Since Paul Walker, Vin Diesel and the rest of their Robin Hood, car-crazy family raced onto our screens all the way back in 2001, the Fast and Furious franchise has held a remarkably tight death grip on the public consciousness. What began as an uber ‘00s Point Break rip-off about street racers stealing VCR and DVD players somehow morphed into a ten-film global phenomenon filled with high-flying stunts and world-saving heists that’s raked in nearly $6 billion at the box office. The Fast and Furious movies have come from virtually nowhere and established themselves as one of the most easily recognizable franchises in film history—and at the center of it all, driving (if you’ll pardon the pun) each film, has been the unbreakable bond between protagonists Brian O’Conner (Walker) and Dominic Toretto (Diesel).
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the close bond between Brian and Dom is a hallmark of the franchise. From their first meeting in the opening scenes of The Fast and the Furious through their final tear-jerking goodbye at the end of Furious 7, the Brian/Dom dynamic is undoubtedly the most consistent relationship at the core of the franchise, easily eclipsing their romantic pairings like Mia and Brian, or Dom and Letty. It’s a relationship so deeply ingrained in the fabric of the films that many a fan of the franchise has been quick to point out and latch onto that closeness as thinly-veiled homoeroticism, a queer-coded love story spanning seven of the most uber-macho action films of all time.
And there is undoubtedly a pressing need for LGBTQ+ leads in action franchises. You can count on one hand the number of queer characters in action flicks that have a film presence more significant than one that can be conveniently edited out for international releases and foreign censorship. At the same time, though, there’s an adjacent, separate and just as pressing need for healthy depictions of close platonic male friendships in blockbuster action flicks—and the Fast and Furious films toe this precarious line in a singular fashion that few other franchises have even considered attempting.
At face value, speaking strictly in terms of canon LGBTQ+ representation, the franchise’s relationship with queerness is just as abysmal as the rest of its genre contemporaries. Queer representation in the Fast and Furious films pretty much begins and ends with Brian being called a homophobic slur not five minutes into the first Fast movie, and from there queer “representation” (if it can even be labeled as such) is limited to nameless hot party girls making out in hallways of clubs for viewers to ogle—blatant lesbian fetishization stemming from the rigid ideas of masculinity and misogyny that surround street racing culture.
Understandably, LGBTQ+ fans of the franchise go looking for queer-coded characters to carve out their own representation, and it’s not difficult to understand why they latched on to Brian and Dom—especially in The Fast and the Furious, the first installment in the franchise and easily the film most rife with homoerotic tension. Though Brian claims to be showing up to the Toretto’s diner every day to flirt with Dom’s sister Mia, the smoldering looks, the often in-your-face physicality, and the quick but inseparable bond the men form make it easy for viewers to instead read the film as an intense blossoming romance between a car thief and an undercover police officer—Romeo and Juliet’s car-crossed lovers.
Many of the acting and directorial choices feel as if they’re leaning into this angle as well: Diesel in particular has a remarkable amount of responsibility for tossing fuel on the Brian/Dom fire. Though his performances in the franchise’s latter installments are comparatively devoid of charisma or fire, there’s a ferocity, wit and nearly tongue-in-cheek nature about Dom (and Diesel’s performance) in the original The Fast and The Furious that makes queer readings of he and Brian’s relationship much more understandable—so much so that even Saturday Night Live picked up on it after the fourth film, Fast & Furious.
Though the sketch itself holds “charming” little traces of ‘00s-era homophobia that the Fast films themselves also carried, it’s still worth noting that even mainstream audiences caught the queer undertones early in the franchise’s run.
On the one hand, it’s easy to see why audiences latched onto the reading, how the argument can be made and why such an interpretation is an incredibly valid way to watch the films, especially when substituting or trying to make up for a lack of queer representation. It’s not often that we see two male protagonists with such a close bond; by proxy, queerness often becomes an unspoken part of the equation: Sam and Frodo, Kirk and Spock—the list goes on and on. On the other hand, though, by reading this relationship as romantic, it shreds a very significant, valid element of the franchise that’s rare in the genre as a whole—the aforementioned platonic male friendship.
As spinoff stars Hobbs and Shaw prove, most studios seem to be under the impression that the only way two men can co-lead an action franchise without compromising their perceived masculinity, or resorting to jokes to explain away their affinity for each other, is if they’re in competition. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (somewhat controversially) excels at this—Captain American and Iron Man may lead the Avengers together, but not without constant quips, bickering and an entire film dedicated to their personal feud. So, for a franchise as massive as the Fast and Furious films to have such unabashed male closeness is a refreshing change of pace—and a rarity in the genre that’s worth celebrating and preserving.
Such an uber-macho franchise telling its audience that it’s okay (admirable, even) for two men to have a close, passionate friendship is a significant step towards breaking down stigmas surrounding masculinity and its supposed mutual exclusivity from affection towards other men. It’s ironic that such a progressive, heartfelt message is buried at the center of a franchise that reinforces gender norms and amps up gender binaries to eleven in virtually every other aesthetic and narrative element of its films, but—in the same breath—the franchise’s position in pop culture as a “guy’s” movie makes its positive depictions of affectionate male friendships all the more impactful.
Perhaps in spite of itself, the Fast and Furious franchise’s willingness to feature front-and-center platonic male closeness is a rarity in the realm of blockbuster action films, and an element that other franchises would do well to incorporate and understand if we want to work towards breaking down harmful misconceptions and singular definitions of masculinity. Because even while Vin Diesel races a flaming junker car through the streets of Havana to defend his honor, or as The Rock pulls a chunk of concrete out of a prison wall to quite literally flex on Jason Statham, the Fast and Furious films’ core thesis has always been and will always be the importance of family—a family centered around the complex, passionate, undeniable closeness between Brian and Dom.
Lauren Coates is a freelance entertainment writer with a passion for sci-fi, an unhealthy obsession with bad reality television, and a constant yearning to be at Disney World. She’s contributed to Paste since 2020. You can follow her on Twitter @laurenjcoates, where she’s probably talking about Star Trek.