When you want to film a dangerous stunt without risking your leads, you call in these people. You dress them up as the characters, give them a wig, and try to avoid having their face on camera.
There are also non-stunt doubles — for instance, the anonymous girl who played the back of Patty Duke's head in The Patty Duke Show whenever the cousins needed to be in the same shot together. Non-stunt doubles are usually called stand-ins or body doubles, and are also used to block and light scenes when the main actors are busy elsewhere. The Talent Double appears in instances where the required action is simply too difficult for the actor: complicated ice-skating or dancing, for instance.
This is actually a lot more common than most would expect; though many films have actors appear to engage in highly athletic yet low-risk tasks - lifting and carrying moderately heavy objects, running for more than a few seconds, jumping over small obstacles, climbing fences, ladders and stairs - anyone who actually thinks about doing such things themselves will realize that all but the most athletic would tire very, very quickly, yet actors only appear strained, exhausted, or even out-of-breath when it would be dramatic. Such scenes are in many cases the bulk of a stuntman's work - especially on repeated takes.
Traditionally, female actors were often doubled by small male stunt artists, due to no woman with the required skills being available, or the stunts being considered "too dangerous" for a woman. This still happens but is increasingly controversial, as the increasing number of female professional stunt artists consider it to be sex discrimination.
Nowadays it's common for stunt doubles' faces to be replaced with the stars' faces in post production. An early example is Event Horizon: they didn't realise until they sat down to edit the film that Laurence Fishburne's stunt double's face was showing clearly for a couple of seconds in the finale (in his defense, he was on fire). So, the star's face was crudely but effectively pasted over the double's. An earlier example of the same occurs in Jurassic Park. This has opened the door to more flexible use of stuntmen.
The inverse of this is, of course, No Stunt Double.
- Stuntman Stan Barrett is also known as the driver of the Budweiser Rocket car, which unofficially hit 739.666 mph in 1979.
- Erin Mackey, who played the back of Lindsay Lohan's head in Disney's 1998 remake of The Parent Trap.
- Shelley Michelle, whose legs and body have been seen in numerous films under the guise of being someone else's, including Pretty Woman (as Julia Roberts — it's her body in the movie's well-known poster, and her legs in the "boot scene" at the beginning), The Prince of Tides (as Barbra Streisand's legs) and My Stepmother Is an Alien (doubling for Kim Basinger, especially in the dressing scene at the start).
- Parodied in Spaceballs by having the heroes use their stunt doubles for a Decoy Getaway: "You've captured their stunt doubles!" Princess Vespa's double is a man with a moustache and chomping a cigar, just for extra Rule of Funny.
- Jackie Chan is a notable exception. He started off his career as a stunt man, and having become a lead actor since then, he still does many of his own stunts instead of enlisting a Stunt Double (although this is less common due to his age and past injuries as of late). Jackie Chan had stopped doing all of his major stunts by the time North American audiences knew who he was, though his publicists have continued the illusion.
- Kane Hodder, before he landed the role of Jason in the latter Friday the 13th movies, was a well-known stunt double. After Friday, he's a well-known stunt double and stunt coordinator.
- Various difficulties lead to stunt doubles and quick cuts being used in fights in Batman Begins (which almost suited the movie's style). In The Dark Knight, pains were taken to ensure that not only could they get long action shots, but that the actors could perform their own stunts if they wanted to. For example, in the scene where The Joker blows up a hospital, the explosion actually occurs with him where it looks like he is in the shot—inside a bus outside the building; and Christian Bale, aside from fighting, also did wire work on top one of Chicago's skyscrapers.
- Most of the James Bond actors did some of their own stunts, except for Roger Moore. However, Moore was a former trucker, and used this to great effect in A View to a Kill.
- Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan claim to have multiple scars from their stuntwork. Brosnan in fact busted his ankle during filming the pre-titles sequence for Die Another Day, requiring production to be shut down for a week while he had surgery.
- While filming You Only Live Twice, Mie Hama (Kissy) was unable to film the scenes where she was swimming (some sources say she didn't know how to swim, some say she was ill). Sean Connery's then wife, Diane Cilento, volunteered to film the scenes, disguising herself with a black wig.
- Robo Vampire has, among other things, "the most obvious stunt double ever". A blonde woman's stunt double is a short dark-skinned guy with short grey wig and a moustache.
- According to an unpublished story for SPIN Magazine that was released online in 2009, nearly every scene of Wesley Snipes in Blade: Trinity is his stunt double. Snipes was allegedly unhappy with the Director and script, so he only fulfilled the bare minimum his contract required and was only on set to shoot close-ups and dialogue scenes. None of the cast or crew have verified the story, however, so take it with a grain of salt.
- Perhaps somewhat ironically, the 1978 Burt Reynolds movie Hooper, about stuntmen, features a very obvious stuntman, when Hooper is riding a horse.
- An equine variant in The Black Stallion. Cass Ole was a champion showhorse and exceptionally valuable, so his owners restricted what he was allowed to do on camera. When the Black is shown galloping full-out, for example, it's always a double...and the double may or may not be an Arabian.
- In Soul Surfer, AnnaSophia Robb plays real-life surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack. While there's a regular stunt double who performs the surfing scenes prior to the attack, the producers had a hard time finding a one-armed stunt double who could surf, so they cast... Bethany Hamilton. Incidentally, this means that the scenes of Hamilton riding the huge wave in the end competition were performed by Bethany herself.
- Steven Seagal is notorious for this in his direct-to-video films, where noticeably younger and lighter men dressed like him are in almost every shot where he isn't in close-up or talking. Film Brain even started a counter.
- Epic Movie employed this for laughs when Aslan (a middle-aged white man) is suddenly replaced by a young Asian guy in a bad wig for a fight scene.
- During filming of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Harrison Ford injured his back and was out for several weeks. His stunt double, the legendary Vic Armstrong, was very similar in appearance to Harrison (even for a stunt double) and the two could be mistaken for brothers. Steven Spielberg continued work on the film by using Vic to perform the actions filmed from behind and then later filmed a few token close ups of Harrison to keep the illusion. The resemblance was so great, Ford's son would approach and talk to who he thought was his father before discovering it was Armstrong.
- Armstrong also doubles Ford in Blade Runner in the scene where Deckard is searching Leon's bathroom and finds the snake scale in the tub.
- In-universe example: In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, the character Damian Drake Jr. is Brendan Fraser's stunt double. The thing is, he's played by Brendan Fraser.
- In one scene in Men in Black, Agent K drives the car up the walls and onto the ceiling of a tunnel, and J, not wearing a seatbelt, flips over—and in a rather infamous blooper, briefly gets a stunt-double-induced Race Lift.
- Soviet comedy/drama Two Arrows: A Stone Age Murder Mystery has a rare case of a non-stuntman doubling for stuntman. A cavemen tribe is being attacked by another tribe with faces covered, in the heat of the battle one attacker falls off a cliff on a sex-starved widow, she tears his clothes off (offscreen), he runs away in fear (shot from the back). All attackers were played by stuntmen. The guy falling off a cliff didn't want his family to see him filmed naked. Rather than have the scene cut, one of the actors volunteered to replace him in the "running away" part.
- In Terminator 2: Judgment Day one was used for certain parts of the motorcycle chase when the T-1000 tried to crush the T-800 between the tow truck and the concrete barrier barely missing.
- When filming Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen needed a double to do all his shots for a few weeks after he had a heart attack. Rather than shut down production until he recovered, the crew elected to film as much as possible with a double standing in for Sheen (the double having his back turned to the camera) and then doing the close-ups after Sheen was well enough to return. This, and much more from the Troubled Production, is shown in the making-of documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.
- The Fall Guy was a series about a stunt double, who was also a bounty hunter on the side. Its Theme Tune plays tribute to the guys who make the stars look good, but never get to kiss the girl. Ironically, the lead in this series, Lee "The Six Million Dollar Man" Majors, used a stunt double himself.
- The original Star Trek is somewhat infamous for using stunt doubles who looked nothing like the actual actors and making no effort to hide their faces.
- The obvious use of stunt-doubles is (like absolutely everything else on the screen) a target for nitpicking. An episode of Family Guy reflects most people's view of the importance of this as ultra-nerd Neil Goldman delivers a lecture on instances of William Shatner using a stunt double on Star Trek to his bored classmates. With tragic inevitability, someone on Wikipedia has in fact pointed out that that particular episode didn't feature any stunt work so the Family Guy writers are wrong (!)
- It was already obvious on the episodes as originally broadcast, as well as a fair few bad instances on Star Trek: The Next Generation. But now that both shows are being released on bluray, in full high definition, it's simply painful how badly some of the stunt doubles stick out.
- SF Debris discusses this in his review of the TOS episode "Space Seed", noting that it's amazing what you could get away with in 1960s television when the screens were much smaller, often blurry, and frequently still in black and white.
- On Heroes, the lead actors do their own stunts whenever possible.
- Parodied in The Conditions of Great Detectives when Tenkaichi realises he forgot to warn Fujii she was going to be attacked, Banzo tells him to calm down as the stunt double would be the one fighting not her. The scene changes to Fujii, who is watching her stunt double fight the attacker. She takes over when the attacker makes a run for it.
- Stargate SG-1: Siler, the technician who is known for always managing to get injured in increasingly ridiculous ways, was played by the stunt coordinator for the series.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Even with steps taken to hide the doubles' faces, the switches are still sometimes obvious. Joss Whedon points this out in the commentary for the "Hush" episode:
"Oh, looks like Buffy's got her fightin' boobs on!"
- They had it easier with Xander, who had a twin brother who did stunt work (and played as his double during the episode where Xander gets split into two parts of his personality).
- Even with steps taken to hide the doubles' faces, the switches are still sometimes obvious. Joss Whedon points this out in the commentary for the "Hush" episode:
- Patricia Tallman, best known as telepath Lyta Alexander of Babylon 5, is also a stuntwoman. In an overlap with what was at the time seen as B5's main rival, she spent time as Nana Visitor's regular combat and stunt double in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
- Kamen Rider started using suit actors (stuntmen wearing the hero and villain costumes) back with the original series, after an infamous incident where Hiroshi Fujioka broke his leg when a stunt went wrongnote . Kamen Rider Double spoofs its own usage: in a web-exclusive short, Kirihiko "interviews" the bad guys' cat Mick, eventually getting so mad that he attacks it, at which point Mick is replaced by an obvious plush. Then Mick changes into his monster form and gets revenge, at which point Kirihiko is replaced by a dummy in a suit with a photo of his face taped to the head, all while "he" continues to scream in pain.
- An episode of Blackadder the Third had Baldrick mention that his father played second codpiece in Macbeth, worn by Macbeth in the fight scenes. To this, Blackadder asks "So he was a stunt codpiece, then?"
- This creates some problems for Power Rangers. They always use a large number of Super Sentai's stunt team each year. The problem lies with Rangers always using a multicultural Five-Token Band, whereas the Sentai stunt team is almost exclusively Japanese men. Sometimes this is painfully (or hilariously) awful. In a recent episode of Samurai, Kevin (who's African American) jumps into a battle and suddenly becomes Asian.
- The Disney seasons became more notorious for this than the Fox seasons; this becomes blatant in the Operation Overdrive episode that teams up Johnny Yong Bosch and four Disney rangers. When the five have an unmorphed fight in a warehouse, Bosch is the only one whose face can be clearly seen at all times.
- Also, see She's a Man in Japan for another problem.
- On the other hand, Power Rangers often gives stunt doubles actual characters to play like Sharkie & Georgenote , Tritor, Eric Myers, A-Squad Pink, extra Kung fu students from Power Rangers Jungle Fury, criminals from Power Rangers RPM and Jayden's dad.
- Smallville occasionally uses stunt doubles. Fans poked fun at a scene where Tom Welling's double clearly has a beard.
- One episode of Ghost Writer featured a deranged stunt-woman who was terrorizing the actress who'd become famous by her hard work.
- Doctor Who uses them often, with varying degrees of success.
- "The Chase" is notorious for having the First Doctor's stunt double appear onscreen with his face clearly visible for minutes.
- The Fourth Doctor's stunt double ended up playing the Doctor in many scenes in "The Sontaran Experiment" as Tom Baker broke his collarbone while recording. The cinematography of the serial is therefore rather weird, especially by Doctor Who standards, showing the Doctor mostly in head-and-shoulders closeup or in extremely long shots.
- Due to the dangerousness of the garment, the Fourth Doctor also had a 'stunt scarf' which was much shorter than the main one used. Both Tom Baker and his stunt double can be seen wearing the stunt scarf in various scenes where it would be dangerous to wear the full-length one, and both can be seen on screen at once in "The Android Invasion" (when the Doctor confronts his Evil Knockoff). At one point Tom Baker successfully petitioned the costume designers to get the stunt scarf sewn onto the main scarf to extend it to a monstrous 19'1".
- In "The Deadly Assassin", it's quite easy to spot the double in the fistfight scene in the river - Tom Baker's fine hair hangs down almost straight when wet, but the stunt double's synthetic wig repels water and remains in Quirky Curls.
- Eric Christian Olsen (Marty Deeks) in NCIS: Los Angeles has his own brother Daniel as a stunt double... ironically enough Daniel married Daniela Ruah, who plays Kensi!
- EMLL and LLI Luchador Black Man served as a stunt double for El Santo during a movie starring the latter. Black Man's greatest success in Lucha came off the heels of the Santo-Los Misioneros de la Muerte feud, where the resulting spike in tercias matches lead to Los Tres Fantasticos (Black Man, Kung Fu, Kato Kung Lee) to become the top draws in Mexico following Santo's retirement.
- WCW had Sting use a stunt double for his inferno match with Vampiro.
- Former Altar Boy Luke Hawx insists wasn't chasing AJ Styles for fifteen years out of any sense of resentment, no no, his career as stuntman has kept him too happy for those kind of feelings.
- Trinty, mostly seen in former NWA members Cyberspace, Ohio Valley and TNA had the gimmick of a wrestling stunt woman.
- Leva Bates has a surplus of props and outfits from being the stunt woman of her own (nonexistent) film studio.
- To emphasize how much of a loser The Intellectual "Savior Of The Unwashed Masses" Damien Sandow had become since cashing in "Money In The Bank" on Monday Night Raw and failing, he ended up being reduced to a stunt double...of The Miz.
- The somewhat obscure tabletop RPG It Came From The Late, Late, Late Show (which, as its name might indicate, is all about the genre of hilariously bad movies) allows its player characters to call in stunt doubles who then take damage in their stead as one way to avoid being 'written out', although the doubles' ability to soak up abuse is limited in turn.
- In Warhammer 40,000, the definitively non-Canon and Played for Laughs 'movie marines' included 10 pt 'stunt doubles' that would absorb a single hit for a marine before dying, but were just as hard to kill as the regular kind.
- In the appropriately titled Sbemail "stunt double", Strong Bad denies that he employs one for his role as Dangeresque. This is proven incorrect by the Sbemail's Running Gag of forcing Strong Sad (poorly dressed as Strong Bad with a paper bag mask) to go through with leaping off Bub's Concession Stand and getting socked by Strong Mad.
- In addition to the Star Trek example, Family Guy parodied incredibly obvious stunt doubles in another episode: Stewie jumps out a window, and the next scene shows a grown man in a (terrible) Stewie costume falling into a dumpster before one last cut shows the real Stewie climb out of it.
- In the Looney Tunes short "A Star Is Bored", Daffy Duck gets a job as Bugs Bunny's stunt double, getting all the Amusing Injuries in Bugs' stead. Interestingly, almost none of the scenes Daffy is doubling for happen in a regular Bugs Bunny cartoon. Why, it's almost as if they were written just to screw over Daffy!
- On the TV version of Garfield: His 9 Lives, one of the lives is as a stunt double for Krazy Kat. It was very short.
- The pilot episode of Sheep in the Big City has a scene where Sheep swings on a thread and hits a wall. The scene cuts from sheep jumping off a building before cutting to a low-quality clip of stuntman in a sheep suit hitting the wall and falling painfully to the ground.
- An episode Spongebob Squarepants has the gang filming a Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy movie. One scene has Mermaid Man preparing to fight before the film cuts to Sandy dressed as Mermaid Man doing the fighting.