When you think of the most iconic action characters barely escaping death or dispatching a group of henchmen with their bare hands, a lot of people obviously picture the actor doing the stunt. But most of those action sequences that we love and cherish usually aren’t done by the actors at all. Most actors allow a stunt person to do the dangerous parts (for insurance purposes, in many cases) and then the good looking actor jumps back into the action after the danger is over. As a result, a lot of these stunt men and women are the unsung heroes of action and adventure films.
10. Tanoai Reed
Tanoai Reed is from Honolulu, Hawaii and got his start in stunts in 1995 while working on the Kevin Costner bomb Waterworld. Throughout the ’90s, he continued to work as a stuntman on television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.
While Reed was thumping it out in television stunts, a wrestler by the name of Rocky Maivia, later known just as The Rock, started rising through the ranks of the WWE. The Rock is, of course, Dwayne Johnson, and he got his first starring role in a movie as Mathayus in 2002’s The Scorpion King. Johnson is a large man; he is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. He’s a former football player and professional wrestler that’s known for his distinctive look. But stunt teams were lucky because Tanoai Reed is actually a cousin of Johnson, and by 2002 Tanoai had seven years of experience in the stunt business.
Since The Scorpion King, Reed has been the stunt double for Johnson on over 15 movies, including The Rundown, Walking Tall and all the Fast and Furious movies that Johnson appeared in. Reed also appeared in the reboot of American Gladiator in 2008.
9. Mark Vanselow
Throughout his illustrious career, which includes winning an Academy Award, Liam Neeson has dabbled a little bit in action movies, but he was never considered an action star. That all changed in 2008 when his hard-hitting film Taken was released. Neeson plays retired CIA agent Bryan Mills, and he was 56 at the time. Of course, Taken was a huge hit and turned the Academy Award winner into one of the biggest action stars in Hollywood.
For many of Neeson’s films, Mark Vanselow was his stunt double. Vanselow got his start in stunts when he was younger and was part of a waterskiing act. His first movie was a TV movie in 1997, where he was the stunt double for George Eads of CSI fame. In 1999, he first doubled for Neeson for the movie Gun Shy. After that film, Vanselow has doubled in all the physically intense movies of Neeson’s later career, including the Taken films, The A-Team, The Grey, and A Walk Among the Tombstones, just to name a few.
8. Zoë Bell
As Zoë Bell grew up in New Zealand, she studied dance and martial arts. Bell was interested in stunts and got her foot in the door in 1992 when her father, who was a doctor, was treating a head wound of a stuntman. That night Bell’s father came home with a phone number for her to call. Bell’s first gig was on a soap opera, but she soon found regular work with Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. In the fourth season of Xena, she became the stunt double for Lucy Lawless. While on the set, she broke a vertebra and continued to work for a week until a chair was broken on her back and put her out of commission.
Her big break in Hollywood came when she became Uma Thurman’s double in Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2. She was originally just hired as a team member, but someone saw that she would make a perfect double for Thurman. In order to prepare for the role, Bell studied Wushu, which is a traditional Chinese fighting method, for about six weeks in China. She said that she had one notably bad injury on the set. In the scene where Bud shoots the Bride and she flies out of the trailer, Bell was supposed to land on a mat but overshot it and landed on her stunt coordinator. She broke some ribs that required surgery and “obliterated” a ligament in her arm.
After Kill Bill, Bell was one of the main stars in front of the camera in Tarantino’s Death Proof. She has since gone on to star in movies as on-screen talent and is one of the most sought after stuntwomen working today, and has appeared in shows like Lost and Tarantino’s most recent film, The Hateful Eight.
7. Bob Anderson
If you were to think of a classic sword fight in a movie, what might cross your mind? The Princess Bride? The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Perhaps Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader facing off against each other? Well, there is one man to thank for all those iconic scenes: a British Olympic fencer named Bob Anderson.
Anderson competed in the 1952 Summer Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. While there, he was asked to come to Hollywood to train Errol Flynn for his upcoming movie The Master of Ballantrae. He agreed and after that film, Anderson would go on to work with Flynn on a number of films. One day while doing stage rehearsals, Flynn became distracted by an attractive woman and Anderson accidentally cut Flynn on the thigh. After the incident, Anderson became “the man who stabbed Errol Flynn.”
In 1980, Anderson worked on the iconic Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader scenes in The Empire Strikes Back and returned for Return of the Jedi in 1983. What’s interesting is that for years, George Lucas wanted to keep Anderson’s actual role a secret. He wanted people to believe that actor David Prowse was the man in the Vader suit the entire time. However, in 1983, Mark Hamill revealed that during the light saber scenes in Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back, it was actually Anderson donning the Vader costume. Prowse, who was a bodybuilder, couldn’t quite grasp fencing. Since Anderson was 6-foot-1 and Prowse was 6-foot-5, Anderson had to wear lifts while doing the fights. Anderson worked on movies for over 40 years, but he only considered it a part time job. He was Britain’s national fencing coach for over 30 years. He died at the age of 89 on January 1, 2012.
6. Chad Stahelski
Born in 1968, Chad Stahelski came from a Kung Fu background and landed his first stunt work as Keanu Reeves’ double in Point Break in 1991. That movie was the start of a long professional career between the two. In 1999, Stahelski was part of one of the most legendary action movies of all time when he was again cast as Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix. Of course, The Matrix was huge, and Stahelski was Keanu’s stunt double in each of the two sequels. Stahelski doubled for Reeves in films like Constantine and The Replacements. Besides working as Reeves’ double, another notable role he had was Brandon Lee’s stunt double in The Crow in 1994. When Lee was killed on set, Stahelski stood in for the remainder of the shoot.
After working on The Matrix, Stahelski and fellow stuntman David Leitch started 87Eleven Action Design where they train stuntmen and choreograph fight scenes. Their first major project was the modern action classic 300. In 2014, Stahelski and Leitch co-directed John Wick, which was the best reviewed action movie of the year and gave Reeves’ career a bit of revival. A sequel is currently in the works.
5. Dick Warlock
By far, the best named stuntman name ever is Dick Warlock. But no, he’s not a magical porn star, and no, that isn’t his real name: he was born Richard Anthony Lemming. Warlock got his start in stunts when he met a professional speed skater. He trained in skating and started doing roller derby. He got his start in movies when he worked on a Western called The Ballad of a Gunfighter. After a few productions, Warlock landed at Walt Disney Studios. Once there, he was paired with one of Disney’s biggest up-and-coming young stars, Kurt Russell, even though Warlock was 10 years older.
Warlock started off doubling for Russell in television shows and when Russell made the leap to the big screen with The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Warlock continued to double for him. This continued for over 25 years and Warlock was the stunt double in almost all of Kurt Russell’s best roles, including Big Trouble in Little China Town, The Thing and Escape from L.A.
Besides just doubling for Russell, Warlock is notable for portraying Michael Myers in Halloween II. He retired after 2002’s Spider–Man.
4. Vic Armstrong
Easily, one of the coolest action-adventure characters of all time is Indiana Jones. Another amazing action character is Star Wars‘ Han Solo, an intergalactic smuggler. Of course, both of these iconic characters were played by Harrison Ford and he had one stuntman double for him in both roles: Vic Armstrong, from Glasgow, Scotland.
Armstrong got his start in the movies in 1966 as a stunt double for Gregory Peck in the film Arabesque. In the 1960s, he was the stunt double for Sean Connery and Richard Harris. In the ’70s and early ’80s, Armstrong was Christopher Reeve’s body double in the first two Superman movies. Shortly after working on Superman, Armstrong became the stunt double for Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He was a great match for Ford because they closely resembled each other. Due to their resemblance, Armstrong was the stunt double in the first three Indiana Jones movies and would also be Harrison Ford’s stunt double in Return of the Jedi, Blade Runner, and Witness.
After performing as the stunt double for some of the most badass characters in the history of movies, Armstrong has gone on to work on a number of films and television series in a number of capacities. He has been a stunt coordinator, second unit director, and even director. Today, Armstrong is considered a legend in the movie stunt industry.
3. Peter Kent
Peter Kent was a Shakespearean trained actor from North Vancouver, Canada, when he answered an ad for a stunt double in a casting newspaper. That movie was The Terminator. When Schwarzenegger saw Kent for the first time, he told Kent that he was too big. Specifically, that he was too tall, but also too skinny. Disappointed, Kent started to walk away and Schwarzenegger started laughing. He told Kent he was just joking and told him to join him for a cigar. That kicked off Kent’s 15 year career as a stunt double for Schwarzenegger.
Altogether, Kent did 14 movies as a stunt double for Schwarzenegger, including some of his biggest movies – the first two Terminator films, Commando, Predator and True Lies. Kent retired after an accident on the set of the film Eraser in 1996. He was hanging by a wire and was hit a number of times with a three-ton shipping container. He broke his collar bone and a few other bones. The doctor said he was lucky to be alive. Kent continued as a stunt coordinator and acted in films after the injury. He started his own stunt school and had his own reality show that featured movie-style stunts. He is now a city councilor in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada.
2. Buddy Van Horn
Buddy Van Horn grew up near Universal Studios and as he got older, he trained as a horse rider. In the 1950s, the Western was a hot genre and with his horse experience, Van Horn was able to find work as a movie stuntman for the first time in 1951. In 1968, he worked with Clint Eastwood in the film Coogan’s Bluff. That film was the first collaboration between the two and their relationship would go on for over a half a century. Van Horn would be the stunt double for some of Eastwood’s most iconic characters, including Dirty Harry, Thunderbolt, Preacher from Pale Rider and the Stranger from High Plains Drifter.
When Van Horn retired from doing stunts, he moved from stuntman to stunt coordinator, again working with Eastwood on many films. This included films in Eastwood’s highly regarded late career, like Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Not only did Van Horn coordinate many of the stunts on Eastwood classics, he also directed three movies, all starring Clint Eastwood: The Dead Pool, Any Which Way You Can and Pink Cadillac.
1. Chuck Roberson
One of the early movie stars of the action genre, and specifically Westerns, was the one and only John Wayne. And the man who took many of the bumps for Wayne, for over 25 years, was Chuck Roberson. Roberson’s nickname, “Bad Chuck”, was given to him by legendary director John Ford because Roberson liked to drink, fight and chase women. He also had a horse named Cocaine. Roberson was the stunt double for Wayne in such classics as The Searchers, Rio Bravo and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Roberson would go on to work with Wayne in a number of films, doing a variety of jobs beside being his double, including acting and being a stunt coordinator. Roberson even worked with Wayne on Wayne’s last film, The Shootist, in 1976.
When Roberson was asked about why Wayne didn’t do his own stunts, he said that Wayne could do everything he could – it just wasn’t smart to do so. Which makes sense considering the injuries Roberson sustained while doing Wayne’s stunts: he fractured his back and broke ribs, arms, and a toe.
Roberson was Wayne’s stunt double for over 30 years. In retirement, Roberson was the subject of a book about his experiences as John Wayne’s stunt double called The Fall Guy. He passed away at the age of 69 in June of 1988.