15 years after the release of the original movie, even its worst haters would have to begrudgingly acknowledge the Fast and the Furious franchise as a cultural phenomenon. I know, because I once was one of those haters. I was eventually won over by the extended f-you to physics that was the most recent installment, but at the time the first came out I hated it so much that I remember not talking to an acquaintance for a week because he told me it seemed like something I’d enjoy.
Furious 7, by the way, came out in April of last year and went on to gross $1.5 billion dollars worldwide (sixth biggest of all time, not adjusted for inflation). Surely it benefited some from grief over Paul Walker (who died in 2013), but consider: A franchise that once felt almost painfully SoCal car culture specific made more than a billion dollars outside the U.S. Even more surprising, the movie was a moron masterpiece, the culmination of everything that came before it, the movie Michael Bay had been trying to make for years. How many franchises even see a seventh installment, let alone peak at seven?
Frankly, I never saw it coming. But someone had to have, right? The seed of the first movie (and by extension the franchise) was “Racer X,” an article Ken Li wrote for the May 1998 issue of Vibe.
The urban dragracing frenzy was started in the early ‘90s by a tightly-knit crew of Asian-American boys in Southern California and is now hitting hard on the East Coast. The hundreds of kids who line New York hot spots like Francis Lewis Boulevard in Queens or the Fountain Avenue strip in Brooklyn every weekend are an urban polyglot of Puerto Rican, Dominican, Chinese, Filipino, Jamaican, Italian and other ethnicities who have one thing in common: They love hurtling metal, meat and rubber through the concrete jungle at dangerous velocities.
Director Rob Cohen, so the story goes, heard about the article and attended a race in L.A., and convinced Universal to buy the rights. By 2015, that had evolved into a ridiculous action franchise starring Jason Statham and an ex pro wrestler. As I watched Dadbod Diesel take a sledgehammer to a Letty’s tombstone (oh yes, there was an amnesia subplot) I was fist pumping along with everyone else. 15 years ago though, I wasn’t so ready to cheer.