Movie franchises that continued without their stars and how they did it
Recently, Hollywood has had to say some poignant farewells. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (in cinemas 11 November) is the continuation of the Black Panther story, but without the title character.
Chadwick Boseman’s death in 2020 left filmmaker Ryan Coogler with an impossible decision for the Marvel sequel: either to recast the role that was so inextricably linked to the late star, or loosely mirror his character T’Challa’s fate with real life. The latter has been chosen, and a new generation will carry his legacy forward.
There are many productions that have faced the tragedy of a death of a star midway through production. However, in modern Hollywood, where franchises are planned several films in advance, sometimes a star passes with some of their character’s story still to tell.
Read more: Black Panther stars visited Chadwick Boseman's grave for 'blessing'
Here are some of the ways in which the path of a beloved character was decided in some of the largest movie series.
Used in: Harry Potter, Toy Story, The Crow
One of the biggest examples of a franchise that lost a significant star early into its lifetime was the Harry Potter series of films. Legendary actor Richard Harris was cast as Professor Dumbledore in the first two instalments, The Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and The Chamber of Secrets (2002), but passed away in late 2002 after a short illness. Harris’ friend Peter O’Toole was considered as his replacement before Michael Gambon was eventually chosen for the remaining films. Under the circumstances the change was a success, with Gambon becoming a beloved part of the series.
Read more: Tributes pour in for Robbie Coltrane
Another successful recasting occurred in the Toy Story universe, where voice actor Blake Clark took over the role of Slinky Dog following the death of Jim Varney. However, it hasn’t always worked out.
1996’s The Crow: City of Angels cast Vincent Perez as a new lead after the death of Brandon Lee in the original film, but the association with the late actor meant that this follow up didn’t fare as well at the box office.
Used in: Star Wars, Toy Story
Filmmaking technology has advanced to the point where even cast members who are no longer with us can be recreated using a mixture of computer imagery and old footage. The most notable example of this was Star Wars, as the space opera brought back not one but two former stars for a final bow.
Read more: Star Wars CGI guru on the ethics of bringing back Peter Cushing
2016’s Rogue One was set just before the events of 1977's A New Hope, meaning the characters and settings had to be faithful to the 1977 original film. In this case, it meant bringing back Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin, 22 years after the British star died. Archive footage of Cushing was referenced to create a likeness of Cushing, which was laid over a motion capture performance by actor Guy Henry.
The reaction was positive, but sadly it was not the last time an actor from the original trilogy would have to be recreated on film. Carrie Fisher, known to millions as Leia Organa, passed away in 2016 before she had begun production on The Rise of Skywalker.
Thus, when the film came out in 2019, fans saw a final appearance from Leia thanks to unused footage Fisher filmed for The Force Awakens (2015). Another scene featured a young Leia, thanks to a de-aged, CGI Leia being overlaid on to a physical performance by Fisher's daughter Billie Lourd.
For 2019's Toy Story 4, Pixar plundered the voice booth archives to build a whole new performance for Mr Potato Head from 20 years of Don Rickles' voice sessions after the actor died in 2017. Using outtakes from the late comedian's sessions for other Toy Story movies, shorts, theme parks, toys and other projects, they pieced together a movie's worth of scenes with convincing effect.
Used in: Fast & Furious
Sometimes it’s too hard to say goodbye to a character, and so some sequels create a reality where they have simply gone on to their happily ever after. Following Paul Walker’s tragic death in a motoring accident in 2013, the producers of the Fast and Furious franchise felt it in inappropriate to kill off or recast his character, Brian O’Conner.
Read more: Actors who were brought back from the dead
A mixture of CGI and stand in performances from Walker’s brothers finished the work required for 2017’s Fast & Furious 7, and for every film since O’Conner’s character has been portrayed as having retired and living happily with his wife and child.
Used in: Jurassic World, Ghostbusters
There are occasions where it was deemed appropriate for the character to have passed away with the actor who originated them. In 2015, Jurassic World opened its doors a year after the death of Sir Richard Attenborough, who played Jurassic Park creator John Hammond.
While Attenborough hadn’t appeared in the series since a brief role in 1997’s The Lost World, the plot of the movie necessitated some information about where Hammond was. Thus, it was revealed that Hammond has also passed away shortly after The Lost World, with a tribute statue and voiceover on display at the new on-screen park.
In 2021, Ghostbusters: Afterlife faced a similar issue. One of the original cast members, Harold Ramis, passed away in 2014, seemingly making a proper reunion impossible. However, director Jason Reitman found a way to both respect the actor’s passing and bring his character Egon Spengler back, by making Egon’s death a central part of the plot. Actor Bob Gunton (The Shawshank Redemption) and original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman both acted as body doubles for Egon, while a digital likeness was created for an emotional farewell.
As with Wakanda Forever, these movies acknowledged the essential contribution of the actors while still finding a way to expand the universe without them. While there is no one way to deal with the passing of a beloved performer, many movies find a way to say one last goodbye in a satisfying fashion.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in cinemas and IMAX from 11 November. Watch a trailer below.