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The Last Movies Made By Actors We Lost Too Soon

An actor's death is difficult to stomach. By portraying beloved characters throughout their careers, they don't just gain fans — they end up feeling like old friends to millions of viewers worldwide. When they die, their departure hits all the more hard because of this. The loss of human life is always sad in its own right, but when it takes away a familiar face, it's devastating.

In the wake of an actor's death, their final movies emerge and gain eternal gravitas. These final performances tend to be bittersweet, as they mark the last new movie the actor will ever appear in, but also offer an opportunity for fans to say goodbye. We're here to celebrate those final performances with this look at 12 of the most poignant. Some are gorgeously whimsical, some are potent period pieces, and some are uproariously funny. All of them mark the end of a spectacular career that might be over, but will never be forgotten.

Chadwick Boseman: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020)

The world was shocked when Chadwick Boseman passed away at the age of 43 on August 28th, 2020. Boseman had gained particular fame for portraying Black icons including Jackie Robinson (2013's 42), James Brown (2014's Get On Up), and Thurgood Marshall (2017's Marshall). Of course, most people know Boseman for his performance as T'Challa, the MCU's Black Panther. Fans were startled to learn that Boseman had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, meaning he filmed multiple movies, including Black Panther, while battling grave illness.

Boseman's final performance is in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Based on the August Wilson play of the same name, this movie is set in 1920s Chicago and revolves around a tumultuous recording session of legendary blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis). Boseman plays Ma Rainey's ambitious trumpeter Levee, who wants to make his own mark on the music industry.

Cameron Boyce: Runt (2020)

On July 6, 2019, Cameron Boyce died at the age of 20 from complications of epilepsy. Though young, Boyce was already a veteran actor, best known for starring in Disney's Descendants movies, in which he played Carlos, the son of villainess Cruella De Vil. Descendants 3 was released a month after Boyce died, marking his last appearance as his signature character.

Boyce's last film appearance comes from the independent thriller, Runt. The movie follows a teenager named Cal (Boyce) who experiences several troubling events that send him down a dark and dangerous path. Runt started filming in July 2018, the same month that Descendants 3 finished filming, and wrapped production on August 15th of that year. It premiered on February 20th, 2020 at the Mammoth Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. Boyce's performance received particular praise, as did his work ethic: Multiple co-stars reflected upon his professionalism, kindness, and honesty.

Paul Walker: Furious 7 (2015)

Paul Walker starred in many headline-making movies throughout his career, including 1999's Varsity Blues, 2001's Joy Ride, and 2006's Flags of Our Fathers. But most people know Walker as undercover cop-turned-street racer Brian O'Conner from the long-running Fast and Furious franchise. Furious 7 was initially set to release on July 11th, 2014. That all changed on November 30th, 2013, when Walker died in a single-vehicle accident while on break for Thanksgiving. 

In January 2014, Time reported that Furious would retire Brian rather than kill him off, and that new scenes would be added to the film to allow the franchise to continue without him. Walker's brothers, Caleb and Cody, were hired as stand-ins, and, with the help of Peter Jackson's Weta Digital visual effects house, Walker's face was superimposed over his brothers' bodies, as well as that of actor John Brotherton in 350 visual effects shots throughout the film. Production on Furious 7 eventually wrapped in July of 2014, and the film was released on April 3rd, 2015.

Carrie Fisher: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Despite her vast career in entertainment, Carrie Fisher was undoubtedly most famous for portraying Star Wars' Princess Leia. Leia is beloved for being more than a damsel in distress — she actually manages to save her would-be rescuers in the very first Star Wars movie, which was eventually retitled A New Hope. Leia's legacy is no small part of why Fisher's death at the age of 60 on December 27th, 2016 devastated so many.

Luckily, The Last Jedi finished filming before she died. Fans got to experience her final performance as General Leia when the film hit theaters in December 2017. In an interview with The New York Timeswriter-director Rian Johnson was asked if he altered the film in any way after Fisher's passing, to which he replied, "We don't adjust what happens to her in this movie. Emotionally, you can't help [but] recontextualize it, now that she's gone. It's almost eerie how there are scenes that have an emotional resonance and a meaning, especially now. She gives a beautiful and complete performance in this film." Even though the movie has proved to be divisive among fans, Fisher's presence within it shines as brightly as the stars she sails past.

Alan Rickman: Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

Alan Rickman, known best as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, Hans Gruber in Die Hard, and Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest, was so beloved that shortly after he died of pancreatic cancer in early 2016, Harry Potter fans at Universal Orlando raised their wands in his honor.

Although Alice Through the Looking Glass was not as commercially successful as its predecessor, the movie still features what is confirmed to be Rickman's final performance. As in 2010's Alice in Wonderland, Rickman voiced Absolem, who starts out as a caterpillar before becoming a butterfly at the end of the film. Speaking with Total Film, director James Bobin had nothing but kind words to say about working with Rickman. "It's a terrible honor to have. Obviously he's exceptional; an incredible voice. As a performer, that's such a rare thing to have — the moment you open your mouth, to know exactly who that is. But he has that. It lends us gravity." Hopefully, that same gravity will inspire other actors who dream of following in Rickman's footsteps.

Brittany Murphy: Abandoned (2010)

Brittany Murphy starred in several high-profile films throughout her career, such as 1995's Clueless, 1999's Girl Interrupted, and 2002's 8 Mile. She was beloved for her charm, energy, and nuance, all of which resulted in performances that defy categorization. Sadly, Murphy died of pneumonia on December 20th, 2009 at the age of 32. Although the 2014 independent horror film Something Wicked is the last Murphy film to be released, the last movie she made is actually a 2010 thriller called Abandoned, which started filming in June 2009, the same month that Something Wicked wrapped production. Abandoned follows a woman named Mary (Murphy) who begins to question her sanity when her boyfriend Kevin (Dean Cain) mysteriously vanishes exactly one hour after she dropped him off at the hospital for a routine outpatient surgery. Anchor Bay Entertainment picked up Abandoned in February of 2010, before giving it a straight-to-DVD release the following summer.

River Phoenix: Dark Blood (2012)

River Phoenix was not only an accomplished performer, but also a good Samaritan: Phoenix was a prominent spokesperson for PETA and even won their Humanitarian Award in 1992 for his fundraising efforts. This good work makes his death from an overdose at the age of 23 on October 31, 1993 that much more tragic. Phoenix was actually in the middle of production on a movie called Dark Blood at the time, which was not released until almost two decades later. This movie revolves around a young widower named Boy (Phoenix) who saves a young couple, Harry and Buffy Fletcher (Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis), after their car breaks down, before ultimately deciding to hold them hostage. 

Insurers and financiers abandoned the project following Phoenix's death. In 2011, however, director George Sluzier revealed that he had the footage, and was interested in finishing it. It premiered at the Netherlands Film Festival on September 27th, 2012.

Anton Yelchin: Thoroughbreds (2018)

Anton Yelchin had a promising career ahead of him. He appeared in several hit movies over the years, such as 2007's Alpha Dog, 2009's Star Trek, and 2011's Like Crazy. That career was cut short, however, when the 27-year-old actor died on June 19, 2016. Friends found him pinned between his Jeep Grand Cherokee and a mailbox pillar and security fence.

Two weeks before his untimely death, Yelchin finished filming the dark comedy Thoroughbreds. The film centers around a highly emotional high school student named Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her emotionless friend Amanda (Olivia Cooke), who plan to kill Lily's narcissistic stepfather by blackmailing a precarious drug dealer named Tim (Yelchin). The movie premiered as Thoroughbred at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21st, 2017, before Focus Features acquired the distribution rights. They retitled the movie Thoroughbreds and released it in US theaters on March 9th, 2018. Though Yelchin left us too soon, he gave fans a brilliant final performance in a wickedly fun film.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part II (2015)

It's no secret that Phillip Seymour Hoffman gained fame as one of the most prolific character actors in cinematic history. His work can be found in high-profile movies including (but not limited to) The Big LebowskiPunch-Drunk Love, and Mission: Impossible III. Moreover, Hoffman won an Oscar in 2006 for his portrayal of famed author Truman Capote in the critically acclaimed biopic Capote. No matter the role, Hoffman's performances are nothing short of outstanding, which made his death from a mixed drug overdose at the age of 46 truly shocking.

Hoffman's final film appearance was in 2015's The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part II in which he reprised his role as Plutarch Heavensbee. Hoffman died in early 2014 while the film was still in production, but Lionsgate did not delay the film, as a majority of Hoffman's scenes were already filmed. The filmmakers also decided not to use CG or body doubles to make up for Plutarch's absence in certain scenes. This decision ultimately sat well with Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence, who told Variety"This was the best way to be able to get around such a horrible thing."

Brandon Lee: The Crow (1994)

Although he was the son of famed martial artist Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee wanted to forge his own legacy in Hollywood. That path became all the more possible when Lee accepted the lead role in The Crow, which follows a resurrected rock star named Eric Draven (Lee) who seeks vengeance against the thugs who murdered him and his fiancé. Unfortunately, Lee did not live to see this movie's success as he died near the end of its production.

On March 31st, 1993, a scene was supposed to be filmed in which Michael Massee's Funboy shoots Lee's Draven with a revolver as he walks into the room. Massee believed that he was going to shoot Lee with a blank. What he did not realize, however, was that this revolver had a bullet jammed in the cartridge from an inert dummy round that was shot in the previous scene. Since blanks use a primer and fuse, Massee unknowingly struck Lee in the abdomen with this faulty bullet. Lee was subsequently rushed to the hospital for surgery, but was later pronounced dead at the age of 28.

Despite production setbacks, the film was released in 1994 and received positive reviews from critics. Today, it is a cult classic.

Heath Ledger: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

Heath Ledger died at the age of 28 on January 22, 2008. Though this might seem absurd today, casting Ledger as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight was so controversial at the time, not even the executives at Warner Bros. totally understood it. After the film was finally released in July of 2008, however, Ledger's performance became beloved enough to win a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

This performance was so successful, in fact, that many people may not know that The Dark Knight was not, in fact, Ledger's last movie. His final performance arrived in a Terry Gilliam movie released in late 2009 called The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The film centers around a traveling theater company that literally takes its audience on a journey into imagination. Ledger plays the company's leader, but he died before he could shoot a majority of his scenes. Thus, Gilliam hired Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell to play fantastical versions of Ledger's character. According to Gilliam, no major changes had to made to the script to allow for this unique approach.

Robin Williams: Absolutely Anything (2015)

Robin Williams left a lasting legacy. Even while battling drug addiction, dementia, and depression, the man was still able to make people happy, whether that be through his stand-up or his many appearances in movies and television. Absurdly enough (in a way Williams might very well have appreciated), Williams' final film role was as the voice of a talking dog in the British comedy Absolutely Anything.

Released in the UK on August 14th, 2015 before making its way to the United States two years later, this film centers around a miserable young teacher named Neil (Simon Pegg), who is given the power to do "absolutely anything" by a group of eccentric aliens as part of a test to decide whether or not they should destroy Earth. One of the first things he does with his newfound abilities is give his dog the voice of Robin Williams. Pegg actually admitted in an interview with Variety that he never met Williams on-set but that did not stop him from expressing his thoughts on Williams' passing: "I think about him a lot because he's someone that we all believed was this force of happiness and it just goes to show how indiscriminate depression is, that when supposedly we have it all and are capable of such joyous behavior, it still is not good enough." Nevertheless, Williams' memory will continue to live on through his work.