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Ranking the Fast & Furious Franchise

by Christopher Cross

There are few properties that seem to have grown as organically as the Fast & Furious franchise. From its humble beginnings as a Point Break clone with street racing to taking down a submarine with vehicular warfare, there’s also no franchise that has grown so increasingly over-the-top without losing its core values. Every movie in the mainline series feels like it belongs (though some less than others) and comes with either a new character to root for or a change in the dynamic of Toretto’s “family.” That said, let’s go through all the movies and see how those changes and additions have fared for each in ranking this almost two-decade long franchise.

9. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

2 Fast 2 Furious

As an introduction to Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), 2 Fast 2 Furious offers very little substantive narrative for the series. It’s notable for being the worst film in the franchise, as well as for lacking an appearance by Vin Diesel. Dominc Toretto himself opted out of doing this sequel due to the quality of the screenplay, and instead did The Chronicles of Riddick. The bright spot of all this is that Roman and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) are established as having plenty of history, which leads to subsequent sequels not having to rely on recent moments for characters to reflect back on. 

It’s not all bad as far as movies go, but John Singleton clearly wanted a slice of Miami culture, and he tries his hardest to get it. There’s a lot to cringe at, and the film definitely hasn’t aged well, but despite its cash-grab appearance of rushing into a sequel without the lead, 2 Fast 2 Furious still has a moment or two worth remembering. The film also features a couple of stunts that feel at home in the franchise, including driving a car onto a yacht, and a ‘scramble’ sequence that has the police chasing two cars amidst an abundance of other street racers. It will be interesting to see if a character like Monica (Eva Mendes) ever makes a future appearance, because this series is all about mining its past.

8. Fast & Furious (2009)

Let me begin by saying that the Justin Lin-directed movies in this franchise are incredible pieces of blockbuster cinema. We wouldn’t even be at the point we are today if Lin and Chris Morgan didn’t start setting the series on its way with Fast & Furious. This entry brings together Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and Brian (Walker), as well as the rest of the crew, with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster). Along with characters that would later appear in Fast Five, including Shea Wigham and John Ortiz’s characters, the most important addition would be Gisele (Gal Gadot). She isn’t given a lot to do, but at least we have that little bit of establishing for the future movies to utilize.

Unfortunately, save for the early gas truck scene, Fast & Furious is underwhelming. John Ortiz is always fun, but as a villain he’s as by-the-book as they come as he forces Toretto and Brian into a generic sting operation. The movie has the unenviable task of trying to bring together the two leads after the events that transpired in the first film, reminding audiences of the chemistry they had while still maintaining distance between them due to their past conflict. It’s not an easy tightrope to walk, and it is unsurprising that the finished product is as boilerplate as they get.

7. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

While officially a Fast & Furious entry, this spinoff is not part of the main canon, and offers a sillier, less enjoyable deviation from the series. Starring Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the film dials further into the silliness than I think even Fast & Furious fans can abide by. It amplifies the cybernetic future that movies like Furious 7 and The Fate of the Furious have used as integral plot points, but the way it’s all handled feels so unearned. Two burly men think they’re the greatest at what they do and are never really taken down a peg when they face Brixton (Idris Elba), who also thinks he’s the greatest at what he does.

There are some good setpieces throughout, with Statham and Johnson having a lot of fun, but it’s just one of those movies that feels so removed from the franchise it spun off from that it feels kind of absurd to lure fans of the main series into seeing this. As our review suggested, this is a movie that might entertain those unfamiliar with the series, but it isn’t going to win over those already invested.

6. The Fate of the Furious (2017)

After the death of Paul Walker and the sincere goodbye that Furious 7 provided, the series needed to pull out all the stops. If anything, this is the most Fast & Furious entry. The melodrama is here in spades, and it also pits Toretto against his crew in order to save the one thing that matters most to him: family. Unfortunately, it also means turning his back on his original family, who are left in the dark as to why he’s gone rogue. This also means that the franchise is forced to do some shakeups in order to spread out the lead acting responsibility that was previously given to Diesel and Walker.

Due to behind-the-scenes fighting between Dwayne Johnson and Diesel, the two do not share scenes. Though Hobbs and Shaw get their great prison fight together, Hobbs and Toretto have no words for one another. Still, this movie is slightly entertaining, but only because of the main conceit that the crew has to go against Toretto and Cipher (Charlize Theron). Letty ends up with a good chunk of screen time, but her character simply can’t carry the load that Toretto can. Also, someone gave Roman more lines of dialogue (which is an absolute no-no, as he has had the perfect amount in prior films) and Scott Eastwood will never replace Paul Walker, as much as the series might try. But the set pieces in this are almost all great, so there’s that.

5. Furious 7 (2015)

It’s funny going back to this knowing that the series has essentially forgotten the fact that Deckard Shaw killed beloved drifter, Han (Sung Kang). Furious 7 opens strong, with Shaw out for revenge after his brother’s defeat in Furious 6. It continues strong with the addition of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), as well as fantastic set piece after fantastic set piece. The absurdity of God’s Eye (a piece of technology that allows whoever has it to see anyone, anywhere, at any time), the free reign that Toretto and crew have to stop Shaw and get God’s Eye, and every incredible action moment is what makes Furious 7 a really strong film. It’s also the first one since the second film that didn’t have Justin Lin directing, instead opting for one of the modern horror greats, James Wan.

If anything, the problem with Furious 7 is that it’s too much at times. The final car chase where they’re trying to stop God’s Eye remotely is only fun because of the banter — and it’s a stupid fun, for sure. Nevertheless, Furious 7 will always be enjoyed for dropping cars from the sky, pitting Toretto against Shaw for a final showdown (“The street always wins”), and the emotional sendoff of Brian’s character.

4. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

If the first movie gave us a glimpse into the world of street racing, and the second highlighted tuner culture, then Tokyo Drift is the glimpse into the drifting world of Japan. From the first race where speed is all that matters for Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), to the second race where he is utterly destroyed by DK (Brian Tee), this is not your average Fast & Furious movie. There are no characters already known, what we’ve learned of racing is thrown out the window, and we’re not even in America anymore. And yet, unlike Hobbs and Shaw, this still feels like a Fast & Furious film. 

The third entry in the series marks Justin Lin and Chris Morgan’s first of many collaborations, as they fine tune the series to what it eventually becomes. Instead of the weight of an entire legacy of characters, they get to start small and keep things in their own bubble with a standalone sequel that maintains the melodrama of the franchise while diversifying the world of street racing. Tokyo Drift also introduces a new character for future iterations to love, Han Lue (Kang). The only complaint is about Lucas Black’s performance, which is unbearably annoying and sucks all the air out of a romantic subplot.

3. Furious 6 (2013)

Furious 6 fits well with Furious 7 due to its action-heavy plot, a companion piece that pits Toretto and crew against another team of highly specialized street racers. In enters Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), and the already complicated narrative of the Fast & Furious franchise expands from this point onward. Letty is back with amnesia after being presumed dead from the events for the fourth film, forcing the crew out of early retirement. Recruited by Hobbs to take down Shaw’s crew, the film turns into a distillation of Toretto’s “I don’t have friends, I’ve got family” mantra.

The set pieces are huge and tension-filled, showcasing tanks, cars with ramps built onto them, and the infamous absurdly long airplane runway. Furious 6 also features one of the few fight scenes that doesn’t involve cars, as Joe Taslim (known best for The Raid and The Night Comes for Us) takes on both Tyrese and Sung Kang’s characters, while Gina Carano fights Michelle Rodriguez’s character. There are double crosses and deaths, in addition to the post-credits scene that sees Deckard avenging his brother by killing Han — a moment that retconned Tokyo Drift’s events into taking place after all of the films before the sixth.

2. The Fast and the Furious (2001)

It all started here, and in a fairly different way than we know the series to be today. Brian is an eager young guy who just wants to be recognized by the street racing community, while Toretto runs a small cafe with his sister, Mia, that makes bad tuna sandwiches. It’s a time capsule in both its aesthetic and its plot (I mean, DVD players are being stolen, and this is a big deal in the world of this film), but the reason this film is so entertaining is that sweet, sweet bromance.

As Toretto and O’Conner become friends throughout the first thirty or so minutes, audiences soon realize that this isn’t just a movie about street racing — it’s a Point Break knock-off, and a damn good one at that. The way Brian struggles to keep both his passion for street racing and his passion for locking up bad guys is so adorable, especially when it all comes to a head in the film’s climactic set piece (which feels like the first truly Fast & Furious moment in the series). The way Toretto looks at Brian when he realizes that their friendship was a sham is heartbreaking for the characters, and might be Vin Diesel’s greatest piece of acting.

1. Fast Five (2011)

Home to one of the best set pieces in action cinema and setting the template for all future sequels, Fast Five is Justin Lin’s magnum opus. Centered around a heist against a very wealthy, corrupt man, the team is all here and they are firing on all cylinders. The film does a great job of understanding everyone’s role in the heist, as well as their roles in future films, and the camaraderie between everyone is both palpable and drives home the “family” component of the series that really gets fleshed out in this entry. The major introduction is Hobbs, who basically is the team’s gateway into working for the government, even though they spend this movie running from the police. But Morgan and Lin quickly establish corruption within the police force, which gives permission to a group of criminals like Toretto and crew to move between worlds relatively easily (it’s better to trust a criminal who says they’re a criminal than a criminal who calls himself a cop).

The action is always in service of the plot (which can’t be said about some of the other films, where it feels like the set pieces were created before the narrative). In Fast Five, we’re all building up to the big heist — and what a heist it is! Yes, the vault being dragged through a city doesn’t make a lot of sense, but what makes the sequence so incredible is watching each character fulfill their role in a very high-stakes action moment. There’s a base knowledge of physics that is barely applied to the vault being dragged by two cars, allowing for destruction that follows its own sense of logic, but regardless, Fast Five is the cream-of-the-crop for vehicular mayhem. It never loses itself in the action, because the action is merely a means to an end. Which is when this family excels.

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