The eight-movie, 16-year history of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise is nothing less than the story of Hollywood filmmaking in the 21st century. As a scrappy, overachieving summer blockbuster has exploded into a series of bi-annual box office behemoths, the continuing adventures of Dominic Toretto have come to serve as an incredibly lucid chronicle of the transition from analog action to digital spectacle, and of how a hyper-localized star system gave way to our internationally focused age of branding. No other series in recent memory has taken so many sharp turns over the years, and no other series has been able to survive so many flat tires thanks to the sheer power of family.
With “The Fate of the Furious” ready to roll into theaters, we’ve decided to place the film in its proper context by ranking each installment of the saga from worst to best. Buckle up.
8. “The Fate of the Furious” (2017)
Woof. “The Fate of the Furious” is the “Die Another Day” of its franchise — an empty, generic shell of its former self that disrespects its own proud heritage at every turn. How did the great F. Gary Gray, whose surprisingly strong remake of “The Italian Job” displayed a tremendous flair for comedic vehicular mayhem, waste the biggest budget of his career on such boring smash-ups? How does Charlize Theron (Furiosa!) sink this into a half-assed story of cyber-terrorism? How did Diesel and co. manage to learn all of the wrong lessons from the last two movies, delivering an episode where everything feels so fake that even the “family” matters seem forced?
It’s nice that Paul Walker gets to live on through these movies — his unseen character is still chilling on a beach somewhere — but the actor’s death has eliminated the last remaining failsafes that were preventing this franchise from forgetting what it’s all about, and “F8” sends the entire enterprise careening towards a full-blown identity crisis.
7. “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003)
In truth, the saga’s first sequel is probably not as fun as the one that’s currently in theaters (though mileage may vary), but “2 Fast 2 Furious” gets the edge over “The Fate of the Furious” because — dumb as it is — it isn’t damaging to the series as a whole. In fact, John Singleton’s benign, goofy sequel (how goofy? Cole Hauser is the main bad guy, and the movie ends with the destruction of a precious yacht) is responsible for adding a few franchise cornerstones, as it introduces Roman and Tej into the mythology and gives them both enough background to coast through their long futures as comedic relief.
Still, this boring and benign chapter is rightly remembered more for its all-time stupid title than anything else, and it taught the world a very valuable lesson: A “Fast and Furious” movie without Vin Diesel is isn’t really a “Fast and Furious” movie. It’s barely even a movie, at all.
6. “Fast and Furious” (2009)
If Michael Mann had directed a “Fast and Furious” movie, it would have been this one. Regrettably, Michael Mann has not directed a “Fast and Furious” movie. The most forgettable and confusingly titled chapter of Vin Diesel’s magnum opus (or of anything else, for that matter), the series’ fourth film takes such a hardboiled, back-to-basics approach that it effectively functions like a soft reboot. Refocusing the story on the tension between Brian and Dom, the grim and gritty “Fast and Furious” dutifully lays the groundwork for everything that’s come since, working much better as a prequel to “Fast Five” than it does as a sequel to the original (you can practically hear director Justin Lin switching the franchise’s gears, even if most of this installment is stuck in neutral).
But credit where it’s due: “Fast and Furious” has the good sense to recognize that cars are more fun to watch when you care about where they’re going. Also, it lets Dom call Brian “buster” again, which is just the most adorable thing.
5. “Fast & Furious 6” (2013)
Justin Lin was never going to top “Fast Five,” and it’s kind of a shame that he even tried. Revving up the franchise into full blockbuster mode, “Fast & Furious 6” explodes a colorful action series into a full-blown soap opera, complete with narratively convenient bouts of amnesia, dramatic character deaths, and so much family intrigue that it stretches into the end credits. Saddled with way too many lovable characters, screenwriter Chris Morgan deals with his self-created mess as best he can, but the movie never finds the spine it needs to connect all of its parts together (and the Shaw brothers sure ain’t the solution — it’s a good thing that the “Fast and Furious” movies don’t really rely on having strong villains, because yikes).
A wildly uneven experience that skids between some of the saga’s best setpieces (tank on a highway!) and some of its worst (that endless runway sequence, which is made all the more exasperating by Lin’s decision to shoot it in the dead of night), “Fast and Furious 6” was the first indication that these films may not have quite enough horsepower to sustain the size of their new chassis. And this should go without saying, but Han and Gisele deserved better fates. They always will. #JusticeForHan.
4. “Furious 7” (2015)
Cars parachuting out of airplanes, people driving between Middle Eastern skyscrapers, The Rock flexing his way out of a cast, Kurt Russell slicking his hair all the way back… “Furious 7” truly has everything, and that proves to be way too much (the lifeless climactic firefight is long enough for the film to stall out seven times over). The movie is wall-to-wall full of the cartoon craziness that fans supposedly want to see, but its flair for the absurd doesn’t always sit well with the family-driven revenge plot that keeps the story tethered to the series’ roots.
Of course, Paul Walker’s death helps galvanize the whole thing together, and director James Wan manufactures a touching send-off in difficult circumstances — for a movie that loses its soul in a mess of CG, it ends with a well-earned wallop of emotion that reminds you why you care (huge assist to my boys Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa).
3. “The Fast and the Furious” (2001)
This thing holds up. Sure, it’s barely recognizable when compared to “The Fate of the Furious,” which feels like it was cut together with footage leftover from the latest “XXX,” but that’s part of its charm. In hindsight, it’s pretty incredible how fully formed these characters were right out of the gate — Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Conner were never going to fit into a Kenneth Lonnergan movie or anything (which is a shame, considering how big that guy is on car crashes), but they oozed personality from the start, as Diesel and Walker instantly added a fresh coat of paint to some very rusty archetypes.
It helps that they were given some immortal dialogue. From the infamous “tuna” scene to Dom’s “You never had me — you never had your car,” “The Fast and the Furious” established a well-oiled philosophy strong enough to power at least seven additional adventures. In these movies, a car is only as good as its driver, and a driver is only as good as the people they’re racing for.
2. “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006)
There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who understand the genius of “Tokyo Drift,” and those who immediately need to re-watch “Tokyo Drift” if they want to be friends with the first kind of people. The franchise’s most polarizing installment, Justin Lin’s first contribution to the “Fast & Fur-iverse” is an acquired taste, driven more by personality than by pyrotechnics (though the Shibuya chase is still unimpeachable). But these movies have always been at their best when they’ve hit the brakes, parked in a single location, and allowed the cars to serve as a universal language.
A fish out of water story with a hero who’s way too dopey to be confused for a white savior, “Tokyo Drift” leans hard into its absurdities, forcing everyone from Bow Wow to Sonny Chiba to match the heightened tone set by Lucas Black’s super duper Southern accent. It’s Sung Kang, however, who steals the show, his performance harkening back to nihilist yakuza classics like “Pale Flower” as Han crystallizes the series’ warrior-poet ethos into something real. And no movie in the history of cinema has ever had such a perfect amount of Vin Diesel.
1. “Fast Five” (2011)
“The family just got bigger” Dom says when he learns that Mia is pregnant, but no one knew just how much bigger the family was about to get. Opening with the steely, straight-faced gravitas of a Christopher Nolan movie before settling into a hyper-violent (yet strangely huggable) riff on “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Fast Five” is the one shining moment where everything came together. The stakes are high from the start, as Dom’s crew is scattered across South America and running on fumes, but the breathless train heist that brings them back together makes it clear just how much they need each other — it’s got nothing on the climactic chase through the streets of Rio, but it’s an early highlight of a film in which every action scene has a clear shape to it.
That being said, the real secret to “Fast Five” is how every character manages to make the whole cast feel like more of a family. From series stalwarts who face their fates (RIP Vince), to familiar faces who find their purpose (Han and Gisele share such intense chemistry that it should require sanctions), and newcomers like Hobbs whose presence refuels Dom’s precious code of conduct, the film is powered by a palpable sense of togetherness, and topped off with the most charming “where are they now?” montage you’ll ever see.