The Fate Of The Furious, also known as Fast & Furious 8, recently debuted to box office figures that were beyond even the loftiest of anyone's expectations. It had the single biggest opening weekend of all time at the worldwide box office, narrowly edging out Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It currently sits at $910 million worldwide after only 12 days of release. The previous entry in the franchise, Furious 7, made over $1.5 billion. This one looks like it could eclipse even that.
All this is to say, the Fast & Furious franchise is a pretty big deal these days. It's incredible to think that a movie series that started out as little more than 'Point Break with cars' is now one of the biggest franchises on the planet. It also shows little sign of slowing down. There is now talk of a spin-off movie featuring the fan-favorite Luke Hobbs character (played by Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson). He will form an unlikely duo with Jason Statham's once-villainous Deckard Shaw. Furious 9 will surely enter development as quickly as possible as well.
But what of the movies, starring members of the Fast & Furious cast, that were less successful but were darn fine movies in their own right? With this article, we want to spotlight five of these films. Each of them are worth discovering anew on Blu-ray or digital download.
Whenever Dwayne Johnson joined the Fast & Furious series with 2011's soft-reboot Fast Five, the popularity of the series (and his own career) soared to new heights. However, Johnson had already starred in an action movie the previous year that had a title that could be confused with this series: Faster. It co-starred Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino. And for our money, it still stands as one of his best films.
It's gritty and violent, but also has a strong emotional core. The movie plays out like a modern day crime noir (with added muscles). We follow Johnson's nameless criminal (known only as 'Driver' in the credits). He is seeking vengeance on the criminal cohorts who shot him in the head and left him for dead. It's a simple premise, but one that is played out with conviction by the cast. There is a sense of inevitability to Driver's mission. Johnson excels in a dark role that eschews his usual bravado and charisma.
Running Scared (2006)
Furious 7 acted as a perfect cinematic send-off for the late Paul Walker, after he tragically died in 2013 in a car wreck. They paid fitting tribute to the hugely likeable actor. His Brian O'Connor was allowed to ride off into the sunset to live a normal, happy life with his family. Walker's acting career was largely defined by the Fast & Furious franchise, as he starred as one of the co-leads in six of the entries. But we reckon his best film might have come outside the franchise: 2006's Running Scared.
In this highly tense and sweaty thriller, Walker plays Joey Gazelle, a low-level gangster who is tasked with getting rid of guns used in the deaths of two police officers. Joey takes the guns home and stashes them. But one is then stolen by his young neighbor Oleg. He uses it to shoot his abusive stepfather, the outcast nephew of a Russian mob boss. Oleg then disappears, and Joey has to frantically search the city to find him and the gun before the police do. The movie is a delightfully sweary and violent affair. Its cast is filled out by a pre-The Conjuring Vera Farmiga and The Usual Suspects' Chazz Palminteri.
Jason Statham is one of the best things about The Fate Of The Furious. His banter with Dwayne Johnson in the movie is hilarious. Plus, he kicks all sorts of ass in the action scenes. In fact, he is the focus of our favorite scene in the whole movie. He gets to show off the wry humour and charisma that has served him so well in his career, especially in the likes of Crank and Snatch. We can't wait to see the Hobbs/Shaw spin-off that is in the works.
Statham has starred in a huge number of mid-budget action films, all with fairly generic titles. But we reckon one stands out above most of the rest: Safe. This was written and directed by Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans). Statham plays ex-cop and cage fighter Luke Wright, who takes up the mission of protecting Mei, a young Chinese math genius. She is wanted by both the Triads and Russian Mafia, as she can eliminate their traceable digital footprint. Luke protects Mei because one of the Russians who kidnaps her is the man who killed his wife. It all serves to set up a chase movie where Statham gets to beat the hell out of hordes of nameless henchmen, all while developing a nice relationship with Mei and seeking redemption for himself.
In The Valley Of Elah (2007)
Departing from the world of action, we're now going to highlight the 2007 mystery drama In The Valley Of Elah. This starred Charlize Theron (Furious 8's villain Cipher) and Tommy Lee Jones. This was writer/director Paul Haggis' follow-up to his hugely successful Crash, which won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. We believe Elah is a better movie, however, and was unfortunately somewhat overlooked upon its release.
Jones plays military police veteran Hank Deerfield, who is searching for his son Mike, a soldier recently returned from Iraq. He is aided by Theron's Emily Sanders, a Detective who becomes personally involved in the case. When they find Mike's body, dismembered and burned, military officials attempt to block their investigation. The movie was a fictionalized version of a real-life story, the murder of Iraq war veteran Richard T. Davis and the investigation his father Lanny mounted into the circumstances surrounding his son's death.
Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Finally, we're going to spotlight a brutal Western-Horror film starring Kurt Russell. He has appeared in Furious 7 and 8 as the mysterious spook Mr Nobody. This one was released in 2015, the same year Russell also starred in Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. Despite strong reviews, it fell by the wayside somewhat. Perhaps two brutal Westerns was one too many for audiences that year. And Bone Tomahawk certainly was brutal.
Russell plays Sheriff Franklin Hunt in the film, a man who is forced to round up a posse (including Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins and Lost's Matthew Fox) to travel into the 'Valley Of The Starving Men', where a group of cannibalistic savages have captured three of their townspeople. The movie is impeccably acted and directed with an unflinching realism. This means when it changes two-thirds of the way in from a Western to something much more horrific, it's even more terrifying to watch. If you've got a strong stomach, we recommend this one.