The show must go on.

Oliver Reed Gladiator

By Meg Shields · Published on December 21st, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that looks at how movies deal with sudden and unexpected actor deaths.

In a modern conversation about untimely mid-production actor deaths, Chadwick Boseman is undoubtedly at the front of everyone’s mind. Sure, he didn’t technically pass away mid-production. But it certainly didn’t feel like T’Challa’s story wasn’t over.

When the shock abated, there was an uncomfortable but itching question of how Black Panther was to progress — or if it even should — without its star. Ultimately, Marvel did make a sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, that opted to embrace the loss rather than recast the role.

Every film and small-screen production faced moves forward in the wake of unexpected death differently. When Richard Harris passed away in 2002 after portraying Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films, Michael Gambon was brought on board to make the role his own. Meanwhile, films like The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus — which was forced to halt production in the wake of Heath Ledger’s tragic death — take a more hyperreal approach, casting three other actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell) to portray Ledger’s character.

One approach — which can be controversial for obvious reasons — is the combined use of old footage and CGI to create a “dummy” version of the deceased actor. For what it’s worth, in my opinion, one of the few respectful iterations of this approach takes place in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, which had to contend with the mid-production death of notorious party animal Oliver Reed (who, per Scott, “dropped down dead on the floor of a pub” after challenging a crew of sailors to a drinking match). Using a combination of CGI compositing and clever lighting, you would never know that Reed has passed halfway through filming.

For more examples of how productions grieve and move on, here’s a fantastic video essay:

Be warned: the following contains both West Wing and Sopranos spoilers.

Watch “Marvel Has A BIG Black Panther Problem”


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Who made this?

This video essay on how different movies and TV shows have dealt with unexpected actor deaths was written by Will DiGravio and Adam Tinius, who runs the YouTube channel Entertain the Elk. They are based in Pasadena, California. You can follow them on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How’d They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’ on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).

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