EJ Moreno celebrates twenty years of The Fast and the Furious…
Nothing screams the 00’s more than The Fast and the Furious. With its booming bling-era hip-hop soundtrack, the insane colorful racing cars, and our patron saint Vin Diesel, you can’t encapsulate 2001 better than this. As odd as you may think that sounds, this is a perfect time capsule of a unique pop culture moment.
But the Fast and Furious didn’t stay in 2001; hell, the 2000s decade couldn’t even contain it. This one movie has slowly grown into a massive cinematic juggernaut, a franchise that now sits at a worldwide gross of nearly $6 billion. Eight films offer up an increasingly wilder look into the world of Dominic Toretto and his crew.
How did this little street racing film turn into a movie going on its ninth entry and possibly going to space? Let’s look back at this 2001 gem, The Fast and the Furious.
Looking at this “Point Break with cars” plot is ridiculous when you think about the high stakes drama that now consumes the franchise. This first entry follows an undercover cop that must uncover who’s behind a string of unknown automobile hijackers. They’re stealing DVD players like it’s a billion dollars sitting in a bank vault, and it’s so adorably simple compared to whatever reality-defying stunts they are doing now.
But that’s the beauty in this film. It’s a familiar plot told through a brand-new lens and offers up a look at a sub-culture that no one tapped into at the time. Street racing has been around since the hot-rod days of the 50s, but it had grown into something wildly different by the millennium. Honestly, the Need For Speed video games deserve the credit, but this film pushed this style into the mainstream. You had a whole underground movement represented on the big screen, and it received well by its fans. Maybe too good as reports of illegal street racing increased during this time.
Still, for the first couple of films, you saw the world of hip-hop, cars, and “bro” culture in the spotlight. While Fast Five would firmly move the franchise in a new direction, the first films were love letters and firestarters.
If you look at 2001, it was the beginning of a new era. Fashion was evolving, music was louder, and Hondas replaced the Mustangs. Something needed to capture this period in pop culture, and sometimes cinema is the best place for that. Looking at how The Breakfast Club screams the 80s, The Fast and the Furious is that for the noughties.
Let’s move away from the aura and the mystique as the actual film is something that still impresses me. Not because it has mind-blowing effects or a ground-breaking plot, but there’s audacity in the filmmaking. You see the filmmakers, which includes everyone from the actors to the production designers making bold choices.
For a pure entertainment film, no one in The Fast and the Furious is phoning it in. And that includes the young cast of actors with the brightest futures ahead of them. While almost none of their first films, this was the first time that roles felt designed to elevate their status – a gift an actor sees in their dreams.
The late Paul Walker shines in one of his first starring roles. He’s a joy to watch, with his smile feeling like the purest thing. The Brian O’Conner character is the heart and soul here and would become what bonded these creators forever. Walker became a star after this film, and you can see it during every turn he takes here.
Michelle Rodriguez as Letty Ortiz and Jordana Brewster as Mia Toretto go above and beyond to make these usually paper-thin female action roles more fleshed out. Rodriguez as Letty inspired a generation of kick-ass girls, offering up just as much beauty as she had brashness. Mia Toretto is a girlfriend and sister character that feels like she has more layers than those labels. Mia is a character with her wants and agency. These are little things now, but back in 2001, these women were revolutions.
Then you have the man of the hour, Vin Diesel. Fast and the Furious – the film and the franchise – would be nothing without this gruff human being. His passion for seeing these films succeed has pushed it to its global phenomenon-level, but it started with this little race car that could. He gets a lot of flack as an actor, but he’s charming and has such significant energy in this film. It’s like he knows the future that lies ahead and knows he can be cocky for future Vin here.
Before we dove into Pirates of the Caribbean or Michael Bay’s Transformers, the 2000s didn’t have a franchise. It would take Vin Diesel and his creative teams to change all of that, becoming what it’s clearly the most original group of blockbusters of that generation. There’s no prior comic book, theme park ride, or 80s cartoon; these films directly responded to its era and the culture. Cinema in the millennium would be lost without this, especially the first half of the decade.
Between 2001-2006, Fast and the Furious and its wild universe began to take shape. The first three entries are all dramatically different from each other, with the street racing element connecting them. But there’s worldbuilding here, seeds planted for the expansive universe that Torretto and company make up now. The 2009 entry would put them onto another level, feeling like an answer to the MCU budding worlds and other blockbusters. And then, the 2010s really put them into a different stratosphere and saw this become a still rare billion-dollar franchise.
As I write this article, I hear two loud cars speeding away with enhanced mufflers in the distance. That right there is a fraction of the impact from The Fast and the Furious. There’s no denying that this is a film that I seriously enjoy, with my feelings coming off undeniably biased. But there’s merit to that madness; this seriously holds up.
2000s nostalgia is about to roll in hard during the next few years, and we will look back at films like this when prepping for noughties-themed parties. When millennials need a perfect playlist to look back at some forgotten club hits, scroll through this soundtrack. And before you roll your eyes, this era is coming back, and you will soon see it everywhere. Brush off that Ed Hardy soon!
2001’s The Fast and the Furious launched a franchise and forever extraordinarily changed the industry. Like the little engine that could, you saw this film series go from this almost indie darling to a blockbuster juggernaut that could take on Jurassic Park or a superhero film.
Now, crack open a Vin Diesel-approved beer, prep the NOS, and race to see this again.