Movie Stunts: Not Just For Action Films

Stunt people and stunt coordinators can be found in a variety of movies across genres.

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When people think of stunt work, the first genre that comes to mind is action. Movies like Avengers: Endgame and John Wick 3 just this summer show how essential stunt work is to a good action movie, and the seemingly impossible stunts that happen in the Mission: Impossible films have been discussed often. However, they are hardly the only kinds of movies that require stunt work. Rather, the importance of stunt work, involving both stunt people and stunt coordinators, stretches across movie genres, and is key to many movies that otherwise don't seem to have much in common at all.

Alongside action movies, horror films are another genre where the need for stunt people and stunt coordinators is most apparent, though often overlooked. Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room is a very clear example, as the brutal attacks that make up the film would have been impossible without an effective stunt coordinator and stunt team. Even less obvious examples, however, also require stunt coordinators and stunt teams. Guillermo Del Toro's 2015 gothic horror Crimson Peak is one such example; while it derives most of its horror from the atmosphere as well as the ghosts that pop up, an effective stunt team was key to the making of the movie, whether it was for the scene of Carter's sudden death at the men's club, or the tumble down several stories into a pile of snow that Edith takes after Lucille pushes her past a faulty railing.

Even dramas can, and often do, require people who can both do stunts and coordinate them. The opening scene of Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 film There Will Be Blood illustrates this well. The tumbling down the mine shaft following the breaking of the ladder is an important moment in the whole movie, giving the audience a look at how Daniel's dogged determination allows him to focus on acquiring wealth, no matter the cost. But without a stunt person and a stunt coordinator as part of the movie, that scene doesn't make it past the page, because even if Day-Lewis opts to do the fall himself, someone has to make sure the fall looks convincing while not actually injuring the lead performer. And this is to say nothing of subsequent scenes in the movie, such as the oil rig explosion that damages HW's hearing, or even the final fight between Daniel and Eli around the bowling alley. 

And neither is There Will Be Blood the exception in this regard. Another notable example is the 2018 drama Blindspotting. While the movie is a dialogue-heavy drama about the volatile friendship between two lifelong Oakland residents, even it has scenes that require a stunt coordinator, a perfect example being the fight that occurs between Terry and Miles at Sid's house. Without a stunt coordinator, that fight not have been executed effectively at all, or worse, could have led to a serious injury. It's only with the expert guidance of a stunt coordinator that issues of this sort are avoided.

Even comedies frequently require stunt coordinators. Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi's What We Do In The Shadows proves this, as the vampire/werewolf fights and other supernatural antics, although played for comedy rather than horror, still requires a stunt coordinator and stunt performers. But even straightforward comedies come with their share of stunts. Neighbors and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising both illustrate this excellently; the first movie's climactic fight between Mac and Teddy is impossible to conceive without a stunt coordinator or stunt doubles. Similarly, Beanie Feldstein's Nora diving out of the car's windshield in Neighbors 2 is an illustration of stunt work in action, and is crucial to the hilarity of the scene.

But what about romances? At first glance, it may appear that this is one genre where stunt coordinators aren't required, but a closer look reveals that that isn't the case. The 2013 romantic comedy What If disproves it all on its own, as the movie's stunt team proved its necessity in several scenes, such as when Ben punches Wallace, causing the latter to tumble down the stairs. Without a stunt team on hand, that would have most assuredly led to injuries. Even Jane Austen adaptations such as Sense and Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice, quintessential romances that they are, have had stunt coordinators and stunt people involved in their numerous productions, proving the importance of the position even in romantic films. Mr. Darcy's swim in the 1995 BBC Pride & Prejudice miniseries, in fact, was famously revealed as having been done with a stunt double.

Stunt performers and stunt coordinators can be found amongst the production crew of any given movie, regardless of whether it's a horror, drama, romance, comedy, or something in between. To say that stunt work only part of action films is to undersell the importance of what stunt coordinators and stunt people do, and how they can serve a purpose no matter what kind of story is being told. The next time you watch a movie (like, perhaps, The Art of Self-Defense), no matter what it's classified as, it's worth remembering that without a stunt coordinator or stunt team, there's a chance it wouldn't have been made. It's an important part of a movie, and deserves more credit.