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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

History shows Walker’s death won’t end F&F

The late Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in a scene from Fast & Furious 6.
By Christopher Palmeri
Bloomberg News

Universal Pictures unlikely to drop Fast & Furious franchise without a fight

If history is a guide, Universal Pictures will complete Fast & Furious 7 following the November 30 car crash that killed one of its stars, actor Paul Walker. Going back to 1926’s The Son of the Sheik, Hollywood studios have brought films into theatres with success even after the death of their stars. Rudolph Valentino was 31 when he died of a perforated ulcer two weeks before that film’s release. It grossed more than US$1 million for United Artists. James Dean was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Giant, which reached screens after his 1955 death.

More recently, Heath Ledger died after filming The Dark Knight, in 2008. The film, part of the Batman franchise, opened with US$158 million for Warner Bros. at the US box office, a record at the time. Ledger won a posthumous Academy Award for his supporting role as the Joker.

The latest Fast & Furious, only partly completed when Walker died, may outdraw the earlier pictures, according to Howard Suber, a professor emeritus at the school of theatre, film and television at the University of California Los Angeles. A premature death can add to the mystique of a performer, he said, noting Marilyn Monroe’s enduring fame.

“It was true for Marilyn Monroe and James Dean,” Suber said. “They died young and therefore will live forever in our memories.”

The Fast & Furious franchise is Universal’s biggest, with six movies generating US$2.38 billion in worldwide ticket sales since 2001, according to researcher Box Office Mojo. To complete Fast & Furious 7, the filmmakers must decide whether and how to use scenes Walker shot before his death, a process that will probably involve script revisions and delays. It was scheduled to be released in July 2014, according to Box Office Mojo.

No decisions have been made, Kori Bernards, a spokeswoman for Universal Pictures, said in an email. It is important to keep Walker’s memory alive through his disaster- relief charity, Reach Out Worldwide, his family said in a statement.

Universal has halted production indefinitely as the studio and director James Wan consider what do with the film, the entertainment news site TheWrap.com reported.

The Los Angeles-based studio is unlikely to abandon the picture, according to Peter Sealey, a former marketing executive for Columbia Pictures and now a consultant in Sausalito, California.

This year’s Fast & Furious 6 is the top-grossing film of the series, with US$788.7 million in worldwide receipts. The only Universal film to do better in 2013 is Despicable Me 2.

The studio has already sunk millions of dollars into making Fast 7. Fast & Furious 6 cost US$160 million to produce, the estimate of Box Office Mojo. While Walker was the series’ main protagonist, appearing in five of the six instalments, he was part of an ensemble cast that has included Vin Diesel, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Tyrese Gibson.

“They could do a work around,” Sealey said. “Hollywood does not let an actor’s untimely demise shut down a money making machine.”

A particular challenge for Universal, in addition to the filming being incomplete, will be handling the manner of Walker’s death, given the street-racing theme of the Fast & Furious movies.

The franchise has endured personnel changes in the past. Walker missed the third edition, 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Co-star Diesel skipped the second instalment, 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious.

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