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The Last Movie And TV Episode James Gandolfini Was In Before He Died

When James Gandolfini departed the mortal realm in the summer of 2013, the collective mouths of the entertainment industry were genuinely left agape at the of loss. That's partly because the beloved actor had been presumed in good health prior to suffering a fatal heart attack. Outside of the shocking, sudden nature of Gandolfini's passing, though, the loss was all the more painful because many believed his best work was still ahead.

For an actor with three Best Actor Emmy Awards to his name, and a Golden Globe to boot, that may be hard to believe. And there are, no doubt, legions of The Sopranos fans who'd fervently argue the point. But even as Gandolfini will forever be known for his dexterous work as the fearsome, emotionally troubled mob boss Tony Soprano, the actor's body of big screen work after The Sopranos merely teased an adventurousness that was barely glimpsed either before or during his time on the iconic HBO series.

In truth, Gandolfini spent the bulk of his post-Sopranos career avoiding similar roles, delivering show-stopping turns in disparate films like Armando Iannucci's caustic political satire In the Loop, Andrew Dominik's socially-eviscerating gangland drama Killing Them Softly, and Nicole Holofcener's sublimely understated romantic dramedy Enough Said. And judging from his work in those projects alone, the actor was primed to continue working outside of the box for years to come.

While it remains a legitimate tragedy that we never got to see what James Gandolfini might've accomplished in future performances, there is some solace in knowing his final big and small screen appearances were worthy of his legacy. Here's a look at the last movie — and last TV episode — Gandolfini was in before he died.

James Gandolfini traded lines with Tom Hardy in his final big screen appearance

While the world undoubtedly became aware of James Gandolfini when The Sopranos made its HBO debut in 1999, it's worth noting that the gangster saga is one of only two television shows the actor ever appeared in (including Robert Altman's 1997 mini-series event Gun). Prior to his breakout fronting the cast of The Sopranos, Gandolfini spent much of the nineties making a name for himself playing tough guys in all manner of big screen ventures (most notably as the affable stuntman Bear in the 1995 classic Get Shorty). 

And even as Gandolfini spent much of his post-Sopranos life looking for roles far from the tough guys he typically played, when the actor returned to the tough guy fold, he always gravitated towards characters which boldly undercut the myth of macho men. Gandolfini's final big screen appearance in the 2014 crime drama The Drop saw him portraying just such a character. It also saw him trading lines with then up-and-coming screen heavies Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and Matthias Schoenaerts. 

Directed by Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead) and adapted by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) from his own short story, The Drop told the tale of a kind-hearted Brooklyn bartender (Hardy) forced to tangle with Chechen mobsters when a lucrative money drop at the bar of his cousin Marv (Gandolfini) goes terribly wrong. On the surface, The Drop presents as a run-of-the-mill sort of crime drama Gandolfini frequented throughout his career. But much like 2012's Killing Them Softly, the film plays with genre conventions in fascinating ways, with Gandolfini's would-be tough guy serving more as a fool-hearty victim of circumstance, thus allowing the actor deliver one of the more powerfully muted performances of his career. 

Gandolfini's final television episode, fittingly, came on the show that made him famous

As you might've guessed by how many times the series has already been mentioned here, it's virtually impossible to talk about James Gandolfini without talking about The Sopranos. There's good reason for that. The actor's work as Tony Soprano, over the course of the show's six seasons on HBO, is the very definition of "towering." So brilliant was Gandolfini's turn as the tortured mob boss, it's regularly noted not just among the best small screen performances of the 2000s, but the greatest in the history of television.

Though Gandolfini shot a pilot for HBO's The Night Of in 2013, it never aired, as he died before the series went into production. As such, The Sopranos' 2007 finale remains the last TV episode to feature Gandolfini in the flesh. And if you're at all a fan of the series, you know The Sopranos finale remains one of the most divisive final acts in television history. Some might even argue the episode's breathlessly open-ended final moments leave an otherwise flawless series lingering in small screen infamy. Just as many, though, believe it to be a hard-earned exclamation point in the story of a character whose life has become one big question mark. 

Whichever side of the argument you're on, there's little question Gandolfini isn't in vintage Tony Soprano form in the moment, casting a dominant, physically imposing energy over the scene whilst still managing to temper it with a wounded bird wispiness that betrays the twisted soul within. That daring sort of duality is exactly what made the character so endlessly watchable throughout The Sopranos' entire small screen run. And yes, it's impossible to imagine anyone but James Gandolfini pulling it off so effortlessly.