The Massive Staying Power of ‘The Fast and the Furious’

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in The Fast and the Furious

The Fast and Furious | Source: Universal

It’s tough for any franchise to stick around for over a decade. Nowadays, unless it’s based on a comic book hero, odds are it’ll die after one bad opening weekend at the box office. The Fast and the Furious, though, represents an odd break from that trend. The non-superhero franchises that have survived the test of time include Mission Impossible, Terminator, Alien, and Star Wars. All of these either began with a sci-fi masterpiece, or in the case of Mission Impossible, were based on a popular TV show. The Fast and the Furious was born as the street-racing equivalent of Point Break and somehow became one of the most lucrative franchises in the world 10-plus years after the fact.

What is it exactly that’s kept a series of movies about cars alive for 15 years? At the box office, each successive movie has made more than the one directly before, both here in the U.S. and abroad. It’s abroad though where The Fast and the Furious has gained the most steam. Furious 7 alone made a whopping $390 million in China alone, with a combined foreign gross of $1.16 billion. Here in the States, it made a small fraction of that ($351 million), showing that this franchise is no longer being made just for us.

For the same reason that Transformers is still around, The Fast and the Furious has a seemingly nonexistent expiration date. We’re now at the point where China could keep the series alive all by itself. For whatever reason, the international appeal of the franchise is sky high, as more and more people flock to theaters for every subsequent release. With a United States box office haul that totaled a paltry 23% for the last installment, it’s a collection of films that no longer depends on the country responsible for creating it in the first place.

It’s not simply the wide appeal that’s kept The Fast and the Furious afloat for all these years. Thematically, we have a franchise that’s never strayed far from its core feel. Rather, it’s stayed safely within the confines of what made the original so much fun to begin with: action and cars. Each movie has ramped up the special effects, culminating in insane stunts that leave the collective jaws of audiences on the floor. Anytime jumping a car out of a skyscraper into another skyscraper is something that makes sense in the greater creative scheme, you know you have something special.

On top of all this, the franchise has handled each of its characters with careful expertise. There’s no denying that the films are short on true substance, but across its cast, we don’t simply see action movie archetypes. This is especially true for the treatment of its main female cast members, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster. Both are given significant characterizations far beyond the “eye candy” role that most women in the action genre are relegated to. Combined with the ethnically diverse casting, it’s surprisingly one of the most progressive action franchises out there right now.

The staying power of The Fast and the Furious is only gaining more momentum. Vin Diesel has come out and said the next three films (8, 9, and 10) will be the final installments, but take that with a grain of salt. Hollywood is nothing if not persistent in keeping lucrative franchises alive, and you can bet that this one won’t die easy. As long as the whole world is filling seats on opening weekend, expect more from Diesel and company.

All box office numbers pulled from Box Office Mojo.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest

More from Entertainment Cheat Sheet: