With a $788 million box office gross worldwide, Fast and Furious 6 not only continued the upward box office trajectory of the franchise, but coupled with the high grosses of Fast Five that the sixth film had managed to eclipse, also cemented the series as a major Hollywood contender. The success of the sixth film meant that a seventh film was a certainty, but a major behind the scenes change and tragic circumstances were about to alter the course of the series.
With Universal pushing for an accelerated production schedule for the seventh film, director Justin Lin, who had been directing each instalment ever since the third film, opted to step down, meaning that a new director was needed. In a surprise move, James Wan stepped in. Better known for his work in the horror genre, having directed Saw, and Insidious, Wan had made major waves with his work on The Conjuring, a highly profitable horror film that was about to become a major franchise for Warner Bros and its offshoot New Line Cinema, while Saw had led to an eight-film series.
Fast & Furious 6 had ended with a cameo appearance from Jason Statham as Sebastian Shaw, brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), looking for vengeance on Toretto and the ‘family’ for the events of the sixth film. With the timeline of the series now having finally caught up with the events of Tokyo Drift, Furious 7 would be the first in the series since that film that Sung Kang wouldn’t be appearing in outside of archival footage. It would also be the first in the series since the fourth film to make the trip back to Los Angeles, with Toretto and his crew finally making it back home since the events of Fast & Furious.
Unfortunately, tragedy would strike halfway through filming when Paul Walker was killed in a car accident before filming was completed. The film’s projected release date of the summer of 2014, just over a year after the release of Furious 6, was put back a year for understandable reasons. Paul Walker’s brothers and digital trickery meant that the film was able to be completed, but it meant that its April 2015 release was an incredibly emotional and bittersweet one, with many critics and commentators wondering how the franchise would write the character of Brian O’Conner out of the series.
Known for its high-octane action and outlandish set pieces, with the seventh film featuring a freefall sequence involving a plethora of fast cars that is worth the price of admission alone, it’s the final moments involving O’Conner and his touching goodbye to Toretto that is surprisingly emotional. For a series that sometimes feels like it belongs in the output of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay, writer Chris Morgan and director Wan miraculously managed to have cinemagoers crying buckets in the film’s final moments, with a touching goodbye shared between the two characters who had started the franchise, all set to ‘See You Again’ by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth.
An incredibly emotional moment, it marked a point of emotional maturity for the series. The film would not only outgross Fast & Furious 6, but it would also become the first of the series to hit over a billion dollars in worldwide box office grosses, meaning that an eighth film was a virtual guarantee, and placing the series into the realm of box office smashing modern-day franchises such as Marvel, Star Wars and Jurassic Park/World.
Like clockwork, the next film appeared in multiplexes two years later, this time with F. Gary Gray behind the camera and another script courtesy of Chris Morgan. The bulk of the cast from the previous film returned once again, with a high profile newcomer in Charlize Theron joining the franchise as new antagonist Cipher.
READ MORE: The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead – Review
The film would double down on upping the personal stakes for the characters, with Toretto coerced into working against his team, and all of the series’ characteristic spectacular action, with the film making glorious use of a nuclear submarine for its final set-piece.
Reviews were, as always, mixed, with some justifiable criticism of the film’s treatment of its female characters, with Elena (Elsa Pataky) effectively being killed in order to up the emotional stakes for Dom in the final stretches of the film – another example of the ‘women in refrigerator’ trope in the series, but once again audiences showed up in droves. While it wouldn’t outgross Furious 7, it still managed to crack over a billion dollars with a final worldwide box office gross of $1.239 billion, indicating that the box office gross of Furious 7 was no fluke and the series was now in the realm of the big hitters.
With a spin-off now on the way in the shape of Hobbs and Shaw, not only has The Fast and the Furious joined the ranks of the biggest box office franchises in the world, it’s now set to spin-off in much the same way that Marvel and Star Wars have done in the past few years. It’s not enough to be a franchise anymore unless you have spin-offs to go alongside.
In many ways it makes sense; Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are two of the biggest action stars in the world working today and both were high profile additions to the series when they showed up, not to mention both were antagonists when they first appeared and very quickly became part of the ‘family’ at the heart of the series. Statham’s character of Shaw effectively goes from trying to kill Toretto to being his friend in the space of a movie.
The box office trajectory and the developing popularity of the series will be something that will ensure the Fast and the Furious franchise is written about for years to come, essentially beginning with a ‘Point Break with cars’ thriller and turning into one of the most popular movie franchises in the world. With its diverse cast that isn’t a surprise; at a time when audiences are clamouring for more diversity in their casts and media, the Fast and the Furious franchise has never been one to rely on solely white characters, with a cast made up of different races, backgrounds and genders, and has emerged at a time when audiences want characters who are more indicative of how the world really looks.
Coupled that with high-octane stunts, preposterous twists, and a sentimental depiction of ‘family’, audiences have taken the series to their hearts. And with films 9 and 10 already in the works, it’s going to be all about ‘family’ for a few more years yet.