to pull her down to the floor with all their strength. As a result, she endured a coccyx injury and permanent damage to her spine that continues to plague her onset. No word on an apology from the director, but I'd wager he'd say the Devil made him do it.
7. Django Unchained
During a climactic scene in Django Unchained, Leonardo DiCaprio's terrifying slaveowner Calvin Candie lost his disturbing cool when he discovered that Django and Dr. Shultz pulled the wool over his eyes. As he lets his anger fly, he slams his hand down on a glass that shockingly explodes. He glances at his palm, and it's covered in his blood.
It turns out that hitting the glass was a complete accident, but as the pro he is, DiCaprio proceeded with the scene as if nothing had happened. Director Quentin Tarantino liked the intensity of the scene so much, he used it in the final cut of the film.
8. A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange contains some of the most difficult to watch scenes in movie history, and, fittingly, its violent protagonist is forced to endure a punishment of gruesome footage. The scene sets up the Ludovico technique, where Malcolm McDowell's eyelids are rendered immobile in a terrifying visual.
Since they didn't use any special effects for the scene, the pain on McDowell's face is very real. The treatment left the actor with a scratched cornea, and he was even temporarily blinded as a result. Luckily, the man dropping saline into his eyes during the scene was an actual physician, so at least he was in good hands following the injury.
9. Rocky IV
During production, Sylvester Stallone made the ballsy decision to include only real punches when filming his fight scenes with Dolph Lundgren. The two held nothing back, and Rocky took repeated rounds of shots straight to the ribs. After three takes, Stallone ignored the burning sensation in his chest until later that night when he had difficulty breathing.
When he was rushed to an emergency room, doctors found that his blood pressure was over 200, and he was kept in intensive care for eight days. After extensive tests, Stallone discovered that his heart was plowed into his breastbone, cutting off oxygen flow to the rest of his body. If the goal was to keep the scene as intense as humanly possible, I'd say Sly and co. certainly succeeded!
(H/T: Paste Magazine)