How being ridiculous made the 'Fast and Furious' franchise great

The Formula of the Furious
The Formula of the Furious

Imagine that one day your friends were in trouble -- in a car, fleeing an armed drone that was firing at them. You spot them, and you want to help, but your arm is freshly injured and in a cast. What do you do?

Well, if you're a character in the "Fast and Furious" franchise, the answer is simple. You turn to your daughter, who's at your bedside in the hospital; you say to her, "Daddy's got to go to work;" you somehow obtain an ambulance; you drive that ambulance over an overpass and into the drone; you do some more flexing; then you pull out your gun and you fire a few shots into the drone -- maybe just to be sure, maybe to show off for the drone's operators, doesn't really matter.

That scenario, which took place in 2015's "Furious 7," is perhaps the most ridiculous action sequence ever filmed. And it is brilliant.

Which may be the best possible way to sum up the whole franchise, the latest installment of which, "The Fate of the Furious," opens Friday.

No one would ever confuse any of the "Fast and Furious" films for high art, which may actually be why they have become one of Hollywood's most successful, and intriguing, franchises. The B-movie stigma that has dogged the movies in the series has allowed its makers to emulate their characters and drive into the skid, and doing so has paid off.

"We never got any respect," Neal Mortiz, a producer on all eight of the "Furious" films, told CNN in a recent interview. "I don't think we got any respect probably until maybe [2011's "Fast Five"] and then something happened where the studios and people in town had to take us seriously... Honestly, we always have something to prove, and I think that's good."

Some of the concessions that the "Furious" team made to its reality as a B movie draw have, because of the franchise's surprise success, actually influenced the rest of the industry.

fate of the furious
The B Movie stigma of "Fast and the Furious" has helped it become so crazy and over the top that it's become good pop art.

Related: 'The Fate of the Furious' review

Moritz noted that the movies' April release window was a bit improvised, a result of their lacking the heft to scare away other big franchises from opening opposite them. Now, other blockbusters are opening at times beyond the traditional summer and holiday schedule.

And despite its B movie stigma, "Furious" has brought in A Movie money, making nearly $4 billion worldwide over seven movies, according to comScore (SCOR).

"Fate of the Furious" is projected for a $110 million opening in North America this weekend, according to industry analysts. This would make it the second-largest April U.S. opening ever, behind only "Furious 7."

"That would have been a really natural place for us to stop," Mortiz said about "Furious 7." "We weren't sure, like, what do we do? How do we top it? Where's there to go? And it was when Chris Morgan, the film's writer, came up with this idea of Vin [Diesel's character Dom] turning on the team and going dark that said to us okay there's a reason for ['Fate of the Furious'] to exist."

Another reason for "Fate" to exist is that the series has never been more popular.

The box-office potential of "Furious" has grown significantly over its 16-year run. The last installment brought in $1.5 billion worldwide, roughly 7.5 times more than what the original made in 2001.

The franchise has also expanded to video games and theme park rides and has been a huge hit with audiences of all backgrounds. For example, the U.S. audience for "Furious 7" was 60% non-white during its first two weeks in theaters. By comparison, the audience for the biggest film of that year, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," was only 39% non-white, according to a report by the Motion Picture Association of America.

"Furious" has also been a big hit with international audiences with 67% of the franchise's ticket sales coming from overseas, especially the world's second largest movie market, China, where it only took "Furious 7" eight days to gross $250 million.

fast furious franchise worldwide
The seventh installment in the "Furious" series, 2015's "Furious 7," made roughly 7.5 times more than the original in 2001.

"It did start as a B film, and I don't use B film as a negative," Moritz said. "It had a specific audience we were going after, and we were lucky enough that in each movie we've been able to grow our audience organically versus trying to make a movie for everybody right from the beginning."

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