Bold ‘80s Action Movies That Have Some Wild Behind The Scenes Stories

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First Blood

Orion Pictures

These days, action movies are a dime a dozen, and while some yearly headlines will dramatically announce that an actor like Tom Cruise is our last Hollywood action hero or whatever, we know that it’s all bull hockey. There are still many actors (young and old) who prefer doing their own stunts, whether it be for the sake of authenticity or the simple adrenaline rush. What has changed over the years, however, is the way these stunts are managed and performed. For the most part, Hollywood has surely upped its control and safety regulations on its big action blockbusters, because back in the ‘80s, shooting action movies were pure chaos.

First Blood: A Lot Of Body Parts Broke

The ‘80s movie responsible for the trend of the one-man army action hero genre was also the movie that no one initially wanted any part of. Not only did it take around eight years for the script adaptation of the 1972 novel to get picked up, but everyone from Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood and (thank God) John Travolta turned it down. People either thought it was too violent — even though Rambo’s kills were lessened from 16 in the novel to a full zero in the movie (not counting the animals) — or they were wary of how the movie would be received, given that the Vietnam War only ended a couple years prior. Casting Stallone was a huge risk in the early ‘80s, since the Rocky movies were his only successful projects to date. Heck, Stallone himself wasn’t sure whether he should do the movie. Imagine if he didn’t, and we instead had to watch some cowboy actor running around with a machine gun.

Arguably the most memorable sequence in the film was the cliff scene, in which Stallone tries not to drop down into a gorge with only a piece of rope tied to one of his ankles. The wind was throwing a tantrum that day, and director Ted Kotcheff and his crew had to tie themselves to tree trunks to film the set pieces without getting blown away. When Rambo eventually leaps off the cliff, we see a stuntman hitting branch after branch, but Stallone insisted he perform the final fall … leading him to crack four ribs when a thick branch thwarted his decent. Yep, that intense scream of pain was very real.

Filming in the woods of British Columbia was also a pain in the butt. There were so many fallen trees that the crew literally sunk three feet deep while navigating the treacherous terrain. There were lots of broken ankles and snapped fingers, and the weather was all-around nasty with a lot of fog, and loads of rain. The indoor scenes weren’t smooth sailing either, with Stallone at one point accidentally breaking Brian Dennehy’s nose in the sequence where Rambo escapes the police station.

Dennehy also broke a rib during his final scene where he gets shot and falls through the roof. Just like the cliff scene, a stuntman performed the actual fall, but Dennehy had to be filmed landing on impact, causing one of his ribs to tell him what a bad idea that was. Honestly, for a movie about a war veteran struggling to deal with his PTSD, this movie might’ve given these actors some trauma of their own.

And if all that wasn’t enough, the tunnel scene was very real, too, with both Stallone and those poor rats having to wade through icy water — causing the rats to become frantic, claw at and even tear the flesh off Stallone. At one point you can actually see these rats trying to escape the almost knee-deep, super cold water.

Conan the Barbarian: A Barbaric Production

The 1982 film that opens with a misquoted Nietzsche line was met with division upon its release, but has since become a classic in the swords and sorcery film genre, and many’s favorite movie of an orphan Arnie wearing a steampunk speedo.

20th Century Fox

There were times during the filming of this muscle-assault to the eyes that were quite savage, like the time one of the dogs that stood in for the pack of wolves got super rough with Arnold Schwarzenegger, pushing him off a ten-foot cliff. Luckily, those muscles that look like clouds acted as such, and Arnie walked away with only a couple of bruises to show for it … much like when his neck was grazed by an ax-head that didn’t want to be an ax-head no more and broke off during a fight. Some of these scenes were as savage and chaotic as the wigs in this movie.

One of the stuntmen also rode full-speed into a camera while on a horse, smashing his face and finally getting his close-up. Schwarzenegger was thrown off his steed ,hurting his knee and causing him to limp on film during some of the final scenes in the movie. Sandahl Bergman, however, almost lost a freaking finger when, during one of the sword fight scenes, a fiber-glass prop blade sliced her finger open and down to the bone because apparently her own weapon was missing its handle guard. She, in turn, injured a couple of fellow actors herself during these fight scenes, according to director John Milius. Man, Hollywood sure didn’t give two testicles back then. 

Milius’s mantra apparently went something like ‘physical pain was temporary, whereas the movie was permanent.’ We’re not quite sure, however, if Milius repeated this mantra to the animals in the movie —  what with a dog getting kicked, a camel getting punched, and horses being tripped all over the place. The American Humane Association rated the film as “Unacceptable” after they weren’t contacted to be on set in Spain where the movie was being filmed (which was the proper protocol back then) and they ended up learning that Spain didn’t have any legislation regarding animals in movies. Apparently this lack of animal protection had caused many producers to favor Spain for their movie shoots at the time, because that’s just the savagery of Hollywood.

Full Metal Jacket: Totally Messed Up Vincent D’Onofrio

Another Stanley Kubrick movie, another actor who paid the price both mentally and physically. Prior to the filming of this 1987 slow-burner war drama  — that had everyone randomly yelling “Maggot!” at each other for years to come — actor Vincent D’Onofrio was trim and looked like an athlete, meaning he was a healthy young man. However, he had not yet had his big break, and when Full Metal Jacket came along he was more than willing to put on a whopping 70 pounds and shave his curly head to play Private Leonard “Gomer Pyle,” the tragic figure in this movie about boot camps, and some war.

Those boot camp scenes wreaked havoc on a 280 pounds D’Onofrio, at one point causing him to injure his knee so badly on an obstacle course that he ended up needing reconstruction surgery. '”I gained weight everywhere,” D'Onofrio told The New York Times. “'My thighs were tremendous, my arms were tremendous, even my nose was fat. I had a tough time tying my shoelaces, but this was the only way I could play Leonard, because I had to be weak-minded in the same way. Because of the weight and the fact that he was totally out of his element, Leonard's mind became weak. He was slow to start, a country bumpkin, but I don't think he was insane. What they did to Leonard was they made him into a very efficient killing machine.'”

While the actor managed to eventually recover both physically and mentally from the ordeal, it sure gave him a solid background in playing the unhinged and the undesirable. At least he’s better off than actress Shelley Duvall.

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Dune: Almost Burned An Actor’s Freaking Face Off

Dune (1984) — or as it's known by many, The One Starring Sting — became famous for its extreme unpopularity at the time. It was the movie that debuted everyone’s favorite Twin Peaks guy Kyle MacLachlan, and it was also the movie that Roger Ebert called “worst movie of the year.” 

Many who worked on the film ended up severely unhappy with the product. Sting was so royally pissed that his character had so little screen time that he didn’t want to do any interviews. Lynch, too, didn’t want to talk about the movie, and said he had washed his hands of it after troubles with the film’s final cut. Imagine, then, how absolutely crap it must’ve been to almost lose your face while filming a movie that not even the director thought was worth talking about. 

German actor Jürgen Prochnow, who played Duke Leto Atreides, had a brush with disaster during the last scene he had to film for the movie — the one where Leto has that gnarly dream sequence with Baron Harkonnen (played by Kenneth McMillan) pushing his fingers into the Duke's face to release some yucky green gas. 

According to “The Making of Dune,” Pronchow was wearing a fake cheek made out of rubber with a tube attached to it. A crew member had to pump green smoke into the tube so it would flow out of those cheek holes. Only, the device started malfunctioning during testing, and by the time they filmed the scene, hot smoke had been building up inside those rubbers. When McMillian started piercing it, molten-like goo came spilling out and onto Prochnow’s face, leaving him with first and second degree burns and taking the concept of “suffering for your art” to a whole new level.

The filming of Dune in general was a chaotic affair. One location in Mexico City turned out to be a hot spot for locals to dump the bones and bodies of their dead pets. There were also a myriad of health issues, with around 15 percent of the film crew being hospitalized in the first month of shooting alone. 

But hey, at least they can say they made a movie with Lynch and Sting, we guess.

Thumbnail: Orion Pictures, Universal Pictures

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