The best actors have what it takes to convince us—the audience—that they’ve become someone else, to make us believe that what’s happening on screen is actually happening.
But in the end, acting is still acting. We know it’s fake. Which is why sometimes the best way to get an authentic performance out of an actor is… to make the scene real.
Whether by accident or on purpose, several movies have featured scenes where actors actually experienced real pain, terror, danger, or even drunkenness. That’s right—in these movies, what you see on the screen is really happening!
Here are some of the most infamous scenes where actors weren’t just acting. You’ll never watch these scenes the same way again.
8. Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
Leonardo DiCaprio tends to play the heroic and/or rich pretty boy who viewers can’t help but love. But in Quentin Tarantino’s Western-inspired movie Django Unchained, he appears as the racist plantation owner Calvin Candie.
In one particularly memorable scene, DiCaprio cuts his hand on a piece of glass and smears the blood all over Kerry Washington’s face. This wasn’t in the script, and according to reports, the blood in the scene wasn’t fake. It’s DiCaprio’s.
7. Matthew McConaughey (The Wolf of Wall Street)
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You know that chest-thumping chant Matthew McConaughey does in The Wolf of Wall Street? It was entirely improvised. In fact, it’s the same technique McConaughey uses to warm his voice up before his performances.
McConaughey playes one of the most memorable characters in Martin Scorsese’s biopic, despite only being in it for a short time. The memorableness of his role is mainly thanks to this scene, where a truly bewildered DiCaprio pounds his fist along with him.
6. Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher)
Channing Tatum broke his typecast for comedy roles when he joined Bennett Miller’s sports drama Foxcatcher. In one scene, Tatum is trying to pump himself up while jumping and smacking his head angrily.
He gets so riled up that he smashes his head into a mirror multiple times—a real mirror that ends up cutting him all over his forehead. Yep, those are real scrapes and wounds you see.
The crew even had to dig out bits of glass from Tatum’s skin before filming the next scene. Ouch!
5. Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future Part III)
In Back to the Future Part III, there’s a scene where Marty (played by Michael J. Fox) is dragged along the road by a rope around his neck.
The scene played out smoothly during rehearsals, but when it came time to shoot the scene for real, the rope ended up too tight and restricted his airways. Fox has a real look of horror on his face as he’s really choking on screen in that scene.
It took a while for the crew to realize Fox’s coughing wasn’t an act, and he even swung unconscious for a few seconds before being revived.
4. Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds)
Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to controversy, with many of his films raising eyebrows for all kinds of reasons.
One such reason happens in Inglourious Basterds, where Diane Kruger’s character is called to be strangled in one scene. Director Tarantino simply wasn’t satisfied by how unrealistic it looked on screen, so he took it upon himself to strangle her.
In the close-up of Kruger being strangled to death, you can spot Tarantino’s hands doing the work. Her face turns red, her veins pop out, and it’s clear that Kruger is truly suffering.
This stirred up some controversy for the eccentric filmmaker during the #MeToo movement in 2017.
3. Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin)
You can almost feel Steve Carell’s pain emitting from the screen when he’s being waxed in The 40-Year-Old Virgin… and that’s because he’s actually in pain!
This hilarious bit of physical comedy wouldn’t have been so funny had the waxing been fake—and you can tell it’s real by the reactions of his co-stars as they watch Carell shout and scream his way through the scene. Funny thing is, Carell wrote the scene in himself!
2. Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now)
Francis Ford Coppola’s war epic Apocalypse Now is one of the most infamous Vietnam War movies out there. It’s not just the scope of the project which makes it so incredible, but the acting too.
Or in this case, the not-acting. The unforgettable opening scene follows a drunk Martin Sheen as he stumbles around his hotel room. He’s an absolute mess, crying and punching mirrors in his underwear.
What makes this really sad is the fact Sheen was drunk in real-life. His bleary torment is gritty and desperate. Sheen even suffered a heart attack during production from drinking too much booze.
1. Isla Fisher (Now You See Me)
This one might be the scariest scene of all.
In Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me, Isla Fisher plays a magician who specializes in escapes. After being dropped into a sealed tank of water, Fisher’s character has to break her chains to be set free.
The only thing is, Fisher actually started drowning on set. When banging on the glass to be let out, the crew assumed she was just acting. She got stuck underneath a slat and trapped in the water for a while until someone eventually realized.