There are few franchises that sum up the current state of studio filmmaking better than The Fast and the Furious. Or Fast & Furious. Or just Furious. Or just Fast. Whatever it goes by, it has grown larger as it shed conjunctions and adjectives.
Now it’s the poster child of studio success beyond comic books. It’s action-and-ridiculousness-based filmmaking with a diverse cast offering global appeal and a sense of the familiar mixed with an ever-upped ante (“We’re gonna need a C17 and some cars to throw out of it. Good? By Tuesday? Thanks.”)
It’s also a zombie franchise that came back from the death of diminishing returns – a series of films that arguably came at the tail end of modern sequel syndrome by proving you could re-energize a stale story in the fourth outing. Convenient wisdom up until that point was that you milked a franchise until it was dry, maybe released a direct-to-video flick on the cheap, then called it a day.
Fast & Furious (the fourth one) was a miracle movie that bucked that trend. It makes no sense that producer Neil H. Moritz was able to convince Universal to toss another $85m into the series after a movie where Lil Bow Wow plays a character named Twinkie failed to connect both critically and commercially. In olden times that would have been the dishonorable end to a wild ride that the original cast bailed on before it got bumpy, but in 2008 studios were just figuring out how powerful IP and name recognition could be.
Obviously a wizard, Moritz converted the success of Fast & Furious into a fifth installment that solidified the series as a genuine international phenomenon along with Paul Walker, Vin Diesel and a growing family.
So here we are, seven movies deep, with Diesel promising only three more before they close up the auto shop for good. In a post to his Facebook page, he assured fans that they haven’t chosen a director yet, and that they’re taking their time to find the right fit. He also included this nugget:
I promised the studio I would deliver one last Trilogy to end the saga.
If this is the modern era of studios announcing sequels before opening weekend, Fast and Furious represents a studio and set of filmmakers with the wind firmly at their backs. To put this quote into context, Diesel promised Universal that they could spend another $550m chasing another $3b before he retires to the planet Furya. He’s also telling fans who gave the last movie $1.5b that there are several more to come.
None of this, theoretically, is contingent on the success of the next film or the next. And, really, why would it need to be? As long as they send out a tweet on the week Fast 8 gets released, it’ll see another huge box office, and if it only makes a billion this time the whole team can shake their heads while writing down what they think went wrong on sheets of paper made from gold and endangered animals.
In other words, even with the old model of diminishing sequel returns, Fast and Furious is at the crest of a tidal wave with absolutely nothing to lose. In the era of Marvel and DC slates running through infinity, this is our new normal. With an average of two years between Fast films, Diesel has effectively announced Fast 8, Furious 9 and Faster and Furiouser X for 2017, 2018 and 2021. Another superhero and his crew.
After that it’ll be up to Universal whether continuing without Diesel (and, of course, as of Fast 8, Walker) is worth putting more fuel in the tank. If they do, the franchise will firmly fuse a century-old serial filmmaking model (from Keystone Kops to The Pink Panther to Friday the 13th) with a modern budget scale. Like The Marx Brothers needing $180m to make Duck Soup.
There’s still something a little absurd about promising three more final rides, but it’s at least possible that we’ll see more movies after that, playing the odds until the returns diminish into oblivion.
And then we get the reboot.