Why have film stunts become so dangerous?

Two recent deaths and Tom Cruise's injuries have raised concerns about the lack of safety on movie sets

Tom Cruise Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol premiere Dubai
Actor Tom Cruise poses with fans at the Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol premiere on day one of the Dubai International Film Festival.
(Image credit: Andrew H Walker)

Filming on Mission: Impossible 6 was put on hold this week after Tom Cruise was injured performing his own stunt. It's the latest in a series of incidents that have provoked discussion about whether the movie industry has become too dangerous.

Cruise, 55, broke his ankle when he landed badly while trying to jump between the roofs of two high-rise buildings, the Daily Telegraph reports. Paramount Pictures halted work immediately after the accident.

His injury follows two serious stunt-related accidents that resulted in the deaths of performers.

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Earlier this week SJ Harris, a stunt motorcyclist, was killed in Vancouver during the filming of superhero action spoof Deadpool 2. TMZ reports that the rider, the first black female pro racer, was killed after she crashed through a glass window. Filming was shut down and Ryan Reynolds, the star of the film, said he was "heartbroken, shocked and devastated" by the accident.

Harris's death came a month after another stunt performer was killed on the set of the zombie apocalypse series The Walking Dead. But Deadline Hollywood says that was the first stunt-related death in the US for more than 17 years.

How safe is the stunt industry?

A BBC report says that in the UK, stunt performers are advised to sign up to the Joint Industry Stunt Committee register, which ranks performers based on their experience and requires certain levels of training and competency.

"By their very nature, stunts are dangerous," says the report, but car chases and fights can be made safer with specially adapted vehicles, protective outfits – and highly experienced performers.

Although actors sometimes perform their own stunts, stars are usually deemed too valuable. An injury such as the one sustained by Tom Cruise can lead to costly production delays.

Despite rigorous safety policies, the spate of recent incidents has prompted some soul-searching in the movie industry, says the Hollywood Reporter. Stunt experts criticised Harris's involvement in Deadpool because, even though she was a professional racer, she had no experience in film stunts. One expert suggested she was chosen because her skin tone matched the actor she was standing in for.

One insider pinned the blame on a "Hollywood studio culture that sometimes sacrifices safety for other decisions, be they aesthetic, political or otherwise".

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