Diesel famously turned down $20 million to reprise the role of Dominic Toretto in 2 Fast 2 Furious (maybe that terrible title put him off), but that didn't stop the series moving ahead in his absence. The third movie, Tokyo Drift, was something of a misstep, but by the time Diesel returned, hat in hand, for back-to-basics fourquel Fast & Furious, the franchise had hit top speed, rocketing to a record-breaking opening weekend. Follow-ups Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 took the series into the stratosphere: this year's instalment, the most popular to date, outgrossed the likes of Man Of Steel and The Wolverine. It's fair to say that no one, not even the filmmakers themselves, could have foreseen this kind of success.
Yet the Fast & Furious producers aren't resting on their laurels. In fact, Universal are capitalising on the series' popularity, hastily rescheduling a seventh movie for 2014, a mere 14 months after the last one opened. Diesel says he considers the Furious franchise to be two separate trilogies; the first three films were mainly focused on street racing, while the last three hit the turbo button and launched themselves into lunatic action with great abandon. What's interesting is that the seeds have already been sown for Fast & Furious 7 and a third trilogy, which promises to be the most fascinating yet.
Team Furious has made some major transfers over the summer. Joining Diesel, Walker and star player Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson is big-name signing Jason Statham, poached from the Transporter series and unveiled in the Fast & Furious 6 post-credits sting as the villain of the next movie. Joining him will be dependable warhorse Kurt Russell (not too shabby behind the wheel himself) and solid squad players like Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou. New and old faces will combine for one of the most multi-cultural, gender-balanced blockbuster casts in recent memory, perhaps going some way to explaining the franchise's huge success overseas.
All this proves there is still plenty of gas in the tank. Diesel and Walker both claim that they can't see the Fast & Furious finish line in sight, and the money men at Universal would be bonkers to blow the tyres of the franchise while it's still burning box-office rubber. With the death of Han at the hands of The Stath at the end of Fast & Furious 6, the fork in the road of the franchise chronology has finally straightened itself out (technically the events of Tokyo Drift took place after movies 4, 5 and 6) with the promise of clear driving ahead. As long as the series' writers – yes, it has writers – can continue thinking up excuses to squeeze its musclemen into sports cars, Fast & Furious will continue to gather speed.
Would you honestly be surprised if we saw Fast & Furious 10 by the end of the decade? And would you even mind? Unlike the Saw franchise, where each subsequent sequel muddied the franchise's mythology further, or the star-powered Die Hard movies that are in desperate need of euthanasing, Fast & Furious movies seem to be getting more confident and more ludicrously enjoyable with each new instalment. Crucially, the cast is now so large and varied, you could feasibly see the series continuing without either Diesel or Walker should they decide they dislike being filthy rich. There have even been rumours that a spin-off involving Hobbs (Dwayne's Johnson's hulking cop) is on the cards.
The possibilities are myriad, and at this point in the story – with characters changing allegiances, coming back from the dead and routinely defying the laws of physics – there's literally no telling where Fast & Furious will end up in another 12 years.
Fast & Furious has proved that it's bigger than its cast, it's bigger than its critics – it's even bigger than its initial concept. Save for perhaps the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is no other current franchise that has built up quite so much momentum. With new director James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) in the driving seat and a new cast of villains ready to take apart Dom and his gang (with or without Denzel), there's never been a more exciting time to be a fan of Fast & Furious – the most continually surprising, oddly fascinating, shamelessly entertaining blockbuster series to ever put pedal to metal.