Fast & Furious, A Never-Ending Franchise?

A film is an audio-visual narration of a story; a series of motion pictures combined with a soundtrack and dialogues for recreational or educational purposes. Often, it is seen as a way to escape reality for a few hours; immersing oneself into the events taking place in a different, fictional realm. For the purpose of such entertainment, there are several genres that cater to every individual’s unique taste and preference. One such genre is thriller-action; a category in which one of the most successful and prominent players in the Fast and Furious franchise. The series began its journey in June 2001 and has since produced seven installments, with the latest premiering in April 2015. Furthermore, the franchise announced on February 2016 that three more films are slated to be produced by 2021, bringing up the total number of installments to ten over a span of two decades.

By achieving this, the Fast and Furious franchise will become the first non-horror franchise in modern cinematic history to have produced more than seven explicitly connected tales in one long cinematic series. When comparing this franchise to others, it can be observed that where the following for other franchises has slowly dwindled, the Fast and Furious series has not only managed to retain its original fame; it has also managed to swell the numbers of its audience, the proof of which is illustrated by the massive box office success of each installment. This long-running success and viral popularity of the franchise can, thus, be attributed to its ability to capture and hold the attention of its audience throughout the fifteen years of its initial debut. In fact, the financial success of the Fast and Furious franchise coupled with its ever expanding storylines and carefully choreographed stunts, is predicted to continue attracting vast fan following; hence making production of future installments seem inevitable.

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Fast and Furious initially entered the field of cinema in June 2001. Set in the street racing world of Los Angeles, the first movie revolved around undercover LAPD officer Brian O’Conner’s assignment to find the perpetrators of a series of semi-truck hijacks; an assignment that culminates in his involvement with street racer Dominic Toretto’s crew. This involvement would grow to become one of the focal points of the franchise as it progresses to showcase various situations the crew finds itself in. The second installment shows Brian working to arrest a drug dealer in Miami. The third installment deviates from the main storyline as it takes the audience to the drift racing scenes of Tokyo, accompanied by completely new characters. The franchise soon returns to the original crew in the fifth installment where the protagonists find themselves planning and executing a heist in Brazil while simultaneously evading law enforcement authorities. The sixth and seventh installments follow the characters working under these authorities to combat local and global terrorists while dealing with the changing dynamics of the crew as well.

Although the primary purpose of a movie is to entertain the audience; for the producers and the creators, movie production is a business. Ravid explains this by drawing a comparison between the cinematic industry and any other business endeavors such as introducing a new product line or a new restaurant (464). Often described as a global entertainment juggernaut (Erbland), the Fast and Furious franchise has proved itself to be one of the most successful and profitable franchises for its owner, Universal Studios. When the first film entered the cinemas in June 2001, it was not expected to have a large impact on the film industry. Contrary to this prediction, as well as the negative reviews with which the film was received by critics, the movie became a box office hit; generating total revenue of $207 million. Since this first installment, the franchise has steadily climbed higher on the box office ladder; each successive movie bringing in a profit larger than its predecessor with its seventh and latest installment attaining a box office gross of $1.2 billion, becoming the sixth highest-grossing film of all time.

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Throughout the decade of its screening, the franchise has garnered total global revenue of $3.9 billion; more than five times the cost of production. The continued financial success of the franchise has been attributed to sundry factors, one the most important of which is the extensive portrayal of the non-White population. This depiction is considered by many as an alluring feature of the movies, which help swell the number of the audience and hence generates more profit for the producers. Whatever the reasons may be, the financial success of the movies has become one of the largest in cinematic history. The profit being made by the franchise is not limited to the box office success of the film. The franchise has expanded to include in its portfolio, several merchandising endeavors.

Such ventures include the several racing video games arcade game The Fast and the Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Pink SlipFast & FuriousFast FiveFast & Furious: Adrenaline. Elements of the franchise have also been incorporated by the Universal Studios in its theme park attraction; the Studio Tour. These various business undertakings have added significantly to the generated profit by the franchise. This monetary success enjoyed by the franchise, in turn, has had a significant contribution in propagating the idea for production of further sequels. The franchise has established itself a massive, devoted fan base. The producers capitalize on this following to further escalate their own profits. Keeping in mind the financial success, one can observe how the producers will be eager to expand the franchise, particularly the film installments; which after all are the major source of continually increasing the income of the franchise.

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While the financial success is a driving force in the production of the sequels, the ultimate reason for the possibility of novel sequels is the approach the franchise adapts when creating its storylines. A storyline of a movie is explained by Field thus: “(the writers) have to set up your characters, introduce the dramatic premise (what the story is about) and the dramatic situation (the circumstances surrounding the action), create obstacles for your characters to confront and overcome, then resolve the story” (3). The franchise applies this formula in the plot of each successive film as well as in the overall narrative of the franchise. This feat is accomplished by the series following the progression of the crew through a sequence of endeavors, with each particular venture connected to those showcased in the previous installments.

The film series evolves from mere car races to elaborate heists, as Kate Erbland of Film School Rejects argues, “the first trilogy was about racing, the second was about heists, and now we’re moving into espionage territory”. This approach would be described by psychology Professor Cutting as ‘good storytelling (in the films)’, a term he defines as ‘balancing of constraints at multiple scales of presentation’ (437). The expansion of the franchise is not limited to merely genre; it also includes the constant influx of new characters and backdrops. Several new characters are inducted into the crew to face each new succeeding antagonist. The villains themselves are representatives of the higher level on which the protagonists are working; the opposition in the first installment was the local gangs and police and parallel to this the antagonists in the seventh installment are global terrorists.

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At the same time, however, the characters remain connected to one another and to other parts of the franchise in a variety of ways. An important illustration of this continuity is the introduction of the villain Deckard Shaw in the seventh installment, who comes seeking vengeance for the death of his brother at the hands of the crew in the sixth installment. The character of ‘Mr. Nobody’, for instance, introduced at the beginning of the seventh installment was created as a major role for multiple subsequent films. Similarly, there is a constant change in the landscape of the movies; ranging from the streets and garages of Los Angeles to Brazil to Dubai, a new backdrop is presented for each film.

These transitions again, are not depicted as isolated incidents; instead, they are a consequence of the chain events already showcased in the movies. The crux of this discussion is to explain and illustrate the continuity of the series. Screenwriter Chris Morgan summarizes this; “It’s the world that we’re building, and even when you’re not paying attention to it, it’s evolving” (and Yamato). The storylines of each installment are constantly evolving, taking the crew to higher levels of activity. Yet each evolution is not only connected to others by virtue of the storylines as well as the characters portraying the storylines; it also provides fodder for the creation of new plots and characters. These metaphorical open spaces for the creators and writers make it possible for the franchise to further expand itself, continuing to produce more installments.

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However elaborate and expensive the storylines might be, the franchise is ultimately a distinguished player in its industry because of the progressively ludicrous and novel stunt sequences; sequences that have successfully pushed the franchise a long time. When the first installment came on to the cinema screen, it was hailed as ‘high-octane hot-car meller (that is) is a true rarity these days’ (McCarthy). This is a reputation the franchise has remained loyal to through the years of its production. These stunts have claimed high praise from movie critics, which command the choreography and direction of these acts which help carry the plot of the movie forward (Wloszczyna) and help inject new life into a new franchise (Rotten Tomatoes). These sequences, however, are not static; they run parallel to the evolution observed in the storylines.

The relatively simple stunts of car races and gang fights shown in the first installment, morph steadily into complex and extensive action sequences; from the elaborate heist in Fast Five to the ejection of cars from an airplane in midst of its flight in Furious 7. Clover describes these stunts of Furious 7, as the directors successfully tapping into the “demographic niche of “tuner” culture: auto-modders proliferating in the fetishized end game of Fordism” (7). With the passage of time Hollywood has produced several movies for the action-thriller genre. In this plethora of cinematic production, there are certain formulaic action stunt sequences that have been reused to such an extent that they begin to appear redundant to the audience; losing their adrenaline fueled appeal.

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Amongst such redundancy, however, the Fast and Furious stands out with its knack of presenting fresh stunts for their audience; whether it is an aerial translocation of a vehicle from one building to another or elaborate chase sequences in the compact streets of Los Angeles and Tokyo. The stunts are not limited to involvement of auto vehicles; the film is known for the dramatic hand-to-hand combat scenes it choreography, an example of which is the fight sequence between the characters of Letty and Elena in the fifth installment. A distinct characteristic of the action sequences lies in the execution of these stunts. Most of the stunts have been produced in real time and have not been created as a mere digital illusion; the equipment used to execute them has been required to be removed via CGI.

Without this, such stunts that seem to be toying idly with the laws of physics (The Telegraph) could not have been made possible (Cram 171). Elaborate stunts have become the trademark of the Fast and Furious franchise; an aspect that has led to the viral popularity of the movies. The massive fan following has come to expect such ludicrous stunts from the franchise, the likes of which are not to be found in any other cinematic production. As long as the latest installment successfully delivers such an adrenaline rush via a novel and innovative stunts, there will always be a demand for a successor to the franchise.

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Despite these unconventional stunt sequences, a commonly understood belief is that gradually, interest in the films will abate, causing the franchise to eventually end.  The perceived demographic of the audience of the movies is strictly limited to ‘screaming adolescents, and young men who feel the need for speed’ (Clinton). The proof of this is often cited in the abundance of scantily clad women who make appearances in each installment. Apart from this gender discrimination, the series is also noted to perpetuate racial stereotypes. This observation finds its roots in the street races being held and controlled by a non-white population who also play a huge role in the gang fights being shown in the films.

Although these flaws are present in the installments, it must be noted that the series strives to rid itself of these stereotypes in a variety of ways. Most of the movies being produced at the time of the release of the first installment were shunned by the non-White population because of the image these movies projected of their society; stereotyped violent criminals whose singular purpose would be to cause strife in the society (Beltran 51). The intelligent character of Tej Parker, a colored individual introduced firstly in the second installment possesses vast and in-depth knowledge of intricate mechanical operations surpass those of even the most qualified personnel (sixth installment) which defy the aforementioned perception.

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A closer analysis of each of the different characters can thus be “interpreted as a reflection and celebration of the increasing cultural diversity in the nation” (Beltran 64). The representation of no white characters has only increased with each installment, helping to draw in the interest of the no white population, with a huge 75% of the seventh installment’s premiere audience being composed of a non-White population; 37% Hispanics, 24% African-American and 10% Asian (Pallotta). Similarly, there have been several female characters that have shattered stereotypes. A prominent example of this is the character of Letty. Debuting in the first installment, Letty was established as a strong individual who did not depend on anyone for support or protection possessing phenomenal driving skills and hand-to-hand combat expertise.

Moreover, she defied the conventional role of a ‘damsel-in-distress’ in the sixth installment where she refused the help of Dominic, ultimately choosing to pave her path on her own terms. Letty has been accompanied by empowered by female characters including Gisele Yashar, Monica Fuentes, and Riley Hicks. The depiction of such characters has helped generate interests for the franchise in the female population as well, with Pallotta reporting that 49% of the seventh installment’s constituted of females. The constant representation of such characters, which send out strong messages of empowerment and equality, has played a major role in the success of the films. In fact, the presence of these diverse characters has become a trademark for the films, helping the franchise gain popularity in all parts of the globe and ensuring its continued success with all segments of a cinematic audience.

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The Fast and Furious franchise has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Born in the throes of narrow streets and seedy car racing, it has evolved into a massive realm of its own, with strong, alluring characters, ever-evolving story lines and adrenaline filled borderline ludicrous stunts. Such characteristics and features are unique only to this particular franchise, helping it to differentiate itself in the deluge of Hollywood movies, generating millions as profit in the process. The world it has built spans over seven installments over a period of fifteen years; an accomplishment the first of its kind in cinematic history. The studio’s announcement to create three more installments in the foreseeable future illustrates the momentum with which the franchise is moving forward, a momentum that shows no signs of stopping and makes the production of further installments seem all the more inevitable.


Works Cited

Beltran, Mary C. “The New Hollywood Racelessness: Only the Fast, Furious, (and Multiracial) Will Survive.” Cinema Journal 44.2 (2005): 50-67. Web.

“Box Office History for Fast and the Furious Movies.” Fast and the Furious Franchise Box Office History – The Numbers. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2016.

Clinton, Paul. “Review: ‘Fast and Furious’ Runs on Empty.” CNN. Cable News Network, 22 June 2001. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

Cram, Christopher. “Digital Cinema: the Role of the Visual Effects Supervisor”.  Film History. 24.2 (2012): 169-186. Web.

Cutting, J. E., J. E. Delong, and C. E. Nothelfer. “Attention and the Evolution of Hollywood Film.” Psychological Science 21.3 (2010): 432-39. Print.

Erbland, Kate. “Where Will The Fast and Furious Franchise Go Next?” Film School Rejects. N.p., 02 May 2016. Web. 18 Dec. 2016.

Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. New York: Dell Pub., 1979. Print.

McCarthy, Todd. “Review: ‘The Fast and the Furious’.” Variety. N.p., 21 June 2001. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.

Pallotta, Frank. “How Diversity Is Driving ‘Furious 7’ Box Office Success.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 7 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

Ravid, Abraham S., “Information, Blockbusters, and Stars: A Study of the Film Industry.” The Journal of Business 72.4 (1999): 463-92. Web.

Robey, Tim (May 3, 2011). “Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist, review”. The Daily Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group. Web. 20 Dec. 2016

Scott, A. O. “Review: In ‘Furious 7,’ a Franchise Continues to Roar.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 1 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

Wloszczyna, Susan. USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 26 June 2001. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.

Yamato, Jen. “How ‘The Fast and the Furious’ Took Over the World.” The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.


Feature Image Credits: Wallpaper Made

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