Streaming: Fast & Furious and ​other great car movies

The juggernaut series, including its latest instalment F9, powers​​ on in the slipstream of full-throttle classics from Thunder Road and The Italian Job to Bullitt and Mad Max ​

It’s funny to think it’s been 20 years since the release of the first film in the Fast & Furious franchise – then just called The Fast and the Furious (Amazon), free of numerals, though embellished with now-quaint definite articles. Back then it seemed about as disposable a pleasure as any: a dumb, flashy, fluorescently shot update of the hot rod B-films of the 1950s, more a faintly retro novelty than anything else.

The films have since swollen pretty much beyond recognition, taking on ever bigger stars, ever loopier high concepts and ever more souped-up vehicles. Sometimes, as in 2011’s sleek, snazzy Fast Five (Amazon), the engine fires on all cylinders. Last time, in the overlong, overpumped The Fate of the Furious (2017; Apple TV), you could sense the series spinning its wheels. Now out on DVD/Blu-ray and non-premium VOD, F9 falls somewhere in the middle. It’s not as streamlined as its title might suggest; running to two-and-a-half hours, and departing so far from the franchise’s original turf as to send cars into space, it’s a big, silly flexing exercise, but executed with just enough tacky panache to be fun.

I prefer the genre leaner, meaner and more grounded, however. You can scarcely tell any more beneath all the brawn and gloss, but the blockbusters’ DNA can be traced back to such cheap and cheerful junk as 1958’s Gene Vincent-starring Hot Rod Gang (streamable only in dicey bootleg form) and any number of similarly titled films just like it, where the stories are as anaemic as the boy racers’ quiffs are voluminous.

Want a classier, harder-boiled version? From the same year, Thunder Road (Amazon) fused the hot rod craze with the style of film noir, with a steely Robert Mitchum as a moonshine delivery driver whose jacked-up Ford keeps running afoul of gangsters. Meanwhile, illustrating the difference between US and UK driving cultures, the great British race car film of the era was the comparatively genteel, puttering, London-to-Brighton romp Genevieve (1953; BritBox).

Genevieve. Photograph: Alamy

By the 1970s, hot rod culture was already the stuff of nostalgia, as rosily reflected in the likes of American Graffiti (Netflix) and Grease (Apple TV). The 1960s had taken fast-car cinema up to a sleeker, sharper level with the breakneck car chases of Steve McQueen’s hypercool cop thriller Bullitt (Apple TV) and the quirkier British hijinks of The Italian Job (Now TV), which retained some of Genevieve’s cuteness on a more high-octane scale.

The sprawling widescreen spectacle of Grand Prix (1966; Apple TV) merged the recklessness of racing cinema with the romanticism of the sports movie. Le Mans (Amazon), made in 1970 with McQueen and a hint of docu-style authenticity to it, was better. Twenty years later, Tony Scott and Tom Cruise’s noisy, exhausting but fleetingly beautiful Days of Thunder (Chili) was a bit worse. Recently, Le Mans ’66 (Virgin Go) – a beautifully crafted, minimally inspired, rock-solid dad movie – proved the genre has gas left in the tank.

Mad Max: Fury Road.
‘The greatest, maddest car movie of all time?’: Mad Max: Fury Road. Photograph: AP

These days, practically every fast-car movie is a callback to something else. Edgar Wright’s lickety-split Baby Driver (2017; Netflix) is nothing if not a hot rod film for the 21st century. It’s clever, but not half as cool as Nicolas Winding Refn’s gorgeous, grisly Drive (2011; BFI Player), which took the brooding minimalism of Walter Hill’s 1970s gem The Driver (Amazon) and added a whole heap of neon nihilism to it. Finally, the greatest, maddest car movie of our time (of all time?) is itself a franchise entry. George Miller’s exhilarating Mad Max: Fury Road (2015; Apple TV) – all the grimy, apocalyptic spectacle of the 80s films, amped up to the power of 10, minus Mel Gibson – remains faster and more furious than anything else in its lane.

Also new on streaming and DVD

New Order
Now coming out on DVD/Blu-ray alongside its availability on Mubi, this class-war provocation from Mexican auteur Michel Franco won the Grand Prix at Venice last year and has many keen admirers. I’m less convinced. Exceedingly well made but politically hollow, its portrayal of a darker-skinned working class taking violent revenge on the elite feigns a both-sides stance, but there’s exploitative colourism at play.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World
In 1970, Luchino Visconti cast 15-year-old Swede Björn Andrésen as Tadzio in Death in Venice, after a Europe-wide search for the ultimate emblem of youthful male beauty. That claim, for a role that doubles as queer desire object and angel of death, was a heavy burden to place on a child. Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s moving, upsetting documentary probes how it haunted Andrésen’s life across five decades.

Björn Andrésen on the set of Death in Venice, 1970.
Björn Andrésen on the set of Death in Venice, 1970. Photograph: Mario Tursi

Moving On
Kicking off a mini-season of South Korean films previously undistributed in the UK, Yoon Dan-bi’s delicately wistful but unsentimental family drama is a most promising debut. Tracing the fine cross-generational tensions that ensue when a hard-up divorced dad moves his children into his own father’s house, it’s indebted to the likes of Edward Yang and Yasujirō Ozu, but has its own airy modernity.


Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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