Director David Leitch and producer Kelly McCormick (together the creative team behind 87North) have an encyclopedic knowledge of action films. “True Lies has an incredible transfer from the bus to the helicopter. That stunt is amazing,” David says. “Or the bungee jump in GoldenEye,” Kelly adds. When it comes to stunt scenes, they hold James Bond films in particularly high regard. And the M:I franchise, too. “I love how they honor the stunts and keep them alive in an authentic way,” says David. Here, the filmmaking duo shares five scenes they love.
David: People would be surprised at the amount of rehearsal and time and math and things that go into the big stunts: the physics, the wire rigging, the cranes that are involved for the car stunts, the amount of rigging inside the cars, and the prep work or the camera rigs that we develop to make you feel like you’re actually driving during that stunt. There’s such a technical nature to modern action filmmaking. And I think that’s part of the fascination with a lot of the behind-the-scenes things that do very well on the big action movies. People like to really understand how they make it happen. You can even see now movies being promoted that way, like the Mission: Impossible movies. How did they get Tom Cruise hanging off the side of that plane? Well, with a lot of engineering and science and physics involved to make sure that they can physically do it and it was safe.
Kelly: We have to start with the falling house in Steamboat Bill, Jr., Buster Keaton, 1928. It’s just genius.
David: Every stunt is inspired by a gag that’s a classic. Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin are the masters of practical physical stunts.
David: Then, we have the big car jump in Hooper, which is this classic for stuntmen and stuntwomen. That is the ultimate movie for stuntpeople because it is about a stuntman. There’s a big practical car jump that they did, this crazy one shot before anyone was doing oners [single-take shots], where this car’s going through an abandoned factory and the buildings are falling and they do this ramp-to-ramp jump that’s incredible.
David: Jackie Chan is sort of a student of those three people. He took it to the next level. And everyone has now taken Jackie’s work and gone, “Okay, how do I do the chase scene in Police Story better?” It’s all a derivative of Jackie’s stuff, in a good way. In the bus chase scene, there are vehicle stunts happening that are real—and oh my God, there’s physical action that only he can do. Again, some of it is in the spirit of classic Buster Keaton.
There are just some great practical, physical stunts, like when the bus stops and the guys fall out the window and they land so hard. They are some of the hardest hits I’ve seen people take. I think for stunt performers, there’s a lot of respect that goes there. That one hurt. I don’t know if I would have showed up and done that one if I had to. Jackie’s movies are full of that, so putting one of those on this list is important.
Kelly: I’ll call out the Bourne Ultimatum window leap, which David was a part of, and obviously a whole cast of other stuntmen made it happen. It was so kinetic and parkour-specific which is a sub stunt genre in a lot of ways. It’s visceral and immediate and essential for the history books for a lot of reasons. The way it was shot—by the way, the cameraman must have also been doing the stunts, right?
David: A stuntman on a wire following the performer into the window.
Kelly: That’s pretty incredible too.
Kelly: I’ll also call out David’s oner with Lorraine Broughton [played by Charlize Theron] in Atomic Blonde. First, it’s a female. David always wanted to do a oner with anybody and which actor could do it? Charlize could. She’s incredibly talented at learning choreography, performing it, selling it, taking the punches and putting the work in. And it’s so visceral and iconic and intense and real. I think it’s in the history books too, personally.
David: I love it. It’s not one stunt; it’s the logistics that went into that. I know, because we experienced them firsthand. The amount of time that Charlize had to train to be ready for it, the amount of choreography and rehearsals that the stunt team did, the amount of technology the FX department was using to build the rigs we needed to keep this stitched sequence, this oner, alive is really compelling.
Kelly: And seeing an actress do it all is a moment for sure.
David: Yeah, super proud.