Picking up after the events of 2017’s The Fate of the Furious, the action pic follows unparalleled street racer and auto mechanic Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), as he’s reunited with his younger broker, Jakob (John Cena). A deadly assassin working with his and Dom’s old enemy Cipher (Charlize Theron), Jakob holds a personal vendetta against the brother he believes betrayed him, and is intent on getting revenge. (Check out the trailer above.)
The ninth installment in Universal’s highest-grossing film series, which kicked off nearly two decades ago, was shot before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and initially scheduled for worldwide release in April of 2019. The film, subsequently had its release date pushed five times—first, due to the release dates of spin-off Hobbs & Shaw and Bond film No Time to Die, and then due to the pandemic—eventually landing on a U.S. date of June 25.
Ahead of the release of today’s F9 trailer, Justin Lin spoke with Deadline about his fifth go-round with the franchise, as director, as well as Universal’s commitment, over the course of the pandemic, to hold onto the feature, until it could be released in theaters. Additionally, he touched on the final two Fast & Furious films to come following F9—and characters, including Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham), who might return in them. For the director’s thoughts on the future of the franchise, beyond the films, read on.
DEADLINE: Universal went to great lengths to protect F9’s theatrical release. What do you think that says about the studio? What does it mean to you?
JUSTIN LIN: It was very meaningful. I think last March when we shut down, we didn’t know what was going to happen. But personally, I was like, “There’s no way we’re going to share this on streaming first.” You know, when we started making these films, part of the fun is for people to go to the theaters with their friends, and laugh and cheer together. But I have to say, [in] all the conversations I had with Vin [Diesel] and with Universal, we were all in line. And it was just very gratifying to know that, “Hey, we’re going to do it. If we have to wait, we’re going to wait. But we’re going to do it safe, and we’re going to do it at the right time.” So, the fact that I’m sitting here talking to you, I feel like it’s coming. It’s getting close. I think it will be worth the wait.
DEADLINE: That being said, was there ever any talk amidst the pandemic about sending the film to PVOD, or selling it to a streamer?
LIN: No. I’m very proud to say that I had my stance; Vin, we were in line. The studio, I just give them so much credit, again, for those thoughtful conversations, where we talk about why we make these movies, and how we want to share this with the world. So, it never kind of went beyond that, and it was a very pleasant process, when it came to that.
DEADLINE: Were there moments, over the past year, that had you worried about the future of the theatrical experience?
LIN: I think for the films that were kind of stuck, that maybe got in production or post-production, you know? But look. I’m fortunate enough to be able to make indie movies, TV and stuff, and I could tell you certain movies, you’re like, “Yeah, great. You can watch it streaming, you can watch on a tablet.” But I’ve always felt like the Fast franchise, we do this for the big screen. So, I’ve always been confident because I mean…I grew up with [it]. I could still tell you some of my most memorable, emotional moments were shared in a movie theater. So, I still have a lot of belief in it, and I think that especially films like Fast, this franchise, I feel confident that we’re going to be living in this format.
DEADLINE: What can you tell us about F9? Did this installment of the franchise present any new challenges?
LIN: I think probably the most challenging aspect was the fact that the ambition of this film was to not only explore a character that’s a blood relative to Dom Toretto. But at the same time, by doing that, it was going to open up a lot of different chapters, and it was going to answer a lot of questions from previous films. Just by that premise, a lot of these characters were going to come back, so real estate was a big issue for me, to be able to do that efficiently. But luckily, I think very early on, we decided that this was not going to be a one-film experience—and that’s usually been my approach. Whenever we make a sequel, I go all out for that one, and we figure out the next one as we go. This one, F9, is the first film of the final chapter, so there’s a couple more to go, but I think it was very liberating, creatively, to think of it in those terms.
DEADLINE: In October of last year, Deadline broke the news that there are two more Fast & Furious films to come, and that you will direct both. What more can you tell us, at this point, about the future of the franchise?
LIN: Well, look. It’s been great. I think that just by the fan reactions, we now have all of these really great, compelling characters that people love, and I’m hoping that we’re going to have opportunities to really showcase these characters, hopefully in future films and in other mediums. Again, it’s a testament, I think, to the fans. They’re the ones that I think allow us to have an opportunity to always explore and evolve these characters, and we’re at a point right now where it’s very exciting. I’m constantly having really great conversations with people, and I really am excited for the future for the franchise.
DEADLINE: As you mentioned, there’s been talk of additional feature spin-offs and potential Fast & Furious TV series. But is there anything to share, in terms of concrete steps taken in that direction? Is there a specific character you’d like to focus on with a series?
LIN: You know, I think it’s free flowing. What I really love about being part of this franchise is that it’s not based on IP, and it’s a philosophy and a culture that I think we’ve developed through multiple films. I think anytime people are trying to label us or box us in, it’s our job to kind of bust through, and we’ve been able to do that continuously. So, I think when it comes to really finding the right venue to showcase these characters, I always love those conversations, and we’re constantly having those. But we’re also very patient, in making sure that whatever we do, it’s the right move.
DEADLINE: To my understanding, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham won’t appear in F9, after branching out to star in spin-off, Hobbs and Shaw. Could you see either or both of them returning in the franchise’s final films?
LIN: I never really considered them gone, you know? To me, they’re still in this universe; they’re part of this family. Whatever we do, whenever we’re talking about the next chapter, I never feel like I have any restrictions, so I’m excited for what we build, and as we’re coming to this kind of final chapter of this saga, I think I’m excited to revisit…Any character, in any situation, is up for discussion.