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OSH in the Movies: This Time It’s Personal

Categories: Media, Sports and Entertainment

Cinema marqueeIf our original blog entry on Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter has demonstrated anything, it is that OSH-related issues permeate the movies—whether they are from Hollywood or Bollywood, blockbusters or independent films, foreign flicks or documentaries—and whether the OSH issues are portrayed on screen or occurred while making the movies. A recent release from Peru, “The Milk of Sorrow” [La teta asustada], describes a young woman exploited by her employer while working as a maid. Another recent release, “Last Train Home,” portrays the devastating impact of occupational stress on migrant workers in present-day China caught between its rural past and industrial future. And lest the reader be lulled into thinking occupational hazards are relegated to America’s past, “The Company Men,” opening in October, describes the stress and disruption of workplace downsizing on the lives of three workers (Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper), their families and their communities.

As promised, we’re posting a tabulation of the films we have all forwarded that directly or otherwise relate to occupational hazards—past, present and future. You might consider this entry as a sequel to the original blog: “OSH in the Movies: This Time It’s Personal.” Your suggestions are fabulous in their variety and quality. Many brought back wonderful memories. Many provoked me to think about the workplace threats described in these movies, whether presented as screwball comedies or in deadly seriousness. And of the films I have not seen or didn’t know, I have added several to my “to see” list. So, thank you, all.

And, as promised, I am foolishly wading into the waters of contriving “Best Of” lists. Foolish because opinions about which movies are the best or which movies best represent OSH issues are inherently subjective. So why make the lists? To provoke you to consider these movies and the array of qualities each brings with it and, in this case, the different ways that issues of OHS are communicated, and their effectiveness.

I have derived three lists, ordered alphabetically: (1) films I think best portray OSH issues within the movie, (2) films that were associated with occupational hazards during production, and (3) films I felt deserved mention due to their eclectic nature. But make sure you look at the others not on these lists. There are some marvelous movies that depict OSH issues very well. And while your submissions include several Sci-Fi flicks, please don’t let that plant a subliminal seed that workplace hazards are a thing of the past or future, fictional, or no longer encountered in the “developed” countries such as the U.S.

Top 11 Films
Depicting OS&H Issues
Top 7 Films
OS&H Issues During Production

Bagh Bahadur [Tiger Man/Tiger Dancer]

Last Man On Earth

Manufactured Landscapes

Matewan

Metropolis

Modern Times

Norma Rae

Radium City

Silkwood

Song of the Canary

You Are My Sunshine

Alice in Wonderland

Apocalypse Now

Easy Street

The Soloist

Twilight Zone: The Movie

White Christmas

The Wizard of Oz

Top 10 Films
Special Category
Best film to credit its toxicant in bold letters: 42nd Street

Best film to depict occupational risks of post-apocalytic sex worker: A Boy and His Dog

Best film NOT to depict the potential occupational risk: Breaking Away

Best film presenting risk of workers presenting films: Cinema Paradiso

Best film with 3-D depiction of its occupational risk: Creature from the Black Lagoon

Best (most cited) film with environmental, not occupational exposure: Erin Brockovich

Best film poetically portraying severe workplace stress: The Hurt Locker

Best film depicting cause of scrotal cancer in Dickensian chimney sweeps: Mary Poppins

Best film depicting worker pretending to suffer from exposure to garner favors: Nothing Sacred

Best OSH short film edited from a Top-10 OSH-related film: Pandemic Disease in Three Minutes (or the evolution of a skeptical scientist)

See the full movie list

I encourage you to consider my choices, to spiritedly express your disagreements with my choices, and to go through all 82 movies to select your favorites. What should your criteria be for “Best”? Whatever you want them to be. Mine were that they depict occupational (versus environmental) risks, and that they are original, clever, poignant and good movies. Please provide your favorites (up to five) in the comment section below. We would also like to hear your comments about your choices, how you made them, and whatever you would like us to consider.

Also, the 10th Annual DC Labor Filmfest will be 12-18 October 2010, with an impressive schedule of diverse films. Read more about the Filmfest including some of the films to be presented and films shown in years past. And for those of you who can’t travel to DC for the Filmfest, the Filmfest will come to you. Their “Working Lunch: 6 Short Films About Labor” program was so popular last year, that they’ve put together another collection of great labor shorts for free noontime screenings. Times are available for October 12-19. All you need to provide is a conference room, equipment to play a DVD, and interested colleagues. The compilation runs 30 minutes. And, the same good folks who organize the DC Labor Filmfest have compiled a list of thousands and thousands of labor-related movies. That website is currently being reconstructed, but we’ll let you know when it comes back online.

Dr. Kesner is a research biologist in the NIOSH Reproductive Health Assessment Team in the Division of Applied Research and Technology

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. September 23, 2010 at 1:31 pm ET  -   Ann Kuhnen

    How about WALL-E? If we keep up our sedentary workstyles, we’ll all end up like those bloated people in the movie with our supersized drinks who have lost muscle tone. Sedentary work is one of the most insidious occupational hazards we have.

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  2. September 23, 2010 at 2:20 pm ET  -   Mike McCann

    The Center for Safety in the Arts compiled a list of 40 fatalities from 1980-89 in American motion picture and television production. This includes fatalities in American films and in films shot abroad by American companies or their subsidiaries. Of these 40 fatalities, 21 occurred while doing stunts or special effects. Only 8 of the 21 stunt or special effects fatalities involved stunt performers; the other stunt fatalities included 4 camera operators or related crew, 6 actors, 1 pilot, and 2 bystanders. The important conclusion to be drawn from this is that stunts and special effects put not only stunt performers at risk, but also everyone else on the set as well.

    Of the remaining 19 fatalities, all 9 of the fatalities that occurred during ordinary filming, and 5 of the 10 non-filming fatalities involved helicopters (and one airplane accident). The rest of the fatalities involved accidents on the set (electrocution, a crane accident, and being hit by a truck and a steel beam, and a blank gun accident). High risk stunts are clearly not the only hazard on the set.

    Table 1-1. Motion Picture/Television Production: Fatalities 1980-89 1980 Rodney Mitchell (cameraman)
    TV Series: “Dukes of Hazzard”.
    Circumstances: car chase
    1980 Robert Van Der Kar (cameraman)
    TV Series: “Magnum PI”.
    Circumstances: helicopter accident
    1980 unknown stuntwoman *
    Circumstances: fall from roof.
    1980 unknown male (producer) *
    Film: unknown
    Circumstances: hit by steel beam
    1981 Jack Tyre (stuntman)
    Film: “Sword and the Sorcerer”.
    Circumstances: falling off cliff stunt.
    1981 Boris Sagol (director)
    TV Film: “World War III”.
    Circumstances: helicopter accident
    1981 unknown male (camera assistant) *
    Film. Unknown
    Circumstances: hit by truck
    1982 Jack Tandberg (cameraman)
    TV Film: “The Five of Me”
    Circumstances: car chase
    1982 David Perrin (stunt pilot), Jaron Anderson (mechanic), Nigel Thornton (helicopter pilot).
    Film: “High Road to China”
    Circumstances: helicopter crash en route to location in Yugoslavia
    1982 Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Lee, Renee Chen (performers)
    Film: “The Twilight Zone”
    Circumstances: helicopter accident.
    1983 Joseph Leonard Svec (skydiver)
    Film: “The Right Stuff”.
    Circumstances: skydiving accident
    1984 Jon Eric-Hexum (actor)
    TV Series: “Cover-Up”.
    Circumstances: blank gunshot
    1985 Art Scholl (stunt pilot)
    Film: “Top Gun”.
    Circumstances: airplane accident
    1985 Reid Rondell (stuntman)
    TV Series: “Airwolf”
    Circumstances: helicopter accident
    1985 Claudio Cassinelli (actress), Don Nasca (pilot)
    Film: “Hands of Stone”.
    Circumstances: helicopter accident
    1985 Rich Holley (pilot)
    Film: “Runaway Train”.
    Circumstances: helicopter accident en route to Alaska filming location
    1985 unknown stuntman *
    Entertainment production.
    Circumstances: fall from height.
    1986 Dar Robinson (stuntman)
    Film: “Million Dollar Mystery”.
    Circumstances: motorcycle stunt
    1986 Bruce Ingram (cameraman)
    Film: “The Wraith”.
    Circumstances: car chase
    1986 Martin Wenzel and Conrad Wenzel (bystanders)
    Film: “Gor”.
    Circumstances: gas cylinder explosion-fire scene in South Africa.
    1986 unknown fatality **
    Film: unknown
    Circumstances: crane accident
    1987 Victor Magnotta (stuntman)
    Film: “Skip Tracer”.
    Circumstances: car stunt
    1987 4 unknown fatalities
    Film: “Braddock: “Missing in Action III”.
    Circumstances: helicopter crash in Philippines.
    1988 Patrick Dungan (electrician)
    Film: “Men Don’t Leave”.
    Circumstances: electrocution
    1989 Geoff Brewer (stuntman), Gadi Danzig (cameraman), Michael Graham (key grip), Jojo Imperial(pilot), Don Marshall (gaffer).
    Film: “Delta Force 2″.
    Circumstances: helicopter crash in Philippines.
    1989 Clint Carpenter (stuntman)
    Film: “Hired to Kill”.
    Circumstances: helicopter stunt in Corfu.
    1989 Tobi Halicki (director)
    Film: “Gone in 60 Seconds II”.
    Circumstances: falling water tower special effect.

    Sources:

    * National Traumatic Occupational Fatality Database (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

    ** California Division of Labor Statistics and Research news clippings from the Cinema: Accidents file of the Lincoln Center Library for Performing Arts.

    McCann, Michael. 1991. LIGHTS! CAMERA! SAFETY! A Health and Safety Manual for Motion Picture and Television Production. 2nd ed. Center for Safety in the Arts.

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  3. September 24, 2010 at 8:35 am ET  -   Frank Mirer

    Is Breaking Away there because of the limestone quarries in Bloomington, IN, which Alice Hamilton studied?

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    • AUTHOR COMMENT September 24, 2010 at 8:35 am ET  -   Jim Kesner

      Even though the adverse effect is not depicted or discussed in the movie, I mentioned Breaking Away in the original blog as a movie with a lot of bicycle riding by the young protagonist, pointing out that NIOSH research has demonstrated that police officers, racers, and other professionals who ride bicycles experience compromised sexual functions.

      Link to this comment

  4. September 24, 2010 at 9:58 am ET  -   Janet Keyes

    North Country [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0395972/] needs to be added to the list. Story about extreme sexual harassment of women miners in the taconite mines on Minnesota’s Iron Range. I’ve read a nonfiction account of the story more recently than I’ve seen the movie, so don’t recall if the movie addressed this, but there were some serious workplace safety issues caused by the treatment of the women.

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  5. September 24, 2010 at 11:06 am ET  -   Paula Lantsberger, MD, MPH, FACOEM

    But how can this list be complete without “Safety Last” by Harold Lloyd!!!
    [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0014429/]

    Storyline
    Country boy (Lloyd) heads to the big city to seek success. While working as a clerk in a department store, he talks the manager into offering $1000 to anyone who can bring more customers to the store. He then arranges for a friend, a “human fly,” (Strothers) to climb the face of the store building as a publicity stunt. Unfortunatly the “human fly” is a wanted man, and when “The Law” (Young) shows, our hero must make the climb, himself. At each ledge he encounters new difficulties, climaxing in the famous ‘clock scene.’

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  6. September 24, 2010 at 3:15 pm ET  -   Tom Baughman

    You should include “Captains Courageous,” with Spencer Tracy. It’s a wonderful film using a story written by Rudyard Kipling, and it highlights the dangers of commercial fishing (in addition to the main theme of curing a spoiled rich brat by making him reallize what’s really important in life). Make sure you see the original B&W with Spencer Tracy. A remake was horrible.

    For toxic references, you should include “Arsenic and Old Lace,” with Cary Grant.

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  7. September 24, 2010 at 5:21 pm ET  -   John Meyer

    also include “The Full Monty” — redundant manufacturing workers forced into contigent labor. Also with the following priceless dialogue while their watching a vidoe of ‘Flashdance’ with Jen Beals welding:

    “I hope she dances better than she welds. Look at that. It’s like Bonfire Night. That’s too much acetylene. Them joints won’t hold f%$# all.”

    Link to this comment

  8. September 24, 2010 at 6:55 pm ET  -   Ken Scott

    Three good ones to add:

    Under the Same Moon
    [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0796307/]

    The Navigators
    [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0279977/]

    Hellfighters
    [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063060/]

    Link to this comment

  9. September 24, 2010 at 10:26 pm ET  -   ausohs

    Suggesting: How Green Was My Valley
    starred Roddy McDowell
    Set in a Welsh mining village against a background of mining disasters and diseases. A young boy, after suffering an illness, gets a chance at an education and a life not spent working in the mines.

    Link to this comment

  10. September 26, 2010 at 5:20 pm ET  -   Peter Dodwell

    Great idea. I would add “GATTACA” (1997). This had a near-future dystopic storyline highlighting some possible adverse consequences of workplace genetic testing as well as ways of cheating this. It also managed to be a well-acted and absorbing movie. [http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt0119177/]

    from IMDB: “In the not-too-distant future, a less than perfect man wants to travel to the stars. Society has categorized Vincent Freeman as less than suitable given his genetic make-up and he has become one of the underclass of humans that are only useful for menial jobs. To move ahead, he assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow, a perfect genetic specimen who is a paraplegic as a result of a fall. With some professional advice, Vincent learns to deceive DNA and urine sample testing.”

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  11. September 26, 2010 at 11:20 pm ET  -   Mark Catlin

    Dear Dr. Kesner,
    Thanks for this wonderful post!

    Link to this comment

  12. September 27, 2010 at 11:28 am ET  -   Sara Rattigan

    This is such a great idea. Thanks for putting this film list together; it’s been really interesting to look through all of them, especially those I’ve seen before.

    One film to add to category 2 (oh&s issues during production):

    The Crow (1994), during which Brandon Lee was fatally wounded during a shooting scene; it’s thought shortcuts were taken with the ‘weapons’ being used (although not confirmed). It was such a popular film when I was in high school, and all my friends talked about the accident, so it has always stuck with me.

    In addition, there were issues/red flags leading up to Lee’s death, including non-fatal injuries to both a carpenter (bodily burns) and a stuntman (broken ribs), as well as some equipment catching on fire. A brilliant film on screen, but clearly all was not sound on set.

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  13. September 27, 2010 at 5:07 pm ET  -   Chris Ide

    I remember the film “Blazing Saddles” (mid 1970s), a comedy ‘western’, which had a sequence in which Hedley Lamarr is assembling a massive gang of roughnecks to demolish the town of Rock Ridge, which stands in the path of a railway that he is hoping to build. The recruiting advertisement bears the legend ‘Hedley Lamarr, an Equal Opportunity Employer’!

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  14. September 28, 2010 at 8:41 am ET  -   Scott

    Silver City by John Sayles depicts an occupational fatality in a meat packing plant in Colorado. Riff Raff is a British film by Ken Loach about construction workers and the dangers they face.

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  15. September 29, 2010 at 8:21 am ET  -   Scott

    Also check out the film Christ in Concrete. It is about Italian immigrants in NYC in the early 1900s working construction. One dies by falling into a concrete pour. His son takes his place on the job.

    Link to this comment

  16. October 1, 2010 at 11:09 am ET  -   Chris

    The Hurt Locker was a great movie and definitely portrayed severe workplace stress. Great read!

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  17. October 3, 2010 at 12:45 pm ET  -   Constantine

    I agree with the hurt locker

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  18. October 5, 2010 at 12:41 pm ET  -   Munros Safety Apparel

    Having recently seen The Hurt Locker, I must agree! I did see someone mention Flashdance and the welding scene..blatant disregard for safety there, and Wall E – another good one, lack of consideration for the health of people. Great post here.

    Link to this comment

  19. October 6, 2010 at 12:39 pm ET  -   Anonymous epidemiologist

    One you might add to your list of OS&H issues during filming, for possible long-term health effects from on-set radiation fallout exposure: The Conqueror, starring John Wayne as Ghengis Khan and filmed on site near St. George, UT in 1956 during the height of aboveground nuclear testing.

    Apparently 91 of 220 of the cast and crew involved with filming had developed some form of cancer by 1981. As always in clusters, it’s hard to demonstrate a causal association, but still it’s an interesting example of the issues…
    see [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Conqueror_(film)#Cancer_controversy]

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  20. October 16, 2010 at 5:07 am ET  -   picass

    Hurt Locker was a great movie and definitely portrayed severe workplace stress. Great read!

    Link to this comment

  21. November 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm ET  -   Peter Bellin

    “The Face of Decent Work” produced by the ILO. It used to be posted on their web site, but no longer. I was able to obtain a DVD.

    A good film that provides viewers images of working conditions world-wide, including images of child labor.

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  22. November 3, 2010 at 7:09 am ET  -   Peter Bellin

    By the way, Sunshine Cleaners includes some details on BBP when cleaning up after deaths.

    The DVD has a nice featurette interviewing tow ladies who do this type of work.

    Link to this comment

  23. December 17, 2010 at 4:17 pm ET  -   Nancy Menzel

    How about Blue Vinyl? It includes workers’ suffering and dying from vinyl chloride exposure.

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT December 21, 2010 at 3:38 pm ET  -   Jim Kesner

      A few notes that may be of interest: Kate Winslet recently visited CDC in Atlanta and spent a few days talking with researchers about the organization and their work in preparation for her new film Contagion. Described as “an action-thriller based on the global outbreak of a deadly viral disease and an international team of doctors contracted by CDC to deal with the crisis,” Contagion is scheduled for release in 2011.

      I recently had the good fortune to see Last Train Home, a fascinatingly poignant film that documents how the lives of millions of Chinese migrant workers are disrupted by their dual lives.

      Another film I mentioned previously, The Company of Men, starring Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Costner about “three men trying to survive a round of corporate downsizing at a major company – and how that affects them, their families, and their communities,” has opened to good reviews.

      Has anyone seen any other recent movies with occupational safety and health connections, or heard of any in the works? My best wishes to you all and your families for a wonderful holiday season and for a healthy, prosperous New Year.

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  24. May 19, 2011 at 7:14 am ET  -   Welsh Translation

    This is an amazing blog, smart. Lots of comments. Lets go! Chris, you are right, Hurt Locker isn’t just a movie, its an truly amazing epic movie. Should be more like that! I enjoy the action pack ‘Black Hawk Down’ as well. Its amazing.

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  25. July 30, 2011 at 1:38 pm ET  -   Debbi

    Have a few more great ones to add to the list…”Always” depicted the extreme dangers aerial firefighters face, “Gattaca” highlights the potential new workplace built on the genetic perfection of the human race, “Backdraft” and “Frequency” provide insight into the hazards that firefighters face. “Falling Down” shares the extremes that job stress can take people to, “Food, Inc.” explicitly highlights the mess our food safety industry is in and “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an insightful look into sterility due to environmental contamination. The whole “Grey’s Anatomy” series is a wonderful insight into the the stresses, strains and physical hazards our medical profession faces every day, “Heaven and Earth” brings to light what our Vietnam Vets experienced and still struggle with in terms of PTSD. “Human Trafficking” is a poignant, heartbreaking look into the extreme suffering this new illegal market has generated, “If You Could See What I Hear” is a wonderful, comedic journey into the world of blindness and it’s challenges and frailties, and “The Stone Merchant” opens a window into the new world of Terrorism that is so easy to walk through the door of the workplace. “Pacific Heights” can potentially scare anyone out of becoming a renter and the ALL-TIME BEST is a film called “Earth and The American Dream” that takes one through the industrial growth of our country from the time of Columbus up to now. This film is the most BEAUTIFUL look into the consequences of a LACK of safety and focus on environment that has landed us where we are today. It highlights perfectly our environmental safety and health dilemma!

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  26. August 16, 2011 at 3:27 pm ET  -   Tee Guidotti

    “Margaret’s Museum”, an indy Canadian film staring Helena Bonham Carter, is a dense and mordant study of Irish immigrants to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and the dangers of the coal industry. Great sociological insights as well as treatment of ohs issues. Caution: ending is very intense.

    During the filming of the famous Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers dance routine “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, a worker on the set had to polish the floor between takes to remove the scuff marks. Apparently there were over 200 takes (Ginger Rogers said later that her feet were bleeding by the wrap). The worker got chemical hepatitis and may have died (I’m not sure): the cleaning agent was carbon tetrachloride.

    Although there are no ohs issues explicitly raised in it, “The Return of the Secaucus Seven” (one of my favorite movies of all time, much better than “The Big Chill” IMHO) features the divergent pathways and work lives of its characters after they graduate and disperse, including the relationship between the medical student and the gas station attendant, who had been friends since high school and then find themselves on opposite sides of a class divide but are still attracted to each other.

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  27. October 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm ET  -   Marie Ransley

    There is a very old (early ’60s?) British comedy with Peter Sellers and Terry-Thomas called “I’m All Right, Jack” with workplace issues. When it came back to the foreign film & art movie house in our town, some years after its initial release, my parents took my brother and me to see it. I remember very little of the story, which was probably over my head at the time–it had something to do with labor organizing–but there is a scene in a candy factory that is unforgettable.

    Interestingly, my brother grew up to become a mechanical engineer and for quite a few years worked for a company that designed sanitation systems for food-processing factories. I always thought the movie must have inspired him.

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  28. July 9, 2012 at 7:51 am ET  -   joe

    Just saw Any Given Sunday. It highlights the risks of injury for professional football players and includes many topics recently in the news — concussions, playing when injured.

    Link to this comment

  29. August 27, 2012 at 3:00 am ET  -   camera giam sat

    Great idea. I would add “GATTACA” (1997). This had a near-future dystopic storyline highlighting some possible adverse consequences of workplace genetic testing as well as ways of cheating this. It also managed to be a well-acted and absorbing movie

    Thanks for sharing

    Link to this comment

  30. January 1, 2014 at 3:25 pm ET  -   Lina

    This is such a wonderful concept. Thanks for putting this movie list together; it’s been truly fascinating to check out all them, specifically those I have actually seen prior to.

    One movie to contribute to classification 2 (oh & s concerns throughout manufacturing):.

    The Crow (1994), throughout which Brandon Lee was fatally injured throughout a capturing scene; it’s thought faster ways were taken with the ‘weapons’ being made use of (although not validated). It was such a popular movie when I was in senior high school, and all my pals discussed the mishap, so it has actually constantly stuck to me.

    In addition, there were issues/red flags getting at Lee’s fatality, consisting of non-fatal injuries to both a carpenter (physical burns) and a stuntman (busted ribs), along with some devices catching on fire. A fantastic movie on display, however plainly all was not seem on set.

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  31. January 10, 2014 at 11:14 am ET  -   mark

    i found the hurt locker a little too standard, as in there wasnt much surpirse for me, an ok watch but not very exciting

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  32. January 10, 2014 at 8:20 pm ET  -   Stephanie

    Hello ;
    Thank you for this effort , I’m really interested in “Twilight Zone: The Movie” I’ve watched The trailer and i loved it .

    My Best Regards

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