In the early 2000s, the tuning subculture was just another leg of urban society. As a mode of expression that sometimes crossed the line of the law, it became a symbol of the working class and the class struggle. From this subculture were born all kinds of products to match: the video games Need for Speed or the movie Yo soy la Juani were key examples.
But there was a release in 2001 that would turn tuning, car racing and driving into something much less circumstantial than it had been up to that point: Fast and Furious. Released as a small action movie of the kind that worked so well at the time – The Transporter, for example, was released a year later – the film simply wanted to appeal to the young people who were so attracted to this phenomenon.
However, it soon became so much more. From being a circumstantial action movie it became a brand, and from being a brand it became one of the most profitable franchises in the history of cinema. That’s how, with its own icons, language and overdose of action, Fast and Furious went on to conquer the world.
Full throttle: the origin of the legend
The origin of Fast and Furious lies with screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson. After writing minor films such as K-911 and Split Second in the nineties, the writer presented Universal Pictures with the idea of making a film about the street racing that had become so fashionable. His idea was to have a multi-racial cast and a soundtrack full of hip-hop and electronic music, mixing everything that was cool at the time to be a sure winner.
Universal greenlit the project with Rob Cohen (XXX, Dragonheart) as director. With a budget of around $38 million, an average but functional price tag for a film of these characteristics, the film was far from wanting to blow up the box office: with being an average commercial success, they were satisfied.
However, the chemistry between Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto) and Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner) was automatic, and people flocked to the theaters, causing the film to gross over $200 million. The Fast and the Furious told the story of Dominic Toretto, the leader of a gang of street racers in Los Angeles. Brian O’Conner, an undercover police officer, infiltrates Toretto’s group to investigate a series of truck thefts. But the plot soon changes when he discovers that not everything is as black and white as it seems.
The film included other stars such as Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, Toretto’s girlfriend, and Jordana Brewster as Mia, Toretto’s sister and O’Conner’s love interest. During production, the film faced some challenges, including the need to create special effects for the racing scenes and the logistics of filming in public locations. There were also some tensions between director Rob Cohen and actor Vin Diesel, who had creative differences over the interpretation of Toretto’s character.
However, the surprise box office success was met with horrendous reviews. Critics couldn’t stand for such a film to succeed, and it became a classic for the Fast and Furious saga. Of course, it was clear that it had to become more than just a single film.
A saga that continues to grow
The second film, 2 Fast 2 Furious, was released in 2003 and was directed by John Singleton. The plot follows Brian O’Conner after he has been kicked out of the police force and teams up with a childhood friend to infiltrate a criminal organization. The film was a box office success despite the absence of Vin Diesel, but the saga still had several lurches to go before it found its own path.
After a two-year hiatus, the franchise returned with The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift in 2006, directed by Justin Lin before he became the franchise’s regular director. This time, the plot followed a teenager named Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) who is sent to Japan after being arrested for street racing. There, he is introduced to the world of drifting and is pitted against a local racer named Takashi (Brian Tee).
Without Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, the film was a box office failure compared to the two previous films, although it proved to be a success in international markets. But this film made it clear that the saga had to pick up where the first film left off, and everything changed again with the fourth film.
Fast & Furious (2009), the fourth installment, finally saw the return of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker to the franchise. The plot follows Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Conner as they work together to take down a Mexican drug lord. The film was a box office hit and grossed over $360 million worldwide. It was clear that they were meant to be the stars… and that the saga was more alive than ever.
From this point on, three releases followed that only made the legend bigger. Fast Five (2011) followed Toretto and his gang as they team up with an ex-cop named Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to rob a bank in Brazil. The film received positive reviews and was a huge box office success, grossing over $626 million worldwide. Hobbs, in fact, was so famous that he would end up starring in his own movie as part of the saga after Johnson had differences with Diesel.
The sixth film, Fast & Furious 6, was released in 2013 and was again directed by Justin Lin. The plot follows Toretto and his gang as they work with Hobbs to stop a team of racers led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). The film received positive reviews and was another box office success, grossing over $788 million worldwide. The saga went from strength to strength… but something would happen that would change it forever.
Paul Walker and the importance of family
In 2015, Furious 7 was released, directed by James Wan. The film follows Toretto and his gang as they confront Shaw’s brother Deckard (Jason Statham) after he seeks revenge for what happened to his brother. The film achieved an incredible record: more than $1.5 billion worldwide. But the secret of its success was in the tragedy.
Paul Walker, who starred alongside Diesel in the saga, was killed in a car accident before filming was completed. Production on the film was temporarily halted, and visual effects techniques and the help of Walker’s brothers as stuntmen were used to complete the film. But suddenly the saga became something else: it was a matter of justice that it would succeed.
In a 2015 interview, Vin Diesel talked about the importance of family in the franchise and how the loss of Paul Walker had strengthened that bond: “I think what’s kept us going is the love and the passion that we share with Paul. And that’s what really drives this franchise. It’s a tribute to Paul, but it’s also a tribute to the family we’ve built over the years.”
Something like that would add director F. Gary Gray when asked about the saga in 2017: “For us, the film is not about crime or street racing. It’s about family and the relationships that are built around a passion for cars and speed.”
The end of the legend
After the tragic loss of Paul Walker, the franchise took a break before returning with The Fate of the Furious in 2017, directed by F. Gary Gray. The plot follows Toretto as he betrays his team to work with a terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron). The film received mixed reviews, but was another box office success, grossing more than $1.2 billion worldwide.
With the memory of Walker in the memory, Diesel decided to focus the saga much more on the family and all that it represented, and it is something that has been maintained in the rest of the releases. In 2021, the saga continued with F9, again directed by Justin Lin. The plot follows Toretto and his team as they confront his long-lost brother, Jakob (John Cena). The film received mixed reviews and was somewhat less successful than the previous films (700 million grossed) due to the pandemic.
Now, with Fast X, the Toretto family is looking to enhance themselves once again with a film that continues to pay homage to Walker and all that Fast and Furious stands for. Of course, with the signing of Jason Momoa it looks like they’re going to surprise us with more explosions, racing and action than ever before.
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