“You can win an Oscar for playing a stuntman but not for being one” – A comment

“You can win an Oscar for playing a stuntman but not for being one” – A comment

19. March 2024 Off By Thorsten Boose

Did you know that Leslie Nielsen’s comedy “The Naked Gun” (1988) used almost as many stunt people as Jackie Chan’s action hit “Police Story” (1985)? The difference is that the stunt performers in “The Naked Gun” all received no credit.

„You can win an Oscar for playing a stuntman but not for being one“

On the day of the 96th Academy Awards, a meme went viral that I’m not sure who the originator is. Personally, I was able to trace it back to stuntman Eddie Braun via many stories on Instagram. Mixed martial artist Gina Carano also shared the meme, which showed Brad Pitt in his role as stuntman Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” (2019), and the statement couldn’t be more true:

You can win an Oscar for playing a stuntman, but not for being one. Stuntmen are not exclusively at home in action cinema, they are active in all film genres and make the stars shine.

When Brad Pitt won an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 2020 for his stuntman performance in “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” (2019), he said: “It’s time to show some love to the stunt coordinators and the stunt crews.” I would therefore like to take this opportunity to explicitly mention that the meme quoted is no disrespect to Brad Pitt or the entire cast – many actors like him stand behind their stunt doubles.

Hollywood stunt coordinator Jack Gill is credited with the above quote at the time. He said it verbatim after Brad Pitt’s award:

“Isn’t it amazing that an actor who plays a stuntman can win an Oscar? But yet being a stuntman, you can’t win an Oscar.”

Jack Gill

The Fall Guys

When Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling took the stage at the 96th Academy Awards on 10 March 2024 to pay tribute to the stunt community, many hoped that the announcement of a new Oscar category for stunts would finally follow. Instead, the unsung heroes of the film industry were once again casually thanked in a short unnamed montage, only to be dropped without a safety net.

Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling can be seen together from 3 May in the action film “The Fall Guy” (2024), which is based on the 1980s TV series of the same name starring Lee Majors and is about a stuntman. It would therefore have been an opportunity for Hollywood to announce such a stunt category for the world’s most prestigious film award. But once again, this opportunity was missed.

Nevertheless, a new Oscar category will be introduced in 2025 and the award will be presented for the first time in 2026, namely for Best Casting. So it’s not true that the Academy can’t be convinced by new ideas. But why are they having such a hard time with the stunt community?

The Hollywood elite against the proletariat

The Oscars are old. So old, in fact, that they were initially only broadcast on the radio. It was not until 1953 that the banquet was broadcast on television for the first time and since then it has tried to outdo itself every year in terms of spectacle and glamour. The most successful year of the Oscars, measured by viewer numbers, was in 1998 with 55 million viewers thanks to “Titanic” (1997). The worst was probably the pandemic year 2021 with 10.4 million viewers. Global crisis or not, the Academy has been struggling with dwindling viewer numbers for over ten years. The interest of inflation-stricken cinema-goers in an elite awards ceremony among multimillionaires is increasingly being called into question.

Admittedly, “elitist” has almost mutated into a frowned-upon term by now, but it absolutely applies to the Academy. The coveted statue is awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which was founded in 1927 during a film crisis by leading Hollywood producers and clever businessmen of the time. The story can be traced almost completely online.

When reading it, you will realise that there have been repeated changes over the course of almost 100 years. Yes, the Academy is structured like an elite club to which membership is by invitation only. That is a fact. But they are also very progressive. With technical and cultural changes, new, more suitable categories have been added and outdated ones have been cancelled or integrated into others.

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When you consider that “Hollywood”, with Buster Keaton, Helen Gibson, Harold Lloyd and many other acrobats, emphasised storytelling with breakneck stunts from the very beginning and actors such as Douglas Fairbanks Sr, or nowadays Tom Cruise, performed their own stunts whenever possible, it is all the more surprising why the Academy did not give itself credit for this in the decades that followed.

In Ancient Rome, actors were supposedly considered inferior and were as socially ostracised as prostitutes. They were outsiders, proletarians who served to entertain the high society, just like gladiators. These times are thankfully over, and enslaved stage actors and arena butchers have become travelling acrobats, wrestlers and boxers who, with the advent of film technology in the early 1900s, were increasingly able to record their physical talent for posterity.

But even in the new medium, the daring performance artists with special talent never really seemed to be taken seriously by those who hired them. A common thread that still runs through the – as Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling diplomatically and correctly put it during the 96th Oscars – stunt community.

New stunt categories at the Oscars

Now it’s not as if the stunt community simply put up with this. For over twenty years since the 1990s, applications have been submitted to the Academy for the inclusion of a category to recognise the best stunt coordinator – without success. Instead, a commercial equivalent appeared in 2001 with the Taurus World Stunt Awards, colloquially known as the Stunt Oscars. Even though this award ceremony still exists today, it is only an alternative and has grown out of commercial necessity because a stubborn Academy does not want to make the important change.

To date, the Academy has only awarded two Oscars to former stuntmen for special achievements in the film industry that involved the stunt craft: Hal Needham and Yakima Canutt. Countless others from the USA alone would have deserved the award. Even though Jackie Chan has been able to call an Oscar his own since 2016, he was not honoured for his services as a stuntman and stunt coordinator, both essential professions that paved the way for his success – but not the only ones.

In retrospect, it would have been a brilliant opportunity to announce a new Academy stunt category through Jackie Chan with the backing of Sylvester Stallone, one of the leading action heroes of the 1980s, and Tom Hanks, serious character actor representing the acting ranks.

But let’s be more specific. What should this new category actually be called? And is it really done with a single category or does that lead to the exclusion of other professional subgroups? How can you compare a fire stunt with a fall from a helicopter when it comes to the “best” stunt?

Let’s take a look at the current list of all 23 Oscar categories, sorted alphabetically according to www.oscars.org:

  • Actor in a Leading Role
  • Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Actress in a Leading Role
  • Actress in a Supporting Role
  • Animated Feature Film
  • Cinematography
  • Costume Design
  • Directing
  • Documentary Feature Film
  • Documentary Short Film
  • Film Editing
  • International Feature Film
  • Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Music (Original Score)
  • Music (Original Song)
  • Best Picture,
  • Production Design
  • Animated Short Film
  • Live Action Short Film
  • Sound
  • Visual Effects
  • Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
  • Writing (Original Screenplay).

In 2024, it was announced that after 24 years, the 24th category would be introduced next year and that the Oscar for Best Casting would be awarded from 2026. If the Academy is so keen on number games, then it could finally start with the stunt categories for the 100th anniversary of the Oscars in 2029 (2027 as an anniversary after 100 years of the Academy would probably be too short notice). Yes, I deliberately use the plural form because, as you can see from the current list above, in my opinion there should be more than just one legitimate stunt category.

Over the decades, the stunt community has evolved: From western acrobatics and fist fights to eastern martial arts choreography, from horse stunts to car stunts to aeroplane, helicopter and space station (shout out to Tom Cruise), from cardboard boxes to air cushions to state of the art rigging. Shoutout to all the pre-vis performers as well!

The stunt industry deserves more than just a single Oscar category, which, let’s be honest, would again only seem like a kind of honourary award. Jackie Chan, along with other insiders, could advise the Academy, as he already launched his own Iron Man Award show for action cinema in 2015 and offers stunt camps for semi-professionals and actors at his “secret” JCST training centre.

But here are my independent thoughts:

Best Stuntman: Equivalent to Actor in a Leading Role

Best Stuntwoman: Equivalent to Actress in a Leading Role

Best Stunt Ensemble: How else can you reward elaborate rigging stunts? This is teamwork!

Best Stunt Coordination: Planning stunts is a craft in itself. As a coordinator, you have to understand stunt performers and ideally be (or have been) one yourself. Between 1991 and 2012, this category was applied for and rejected every year. It’s about time!

Best Action Operator: Equivalent to Cinematography. I’m undecided about this category myself, but some stuntmen develop a soft spot for cameras and make a career as an action operator. Cameramen who are really within the action, no shaky cam, but hanging on tightropes, accompanying falls with the camera and much more.

Best International Stunt: Why not? The global stunt community deserves more focus. Look at China, India, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Australia, Canada, Spain, Finland, …

I’m pretty sure my list would have to be amended and changed by industry insiders, and rightly so. What are they waiting for? As an action film fan, especially of the golden era of Hong Kong action cinema, I want to see plenty of screen time for my big screen heroes. Within the Academy, professional stunt performers and stunt coordinators would have to be appointed as Governors of that new stunt category, and then the bylaws would have to be changed so that the hard-working stunt people can be rewarded with the shiny little man.

But there is a catch. When we talk about action films, the focus is not just on stunts. What about the choreographed fights? Whether sword or fist fighting, kung fu or street fighting – doesn’t a stunt Oscar automatically exclude the fighters and fight choreographers? From 1935 to 1937, an Oscar was still awarded for Best Dance Direction when dance films were in fashion. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is more fighting in films than dancing.

Honour to whom honour is due

Is it perhaps because the Academy has waited too long and would now have to introduce not just one, but several new categories in order to avoid creating even more division within the industry? Another point of criticism often levelled is that the introduction of a stunt category would trigger a race between performers, which would push the limits of stunt risk upwards. Higher, faster, further, more dangerous, more deadly. The Academy does not want to be held responsible for accidents or even deaths of stunt performers if it awards a prize for the most daring.

“I was doing stunts for money, not for fame.”

Hal Needham

News flash to all those who support this argument: As explained above, film stunts have existed for over 100 years with no motivation for those responsible other than the respect of their peers and the goal of a good performance. Exceptions prove the rule, and too many stunt performers have died on film sets that should not be forgotten.

However, I also see this as an opportunity: If a stunt Oscar actually triggered a race in the global stunt community, it would be just another opportunity to introduce improved safety standards and new techniques into the industry. And we as an audience would be presented with one action blockbuster after another. Memories of the 80s come flooding back.

What I personally find difficult is the case that 100 years of film history should be reappraised with the introduction of a Stunt Oscar. Especially in liberal Hollywood, it is actually a must to reappraise the originally male-dominated industry of stunt performers. After all, so many blatant stuntwomen have proven over the decades and increasingly in recent years that they can hold a candle to their male colleagues without a childish battle of the sexes breaking out.

Stunt Performers of Color was founded in 2018 to ensure more diversity in action film productions, which are becoming increasingly global and multicultural. You have to imagine what the stunt community can achieve: In John Wayne’s days, Western stuntmen had plenty of work, even when John Wayne was playing Genghis Khan. Unthinkable nowadays! Instead, value is placed on authenticity and representation and talent of all ethnicities and cultures is promoted, and I think that’s right, important, necessary – as long as it’s not politicised, dogmatised.

This is the fruitful exchange of knowledge and experience on so many levels, which not only breaks down the human walls of ignorance and mistrust, but also puts its passionate stamp on Western-influenced action film since the 1990s thanks to John Woo, Tsui Hark and Yuen Woo-ping, and builds on what pioneers have worked hard to achieve in experimental mode.

For these reasons, I also feel it is a duty to honour stuntmen and stuntwomen separately, in the same way as actors. Not to divide, but to honour adequately. Personally, I also think it’s almost hypocritical that self-proclaimed liberal Hollywood hasn’t taken a stand on this yet. It cannot be denied that stunt performers have contributed significantly to the development of stories and the entire industry since the beginning of the film medium.

How should the Academy honour all alumni posthumously? So would it be possible to posthumously honour deceased talents such as Buster Keaton and Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel, Jr. in stunt categories during their first Academy Awards? Living legends like Jackie Chan and Zoë Bell definitely deserve this award too. A Stunt Oscar wave would be imminent in which one could easily drown.

I’d vouch for the fact that at least public discussions would take place as soon as the first Oscars were handed out to the younger generation, who would certainly/hopefully thank the pioneers on stage who should not be forgotten.

Mixed feelings about a Stunt Oscar

So I have mixed feelings about the introduction of a single Stunt Oscar. Not because I’d think the stunt community doesn’t deserve it. Anyone who knows my own work and personal attitude knows that I have the utmost respect for all stunt performers worldwide, especially because, due to their underdog status, they don’t do their work to go on an awards spree and prove to the world how narcissistic they are (a little affectionate dig at some privileged actors). Stunt people have a very individual pride that is directed inwards. They want to be better for themselves, not for someone else.

In fact, I think it would be a bit of a farce if the Academy finally gave in to public pressure after such a long time and awarded Stunt Oscars on the principle of “you’ve been shouting loudly for a long time, now we’re finally giving in”. What is the value of an award that you have to demand?

You earn respect, you don’t get it for free. Nobody knows this better than the stunt community. According to this argument, the Academy has failed across the board. Jackie Chan likes to talk about the competition in the 70s and his own stunt team in interviews. This very special, wonderful kind of person should not be labelled with a consolation prize and disrespectfully ignored, as the Academy has done so far.

“After 56 years in the film industry, making more than 200 films, I broke so many bones, finally… this is mine!”

Jackie Chan

In my opinion, by ignoring the stunt community for decades, the Academy has manoeuvred itself into a dead end from which it can no longer seem to get out. Even the Screen Actors Guild Awards have been presented to a stunt ensemble for film and TV since 2008. It does work! And it proves that this has not led to an increase in accidents and deaths in the industry.

Nevertheless, the introduction of stunt categories at the Oscars would not be enough, as the fighters and fight choreographers are still not recognised. And then the dance choreographers would have their say again. Where do you draw the line? I think that’s one of the Academy’s biggest problems that needs to be solved.


So my personal conclusion is that the next “perfect” time to award the first proper Stunt Oscars could be the 100th anniversary of the Academy Awards in 2029, and only if past and present stunt legends are also honoured in the following years; perhaps with an additional Honorary Oscar category introduced exclusively for stunt people. This would provide a clear historical cut, the Academy would repent and could now look to the future without criticism in order to deliver consistently.

In media terms, the whole thing could be promoted with a higher production volume of action films, including international co-productions, which have been well received by audiences at all times in film history. I’m reminded of the race in the 80s between Sly and Arnie. John Wick could have been just the beginning in modern times, there’s still time until 2029.

Statistic: Most popular movie genres in the United States and Canada between 1995 to 2023, by total box office revenue (in billion U.S. dollars)  | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

So are we experiencing a renaissance of Hollywood action cinema and will we witness the brave guild of the stunt community being honoured in the coming years? I’m almost certain that the casting directors, who will receive their own trophy from 2026, will be the first to back the stunt community.

An Oscar category is not only long overdue, but in my opinion it is also inevitable and absolutely logical. It sounds like a hard pill to swallow with a bitter aftertaste, but without the stunt community, the dream factory could have closed its doors a long time ago. The Academy is in a state of flux and needs to take a hard look at itself in order to make up for what it has missed. The public is largely aware of the achievements of the stunt people, the underdogs, because we are film fans and rarely business people from the film industry who only care about numbers.

One doesn’t have to exclude the other. But if the Oscars want to maintain their reputation as the most coveted film award in the future, those responsible must finally get off their high horse and leave the saddle to those who once doubled them anonymously.

The future stage belongs to the brave, hard-working stunt performers.

Picture: Jackie Chan plays a stuntman in his film “Ride On” (2023) and looks back on his own life. A tribute to all stunt performers.