Every year, Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole, makes billions of dollars off of the creation and realization of dozens of feature length films and television shows, all of which offer us entertainment and an escape from reality. Movies cover every single genre imaginable, and they deal with themes and characters that all of us can relate to, which is why so many movies go on to become commercial successes. As much as movies try to temporarily detach us from our daily lives, there are instances in nearly every movie that brings us back to reality, and in most cases, those instances involve the death of a character; whether it is in fact the death of the main character, or someone who has some sort of close relationship to them.
Death is a certainty, and movies do not shy away from that fact, but sometimes, it becomes all too real for the cast and crew of a movie, especially when one of the stars of a movie unexpectedly dies at some point during the filming process. There have actually been several actors and actresses who have died while they were in the middle of filming a movie, either because of drugs, a medical issue, or an accident which occurred either on or off the movie set. No matter the cause, these deaths are always tragic, and they almost always cause a delay in the movie’s release, and the purpose of this article is to identify 15 movies that were indeed interrupted by an actor’s death.
15. Furious 7
We start things off with Furious 7, which as everyone knows, was delayed for more than a year because of the tragic and surprising death of one of its stars, Paul Walker in 2013. Over the course of his life, Walker was credited with having appeared in over twenty movies, but his best and most memorable role was that of Brian O’Connor in the Fast and the Furious franchise. Early on into the filming of Furious 7, Walker was involved in a fatal car accident, which according to police happened because he attempted to pull off a drifting move similar to one seen in his movies. As a result of his death, the studio decided to halt production on Furious 7 so that the cast and crew could mourn for their deceased friend and colleague. After script reworks, the movie was ultimately released in 2015, and was met with immense success, with Walker’s brothers serving as his stand-ins, and with his face being digitally placed onto a body double for several scenes.
Over a forty year career in Hollywood, David Carradine appeared in over one hundred movies and over fifty television shows and made for TV movies. He was mainly considered to be a “B” movie actor, but he became more prominent after starring as the character Bill in the Kill Bill movies, which led him into then becoming more of a character actor. In 2009, Carradine signed on to play a part in a French movie entitled Stretch, which took place in Bangkok, but just before the movie could wrap up its production, Carradine was found dead in his hotel room due to accidental asphyxiation. In order to deal with Carradine’s sudden departure from the film, quick rewrites and editing needed to be made, which did in fact interrupt the production for a bit, but it was ultimately delayed for up to two years because of Carradine’s wife. As it turns out, his wife filed a wrongful death suit against the studio which prolonged the movie’s release until 2011.
13. Trail of the Pink Panther
In 2006, Steve Martin starred as Jacques Clouseau in the reboot of the mystery comedy film, The Pink Panther; and although he did a good enough job in the role, he could not bring the same comedic fortitude that Peter Sellers (left) did in the original. Sellers started his acting career in the 1950s, and even though he appeared in many movies like the original Casino Royale (1967) and Dr. Strangelove (1964), he will always be remembered primarily for his work in the Pink Panther movies which came out in 1963, 1975, 1976 and 1978. The Pink Panther movies proved to be real financial successes, which is why Sellers wanted to make another installment all on his own, but before it could go into production, he unexpectedly died. The studio though, wanted to proceed with the movie, which turned out to later be called Trail of the Pink Panther, and contained scenes from previous Pink Panther movies as a tribute to Sellers. The movie did not fare well at the box office, and Seller’s widow successfully sued the studio for defamation, winning 1.4 million dollars.
12. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt.2
The Hunger Games started out as a successful book series before being made into a blockbuster movie franchise that consisted of four movies and earned a cumulative total of 1.4 billion dollars. The movie may have been headlined by Jennifer Lawrence, but by the end, the cast included award winning actors such as Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, and Philip Seymour Hoffman; but of all those actors, only Hoffman was unable to see the end of the story on the big screen. Philip Seymour Hoffman was an Oscar winning actor who had struggled with drug addiction in the past, and after years of sobriety, he had an unfortunate relapse in 2013, which led to him using multiple drugs simultaneously, a relapse that resulted in his death. He died during production of the final movies, and still had two scenes left to shoot, which is why Mockingjay Pt.2 was temporarily interrupted in order to rewrite his scenes to involve different characters; they also had to add him into a background shot using visual effects.
11. Plan 9 From Outer Space
Authors have introduced audiences to some truly iconic characters, some of whom have managed to maintain their popularity for hundreds of years after their initial introduction; and Bram Stoker is one of these authors, as he introduced the world to Count Dracula. The Count has been interpreted in both film and television multiple times, but the original actor to play the mighty vampire was Bela Lugosi, in 1931. Lugosi appeared in dozens of films during his career, and in 1956, he had signed on to star in the movie, Plan 9 From Outer Space; but before the movie could even start shooting, he died from a sudden heart attack. The movie’s director had actually filmed some scenes with Lugosi prior to having a script for the movie, in the hopes of being able to use the footage later; but with the star gone, he needed to find funding somewhere else, and raised money on his own to make a movie based off of the previously shot footage. The movie was completed using a body double who wore a wig, and who held a cape up to cover his face; and in 2016, it is still considered by critics to be one of the worst movies ever made.
10. The Flight of the Phoenix
Hollywood has used stuntmen and stunt pilots in virtually every movie that deals with action or some kind of direct military conflict, and although these individuals are not considered to be actors, they are still important pieces in the overall movie making process. Peter Mantz was one of these stunt pilots, and he participated in the production of movies from the 1930s up until his death in 1965. Mantz personally flew planes in several movies, including For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Wings of Eagles, but his final movie appearance came in The Flight of the Phoenix, which dealt with a band of pilots trying to survive an emergency in the Sahara Desert. As it turns out, Mantz came out of retirement to perform a stunt in the movie, but during the flight, the plane hit a hill and broke apart, killing Mantz instantly. At this point, most of the movie had been filmed, but the tragic accident still caused a delay as a new plane had to be found to complete the remaining scenes.
In the year 2000, director Ridley Scott gave us the movie Gladiator, which was both critically acclaimed and a huge financial success; it even went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars later that year. Gladiator may have introduced us to Russell Crowe, but it also included actors such as Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris, and Oliver Reed all of whom were present at movie’s premiere, except for Reed who died before all his scenes could be completed. Reed was an English actor who was mostly known for taking on “tough guy” roles, and even though he was known for liking to drink a lot, he was an acclaimed actor who starred in over sixty films. While out at a bar one night in Malta, Reed drank a lot of rum, cognac and whiskey, and went on to suffer a sudden and fatal heart attack. Reed still had scenes left to shoot at the time, and Ridley Scott had to rewrite the script in order to kill his character off, and had a body double stand-in for him. The movie ended up being dedicated to him.
In Hollywood, Douglas Trumbull is considered to be an icon in visual effects, and in 1980, he decided to enter the world of directing with the movie Brainstorm, a sci-fi movie which starred the likes of Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken. Natalie Wood was an actress who overall appeared in over thirty movies, including the likes of West Side Story and Miracle on 34th Street, and she received multiple Oscar nominations. When Brainstorm was close to completion, Wood was persuaded to go on a boat trip with her husband and co-star Christopher Walken, which was an odd thing for her to do because she had a fear of both water and drowning. While on this boat trip, there was a storm that caused Wood to slip off the deck and into the water, where she went on to drown. As a result of her death, the studio wanted to cancel the entire movie, but Trumbull who had final say, chose to continue, and was forced to both rewrite part of the script and use a stand-in for Wood. When the movie released though, it turned out to be a huge failure, one which caused Trumbull to never again direct a movie.
7. Dark Blood
In every generation, there is always one actor or actress who is deemed to be the most talented out of the entire bunch, and on the male side, River Phoenix was considered to be that actor, especially since he became an Oscar nominated actor by the time he was 23. In his career, Phoenix appeared in 14 movies, including Stand by Me and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and in 1993, he died while he was still filming an independent film known as Dark Blood. Phoenix dealt with drug addicted from a young age, and ended up overdosing on a combination of cocaine and heroine while at a nightclub. At the time of his death, the movie was more than 80% complete, but he still had scenes left to shoot; and even though the director wanted to finish the movie, production came to an abrupt halt. After nearly a decade, the movie was finally released in 2012, with the director acting as a narrator in order to transition between those unfinished scenes.
6. Wagons East!
John Candy was a Canadian actor and comedian who became really popular in the 1980s, and who was considered to be one of the funniest people of that era, as evidenced by the fact he starred in comedies such as Uncle Buck, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Spaceballs. In 1994, Candy was shooting a western comedy film called Wagons East!, where he played the leading role, and while filming in Mexico, he suffered a massive heart attack which claimed his life just a few days before shooting was supposed to wrap up. The crew was stunned by Candy’s sudden passing, especially since earlier that same night, he had treated them all to dinner, and the movie itself had to undergo rewrites and bring in a stand-in for Candy’s part. Some believed that Wagons East! was Candy’s best role, but the movie itself turned out to be critically panned and a box office bomb.
5. Game of Death
Martial arts have been incorporated into both movies and television for decades, and even though actors such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Tony Jaa, helped to make the genre itself a hit in North America, it was actually martial artist Bruce Lee, who truly revolutionized the genre in Hollywood. Lee was born in San Francisco, and became involved in martial arts from a young age, an involvement which saw him and his fighting style enter into the entertainment industry in 1966 with The Green Hornet television show. By 1969, Lee moved into movies where he starred in films such as Fist of Fury and Will of the Dragon, and in 1973, he shot and directed Enter the Dragon, which he was in the process of dubbing one day when he suffered multiple seizures caused by brain swelling, which ultimately went on to kill him. The movie was released a few days later, but Lee’s death caused a lengthy delay in another movie called Game of Death, which he was also directing. Lee had shot about thirty minutes worth of footage for Game of Death before halting production in order to go do his dubbing, footage that was released in 1978, and which was met with a lot of anger from both his family and fans.
4. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Jack Nicholson and Jared Leto have both played the iconic Batman villain known as the Joker on the big screen, and although it is proven that the two can act, neither of them can be considered as the best movie Joker; that is a title which belongs to Heath Ledger who won an Oscar for his portrayal of the criminal sociopath in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Ledger was considered to be a great and talented actor, which he showcased in other movies such as A Knight’s Tale, Monster’s Balls and Brokeback Mountain; but in 2008, prior to the release of The Dark Knight, Ledger died from cardiac arrest which was caused by overdosing on prescription drugs. At the time of his death, Ledger was in the middle of shooting The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a movie which the director wanted to finish as a tribute to the late actor. The script was re-worked to make it so that Ledger’s character underwent physical transformations, which allowed his friends Colin Farrell, Jude Law and Johnny Depp, to help finish the project.
3. Something’s Got To Give
Marilyn Monroe may have died in 1962, but she is still considered to be one of the most influential and iconic actresses who has ever lived, even though she was primarily known for her looks and playing “dumb blonde” characters. Monroe dealt with drugs and alcohol addiction throughout most of her acting career, and she also suffered from anxiety and depression; and in 1962, her addiction finally turned fatal. She had been filming the movie Something’s Got to Give for a couple of weeks when the director had her fired because of her lateness and her inability to remember her lines; but after pleading with both the director and her cast members, she was hired back. Days before she was supposed to return to set though, Monroe died of a drug overdose which was considered to be suicide. As a result, the movie was never finished, and the scenes that were shot became parts of several documentaries.
2. The Crow
A couple of entries ago we talked about Bruce Lee’s death, but unfortunately, he was not the only member of the Lee family to go into acting and die before the age of 35. Brandon Lee was Bruce Lee’s son and although he appeared in several movies, he will always be remembered for his leading role in the his final film, The Crow. The movie itself was a low-budget affair, and it took several cost-cutting measures to make sure it did not go over budget; but despite the financial constraints, shooting went off without a hitch until one tragic day. During an action scene that involved guns which Brandon was a part of, he was shot in the heart by a gun which accidentally still had a real bullet in the chamber; and he died from the gunshot later that day in hospital. The cast and crew decided to finish the movie to honor Lee, and re-wrote the script while also getting a stand-in for Lee; they also used visual effects to place Lee in certain shots. The Crow came out in 1994, and has become a successful cult classic.
1. Twilight Zone: The Movie
For those of you who have not heard of the Twilight Zone franchise, it started out as a television anthology series that dealt with psychological horror, science-fiction, fantasy and suspense. The series became so popular, that Hollywood green-lit a movie adaptation that had four different directors including Steven Spielberg, and it possessed a cast which included Vic Morrow. In the movie, Morrow played a time traveler who visited times of war, and in a scene, he was supposed to carry two children through a river while explosions went off all around them and a helicopter chased them from overhead. During this scene, the helicopter flew too close to one of the explosions and crashed, but as it crashed, it instantly killed Morrow and one of the children; the other child died later on that day. This accident caused the movie to endure multiple lawsuits from the children’s parents, and when it actually did get released, it was met with failure.