A stunt is an unusual and difficult physical feat, or any act requiring a special skill, performed for artistic purposes in TV, theatre or cinema. Stunts are a big part of many action movies.
Before computer generated imagery special effects, these effects were limited to the use of models, false perspective and other in-camera effects - unless the creator could find someone willing to jump from car to car or hang from the edge of a skyscraper - the stunt performer.
One of the most-frequently used practical stunts is stage combat. Although contact is normally avoided, many elements of stage combat, such as sword fighting, martial arts and acrobatics required contact between performers in order to facilitate the creation of a particular effect, such as noise or physical interaction.
Stunt performances are highly choreographed and may be rigorously rehearsed for hours, days and sometimes weeks before a performance. Seasoned professionals will commonly treat a performance as if they have never done it before, since the risks in stunt work are high, every move and position must be correct to reduce risk of injury from accidents.
Tripping and falling down
HK spin, Gainer falls, suicide back flips and other martial arts stunts seen in martial arts films
A physical stunt is usually performed with help of mechanics.
For example, if the plot requires the hero to jump to a high place, the film crew could put the actor in a special harness, and use piano wire to pull him up. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) is a kung-fu movie that was heavily reliant on wire stunts.
In a high fall, a performer will either fall into an air-bag, hidden from view of the audience, or wear a harness attached to a decelerator.
Performers of vehicular stunts require extensive training and may employ specially adapted vehicles. Stunts can be as simple as a handbrake turn, or as advanced as car chases, jumps and crashes involving dozens of vehicles. Remy Julienne is a well known pioneering automotive stunt performer and coordinator, particularly for his work on The Italian Job.
Computer generated effects
In the late 20th century stunt men were placed in dangerous situations less and less as filmmakers turned to relatively inexpensive (and much safer) computer graphics effects using harnesses, fans, blue- or green screens, and a huge array of other devices and digital effects. The Matrix (1999) is a hit action movie that used CGI stunts extensively.
Stars that do stunts
In the early days of cinema, some actors such as Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin did most of their own physical stunts. However, as these performances were usually very dangerous and many movie stars were not so athletic, filmmakers and insurance companies turned to hiring stunt doubles to do the stunts.
Most action movie actors today use stunt doubles, though some of them do a few of their own stunts to please movie fans. One famous exception to this norm has been Jackie Chan from Hong Kong, although he has recently admitted to using digitized effects in his movies. Phanom Yeerum, an actor who is highly skilled in Muay Thai, also does all his stunts without assistance.
Popular Indian actor Jayan used to do physical stunts without stunt doubles. He was killed in a helicopter crash while doing a stunt for Malayalam movie in 1980.
Notable among the professional Hollywood stuntmen are Yakima Canutt and Dar Robinson.
In all of his movies, Tom Cruise has always performed his own stunts without doubles, including the Mission: Impossible Trilogy and Minority Report.
Recognition of stunt performers
Movies such as Hooper and The Stunt Man and the 80s television show The Fall Guy sought to raise the profile of the stunt performer and debunk the myth that movie stars perform all their own stunts. Noted stunt coordinators Hal Needham, Craig R. Baxley and Vic Armstrong went on to direct the action films The Cannonball Run, Action Jackson, The Joshua Tree. Vic Armstrong became the first stuntman to win both an Academy Award (for developing a descending rig as a safe alternative to airbags) and a Bafta award (for lifetime achievement in film). But the status of stuntmen in Hollywood is still low; despite the fact that few films of any genre or type could be made without them, stunt performers are still seen as working mainly in action movies. Repeated campaigns for a "Best Stunts" Academy Award have been rejected.
In 2001, the first "World Stunt Awards" was held in Los Angeles. Presented by actor Alec Baldwin, the event had a A-list stars presenting the statues to Hollywood's unsung heroes. Arnold Schwarzenegger was presented with the first "Lifetime Achievement" award. He presented the awards in 2001. The awards show hands out eight awards: Best Fight, Best Fire Stunt, Best High Work, Best Overall Stunt by a Stunt Man, Best Overall Stunt by a Stunt Woman, Best Specialty Stunt, Best Work with a Vehicle and Best Stunt Coordinator and/or 2nd Unit Director.
Riky Ash is featured in the 2000 addition of the Guinness book of records. He currently holds the world record for the greatest height range doubled by one individual. Riky, who stands at 5'3", has doubled every height from 3'6" to 6'4"! Riky is an amazingly versatile stuntman who is highly skilled and has amazed an impressive credit list of film, T.V. and commercials.
Equality in stunts
In past Hollywood movies it was common for men to double for women and White American stunt performers to double for African-American performers. It is now against union rules for stunt performers to double an actor of a different gender or race unless the stunt is so dangerous that there are no other volunteers, for example when B.J. Worth doubled for African-American Grace Jones parachuting off the Eiffel Tower in A View to a Kill. The rise of action heroines like Angelina Jolie and African-American stars like Will Smith has offered wider opportunities for stunt performers from diverse backgrounds.
The future of stunt work
A backlash against dangerous stunts following the death of Sonya Jones, coinciding with developments in Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) that make such stunts unnecessary threatens to reduce stunt performers to the status of body doubles. And yet a backlash against movies that resemble video games could lead to a resurrection in pure stunt work. Movies such as The Matrix and Mission: Impossible II have shown how CGI and stunts can be integrated for maximum effect. But - if for no other reason than safety - it is doubtful that the records established by Hooper and Sharky's Machine will be broken anytime soon.