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Is ‘Fast & Furious’ in limbo with Paul Walker’s death?

Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

The Fast & Furious franchise has always been as much about family as it has been about street racing.

So what happens now that a key family member is gone?

As friends and celebrities said goodbye to Paul Walker, who died Saturday in a fiery car crash, fans and analysts pondered the future of his most famous franchise.

While Universal Pictures has announced no changes in the seventh Fast & Furious installment, it faces a macabre decision: How does the series move forward? Analysts say the survival of the franchise may rest in how gracefully the studio handles the tragedy — and how star Vin Diesel personally handles the loss.

“Characters have died in the franchise, and it deals well with the issue of death and tragedy,” says Jeff Bock, vice president of industry data firm Exhibitor Relations. “But this is real life, and fans are feeling a real loss. Filmmakers are going to have to walk that fine line of recognizing the tragedy without exploiting it.”

In its only statement so far on the accident that killed Walker, 40, and the driver of the car, distributor Universal Pictures made no mention of changing the release date or the content of the next movie, out July 11.

“Paul was truly one of the most beloved and respected members of our studio family for 14 years, and this loss is devastating to us, to everyone involved with the Fast & Furious films, and to countless fans,” the studio said.

Chief among them: co-star Diesel, who acts as spokesman and producer of the series and may hold the future of the franchise in his hands. This weekend, Diesel posted a picture of him and Walker arm-in-arm on Instagram with the caption: “Brother, I will miss you very much. I am absolutely speechless.”

MORE: One of Paul Walker’s last interviews

PHOTOS: Paul Walker’s ‘Fast & Furious’ cars

Paul Walker, star of the "Fast and Furious" movie franchise, died in a car accident Saturday. He was 40.

Paul Walker, star of the “Fast and Furious” movie franchise, died in a car accident Saturday. He was 40. Jason Merritt, Getty Images
In May, Walker, left, premiered "Fast & Furious 6" in London with his co-stars Vin Diesel and Tyrese Gibson.

In May, Walker, left, premiered “Fast & Furious 6” in London with his co-stars Vin Diesel and Tyrese Gibson. Stuart C. Wilson
The film has made more than $238 million domestically at the box office.

The film has made more than $238 million domestically at the box office. Stuart C. Wilson
Co-star Jordana Brewster joined Walker and Diesel at the MTV Movie Awards where they promoted the film.

Co-star Jordana Brewster joined Walker and Diesel at the MTV Movie Awards where they promoted the film. Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
Walker and his "Fast & Furious" franchise love interest Jordana Brewster in a scene from the sixth in the series.

Walker and his “Fast & Furious” franchise love interest Jordana Brewster in a scene from the sixth in the series. Giles Keyte, Universal Pictures
In 2011, Diesel and Walker attended the "Fast and Furious 5" premiere in Cologne, Germany.

In 2011, Diesel and Walker attended the “Fast and Furious 5” premiere in Cologne, Germany. Frank Augstein, AP
Walker and Diesel in a scene from "Fast Five."

Walker and Diesel in a scene from “Fast Five.” Jaimie Trueblood, Universal Pictures
In 2009, Walker attended a "Fast & Furious 4" press event in France.

In 2009, Walker attended a “Fast & Furious 4” press event in France. Mark Renders, Getty Images
Also in 2009, Walker continued to promote the film with Brewster.

Also in 2009, Walker continued to promote the film with Brewster. Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Walker & Brewster in a scene from 2009's "Fast & Furious."

Walker & Brewster in a scene from 2009’s “Fast & Furious.” Jaimie Trueblood, Universal Pictures
Walker co-starred with Vera Farmiga in the 2006 crime drama "Running Scared." 2006 was also the year that "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," the one "Fast" movie Walker did not appear in, was released.

Walker co-starred with Vera Farmiga in the 2006 crime drama “Running Scared.” 2006 was also the year that “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” the one “Fast” movie Walker did not appear in, was released. Larry D. Horricks, New Line Cinema
Walker portrayed an Antarctic explorer in the 2006 Disney release "Eight Below."

Walker portrayed an Antarctic explorer in the 2006 Disney release “Eight Below.” Chris Large, Walt Disney Pictures
Walker co-starred with Jessica Alba in 2005's "Into The Blue." While promoting the film Alba told USA TODAY, "God kissed him with the beautiful gene. He’s more beautiful than most women.”

Walker co-starred with Jessica Alba in 2005’s “Into The Blue.” While promoting the film Alba told USA TODAY, “God kissed him with the beautiful gene. He’s more beautiful than most women.” John P. Johnson, MGM
Paul Walker and Penelope Cruz in the 2004 holiday movie "Noel."

Paul Walker and Penelope Cruz in the 2004 holiday movie “Noel.” Neverland Films
Walker at the wheel of a Mitsubishi EVO 7 in a scene from the first sequel, "2 Fast 2 Furious."

Walker at the wheel of a Mitsubishi EVO 7 in a scene from the first sequel, “2 Fast 2 Furious.” Eli Reed, Universal Studios
Walker, here with Frances O'Connor, time-traveled to 14th-century France in 2003's "Timeline."

Walker, here with Frances O’Connor, time-traveled to 14th-century France in 2003’s “Timeline.” Philippe Bosse, Paramount Pictures
Walker and Diesel in a scene from the movie that started it all, 2001's "The Fast and the Furious."

Walker and Diesel in a scene from the movie that started it all, 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious.” Bob Marshak, Universal Studios
In 2000's "The Skulls," Walker starred opposite Joshua Jackson.

In 2000’s “The Skulls,” Walker starred opposite Joshua Jackson. George Kraychyk, Universal Studios
One of the actor's first hits was 1999's "Varsity Blues." The film starred (clockwise from botton center) James Van Der Beek, Amy Smart, Eliel Swinton, Walker, Ali Larter, Ron Lester and Scott Caan.

One of the actor’s first hits was 1999’s “Varsity Blues.” The film starred (clockwise from botton center) James Van Der Beek, Amy Smart, Eliel Swinton, Walker, Ali Larter, Ron Lester and Scott Caan. Deana Newcomb, Paramount Pictures
Walker starred with Dule Hill and Freddie Prinze Jr. in "She's All That."

Walker starred with Dule Hill and Freddie Prinze Jr. in “She’s All That.” Claudette Barius, GPN
Walker promoted "2 Fast 2 Furious" in 2003.

Walker promoted “2 Fast 2 Furious” in 2003. Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Like this topic? You may also like these photo galleries:

Replay
  • Paul Walker, star of the "Fast and Furious" movie franchise, died in a car accident Saturday. He was 40.
  • In May, Walker, left, premiered "Fast & Furious 6" in London with his co-stars Vin Diesel and Tyrese Gibson.
  • The film has made more than $238 million domestically at the box office.
  • Co-star Jordana Brewster joined Walker and Diesel at the MTV Movie Awards where they promoted the film.
  • Walker and his "Fast & Furious" franchise love interest Jordana Brewster in a scene from the sixth in the series.
  • In 2011, Diesel and Walker attended the "Fast and Furious 5" premiere in Cologne, Germany.
  • Walker and Diesel in a scene from "Fast Five."
  • In 2009, Walker attended a "Fast & Furious 4" press event in France.
  • Also in 2009, Walker continued to promote the film with Brewster.
  • Walker & Brewster in a scene from 2009's "Fast & Furious."
  • Walker co-starred with Vera Farmiga in the 2006 crime drama "Running Scared." 2006 was also the year that "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," the one "Fast" movie Walker did not appear in, was released.
  • Walker portrayed an Antarctic explorer in the 2006 Disney release "Eight Below."
  • Walker co-starred with Jessica Alba in 2005's "Into The Blue." While promoting the film Alba told USA TODAY, "God kissed him with the beautiful gene. He’s more beautiful than most women.”
  • Paul Walker and Penelope Cruz in the 2004 holiday movie "Noel."
  • Walker at the wheel of a Mitsubishi EVO 7 in a scene from the first sequel, "2 Fast 2 Furious."
  • Walker, here with Frances O'Connor, time-traveled to 14th-century France in 2003's "Timeline."
  • Walker and Diesel in a scene from the movie that started it all, 2001's "The Fast and the Furious."
  • In 2000's "The Skulls," Walker starred opposite Joshua Jackson.
  • One of the actor's first hits was 1999's "Varsity Blues." The film starred (clockwise from botton center) James Van Der Beek, Amy Smart, Eliel Swinton, Walker, Ali Larter, Ron Lester and Scott Caan.
  • Walker starred with Dule Hill and Freddie Prinze Jr. in "She's All That."
  • Walker promoted "2 Fast 2 Furious" in 2003.
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“About the only thing that would stop Fast & Furious is if Vin decides he’s done,” Bock says. “He’s known as an emotional guy, and Universal will have to see what he wants to do. The series is too big and too loved for it to end any other way.”

Tragedy is nothing new to studios selling movies. When Heath Ledger was discovered dead in his loft apartment in New York in January 2008, Warner Bros. had to gingerly market his newest movie, The Dark Knight, in which he played The Joker. In 1993, Brandon Lee died of an accidental gunshot wound on the set of Miramax’s The Crow.

“If there’s a model to follow here, it’s Dark Knight,” says Paul Dergarabedian of data firm Rentrak. “The marketing was tasteful, and people had time to come to terms. They have time here, too.”

Knight and Crow “didn’t even change their release dates,” Bock says. “The studio has time to let the tragedy pass. They don’t have to decide now about re-writes or how they go forward from here. But you can be sure this will be the biggest movie of the franchise.”

Throughout Hollywood this weekend, the crash resonated. From co-stars Tyrese and Ludacris to high-profile fans including Lady Gaga, stars bid farewell to the actor, who was killed along with friend Roger Rodas, 38, identified as the driver of the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT which lost control and hit a tree before bursting into flames. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department did not list a cause of the crash Sunday, though it said speed was a factor.

“I can’t believe I’m writing this,” Tyrese posted on Instagram, along with a photo of himself with the late star. “My heart is hurting so bad no one can make me believe this is real.”

Since the original film hit screens on June 22, 2001, six installments — five of which starred Walker — have done more than $937 million domestically and more than $2.3 billion worldwide.

Scott Bowles,

Source: USATODAY

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