When Carrie Fisher died in December 2016, her career wasn’t done yet — but we had to wait a whole year to see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” filmed before her death and released in December 2017. She appeared posthumously again in “The Rise of Skywalker” in 2019, filmed after her death and repurposing unused footage from “The Force Awakens.” Fisher is in good company with some of the greatest gone-too-soon stars in Hollywood history. Join us to take a look at some of the most notable actors who had films released posthumously.
Luke Perry (1966 – 2019)
Luke Perry gained fame playing teen heartthrob Dylan McKay in “Beverly Hills, 90210,” and near the end of his life, a new generation of TV watchers got to known him as Archie’s dad in “Riverdale.” But Perry also had a noteworthy film career, with roles in movies including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “8 Seconds,” and “The Fifth Element.” His final appearance, released a few months after his death, was as actor Wayne Maunder in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
Cameron Boyce (1999 – 2019)
Cameron Boyce was a rising star of Disney, beloved by young viewers for his roles in the Disney Channel’s “Jessie” and “Descendants.” He also appeared in feature films including “Eagle Eye” and Grown Ups” and its sequel. Boyce was just 20 when he died, and he was actively working. Three of his films were released posthumously – “Runt,” released theatrically; “Mrs. Fletcher,” an HBO miniseries; and the third installment in the “Descendants” series for the Disney Channel, in which Boyce reprised his role as Carlos de Vil, son of the great Disney villain Cruella de Vil.
Stan Lee (1922 – 2018)
Stan Lee wasn’t known best as an actor – he was the legendary Marvel Comics leader who created and co-created some of the greatest superheroes ever, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Iron Man. But fans of Marvel’s movies know that Lee often stepped onscreen for cameos, and viewers loved looking for his brief appearances. After Lee’s death in 2018, two Marvel movies were released with his cameos – “Captain Marvel,” in which the Marvel intro was replaced by a look through his cameos of the past, and “Avengers: Endgame,” in which we saw the very last Stan Lee cameo ever.
Adam West (1928 – 2017)
Adam West will forever be remembered as Batman, having played the caped crusader in the delightfully campy “Batman” TV series and movie in the 1960s. Though West took other roles over the years, he kept returning to Batman, both onscreen and in personal appearances. In fact, his very last role, released after his 2017 death, was as Batman – he provided his famous character’s voice in the animated “Batman vs. Two-Face.”
John Hurt (1940 – 2017)
John Hurt was Oscar nominated for his roles in “Midnight Express” and “The Elephant Man,” and his performance as Kane in “Aliens” offered one of cinema’s most unforgettable moments. Director David Lynch called Hurt “simply the greatest actor in the world.” Since Hurt’s 2017 death, we’ve been able to see his fine acting in three posthumously released films: “Damascus Cover,” “My Name Is Lenny,” and “That Good Night,” in which he played a terminally ill filmmaker.
Carrie Fisher (1956–2016)
Fisher was just 19 when she took on the role of Princess Leia Organa in the first film of the decades-spanning “Star Wars” saga. It was only her second acting role, and it profoundly shaped her career. When a new “Star Wars” trilogy dawned with 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” Fisher was back as Leia, now a general and a mentor to the film’s young resistance fighters. A year later, she died at 60, but fans had one more star turn as Leia to look forward to: 2017’s “The Last Jedi,” which expanded the general’s role and served as an unexpected but poignant farewell.
Anton Yelchin (1989–2016)
Yelchin had a short but busy career before his untimely accidental death at 27. In just a little over 15 years, he appeared in more than 60 films and television shows. Most prominent was the 21st-century “Star Trek” reboot series of movies, in which he portrayed Starship Enterprise navigator Pavel Chekov as a wide-eyed, teenaged mathematical prodigy. Yelchin died a month before the scheduled release of the third film in the series, “Star Trek Beyond.”
Alan Rickman (1946–2016)
Rickman played great villains, notably the morally iffy Professor Snape in the “Harry Potter” films and the terrorist Hans Gruber in “Die Hard.” But his career was widely varied, and he also played romantic leads, notable politicians, and even non-human characters — as in his final film, “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” for which he provided the voice of Absolem the Caterpillar. It was one of two posthumous releases for Rickman, who also starred in the 2015 thriller “Eye in the Sky” before his death at 69.
Robin Williams (1951–2014)
Williams built his reputation on frenetic standup comedy and wacky film and television roles. As he matured as an actor, he branched out into more serious roles, but it was with comedy that he took his final bows. Three films featuring Williams were released posthumously, and each went for the giggles in its own way: “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” was a dark comedy, “Absolutely Anything” was a sci-fi romp, and “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” the third in a series, was a family-friendly adventure that cast Williams as a wax statue of Theodore Roosevelt that comes to life at night.
Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967–2014)
Hoffman was an extraordinary actor whose career was still at its height when he died unexpectedly at 46. His career highlights included “Capote” — for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor — as well as “Doubt,” “The Master,” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.” He joined “The Hunger Games” series in its second movie, playing gamemaker and rebel leader Plutarch Heavensbee. The series’ last two installments were both released after Hoffman died, with the final film needing to be retooled slightly to account for his death before filming was completed.
Paul Walker (1973–2013)
Walker built his career on fast cars, rising to popularity with his starring role in 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious.” Walker would go on to star in five of the film’s seven sequels. “Furious 7” was his final film: He died halfway through filming, and his brothers served as his stand-ins in order to the movie to be completed. The Wiz Khalifa song “See You Again,” from the film’s soundtrack, was commissioned in memory of Walker.
James Gandolfini (1961–2013)
Gandolfini utterly inhabited the role of Tony Soprano in HBO’s crime drama “The Sopranos.” The iconic and long-running show could easily have resulted in typecasting for Gandolfini as a crime boss, but he branched out, playing the Mayor of New York City in “The Taking of Pelham 123” and one of the enormous, childish monsters in the live-action “Where the Wild Things Are.” Gandolfini’s final role was in the romantic comedy “Enough Said,” and his fine performance earned him posthumous Best Actor awards from the Boston Society of Film Critics and the Chicago Film Critics Association.
Whitney Houston (1963–2012)
Houston was one of the greatest singing stars of her time, and she successfully expanded her career to include acting when she starred in the hugely popular 1992 romantic thriller “The Bodyguard.” “Waiting to Exhale” and “The Preacher’s Wife” were also successful, but Houston’s acting career was largely on hold for the last 15 years of her life. That was poised to change with “Sparkle,” a comeback for Houston, but she died at 48 six months before the film’s release.
Brittany Murphy (1977–2009)
Murphy was one of the bright young stars of the 1990s, charming audiences in “Clueless” before broadening her horizons and showing off her acting chops in “Eight Mile” and “Girl, Interrupted.” Her last movie was the thriller “Abandoned,” released eight months after her death at 32.
Bernie Mac (1957–2008)
Bernie Mac made us laugh over and over, from his standup routines to his television shows to his movies. He stood out in “Ocean’s Eleven” (“Twelve” and “Thirteen,” too) as con man Frank Catton and turned more heads in movies including “Friday,” “Charlie’s Angels” Full Throttle,” and “Bad Santa.” Three of Mac’s films were released after his death at 50: “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” for which he provided the voice of Zuba the lion; “Old Dogs,” which included a cameo from Mac; and starring vehicle “Soul Men.” Isaac Hayes, who appeared in a small role in “Soul Men,” died the day after Mac.
Heath Ledger (1979–2008)
Ledger rose from a teen movie breakout role in “10 Things I Hate About You” to serious critical acclaim over the course of his too-short career. “Brokeback Mountain” was the movie that, for many, proved that Ledger was the real deal — one critic called his performance “an acting miracle.” As he continued to build his reputation as one of the finest actors of his generation, he took on the role that would define his career — and bring it to a close. His Joker in “The Dark Knight” went far beyond goofy to become something more like unhinged and terrifying. Ledger won an Oscar after his death for the posthumously released film (one of two films that came out after he died; he had completed some scenes in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” before his death).
Richard Harris (1930–2002)
Harris had an impressive film career that spanned the decades from his 1959 debut until his very last film, released just after his 2002 death. Along the way, highlights included playing King Arthur in “Camelot,” for which he received an Academy Award nomination; gunfighter English Bob in “Unforgiven;” and Marcus Aurelius in “Gladiator.” A new, younger generation discovered Harris when he took on the role of beloved Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore as the film adaptations of the “Harry Potter” series began, but he was only to appear in the first two installments. Harris died just before the release of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” and Michael Gambon took over the role for the remaining films.
Aaliyah was just 12 when she signed with Jive Records and 14 when she recorded the first album of an acclaimed musical career. She added acting to her resume a few years later when she starred in “Romeo Must Die,” and though the film was a miss with critics, many praised Aaliyah’s performance, and she made preparations to give audiences more. She made a second film, “Queen of the Damned,” and signed on with the Wachowskis to appear in their two sequels to “The Matrix.” But filming on “The Matrix Reloaded” had barely begun when Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash at 22. The only films that survive her are “Romeo Must Die” and “Queen of the Damned,” released six months after her death.
Oliver Reed (1938–1999)
Reed was one of England’s favorite actors in the 1960s and ’70s, thanks to roles in iconic films including “Oliver!” “The Three Musketeers,” and “Tommy.” His career had begun to wind down by the 1990s, but he was poised for a positive return with “Gladiator,” in which he played slave dealer Proximo. Reed died at 61 before the film could be completed, and digital magic was woven to complete his performance. The movie was released almost exactly a year after his death.
Chris Farley (1964–1997)
Farley pursued comedic fame with the frenetic energy that became his trademark. One of the best loved “Saturday Night Live” alums, he was known for characters including motivational speaker Matt Foley, who lived in a van down by the river; a Chippendale’s dancer; and a Chicago Bears Superfan. Farley began starring in movies while he was still an SNL cast member, debuting in “Wayne’s World.” Post-SNL, he made audiences laugh with “Tommy Boy, “Black Sheep,” and two films released after his death at 33 (the same age at which his idol, John Belushi, died): “Dirty Work,” in which he had an uncredited cameo, and “Almost Heroes.”
Tupac Shakur (1971–1996)
Tupac was one of the most influential rappers of all time, and though music was his primary career, he was also an acclaimed actor. Rolling Stone’s review of his first starring role in “Juice” called him “the film’s most magnetic figure,” and he carried this quality to roles in “Poetic Justice” and “Above the Rim.” At the time of his death at 25, three more films were in production, including his very last, “Gang Related,” released more than a year after his death.
Raul Julia (1940–1994)
Julia found great acclaim for his acting, turning out fine performances in movies including “Tempest,” “The Burning Season,” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” He was honored with a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and many other accolades. But not every actor gets to wrap up their career with their greatest role — sometimes a flop is what survives the actor, and unfortunately, that was the case for Julia. Video game movie “Street Fighter” was widely panned by critics, but it’s part of the legacy Julia left, released two months after his death at 54.
John Candy (1950–1994)
Candy starred in comedy after comedy in the 1980s: “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles;” “Uncle Buck;” “The Great Outdoors” and many more. Before his movie career, the Canadian-born funnyman got his start on “Second City Television,” where he was an original cast member of the sketch comedy show that gave SNL a run for its money. Candy was just 43 when he died of a heart attack, leaving two films to be released after his death — the Western sendup “Wagons East” and “Canadian Bacon,” in which Candy’s character leads a bumbling attack on Canada.
River Phoenix (1970–1993)
Phoenix emerged from an unconventional upbringing to become both a teen idol of the ’80s and an acclaimed actor, delighting critics and audiences in films including “Stand By Me,” “Running on Empty,” and “My Own Private Idaho.” “He was obviously going to be a movie star,” said Peter Weir, his director in “The Mosquito Coast,” filmed when Phoenix was just 15. When he died at 23, he was in the middle of filming “Dark Blood.” The movie was left uncompleted and only finished and released almost 10 years later, in 2012.
Brandon Lee (1965–1993)
Lee seemed destined for the same kind of action-movie greatness achieved by his father Bruce Lee, especially when he landed his breakthrough role in comic book adaptation “The Crow.” But tragedy struck during filming, and Lee was shot with a prop gun that was loaded incorrectly. The injury killed him, and “The Crow” was released more than a year after his death at 28. It earned him a posthumous MTV Movie Award and cult status as an action star whose career was cut far too short.
Orson Welles (1915–1985)
The actor first found fame with his voice, as the narrator of the legendary radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” So authentically did Welles narrate the fictional story of a Martian attack on Earth that panic ensued as many believed they were hearing a real broadcast. Welles went on to become one of the great auteurs of cinematic history, writing, directing, and starring in “Citizen Kane” as well as many others. His last effort didn’t have quite the gravitas he had become known for, but when “Transformers: The Movie” needed a deep and resonant voice for the planet-sized villain Unicron, the filmmakers turned to the man who convinced us that a Martian attack was real.
Richard Burton (1925–1984)
The Welsh actor may be remembered more for his turbulent relationship with Elizabeth Taylor than for his acting, but there was a time when he was poised to become the greatest talent of his time. He turned in memorable performances in films including “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” His final role was in the film adaptation of the classic dystopian novel “1984,” in which he played party member O’Brien. He died at 58 just two months before the film’s release.
Natalie Wood (1938–1981)
Wood gracefully transitioned from child star to teenage ingénue to adult actress in a way that few others have done. When she was just seven years old, her costar, Orson Welles, called her “so good, she was terrifying,” and that talent carried her through roles from “A Miracle on 34th Street” to “Rebel Without a Cause” to “West Side Story” and beyond. Wood was filming the sci-fi flick “Brainstorm” when she died mysteriously at 43 while boating with her husband and friends. Her death has never been solved.
Bruce Lee (1940–1973)
Bruce Lee brought martial arts to the U.S., popularizing what had only been a niche interest before his electrifying kung fu films hit American theaters. He starred in just five movies, but between their exciting portrayal of his art and the studio he opened to teach it, he created a generation of martial arts fans and practitioners. Lee was 32 when he died, just six days before the release of “Enter the Dragon.”
Spencer Tracy (1900–1967)
Tracy holds the record (along with Laurence Olivier) for most Academy Award nominations for best actor — he earned nine, and won two of them. His magnificent career in the Golden Age of Hollywood had many highlights, from “Captains Courageous” (his first Oscar win) to “Adam’s Rib” to “Inherit the Wind” to his final film, the classic “Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner.” Tracy was very sick as he filmed it, only able to work a few hours a day, but he completed it, died 17 days later, and earned one of those nine nominations for his memorable performance.
Clark Gable (1901–1960)
Gable was the King of Hollywood, a debonair leading man for the ages. From his earliest days in silent films through his very last movie, Gable appeared in almost 100 movies. “Gone With the Wind” was probably his most famous, while “It Happened One Night” won him an Academy Award for Best Actor and “Mutiny on the Bounty” was one of his hugest hits. In 1961, Gable starred opposite Marilyn Monroe in the film that would become a swan song for both actors. Monroe died the year after its release, and Gable died at 59 three months before audiences could see his final performance.
Bela Lugosi (1882–1956)
Lugosi chilled and thrilled early moviegoers as he played Count Dracula in the first film to legally adapt Bram Stoker’s classic tale of horror. The movie became a classic in its own right, forever informing our idea of how movie vampires should look and behave. And Lugosi found himself typecast as a monster, his career centering on horror films. His last movie was sci-fi, not horror, but Lugosi may have been horrified by it — he never agreed to appear in “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” and all his scenes were cobbled together after Lugosi’s death from footage shot by director Ed Wood for another film that was never completed.
James Dean (1931–1955)
James Dean endures as one of the favorites of 1950s cinema, still a major star more than 60 years after his death. Amazingly, that star status is based on just three feature film roles, two of which were released after his death in a car crash at 24. That early death was part of what created Dean’s legend, but his acting abilities cemented it. “East of Eden” and the posthumously released “Giant” both earned Dean posthumous Academy Award nominations, but it’s “Rebel Without a Cause,” also released after his death, that’s most indelibly associated with the young star. It set the stage for generations of movies about teen angst, a condition practically invented by Dean’s character.
Carole Lombard (1908–1942)
Lombard was Hollywood’s highest-paid star in the 1930s, beloved for her screwball comedies and her tabloid-ready romance with Clark Gable. Lombard strove to become a more serious actor in her later career, but realizing that her fans loved her best for her funny roles, she returned to comedy for her last roles — including her very last film, “To Be or Not to Be.” The film was released just a month after Lombard’s tragic death at 33 — she was killed in a plane crash on her way home from appearing in a rally to sell war bonds.
Rudolph Valentino (1895–1926)
Valentino was one of Hollywood’s first superstars, a sex symbol for the ages though his entire career took place in the age of the silent film. His hugely successful movies included “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” “Blood and Sand,” and “The Sheik,” which capitalized on his smoldering good looks and talent for portraying both action and romance. When he died of peritonitis at 31, his legions of female admirers erupted in mass hysteria, and tens of thousands of fans showed up at his funeral, where riots broke out. Several films were released after his death, most notably “The Son of the Sheik.”