Paul Walker, Justin Lin, Vin Diesel and Chris Morgan
Universal gave the world something it didn't even know it wanted: Another turbo-powered Fast and the Furious movie. How else to explain the incredible performance of the franchise's fifth installment, Fast Five? The movie, which starred Diesel and Walker, with Dwayne Johnson thrown in for extra muscle, revved up an astonishing $626 million worldwide, $210 million of that domestically.
Even more astonishing, it got great reviews! (A franchise-best 78 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.) Five benefited from a shrewdly strategic release date in late April, helping it get out in front of the summer competition. Along with Bridesmaids, it helped the studio weather a rough year at the box office and showed the town that it's possible to reinvent a franchise by switching gears and genres -- in this case, going from a street-car-racing movie to an international-heist film, which was teased by a simple end-of-the-movie cameo by Diesel in 2006's third entry, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. (Some payoffs just take longer than others.)
"Although it started with the idea of spotlighting this illegal street-racing phenomenon, it's really a camaraderie story," says Diesel, 44. "Hollywood has been somewhat void of it since the Sam Peckinpah days. It's an exploration of friendship and family in the modern age in a cool way."
Diesel and Walker, 38, have appeared in two movies in the series; Fast Five writer Chris Morgan and director Justin Lin have been with the franchise for three installments; and producer Neal Moritz has kept the motors turning throughout. Sometimes the oil of a creative team doesn't turn to sludge over time but actually makes the machine run faster (and furious-er). In fact, Universal rewarded Lin, Morgan, 41, and Diesel with production deals in the wake of the movie's success.
"When you have an opportunity to do something again, the money goes up and people get more conservative," says Lin, 38. "For us, it's about going the other way and to try new things."
Photographed by Joe Pugliese on Dec. 16 outside of Milk Studios in Los Angeles