5 Movies That Lost Their Lead Actors Before Filming Ended

What will happen to the production of a film, if in the middle of filming when the script has not been completed yet – the production crew has to deal with the death of the actor who is the backbone of the story?

Not many such cases happen even though every year, thousands of films are produced putting the production team facing this kind of situation, sitting in a unique category.

Even more unique is the death that occurs involving a big name that is well known internationally. Here are five films that required the producers to move creatively to find ways to replace the lead actors after their deaths.

1. Jean Harlow in the movie ‘Saratoga’

Who is Jean Harlow?

Jean Harlow

Known as a sex symbol actress during the beginning era of the film industry, Jean Harlow died on June 7, 1937 during the filming of the movie ‘Saratoga’ with the famous male actor, Clark Gable.

The case of Harlow’s death, which occurred before the film could be completed, was caused by Harlow’s deteriorating health – even though he was only 26 years old at the time.

Gable in several sessions filming intimate scenes with Harlow, complained that Harlow’s breath smelled like urine; unrecognized as the cause of the end-stage renal failure that afflicted Harlow at the time.

After Harlow’s death, there was an effort by the studio to completely replace Harlow’s character with another actress. But at the insistence of fans, the decision was withdrawn and all the scenes that Harlow did not get to play – were replaced by a female actress and filming techniques that rarely show faces were used.

The case of Harlow’s death became the first case in the Hollywood entertainment industry where a big movie star died before his film was completed.

2. Bruce Lee in the movie ‘Game of Death’

Bruce Lee

The story of how the production of the film ‘Game of Death’ tried to finish the film, without the presence of the famous kung-fu star Bruce Lee – is a legend in the Hollywood entertainment industry.

Before his death, the late Bruce Lee only managed to act about 100 minutes of the ‘Game of Death’ scene required in the script. What’s more, during filming, Bruce Lee shifted his commitment to first complete the film ‘Enter the Dragon’ for the international market.

The production of ‘Game of Death’ was halted for some time, before the production studio chose to continue shooting by using various methods outside the box. As far as we know, there are two different versions of the ‘Game of Death’ film, the 1972 version that is more similar to Lee’s original vision and the 1978 version completed by Golden Harvest, based on a rework of Lee’s screenplay.

The 1972 version is considered an incomplete film and the 1978 version is considered a completed film.

To replace Bruce Lee, massive changes to the original script were made. Including the sub-plot in addition to the character that Lee was supposed to play, it is said that he had to undergo plastic surgery on his face to explain why the character’s face changed in the story line.

3. Brandon Lee in the movie ‘The Crow’

Brandon Lee

If his father Bruce Lee died of an illness during filming, unfortunately Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, was killed in an accident during the filming of the cult film ‘The Crow.’

Initially, the production team chose to immediately end the shooting of the film, as a result of the incident caused by the negligence of the film’s prop team.

Finally, they chose to use the services of a stunt actor named Chad Stahelski, Brandon Lee’s good friend who has similar physical characteristics to him to act out the outstanding scenes.

Using Stahelski’s body, the special effects visual crew used computer software to ‘paste’ Lee’s face onto the matched Stahelski’s body – the result was pretty satisfying for special effects made based on 1993 technology.

The experience of acting in the film became a stepping stone for Stahelski to move in the Hollywood film industry, especially in the action film genre. Now Stahelski is famous as the main director of all the ‘John Wick’ films, starring Keanu Reeves.

4. Paul Walker in the movie ‘Furious 7’

Paul Walker

The death of the late Paul Walker due to a car accident, shocked fans of the movie series ‘Fast and Furious. Unfortunately, the incident happened while Walker was filming the seventh film ‘Furious 7’.

Due to the need to revamp all the plans and written scripts, the most affected thing is the revamping of the ending of the film which should give an important end to Walker’s involvement in the series.

Walker’s character ‘Brian O’Conner’ was not turned off, but instead worked on making a decision to stay away from the criminal world they were involved in and want to devote life to family.

In order to get additional scenes to accommodate this massive change, two of Paul’s brothers, Cody and Caleb Walker, were used as stand-ins and Paul’s original face, taken from archive footage, was pasted onto both of their faces.

The last few minutes of the movie ‘Furious 7’, although written as the end of the fictional character, are clearly a final tribute to the real actor who played his character.

5. Heath Ledger in the film ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’

Heath Ledger

A very talented actor, Heath Ledger’s death is a great loss to the entertainment industry.

His acting in the movie The Dark Knight as well as the homosexuality-themed movie ‘Brokeback Mountain’ showed his true abilities, but the pressure of life led him to use drugs until Ledger died due to excessive drug consumption.

At the time of his death which occurred on January 22, 2008, Ledger was busy with the production of ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’, a fantasy film directed by the British director, Terry Gilliam.

The approach taken by the film’s production was to slightly change the way the film unfolded, so that three additional actors – Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell – could take over the duties left by Ledger – without a major overhaul of the script.

This is because Ledger before his death, had prepared important chapters that were able to connect the story line neatly.

As a final tribute to the late Ledger; Depp, Law and Farrell all gifted the salary they received from the film to Ledger’s daughter, to be used as an education fund for the late child.

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