Fast & Furious: Is the Film Series Based on Real Life?

The ‘Fast & Furious‘ film series has been popular with fans of both action films and race cars alike all across the world since the first movie, titled ‘The Fast and the Furious,’ was released in 2001. Since then, there have been nine sequels, one spin-off film, and one spin-off Netflix animated series. While the initial four films in the series were mainly centered around illegal street racing and organized crime, the series took a drastic turn into the realm of espionage and international terrorism, starting with ‘Fast Five (2011).’

Even with an ever-changing roster of directors and writers that include the likes of Rob Cohen, John Singleton, Justin Lin, James Wan, F. Gary Gary, and Louis Leterrier, the essence of the ‘Fast & Furious‘ films has been constant — family. From the first film in the series to ‘Fast X,’ the ensemble cast has been constant as well. The films star Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Sun Kang in recurring roles.

Paul Walker was, and is, part of this list as well, until his unfortunate demise in a car accident back in November 2013. With as much heart and soul as the films have, it is no wonder that millions of fans relate to the characters and eagerly await new additions to the series. But what exactly spawned such an incredible franchise? What is the true story behind ‘Fast & Furious?’ Let’s dive in and find out together!

From Street Racing to Silver Screen: The Fast & Furious Saga

No, none of the ‘Fast & Furious’ films are based on a true story. However, the first film in the franchise, written by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, and David Ayer, was inspired by the illegal street racing scene in New York. Popularly known as “The Import Scene” because of the modified, imported Japanese cars that were used in the races, it was first covered by journalist Kenneth Li for Vibe magazine in May 1998. Titled ‘Racer X,’ the report set things in motion for a film series that would mark its presence in the history of cinema.

“A young executive at Universal named Kevin Misher—he said he read an article in Vibe magazine and said, ‘I think there’s something there.’ So I read this article, which was essentially about street racing in Queens, New York. I thought, ‘Well, there is something there,'” Rob Cohen, the director of ‘The Fast and the Furious,’ said in an interview. The first film sees Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) conducting an undercover investigation into a group of street racers that he suspects are responsible for a series of high-speed heists.

Once O’Connor earns the trust and love of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family, O’Conner finds himself conflicted over whether or not to turn in the criminals. Gary Scott Thompson, as part of his research, spent some time with teenagers in his neighborhood who were known for rebuilding cars. The writer also went out to watch a few of the illegal street races, much like director Rob Cohen. Cohen mentioned in an interview with Culture Express how he was both surprised and impressed by the multicultural aspect of these races, which can be seen in the films as well.

One of the racers that ‘Racer X’ focuses on is Rafael Estevez, a Dominican drag racer. Estevez became the inspiration for the character of Dominic Toretto and his personal philosophy about racing. Another thing that made it into the films from the Kenneth Li article is the way that the racers would play a game of cat and mouse with the police, who tried, unsuccessfully, on multiple occasions to apprehend them. “I do anything I have to do to get away from the cops,” Estevez said in the original article. “I’m not trying to go to jail.”

In fact, director Rob Cohen experienced the police crackdown firsthand when he was out researching one of the drag races with R.J. de Vera, a former auto journalist and drag racer, who also portrays the role of Danny Yamato in ‘The Fast and the Furious.’ “I found this young guy—R.J. de Vera—who, for various reasons, was open to taking me out. That night, with the police coming and everybody gathering—became Paul Walker’s first night in the street-racing scene in “The Fast and the Furious.” Once I saw the world, it was like a no-brainer to me,” the director said.

While centered around cars, the film’s portrayal of various cultures and their perspective on the world and family is also something that viewers have been able to relate to and appreciate for the last two decades. So, while the ‘Fast & Furious’ films might be fictional in nature, they represent and keep alive a whole sub-culture of street racing that many remember quite fondly.

Read More: All Fast and Furious Movies, Ranked