Comcast Corp. (CMCSA)’s Universal Pictures halted production of “Fast & Furious 7” to consider options for moving forward with the film series after the death of actor Paul Walker in a car crash.
“At this time we feel it is our responsibility to shut down production on ‘Fast & Furious 7’ for a period of time,” the studio said today in an e-mailed statement.
The pause will give the cast and crew time to mourn Walker’s death, while letting the producers assess how to proceed. The Fox network delayed the fifth season premiere of the show “Glee” this year after the death of actor Cory Monteith. “Fast & Furious” is Universal’s top franchise, with six films generating $2.38 billion in worldwide ticket sales since 2001, according to Box Office Mojo.
“This franchise was one of the most reliable in the movie business,” said Steve Mason, a film analyst and theater owner. “It’s too valuable to disband it entirely.”
The studio could scrap what’s been shot and start over, or incorporate existing footage into an updated story, Mason said. Either way, Universal will have to address Walker’s death and the dangers of driving too fast in the next film.
“We’ve never seen a star die in a way that echoes the theme of the film,” Mason said. “It’s going to be really difficult. They are threading the needle of public perception.”
Walker, 40, and his business partner Roger Rodas died Nov. 30 when Rodas crashed his 2005 Porsche Carrera GT into a light pole and a tree in Valencia, California, bursting into flames, according to the Associated Press. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department said speed was a factor.
In the series, Walker played Brian O’Conner, an undercover police officer who infiltrates a street racing gang and later joins the group.
“We are committed to keeping ‘Fast & Furious’ fans informed, and we will provide further information to them when we have it,” the studio said in the statement. “Until then, we know they join us in mourning the passing of our dear friend Paul Walker.”
This year’s “Fast & Furious 6” is the top-grossing film of the series, with $788.7 million in worldwide receipts, according to Box Office Mojo, an industry researcher, which put the production cost at about $160 million.
Studios carry insurance to cover events that disrupt production, according to Hal Vogel, an analyst with Vogel Capital Inc. in New York. The larger financial impact for Universal may be in future “Fast and Furious” films. If the characters and story change too much “fans may be dissuaded from coming to sequels,” he said.
Comcast, based in Philadelphia, gained 0.2 percent to $48.88 at the close in New York. The stock has risen 31 percent this year.
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