The idea of an artists' work transcending the artists themselves, even through death, is nothing new. It's the reason why people still idolize the likes of Mozart and van Gogh, and it might be the reason why, despite our best efforts, people will remember Rob Schneider in years to come. But when it comes to embracing more contemporary artists posthumously, specifically those who pass away when they're young, it can often be a delicate subject for both the audience and filmmakers.
In recent memory, the two biggest posthumous performances of this nature probably comes from Heath Ledger and Paul Walker. Let's just talk a bit about marketing. Both The Dark Knight and the Fast and the Furious 7 were huge summer blockbusters, making the death of one of its primary actors a bit of conundrum for people working in the marketing department. With The Dark Knight, Warner Brothers certainly didn't hide the fact that Heath Ledger had passed away, but they didn't necessarily emphasize it either in its marketing material. What Paramount did with Paul Walker was different, probably because the timing and circumstances allowed them to do so. The marketing department went full force with its 'one last ride' tagline, and even had a new song written for the purposes of sending off Paul Walker (and his character) onscreen.
I understand that many people thought that the studio was being exploitative in doing this, but I completely disagree. Seeing Paul Walker's final scene (and trying not be distracted by the CGI effects) while Charlie Puth serenaded in the background felt like an on-screen eulogy to the late actor. I'm sure there were conversations about how this approach would play from a box-office standpoint, but from an audience's perspective, it didn't feel that way at all. It felt genuine and appropriate. It felt like both the characters (onscreen) and filmmakers (offscreen) were saying goodbye, and the audience got to take part in that. This wasn't Paul Walker's final movie release, but given his career's connection to the Fast and Furious franchise, this was as definitive of a sendoff any actor could have gotten.
I don't know if we'll ever get an onscreen eulogy like this for any other actor. And even if we do, for all the pieces to fall together so perfectly like this will be unlikely. Another example I'll bring up is Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. That scene at the end (spoiler alert) when Jennifer Lawrence is reading a letter from his character, as he wasn't able to be there personally, resonated with my feelings for the actor in real life. The movie went full meta on the audience and it was a beautiful thing. What's similar in both these cases (Walker + Hoffman) is that the filmmakers went out of their way to pay respects to a fallen cast member. Again, you could make the argument that these were financial choices on the part of the studio, but even so, it doesn't change the fact that certain creative choices were made. Choices that were respectful to the artists they were commemorating, and respectful to audience members who may be carrying a weight of emotional baggage with them.
END OF POST RANT (not completely related): I'll just end off by bringing up something that I have always considered to be a missed opportunity. When Wong Kar Wai released Ashes of Time Redux (NB: IMDB doesn't have a separate page for the redux version), I was excited. To add to the excitement, the movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2008, which meant I finally got to see Wong Kar Wai in the flesh. I won't go into how I felt about the film itself, but on the day of the screening, let's just say that I was disappointed for 2 reasons. Reason #1: when the credits came rolling, I totally expected there to be something to the effect of 'Remembering Leslie Cheung', to which there was not. If you're a fan of Wong Kar Wai or Hong Kong cinema, you need no explanation as to why having a commemorative quote like this would have been so meaningful. It was a completely missed opportunity to celebrate one of his most frequent collaborators in a re-release of movie 14 years later (and 5 years after Cheung's death). How often do you get an opportunity like this? Reason #2: I rarely try to get photos or autographs from guests at TIFF, but Wong Kar Wai was on my very short list of such people. After the screening, I waited at the usual exit spot for Ryerson Theatre, where there were only 2 other people waiting. With his usual dark sunglasses and blazer jacket, he walked right by us and straight into his limo. I'll admit, it was a pretty badass exit. But as some of my friends like to say, I was feeling quite 'salty' at that moment.