Louis Le Prince: Everyone else on this list at least got to see most of their films released—Louis Le Prince never saw any. Who’s that, you ask? Only the unsung true father of motion pictures. Years before the Lumière Brothers filmed workers leaving factories, this Frenchman was shooting movies on paper with a single-lens camera. Le Prince invented cameras, projectors and hybrids of both. He was scheduled to publicly debut his work in September 1890 when he suddenly vanished without a trace.
F.W. Murnau: Probably the most talented filmmaker to emerge from German Expressionism, Murnau emigrated to Hollywood and made Sunrise, a work even more thrillingly experimental than Nosferatu and The Last Laugh. Popular cinema may have been much different had he, shortly before the release of Tabu, not perished in an automobile accident—a tragedy caused, Kenneth Anger claimed, because Murnau was servicing his driver.
Stanley Kubrick: The ice king was notoriously prone to reworking his films post-release; the versions of 2001 and The Shining you see today aren’t how original audiences saw them. Who knows what alterations he would have made to Eyes Wide Shut, released four months after his fatal heart attack? Likewise, imagine how much more people could have openly hated it if the guilt trip hadn’t been there.
Cristian Nemescu: Filming had wrapped on the Romanian tragicomedy California Dreamin’ mere weeks before its young director was killed in an automobile accident along with his sound engineer. Perhaps more time in the editing room would have given the film, released mostly as-is, more shape and/or a less wobbly tone.
Adrienne Shelley: While awaiting the letter that would announce that her candy-colored comedy Waitress was accepted into Sundance ’06, Hal Hartley’s effervescent protogé was murdered by a teenage Ecuadoran illegal immigrant, who tried to make it look like a suicide. Luckily, her film was good enough to be liked without sentiment.
George Hickenlooper: Like Murnau—or Pier Paolo Pasolini, or Rainer Werner Fassbinder—Hickenlooper died shortly before his unintentional swan song hit theaters. Sadly, Casino Jack needs all the help it can get.