The supercharged evolution of the 'Fast & Furious' films from racing movies to global action flicks

  • Dwayne Johnson, right, and Jason Statham are mismatched partners in the action spinoff "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw."

    Dwayne Johnson, right, and Jason Statham are mismatched partners in the action spinoff "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw." Courtesy of Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures

 
By Travis M. Andrews
Washington Post
Posted8/2/2019 8:56 AM

In "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw," Dwayne Johnson's Luke Hobbs needs to keep a hovering helicopter from escaping, so he throws a chain around it from the back of a moving car. While he holds said chain with one hand, with the other, he holds onto the car driven by Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw. Hobbs, of course, manages to keep the chopper from flying off with his sheer, brute strength.

Another scene involves a Russian scientist wielding a flamethrower, while a third includes a fight with a cyborg named Brixton (Idris Elba) on the side of a skyscraper.

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This is a far cry from the street races of Los Angeles that underground cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and family-values-espousing criminal Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) had in 2001's "The Fast and the Furious." Yet they belong to the same world.

How exactly did we end up here? It's been a strange metamorphosis. So strap on in, hit the NOS and take a drive with us through the blazing evolution of the Fast and Furious franchise.

"The Fast and the Furious" (2001)

At this point, the first film seems so quaint. Basically a remake of "Point Break," but based on a Vibe article about real-life illegal street-racing gangs in California, the movie seemed like something of a one-off. It introduced us to NOS, nitrous oxide that makes the cars go fast (and furious, we guess) that also became a real-life energy drink that's still widely available to purchase.

What really stood out, and likely contributed to the franchise's eventual success, was the diversity of the movie's cast. While Paul Walker was the only white guy in the main billing with a few others filling out the crew, the film primarily featured black and brown actors -- an anomaly, especially at the time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It performed well enough, earning $40 million in its opening weekend -- not bad for a middling action flick that cost $38 million to make. But it received mixed reviews and generally seemed like the kind of movie that might have a nice run on TBS before fading into obscurity. Then things got weird.

"2 Fast 2 Furious" (2003)

The less said about the sequel, the better. The movie wasn't just abjectly terrible, but it was a bizarre follow-up. Much of it felt like a remake of the first film, without most of the main characters. Walker returned, but Diesel was notably absent. Tyrese Gibson filled in as Walker's foil, but since so much of the first film was built around Diesel and Walker's bond, it just felt lazy.

It contained hints at the franchise's future, however. The action became more cartoonish, as evidenced by the duo jumping a car off a dock, flying what looks like 50 feet through the air (at least!) and crashing into a yacht.

At this point, it seemed like the franchise would just follow Walker's character in a series of buddy action movies (always with a different buddy). But things somehow got weirder.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" (2006)

We have no proof of this, but there just had to be some confused moviegoers who walked into the third installment of the series only to find that basically no one from the earlier movies was in it. Instead, we're randomly in Tokyo, following a military brat who learns about drift-racing in a movie that suddenly re-centered on the actual racing part of the franchise.

It would eventually become an outlier due to its setting and most of its cast not appearing in the rest of the films. It was also something of a flop -- it made $158 million worldwide, which is nothing to sneeze at, but remains the lowest-grossing film in the series -- but introduced director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan into the Furious world. Lin would go on to direct every other entry (save for "Hobbs and Shaw," and including the upcoming ninth and 10th films), while Morgan wrote the rest of them (including "Hobbs and Shaw," though no writer is currently billed for the untitled 10th movie in the franchise).

"Fast & Furious" (2009)

Sometimes things must get worse before they get better, as the fourth entry proved. Suddenly, we were back to Walker and Diesel and much of the original cast in a film set before the third movie. Sure, why not?

"Fast & Furious" may have received a 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but it was the last "rotten" film in the series -- though it grossed $363 million worldwide. The action was bigger than before, with people jumping between buildings and cars doing things cars shouldn't be able to do. But the point of the movie was clear: "New Model, Old Parts," declared the trailer. "Just like old times," Diesel said.

The crew was back, and things were only going to amp up from there.

"Fast Five" (2011)

The first favorably reviewed film in the franchise, "Fast Five" is when everything changed. For one, it introduced Dwayne Johnson's Hobbs, who provided a much-needed, semi-comedic antagonist to the gang -- a role (kind of) played by Walker in the first movie.

Secondly, it threw any pretense of reality out the window and fully embraced the ludicrousness of it all. The movie only features one actual race while the rest of it is dedicated to over-the-top action. Vehicles drive in and out of train cars. In the climax of the movie, a bus-sized safe being towed behind two cars is used as a weapon against others during a chase, all while ripping up the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

The gambit worked. It grossed $626 million worldwide, a number that would only increase with future installments.

"Fast & Furious 6" (2013), "Furious 7" (2015), "The Fate of the Furious" (2017)

The formula of "bigger and bigger action set pieces with cars above all else" continued with each successive Fast and Furious entry. The world expanded to include actors like Statham, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell and Charlize Theron, and shrunk a bit with Walker's untimely death in 2013. The action got wilder and wilder to include cars being driven out of planes, or between skyscrapers (but, like, between the top floors). The movies continued to be set in worldwide locales such as Azerbaijan, Abu Dhabi, Toyko, Berlin and Athens. And they continued to rake in money, with "Furious 7" earning $1.5 billion globally, a record for the series.

Now, with the spinoff that just hit theaters and two more installments on the way, the Fast and Furious series has become arguably the most modern, one of the most lucrative and certainly the most diverse franchise we have today -- even if it seems to have nothing to do with where it began.

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