ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

This week sees the release of Brick Mansions, a new French-American dystopian action film from Camille Delamarre and Luc Besson. Until recently, the parkour-filled flick was flying low under the radar. However, the film has suddenly been thrust into the center of attention, due to it featuring the recently deceased Paul Walker's last full performance in a big screen movie.

The annals of cinema history are filled with projects that released after the unfortunate demise of their stars. Many of the films standout on their own merits, but the death of a star can also lend the movies a rather somber, and slightly ethereal, quality. Below, in no particular order, are ten incredible posthumous cinema performances.

James Dean - Rebel Without a Cause

Dean was a rising star when he died while racing cars in 1955. Prior to his crash, he had only one major film credit to his name, East of Eden. His performances in Giant and Rebel Without A Cause were both seen after his death, meaning Dean's enduring fame rests purely on three films. Despite his lack of film credits, he is the only actor to receive two posthumous Oscar nominations.

Peter Finch - Network

James Dean may have received the first posthumous acting nomination, but Peter Finch was the first to actually win a posthumous Oscar for Best Actor. He deservedly received the award for his animated and manic performance in the incredible Network - a movie, which although released in 1976, still savagely satirizes the modern news and its insatiable drive for ratings.

Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight

You guessed it. No list of posthumous acting greats could be complete without Heath Ledger. The Australian actor, who first cut his teeth in fairly frothy rom-coms, certainly stole the show with his crazed and bizarre portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight - a role which earned him the only other posthumous Oscar for acting. Since his death, his performance as the Joker has become sacred and unassailable to many comic-book fans.

Bruce Lee - Enter The Dragon

Much like James Dean, Bruce Lee has become a cultural icon. The US-born, Hong Kong actor and director is partly responsible for bringing martial arts and Asian culture to mainstream America. Although Lee has a respectable back catalog of Kung Fu flicks, it was the American produced Enter The Dragon which brought him the most widespread acclaim.

Brandon Lee - The Crow

In a strange twist of fate, Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee's son, would also die prior to the release of one of his films. Lee was actually killed during the filming of a shootout scene in the film adaptation of The Crow. Prior to the scene, a revolver was loaded with dummy rounds still containing their primers. At some point the revolver was discharged, with the primer providing enough force to trap the projectile in the barrel. When the same revolver later fired a blank round, enough momentum was provided to fire the dummy round as if it was a live one - mortally wounding Lee. After debating whether to continue the movie, the director used rewrites and special effects to complete unfinished scenes.

Oliver Reed - Gladiator

Thespian veteran Oliver Reed also died during the production of his final movie, meaning director Ridley Scott similarly resorted to changing the story and using digital wizardry to finish the film. Originally, Proximo was meant to escape the gladiator school with Maximus. However, following Reed's real death, Scott decided to have Proximo perish during the Praetorian assault - utilizing some unused dialogue to give the character some enigmatic last words - "Shadow and Dust".

Richard Harris - Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets

Along with Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton and the above mentioned Reed and Finch, Harris was known as a hell-raiser in his earlier years. However, by 2002 he was delivering a heart-warming and soothing performance as the headmaster of Hogwarts. After some discussion about replacing him with O'Toole, it was decided fellow Irish actor Michael Gambon would take on the role in later films. Watch the opening scene from The Philosopher's Stone below:

Spencer Tracy - Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

Spencer Tracy's performance in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner was particularly poignant as it was likely both he and his co-star and real life love, Katherine Hepburn, knew it would be their last film together. Despite being extremely ill and filming with a staccato schedule, director Stanley Kramer refused to recast his lead. The situation and relationship between Tracy and Hepburn led to some particularly touching scenes and a posthumous Oscar nomination for Best Actor for Tracy.

Raúl Juliá - Street Fighter

I know, I know, Street Fighter isn't a good movie. But after learning about its production problems, its a miracle the film was even finished. Despite its shoddy quality, you have to respect the performance of Raúl Juliá as M. Bison. Although recovering from cancer surgery and still majorly underweight, Julia took part in kinetic and lengthy fight and wire work scenes without complaint. Check him out kicking Jean-Claude Van Damme's Belgian (but apparently American) ass below:

Phillip Seymour Hoffman - A Most Wanted Man

I am aware that officially we can't rate Phillip Seymour Hoffman's posthumous performance in the yet-to-be-released [A Most Wanted Man](movie:661667). However, if the trailer and early reviews are anything to go by, Hoffman may have delivered a career best performance as a German anti-terrorism chief in this John Le Carre modern day spy thriller. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until July 25, 2014 to see his full role in A Most Wanted Man. In the meantime, check out the trailer below:

Can you think of any more incredible posthumous performances, or do you have a particular favorite scene from any of the stars above? Let us know in the comments below.


What was your favorite performance?


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