The Fast & Furious is nothing like it used to be, but its massive transformation is ultimately what has saved it from fading into obscurity. When it comes creating a successful action movie franchise, there are a few routes that can be taken. Interestingly, the Fast & Furious movies have taken more than one, and it has actually worked surprisingly well.

The first film, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, was sort of like Point Break with street racing. Following an undercover cop who infiltrates a gang of street racers believing that they’re responsible for a string of high speed heists, The Fast and the Furious was a smash hit. The sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, followed a similar idea, minus Vin Diesel or the first film’s Point Break formula.

As time went on and the franchise’s cast shrunk and swelled in turns, the Fast & Furious franchise changed considerably. Fast Five, the fifth film, hit on a new idea: it was a high octane heist movie that embraced physics-defying stunts and the ever-growing cast. It worked, and subsequent films ran with this new format.

Why Fast & Furious Needed Its Transformation Into A Larger-Than-Life Action Franchise

Vin Diesel as Dom Toretto and Paul Walker as Brian O'Conner in The Fast and the Furious

Though it may seem strange considering the franchise’s continued popularity, it really needed the shift in focus. The street racing angle quickly became outdated, and by The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, things had gotten stale. It became evident that the Fast & Furious movies needed a new shtick, because the fourth film failed to impress critics (just ask Rotten Tomatoes).

This is where Fast & Furious made its all-important transformation, and it came at exactly the right time. Just as the franchise was in danger of losing all credibility, it reinvented itself. Changing the focus from an increasingly niche idea to something more conducive to a big Hollywood blockbuster was a stroke of genius, and it gave the Fast & Furious franchise new life.

The fact that the first film concerned a vehicular heist was crucial, though. This allowed the shift in focus to feel more like revisiting the franchise’s roots rather than an actual change. The sudden foray into out-and-out heist territory felt entirely organic, even if the action did suddenly become completely outlandish.

The thing is, the potential for that transformation was always present in the Fast & Furious franchise. It lay dormant while the first few films built the foundation, and then as the cast expanded, the franchise changed. In doing so, the Fast & Furious movies tapped into something that audiences have always responded to: escapism in its purest form. The Fast & Furious franchise might be borderline ridiculous, but it did its homework. By making sure it knew what its fans wanted before making its change, Fast & Furious‘ shift in focus was secretly masterful.