Since launching in 2001 the Fast & Furious franchise has become one of Hollywood's lead box office draws – not to mention an unexpected critical hit.
What separates the series from other blockbuster cash cows is both its willingness not to take itself too seriously (see: flying headbutt) and its devoted ensemble (headed by Vin Diesel, the late Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and The Rock, to name but a few). Still, it's the genuinely impressive car stunts which keep viewers coming back for more.
Ahead of Fast & Furious 7, we spoke with Car Coordinator Dennis McCarthy – in the driver's seat since third instalment Tokyo Drift (2006) – to dissect the franchise's most memorable vehicular set-pieces.
Fast Five (2011)
The Prison Bus Break Sequence
"In this scene, stunt driver Cory Eubanks was the guy whose safety I've been most concerned with.
There were three cannons on the bus that needed to be triggered, so what we had to do was disconnect the front brakes of his car, set them up with airbrakes on the rear so – as he came in to shot – he could swerve the bus, stab the brake and rotate the bus to 90 degrees. He'd then trigger this footswitch that would basically fire off the cannons – all at 60mph. As you can see, it had a brutal result.
We actually put that bus back on the wheels afterwards and drove it back to its old pallet in the parking lot we got it from."
"The part I like about this sequence is that there’s so much going on. I like everything we did up to that specific train jump, including the armoured truck (that we built) which pulled the cars out of the train. Everything you see with that truck next to the train was me driving.
"There was another part of the scene that we shot from the roof in which we had Cory and Oakley Lehman – Paul Walker's double – doing the fight sequence in the cab. That was fun and if one scene stands out as nerve-wracking and stressful, that was it. Although Oakley was there, Paul Walker was still very hands-on in all of his movies."
The Safe Sequence
"This is my favourite sequence of the franchise. Basically everything you’re seeing on screen is really happening. We had these huge steel vaults that we dragged behind the Dodge Chargers with a real winch attached to it. There’s a couple of shots where we had a safe actually mounted to the front of a Kenwood Big Rig truck for a couple of those real heavy impacts where you see the cars sliding off the bridge.
"But for the most part, I’d say 75% of that was just dragging the safe through the streets of Puerto Rico (which stood in for Rio). I think this holds a record for the destruction of most cars in one sequence.
"All the extras were obviously stunt personnel so they had to be prepared to jump out the way. All the cars were driven by stunt people – probably one of the highest numbers of stunt drivers in one scene that I’ve ever witnessed."
Fast and Furious 6 (2013)
The Tank Sequence
"This was shot on Tenerife Island where there’s a section of freeway that runs for seven or eight miles. There were four lanes on each side with three real tanks – including two stunt ones that were just lighter and had wheels underneath them for better maneuverability. Then there were just hundreds and hundreds of cars, including many multiples of our hero cars – the Mustang and the Escort.
"A lot of people don’t realise that months and months of effort goes into one little sequence that lasts for a matter of minutes on screen. We’d do one take then get out there with the wrecker and the scraps to drag crushed cars off the freeway to replace them with an identical batch so we could shoot from a different angle.
"It was stressful filming there because there were no resources. It wasn’t like shooting in the UK or US where you can go and buy more cars or parts. There was literally one auto parts store."
Fast & Furious 7 (2015)
The Plane-Drop Sequence
"Again, as with the safe sequence in Fast Five, this is really happening: cars are actually coming out the back of a Lockheed C-130 military plane and we really had guys with parachutes jumping out after them to film them all the way down.
"The car's parachutes were military ones – they were actually fully functional and when they were deployed, the cars would – for the most part – land unscathed; sometimes the wind would pick up and drag a car across the desert.
"When I read the script, I was like "Wow, how is that going to actually happen?" But how it happened is we actually did it and that’s what I think separates the Fast & Furious franchise from others – we always try to do our stunts for real."
You can see a behind-the-scenes featurette of this scene below:
Fast & Furious 7 is released on Friday 3 April