The stunt industry, specifically stunt professionals, are criminally overlooked by the Oscars. In an effort to draw much-needed attention to this underrepresented yet essential arm of filmmaking, ORWAV is proud to reveal the winners of our first ever Stunt Oscars. They are designed to celebrate the unsung heroes of the film world, as well as those famous faces who put the hours in to make their audiences perch on the edge of their seats.
Best Vehicle Stunt – The Spectre Helicopter Barrel Roll
Helicopters, according to mechanical physics, are not technically supposed to be able to barrel roll. They are essentially a million pieces of metal bolted together and are one rotor failure away from crashing. They can be flown, for a very short period of time, upside down. However, in the spectacular opening sequence of the latest Bond film, Chuck Aaron manages to roll his personally modified Messerschmitt-Bölkow Blohm BO-105 360 degrees. To add to the complexity of this technically challenging stunt, Chuck also had to navigate and avoid hitting a second helicopter in close proximity, which was there to capture Bond’s midair battle on camera.
Best Performance by a Stunt Professional – Glen Ennis in The Revenant
Forget all the murmuring and rumbling about DiCaprio potentially winning the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, the most interesting performance in this hugely ambitious and very successful film is Glen Ennis as the grizzly bear. Ennis studied bear behaviour, including hunting tactics, to understand how he should move and act as he attempted to rip DiCaprio’s face off.
Stunt professionals are occasionally labelled as not being great actors, but to master bringing a 9ft tall, half-tonne ball of predatory rage to life takes some serious work. And on top of that, Ennis then had to make the fight with Leo believable, flinging him around like a bearded rag doll, swiping with 4-inch claws, and biting with jaws powerful enough to crush a bowling ball. Glen Ennis’ performance as the bear, combined with Leo’s dedication to being smashed into rubber trees at high speed on wires, made the scene incredibly tense and violent. The number of articles discussing how the scene was achieved with no actual bears on set are testament to Ennis’ abilities as a stunt performer, and prove that the life of a stunt professional is highly varied.
Best Non-CGI Stunt – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation Plane Sequence
Almost the entire marketing surrounding the film was focused on this particular stunt, and for the right reasons. It would be ever so easy to shoot the sequence with a big fan and in the safety of a studio, but Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie wanted to do it all for real. A huge amount of planning went into the stunt, including how to ensure the camera didn’t fly off and take out the main star, and how to attach Cruise to the plane so he didn’t plummet to the ground. It is a stunt that almost garnered more attention than the film itself, and helped propel the Mission: Impossible franchise to greater and even more ambitious heights.
Best Fight Stunt Performance – Colin Firth in Kingsman: The Secret Service
To prepare for his most gruelling fight since Bridget Jones’s Diary, Colin Firth trained intensely for 6 months before shooting, and ended up doing 80% of his own stunts. Throughout the entire film, Firth displays exceptional and surprising capability at handling himself. The church fight sequence alone is a brutal, blood-splattered ballet of bullets, blades, and bodies, and Firth absolutely owns every inch of it. As an actor not often associated with fighting-focused roles, his physicality, weapons drills, and athleticism are testament to his dedication and craft as an actor.
Best Technical Stunt Performance – Keanu Reeves in John Wick
Since the beginning of film history, actors have handled firearms, but few demonstrate total proficiency in their use. In 2015, Keanu Reeves showed outstanding technical ability in his handling of weapons in the B-movie-esque John Wick. His weapon drills were slick, best shown by precise handling of an unplanned reload (along with a horrible bout of flu) in the best nightclub shoot sequence since Michael Mann’s Collateral.
His close-quarters combat is executed with artistic yet viciously efficient flair, with speed, accuracy (though using blanks, he still has to aim correctly so the stunt guys aren’t blinded or burnt), and almost always on the move. He delivers triple-tap Mozambique drills to the face and chest, gut shots, head shots and leg shots, and more often than not transitions into hand-to-hand combat before resuming firing. It is the most high-octane performance in an action film of 2015, and deserving of recognition.
Best Overall Stunt Performance – Rebecca Ferguson in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Rebecca Ferguson was perhaps best known to British audiences for her role as Queen Elizabeth in The White Queen, but she has exploded onto the cinema screen as Isla Faust, an objectively ambiguous and incredibly dangerous MI6 agent. Her performance in Rogue Nation displayed her aptitude for a range of highly technical, physical and dangerous stunts, from fight scenes and running over rooftops to shootouts and slamming around on motorbikes. She holds her own against Tom Cruise, matching him blow-for-blow, and outshines similar action-woman roles. Rebecca Ferguson did the vast majority of her own stunts, undergoing extensive weapon, fight, and fitness training to prepare for the role that, arguably, is the best character to come out of the recent Mission: Impossible films.
Best Stunt Ensemble – Mad Max: Fury Road Stunt Team
An emphasis on physical stunts rather than CGI spectacles meant a tremendous amount of care, attention, planning professionalism and sheer bravery from the stunt team of Mad Max: Fury Road. From flipping 18-wheeler War Rigs in a single take, to swinging from speeding cars on 20ft poles, the Mad Max team, including its stars, did it all for real (with safety harnesses and wires edited out in post). The film, from a stunt perspective, is exceptional, and it took an exceptional team to deliver sequences that are incredible, memorable, and truly death-defying.
Best Group Stunt – The Church Fight in Kingsman: The Secret Service
An intelligently shot, character-led fight scene of pure, bloody brilliance. The church fight sequence is the standout group stunt of 2015, with focus paid to Colin Firth’s remarkable physical ability as he battles through a feral congregation, tearing them to shreds. The important aspect of this sequence to note is that all the action occurs in the background. Stunt professionals are thrown through windows, skewered on holy ephemera, and beaten into bloody pulps. The expertly choreographed sequence displays the sheer skill and utter expertise of a highly capable stunt team. They are able to deliver precise yet safe strikes at the right moment to be caught on camera, immersing the audience into the frenzy yet not detracting from the incredible physical performance by Colin Firth.
Inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award for Stunt Work – Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise has repeatedly shown an utterly fearless attitude towards stunt work, proving time and time again that not only can he handle the stunts himself, but he can plan and direct them. From hanging off a plane in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation to high-speed race car driving in Days of Thunder, Tom Cruise continues to set the benchmark for actors undertaking their own stunts and draws much-needed attention to the broader stunt professional industry through his work.