Vin Diesel and Paul Walker: How the “Fast and Furious” franchise became a hit

fast and furious 7 car
Later on this week, the Fast and Furious franchise brings their seventh installment to the big screen with Furious 7. The sixth sequel in what is now a juggernaut of a series, we find things coming to a sort of fork in the road. Obviously, the death of Paul Walker has removed the long term dynamic of Vin Diesel and Walker leading the team, but the show goes on, as it were. The question that I had, as someone who only saw the first film and was more than a little surprised to see how the popularity of the series balloon, was just how this franchise became what it is today?

For the few of you out there who aren’t familiar with the franchise, here’s a quick refresher now. The first film was The Fast and the Furious, directed by Rob Cohen and starring the group of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster. It was essentially Point Break with cars instead of surfing, and obviously was a hit. Next came 2 Fast 2 Furious, which has only Walker return, this time with a cast that included Tyrese Gibson (or just Tyrese), Cole Hauser, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Eva Mendes. John Singleton was the director this time, with the action going to a tropical location. Not really planning for what was to come, the next installment was The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which initially had nothing to do with the two prior films. No one returned in the cast (aside from a Diesel cameo at the end that’s now used to spur us forward), but it did introduce us to the new shepherds of the series in director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan. They’d be in command until the most recent one, so this is very much their franchise in a way. Sung Kang was first introduced though. Ironically, this has now been moved to the end of the franchise’s continuity, which is oddly convoluted. Things began to move towards the current blockbuster status with what was to come…

The third sequel and fourth film in the franchise was Fast & Furious, which began to bring the old crew back. Diesel, Walker, Rodriguez, Brewster, and Kang were there, under the writing of Morgan and direction of Lin. Fast Five continued this next, with everyone returning (including Tyrese and Ludacris), along with Dwayne Johnson coming on board. Huge success followed, which led to Fast & Furious 6, which now was a complete family affair. Luke Evans came into the fold as well, which has led us to the villain in the new film, but more on that shortly. It was also the final film that Walker completed, as his death occurred during the shooting of the most recent one. Instead of ignoring it or writing him out of the franchise, the powers that be decided to honor him and complete the film with his brothers as stand ins at time (plus a little CGI), giving an opportunity to show Walker and his character a proper send off.

Now we have Furious 7 opening this week, which obviously has everyone in the cast here again, plus Jason Statham as the brother of Evans in a new bad guy role. The one difference is that Lin isn’t directing, with James Wan instead taking the reigns, apparently to just as fun an effect. Apparently not the end of the line for these characters either, an eight film is likely in the works as you read this. Just look at the box office numbers for this franchise: $144 million, $127 million, $62 million, $155 million, $209 million, $238 million. Essentially, they just keep getting bigger and bigger, with Furious 7 perhaps headed toward the $250 to $300 million range.

So why are these so successful? I think when you look to the most recent films, you get this delirious sense of fun. They’re throwback action epics as opposed to the undercover racing dramas they initially set out to be. You can just sit back, turn your brain off, and watch action heroes exhibit charisma and save the day. We get that far less than you’d think, so when an oversized package like this comes along, it’s easy to get excited for it. This is a franchise that has made over a billion dollars for a reason. They give the people what they want.

Going forward, I have no reason not to fully expect the trend to continue in a big way. As long as the cast is game to keep doing this and audiences show up, Universal will keep cranking them out. Whether you love or hate the franchise, you can’t argue that it’s not effective at what it sets out to do. The Fast and Furious series knows its audience and caters to them in a way you have to appreciate. Even someone like me who doesn’t really partake in the shenanigans, I’m curious to see where the movies go from here. The possibilities are basically endless…

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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