How 'Fast & Furious' Won By Losing

March 17, 2015 2:29 PM

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As most of you know, Furious 7 made its surprise premiere on Sunday at the SXSW Film Festival and the early reviews are somewhat expectedly hyperbolic. For the record, if you had told me back in 2001 that (A) there would be a seventh Fast & Furious film and (B) I would be insanely jealous of those in Austin who saw it before me the other night, I would have thought you mad. The amazing thing about the seven film series isn’t just that it has endured for well-over a decade without a reboot, or that has inexplicably gotten significantly better over its back half, or even that the series started as a street-level street racing melodrama with just enough crime plot to make it into an action movie before evolving into the biggest pure action franchise on the planet. No, what is most impressive about the Universal/Comcast Corp. Fast/Furious franchise is that it only got to this place today by initially failing in terms of building an ongoing series. It only reestablished itself as king of the hill because it used its previous failures as a strength and capitalized on the disparate pieces of the loosely-connected early chapters into a cohesive whole.

As some of you may remember, when Rob Cohen’s Point Break The Fast & the Furious became a surprise smash in the summer of 2001, opening with $40 million and earning $207m worldwide ($144m of that in America) off a $38m budget, the initial plan was to do a conventional sequel. Bring back Paul Walker,...

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