There is an old saying in the entertainment business that “the show must go on." No matter how bad the situation is, the performance will occur as planned for the paying audience. Nothing will stop them, and nobody is getting a refund.
There are all kinds of obstacles that a filmmaker faces when trying to make their masterpiece. Sometimes, budget issues, script problems, or location difficulties can slow down the production of a film. There have been thousands of films that had to shut down production for numerous reasons. One of the most common and most difficult issues when filming always involves the cast. Some films have had their star drop out because of issues with the director or producers. This has thrown several films into chaos. However, some filmmakers will never let anything get in their way, not even the death of their lead actor.
There have been several films that continued filming after the death of the star or a crucial cast member. In some cases, the producers were forced to use CGI, a body double, or find other creative ways to solve the problem. In fact, several memorable films faced the obstacle of losing a major cast member. Some films went on to become critically and commercially acclaimed while others were box office bombs. Despite the death, the film never missed a step. It might have slowed down a bit or caused a minor delay but the film got right back on track. Not all films were as lucky and actually suffered from the loss. Here is a look at 15 Films That Lost A Lead Actor (But Continued Filming).
15 Bruce Lee
The iconic Bruce Lee is widely regarded as the most influential martial artist. He appeared in several legendary films, such as Fists of Fury and Way of the Dragon. Production of The Game of Death halted when Lee accepted a role in the renowned film Enter The Dragon. Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973 and likely died from a dangerous combination of painkillers. In the original plot of The Game of Death, Lee played Hai Tien who is blackmailed into fighting up a pagoda (a 5-floor tower). He faces a different challenge on each floor. After Lee’s death, the plot was completely rewritten and revolved around Billy Lo who is forced to have plastic surgery. Yuen Biao and Kim Tai-jong portrayed Billy for most of the film. Lee only appears at the end in archive footage. Only 11 minutes and 7 seconds of the original footage was used. The Game of Death was released on June 9, 1979.
14 Richard Harris
Richard Harris died on October 25, 2002 after a tough battle with Hodgkin’s disease. His death didn’t disrupt one single film but an entire franchise. At the time of his death, he portrayed Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter franchise. He appeared in two films from the series, The Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and The Chambers of Secrets (2002). Harris had a long and illustrious career. He had starred in several memorable films, such as This Sporting Life, Camelot, Unforgiven, and Gladiator. Originally, Harris was to play the role of Dumbledore for the entire Harry Potter series. Despite being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s, he was determined to appear in the third Harry Potter film and pleaded with the producers to not re-cast his role. Four months after his death, Michael Gambon was brought in to take over the role of Dumbledore. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released on June 4, 2004.
13 Oliver Reed
The immensely popular film Gladiator was released on May 5, 2000 to critical acclaim. The film was praised for its action, writing, and cinematography. It starred Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, and Oliver Reed. Reed died unexpectedly during filming for his remaining scenes. At the peak of his career in the 70’s, Reed was a major Hollywood star. He starred in several notable films, such as Oliver, The Three Musketeers, and Tommy. He died of a heart attack on May 2, 1999 during a break in shooting. A majority of the film and his scenes were completed so most of the changes came in the post-production process. The post-production company The Mill, handled the special effects for the film. They used CGI techniques and a body double to complete Reed’s remaining scenes. Additionally, the script had to be rewritten as originally, Reed’s character was to survive but was instead killed off.
12 Roy Scheider
Roy Scheider died on February 10, 2008 after a long battle with cancer. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2004. In 2005, he had a bone marrow transplant. Eventually, his illness would take his life. Throughout his career, Scheider appeared in several classic films, such as The French Connection, Marathon Man, and Naked Lunch. He is best known for his portrayal of Police Chief Martin C. Brody in the first true summer blockbuster Jaws and the sequel, Jaws 2. Scheider died during the filming of his last film, Iron Cross. The film was met with mostly positive reviews. In 2010, it aired during the 26th Boston Film Festival and received a limited release in 2011. Due to his death during filming, the director had to figure out a way to complete the film. Scheider had not completed several scenes. The director used CGI to complete Scheider’s remaining scenes.
11 Bela Lugosi
Plan 9 From Outer Space is an epic cult film that is considered one of the worst movies ever made. Regardless, it has a lasting legacy that continues to this day. Additionally, it was also the final film of legendary actor Bela Lugosi. It was released on July 22, 1959. Lugosi was best known for his iconic portrayal of Count Dracula in the 1931 film Dracula. He also appeared in the films The Black Cat and Son of Frankenstein. Later, he became good friends with director Ed Wood, and they shot hours of footage for no specific project. Bela Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956. In 59, Wood completed his film Plan 9 and included some of the footage he had shot of Lugosi. It was unconnected to the film but it was Wood’s way of paying tribute to his good friend and giving him one last film.
10 John Candy
In the 80’s and early 90’s, comedian John Candy was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He is well-known for his role as Del Griffith in the critically-acclaimed John Hughes film Planes, Trains and Automobiles. He appeared in several other memorable films such as Stripes, Spaceballs, Uncle Buck, Home Alone, and Cool Runnings. He died of a heart attack on March 4, 1994 while shooting the film Wagons East!. The film was released 5 months after his death on August 26, 1994, and co-starred comedian Richard Lewis. He died 6 days before they had completed shooting so they had to make changes. In order to deal with Candy’s death, the script had to be rewritten. Additionally, to complete the film, they used special effects and a stand-in. However, upon its release, the film was heavily criticized and ended up being a box office bomb.
9 Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe is a pop culture icon whose legacy has transcended time. She appeared in several famous films such as Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot, and The Seven Year Itch. She was also known for her personal struggles with substance abuse, addiction, and depression. She shockingly died on August 5, 1962 from an overdose of barbiturates. Her death occurred during the filming of Something’s Gotta Give. The film had already had several issues involving Monroe. She was difficult to work with and was even fired at one point before being rehired. After her death, the film was abandoned. In one particular scene, Monroe is seen in a swimming pool wearing only a flesh-colored bottom. Had the film been completed, it would have been the first film to feature a nude mainstream celeb. The footage was eventually released but as a part of a 2001 documentary, Marilyn: Something’s Gotta Give.
8 Vic Morrow
Twilight Zone: The Movie was released on June 24, 1983. It starred Vic Morrow, Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, and John Lithgow. However, the film is best remembered for the tragic accident that occurred during filming that took the life of Vic Morrow and two child actors, Renee Shin-Yi Chen and Myca Dinh Le. Morrow was best known for his role in the 1960’s TV series Combat!. He died on July 23, 1982 while filming a dangerous helicopter stunt at night. Both children were working illegally as kids and were not permitted to work at night. The scene required Morrow to carry the two children across a river while being pursued by US soldiers in a helicopter. An early detonation of explosives caused the helicopter to land on Morrow and the children. This resulted in a lengthy and highly-publicized trial. The segment was rewritten with a new ending, and the two children were removed from the film entirely.
7 Jean Harlow
Jean Harlow was one of the biggest Hollywood celebrities in the 1930’s. She starred in several classic films such as Hell’s Angels, Red Dust, and Dinner at Eight. She died on June 7, 1937, from kidney failure in the middle of shooting her final film, Saratoga. She had several health issues leading up to her death. She was struggling during filming and complained about feeling nauseous, tired, and experiencing abdominal pain. Initially, the studio wanted to simply replace Harlow after her death. However, her fans were outraged over the idea of replacing the beloved actress. 90% of the film had been completed, so changes were made to the script in order to finish the film without Harlow. Additionally, remaining scenes were shot using her body double, Mary Dees. Saratoga was released less than two months after her death on July 23, 1937. It would go on to be one of the highest-grossing films of the year.
6 River Phoenix
Dark Blood was previewed for the first time to a private audience at the Netherland Film Festival on September 27, 2012. It starred River Phoenix, Jonathan Pryce, and Judy Davis. Filming began in 1993. But due to Phoenix’s death, the film would not be completed or released for another 19 years. River appeared in several popular films, including Stand By Me, Running on Empty, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At the time of his shocking death, he was one of the most famous stars in Hollywood. He died on October 31, 1993 at the age of 23 from a drug overdose. 80% of Dark Blood had been filmed but several interior scenes still required shooting. Production stopped and the film was completely abandoned by November of 1993. After making changes and re-editing, the film was eventually released in 2012. Director George Sluizer provided narration for 4-6 missing scenes. The Phoenix family didn’t participate in the completing of Dark Blood.
5 Brandon Lee
Brandon Lee followed his famous father, Bruce Lee, into the entertainment business. He appeared in the films Legacy of Rage, Showdown in Little Tokyo, and Rapid Fire. The cult classic The Crow was released May 13, 1994 to positive reviews. This would be Lee’s most memorable and final role. Lee tragically died on March 31, 1993, after being accidentally shot while shooting a scene for the film. There were several errors made in regards to the revolver and blank rounds used in the scene. Lee was shot in the abdomen and was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead at the age of 28. Lee had finished shooting a majority of his scenes and had three days remaining. The film went on a short hiatus in order to make changes and rewrite the script. Additionally, Lee’s stunt double, Chad Stahelski, stood in for him, and CGI was used to superimpose Lee’s face on his body.
4 Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman is widely regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation. He won an Academy Award for his critically-acclaimed portrayal of Truman Capote in the 2005 film Capote. He appeared in several memorable films such as Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowksi, and Magnolia. He also portrayed Plutarch Heavensbeen in the Hunger Games series. He shockingly died on February 2, 2014 from an apparent drug overdose. He was found with a syringe in his arm, and several drugs and prescription pills were found in his apartment. He died during filming of the final installment in the Hunger Games series. He had completed filming all his major scenes and was in the middle of shooting his final scene. He had two additional scenes to shoot and instead of using CGI or stand-ins, they rewrote the final scenes to remove his minor appearances. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 was released on November 20, 2015.
3 Natalie Wood
The science-fiction film Brainstorm was released on September 30, 1983. It starred Natalie Wood, Christopher Walken, and Louise Fletcher. It received mixed reviews and failed at the box office but is notable for being Natalie Wood’s final film. In fact, she died under mysterious circumstances during a break in filming. Wood appeared in several well known films, including Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without A Cause, and Splendor in the Grass. Wood died on November 28, 1981 while on a boat trip with husband Robert Wagner and Walken. Her body was found one mile from the boat. The initial cause of death was “accidental drowning and hypothermia” but it was later amended to “drowning and undetermined circumstances.” Due to Wood’s death and financial issues, Brainstorm shut down production. Wood had completed most of her scenes so it required some rewriting of the script. Additionally, Natalie’s younger sister, Lana Wood, was used as a stand in to help complete the film.
2 Heath Ledger
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was released on January 8, 2010. It starred Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, and Andrew Garfield. Ledger portrayed a mysterious outsider named Tony. Production was delayed midway through filming after Ledger’s shocking death. He died on January 22, 2008 from an accidental intoxication from prescription drugs. Ledger was best known for his roles in several memorable films, including 10 Things I Hate About You, Lords of Dogtown, and Brokeback Mountain. His death occurred during the editing process for The Dark Knight but during filming of Doctor Parnassus. Posthumously, Ledger won an Academy award for his chilling performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight. Filming for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus eventually resumed with a creative solution for the loss of Ledger. Tony’s physical appearance changes as he travels through the dream world. Colin Farrell, Jude Law, and Johnny Depp were all cast as Tony at different points in the film.
1 Paul Walker
Fast & Furious 7 was released on April 3, 2015 and starred Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, and Michelle Rodriguez. However, release of the film was delayed after the tragic death of Paul Walker during filming. Walker starred in several films throughout his career, including She’s All That, Varsity Blues, and Running Scared. Walker is best known for portraying Brian O’Conner in The Fast and Furious franchise. During his lifetime, Walker appeared in six of the franchises films. Paul Walker died on November 30, 2013 in a single vehicle crash. Furious 7 halted filming and went on an indefinite hiatus following Walker’s death. The producers decided not to kill off his character and rewrote the script to have him retire instead. Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital visual effects house were brought in to recreate his likeness to complete the unfinished film. Walker’s brothers, Cody and Caleb, were brought in to serve as stand-ins and help finish the film as well.
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