My Nominations: Superman. Hooper. The Wild Geese. The Drunken Master. Jaws 2. Go Tell The Spartans. The Driver.
We’re in the peak era for many types of physical stunts, but even as computer trickery as displayed in the likes of Superman was coming to greater prominence, the duties were shared to make a more exciting whole. Some of the action set-pieces in Superman would go on to influence everything Marvel/DC touches today, and the combination of effects and physical stunts is still impressive. Hooper is essentially the Hal Needham biopic, and as such features some truly wonderful action, including some of the most batshit stunts you’ll ever see – a fall from a helicopter and a bridge jump in a TransAm spring to mind. It’s a film where cars inexplicably flip and buildings blow up simply by coming into contact with air – it’s great.
The Wild Geese is your typical 70s ensemble action war film, with hardened military types leaping out of airplanes, mowing down bad guys, shouting ‘go go go’ and blowing shit up. What more could you want? The Drunken Master takes a more personal approach and allows Jackie Chan to showcase his unique and almost lethal approach to stunts – putting his own body on the line for our amusement and bewilderment. While he would increase the danger levels in later films, here he fights and increasingly introduces more of his surroundings into the action. In Jaws 2, the action is heightened over the first film leading to some famous moments, most notable the helicopter attack.
Go Tell The Spartans is a little different from The Wild Geese, being a distinctly anti-war film which uses its action in a more harrowing way. It has its fair share of running and gunning and leaping over flames, but it takes the time and effort to make you think of the true cost of the reality. Finally, The Driver is almost like a series of stunts tied together by a loose narrative about a cop and a driver and the puppet-master. Where the car action in Hooper feels like a spectacle, like something which was planned meticulously for weeks, The Driver feels like they simply let loose a bunch of maniacs in cars upon the streets and filmed the results. It’s superb and has some of the best stunt guys in the business – Laurie and Everett Creach, Micky Alzola, Billy Barton, Chris Howell and others.
My Winner: The Driver
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My Nominations: Star Wars. Stunts. Grand Theft Auto. Smokey And The Bandit. The Spy Who Loved Me. Viva Knievel!
Don’t worry, it’s not going to be a clean sweep for Star Wars. While that film does indeed include some great stunts, it’s more of a Special Effects vehicle and would feel false given the other films which use a great array of practical stunts this year. Like I alluded to in previous years, the stuntman was at his commercial peak here, with a number of movies released each year featuring the world or actors portraying stuntmen. Mark Lester’s Stunts (the clue’s in the title) is one such movie, a film starring Robert Forster as a Stuntman investigating the suspicious death of his brother – also a stuntman. It’s more of a mystery, but Lester cranks up the tension and allows for a number of cool stunts – it was one of those movies which always seemed to turn up when I was younger. In a similar vein, Viva Knievel takes an interesting look at the lives and gambles of the people who put their bodies on the line for our entertainment and stars probably the most famous stunt guy of them all (the clue’s in the title). The stunts here are still exhilarating as always but maybe less interesting due to a lack of variety.
Taking things on a more varied route is Grand Theft Auto (clue’s in – you get the idea). It’s a bit of a farce and a not-quite-satire on the media as a young couple steal a car and head for Vegas followed by a increasing number of chasers in different vehicles who want to win a reward for apprehending them. Lots of car action though. Keeping it on four wheels is of course Smokey And The Bandit – which features Burt Reynolds zipping about in a TransAm and jumping over rivers. It’s maybe the most authentic of the bunch given the second most famous stuntman ever Hal Needham was the director. It remains one of the most famous car chase movies, for good reason. Finally, we have 007 and The Spy Who Loved Me featuring more car antics – underwater, over bending roads, and one of the most ambitious one man stunts seen till that point, in the intro, as Bond skies away from a bunch of gun toting villains only to leap off a cliff edge and parachute to safety.
My Winner: The Spy Who Loved Me
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My Nominations: Rocky. The Eagle Has Landed. The Gumball Rally. King Kong. Death Cheaters.
Although there were plenty of war and disaster movies this year, most don’t meet the grade in terms of overall quality or depth of action and stunt work. The Eagle Has Landed has a greater pedigree than most, given that John Sturges (his final film) directs. It follows the format of so many of the British war movies of the era – a big name cast in a loose retelling of an actual event, with the heroism and action pumped to the max. It’s another one of those movies we’re fed over here and it has plenty of running and gunning to satisfy a certain breed of moviegoer (me). Rocky… it’s a toss-up on whether or not you class the fight scenes as stunts – I tend towards yes, given that they were choreographed and edited to look as gripping and spectacular as possible. King Kong is as large a spectacle as the original and veers between disaster movie and romance smoothly, with plenty of big budget stunts to remember. My final two picks are more straightforward stunt based movies – and two which tend to be forgotten alongside the bigger names of the era. The Gumball Rally has the cars and the stars, and given that its based on the cross country race you can expect fast, dangerous driving between cars and motorcycles with plenty of crashes, screeching tires, jumps, flips, explosions, and general mayhem. If you prefer the lesser Cannonball from the same year, by all means go for it. Finally, the largely unknown Deathcheaters is an excuse to show off by a bunch of experienced industry stuntmen – it’s a little more… dangerous… than most Hollywood efforts, but don’t expect the most realistic story or convincing performances. Expect fights, explosions, dune-buggy chases, guns, and a ridiculously fun opening 10-15 minutes.
My Winner: Deathcheaters
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My Nominations: Breakheart Pass. Death Race 2000. Graveyard Of Honor. The Hindenburg. The Man Who Would Be King. The Great Waldo Pepper. Rollerball. The Wind And The Lion.
Less car stunts this year, less disaster related too. This year sees Breakheart Pass – another fun Bronsan/Ireland vehicle with plenty of entertaining action culminating in some spectacular cliff scenes, train top fights, and canyon crashes. Death Race 2000 is a film I nominate purely because who else is ever going to nominate it for an Oscar? Cheap and cheerful as you would expect, it still has countless impressive stunts – natural for a film about a cross country car race where you get extra points for any pedestrians you knock over. Graveyard Of Honor by the great Kinji Fukasaku finishes with one of the most iconic stunts/shots in Japanese Cinema – one giant leap – but is rounded off with your usual Yakuza gunplay. The Hindeburg hits our disaster quotient, with fire, falling, and flailing, while The Man Who Would be King presents one of the great ropebridge stunts – it’s just a bit of a shame we don’t see it from another angle, though it’s still a terrifying fall.
As films with stunts and the notoriety of some stuntmen increased in the decade, we began to see certain films and shows based around the industry. The Great Waldo Pepper is one such entry, looking at aerial stunts or barnstorming with Robert Redford playing an ex military pilot who begins stunt performing to make ends meet. It has some of the best airplane scenes you’re likely to witness. Our final two films are packed with stunts – Sean Connery again getting in on the action with The Wind And The Lion featuring mostly horseback gags, while Rollerball creates a new physical, brutal sport and lets the performers crash into each other with as much force as they can stand.
My Winner: Graveyard Of Honor
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My Nominations:Earthquake. The Towering Inferno. Gone In 60 Seconds. The Man With The Golden Gun. McQ.
We’re well and truly into the golden age of car stunts now, and in many ways this is the second age of movie stunts – the first being all those westerns of previous decades. The Eighties would bring in a new age of more spectacular work, but this is truly when the stunt profession hit its stride and maybe its peak of fame. Earthquake as the name would suggest contains a variety of stunts thanks to the massive quake which rocks LA and due to its epic scale set a new precedent for the number of stunt performers involved. Any time there’s a scene of carnage, the stunt guys are there making everything as thrilling as possible – the film has everything from falling and dodging gags to the higher drops and elevator crash. Similarly, The Towering Inferno has disaster oriented stunts – the elevator makes an appearance again, this time on the outside of the building – as well as lots of fire and height related fare, from crane work, dodging flames, and more water.
Gone In 60 Seconds is our first car-related stunt extravaganza, a film with a monumental chase sequence and famous for wrecking over a hundred vehicles. The film has many incredibly dangerous stunts and scenes, with several real accidents being incorporated – the carnage includes cars, trucks, flipping, cars jumping, skidding, crashing, and a final lengthy jump which remains incredibly impressive. The Man With The Golden Gun has a number of car gags too, its most memorable being that amazing corkscrew flip across a river – a stunt you never really see replicated anywhere. On top of this the film adopts martial arts thanks to the popularity of Bruce Lee with a number of basic fight scenes. McQ continues the theme of flipping cars and chases, while Stone does the same but with motorcycles replacing cars.
My Winner: Gone In Sixty Seconds
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My Nominations: White Lightning. Live And Let Die. Lady Snowblood. Enter The Dragon.
Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds had one of the finest stunt performer/actor relationships in history making a string of hits and memorable stunts. White Lightning has some of Needham’s best work – a film filled with good old car chases and one stunning car jump onto a moving boat which didn’t quite go according to plan. Lady Snowblood and Enter The Dragon fill the martial arts quotient, both fine examples of what can happen when you have highly skilled fighters simulating all out war. Live And Let Die is the sure winner this year – double-decker bus chases, bayou boat antics, and a short sprint over live crocodiles just some of the classic moments.
My Winner: Live And Let Die
My Nominations: The Getaway. The Poseidon Adventure. Aguirre The Wrath Of God. Deliverance. Fist Of Fury. Way Of The Dragon. The Mechanic.
The obvious winner here would be The Poseidon Adventure – lots of action and stunts aboard the ill-fated liner. I can also see The Getaway and Deliverance getting an official nomination had this category existed, the latter getting extra credit for having the actual cast members perform much of the work and the former for plenty of gun and car action. Also featuring the actual actors putting their lives at risk in rivers and jungles is Aguirre, while The Mechanic continues the gun and fisticuffs theme. My final two nominations… some may argue can’t be classed as stunts given either the realism of the fights or the fact that trained martial artists were involved. Nonsense of course. Both Way Of The Dragon and Fist of Fury feature wonderfully choreographed fight and action scenes and either is worthy of a nomination in my book. Although Way has the better one versus one scene, Fist Of Fury I think edges things for the variety of set pieces.
My Winner: Fist Of Fury
Let us know in the comments which film of 1972 you would give the Best Stunt award to!
My Nominations: The French Connection. Vanishing Point. Shaft. Red Sun. Macbeth. Le Mans. A Fistful Of Dynamite. Evel Knievel. Duel. Dirty Harry. The Big Boss.
There’s an obvious winner here, and if you’ve looked at my nominations then you already know what it is. Let’s start in the east first – The Big Boss was the first real film to showcase Bruce Lee’s talents. It doesn’t have the scope of Lee’s later films, but it abandons the wuxia style so popular at the time for a prototype one man army style grit – the stunts are all real, dangerous, and pack a punch. Red Sun has gun fights, swordplay, a train robbery, while A Fistful Of Dynamite switches out the swordplay for explosions and motorcycles. Speaking of motorcycles, Evel Knievel features both manufactured stunts and real life jumps performed by Knievel and other performers while Le Mans does a similar job with cars, featuring plenty of real footage and simulated crashes.
Macbeth I throw in here just for having the audacity to be more visceral and charged than any other version till that point while Shaft has plenty of punches and gunshots on the way to its explosive finale. Dirty Harry features similar levels of stunts and action to Shaft while my final three picks are all car-heavy. The French Connection features a number of fights and chases, but is most notable for one of the most famous car chases in history – when a car chase enters pop culture, you know it’s good. Vanishing Point is almost entirely set in or following a car chase, and while there is just as much time spent enjoying the vastness and beauty of the US landscape the film has a throttle-down pace and plenty of skids, near misses, spins, and crashes. Finally, Steven Spielberg’s debut sees a malevolent truck causing mayhem in one long chase movie with as much suspense as stunt action.
My Winner: The French Connection.
Let us know in the comments what your winning choice is!
My Nominations: Brewster McCloud. They Call Me Trinity. Catch-22. Little Big Man. Kelly’s Heroes. Tora Tora Tora.
We return to one of my favourite awards, namely because it has never been an official award, and also because stunts are one of those things which draw you to Cinema at a young age – a good stunt will stay in your mind just as much as a powerful line of dialogue or piece of acting. Many people will tell you that, for practical stunts, the 1970s are the finest decade. Certainly we saw an explosion of car chases and stunts, and not only on the big screen, but also through hit TV shows which continued into the 80s, such as CHiPs, Knight Rider, The A-Team, The Dukes Of Hazard etc etc. There’s something unique about the stunts of this era – the way they were filmed, up close, from multiple angles, with realism, and with plenty of slow mo. And they always seemed to take place on some dusty LA highway or desert road. Brewster McCloud has a plethora of stunts, from the aforementioned car chases and crashes to fisticuffs, well placed bird crap, and a boy flying like Icarus. Little Big Man features some stunts which deserve to be more well known and are visually iconic if not part of the public consciousness – the horsework and leaping from carriages here is second to none. They Call Me Trinity doesn’t come near the iconic status of the other films, but is still an underrated and very funny spaghetti western with plenty of action.
Our last three movies are three standard war movies each with their own flavor of action and stunts – Tora Tora Tora most notable of course for its aerial scenes – the same can be said for Catch-22, while Kelly’s Heroes is a more traditional mixture of gunplay, tanks, explosions, and punch-ups.
My Winner: Brewster McCloud
Let us know in the comments which film of 1970 you would hand the Best Stuntwork Award to!
My Nominations: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. The Wild Bunch. The Battle Of Britain. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Marlowe. The Italian Job. Downhill Racer.
BCATSK is of course known for for the cliff jump scene – impressive at the time but it has of course been surpassed many times in the decades since. There are plenty of other great stunts and action in the movie, from the gripping train introduction to the various shoot outs, fights, and even Paul Newman’s whimsical bike antics. Similarly, The Wild Bunch is filled with shoot outs, more train action, and horse falls aplenty. Battle Of Britain has all the explosions and action you would expect from a war film – a Guy Hamilton war film no less, but where it raises the game is with the exceptional aerial set pieces – some of the best you’ll ever see in terms of scale, pace, and realism. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service I have always felt to be one of the more action-lite Bond movies, but it has its fair share of stunt too – the Piz Gloria ski slope scenes are memorable. Speaking of ski stunts, Downhill Racer also has excellent snow action, though the focus is much more on realism than Bond’s fun and games. Marlowe’s nomination goes almost single-handedly to Bruce lee, whose demolition of James Garner’s office is both humourous and a sign of things to come for the Chinese star – though there is also standard gun action towards the end of the film. Finally, The Italian Job has car chases galore which have become iconic, at least in Britain.
My Winner: Battle of Britain
Let us know in the comments which film of 1969 you think deserves the Best Stunt Work award!