The Fast & Furious franchise has always been as much about family as it has been about street racing.
So what happens now that a key family member is gone?
As friends and celebrities said goodbye to Paul Walker, who died Saturday in a fiery car crash, fans and analysts pondered the future of his most famous franchise.
While Universal Pictures has announced no changes in the seventh Fast & Furious installment, it faces a macabre decision: How does the series move forward? Analysts say the survival of the franchise may rest in how gracefully the studio handles the tragedy — and how star Vin Diesel personally handles the loss.
"Characters have died in the franchise, and it deals well with the issue of death and tragedy," says Jeff Bock, vice president of industry data firm Exhibitor Relations. "But this is real life, and fans are feeling a real loss. Filmmakers are going to have to walk that fine line of recognizing the tragedy without exploiting it."
In its only statement so far on the accident that killed Walker, 40, and the driver of the car, distributor Universal Pictures made no mention of changing the release date or the content of the next movie, out July 11.
"Paul was truly one of the most beloved and respected members of our studio family for 14 years, and this loss is devastating to us, to everyone involved with the Fast & Furious films, and to countless fans," the studio said.
Chief among them: co-star Diesel, who acts as spokesman and producer of the series and may hold the future of the franchise in his hands. This weekend, Diesel posted a picture of him and Walker arm-in-arm on Instagram with the caption: "Brother, I will miss you very much. I am absolutely speechless."
"About the only thing that would stop Fast & Furious is if Vin decides he's done," Bock says. "He's known as an emotional guy, and Universal will have to see what he wants to do. The series is too big and too loved for it to end any other way."
Tragedy is nothing new to studios selling movies. When Heath Ledger was discovered dead in his loft apartment in New York in January 2008, Warner Bros. had to gingerly market his newest movie, The Dark Knight, in which he played The Joker. In 1993, Brandon Lee died of an accidental gunshot wound on the set of Miramax's The Crow.
"If there's a model to follow here, it's Dark Knight," says Paul Dergarabedian of data firm Rentrak. "The marketing was tasteful, and people had time to come to terms. They have time here, too."
Knight and Crow "didn't even change their release dates," Bock says. "The studio has time to let the tragedy pass. They don't have to decide now about re-writes or how they go forward from here. But you can be sure this will be the biggest movie of the franchise."
Throughout Hollywood this weekend, the crash resonated. From co-stars Tyrese and Ludacris to high-profile fans including Lady Gaga, stars bid farewell to the actor, who was killed along with friend Roger Rodas, 38, identified as the driver of the Carrera GT which lost control and hit a tree before bursting into flames. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department did not list a cause of the crash Sunday, though it said speed was a factor.
"I can't believe I'm writing this," Tyrese posted on Instagram, along with a photo of himself with the late star. "My heart is hurting so bad no one can make me believe this is real."
Since the original film hit screens on June 22, 2001, six installments — five of which starred Walker — have done more than $937 million domestically and more than $2.3 billion worldwide.