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Paul Walker's Death Raises Questions for Future of Universal's 'Fast and Furious' Franchise

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The death of actor Paul Walker on Saturday leaves a major hole in Universal's "Fast and Furious" series, the studio's most successful active film franchise, which had been in production on its seventh installment since September for release next summer.

The film, which had been lensing in Los Angeles and Atlanta, is being directed by "Fast and Furious" newcomer James Wan.

As of now, it is unclear how much of Walker's footage had been shot, making it uncertain what creative solutions Wan and Universal will decide on as it considers scenarios for Walker's character, undercover Los Angeles police officer Brian O'Conner. It is expected that the studio will proceed with the pic, though Universal would not comment beyond a statement issued Saturday night.

Walker stars in completed drama "Hours," about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Pantelion, the Latin audience-oriented arm of Lionsgate, said it will continue with its plan to release the film day-and-date on Dec. 13 via video-on-demand and in 15 markets theatrically.

Genesis Rodriguez and Nick Gomez co-star, with Walker playing a father trying to keep his infant daughter alive in the wake of the hurricane. The "Fast and Furious" movies have a huge appeal for the Latino audience, so "Hours" could turn out to be a smart SXSW find for Pantelion.

Walker's popularity in the "Fast and Furious" franchise was possibly even greater overseas than in the U.S., and "Taken" producer EuropaCorp saw potential in a Walker-starring movie with "Brick Mansions," which Relativity will release in the U.S. on Feb. 7. Hip hop artist RZA and Robert Maillet co-star, with Walker again playing an undercover cop, this time in the remake of French pic "District 13."

Walker was reprising his role as one of the lead protagonists in the latest "Fast" installment, alongside co-stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. The pic had been scheduled for release on July 11, 2014, but a delay now seems likely.

SEE ALSO: Vin Diesel 'Speechless' Over 'Fast & Furious' Co-Star's Death

Most of the "Fast and Furious" family took to social media to express their remorse. Brewster said via Twitter: "Paul was pure light. I cannot believe he is gone."

SEE ALSO: Paul Walker: How 'Fast and the Furious' Changed His Career from Hunk to Action Star

The "Fast" franchise, which so far has amassed more than $2.3 billion at the worldwide box office, had been firing on all cylinders since "Fast Five" defied expectations in 2011. Meanwhile, the franchise had its most successful installment early this summer, when "Fast and Furious 6" collected nearly $800 million globally.

SEE ALSO: Paul Walker: Coroner's Investigation Could Take 2-3 More Days

Walker's death immediately spurred eerie comparisons to the untimely ends of prominent actors including James Dean, who was killed in a high-speed car accident in September 1955, just after completing work on his third feature, "Giant"; and Heath Ledger, a key player in Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight" movie franchise.

Helmer Wayne Kramer, who directed Walker in the 2006 thriller "Running Scared" and last year's "Pawn Shop Chronicles," called the actor a "supportive collaborator" who was deeply committed to filmmaking.

"I always told Paul that his most exciting years were going to be his 40s and 50s, and even beyond, as a masculine American tough guy in the vein of Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin," Kramer wrote via Facebook. "We talked about how Paul was going to be my Lee Marvin and we were hungry to make those kind of films that could show Paul in that light."

Related storiesPaul Walker: Video Shows Car Engulfed in Flames After Deadly CrashPaul Walker: Coroner's Investigation Could Take 2-3 More DaysPaul Walker: How 'Fast and the Furious' Changed His Career from Hunk to Action Star 2013 Variety Media, LLC, a subsidiary of Penske Business Media; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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