THR reported yesterday that Dutch director George Sluizer, who has been holding on to footage from his film Dark Blood for nearly 20 years, has decided to complete the film. This is notable because it was the film that River Phoenix was working on when he died back in 1993. The Phoenix family, including Joaquin (who will provide voice-over work) have given the film their blessing.
Typically films aren’t released two decades after the death of one of its stars (although, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which used archival footage of Laurence Olivier, was released 15 years after his death), but it got me thinking about great films that were released after the death of one of the film’s major stars. Accordingly, I decided to rank the 20 best films released after the death of an actor or actress who had a major role in the film. Among those not included are the four (bad) films released after the death of Bernie Mac, the two bad ones released after Chris Farley’s death, or Air Buddies, released after the passing of Don Knotts.
I tried to do the rankings justice, but I won’t deny certain biases.
20. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (following the death of Richard Harris)
19. Thirteen Women (released the night of Peg Entwistle’s suicide by jumping off the Hollywood Sign)
18. Saratoga (following the death of Jean Harlow)
17. 1984 (after the death of Richard Burton)
16. Gladiator (after the death of Oliver Reed)
15. Bad Santa (after John Ritter’s death from an aortic dissection)
14. Son of the Shiek (released a month following Rudolph Valentino’s death from peritonitis)
13. The Young Girls of Rochefort (following the death of Françoise Dorléac by car accident)
12. From Russia with Love (released nearly four months after Pedro Armendáriz’s suicide)
11. Soylent Green (Edward G. Robinson died 12 days after filming)
10. The Misfits (released three months after Clark Gable’s fatal heart attack)
9. Bridesmaids (following the death of Jill Clayburgh, from leukemia)
8. Giant (following James Dean’s death by car accident)
7. Enter the Dragon (following Bruce Lee’s death from cerebral edema)
6. Waitress (after Adrienne Shelly’s murder at the hands of Diego Pillco; the Ecuadorian immigrant was caught stealing money from Shelly and decided to strangle her to death with a bedsheet, then frame it as a suicide by hanging).
5. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (after Spencer Tracy’s death from a heart attack and emphysema; he died 17 days after filming)
4. Deer Hunter (following John Cazale’s death from bone cancer)
3. The Crow (following Brandon Lee’s death from a firearms accident while filming on the set)
2. Rebel Without a Cause (following James Dean’s death by car accident)
1. The Dark Knight (after the death of Heath Ledger from from acute intoxication)