Every time a new Fast and the Furious movie comes out, fans rank the series so far. Invariably, part four, Fast & Furious, ends up at the bottom of most lists. If it pales in comparison to Fast Five and beyond, or even its predecessors, that’s fine. But Fast & Furious is actually the reason there is still a series. It was the franchise’s last shot, and because it succeeded so well at the box office, it is the reason we are even talking about The Fate of the Furious today.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift attempted to spin off (pun intended) the franchise with new characters. The film has since become a fan favorite, but it did not work at the time. With the series’ all time low $24 million opening and $62.5 million domestic total (via Boxofficmojo), they were not going to keep making Fast and the Furious movies.
The only reason they took a chance on one more sequel was because they had the opportunity to get the original cast back. Vin Diesel had effectively sworn off sequels except for Riddick, but by 2009 his solo movies weren’t quite taking off and he was attentive to fans asking him to come back. Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez signed on for Fast & Furious, one last chance to see if people would still be interested in the original cast. Man oh man, were they ever.
Fast & Furious opened to $70 million, easily eclipsing 2 Fast 2 Furious’s $50 mil and the original’s $40 mil openings. Its domestic total of $155 million was a high compared to the original’s $140. You can dislike the fourth movie, but they would not have made Fast Five unless Fast & Furious had made this much money. Not just more than Tokyo Drift but more than any in the series so far.
I’ve written about why I love Fast & Furious before. It has some of my favorite action (the tanker fireball is their Raiders of the Lost Ark boulder to me, the GPS race, even Brian’s foot chase) and it deals with the history between Dom and Brian as they have to go undercover together as allies. If you don’t like the tunnel sequences, that’s fine. I like the way things that happen in the practice run pay off in the finale, but they did that sequence and moved on in the sequels. I don’t find it any more serious than others. In fact, I find the Vince stuff in Fast Five far more serious than Letty’s “death,” and now that we know she’s okay, it should take the sting out of part four. (I never bought it anyway. I actually thought she’d turn out to be the evil mastermind faking her death to blackmail Dom but amnesia is way better.)
From here, The Fast and the Furious really took off, so Fast & Furious is only a blip in the series. Just remember that in 2009, the story was, “The Fast and the Furious are back!” Not “I hope they do better next time.” Besides, everyone who hated Fast & Furious still came to see Fast Five so it didn’t do any damage.
Fast Five would shatter those records further opening to $86 million and crossing $200 mil domestic. Furious 6 (that’s what it’s called. It says so on the title screen) neared a $100 million opening and even higher domestic total. Then of course Furious Seven had the $1.5 billion worldwide.
Narratively, Fast & Furious freed up the franchise tremendously. By including Han (Sung Kang) and his plan to check out the racing scene in Tokyo, this sequel established a pre-Tokyo Drift continuity. Han wouldn’t even get there until the end of 6. Once audiences accepted that, screenwriter Chris Morgan was able to delve further and further into the mythology he’d begun as the screenwriter of Tokyo Drift. Revealing Letty was alive allowed them to go back into Fast & Furious and Fate has a neat trick with the continuity too. On a very basic level, it allowed them to bring all the casts together in Five with a Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) cameo in Seven.
At the very least, fans probably owe Fast & Furious a re-watch. 2009 was a long time ago. You may be remembering it more harshly than it actually stands. Plus, now there is all the mythology of Fast Five through Fate. You can watch Fast & Furious with a deeper appreciation of its place in the story, like how Gisele becomes the love of Han’s life. It pays off big time in 6 when Brian goes back to prison to confront Braga. If you still don’t like it, that’s okay. Everyone has their own favorite and least favorite. Just be grateful that Fast & Furious prevented Universal from closing the books on the franchise and provided the stepping stone it did for the films that followed.