By David Byrnes
Having recently re-watched A Most Wanted Man, it dawned on me just how much the film relies on Philip Seymour Hoffman to carry it (which he does superbly). Although the support cast is very strong, excluding Willem Defoe’s bizarre accent, the movie is built around Hoffman and possibly with a different actor in the lead role, the movie could possibly have fallen on its backside. So, which other movies have relied heavily on the outstanding posthumous performances of its stars?
Heath Ledger (The Joker) – The Dark Knight 2008
Heath Ledger’s tragic death threatened to overshadow the release of The Dark Knight, with people questioning had director Christopher Nolan pushed Ledger too hard, which of course is ridiculous. However, Ledger’s outstanding performance as the unhinged Joker was breath-taking. Let’s face it, Ledger had some big ol’ boots to fill with The Joker having been previously played Cesar Romero…only joking (badum-tssh), I of course am referring to Jack Nicholson. I must admit, I was one of the naysayers, but one pencil trick later and I was sold!
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Gunther Bachmann) – A Most Wanted Man 2014
Philip Seymour Hoffman is a often referred to as the greatest actor of this generation and his performance in A Most Wanted Man further solidifies that. Quite simply put, Hoffman owns the screen whenever he appears. But you are painfully aware that at just over two hours long, it simply isn’t enough screen time for an actor who is sorely missed.
Orson Welles (Unicron) – Transformers: The Movie 1986
Granted, many movie snubs may turn their nose up at the fact that Welles’ last ever role was a voiceover for an 1980’s kids cartoon. However, you can’t deny that the deep, sinister tone of Welles makes Unicron seem even more evil than Megatron (and ain’t nobody more evil than him!).
Bruce Lee (Lee) – Enter The Dragon 1973
Although many movies have been released since his death, it was 1973’s Enter the Dragon which forever solidified the mystique of Bruce Lee. A Rebel Without A Cause very nearly took it’s place, and although that is a fine piece of cinema, it lacks the impact Enter the Dragon had which is why so many people view it as the greatest martial arts movie ever made.
Brandon Lee (Eric Draven) – The Crow 1994
In a similar fashion to his father Bruce, Brandon would not live long enough to enjoying his increasing fame. Brandon was tragicaly killed in an on set accident when a dummy bullet became lodged in the .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 629 revolver before firing out at the speed of a normal bullet, striking Brandon in the stomach. He was 28 years old.
Peter Finch (Howard Beale) – The Network 1976
Ok, so this one is kind of a cheat but hear me out. Granted, The Network had been out in U.S. cinemas for nearly two months before Finch died of a heart attack. However, his performance was so great that he would become the first (and so far only) actor to win the Oscar for Best Actor.
Mel Blanc (Mr. Spacely) – Jetsons: The Movie 1990
Yeah, yeah I know. The Jetsons movie didn’t exactly shatter records or win awards, but it was the final performance of a man who played a major role in my childhood and more than likely in yours, none other than ‘The Man of a Thousand Voices’ Mel Blanc. Released a year after his death, Mel Blanc is considered to be one of the most influential people in the voice acting industry, you only have to watch the outstanding ‘I Know That Voice’ documentary to see the impact Mel had on people and The Jetsons was a rather fitting send off to the Hollywood heavyweight in one of his many iconic roles.
Spencer Tracy (Matt Drayton) – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 1967
One of the foundations of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Tracy went into filming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner knowing it would be his last. With his health rapidly declining, Tracy had to be insured for a then whopping $71,000 and could only work for three hours per day. A mere 17 days after shooting was completed, Tracy dropped dead of a fatal heart attack. However such was the man’s professionalism, he would go on to earn his ninth nomination for best actor, a feat which has only ever been equalled the great Laurence Olivier.
Oliver Reed (Antonius Proximo) – Gladiator 2000
The incredible embodiment of hell raising, Oliver Reed perhaps saved his greatest performance for his last as rugged slave trader Proximo. Having died during the actual filming of Gladiator, director Oliver Stone was forced to change the original script before adding in a body double and using previously unused footage of Proximo muttered words ‘Shadows and dust’…a great send off.
James Dean (Jim Stark) – Rebel Without a Cause 1955
No posthumous list would be complete without mentioning the tragic death of James Dean. On the cusp of achieving greatness, Dean crashed his Porsche 911 on the 30th of September 1955, less than a month before the release of his most iconic role as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause.