We've come a long way since the early street-racing days of the Fast & Furious series.
With this April's Fast & Furious 8 the saga's ascension to insanely entertaining, spectacularly OTT, stunt-filled blockbuster franchise is confirmed, so what better time to recap the twists and turns that have got us to this stage?
The early years (2001 – 2003)
Arriving in 2001 the relatively low-budget The Fast & the Furious was a humble B-movie car-fest featuring a hot cast of up-and-coming young stars, including Vin Diesel (fresh from Saving Private Ryan and Pitch Black) and the late Paul Walker.
Introducing us to the rivalry-turned-friendship between Diesel's street racer Dom Toretto and Walker's undercover FBI agent Brian O'Conner, the movie defied expectations to gross more than $200m worldwide.
Now a household name, Diesel jumped ship to make his mark in XXX whilst Walker stayed on board for sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious, directed by noted Boyz n the Hood filmmaker John Singleton. It introduced a host of new faces who would later become series regulars, among them Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges).
Despite the injection of fresh talent the movie struggled to ignite interest as its predecessor did, in part due to Diesel's absence. But don't speak too soon...
The Vin Diesel comeback period (2006 – 2009)
The story was taken to Japan in 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, one that attempted to mix up the character focus (Lucas Black is the lead) with resulting mixed fortunes. However the movie is notable for an end credits stinger that re-introduces... Vin Diesel! Yes, it was official: the star of the show was back in a big way (having starred in a series of flops like The Pacifier and A Man Apart).
Diesel was front and centre for 2009's Fast & Furious, whose removal of 'the' from the title indicated a streamlined, pedal to the metal affair that restored the family dynamic of the very first movie. Paul Walker returned as Brian, as did Jordana Brewster as Mia and Michelle Rodriguez as Letty. It was an enormous box office success, grossing more than $300m worldwide.
The Fast & Furious series had fresh petrol in its tank, and from here sped to all-new heights...
Fast & Furious revival (2011 – 2015)
The opening of 2011's Fast Five made one thing clear: the drag racing days had been left far behind. By opening with a dramatic train hijack a whole new dynamic was introduced: this was essentially now a heist movie on wheels in which the family aspect was fused with an emphasis on specific character skills.
It also rejuvenated the formula in other notable ways, namely by adding a touch of James Bond-style, globe-trotting class (the movie largely takes place in the vibrant Rio de Janeiro) and, most importantly, by adding the beefy Dwayne Johnson as Agent Hobbs, proverbial thorn in the side of Dom and his team. Plus, it all climaxed with an insanely destructive sequence whereby a safe was dragged along the streets by muscle cars – what's not to like?
The approach worked like gangbusters, becoming the highest-grossing Fast & Furious movie to date with $626m in the bank. This laid down a template with which the series has continued to run. 2013's Furious 6 further emphasised the team dynamic, amped up the stuntwork (watch out for the tank chase), introduced yet more locations (including London and Spain) and, finally, offered a juicy antagonist in the form of Luke Evans' Owen Shaw, a character whose influence would extend through to the next movie.
2015's Furious 7 further polished the franchise by taking the set-pieces to ever-more jaw-dropping heights, exemplified by a fleet of sky-diving cars, and presenting us with yet more new faces to keep everything fresh. Chief among them was Jason Statham's baddie, brother of the previous movie's Owen, and action legend Kurt Russell as the mysterious go-between who lends a pleasing sense of grizzled gravitas.
Going dark? (2017 – ?)
In this year's Fast & Furious 8 the series takes us down the most dramatic fork in the road in years, as Diesel's growly hero turns against his family in favour of the villainous Cipher (Oscar winner and Fury Road star Charlize Theron bringing a touch of class and action movie sass). Has he been seduced or is it all just for show?
Whatever's going on, it offers another prime opportunity to reinvent the franchise, forcing Hobbs and enemy Shaw to work together whilst Dom's family are forced to come to terms with this unexpected development. There's a new director, F. Gary Gray, on board, in-keeping with the revolving door of filmmakers (Justin Lin, James Wan et al), a role for British acting royalty Helen Mirren as Statham's on-screen mother and more nusto action including a face-off with a submarine.
Yes, this is a franchise that's very much here to stay.
Click here to book your tickets for Fast & Furious 8, previewing on 12th and 13th of April before opening nationwide on 14th April.