Movie Reviews

When Did Fast & Furious Stop Being About Cars? Breaking Down The Fast Sagas Major Changes Across 11 Movies

vin diesel as dominic toretto in front of a car in fast furious

The Fast & Furious franchise has grown massively over the years and it became a multi-billion dollar action series in the process, but somewhere along the way, it stopped being about cars. While cars have remained a staple of the franchise for all 11 movies, the focus has shifted from racing to high-stakes action, meaning Fast & Furious‘ identity has changed in the process. Most of Fast & Furious‘ best stunts still involve cars, as exotic vehicles are still prominent in the films, but the story now revolves more around crime and loyalty than any aspects of racing.

Although the series got increasingly over-the-top as the years went on, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when Fast & Furious stopped being about cars. The more Fast & Furious embraced the ridiculous action, the more popular it seemed to become, with box office hauls continuing to grow until recent installments. Some fans cite a particular movie as the source of this shift, but the reality is far more complex. However, this change wasn’t out of nowhere, as the very first film had major action elements that gradually progressed over the following two decades which changed the franchise forever.

Naturally, the very first Fast & Furious had a heavy emphasis on street racing, but there was more going on from the get go. Despite The Fast and the Furious focusing on Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) street racing antics, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) played an equally big role as an undercover cop. From the very first installment, cars and racing were a crucial part of the franchise’s identity, but so was crime and action. The first movie is much rawer and contained compared to future entries, but it still embraces its action elements as the final race highlighted.

Dom and Brian narrowly avoided a train during their race and Dom was even hit by a truck, sending his car airborne, but this is still far more grounded compared to what the franchise would become. This remains one of Fast & Furious‘ most iconic street races and perfectly symbolizes the series’ most important themes. While it proves how much Brian and Dom love racing, it also shows that they have mutual respect and Brian’s decision not to arrest Dom is a sign of loyalty, which are traits arguably more central to Fast & Furious‘ identity than cars.

Fast & Furious‘ next entry tried to replicate the magic of the first film, but it also leaned slightly more into the law enforcement aspects of the franchise. Tyrese Gibson replaced Diesel in 2 Fast 2 Furious, starring alongside Walker as the movie attempted to recreate the original’s success. Brian ditched his life as a police officer to get involved in street racing, but he was quickly brought back into the justice system and forced to work with the FBI. Cars are once again a priority in this film, but crime and drugs are equally present, showing a slight shift in narrative.

However, there wasn’t a dramatic change between the first two movies other than Gibson replacing Diesel, as the overall theme remained roughly the same. Gibson’s character was a lot different in 2 Fast 2 Furious compared to his future appearances though, since Roman was presented as one of Fast and Furious‘ smartest characters during his debut, as opposed to becoming comic relief down the line. The franchise’s first sequel also introduced Ludacris’ character, Tej, but outside of growing the universe and cast, 2 Fast 2 Furious kept an overall similar vibe to its predecessor, despite receiving worse reviews.

While the first two films had a fine balance between crime and racing, Tokyo Drift put even more of an emphasis on cars. The majority of Tokyo Drift’s cast don’t appear again in the franchise, but the movie did introduce one of Fast & Furious‘ greatest characters, Han Lue. Han taught the protagonist, Sean, how to drift to help him pay off a debt, making the competition itself one of the most significant parts of the movie. As a result, Tokyo Drift places more importance on the sporting side of racing and introduces some stunning cars in the process.

Of course, there are still some heavy action elements, particularly towards the end of the film, but Tokyo Drift avoids going too over-the-top with its stunts. The film’s more refined approach to its story does split opinion, with some people enjoying the more realistic premise and the focus on cars, while others find it underwhelming compared to the more action-orientated plots. Its critical score is mixed, but Tokyo Drift is Fast & Furious‘ lowest-grossing movie, which is a big factor as to why the franchise began prioritizing action over racing, as can be seen in Fast & Furious (2009).

Although the previous three films all had varying degrees of action and criminal aspects, Fast & Furious (2009) really began changing the direction of the franchise. The movie continued to use cars but rather than reserving them strictly for racing or chase sequences, Fast & Furious 4 went even bigger. While there were already some pretty crazy stunts included in the three films prior, Fast & Furious 4 has some of the franchise’s most surreal moments, including Dom and Letty driving under an exploding tanker.

After Tokyo Drift‘s disappointing box office, Fast & Furious clearly felt it had to become much more of a modern blockbuster, which worked financially. The return of Vin Diesel as Dom saw him transition from a typical street racer to a mastermind outlaw, with the plot completely embracing this. Dom and his crew operated outside the law and after Letty’s alleged murder, they sought revenge and answers, killing their enemies in the process. While the protagonists are still portrayed as moral action heroes, Fast & Furious 4‘s story is completely different to anything that came before.

This is where the movie series saw its biggest shift. Many of the elements that made Fast & Furious 4 so popular were present in other movies, but the fourth installment went all out in terms of action. Making Dom and his crew outlaws as opposed to racers was arguably the most impactful decision in terms of changing Fast & Furious as it turned the franchise into a true Hollywood blockbuster, and while cars were still at the core of its action, this new format proved to be incredibly valuable for Fast & Furious.

Despite the huge impact of Fast & Furious (2009), Fast Five had an even bigger impact in terms of changing the series. Considering how successful the previous film was, Fast Five embraced the over-the-top action even more, creating some of Fast & Furious‘ most ridiculous stunts ever. Freeing Dom from being taken to prison, the train heist, and the vault chase scene showed just how much the franchise had changed, with racing becoming an afterthought compared to the new focus on big, high-stakes moments.

This continued for every movie after, with each film trying to outdo the last with more insane scenes. Fast & Furious proceeded to have moments such as a car driving from one skyscraper to another, Hobbs (The Rock) diverting a missile with his hands, as well as Roman and Tej going to space. Fast Five‘s box office success changed Fast & Furious forever and helped the franchise gross over $7 billion between its 11 films, confirming that the blockbuster style of action was much more profitable than racing.

Cars have never truly stopped being a focal point of the Fast & Furious franchise, but they were relegated to assisting insane stunts rather than creating a movie series strictly about racing. While Fast & Furious 4 made the biggest changes from one film to the other, Fast Five ensured the franchise was never the same after its unprecedented success. Despite these movies having the biggest impact, the change was gradual, as the franchise contained criminal and big action sequences from the very first installment.

Fast & Furious tried to pivot with Tokyo Drift to see if the racing element interested fans, but in reality, it was the high-stakes drama that got people invested. Fast & Furious (2009) revealed this and Fast Five confirmed it, proving they were the biggest factors in changing the series, despite every movie contributing in its own unique way.