Name the franchise that has produced six films in 12 years and made over $1.5 billion worldwide, with a seventh film in the works.
It's “The Fast and the Furious,” with the new one opening Friday.
It began in 2001 with “The Fast and the Furious,” set in the late-night street-racing world of “tuners.” (21st century hot-rodders who customize and race primarily Japanese sport-coupes.)
Vin Diesel stars as Dominic Toretto, king of the street racers. Paul Walker plays Brian O'Conner, an undercover cop investigating a hijacking ring. Walker's character joins with Diesel's for some street-racing cover cred, but soon discovers that Toretto and his crew (including his girlfriend Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez) are responsible for hijackings. O'Conner falls for Toretto's younger sister, Mia. (Jordana Brewster.)
The movie is basically a series of car-chase set-pieces, featuring over-the-top destruction at every opportunity. It cost around $38 million, and pulled in more than $207 million worldwide.
“2 Fast, 2 Furious” (2003) saw the return of Walker's O'Conner, in trouble for aiding Toretto's escape at the end of the first film. Diesel sits this one out. This one cost $76 million, and hauled in $236 million worldwide.
“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” hit in 2006. No one from the original cast returns until the closing credits. Instead, Lucas Black is Sean Boswell, a high-school street racer who is sent to live with his Naval officer father in Tokyo after multiple brushes with the law. Sean soon becomes involved in the Tokyo street-racing scene. This outing cost about $85 million to produce and made only $158 million.
“Tokyo Drift” marked director Justin Lin's first with the franchise, and the film's poor showing wasn't enough to keep him out of the director's chair for 2009's “Fast and Furious.”
Powered by the return of Diesel, Walker and Rodriguez, “Fast and Furious” made nearly $71 million its first weekend. It features a twisted plot that results in Letty's murder, putting a vengeful Toretto on a collision course with O'Conner, who is investigating a heroin-smuggling operation that involves the use of high-powered cars. At the end of the film, Toretto is sentenced to 25 years to life and O'Conner quits the FBI. The movie made $363 million worldwide.
The gang (minus Rodriguez) is all aboard for 2011's “Fast Five.” Dwayne (”The Rock”) Johnson plays a hardcore U.S. government agent in this one. It opens with O'Conner and Mia freeing Toretto from a prison bus. They flee to Rio de Janeiro and get mixed-up in a plot to steal cars from a moving train. Action goes to new and sometimes ridiculous heights.
"Fast Five," produced for $125 million, made $626 million worldwide.
In “Fast and Furious Six,” the retired Toretto crew learns Letty is alive and reunites to bring evildoers down. They're looking for full pardons for past crimes (and if you've been paying attention, that's not an insubstantial number).
Previews indicate that the high-octane action in this chapter will involve more guns, tanks, aircraft and over-the-top stunt driving than ever.
If you have the impression that this franchise is primarily based on finding excuses to film (and watch) ridiculous, over-the-top car chases, you would be right — and wrong.
It certainly began that way, but escalating profits and popularity have brought a zany zest to the proceedings. The characters and the action have risen to larger-than-life levels.
Unlike the star of their cinematic ancestor “Smokey and the Bandit,” none of the “Fast and Furious” stars ever turn and wink knowingly at the camera. But there is no question that they're all in on the joke. What started with a hip-hoppy film about urban street racers has morphed into a fast-revving money machine, as long as they can keep their faces straight and their cars flying and crashing and exploding and flipping and ...
“Fast and Furious Six” opens Friday. It's rated PG-13, and lasts 130 minutes.