Why xXx Never Became As Big As The Fast And The Furious

The xXx franchise never could match the Fast & Furious series in terms of box office receipts or critical reception, but what was it that stopped Vin Diesel’s other blockbuster series from soaring as high? 2002’s xXx reunited star Vin Diesel with original The Fast & The Furious helmer Rob Cohen, and the movie was almost as successful at the box office as the pair's first collaboration. A campy riff on the spy movie genre, xXx asked the uniquely early ‘00s question “what if James Bond was an extreme sports enthusiast?

Before the mid-‘00s saw 007 himself reinvented as a grounded, gritty action hero in Daniel Craig’s Bond debut Casino Royale, Pierce Brosnan’s self-referential version of the character leaned into his goofiest excesses and most over-the-top elements. As such, viewers were ready for a younger, cooler spy character, and after the success of The Fast & The Furious, Diesel’s titular xXx (AKA Xander Cage) seemed perfectly poised to fill that role. Indeed, xXx briefly was the hottest new thing in action cinema, with 2002’s original earning $280 million upon release against a budget of $80 million (for reference, The Fast and the Furious earned around the same with a more modest $40 million budget).

Related: How xXx Parodied James Bond In Its Opening Scene

However, as the years wore on, it become more and more clear that even on its best day Diesel's other major series would never be as big as the Fast & Furious franchise, let alone Bond. Although the 007 franchise weathered some duds like the uneven Connery outing Diamonds Are Forever, the series still managed to maintain consistent popularity much like the later Fast & Furious sequels proved they could steer through mixed reviews to gain consistent box office success. So, what was it that made xXx so much less reliable than both its spy movie inspiration and the franchise that made its star famous? There are many factors involved in answering why xXx never became as big as Fast & Furious, chief among them the changing tone of spy movies in the mid-‘00s, the lengthy gaps between sequels, and the lack of a consistent style among the three outings of the franchise to date.

After Diesel’s success with the first two Fast & Furious movies, xXx was intended to be the next big spy series that would best the increasingly outdated Bond at the box office. 007 was primed for defeat, with 2002’s Die Another Day sliding so far into self-parody that it received worse reviews than the following year’s Austin Powers in Goldmember. However, despite xXx performing impressively at the box office in 2002, Diesel opted to leave the series behind after only the first installment and, without its central star, the next sequel saw the franchise grow in a strangely self-parodic direction with the bombastic xXx: State of the Union, which ironically had the same director as Die Another Day, Lee Tamahori.

Although the first two films were a hit with audiences, it is important to note that around the time of the first two xXx movies, the future of the Fast & Furious franchise was not clear. Director Justin Lin’s decision to reunite the original cast in 2009's Fast and Furious improved the reception of the series, as did the subsequent arrival of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and the tonal switch-up in the further improved outing Fast Five. Now a self-consciously silly action series, the franchise became huge thanks to its decision to embrace the sheer silliness of its premise instead of shirking away from it.

The fact the Fast & Furious installments have been consistent and the series blends action with heart have made it a favorite where, in contrast, the xXx sequels have failed to find a consistent tone or a happy medium between silly spectacle and self-serious Bond/Bourne-style spy thriller stories. The first film arrived too early to be a gritty, realistic shaky-cam spy adventure, while the most recent 2017 sequel failed to offer a story as cartoony as Diesel's other beloved franchise. Stuck in a chasm between the intensity of late ‘00s spy cinema and the winking self-parody of ’10s action cinema, the xXx movies never found their voice, failing to parody Bond movies while also failing to earnestly recreate their appeal.

Related: How Jason Bourne Improved (& Saved) The James Bond Movies

The primary reason the xXx series has never matched the popularity of the Fast & Furious films is that the franchise never found the right tone for its spy antics. The first movie is a little more over-the-top than the early Fast & Furious movies, but the Diesel-less sequel is almost as silly and CGI-soaked as the most embarrassing Pierce Brosnan James Bond outings. Meanwhile, 2017’s passable xXx 3 saw the return of both Diesel and Ice Cube (along with the inspired casting of Toni Collette) but brought nothing new to the table. Without the unhinged silliness of the Fast & Furious sequels, where even time travel is within the bounds of possibility, the xXx series couldn’t help but feel perfunctory in comparison.

Meanwhile, the success of the films at the box office proves there is a market for Diesel’s less-loved series, but the fact the franchise's collective takings can’t hold a candle to the Fast and Furious movies could prove it is mostly residual love for the star that leads them to succeed. The hopes of the series have not been aided by a recent lawsuit that delayed the next entry, resulting in yet another long wait between outings. Combine this with a lack of memorable villains like the Fast & Furious franchise’s Cipher or a dearth of solid supporting characters like Han, and fans inevitably found it hard to root for the eponymous xXx despite Diesel’s star power. Even stars like Tom Cruise struggle to make multiple franchises work, so the failure of the xXx series to win over fans of the Fast & Furious movies seems inevitable when it has little of the charming chemistry or agreeable silliness of those outsized hits.

More: Will Charlize Theron's Cipher Spinoff Redeem The Fast & Furious Villain?



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