From Enter the Dragon to The Dark Knight, These Posthumous Performances Were Great

By Gerald Lynch on at

This weekend saw the first trailer for A Most Wanted Man released, one of the final movies the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman filmed before passing away. It's set to hit cinemas this summer, months after the staring actor's death.

But the posthumous movie release is nothing new -- in fact, some of the greatest films of all time (as well as some stinkers) were struck by tragedy before release, meaning that their leading lights weren't available to bask in the glory of the performances they gave.


James Dean -- Rebel Without a Cause and Giant

He was the poster boy for wayward kids, the blueprint for the rebellious teenager, but James Dean's most well-known roles actually hit screens after he died. Killed in a car crash in September 1955, Rebel Without a Cause was released in October of that year, with Giant following in 1956. He received a posthumous Oscar nomination for Giant.


Richard Burton -- 1984

Hollywood hellraiser Richard Burton took on the villainous role of O'Brien opposite John Hurt in the movie adaptation of George Orwell's 1984, but never lived to see it hit cinemas, dying two months before its October 1984 release.


Heath Ledger -- The Dark Knight and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Perhaps the most memorable posthumous performance of recent years was Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning turn as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. Silencing the detractors who saw him as a pretty boy rom-com star, he totally stole the show with a lizard-like performance, facing off against Christian Bale's stoic Batman. Sadly, Ledger never lived to see the mud-slingers eat humble pie, passing away in January 2008 from an accidental overdose ahead of the film's July release that same year.

Ledger's posthumous story continued in 2009 with The Imagniarium of Doctor Parnassus. Directed by king-of-the-bizarre Terry Gilliam, the director made the decision to go ahead with the film with Ledger still in it, despite only having filmed a handful of scenes. Ledger's Hollywood pals, including Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell then filled in the remaining scenes in the fantasy flick.


Bruce Lee -- Enter the Dragon and Game of Death

Bruce Lee only enjoyed mainstream western success after the release of Enter the Dragon, the iconic martial arts film that made his high-kicking fight style the reason a generation of play-fighting kids accidentally knocked their teeth out. Dying in 1973 (shortly before Enter the Dragon's release) of cerebral edema, due to a severe allergic reaction to an Equagesic tablet, Game of Death followed in 1978, completed using a number of body doubles.


Brandon Lee -- The Crow

The son of Bruce Lee, Brandon's life was also tragically cut short. Sparking many a conspiracy theory over the years, Brandon Lee was shot and killed in 1993 on the set of The Crow, when a live round was used unintentionally during an action-packed scene. Body doubles and computer imagery were used to complete the film without Lee, ready for a 1994 posthumous release.


Raul Julia -- Street Fighter The Movie

Let's not beat around the bush -- the Van Damme Street Fighter movie was rubbish. Raul Julia was terribly miscast as M. Bison, but still managed to chew up the scenery with a gleefully OTT performance. Julia wasn't in the best of health throughout filming sadly, having suffered from complications from a stroke that occurred as a result of stomach cancer surgery. The film would release on December 23rd 1994, but Julia would die on October 24th the same year.


Oliver Reed -- Gladiator

The hard-drinking party animal Oliver Reed hadn't been in anything particularly good during the later years of his career, despite being a highly celebrated actor in his youth. A return to form came in Ridley Scott's swords and sandals epic Gladiator in 2000. As a slave-owning gladiator trainer, life imitated art -- as his character Proximo passed knowing that he had found redemption by helping Russell Crowe's Maximus, so too could Reed die knowing that one final stellar performance would be the full stop on his colourful career. Reed died on May 2nd 1999, with stunt doubles and CGI filling in the gaps to enable Gladiator's May 2000 release.


Orson Welles -- Transformers: The Animated Movie

It almost feels mean putting this one on here, but for Orson Welles, the godfather of modern cinema, his silver screen career ended with a voiceover for the animated Transformers movie in 1986, released after his death. Someone to Love was also released after his death, following in 1987, but who's going to remember that when you've got Welles's name appearing on the same bill as Optimus Prime?


Image Credit: Wikipedia (1, 2, 3)