The movie franchise known as “The Fast and the Furious” produced six films and approximately $2.4 billion in ticket sales worldwide. With the death of star, Paul Walker, who played ex-cop Brian O’Conner, the franchise may die with him. He anchored the series with action stars Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”).
Most huge movie franchises are a success because of one character, played by the same actor or actress over and over. This is certainly true of the “Mission Impossible” franchise and Tom Cruise, the “Indiana Jones” franchise and Harrison Ford, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and Johnny Depp, and “Sherlock Holmes” and Robert Downey Jr. It is impossible to imagine that any of these could continue with the record ticket sales they posted in the past without the central actors who have become inseparable from the characters they play.
Universal Pictures, a division of Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA) held by its NBCUniversal division, is faced with the unenviable task of replacing Walker with another actor, or gambling that Diesel and Johnson can carry future movies in this series on their own. “Fast and The Furious 7″ will be released in the summer of next year. The franchise, which launched in 2001, was wildly successful and continued with a series of movies released every two or three years. Universal and its producers have just over a year to screen actors who might take Walker’s part. An actor who could replace Walker would likely be someone who is already well known and could increase box office draw based on his own “brand” as an action hero.
The danger of producing movies with “franchise actors” has always carried risks. The death of Paul Walker shows how very deep those risks run.