Some actors, unfortunately, die while they are still in the middle of making movies. But if the film still wants to make it to the big screen in spite of this, the crew has to find incredibly ingenious ways of hiding their absence.
At the age of 28, Heath Ledger died following an accidental drug overdose on 22nd January 2008 while filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The director of the film, Terry Gilliam, was almost certain that production would stop, but he quickly came up with a good idea. What if Ledger’s character changed his appearance every time he entered the dream world? Terry Gilliam then got in contact with Ledger’s friends, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, all of whom agreed to play versions of Ledger’s character in the dream world.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman died at the age of 46 as a result of a drug overdose on 2nd February 2014. He was shooting The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 at the time and there were still a lot of scenes left to shoot with his character, Plutarch Heavensbee. Director Francis Lawrence decided that instead of using computer graphics or other special effects, he would reduce Plutarch’s role in the film. Although the character plays an important role in the end of the book, the studio decided to modify the end of the film so that it would focus less on Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character.
When Paul Walker died at age 40 in a car accident on 30th November 2013, the Fast and Furious franchise was left without the star in the middle of filming the next instalment in the saga. The team then decided to hire the actor’s brother to fill in for him in lots of scenes. Paul Walker’s face is often digitally inserted into these scenes on top of his brothers. In some cases, one sentence from Paul’s script is half said by Paul and half by his brother. In the end, the film was a box office hit and the mission to replace Paul Walker turned out to be a huge success!
In the fall of 1972, Bruce Lee began filming The Game of Death in which he had a fight scene with basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bruce Lee was offered the chance to act in Enter the Dragon so he put the first film on hold. Six days before Enter the Dragon was released, he fell ill and died in hospital at the age of 32. In 1978, the team that had been working on The Game of Death hired director Robert Clouse to finish the film.
He used two understudies to take on the role of Lee but since they didn’t look like him, they spent a large part of the film in disguise. Robert Clouse also incorporated archived footage of Bruce Lee into the fight scenes and even included images of the actor in his open coffin from his funeral in a scene where his character simulates his death.
Bruce Lee’s son Brandon played the main character in The Crow, which tells the story of a rock musician brought back from the dead to avenge his murder and the murder of his fiancé. On 31st March 1993, they were shooting the scene where his character is killed. Unfortunately, a series of errors made by the production team led to the 28-year-old star actually being shot with a part of a bullet instead of a dummy cartridge as was intended. The cameras were rolling when Lee was shot, unfortunately resulting in fatal injuries. After a few rewrites, Brandon Lee’s remaining scenes were completed with the help of a stunt double and special effects. The Raven’s long hair and the dark, dirty nature of the film helped make this subterfuge convincing.
Chris Farley had been working on Shrek as the title character for over a year and had recorded 80 to 90% of his lines when he died of a drug overdose at the age of 33 on 18th December 1997. Rather than try to complete the film with Farley’s voice and fill in the missing lines with another actor, Universal decided to completely redesign the role. The studio then hired Mike Myers who reworked the script for Shrek and adapted it to his character.
The filmmakers wanted Carrie Fisher to play the important role of Princess Leia / General Organa in Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker. Unfortunately, the 60-year-old actress died after suffering a heart attack on 27th December 2016. The film crew then dove into the saga’s archives to find clips and images of the actress. In the end and with the help of special effects, they managed to bring Princess Leia to life in the last Star Wars film.
The legendary comedian Don Rickles had already signed the contract to assume his role as Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story 4 when he died at 90 years old from kidney failure in April 2017. Unfortunately, he had not recorded any of the dialogue for the film but his family asked that the character still have his voice. As a result, the film crew then had to scour the archives from the previous Toy Story movies to successfully piece together bits of dialogue so that Don Rickles could assume the role of Mr. Potato Head for the last time.
Jean Harlow was a Hollywood actress and sex symbol when she suddenly died at the age of 26 from kidney failure while filming Saratoga. The studio originally planned to re-shoot her role, but when fans complained, the studio ended up finishing off the remaining scenes with doubles who were either filmed from behind or were wearing costumes that hid their faces. Jean Harlow's character’s voice was recreated by Paula Winslowe when necessary. The film was quickly released just seven weeks after the actress died and it became one of the biggest hits of the year.
Gladiator had a big problem when Oliver Reed died at the age of 61 from a heart attack before finishing his character’s final scene in which he helps Maximus escape from prison. The production team initially reconsidered re-shooting all of Reed’s scenes, but it would have been too expensive. So after examining all the scenes shot by the actor, they managed to piece together different video clips and pieces of dialogue with the help of special effects. They also used Reed’s understudy to help, which resulted in the famous final scene.
Vic Morrow tragically died in a helicopter accident on the set of The Twilight Zone in Vietnam alongside two child actors. The film was still finished despite this tragedy, but they did end up reducing the part that was set in Vietnam.