Times People Mimicked Movies And Paid With Their Life

A great film is akin to seeing magic happen before our eyes, an amalgamation of technical wizardry, imagination, performance, and sleight-of-hand unspooling before us, taking us on an emotional roller coaster that entertains and enlightens. We all cheer great movies, imagining ourselves as the protagonists. Unfortunately, there are instances where people took that silver screen inspiration too literally, suffering the worst possible outcome in real life.

The Program (1993)

Touchstone Pictures' 1993 college football film The Program followed the trial and tribulations of fictional team the ESU Timberwolves as they dealt with personal issues and team setbacks en route to victory at the Eastern Athletic Conference. While the film sports an impressive cast, including Halle Berry, Omar Epps, James Caan and Kristy Swanson, it's unfortunately most remembered for a scene that resulted in real-life tragedy.

In the film, Craig Shafer's character Joe Kane drunkenly declares that he's good "under pressure" as he lays in the middle of a road casually reading a magazine while automobiles whiz by at dizzying speeds. His teammates reluctantly join him in a show of unity, bonding through their mix of courage, stupidity, and insanity. The scene ended up being heavily featured in the trailers released to promote the film and was immediately criticized by film critic Jack Garner of the Gannett News Service, who noted, "I dread the day I read about some real high school jocks who've been inspired to duplicate that irresponsible film sequence."

Unfortunately, within a month of the film's release, Gerner was correct, with tragic results. On October 16, 1994, two teenagers attempted to bring the scene to life by laying down atop the double yellow lines that separated a two-lane highway that ran through Polk, Pennsylvania. Obscured from a driver's vision due to dark clothing and the cover of night, they were sadly hit by a pickup truck and were instantly killed.

That same evening, a teenager in Long Island, New York, acting on a dare from friends, attempted the same stunt and met the same tragic results as he was struck and dragged by a car after laying in the middle of Bayville Avenue.

With authorities and the media publicly noting the connection between the film and the deaths, Touchstone, a subsidiary of Disney, issued a statement distancing themselves, stating, "The scene in The Program clearly depicts this adolescent action as an irresponsible and dangerous stunt by a troubled and heavily intoxicated individual, and in no way advocates or encourages this type of behavior. This is a tragedy and our sympathies go out to the families of those involved."

Disney then quickly moved to have the scene removed from prints of the film. To date, the scene has never been restored, but still lives on, online.

Back To The Future

Director Robert Zemekis' Back To The Future is one of those near-perfect films, telling the story of Michael J. Fox's high schooler Marty McFly, who accidentally transports himself back to 1955 in a time-traveling Delorean.

Early on in the film, skateboarding Marty hangs onto the back of a truck while riding his board, getting some extra speed on the way to school. Later, after he's been displaced in time and trapped in the past, the film unveils one of its most memorable sequences, featuring Marty attempting to escape the clutches of bruiser bully Biff Tannen. Referencing the earlier scene, McFly creates a makeshift skateboard that he then uses to skate away from his pursuers, puzzling onlookers, as such a thing had yet to be invented. Marty speeds away from their grasp by grabbing onto the back of a car while riding the board. It's a fun scene and one of the hallmarks of the film franchise, a moment they revisit in BTTF's sequels.

In June 1987, a group of teenagers were recreating the scene in Jenks, Oklahoma, holding onto the back of cars and go-carts when 13-year-old Mark Smith's skateboard hit the tire of one of the go-carts. Losing his balance, Smith fell and hit his head, sadly passing away five days later.

Jackass: The Movie

The outlandish, dangerous and disgusting antics of Johnny Knoxville and friends pushed the boundaries of absurdist behavior during its run as a popular series on MTV when Jackass was unleashed upon the masses in 2000. That success paved the way for a feature film version, featuring everything from a prank where they returned a rental car after it was decimated in a demolition derby, to tightrope walking over a zoo's alligator exhibit, to delivering paper cuts to the most uncomfortable areas of the body imaginable.

Although the film was accompanied with an "R" rating and a "Do Not Try This At Home" warning, attempts to Xerox the stunts of Knoxville, Steve-O and the rest of their crew indeed happened, leading to predictable, sad results.

One fateful night in December 2002, 15-year-old Stephen Paul Rauen of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was killed when he attempted to hold onto a moving truck but lost his grip and slipped when the driver slammed on the brakes. Rauen fell and was dragged underneath. Albuquerque police spokesperson Detective Jeff Arbogast announced that the teens were inspired by a scene they saw while watching Jackass: The Movie.

MTV sent their condolences, noting, "We're sorry to hear that this unfortunate incident has happened. No matter how a tragedy occurs, it's especially horrible when a young person is involved," but also claimed that there was no actual stunt in the film similar to what led to Rauen's passing.

2 Fast 2 Furious

The Fast and Furious film franchise features some of the craziest car crashes and riskiest racing stunts ever devised. In 2003, Universal Pictures released 2 Fast 2 Furious with Paul Walker returning from the first installment as AWOL cop Brian O'Conner, who's made his way from California to Miami, living off the winnings of drag races he's won while crossing the country. While the story sees him working to take down a drug lord, high-speed stunts remain the primary lure of the film. The films, after all, are meant to be a high octane adrenaline rush for the audience.

Shortly after 2 Fast 2 Furious was released, William Lacasse Jr. was returning home from a seeing the film when he pulled out a Miami gas station in a Corvette. He was challenged to a drag race by two cars. The 17-year-old took his challengers up on the offer, but quickly lost control. He crashed into a concrete light pole and soon passed away.

Lacasse's father later stated that had he been aware that the street racing film was what his son intended to go see, he'd have never let him take the car. His son had never taken an interest in racing before seeing the film. 2 Fast 2 Furious was blamed for a rise in racing and other accidents in Miami at the time, criticism similar to ones levied at first film when it was released in 2001.

At the time of Lacasse's passing, Miami Police Lieutenant Bill Schwartz stated that teenagers couldn't differentiate between the effects of drag racing they see on screen and the potential real-life consequences of racing, noting, "They don't understand that those people are stunt drivers, and that they can get killed."

Into The Wild

Directed by Sean Penn and starring Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild is based on the real life tale of college graduate Chris McCandless, who gives away all his money after deciding to travel to Alaska to live off the land. His experiences in the wild and the life lessons he learns along the way are the centerpiece of the film. Finding the enlightenment he was seeking, McCandless seeks to return to his family, but finds his former path now blocked. The quiet stream he once crossed has become an impassable raging river due to melting snow. In the end, he poisons himself by choosing to eat the wrong plant, sadly causing his own accidental death. Told in a non-linear style, the film is as profound as it is sad.

In 2013, 18-year-old Jonathan Croom, who had become obsessed with Into the Wild, decided to follow McCandless' example and "leave his life behind." Croom traveled to the Pacific Northwest from his home in Arizona, despite having never lived off the land and having only little camping experience.

When Croom disappeared from the town of Riddle, Oregon, police began searching for him. His abandoned car was eventually found with his wallet inside. A week later, authorities discovered Croom's body, just 1,000 feet from the wooded area where his car had been recovered.

While authorities believed suicide was the cause of death, there remained a correlation drawn between Croom's and McCandless' respective experiences by Croom's family.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a classic coming-of-age college story. Charlie (Logan Lerman), a Pittsburgh High School freshman, struggles to find himself as he moves through adolescence, dealing with prior bouts of clinical depression. Introverted, he befriends two outgoing seniors, Patrick and Sam, and through those friendships, comes out of his shell, falls in love, and begins to come to terms with his own long-forgotten childhood traumas.

One of the signature sequences of the film features Emma Watson's Sam standing, arms outstretched, in the back of a pickup truck as it rushes through Pittsburgh's Fort Pitt Tunnel. Watson demanded that she, not a stunt person, film the sequence. Later in the film, a return to the tunnel showcases Charlie's transition into adulthood as he stands with his arms out as they speed through the tunnel, David Bowie's classic "Heroes" blaring. Charlie throws the pain of the past away while embracing the future he is rushing toward. In each instance, the actors were tethered by multiple cables to the truck.

It's an important moment in the film, but certainly one that would be extremely dangerous in real life, to the point that writer and director Stephen Chbosky warned teenagers to stay in their cars in the liner notes of the film's soundtrack as well as the director's commentary of the film's DVD release.

Unfortunately, the advice wasn't always heeded. In July 2013, 17-year-old Ryan Richards may have been recreating the moment with his friends in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, when the truck turned, causing Richards to lose his footing and fall from the truck. Although his friends weren't driving fast, the fall was enough to cause his death, which was ruled accidental, the result of blunt force trauma.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The second and final film in this incarnation of Spider-Man's adventures on the silver screen, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 features Spidey's battles against Electro and The Green Goblin while also investigating the mystery behind his parents' passing. Andrew Garfield's brooding turn as Peter Parker was a departure from previous films, but Spidey, in any form, remains a colorful character that children respond to.

Unfortunately, when young children don't realize the difference between movie magic and real life, tragedy often results. Just a week after the film was released in Indonesia, a five-year-old boy in Jakarta named Valentino was told that his family would not be able to go see the new movie because his younger sibling was ill.

Angry, he locked himself in his room, opened the window and apparently tried to crawl down the side of his apartment building. He sadly fell 19-stories and despite the best efforts of doctors, passed away. Authorities learned that he liked to imitate other superheroes he loved, such as Captain America and Iron Man. It wasn't a far stretch to assume that he was hoping to emulate Spider-Man.

Blue Crush

In 2002, chase-your-dreams surfer film Blue Crush was released upon the world, starring Kate Bosworth as Anne Marie, a would-be surfing Rocky struggling to overcome her own failures and the distractions of a fling with a NFL player, while also trying to find her personal eye of the tiger and win the surfing competition that has previously eluded her.

Like every great sports film, Blue Crush has training scenes featuring our hero striving to push herself beyond her limits in pursuit of that moment of victory she is so desperate to achieve. One of those scenes showcases a unique endurance training exercise as Anne Marie is running at the bottom of the ocean, carrying a heavy rock that weighs her down until she can take no more and is forced to return to the surface to catch her breath. While the technique is a legitimate one, it's not one that should be attempted without careful consideration and safeguards.

Unfortunately, in September 2013, a group of children attempted to create their own version of the stunt, swimming across a pond in Port Salerno, Florida, while carrying different objects, including a baby carriage and a milk jug. The group found a heavy chain that a girl from the group wrapped around herself, but removed it, feeling it was too much for her to handle.

A 13-year-old boy, Anthony Michael Alfonsin, decided to instead wrap the heavy chain around himself, realizing all-too-late that the chain was too heavy, and he slipped under the water. His friends attempted to help, as did nearby parents, but it was too late. Authorities ruled his death an accidental drowning.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has all the hallmarks of high adventure on the seven seas: swashbuckling sword fights, cannons blasting from pirate ships, fantastical creatures, and, of course, daring escapes from certain doom. In the first film, Curse of the Black Pearl, Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow was sentenced to death by hanging but escaped the noose with the assistance of Will Turner's sword, which was flung at the gallows as the platform dropped, allowing Sparrow to balance himself atop the sword until he was finally freed. With music swelling and swords clanking, it's a fun scene worthy of the old cliffhanger serials that certainly inspired the franchise.

Unfortunately, after renting the film, the scene also inspired 12-year-old British boy Scott Buckle. He attempted to imitate the scene in his home, accidentally hanging himself in the process. Buckley had told his adopted mother that he thought the film was "brilliant" before his death.

During a hearing regarding the circumstances that led to Buckley's passing, psychiatrist John Talbot testified that the scene in the film, "gave you the impression that somebody could escape from such circumstances." He also testified that Buckley's own personal background would have led to his identifying with Captain Jack. Buckley's adopted parents testified that not only did Buckley act as if he was invincible to harm, he was also "prone to imitate things." Sadly, he made the mistake of imitating something that only movie magic could accomplish.

Man on Fire (2004)

Denzel Washington stars in the 2004 remake of Man on Fire, playing former CIA operative John Creasy, who goes on a murderous rampage to recover the abducted 9-year-old girl he had been tasked with protecting. Swearing to kill everyone involved in the kidnapping, Denzel channels his inner Rambo as he tracks down those responsible and wipes them out in massive, explosive ways.

Early in the movie, Creasy is a lost soul, throwing back Scotch, not caring if his unlucky number comes up or not. His relationship with the girl helps bring him out of that darkness. The twist late in the film — spoiler alert — is that the very man who hired Creasy to protect his daughter is actually responsible, having staged the kidnapping in order to profit from the ransom, planning to steal the money from an insurance company handling the payout. When Creasy confronts the father with his discovery, he admits the plan. Creasy leaves him the gun and the single unfired bullet, leading to the man committing suicide out of grief over his decisions.

According to news reports, in March 2005, 27-year-old Jeremiah Overstreet was watching the film at home in Apopka, Florida, and decided to play Russian roulette. While nobody plays Russian roulette in Man on Fire, Washington's character does attempt to shoot himself, only for the gun to misfire. Overstreet was pronounced dead at the scene by authorities, and the shooting was ruled an accident.