In 2001 a street racing film called The Fast and the Furious was released. Some critics liked it, but really it was the support of its target market, a demographic that isn’t often played to, that created buzz and caused it to be a success. By the time it left cinemas, it had made more than $200 million, and it had been made for a modest $38 million. With these numbers, a sequel was inevitable.
A short two years later, 2 Fast 2 Furious was released, and it was the best uses of numbers in place of letters or words in a film title since Se7en (sorry Tak3n). Vin Diesel was out and… Tyrese Gibson was in. Great choice? Once again, casting Tyrese Gibson might not have appealed to many film fans, but it definitely appealed to the target demographic of this film. The loss of the first Vin Diesel clearly didn’t have much of an effect on the marketing of the film, as 2 Fast 2 Furious made even more money than the first installment in the franchise, with a worldwide total a little over $235 million. The budget was significantly higher at $76 million, but that’s still a solid profit margin. There was one problem however. A lot fewer people liked 2 Fast 2 Furious than like part 1. Still, the film industry is all about money, so on to part three!
Three years later, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift hit cinemas. Another film, another actor from the original gone. This time Paul Walker decided not to return (oh, and Tyrese Gibson), meaning the cast had now gone through a complete overhaul since the first film. Just for the record, I am aware that Vin Diesel has a cameo in Tokyo Drift, but I’m not counting that as it was just a nod to fans and not an important part of the film. It couldn’t really be used in the marketing, so his appearance wouldn’t bring anybody out to see the film (remember this for later). Before release, there was a general feeling that this was the last film in the franchise, or at least the last one to not be condemned to a straight to a DVD release. Even though Tokyo drift was slight better received than 2 Fast 2 Furious, and better received by fans of the franchise, it was by far the least successful financially. It was made for $85 million, the biggest budget for the franchise yet, and made $158 million worldwide. Even with marketing and everything else considered, the film still made money, but now there was a problem. Financially, the films were on a downward trajectory, and the last two films in the franchise hadn’t been very well received. These are two huge warning signs for any franchise. Couple that with the fact that, at that time, most film series’ would get a trilogy and that would be the end, it was going to take something special for a fourth installment to get made…
‘New model, original parts’. That tagline pretty much said everything you need to know, as Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez (who had also been missing since part one) were all back. Even though it still wasn’t hugely well received, Fast and Furious somehow revived this franchise, and there are two reasons for this. The first was the returning cast, but the second is much more interesting. From the moment the first trailer was released, it was obvious that the franchise was changing. Tokyo Drift had focused so much on street racing, and it hadn’t worked, so the film was now going to focus on ridiculous, over the top action, featuring cars. And it worked. It ended up making $363 million worldwide, significantly more than any other film in the series. So, suddenly Fast Five was on the cards, and people were actually excited.
The next two installments, Fast Five and Fast and Furious 6 did basically the same thing. They embraced the new direction, and so did audiences. These films went on to make $626 million and $788 million worldwide, as well as being increasingly well received by critics and audiences. Also, The Rock, he helps everything. Furious 7 just had a huge opening weekend, making $143 in three days in North America, almost as much as Tokyo Drift’s worldwide total. So how did that little racing film from 2001 become one of the biggest franchises today? It completely abandoned almost everything that it started out as. What other franchise has recently done this? James Bond, the longest running franchise of all time, and one of the most successful. Could The Fast and the Furious become the new Bond franchise? Maybe, probably not, but it has shown us that any franchise can be revived, as long as the right steps are taken.
What do you think about The Fast and the Furious franchise? Which franchise do you think could be next? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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