UPDATE: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fast 7 won’t be scrapped. Filming, which was set to resume Monday, will be delayed.
Following the tragic death of 40-year-old actor Paul Walker Saturday afternoon, one of the biggest questions in the weeks and months ahead will undoubtedly be: What happens to the Fast & Furious franchise?
Walker was currently shooting the seventh instalment in Atlanta with co-stars Vin Diesel, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Ronda Rousey, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell, Lucas Black, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and director James Wan. Filming was then scheduled to move to Abu Dhabi in January, with the finished product hitting screens July 11, 2014.
The actor’s final post from his Twitter page teased Fast 7:
The Fast & Furious series was one of Universal’s most profitable franchises, and the role of Brian O’Conner was the one Walker was most well-known for. It was also a part he loved being identified with.
“I get that a lot,” Walker told USA Today from the Atlanta set of Fast & Furious 7 in one of his last interviews. “I’m Brian a lot more than I’m Paul Walker, which is awesome. When I hear, ‘Hey Paul Walker!’ my hair stands up on the back of my neck. It’s uncomfortable. But when I hear ‘It’s Brian!’ it’s cool. I like Brian.”
In a recent interview with Collider, Walker revealed that there were plans for as many as three more Fast & Furious films after the seventh.
“The studio supposedly wants 8, 9 and 10,” Walker said. “I’ll be 50. Even if 7 were to [tank], there’s at least an 8. That’s a guarantee.”
It’s unclear how many more scenes Walker still had left to shoot on Fast & Furious 7, but he was central to the franchise and his character, along with Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, would have continued to be a focal point in ensuing sequels.
Other actors have died during a film shoot, and directors have found a way to complete the picture. Heath Ledger’s final scenes in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus were completed by Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp. More recently, director George Sluizer completed River Phoenix’s Dark Blood 20 years after the actor’s death.
For a film of this magnitude, I imagine that Wan and scriptwriter Chris Morgan will have to rework the storyline so that the seventh film honours Walker’s legacy and provides closure for the franchise.
But given how he died, and the subject matter of the Fast & Furious films, how they account for his character’s fate will have to be handled with the utmost care.
Despite whatever plans Universal had for the series, I can’t envision Fast & Furious without Brian O’Conner. He was the heart and soul of those movies.
For many people, myself included, the Fast & Furious films had become a summer tradition. It was popcorn fun at its best – and I mean that in the highest regard. It was a series that continued to evolve and get better with each new entry (Tokyo Drift being the lone exception).
“The thing that’s pretty crazy is that neither Vin nor I were going back to do the third one,” Walker told Collider. “They were going to do a direct-to-video 4. They were going to dispose it and be done with it. But then, Vin was like, “No, I’ll come in for a cameo,” because it wasn’t testing well. He wanted to set up the fourth one and the studio went for it, and we got a second life. It was supposed to be done already.”