How The ‘Fast And Furious’ Series Succeeded Where The ‘xXx’ Movies Failed

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With $753 million worldwide as of Sunday, No Time to Die is a day or three away from passing the $759 million global cume of Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. That includes around $159 million domestic and $600 million overseas, with “just” $60 million coming from China. There is a certain irony in No Time to Die besting not just the Dwayne Johnson/Jason Statham spin-off flick from 2019 but also this year’s Vin Diesel/Michelle Rodriguez variety. As of now, The Fast Saga is the only grounded non-fantastical action franchise that remotely compares to the James Bond series in terms of global box office. So, Vin Diesel really did spearhead a series which turned out to be a competitor to the 007 franchise, but it wasn’t the xXx series.

Opening in August 2002, writer Rich Wilkes and director Rob Cohen’s xXx wore its intentions on its sleeve. The prologue features a befuddled tuxedoed secret agent struggling to make his way through a heavy metal rave/rock concert. Spoiler: He sticks out like a sore thumb and is sniped from a safe distance. The implication was clear: A new world of non-state-sponsored threats needed a new secret agent. Meet reluctant recruit Xander Cage, live-streaming, extreme-sports-playing, anti-authority rebel with outstanding federal arrest warrants out related to uncivil disobedience. Young(er), ripped to the gills and looking like, well, that Vin Diesel guy from The Fast and the Furious, the rebellious Xander Cage seems like the ideal outside-the-box pick to retrieve a missing bioweapon from a group of militant anarchists.

Despite plenty of scenes where Cage shows he’s too cool for school and is a different secret agent, the first xXx movie plays out like a James Bond movie, including the unapologetic himbo getting emotionally involved with the bad guy’s girlfriend (Asia Argento) while killing the villains and saving the world from biochemical annihilation. There’s a great scene when Cage watches in horror as the evil Yorgi (Matin Csokas) wipes out his own men and thus realizes that this isn’t some “stick it to the man” video game, but otherwise it’s a case of “old boss, same as the new boss.” To be fair, xXx opened with a terrific $42 million and legged out to $142 million domestic and $274 million worldwide on a $90 million budget.

Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry’s unapologetically silly Die Another Day would nab $160 million from a $47 million debut in November along with $437 million global. More importantly, xXx was preceded earlier that summer by Matt Damon’s The Bourne Identity, which would leg out to $121 million from a $27 million debut and become, without question, the definitive “new secret agent for a new era” action franchise. Except when Daniel Craig would take over for Brosnan in Casino Royale, a 007 flick clearly fashioned in the shadow of both the Bourne films and the cynical/pessimistic post-9/11 mindset, it would earn $167 million domestic and $600 million worldwide. Not even Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt could measure up, as Mission: Impossible III would stumble that same year, earning $133 million/$393 million in summer 2006.

Vin Diesel would pass on a xXx sequel, and Ice Cube’s (frighteningly prescient) xXx: State of the Union would bomb with $113 million worldwide on a $71 million budget in summer 2005. Vin Diesel would strike out with would-be franchise-starters (or franchise-expanders) like Babylon A.D., A Man Apart and The Chronicles of Riddick. However, the Diesel-produced legacy sequel Fast & Furious (sold as the first proper sequel to the original installment) began the Fast franchise’s ascent from gritty street-racing crime capers to over-the-top action spectaculars. Fast Five would welcome back almost every major supporting character from the previous four movies and pit them against Dwayne Johnson’s relentless Special Agent Hobbs. Justin Lin’s modern action classic (easily the best of the franchise) would bridge the divide between street racing heist capers and mega-bucks action blockbusters.

 It would gross $210 million domestic and $620 million worldwide. That was (at the time) above any non-Batman/Iron Man/Spider-Man comic book superhero movie and above every installment of the Mission: Impossible, James Bond or Bourne franchises. Ethan Hunt would roar back to life in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol by year’s end, earning $209 million domestic and $692 million global. A year later, James Bond’s Skyfall would score unthinkable success, selling more domestic tickets than any 007 movie since Thunderball and earning $1.1 billion worldwide. However, by summer 2013, Fast & Furious 6 had completed the franchise’s transition from B-movie racing/heist flicks to A-level blockbusters. The outlaws were now deputized good guys, teaming with Hobbs in a 007-ish adventure trying to prevent an anarchist bad guy (Luke Evans) from stealing and using a genocidal MacGuffin.

It was a plot so nice they remade it for the next four Fast/Furious movies. Its “blue-collar grease monkeys and anti-authority tech nerds cosplay 007 and save the day” plot was straight out of the xXx movies. It would earn $238 million domestic and $788 million global. In 2015, Spectre would earn $880 million and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation would earn $592 million worldwide. However, Furious 7 opened the year by grossing $353 million domestic and $1.515 billion worldwide. Sure, some of that (especially in North America) was about Paul Walker’s unexpected offscreen death (just as Heath Ledger’s passing made The Dark Knight a bigger deal). However, The Fate of the Furious grossed $226 million domestic and $1.236 billion global in 2017. The Fast & Furious saga succeeded where xXx had failed.

Universal’s Fast and Furious series appropriated the formula intended for Xander Cage and applied it to Dominic Toretto. The street-racing series became a full-on “extreme-sports spies” actioner, while adding a crowd-pleasing ensemble cast/surrogate family element (even bringing fan favorites like Letty and Han back from the dead) that would be co-opted by (ironically) xXx: Return of Xander Cage ($385 million in 2017), Mission: Impossible – Fallout ($792 million in 2018) and Time to Die ($755 million-plus in 2021). Vin Diesel’s Fast Saga has displaced (or at least taken its place alongside) the James Bond movies on the top of the action movie mountain. That was the original aim of the xXx series, but Diesel nailed it on the second try. The lesson is, “if at first you don’t succeed, try one more time.”



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