Watch the Classic Stunts That Inspired the Action in The Fall Guy

6 minute read

Before directing Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, or Bullet Train, David Leitch was one of the most prolific stuntmen in Hollywood. He doubled for Brad Pitt in Fight Club and Troy. He executed stunts on two of the Matrix movies and one of the Bourne installments. He is a scholar of the action flick and told TIME his latest movie, The Fall Guy, is a "love letter to action movies."

The film centers on a stunt man, played by Ryan Gosling. He had a brief romance with an aspiring director (Emily Blunt) but ghosted her after a serious injury. When she finally gets her first big break, her new movie's star (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) goes missing, so the stunt man sets out to find him and save his true love's picture (and maybe win her back in the process). The Fall Guy depicts the meticulous preparation needed to execute stunts as well as the fantastic feats themselves. And the movie broke the world record for the number of cannon rolls—or car flips—in a movie.

The Fall Guy also nods at the dozens of action movies that came before it. "I wanted to pay homage to the history of stunts and do really fun ones in the spirit of some of the classics," says Leitch. When dreaming up the stunts in their various films, Leitch and his executive producer and wife Kelly McCormick keep a TV running in the background of their brainstorming meetings that plays everything from Buster Keaton's leaps to Bollywood battle scenes.

TIME asked Leitch and McCormick to talk through the classic action scenes in movies like Casino Royale, True Lies, and Indiana Jones that inspired the stunts in The Fall Guy.

The Casino Royale Cannon Roll


A cannon roll is a classic stunt that involves fitting a cannon-like contraption beneath a car. When the car reaches a specific speed, the apparatus triggers and propels the car into a series of rolls. Before The Fall Guy, the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale held the record with seven rolls.

"David challenged the team to break the world record," says McCormick. "He actually put it in the script." Leitch's team ultimately achieved eight and a half cannon rolls.

The feat is all the more impressive considering that Casino Royale's cannon rolls were accomplished with the car moving downhill and gravity working in its favor. The Fall Guy shot its cannon rolls on a flat, sandy surface. As McCormick explains, "Sand is hard because that canon hits down into a surface, and the harder the surface, the easier it is to roll it." Sand, by contrast, has a lot of give.

The High Falls in Sharky's Machine & Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed with Michael Fassbender, 2016
Assassin's Creed with Michael Fassbender, 2016Courtesy Everett Collection

High falls are another familiar if complicated stunt. One of Leitch's favorites is a fall out of a glass building in the 1980s classic Sharky's Machine. A stuntman on 2016's Assassin's Creed performed a free fall of 125 feet, the highest jump in a film in 35 years.

The height of the fall is determined by factors like the wind, which can pull a jumper away from the airbag he's supposed to hit on the ground. The stunt man on The Fall Guy was able to fall 150 feet.

"We had agreed that 120 was the height that felt right, unless the conditions were absolutely perfect that day, and then we'd let him go to 150," says McCormick. "And, and they were, and so we did. He hadn't hit that number in rehearsals. He hadn't hit that height in his life."

Marrying stunts and romance in True Lies and Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Eliza Dushku and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'True Lies' 1994
Eliza Dushku and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'True Lies' 199420th Century Fox/Courtesy Everett

Leitch argues "action shouldn't be done for action's sake." It should always serve the story. "The hardest stunt in the movie was the stunt of falling in love," Leitch says of making The Fall Guy.

Few films marry romance and action well. But James Cameron may be the master of striking that balance. "True Lies is such a great movie for action and relationship, right, and the stakes involved in those sequences," says Leitch. He specifically points to the helicopter stunt at the end of the film when Arnold Schwarzenegger's character, hanging out of a helicopter, must grab Jamie Lee Curtis' character from a moving car headed off the edge of a bridge. It solidifies trust within the couple at the end of their journey together.

Perhaps in a wink to that film, The Fall Guy features a scene involving a helicopter in which our two protagonists have a conversation about their feelings for one another in the midst of a death-defying chase.

McCormick cites another film that melds action and romance, the 2005 Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie action comedy Mr. and Mrs. Smith. In that movie, the action scenes often morph into sexually-charged moments of romance. "Mr. And Mrs. Smith, the fight in the kitchen and the even the warehouse, it's just so original and about their relationship," McCormick says. "It's really is connective and memorable." Leitch happened to work as Pitt's stuntman on that film.

Scrappy fights and jumping across vehicles in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (right) in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989. Murray Close—Getty Images

Leitch says that the stunts of '80s and '90s action movies are "baked into The Fall Guy." Gosling got to pay homage to one of film's greatest action stars—and his old co-star on Blade Runner 2049—Harrison Ford. A long chase sequence involving Gosling hopping across cars and trucks mimics a famous scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

"There's a great truck sequence in that where Indy is trying to transfer from truck to truck, and he's hanging behind it," Leitch says. Just as Indiana Jones gets dragged behind a truck, Gosling's character surfs behind a truck in The Fall Guy. "I think we started out there, but then as the guys got into the choreography it started to become our own version of that."

Throughout the truck scene, Gosling's character scraps with a goon much larger than him. That fight serves as a callback to just about every Indiana Jones action scene: "He's always overwhelmed and outmatched but somehow figures a clever way out of it."

Big car jumps in The Fall Guy TV Show, Smokey and the Bandit, and Hooper

Burt Reynolds (top) in Hooper, 1978
Burt Reynolds (top) in Hooper, 1978Warner Brothers/Everett Collection

Modern audiences may not know that The Fall Guy is based on old IP. The Fall Guy TV show, which aired in the 1980s, starred Lee Majors as a Hollywood stuntman who moonlighted as a bounty hunter. He drove a GMC Sierra and often made jumps over barriers and ponds while pursuing criminals. Gosling's hero, too, finds himself chasing bad guys in a newer GMC Sierra and jumping over partitions to reach them—though in The Fall Guy movie, there's a dog in the passenger's seat, just to up the stakes.

The end of The Fall Guy features a car jump across a gigantic canyon. That jump honors jumps in two Burt Reynolds movies, Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper. "It was fun to figure out, 'How can we take that to the next level?" says Leitch.

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