10 Movie Scenes That Really Happened without the Help of CGI

These days, we accept that films can achieve the impossible, and rarely are we surprised by anything we see on-screen, attributing it to clever camerawork, judicious editing, practical effects, and computer-generated imagery. But sometimes, whether they need to or not, certain actors and directors insist on going all the way, shooting some pretty surprising, and often wholly unnecessary, scenes for real.

Related: 10 Climatic Scenes in Films Ruined by Bad CGI

10 Tossing the Package: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim xs. the World represented British director Edgar Wright’s first foray into the worlds of Hollywood filmmaking and comic book adaptations. Despite the film’s tepid response at the box office, Scott Pilgrim rapidly became a cult classic and today stands out as one of the best comic book movies ever made. Part of the inherent magic in this process was the large cast of A-list and indie talent Wright assembled, including Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman, and Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim.

Although the film is stuffed to the brim with big, showy visual effects, Wright maintained realism everywhere it mattered, placing the characters front and center. But he also dedicated himself—and his cast—to realism where it really didn’t matter. Enter the scene where Scott lobs his Amazon package over his shoulder into the trash can. Wright insisted on the throw and pay-off being 100% real and all on camera—no cuts, no editing, and no trickery. Thus, Cera delivered his lines and took the shot 33 times in a row before he nailed it.[1]

9 A Real “Fire” Fight: Ong-Bak (2003)

Prachya Pinkaew’s Ong-Bak tells the story of Ting (Tony Jaa), a skilled martial arts fighter who goes on a quest to retrieve his village’s stolen Buddha statue. His travels lead him to Bangkok, where he goes up against crime lord and all-round ne’er-do-well Komtuan (Suchao Pongwilai), fighting to get home before his village is crippled by drought.

Like Indiana Jones meets Crouching Tiger, Ong-Bak allows Jaa to flourish in some big, fantastical action sequences. Yet, despite being trained in Muay Thai since he was 10 years old and performing all of his own stunts on the movie, his most impressive feat of all is surely the fire sequence.

Taking on a troupe of ruffians at a rural gas station, Ting is caught in the middle of an explosion, and his legs are set ablaze while he continues to pummel bad guys. Not only did Jaa consent to fight with his legs on fire, but he did it several times over to get all the takes needed. Sure, he suffered various burns and had his eyebrows and eyelashes singed off, but the resulting piece of film is hard to beat.[2]

8 Cross-Court Hoop Shot: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Zack Snyder’s run as the king of the DCEU may be over, but his contributions to superhero filmmaking live on in some spectacular sequences from some divisive films. Among these is Batman v Superman, which delivered a colossal showdown for these two titans of screen and page that had some fans crying in glee and others walking out.

For everything this movie gets right, there is something equally as wrong, and one of the consistently maligned aspects of the whole affair was the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as supervillain Lex Luthor. While Eisenberg’s portrayal of Superman’s arch-nemesis was weird and twitchy and not a whole lot like his comic counterpart, there’s no denying the actor’s dedication to the part.

In his introductory scene, Lex shoots a cross-court hoop before turning into the camera and delivering a villainous greeting to Senator Finch (Holly Hunter). Despite making the basket all day off-camera, once it came to shooting the scene, the pressure mounted, and Eisenberg kept flubbing it. A tricky shot to film even without sinking the ball; it took 30 takes for him to get it right.[3]

7 Helicopter Under a Bridge: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

While a Vietnam-trained pilot and one member of the notoriously technical James Cameron’s filming crew, Chuck Tamburro may not be a name most of us recognize. However, when it comes to the entire helicopter sequence in Terminator 2, he is indispensable.

In the film’s third act chase sequence, when the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) commandeers a police chopper to chase the film’s protagonists along a long stretch of highway, he opts to fly the helicopter beneath a freeway overpass (rather than just go over the top like a normal person). This perfect character moment speaks to not just the T-1000’s malevolent tenacity but pinpoint accuracy, too.

In real life, there was no super robot from the future to help land the shot, so Cameron turned to Tamburro instead, the only person crazy and skilled enough to do it. Despite having someone to fly the chopper, the camera crew refused to shoot the scene, and Cameron had to film it himself. Lucky, then, that he knows how to wield a camera well, ensuring that generations to come get to watch a tremendously dangerous stunt that will likely never be repeated—at least without some help from CGI.[4]

6 Impressive Over-the-Shoulder Dunk: Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Written by sci-fi/fantasy darling Joss Whedon and directed by the master of the uncanny Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alien: Resurrection offered a lighter, more mainstream look at the dark and dingy space horror franchise in the late-1990s. With a pile of animatronics and puppeteers, the various creatures of a far-future universe (even by Alien’s standard) were brought vividly to life.

Strange, then, that so much effort was given to a fairly mundane scene in which the clone of the original film’s protagonist, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), shows off her preternatural abilities by making an over-the-shoulder basketball free throw. As the ball goes out of the frame before hitting the basket, audiences would expect this scene to be a bit of movie magic, with a crew member dropping the ball through the hoop from off-camera. Not so.

When preparing, Weaver wanted to make the shot herself and trained for a month with mixed results. Nonetheless, she sunk it the first time around once the cameras were rolling. This unexpected turn of events caused co-star Ron Perlman to break character and cry out in surprise, almost spoiling the take. To work around this in the version we see, the edit cuts away as soon as the ball goes through.[5]

5 Helicopter Meets Car: Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

The fourth film in the Die Hard movie series, Live Free or Die Hard, brought NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) to a whole new generation of fans in the aughts. This time around, the tired, grumpy, everyman’s hero has to prevent Timothy Olyphant’s cyber-terrorist Thomas Gabriel from shutting down the entire United States’ infrastructure before he sends everyone back to the Dark Ages.

While most of the film’s sequences were doctored with computer imagery to create the right backgrounds and mise en scène, the core elements of one pretty extreme scene, in which McClane launches a speeding police car up a ramp and into a hovering helicopter, are all real.

That’s right, director Len Wiseman arranged for a real car to be launched at a real helicopter in a scene that took three weeks of preparation. Although the chopper was held in place by wires, with no moving rotors—an additional headache the production team didn’t even want to consider—these were edited out after the fact. The resulting piece of film became the movie’s most iconic stunt.[6]

4 Perfect Catch: Spider-Man (2002)

Now, over a decade and a half deep into the MCU, it can be easy to forget the films that really led the way for superheroes on the big screen. But few such films are finer than Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire as zero-turned-hero Peter Parker.

Once Peter has gained his spider powers, he uses them to make a few differences in his own life, including attracting the attention of classmate Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). In one of the film’s many memorable scenes, Peter catches MJ and her lunch tray—item by item—after she slips, earning her affection in the process.

Given how improbable, or nigh impossible the catch looks, it is hard to believe that Maguire actually pulled it off on set. Dunst in one hand, the tray in the other, the lunch was dropped from off-camera, and he caught the apple, the milk, the sandwich, and the salad in that order. And it only took him 156 takes…[7]

3 Fistfight in a Helicopter: Crank (2006)

One of the unsung hits of UK action man Jason Statham’s extensive career comes in the form of the relatively small budget ($12 million), high-concept action thriller Crank.

After being poisoned by the mob, Statham’s Chev Chelios has to keep adrenaline pumping through his system for all the time it takes him to hunt down his soon-to-be killers and exact his revenge. While Statham himself wasn’t doing adrenaline shots, taking drugs, or taking the wheel for some pretty insane stunt driving, there were nonetheless many scenes he filmed for real.

Toward the film’s conclusion, Chelios goes toe-to-toe with the baddie in a helicopter in the air above L.A. While there was a sizeable stunt team available and willing to stand in for the actor, Statham insisted on taking one for the team and went up in the chopper, hung over the edge, and acted out the highly physical scene while in motion—2,000 feet (609 meters) in the air. Luckily, the scene-ending fall wasn’t real, and everyone lived to see the premiere.[8]

2 Inflated Bread: The Force Awakens

Sometimes, the most preposterous or impossible scenes are not ones that require months of intense training, ambulance crews in their hundreds, or millions of dollars in money. Such is the case in Star Wars: The Force Awakens when wasteland scavenger and future Jedi warrior Rey (Daisy Ridley) settles down for her evening meal.

The brief sequence sees Rey return to her makeshift home after earning her daily portion of bread, which begins as powder and water and inflates before our eyes into a full, nutritious miniature loaf. Such effects would take mere moments for the Star Wars digital effects team, who pioneered the form on the prequel trilogy. However, visual effects supervisor Chris Corbould wanted something more tangible—in keeping with the sequel trilogy’s efforts to recapture many of the practical effects that defined the original Star Wars movies.

Thus, he spent three months molding a custom, genuinely inflatable bread. To make it rise in real time, he deflated the bread under liquid before slowly inflating it on camera while sucking out the accompanying water with a vacuum pump. Such an elaborate process may not have been necessary or strictly worth the time it took to create, but it made this such a curiously memorable scene.[9]

1 Bowling for Turkeys: Kingpin (1996)

The Farrelly brothers’ sports comedy Kingpin offers up an unimpeachable premise: Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray as old bowling pros caught in a years-long rivalry. Needless to say, hilarity ensues.

Now, this isn’t the type of film one would normally expect any surprising, never mind impossible, scenes to be shot for. Yet, the big showstopper in which Murray bowls a turkey on the lanes—three strikes in a row, to you or I—really did happen. Despite the Farrellys assuming Murray didn’t have such a series of shots in him and fully intending to recut the footage to make it merely look as if he did, the first three shots he rolled on camera each got a strike.

Bobby Farrelly had instructed the packed crowd to go wild for each shot, whatever the outcome, but he needn’t have bothered. With each strike, the crowd got louder and wilder, and on the game-winning triple, everyone went absolutely nuts, with Murray himself dropping prone and spinning himself 360 degrees on the floor, shouting, “I’m the greatest!”[10]

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