‘The Crow’s Tragic History, From Inspiration to Production

The Big Picture

  • Brandon Lee’s tragic death on set deeply affected the production of The Crow and led to rumors that the film was “cursed.”
  • The Crow comic was inspired by the personal tragedy of creator James O’Barr, who channeled his grief into the dark and moody story after the death of his fiancé.
  • Brandon Lee was instrumental in making The Crow adaptation more faithful to the comics, and his untimely death resulted in major changes to the film.

The long-awaited reboot of The Crow is almost here after development began as early as 2008. Since 1994’s original, there have been several sequels and a TV show, but none of them have lived up to the source material. Truly the only worthy adaptation of James O’Barr’s comic book series is Alex Proyas1994 cult classic, which stars Brandon Lee as Eric Draven, a musician who is beaten to death and resurrected by a crow. From there, the crow guides him to exact revenge on the gang that killed him and his fiancée, Shelley (Sofia Shinas). The movie is a gothic thriller that has gained a cult following since its release, and one of the reasons a reboot has taken so long to develop is the persistent doubt that the original can be topped. The harrowing plot was more haunting and poignant after lead star Lee’s tragic death on set when he was accidentally shot in the abdomen by a defective prop gun. This unprecedented tragedy shocked the world and left the cast and crew distraught. Late actor Michael Massee, Lee’s co-star who fired the gun, described being completely traumatized by the incident, taking a year off from acting following it.


The Crow

A man brutally murdered comes back to life as an undead avenger of his and his fiancée’s murder.

Release Date
May 11, 1994


The Impact of Brandon Lee’s On-Set Death During the Making of ‘The Crow’

The death of Lee came twenty years after his father — the legendary martial artist Bruce Lee — had died aged 32 under strange circumstances, with the contributing factors to his death still being discussed today. Many strange coincidences surrounding the untimely deaths of the father and son have led to theories that the Lee family was cursed, and the curse had plagued the production of The Crow due to Brandon’s involvement. There were a number of accidents during filming, with crew members getting injured, and props and sets getting damaged before Brandon was accidentally killed just a week before filming was set to wrap. As a result, many of those involved in the movie’s production have refused to watch it, including director Alex Proyas. In 2017, Proyas spoke out against the commencing of a reboot or remake, suggesting it would disrespect the legacy of Lee and his performance. Lee shares many similarities to his character Eric Draven, but The Crow‘s protagonist also shares similarities with comic creator O’Barr.


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‘The Crow’ Comic Was Inspired By Tragedy

Over 45 issues of The Crow have been released, with O’Barr’s original released in 1989 and the latest in 2020. Several original novels set in the same universe have also been published. As shared in an interview, O’Barr wrote the first issue as a way to cope with a personal tragedy he went through when his fiancé was killed by a drunk driver. The comic is black-and-white and deliberately moody to reflect the dark subject matter of the story as well as O’Barr’s own grief and pain. O’Barr did not have an easy childhood, growing up in the foster care system. He has described the darkness of his young years with a great deal of agony, and meeting his fiancé at age 16 brought light into his life that he had not seen before.

Just as it looked like his life had changed for the better, she was cruelly taken from him and he was left broken. As a talented artist and writer, O’Barr began working on The Crow in the wake of losing his fiancé, putting a lot of his anger and heartache into his protagonist. In an interview at San Diego Comic Con International in 2000, O’Barr stated that he based every character in the comic on either people he knew, or on the most self-destructive sides of his own personality, and once completed, he had little interest in the comic being published. However, Caliber Comics published it as a limited series in 1989 and it became an underground success. The success continued to grow, and several other publishers published subsequent issues of The Crow, including Tundra Publishing, Kitchen Sink Press, and Image Comics.

Brandon Lee Made ‘The Crow’ More Faithful to the Comics

Brandon Lee as Eric pointing a gun at someone in The Crow
Image via Miramax

When a movie adaptation began development, O’Barr was involved in the casting process and as a consultant. According to the 2000 Comic Con interview, O’Barr thought Lee would be perfect in the lead role after meeting him, and he also revealed that Lee was a huge fan of his comic, to the point where he could quote lines of dialogue from it. The first draft of the script drifted greatly from O’Barr’s work, much to his frustration, and Lee was instrumental in making it more accurate. When Lee was tragically killed during filming, O’Barr was devastated and affected by feelings of guilt. Following the accident on set, there was much speculation about whether or not the movie would ever be completed. It was dropped by Paramount Pictures but was picked up and distributed by Miramax, who upped the budget and allowed time for rewrites.

A key addition to the rewritten script was narration provided by Sarah (Rochelle Davis), a friend of Eric and Shelley’s. Several writers worked on the rewrites, and many scenes that had already been filmed were cut from the movie. A major character from the comic, Skull Cowboy, was portrayed in the movie by Michael Berryman, but all of his scenes were cut following Lee’s death. As most of Lee’s scenes had already been shot, a body double was used to shoot some new scenes, and Lee’s face was added in with CGI, similar to what movies such as Fast and Furious 7 and Gladiator did when actors Paul Walker and Oliver Reed, respectively, passed away before filming had been completed.

Is ‘The Crow’ Cursed?

The eerie similarities to real-life tragedies make The Crow incredibly tough to watch at times. O’Barr’s life has been devastatingly marred by many tragic events, and his creation of The Crow is made all the more powerful knowing what compelled him to make it. The 1994 movie remains a truly phenomenal piece of work with a suitably grim atmosphere and a chillingly good performance from Lee. Critics were blown away by him in The Crow, and it serves to show what a huge star he could have been. It is a haunting experience to watch him perform, and the upcoming reboot will undoubtedly struggle to match the relentless emotion of the original cult classic.

The Crow is available to stream on Prime Video in the U.S.

Watch on Prime Video

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