Has ‘The Fast and the Furious’ Franchise Recovered From Paul Walker’s Death?
Paul Walker starred in six Fast and the Furious movies, and he would still be starring in them had he not died in an automobile accident in 2013. At the time, Vin Diesel had only starred in five, pus his cameo in Tokyo Drift. Furious 7 was the last film to feature actual footage of Walker, but the series continues. F9 would have been out in May 2019, but because of the coronavirus (COVID-19), it is delayed until April 2, 2021.
[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for The Fast and the Furious franchise.]
By the time F9 comes out, there will be three moves since Walker’s death. There is a 10th in development, and Dwayne Johnson confirms a sequel to his Hobbs & Shaw spinoff is also in the works. Here’s how The Fast and the Furious franchise recovered from Walker’s death.
Paul Walker in ‘The Fast and the Furious’
2001’s The Fast and the Furious starred Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto, the leader of a gang of street racers who also hijacked electronics deliveries to fund their vehicles. Walker played Brian O’Conner, an FBI agent who went undercover with Dom. Though on opposite sides of the law, Brian and Dom bonded, because Dom welcomed everyone into his gang as family.
The film opened to $40 million and made $144 million domestic, $207 million domestic according to Box Office Mojo, but Diesel didn’t want to do a sequel. So they followed Brian in the sequel, going on another undercover FBI auto racing mission. This time he teamed up with Roman (Tyrese), an ex-con he arrested. Roman informed Brian’s decision to let Dom go in the first movie, because he regretted busting Roman.
2 Fast 2 Furious opened to $50 million on its way to $127 million domestic and an international take of $109. With $236 million total, Universal thought The Fast and the Furious was the brand, so they tried Tokyo Drift without Diesel or Walker. Diesel would cameo at the end of the movie.
Paul Walker Helped Save the ‘Fast and the Furious’ franchise
A lot of people credit Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with reinvigorating the Fast and the Furious franchise. His entry in Fast Five was certainly a series high point up to then. It was the first in the series to cross $200 million domestically and cross half a billion with $600 million worldwide, but there would not be a Fast Five had Walker not reunited with Diesel one movie prior.
The fourth film, Fast & Furious, was the first sequel that included all of the cast members of the original The Fast and the Furious. Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez returned too, but it was Walker and Diesel who carried the film’s undercover mission. The fourth film usually falls at the bottom of most franchise rankings, but when released in 2009, audiences loved the return of the original family.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift had been the series’ low point. As good as the film was, it did not crack $100 million domestically or internationally. Universal’s experiment to continue the franchise on the title, without the original stars, failed with a series low $158 million worldwide total.
So they brought back the original cast. Fast & Furious opened with $71 million, a record opening to be broken by Fast Five’s $86 million opening. The series would continue to grow, but Fast & Furious had a record domestic ($155 million) and worldwide ($360 million total) gross at the time.
‘Furious 7’ said goodbye to Brian
After Fast Five united the characters from the original and 2 Fast and added Johnson, the series kept growing. Furious 6 (the correct title as it appears on screen, but not in promotional materials) opened even bigger with $97 million, on its way to $238 million domestic and $550 million international.
Walker died before completing Furious 7. In order to complete the film with existing footage, screenwriter Chris Morgan had to rewrite the movie around footage they still had, including outtakes from previous movies. Walker’s brothers helped stand in for some visual effects work to patch up the seams.
The rewrite made Furious 7 a bittersweet goodbye to the Brian O’Conner character. Knowing that Walker could not be in the sequel, Furious 7 had Brian decide to leave the fast and furious life to be a father with Mia (Brewster) and their kids. Dom had to say goodbye to his family, but really it was goodbye to Walker in real life. This effectively wrote Brewster out of the next film, though she returns in F9.
Furious 7 holds the franchise records. It’s the first one to cross $1 billion. With $353 million domestic (off a $147 million opening) and $1.16 billion international, Furious 7 made $1.5 billion worldwide. Fans found it a touching sendoff and the height of its success may be due to it being the last chance to see Walker play Brian. It also has the series’ highest Tomatometer score of 81% fresh.
It’s just a little slower and less furious without Paul Walker
The Fate of the Furious was the first entry without the character Brian since Tokyo Drift. Brian remains alive in the film universe. The characters just reference him being unavailable. The film still made over $1 billion worldwide. Domestically it opened to $98.7 million and grossed $226 million, on par with Furious 6. $1 billion is still the series second highest international gross. How many series hold on to grosses like that by part eight?
The Fast and the Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw made a significantly less, but that is also understandable. It’s a spinoff with only two of the characters from later entries in the franchise, as opposed to a whole family of characters who go back to the first two films. Hobbs & Shaw opened to $60 million domestically on its way to $173 million, and $585 million international. So it’s still over half a billion worldwide.
Universal clearly expects F9 to give the box office a NOS injection. They had a global release planned for May 2020. The theater closures around the world jeopardized that, so they are banking on a global release for 2021. Even if F9 falls somewhere between Fate and Hobbs & Shaw, it’s still a billion dollar franchise. Walker helped it get there, and it’s honoring his legacy.