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

It's always a sad and tragic occasion when an actor or actresses passes away, especially one as young and beloved as Paul Walker. However, soon after a brief mourning period, the conversation invariable turns back to making movies, after all, as the old theater adage explains: "The show must go on"

Following the death of an actual person, worrying about how to finish your film might seem a little bit insensitive and distasteful, but in this multi-million dollar industry it is an imperative. Furthermore, in most cases, I'd imagine a deceased actor would want their final work to eventually be seen by the public.

As we've recently heard, [Fast & Furious 7](movie:264263) will attempt to work around the death of Walker through a combination of CGI, body doubles and the use of his brothers - who have bravely agreed to step in for certain scenes.

However, this clearly isn't the first time an issue like this has arisen, let's now take a look at how different productions dealt with the death of one of their stars.

Oliver Reed

Originally, Oliver Reed's character in Gladiator, Proximo, was expected to escape the gladiator school with Maximus. However, the veteran actor died in a break during filming, which left several important scenes unfilmed.

To get around this issue, director Ridley Scott used a combination of CGI facial reconstruction - which was in its infancy at the time - body doubles, rewrites and unused footage to complete Proximos story arch. Indeed, you can clearly see this is the case in Proximo's death scene. He is approached from behind by Praetorian guards who are wearing black armor, however when it cuts to Reed you can see those standing behind him are wearing normal legionnaire armor. This is because this shot was originally from a scene in which Proximo argued with Maximus in the arena barracks. The line, from which a snippet of dialogue was taken, was originally: "We mortals are but shadows and dust! Shadows and dust Maximus!"

Bruce Lee

The iconic kung-fu master, Bruce Lee, actually died before his most famous movie, Enter The Dragon appeared in US theaters. However, he had also started work on another film, 1978's Game of Death, and his demise left major holes in the original script.

With CGI out of the question, the production had to rely on body doubles, practical effects and even a cardboard cut-out of Lee's face to recreate scenes. Furthermore, they also used footage from Lee's actual funeral and worked it into the story of the movie. Keep an eye out for the cardboard cut out in the video below.

Brandon Lee

In a strange twist of fate, Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee would also be reconstructed for scenes in The Crow. The star was killed on set in a firearms accident in which a prop round which was lodged in the barrel was fired out of a gun with a blank round, killing Lee.

The remainder of Brandon Lee's scenes were made up with computer effects and a body double. Often, the scenes involving a body double would be shot in a way to obscure the character's face - for example, by using a broken mirror, only illuminating his face for split seconds when lightening strikes or by simply only filming him from behind.

Peter Sellers

A similar technique was used to bring back Peter Sellers for the final Pink Panther film, 1982's The Trail of the Pink Panther - despite the fact he died two years earlier.

Instead of recasting the iconic role, the production decided to use B-roll and unused footage from 1976's The Pink Panther Strikes Again to fill in the story, while they also utilized a body double who had his face covered with bandages for portions of the film.

Heath Ledger

Although his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight might be remembered as Heath Ledger's best posthumous performance, he had also started work on Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus at the time of his death.

Instead of attempting to use CGI or other wizardry to recreate Heath Ledger for the entire film, Gilliam decided to rewrite the story to allow the character of Tony to magically change his appearance. He then called in Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law to help complete the film.

John Candy

1994's Wagons East! also utilized special effects to recreate John Candy after he had passed away. For the most part, it consisted of changing the backgrounds of certain scenes to show Candy's character in different locations.

Indeed, at two points in the film, the exact same footage is used but with different backgrounds. The use of technology to accomplish this was a little bit controversial at the time, but the director stated he thought Candy would be 'very impressed' with the results.

Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando has a whole host of famous roles under his belt, including one he returned to two years after his death.

Brando had played Jor-El, Superman's father, in 1978's Superman: The Movie, however, in 2006 Bryan Singer thought it would be nice to pay homage to the acting legend by reintroducing him to his Superman Returns.

By using unused footage from previous Superman films and a splashing of CGI, Singer was able to digitally add Brando to the film, allowing him to return in the iconic role. Check out the video below to see how it was done.

Laurence Olivier

Similarly to Marlon Brando, British thespian veteran Laurence Olivier was also resurrected to play the role of a disembodied talking head. However, whereas Brando was brought back two years after his death, Olivier returned after fifteen.

Laurence Olivier was chosen to play the villain in 2004's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. His performance was mostly made up of archive footage of many different roles, which are pieced together until they made sense in the narrative. A lightning affect was applied over the top to help hide the seams.


Which of these movies recreated their deceased actors best?


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