12 Movies That Were Released After An Actor’s Death

Heath Ledger Joker The Dark Knight

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The new movie Brick Mansions is being released today. It’s one of the last projects the late Paul Walker worked on before he was killed in a car accident last November. It’s hardly the first instance of a film being released after one of its actors has passed away. If the actor was steadily working before his or her death, it’s only natural that they would have some projects waiting to be released or maybe even not yet finished. Philip Seymour Hoffman, for instance, has a number of movies coming out this year, including the new The Hunger Games.

Let’s look back at some of the most famous examples of actors’ movies being released posthumously. For a lot of them, because the actor’s career was so long and varied, it’s easy to forget the circumstances under which the projects came out.

1. The Dark Knight

This is probably the best place to start. After Heath Ledger died of an accidental overdose in 2008, his role as the Joker was hotly anticipated. He gave an amazing performance, amazing enough to earn him a posthumous Academy Award the next year. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was also released after his death, with actors like Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell finishing his role.

2. Rebel Without a Cause

One of the most iconic figures in cinema history, James Dean, only starred in three movies, two of which were released after his death in a car accident in 1955. This was arguably his most iconic role. The other posthumous release was Giant. He earned posthumous Oscar nominations for Giant and East of Eden.

3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Dumbledore didn’t always looked the same in the Harry Potter movies. In the first two installments he was played by Richard Harris, who sadly passed away shortly before the second film was released in 2002. He was replaced in the later films with Michael Gambon.

4. Queen of the Damned

This movie, based on an Anne Rice vampire series, starred singer Aaliyah as a vampire queen. She died in 2001, six months before the film was released, in a plane crash. The film was dedicated to her memory.

5. Enough Said

Sopranos actor James Gandolfini died of a heart attack last year. His last starring role was in this romantic comedy opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It was a touching last film because it showed a new, softer side of his persona that audiences weren’t used to seeing.

6. Sparkle

Whitney Houston passed away in February 2012. Her last role, in this movie about a 1960s girl group inspired by the Supremes, was released six months later.

7. Bridesmaids

She wasn’t one of the main stars of the movie, but Jill Clayburgh, who played Kristen Wiig’s mom, passed away of leukemia a few months before the film was released. She also appeared in Love and Other Drugs, which was released the same month she died.

8. Soul Men

Both Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes passed away within one day of each other in 2008. This movie, which they co-starred in with Samuel L. Jackson, was released a few months later. The director, Malcolm L. Lee, said he recut the film for a lighter tone after their deaths.

9. Michael Jackson’s This is It

This documentary shows Michael Jackson’s process of preparing for his concert series “This is It,” which was canceled due to his sudden death in 2009.

10. Enter the Dragon

Martial arts actor Bruce Lee died in 1973 of cerebral edema at age 32, just six days before this film was released. He was also one of the film’s writers. Lee was also writing, directing, producing and starring in a film called Game of Death, which was never completed.

11. The Crow

In 1993, Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon Lee, was killed by an accidental shooting at age 28 on the set of this movie. The filmmakers used special effects to add his face to a stunt double for the remaining scenes.

12. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Spencer Tracy passed away just a couple of weeks after filming this movie, which was released six months later. His co-star Katharine Hepburn never watched the whole finished film, because the memories were too painful.

You can reach this post's author, Jill O’Rourke, on twitter.
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    • Jenni

      Oh, I forgot about Jill Clayburgh, she was so great in Bridesmaids

    • Elizabeth Aspen

      Vic Morrow, Twilight Zone . . .