The legacy of beloved Hollywood actors live on well after their deaths. From stars who died way too young to those who enjoyed long careers, these famous figures all left behind an incredible body of work.
While their final films may not always be their best or most critically acclaimed work, they’re nonetheless an important piece of these stars’ respective histories. Here’s a look back at the last films of these well-known actors:
Paul Walker — ‘Furious 7’
Paul Walker, an original star of the long-running “Fast and the Furious” franchise, died in a tragic car crash in November 2013. The series’ next installment, “Furious 7,” was filming at the time of his death, leading the studio to temporarily halt production. The movie eventually premiered in 2015, with Walker’s brother Cody stepping in to film his remaining scenes. The film wrapped up the storyline for Walker’s character, Brian, and also served as an emotional tribute to the late actor.
Judy Garland — ‘I Could Go On Singing’
In her final film role, Judy Garland plays a successful concert singer who reunites with the man with whom she had an affair and the child they had together over a decade ago. Although the 1963 movie wasn’t a huge success at the box office, Garland’s performance earned her plenty of praise from critics. The actress died of an accidental overdose in 1969 after several years of struggling with substance abuse.
Spencer Tracy — ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’
Spencer Tracy died of a heart attack in 1967, about two weeks after completing his last film role. In addition to marking his final appearance in a movie, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” marked the ninth and final on-screen pairing for Tracy and Hepburn, who had one of Hollywood’s most famous love affairs. The movie was one of the first films of the time to depict interracial marriage in a positive light, and in 2017, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
River Phoenix — ‘Dark Blood’
River Phoenix died of drug intoxication in 1993 at the age of 23. At the time of his death, Phoenix was filming “Dark Blood,” in which he played a younger widower who goes to the desert after his wife dies of radiation. After his death, the movie remained unfinished for 19 years. However, director George Sluizer held onto the footage and, following some new edits and adjustments, finally released the film in 2012.
Audrey Hepburn — ‘Always’
Audrey Hepburn finished her last role in a major motion picture in 1988, making a brief cameo appearance as an angel in Steven Spielberg’s film “Always.” She completed only two more entertainment-related projects — a PBS documentary series and a spoken word album — prior to her death. Hepburn passed away from cancer in 1993 at the age of 63.
Bruce Lee — ‘Enter the Dragon’
Bruce Lee’s final film, “Enter the Dragon,” is also one of his most critically acclaimed. The movie, which Lee produced and starred in, is considered to be one of the greatest martial arts flicks of all time. In 2005, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Brandon Lee — ‘The Crow’
Lee was only days away from completing filming on his movie, “The Crow,” when he was killed in a tragic on-set accident. While filming a scene in which his character gets shot, a prop gun malfunctioned and mortally wounded Lee. The actor died while undergoing surgery for his injuries.
Following his death, parts of the film were rewritten and other scenes were completed using CGI and manipulating earlier footage of Lee. The movie was released about a year after his death and is now considered a cult classic.
Brittany Murphy — ‘Something Wicked’
Brittany Murphy, best known for her roles in films like “Clueless” and “Girl, Interrupted,” passed away at the young age of 32 in 2009. The primary cause of death was reportedly pneumonia, with secondary factors of anemia and drug intoxication. Prior to her death, Murphy had wrapped filming on the indie horror film “Something Wicked,” which took place in Eugene, Oregon. The movie didn’t come out until several years after her death, in 2014.
Patrick Swayze — ‘Powder Blue’
Patrick Swayze delivered his final film performance in 2009’s “Powder Blue.” The movie hit theaters only four months before his death in September of that year. The actor passed away at the age of 57 after over a year and a half of battling with cancer.
Chris Farley — ‘Dirty Work’
Chris Farley struggled with alcohol and drug abuse for much of his adult life and faced continually declining health in his later years. In 1997, Farley died of an overdose. His two final films, “Almost Heroes” and “Dirty Work,” were both released posthumously in 1998. Farley’s last leading role was in “Almost Heroes,” in which he starred opposite Matthew Perry. However, his actual final film role was in “Dirty Work,” in which he made a brief uncredited appearance.
Charlie Chaplin — ‘A Countess From Hong Kong’
Charlie Chaplin’s final screen appearance was a small cameo on the 1967 romantic comedy “A Countess From Hong Kong.” Though Chaplin only had a brief part in the film, he also wrote, scored and directed it, making it both his final film role and his final directorial effort. “A Countess From Hong Kong” also has the distinction of being his only color film. Though the actor started writing other projects in ensuing years, his declining health in the early 1970s prevented him from finishing them and he passed away in 1977.
Marilyn Monroe — ‘The Misfits’
Though known as one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars, Marilyn Monroe’s projects tended to earn mixed reviews from critics. Her last completed film, “The Misfits,” marked a departure from this. Though the drama didn’t perform well at the box office, it earned a highly positive response from critics and audiences. Monroe earned a Golden Globe Award for her performance in 1982, just five months before her death.
Clark Gable — ‘The Misfits’
In addition to being Monroe’s last film, “The Misfits” also marked the final work for her co-star Clark Gable. The movie came out in 1961, a year after Gable had passed away from complications after a heart attack. Like Monroe, Gable earned high praise for his performance, with many considering it to be one of the best roles of his career.
Philip Seymour Hoffman – ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2’
The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who passed away from an overdose in 2014, left movie fans and all of Hollywood shocked. At the time of his death, Hoffman was filming the sequel to “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.” He had already completed the majority of his work on the movie, although two scenes were rewritten to compensate for his absence.
Natalie Wood — ‘Brainstorm’
Natalie Wood was still in the process of making “Brainstorm” when she died under mysterious circumstances during a weekend boat trip to Catalina Island. The actress’s death was later attributed to “drowning and other undetermined factors.” In 2018, authorities named Wood’s husband, Robert Wagner, as a suspect.
As for “Brainstorm,” Wood had already completed most of her work on the film by the time of her tragic death. Wood’s younger sister, Lana, stepped in to film some of her remaining scenes. The movie was dedicated to Wood upon its release.
James Dean — ‘Giant’
In “Giant,” James Dean played a Texas ranch hand who becomes wealthy after striking oil. The movie was released posthumously about a year after Dean died in a fatal car accident. Following the film’s release, Dean gained critical acclaim for his portrayal and became the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
John Wayne — ‘The Shootist’
In his final performance on screen, John Wayne starred as an aging gunfighter battling cancer in 1976’s “The Shootist.” Sadly, the story hit close to home for Wayne. The actor himself battled the disease and died of stomach cancer in 1979.
Humphrey Bogart – ‘The Harder They Fall’
Humphrey Bogart’s last film, “The Harder They Fall,” hit theaters in 1975, a year before the iconic star passed away because of cancer. The actor was reportedly fighting the disease while filming, as co-star Rod Steiger later revealed. In the film, Bogart portrays a sportswriter who takes a job as a boxing promoter after the newspaper he works for goes under.
Natasha Richardson — ‘Wild Child’
In her last appearance on screen, Natasha Richardson played the headmistress of a girls’ school in the 2008 comedy “Wild Child.” She also lent her voice to the documentary film “The Wildest Dream,” which debuted in theaters nearly a year after her death. Richardson died in 2009 due to injuries sustained in a skiing accident.
James Gandolfini— ‘The Drop’
James Gandolfini died of a heart attack at the age of 51 in 2013. The actor had completed two films that were released posthumously: romantic comedy “Enough Said” and crime drama “The Drop.” Though the latter came out last, it was the former that earned Gandolfini widespread acclaim and several posthumous award nominations.
Paul Newman — ‘Cars’
Paul Newman lent his voice to the character of Doc Hudson in the 2006 Pixar feature “Cars.” The movie marked his final acting role before retirement in 2007, although he did go on to serve as a narrator for two documentaries: 2007’s “Dale” and 2008’s “The Meerkats.” Newman died from lung cancer in 2008 at the age of 83.
Marlon Brando — ‘The Score’
Marlon Brando made his final appearance on screen in the 2001 crime thriller “The Score,” opposite Robert De Niro. Though he was in line for other projects before his death in 2004, his struggles with pneumonia and other health issues prevented him from completing them. Only a month before his death, he started recording the voice for the female character of Mrs. Sour in the animated film “Big Bug Man.” After the actor died of respiratory failure, the film remained unfinished.
John Belushi — ‘Neighbors’
After years of struggling with heavy drug use, John Belushi died from combined drug intoxication in 1982. His last film, “Neighbors,” premiered only two and a half months before his death. In the movie, Belushi played against type, portraying a low-key, middle-class suburbanite who must deal with his loud, brash neighbor.
Robin Williams — ‘Absolutely Anything’
Robin Williams completed his last film, “Absolutely Anything,” only three weeks before he died from suicide. The actor didn’t physically appear in the movie. Rather, he lent his voice to the character of a dog who remains loyal to his owner, played by Simon Pegg.
The final project in which Williams appears onscreen occurred in the 2014 comedy sequel “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.” In the movie, he reprised his role as the wax sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt. The film hit theaters four months after his death and featured a dedication to the star.
Heath Ledger — ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’
Heath Ledger was in the midst of filming “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” when he passed away from an accidental drug overdose in early 2008. Though director Terry Gilliam initially intended to scrap the movie, he later recruited actors Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law to portray transformed versions of Ledger’s character as he traveled through magical realms. Footage of Ledger remained in the film as the character’s physical manifestation in the real world.
While “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” marked Ledger’s final film performance, it’s worth noting that the actor’s most well-known posthumous role is that of the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” His performance earned him universal praise and numerous accolades, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.