Film

The feat of the Fast & Furious franchise

Fast & Furious 9 will be released in the UK on June 24. Hanna Flint details the success of the franchise and discusses how it has managed to stay popular for so long.

Loyal family Rodriguez and Diesel are along for the ride. Photo: Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures

Twenty years ago, when Vin Diesel uttered the immortal line “it don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile”, to Paul Walker’s grinning Brian O’Conner in The Fast and the Furious, he probably hadn’t bet on being back for a ninth outing as the now-iconic Dom Toretto in F9. But “winning is winning”, and the Fast franchise has continued to do so to become one of the most popular and lucrative movie series of all time.

So what is it about Universal Studios’ cinematic behemoth that has managed to draw in an increasing global audience, as well as an increasing number of A-list Hollywood stars, including Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren and Idris Elba, as the antics of this rag-tag group of former auto hijackers and drag racers become increasingly unbelievable? The ability to evolve for a start.

With Dom and his crew racing against submarines and heatseeker missiles or jumping between skyscrapers in a Lykan HyperSport, it’s easy to forget that their origin story was a straight up rip-off of Point Break. Instead of surfers, though, his team were street racers subsidising their income by stealing DVDs from truckers in their black Honda Civics, and Walker’s Brian was the undercover cop sucked in by Diesel’s charismatic outlaw. That 2001 film fired on all cylinders, breaking box office expectations and reinvigorated the way filmmakers shoot car chases, but the sequel script 2 Fast 2 Furious wasn’t up to scratch and Diesel refused to return for it.

Eight years later, the actor got the gang back together for a fourth and fifth instalment, Fast & Furious and Fast Five, that drifted away from the hot wheels culture of the first three films and accelerated more into heist territory while leaning into the more playful action and race sequences introduced by Justin Lin in the third film, The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift. The last three films – Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7, The Fate and the Furious, have seen the filmmakers up the ante on the high-octane capers even further as the crew muscle in on Mission: Impossible territory by taking on more espionage tasks. Who knew these car enthusiasts from the wrong side of the tracks were such highly trained special operatives that government agencies were now relying on them to save the world from global terrorists? No one! But we’ll go with it!

The Fast family know how to move with the times and go with the ridiculousness of each new high stakes escapade thrown at them. The audience love them for it and the filmmakers are willing to listen to what the fans want. That’s why they made the fourth and fifth films take place before the events of Tokyo Drift to include the ill-fated Han and the ninth will see him return from the dead.

This franchise set the standard for diversity on screen

They brought Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty back to life too and the popularity of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham’s characters, Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, is the reason why they got a dedicated spin-off. It’s all about loyalty and that’s ultimately why this franchise has sustained.

The Fast family has always been multicultural since day one, and each new film has seen that representation grow to have Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Ludacris, Johnson, Tego Calderón, Don Omar and Nathalie Emmanuel join Diesel, Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez as part of the main crew. This franchise set the standard for diversity on screen and their loyalty to one another, to their patchwork family, is the narrative backbone for each adventure. It’s why Diesel ensured Walker’s journey didn’t abruptly end after his untimely death in 2013. He persuaded Universal to spend the money on CGI and reshoots so that Brian could live on in their fictional world with a dedicated ending in Furious 7. It’s a touching moment and in any other franchise it could have been written off as cheesy, but that’s what you get with this series. It’s equal parts cool and corny with a healthy seasoning of death-defying feats to whet your appetite during each new instalment. And no matter how outlandish their operations, or how much their action sequences defy the laws of gravity or even how little the characters bleed any more, die even, the franchise will always be grounded in Dom and his crew’s commitment to one another.

As the mighty Toretto once said, “I don’t have friends, I got family.”

Well, when it comes to the Fast and Furious franchise, it don’t have fans, it’s got family too.

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