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It's no secret that The Fast and the Furious franchise suffered a massive blow in 2013 when Paul Walker tragically died in a car accident in Southern California. Even more than Vin Diesel, he was the face of the franchise. His passing cast an infamous shadow over the production of Furious 7, and that shadow almost led to the entire film receiving the ax. The Fate of the Furious producer Neal Moritz explained:
Paul was the greatest guy I've ever met. He was a real guy's guy. Girls loved him. Guys loved him. He was so full of life, a surfer, outdoorsman, more than an actor, even though he was really good at what he did. He was just the greatest guy in the world. Honestly, when that happened, when his passing happened, when that accident happened, we were like, 'We're not gonna finish the movie'. We'd done over half the movie. We were like 'We can't finish the movie. We just can't do it.' And Universal said take some time. Think about it. See what you guys want to do. We didn't know what to do. We didn't know what we could do or what we should do.
The untimely death of a film's central star is an obstacle that few movies could ever overcome, and as Neal Moritz explained on The Bill Simmons Podcast: Paul Walker's death very nearly scuttled the production of Furious 7. Even with half of the film already in the can, the emotional weight of his passing (coupled with the sheer logistics of working around his death) made the process seem like an overwhelmingly daunting task. This was made even more complicated by the fact that the original ending for Furious 7 was intended to set up a much larger world for our heroes to enter, and Walker's death essentially rendered that idea moot.
In the end, however, the decision was ultimately made to press forward with an ending that served as a tribute to Paul Walker's legacy in the franchise. Once the idea of having Brian O' Conner drive off into the sunset to "See You Again" was presented, everyone involved knew that they could finish the film. Neal Moritz continued:
It wasn't until Chris Morgan came up with the idea at the end of the road splitting that we knew we had a way, a path to the end of this movie. Then we had to work our way backwards and figure out with the footage we already had existing and with the special effects things we were able to do, that we could make that story work. That scene, in combination with that song, it was perfect.
The Fast & Furious franchise has obviously become known for wall-to-wall action since its humble beginnings almost two decades ago, but the ending of Furious 7 genuinely stands out as something entirely different and unique to the franchise. Paul Walker's tribute at the end of the movie could've ultimately come across as exploitive, but it worked for all of the reasons Neal Moritz laid out. If you haven't caught it before, or haven't seen it in a while, take a look.