There have been a host of car racing movies that came before “The Fast and the Furious,” but its debut in 2001 saw the rise of the sub-genre’s biggest and most popular franchise ever. Described as “gritty and gratifying” by Variety, the Rob Cohen-directed film cemented the popularity of Vin Diesel after his role in “Pitch Black” the previous year and used an ensemble cast composed of young Hollywood’s biggest stars of the time. Although American car racing movies had long relied on the horsepower of homegrown ‘muscle’ cars, “The Fast and the Furious” super-charged its debut by relying primarily on vehicles from the Asian import scene that had become staples of car culture since the mid-80s but had never been depicted in a mainstream U.S. film before.
In “The Fast and the Furious,” Domenic Toretto (Diesel) is heading up a street gang that the authorities believe is responsible for a string of high-speed truck hijackings. After putting undercover cop Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) into the mix to land on Toretto’s crew, he comes to know Toretto’s real story while falling for his younger sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). Although he eventually breaks his cover, O’Connor comes to the rescue of the Torettos when they’re fingered for the crimes of a more reprehensible street gang and their activities.
The Starting Line for “The Fast And The Furious”
The origins of what would become “The Fast and the Furious” lie in a May 1998 Vibe magazine article director Rob Cohen read called “Racer X” by Ken Li. Although it focused on New York import racers, it gave the “Dragonheart” director the drive to explore a movie about street racing using vehicles outside of Detroit’s finest and onto the California streets. Cohen took his ideas and partnered with a talented crew of screenwriters including former “Knight Rider” showrunner Gary Scott Thompson and “Training Day” writer David Ayer. The project went through numerous drafts and titles, going from the title borrowed from the Vibe article “Racer X” to “Redline” and even “Race Wars,” which is the name of the regular racing series in South California. They finally found their title by borrowing it from a 1955 Roger Corman flick – they licensed the name but avoided the original’s premise entirely.
Finding “The Fast And The Furious” from Young Hollywood
As “The Fast and the Furious” developed, it quickly became a follow-up vehicle (pardon the pun) for Vin Diesel who got his first taste of fame with 2000’s “Pitch Black.” His co-star Paul Walker beat out a host of Hollywood darlings including Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Eminem for the part of undercover cop Brian O’Conner. Diesel’s on-screen sister Jordana Brewster also went through a lengthy casting process, beating out all-star actresses such as Natalie Portman, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kirsten Dunst and Jessica Biel for the role of Mia. Although they knew what they were signing up for, neither Brewster or Michelle Rodriguez had driver’s licenses when filming began; they took lessons while shooting the film.
The Other Cast – The Vehicles
As the first mainstream American film to focus on Asian import vehicles, “The Fast and the Furious” had a lot to live up to – and they did. Over 60 Japanese vehicles were used in the movie, in addition to the 1500+ number of cars that appeared in the Race Wars scenes. Lead stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker drove no less than four cars each, with the arguable centerpiece of the film being the 1970 Dodge Charger that Diesel drove during the climax. Although the movie primarily focused on Asian import cars, use of the Charger is a strong image on film – it is almost identical to the famous car used in “The Dukes of Hazzard,” and even after the crash at the end of the film the same exact car saw life again in a junkyard scene of 2005’s “Herbie Fully Loaded” if you look carefully.
“The Fast And the Furious” Burn Through the Finish Line
Upon its June 22, 2001 debut, “The Fast and the Furious” ran away with the number one spot, earning back its entire 38 million dollar budget on its opening weekend. It set the stage for the boisterous number of racing flicks to follow and cemented Vin Diesel’s position as a leading man, even if his return to the “Furious” driver’s seat wasn’t immediate. Diesel reteamed with director Rob Cohen immediately after this film on 2002’s “xXx,” and paved the way for a fleet of sequels which continues to this very week.
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