It’s safe to say the 16-year-old Fast & Furious franchise is an unqualified success. Its eighth entry, The Fate of the Furious, opened to a healthy $98 million at the U.S. box office this weekend and seems poised to be a financial boon like its forebears. The next two sequels are already greenlit and, in general, the Vin Diesel-starring, car-centric series is a crown-jewel property for Universal Studios. But there are some signs of trouble ahead: Fate’s opening was about $50 million down from the previous film, Furious 7, and the reaction from critics was similarly less rapturous. The franchise is doing fine, but there’s at least some reason to worry.
The answer to seemingly every question in the Fast & Furious world, for years, has been: more. Bigger. Is the star of your franchise a bald, muscle-bound celebrity? Why not add another, as Fast Five did by casting Dwayne Johnson? Getting tired of all the car chases? Why not add in a tank, a plane, a military drone, or (Fate of the Furious’s contribution) a submarine? Did you like the villain of the last movie? Have them switch sides and become a hero in the next one, as Jason Statham’s character did this time.
Going by this formula, the ninth Fast & Furious (due in 2019) will see Fate’s bad guy Charlize Theron ally with Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and his band of merry folk. It’ll feature an action set-piece in space, or at least somehow involve a rocket ship, and it’ll add yet another bald action star (LL Cool J? Bruce Willis? Patrick Stewart? Samuel L. Jackson? Take your pick). Continually upping the ante, especially starting with Fast Five, is how Fast & Furious evolved from fairly niche territory (concerning the underground culture of street racing) to a globe-trotting series that feels like Ocean’s Eleven crossed with The Avengers. But: What if it bucked the trend? What if Fast 9 were to go smaller?