The film world is reeling from the tragic death of Paul Walker, who died in a car accident on Saturday at the age of 40. The renewed popularity of the "Fast and Furious" series in the years before the crash gave Walker's career a second wind, an unexpected twist for the actor who became a star at the peak of the teen movie craze of the late 90s.
The two distinct phases of Walker's film career created a unique arc that also included an in-between period where he took on riskier roles, resulting in some of his best work and a career that didn't peter out like those of his former teenage contemporaries.
"Fast and Furious" Series
As Brian O'Conner, the cop-turned-thief of the blockbuster racing series, Walker was the actor who appeared in the most installments and played in important role by bringing the audience into the world of racing for pinks and the violence that can come afterwards. With "Fast and Furious 7" already filming and plans for eighth and ninth installments coming together, it was likely that Walker's presence in the series would have continued for years to come.
"She's All That" (1999)
During the late 90s, teen-centric dramedies experienced a big comeback, and one of the movies that came to embody that trend was undoubtedly "She's All That." Walker's role in the film highlighted his almost-too-handsome looks, as he played Dean Sampson, the jock friend of Freddie Prinze Jr.'s character and the guy who started the plot to turn an art nerd into prom queen in the first place.
"Varsity Blues" (1999)
Like the movie itself, Walker in "Varsity Blues" was able to show off the darker side of a character and a story that we thought we knew. As Lance Harbor, the injured quarterback of a small-town Texas team, he took on material that wasn't totally new for him, but by the end of the movie, it was a distinct and memorable performance that would stand on its own.
Though movies like "She's All That" and "Varsity Blues" made Walker an important part of 90s movie culture, his role in "Pleasantville" proved that he also fit pretty well in a time long before that. The Tobey Maguire-Reese Witherspoon film from future "Hunger Games" director Gary Ross took two modern teenagers into a 1950s sitcom, complete with the perfect all-American boy, as played by Walker. His charm and dedication to the part brought an outlandish character to life in a relatable way.
"Running Scared" (2006)
In the six years between "2 Fast 2 Furious" and Walker's return to the series in "Fast & Furious," he took on more challenging material that may not have sold as many tickets as the ones where he played Brian O'Conner, but "Running Scared," along with Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers," showed more of his range, while still playing to the strengths that audiences were familiar with. "Running Scared" casts Walker as a low-level mob enforcer who gets thrown into one hell of a bad night, as the gun he is tasked with hunting down keeps slipping away from him and his simple task becomes more complicated than he could have imagined.