Proof That Meryl Streep Always Steals the Show—Even When She’s Dying in a Movie

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All right, the jig is up. Meryl Streep is dead in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Her character, Donna Sheridan, is but a memory when the sequel to the 2008 film begins—but that doesn’t mean she isn’t still the star. Even though Streep is absent until the very end of the movie, you’re going to be captivated by her anyway—by the still photos of her that dot her daughter’s swanky hotel, by the way every other character speaks reverently about her, by the very thought of her nailing “Super Trouper” in spandex. By the time Streep finally appears on screen, she’s already stolen your heart again.

And it’s not the first time that Streep has played a character who’s dead or dying—and completely stolen the show anyway. Ghost? No problem. Mother with cancer? Certain Oscar nod. Totally dead, but wins the audience’s affections through flashbacks? She’s got it down. Take a look.

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Full ScreenPhotos:Every Time Meryl Streep Died in a Movie—And Still Stole the Show
__*The House of the Spirits,* 1993__

The House of the Spirits, 1993

In the film based on the 1982 novel by Isabel Allende, Streep plays Clara, the clairvoyant matriarch of a wealthy family in Chile, who dies when she is middle-aged. Afterwards, the spirit of Streep guides her family through various trials, in their lives and through the revolutions of Chile. She spends the whole film as this sort of otherworldly goddess—and the movie is squarely hers.

Photo: From Everett Collection.

__*One True Thing,* 1998__

One True Thing, 1998

In the film adaptation of writer Anna Quindlen’s novel, Streep plays a housewife and the mother of a Manhattan journalist (Renée Zellweger). She is diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of the film, and spends the entire movie carrying out heartbreaking scene after heartbreaking scene. Finally, she delivers a monologue about choosing to “love the things that you have,” which defines the meaning of life in one perfect, Streepian swoop.

Photo: From Universal/Everett Collection.

__*The Bridges of Madison County,* 1995__

The Bridges of Madison County, 1995

Meryl is dead at the beginning of this movie, so brace yourself for that. Her kids return to their childhood Iowa home to examine their mother’s will and sort through her things. What they find are a bunch of letters from a lover (Clint Eastwood) they knew nothing about. Then come the flashbacks, featuring Streep as a 1960s Midwest transplant with a masterful Italian accent—commanding the screen, even if she’s just a flashback of a memory.

Photo: From Warner Bros/Everett Collection.

__*Death Becomes Her,* 1992__

Death Becomes Her, 1992

This one, now hailed as a queer classic, features Streep opposite Goldie Hawn, playing age-obsessed women living their best afterlives. Come for the special effects; stay for the campy scene where Streep sings a narcissistic solo (though she is technically alive when she sings it).

Photo: From Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.

__*Defending Your Life,* 1991__

Defending Your Life, 1991

Here, Streep and Albert Brooks fall in love while in what is essentially purgatory. She stuns in an all-white outfit, like the very image of an angel—but really, she’s just a dead lady named Julia who has to kiss Albert Brooks. Somehow, it works.

Photo: From Geffen Pictures/Everett Collection.

__*Angels in America,* 2003__

Angels in America, 2003

Did you ever know that you needed Meryl Streep to play the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, smiting a dying Roy Cohn on his deathbed? Well, you do. Streep plays a total of four characters in this celebrated miniseries, including a rabbi who Maurice Sendak mistook as an “alter cocker” in real life. But her dead Rosenberg is really the one to watch.

Photo: By Stephen Goldblatt/Hbo/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.

__*Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,* 2018__

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, 2018

She’s dead. We find out in the first scene, as if the trailers weren’t clue enough. But just like we need her to, Streep still shows up at the very last minute, her entrance worthy of cheers, her spandex-clad reprise of “Super Trouper” (now featuring Cher!) well worth the wait.

Photo: Courtesy of Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures.

<strong><em>The House of the Spirits,</em> 1993</strong>

The House of the Spirits, 1993

In the film based on the 1982 novel by Isabel Allende, Streep plays Clara, the clairvoyant matriarch of a wealthy family in Chile, who dies when she is middle-aged. Afterwards, the spirit of Streep guides her family through various trials, in their lives and through the revolutions of Chile. She spends the whole film as this sort of otherworldly goddess—and the movie is squarely hers.

From Everett Collection.

<strong><em>One True Thing,</em> 1998</strong>

One True Thing, 1998

In the film adaptation of writer Anna Quindlen’s novel, Streep plays a housewife and the mother of a Manhattan journalist (Renée Zellweger). She is diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of the film, and spends the entire movie carrying out heartbreaking scene after heartbreaking scene. Finally, she delivers a monologue about choosing to “love the things that you have,” which defines the meaning of life in one perfect, Streepian swoop.

From Universal/Everett Collection.

<strong><em>The Bridges of Madison County,</em> 1995</strong>

The Bridges of Madison County, 1995

Meryl is dead at the beginning of this movie, so brace yourself for that. Her kids return to their childhood Iowa home to examine their mother’s will and sort through her things. What they find are a bunch of letters from a lover (Clint Eastwood) they knew nothing about. Then come the flashbacks, featuring Streep as a 1960s Midwest transplant with a masterful Italian accent—commanding the screen, even if she’s just a flashback of a memory.

From Warner Bros/Everett Collection.

<strong><em>Death Becomes Her,</em> 1992</strong>

Death Becomes Her, 1992

This one, now hailed as a queer classic, features Streep opposite Goldie Hawn, playing age-obsessed women living their best afterlives. Come for the special effects; stay for the campy scene where Streep sings a narcissistic solo (though she is technically alive when she sings it).

From Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.

<strong><em>Defending Your Life,</em> 1991</strong>

Defending Your Life, 1991

Here, Streep and Albert Brooks fall in love while in what is essentially purgatory. She stuns in an all-white outfit, like the very image of an angel—but really, she’s just a dead lady named Julia who has to kiss Albert Brooks. Somehow, it works.

From Geffen Pictures/Everett Collection.

<strong><em>Angels in America,</em> 2003</strong>

Angels in America, 2003

Did you ever know that you needed Meryl Streep to play the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, smiting a dying Roy Cohn on his deathbed? Well, you do. Streep plays a total of four characters in this celebrated miniseries, including a rabbi who Maurice Sendak mistook as an “alter cocker” in real life. But her dead Rosenberg is really the one to watch.

By Stephen Goldblatt/Hbo/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.

<strong><em>Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,</em> 2018</strong>

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, 2018

She’s dead. We find out in the first scene, as if the trailers weren’t clue enough. But just like we need her to, Streep still shows up at the very last minute, her entrance worthy of cheers, her spandex-clad reprise of “Super Trouper” (now featuring Cher!) well worth the wait.

Courtesy of Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures.



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