We’re less than a week away from the new Fast and Furious movie and it’s hard to believe the franchise is stronger than ever as it heads into its eighth entry. You read that right. The Fast and the Furious movies have reached their eighth entry and are bringing in more money and critical acclaim than ever before. With the most recent film, Furious 7, cracking $1.5 billion worldwide and Vin Diesel teasing The Fate of the Furious as the beginning of a brand new trilogy, it’s clear that these films aren’t going anywhere.
The ride to this kind of wild success has been a blast for fans, but to outsiders, the popularity is nothing short of baffling. How did this third-string street racing movie become the thing your friends couldn’t stop talking about? We can’t deny, it’s been a very strange journey, but if you’re a newcomer to the NOS powered blockbuster franchise, we’ve got you covered. To get you up to speed, here are 15 Things Newcomers Should Know About The Fast And Furious Movies.
15. The Fast and the Furious franchise is a soap opera for adrenaline addicts
Before we get into the details, it’s important to understand that these movies play like a soap opera. A soap opera souped up on impressive stunts, globetrotting locations, flashy cars and all the spectacle you’ve come to expect from summer blockbusters. The characters and plotting get more and more ridiculous and melodramatic with each passing entry. There are call backs to previous entries, multiple retcons, brothers who could be mistaken for evil twins, etc. This series is full of soap and audiences just can’t seem to get enough of it.
There’s no denying the terrible screen drama, but what sets The Fast and the Furious apart from other summer spectaculars and soaps is the level of self-awareness these movies seem to have. Each of the filmmakers including the main cast understand just how aggressively dumb these films have become and they embrace every moment of it with a smile. Whether it’s Dwayne Johnson chewing the scene, Vin Diesel being predictably schmaltzy, or even Kurt Russel practically winking at the camera, this series knows what it is and more importantly, it knows that you know what it is.
14. The series was born as a third string heist movie
The Fast and the Furious films may be one of the most successful blockbuster franchises ever made now, but when the first film was released in 2001, it was actually a somewhat middle of the road B-list action movie starring a couple of familiar faces alongside the hot up and comers. The stunts were somewhat more grounded, the street races felt less flashy and the whole project felt a bit more juvenile. The film received middling reviews (currently sitting at a 53% on Rotten Tomatoes) and was a moderate success, grossing $207.3 million off of its $38 million budget.
Since its debut, the series has slowly transformed itself into a premiere heist blockbuster series. In the fifth entry, they all walked away with money. In the sixth film, they did a job in order to win their freedom. In the seventh film, they fought against Jason Statham for revenge. The Fast and the Furious is no longer a story about stealing the fastest cars or busting the criminals, it’s about a team of specialists who see themselves as modern day heroes who rob the rich, the corrupt and the evil in the name of their family.
13. This gang of illegal drag street racers have been promoted to super secret government contractors
Over the course of the first seven films, our main cast of characters have had very peculiar careers. Paul Walker’s Brian O’ Connor started as an undercover LAPD officer promoted to FBI agent before eventually joining Vin Diesel’s band of wanted criminals. The duo became drug runners for the Mexican drug cartel before eventually becoming wanted for robbing the city of Rio. Their work in the Rio heist won the respect of Dwayne Johnson’s Agent Hobbs who recruited the team to out-heist a private military contractor in the U.K. By that point, their reputation had become so prestigious, Kurt Russel’s Mr. Nobody decided to recruit them to work for the CIA in Furious 7. That’s what we like to call upward mobility.
Very few characters in the history of fiction not named “Mario” have had such varied careers. Despite starting out as a series that followed the laws of gravity, the career evolution of these street level criminals is evidence that the franchise that left its roots in reality behind long ago and we’d argue it’s been for the better.
12. Fast Five and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson saved the series
The Fast and the Furious struggled for several films to find its niche. 2 Fast 2 Furious lacked the schlocky emotional draw Vin Diesel brought to the table and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift steered the series even further away from what fans wanted. The fourth film, Fast and Furious, finally put Paul Walker and Vin Diesel back in the drivers’ seats. The film was a big win for fans, but still lacked the energy and charisma it needed to hit proper summer blockbuster status. Enter Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for Fast Five.
Dwayne Johnson’s charm combined with a new direction brought a wholly fresh mainstream appeal to the series when it desperately needed a break. Fast Five marks a major shift in genre for the series. The first four films were styled more like B-action movies featuring slick car robbing bad guys. The fifth film was an Ocean’s Eleven style heist film that assembled the previous films’ best characters and put them in a room to do “one last job”. The change in gears matched with the new talent was the just what the series needed to ride all the way to wild success.
11. The Fate of the Furious is the first post-Paul Walker Film
If you’re new to The Fast and the Furious, you might not realize just how integral Paul Walker has been to the series. The rivalry turned bromance turned brotherhood between his character Brian O’ Connor and Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto is interwoven into the fabric of the series. Paul Walker passed away in a tragic car accident in 2013 just before production of Furious 7 wrapped. His brothers Caleb and Cody served as stand-ins for the remainder of his scenes. Furious 7 concluded with a very touching send-off that removed the character from the picture without killing him off.
The Fate of the Furious marks the beginning of a new post-Paul Walker era of the franchise. It’s hard to imagine how the series moves on without one of its key character dynamics that have so closely echoed the themes that have been present throughout the series. There will almost certainly be new character dynamics of the franchise to latch on to, but if the newest film is your first foray into the franchise, it’s important to note the important role Paul Walker had with the franchise thus far.
10. No matter the absurd premise, it’s all about the family
The selling point for the series may be its big dumb action, but underneath the absurd stunts, the crazy globetrotting and the silly plot twists is a theme that Vin Diesel’s Dominic Torretto won’t let you forget. It’s all about family. No, it’s about not about the adrenaline rush, the flirtatious super models, the over the top villains or the half-baked heist jobs. It’s all about the people Dom Toretto and Brian O’Connor allow into their lives for the next heist job.
Sure, it’s seems like a silly statement when looking at the series casually, but when you really start to peel away the spectacle, there’s a surprisingly touching portrayal of a surrogate family made up of people from all walks of life. With the exception of Dom’s sister Mia, the entire gang is made up mostly of loners who have found Dom through their life of crime. Sure, the idea is always articulated through “saying grace” right after the crew has leveled half a city and murdered dozens of people, but still it’s still full of the warm and fuzzies.
9. Skip the entries without Vin Diesel
As we’ve already noted, Paul Walker’s Brian O’ Connor was central to the heart of the series. Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto is the other side of that coin. Their relationship started with a cop and criminal dynamic and eventually grew into something more emotional. This key dynamic wasn’t initially apparent to the producers, which led to 2 Fast 2 Furious, a sequel starring Walker that attempted to create a new bromance with Tyrese Gibson’s Roman Pearce in Miami. The film is widely regarded as one of the lesser entries of the franchise and it lacked the appeal of the first film. Tyrese brought all sorts of charisma to the screen, but he was no Vin Diesel.
The next film, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, took the series even further away from this dynamic by introducing a whole new cast of characters in an entirely new setting. The main character played by Lucas Black was generally unlikable and the film killed off the fan favorite character, Han, before even reaching the climax. This entry was a bold experiment that attempted to take the series in a new direction, but sadly it fell flat on its face. Tokyo Drift might have been a wreck, but we can’t forget to mention Vin Diesel’s cameo at the end of the film that blew the lid off of the series’ continuity which takes us to our next important detail.
8. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift broke the timeline
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift might very well be the worst entry to the series, but when Vin Diesel cameoed at the end for a drag race against Lucas Black, fans lost their minds. Not only would this teaser take nearly a decade to payoff, but it also left fans scratching their heads when it wasn’t addressed in the following film, Fast and Furious. In fact, the next film also featured the beloved character Han as a supporting member of the cast. Without making a clear distinction, Fast and Furious became a prequel to Tokyo Drift.
Han reappeared as a core member of the cast in Fast Five and Furious 6. It wasn’t until the post-credits sequence of Furious 6 that we revisited the scene of Han’s death from Tokyo Drift when it was revealed that Jason Statham was the one who killed Han. In Furious 7, Vin Diesel visits Tokyo to further investigate Han’s death and brings the continuity full circle when he encounters Lucas Black in a street race. Confused much? So were fans from 2006 to 2015.
7. The characters are about as deep as the cast of Dragon Ball Z
As you’ve probably already gathered from the post so far, these V8 powered stories aren’t exactly Shakespeare and neither are the characters. Our leads, Brian O’Connor and Dominic Torreto are the quintessential bro-archetypes. Charming, smug and softies on the inside. The supporting cast? We’ve got Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty who plays a pretty flat lead lady. Jordana’s Brewster’s Mia is the typical damsel in distress, Sun Kang’s Han is the strong and silent type. Dwayne Johnson’s Agent Hobbs is essentially the hulk, the list goes on and on.
The cast of The Fast and the Furious series is full of charm, charisma and enough heart to be beloved, but that does not make any one of them deeper than the shallow end of the kiddy pool. They are basic archetypes played by performers who ooze charisma and can sell you a bad lines for breakfast. If The Fate of the Furious is your first film of the series, it’s important to know what to expect: characters that are about as deep as the cast of Dragon Ball Z.
6. No one in this series stays dead the first time
We’ve already mentioned the non-linear order of the series that allowed the films to keep Han alive for an additional three movie appearances, but he’s only one of many characters who don’t quite die, at least not the first time. Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty was killed off by the Mexican drug cartel in Fast and Furious before returning as one of Owen Shaw’s cronies in Furious 6. Shaw himself was blown up by a cargo plane before reappearing in a coma in the prologue to Furious 7.
Like the very best Saturday morning cartoons or even the hugely popular TV show Supernatural, nobody in these movies is really ever dead. With one of the series writers, Chris Morgan, teasing another potential return for Han after his second death, we’re left wondering who else the creative team plans to bring back in The Fate of the Furious or other future installments.
5. The series has five directors across eight movies
There have a been a number of talented filmmakers who have worked on The Fast and Furious series over the last sixteen years. Behind the scenes, players like producer Neal H. Moritz and writer Chris Morgan have been key to the series success, but no position has been more varied or skilled than those who have sat in the director’s chair. The first film was directed by action director Rob Cohen who immediately went on to direct XXX. He was replaced by the Four Brothers director, John Singleon, who was followed by the series MVP Justin Lin.
Justin Lin inherited the role of director in Tokyo Drift. Though the film wasn’t well received, his visual style was considered on of the film’s greatest strengths. He stuck with the series and honed his skills through the fourth entry and really had the opportunity to flex his muscles in the film that really brought the series to mainstream success, Fast Five. Lin took one last ride in his series swan song, Furious 6 before passing the mantle over to the acclaimed horror director of Saw, James Wan, for Furious 7. Given his more recent successes of The Conjuring and Insidious, Wan seemed to be a strange choice. Despite the wild financial and critical success of Furious 7, Wan decided to leave the series to pursue The Conjuring 2. After seeing his work on Straight out of Compton, Universal decided to put F. Gary Gray in the director’s seat for the latest entry, The Fate of the Furious.
4. Every bad guy is better than the one that come before
In 2017, it’s not a real blockbuster experience if you don’t have a great bad guy. While the earlier entries of the series lack memorable villains, the more recent films have started throwing money at high profile action stars to come in and chew the scenery. Luke Evans (who just hit another home run as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast) started the trend in Furious 6 as a Machiavellian mastermind whose scheme involved stealing a computer chip and selling it to the black market. The bar was raised even higher when Jason Statham was brought in to play a brutal force of death and destruction in Furious 7. He leveled entire buildings, fought Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson mano-a-mano and even recruited Tony Jaa to do some of his dirty work.
The Fate of the Furious looks like it will continue that trend by bringing in Imperator Furiosa herself, Charize Theron, to face off against Dominic Torretto and his merry band of government contractors. And she’s not alone. If casting news is to be believed, none other than Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) will be her right hand man. Like James Bond before it, The Fast and the Furious movies must each have their very own baddies more ridiculous than the one that came before.
3. The practical stunts continue to transcend imagination
We’ve become so inundated with big summer blockbuster spectaculars that we often forget to sit back and admire the beauty of a masterfully executed action sequence. Through all of its highs and lows, The Fast and the Furious series has consistently raised the bar when it comes to unbelievably imaginative and well executed set pieces. In the first film, they jumped a train track. In the third movie, they drifted through the crowded streets of Tokyo. By the fifth film they were dragging giant safes through the streets of Rio de Janeiro and in the seventh film the team was parachuting their cars out of a cargo plane onto the Caucasus mountainside. What’s more impressive? Most of the biggest stunts are done practically. These stunt coordinators aren’t just creative wizards, they are absolutely insane.
With the series about to release its eighth film, we’ve all been wondering just how they can keep breaking new ground before they are eventually forced to commit the cardinal sin of plot stupidity by sending the team into space or back in time. Until that time comes, you better make to strap in.
2. The Fast and Furious gang have leveled cities all over the globe
The continued mainstream appeal of the series does not stop with the brilliant action sequences. The films also feature locations around the world like Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, Miami, Mexico City, The Dominican Republic, Rio de Janeiro, and Dubai among many other exotic locations. The locales might not be the the first thing you think of with this series, but there’s no denying the varying geography of each film makes for a number of unique stunts.
The success of the films has largely been thanks to its overseas appeal. The last film, Furious 7, made more than $1.16 billion overseas. It’s clear that with each passing location included, the audience grows. The films may have hit many of the world’s biggest cities already, but New York debuting in The Fate of the Furious is only evidence that there’s still some mileage left in exploring the world.
1. The Fast and Furious Series is Hollywood’s Most Diverse Blockbuster
The Fast and the Furious franchise may be as dumb as they come, over-indulgent, and often pathetically sappy. But it’s very important not to forget one of the films’ most important contributions to pop culture: their diversity. It’s hard to say if the mix of gender and ethnicity among its main cast was intentional from the start, but there’s no denying that the sequels have continued the tradition of bringing filmmakers of all races and nationalities into the mix at some point or another. This applies to the people both on and off camera.
We’re living in a time where there is a bigger emphasis on representation than ever before and most agree that it’s important to bring together a variety of voices to tell a well-rounded story. Let’s not forget that films like The Fast and the Furious paved the way for the next more diverse generation of filmmakers to have their stories told.
Are you a newcomer to The Fast and the Furious series with questions? Or maybe you are a series veteran with a few other tips for newcomers. Let us know by posting in the comments!