Remember when movie sequels got shy about putting numbers in titles? The Fast & Furious saga has been ripping up that rule book.
There are several rules that the ten – if you include the spin-off – Fast & Furious movies to date have broken. Rules of physics are pretty high up the list, along with logic and common sense. None of this matters of course, given just how fun the films tend to be. But also, what I’m finding interesting about this particular franchise is how it wears its endurance on its sleeve. It hasn’t always, but now it’s realised that multiple sequels are very much in its favour. As such, with the sequels racking up, it’s not shy about telling us just how many films in the saga there have been.
It is, for the minute when it comes to major movie franchises, ploughing on alone on this.
After all, this September in the UK, we finally – touch wood – get to see the latest James Bond movie, No Time To Die. You more than likely know the story of its extensive delay, and I’ve no urge to go back over that. But still, it’s constantly been promoted since the title was revealed as No Time To Die, and nowhere on the poster will it say James Bond 25. Or JB25: The Bond Saga. Or 007 25, which in fairness could get quite confusing.
Look around the big franchise films that are playing in cinemas this year and next, and it’s a familiar story. Black Widow isn’t called ‘Marvel 24’, the fourth Hotel Transylvania film is simply subtitled Transformania, Jurassic Park 6 is Jurassic World: Dominion and few expect Mission: Impossible 7 to be called that (there’s a franchise that got out of the Roman numeral business after chapter three). As for The Batman, there’s a missed opportunity there at least to go for Batman 8, or Batman 11 if you want to throw the Snyderverse in. Or 12 if you’d adding in the 1966 movie. Batman Returns to the power of a lot, perhaps?
For a long time then, it seemed – outside horror, where the rulebook is different – that you’re in murky water if you went beyond six in your sequel title. That was the tipping point. That it got to a level where studios seemed to actively want to hide just how many films in a series there’d been rather than embrace that.
Sequels, after all, used to be looked down on. That a sequel wasn’t the cash cow it’s seen as today (the old rule of thumb used to be that sequels made 65% of the original’s takings, and that was good going), and it made more sense to posit a film as a standalone story rather than any kind of continuation. The Marvel cinematic universal and the Fast saga made a mockery of that in the end, but for a while, that was the playbook.
Six, then, was your limit. Star Trek dropped the Roman numerals after Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, choosing to jump to Star Trek: Generations. Even Police Academy figured it was on a loser, going from Police Academy 6: City Under Siege to Police Academy: Mission To Moscow. And if the Police Academy saga is following the trend then, well, crikey. In short, the trend for a long time became Roman numerals and numbers out, colons and subtitles in.
Until the people behind the Fast & Furious films had their ‘sod this’ moment.
For it’d be remiss to acknowledge that they too when through the moniker wrangler for a while. 2 Fast 2 Furious was as close as they all got to acknowledging a sequel in the title of one of the films until the glorious fifth chapter in the series came about. Then, for reasons unknown, it was Fast Five if you were in the US, or Fast & Furious 5 elsewhere in the world.
The box office erupted though, and it’s as if Hollywood clever people realised that we weren’t necessarily put off by sequels with higher numbers in the title after all.
This having your cake and eating it approach followed through with dual titles for the next few movies. Film six was either Furious 6 or Fast & Furious 6, the next one was Furious 7 or Fast & Furious 7. Then came the peak of the office brainstorm, where Fast & Furious 8 became either F8 (named presumably after a key nobody uses on a computer keyboard) or The Fate Of The Furious (geddit?) in America.
Billions of dollars later, the conclusion was reached that people really didn’t mind the digits.
Now, come the release of the ninth chapter of the series, and there’s no escaping the 9. In fact, it seems to be now worn as a badge of honour. F9: The Fast Saga or Fast & Furious 9 is what moviegoers will be asking for at the box office (er, assuming they’ve not booked tickets online), and they’re owning it: that number is big on the posters, big in the trailers. There’s no doubt now either that the next instalment will be called Fast & Furious 10, ideally accompanied by some kind of pun on that. Don’t have one at hand myself.
Across the 20 years these films have been going, it’s been clear just how the Hollywood attitude to sequels has changed, and how studio shyness about them is long in the rear-view mirror. That changing approach is represented in the changing way the Fast saga films have been named and promoted.
The plan with the Fast saga is to bring it to an end in its current line in the next film or two, with assorted spin-offs then likely to take hold. Nobody expects this franchise to stop anytime soon, and that opens the door for some fresh innovation in the naming of the films. Perhaps when those spin-offs start arriving, we’ll break new ground in the titling of these films, in a way that makes it easier to arrange them all on our DVD shelves. Perhaps a spin off from Fast Five that takes the gang back to Brazil called Fast 5B? I’ll get my own coat…
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