First released 20 years ago this month, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious is a film that should have been consigned to the big screen scrapheap. Made for just $38 million, the movie about muscle-clad stars in muscle cars wasn’t exactly adored by critics (it currently holds only a 53 per cent fresh rating on movies aggregator Rotten Tomatoes), but fans loved it.


Two decades later The Fast and the Furious has spawned eight sequels, a spin-off series, TV shows and even a boardgame and is on its way to grossing the GDP of a small nation ($5.8 billion to be exact). But the franchise’s legacy shouldn’t just be measured by the number of zeroes it’s added to studio execs’ bank accounts. Instead, as we celebrate 20 years since the film first revved its way onto our screens, we should take a moment to appreciate the indelible impact it’s had on the entire industry.

I live my life a quarter mile at a time.

"I live my life a quarter mile at a time," Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto tells Paul Walker’s undercover cop in the film’s first instalment. "Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bulls**t. For those 10 seconds or less, I’m free."

It’s an example of the kind of clunky dialogue you’d expect from one of the big screen’s most notorious beefcakes, but it might as well be the mission statement for the entire franchise. You see, unlike so much of Hollywood’s current output there was nothing pre-planned about Fast & Furious’ success. This is not a series born out of popular source material with a pre-existing audience. It’s not an adaptation, a reboot, or a reimagining. Nor does it follow the kind of carefully choreographed world-building made popular by the Marvel movie-verse.

Instead Fast & Furious has followed an altogether more chaotic trajectory. Each film over the past two decades has organically built on what came before it - or blown it up entirely. The Fast Franchise has its own interconnected mythos now, a world filled with a rolodex of interrelated crew-members and villains that’s even governed by its own physics-defying logic.

More like this

It’s no longer a franchise, it’s a genre in its own right; a cinematic sandbox in which the on-screen action can constantly shift over time. In that regard it’s perhaps most similar to MGM’s long-running Bond movies than any of its contemporaries, a series that like Fast & Furious has seamlessly morphed to accommodate changing times, tastes and trends.

I don’t have friends… I got family.

It’s not just the on-screen action that’s evolved over the years either, the Fast franchise’s cast has too. A series that started with a gaggle of relative unknowns now boasts bonafide star power including Hollywood big hitters like Kurt Russell, Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron.

At the franchise’s heart however one thing remains unchanged. Because, while Fast & Furious may be a series of big silly action movies, it’s core message is that there’s nothing more important than family.

Fast and Furious

Indeed the idea of "family" is baked into the very fabric of each film, the cast of characters always gathering to chew the fat over a BBQ and a few Coronas. It’s not just for show either. There’s an inherent authenticity to the stars’ connection, one that’s been built over decades of shared experience and crystallised in the wake of Paul Walker’s death in 2013.

It’s that authenticity that audiences buy into. In an era where weapons-grade banter between A-list actors has become studios’ shortcut to on-screen chemistry, the Fast Franchise shows there’s no substitution for the genuine article.

I’m one of those boys who appreciates a fine body regardless of the make.

What started as a story set in the backstreets of LA has since gone global and alongside its locations, the Fast franchise’s cast has got ever more diverse too.

In fact the Fast & Furious is arguably the most representative franchise on the planet, featuring a cast of multiethnic actors who all enjoy an equal share of the action. Diversity is celebrated behind the camera too. What started with John Singleton’s stewardship of 2 Fast 2 Furious has continued with directors Justin Lin, James Wan and F Gary Gray breaking new ground for the big screen.

Life’s simple. You make choices and you don’t look back.

While Fast & Furious’ natural evolution, its diversity and its inherent humanity have all played a key role in the franchise’s global popularity, under the bonnet the real secret sauce to its decade-spanning success is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

In an industry where money talks, Hollywood has increasingly trended towards playing it safe with studios eschewing risk in favour of cinematic sure-things. However the Fast franchise succeeds precisely because it flies in the face of such logic. It’s not afraid to take creative risks, to push box office boundaries or to set itself apart from the crowd.

It’s unadulterated fun, a throwback to traditional cinematic escapism that audiences have appreciated for decades. And now with news that the franchise’s latest instalment, Fast and Furious 9, will screen at this summer’s Cannes Film Festival; it looks like the critics might finally be catching up to its appeal too.

Fast and Furious 9 will be released in UK cinemas on 24th June – revisit the eight previous films by watching the Fast and Furious movies in order.


Visit our Movies hub for more news and features, or find something to watch tonight with our TV Guide.