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Apart from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no film franchise has grown quite as fast or as furiously as, well, you’ve read the title of the article. With a dozen releases in a quarter-century (including the next installment, expected in 2025), the Fast franchise has racked up over $6.6 billion at the worldwide box office.
It began with a sideways remake of Point Break, and it’s a bombastic spy-fi mega-franchise that sent Ludacris into space in a Pontiac Fiero. What a world. But is bigger always better? Where did the Fast franchise find the best balance between family drama and frenetic action? Your mileage may vary, but here’s where each film finishes in our personal unauthorized street race.
11. Fast & Furious (2009)
After the initial critical failure of standalone sequel Tokyo Drift (more on this later), Universal finally reunited the stars of the original The Fast and the Furious for a soft reboot of the franchise. The story forces charming outlaw Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) to team up with the cop who infiltrated his gang and derailed his life, Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), to avenge the apparent murder of Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez).
In many respects, this is where the Fast Saga as we know it really begins, putting all of our lead characters on the same team for the first time and setting the next two films into motion, but it’s also a complete tonal outlier from the rest of the series. Gritty, angry, and self-serious, Fast & Furious is missing the heart and sense of play that make the later installments so appealing. Still, its automotive action is pretty thrilling, and its colossal box office success ensured that the cast and director Justin Lin would be back in business for years to come.
If Fast & Furious stands out for being a bit dreary, The Fate of the Furious resides on the opposite end of the spectrum. By this eighth entry in the franchise, the stakes and scale of the Toretto family’s missions have become so enormous that it’s hard to believe that this whole drama started with some pilfered DVD players.
Sometimes the franchise’s gimmick of being “The Avengers with cars” plays perfectly, but this particular globe-trotting adventure — in which Dom is forced to fight his own team while the supervillain Cipher (Charlize Theron) holds his son hostage — is somehow both overblown and forgettable, the Age of Ultron of Fast movies. Plus, it’s really hard not to notice how the entire film seems constructed to keep co-stars Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson from ever having to be on set together.
Speaking of the tension between bald badasses in the Fast franchise, Dwayne Johnson was more willing to play nice with Jason Statham, whose rogue British agent Deckard Shaw joined Team Toretto in The Fate of the Furious. In this spin-off (presumably, the first of many), Shaw and Dwayne Johnson’s American supercop Luke Hobbs enter into a reluctant alliance to stop cyborg superman Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) from unleashing a deadly virus.
In a departure from the rest of the franchise, Hobbs & Shaw is a straight-up spy-fi action-comedy, essentially a buddy cop movie about two hypermasculine borderline personalities trying to assert dominance over each other while, incidentally, saving the world. Compared to the warm himbo energy of most Fast films, Hobbs & Shaw reeks of testosterone, but if you don’t mind watching a pair of action stars measure their manhoods for two hours of stunt and VFX-driven mayhem, it’s a pretty good time. And, as bloated as the Fast supporting cast has become, we wouldn’t mind if MI6 Agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby) made another appearance in the franchise.
As the first part in a planned trilogy that wraps up the core series, Fast X begins at an immediate disadvantage. It’s a film without a real ending, cluttered with subplots that are left dangling at the close of an oddly paced 142 minutes. Perhaps Fast X will feel less messy once the series is complete, and fans can sit down with a bucket of Coronas and watch the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth films all in a row. For now, however, Fast X stands as the wobbliest entry in the franchise, with as many head-scratching moments as eye-popping ones.
The saving grace of Fast X — and the only thing that has us interested in seeing two more sequels — is the new villain, Dante Reyes, played with Jokeresque flamboyance and zeal by Jason Momoa. The Fast series has a habit of introducing antagonists who just slightly less cool than the heroes, and whose sharp edges are eventually sanded down before their inevitable face turn. (For a perfect example, look no further than John Cena’s Jakob Toretto in this movie.) Now, Dominic Toretto has a worthy nemesis, a bloodthirsty wacko who, God willing, will never, ever, ever be invited to the family barbecue.
With Justin Lin back at the helm after a two-film absence, F9 is something of a course correction from The Fate of the Furious. Lin and screenwriter Daniel Casey attempt to balance the hyperbolic action of the later Fast films with flashbacks to Dom’s youth, which are depicted in the more reserved style of the original. These two tones gel surprisingly well, bound together by the emotional thread of Dom’s troubled relationship with his younger brother, Jakob (John Cena), who has become a globe-trotting super spy.
On the other hand, it also doubles down on one of the previous films’ fatal flaws: the unstoppable proliferation of its cast and the utter impotence of death. In addition to adding another Toretto sibling, F9 reveals that fan-favorite character Han (Sung Kang) is alive and well, introduces his surrogate daughter Elle (Anna Sawai), and brings back his three protégés from Tokyo Drift, Sean (Lucas Black), Earl (Jason Tobin), and the driver formerly known as Twinkie (Shad Moss, the rapper formerly known as Bow Wow). This is on top of the core Toretto crew of six full-timers, plus cameos from Helen Mirren’s Queenie Shaw and Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody, and Cipher playing the film’s “villain in a box.” Frankly, we’re running out of room at the barbeque, and if the series is going to continue to add new protagonists (hello, Brie Larson), some of these guys are going to have to start dying and stay dead.
If The Fast and the Furious is a louder and dumber Point Break, then 2 Fast 2 Furious is a louder and dumber Miami Vice, and we don’t take issue with either of them. John Singleton’s fun and colorful crime thriller was the first step in the evolution of The Fast and the Furious from a scrappy MTV drama to a tentpole summer blockbuster, teaming up disgraced cop Brian O’Connor and his childhood friend Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson) on a mission to bring down a drug kingpin. (Using cars, of course.)
2 Fast 2 Furious may have strained credulity with its dime novel plot and crazy car flips when it was released in 2003, but it seems downright quaint by the standards of its sequels. Now, it plays as a charming but dated buddy cop movie, one that gifted us not only with franchise regular Roman but his foil, Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges). In short, the Fast franchise would be in far worse shape without it.
Furious 7’s placement this far down on our list might ruffle some feathers. After all, considering star Paul Walker’s tragic death occurred halfway through shooting, it’s amazing that this film was completed at all, and doubly so that it functions as such a loving tribute to the cast’s fallen friend. Furious 7 features a few of the franchise’s most memorable action scenes, like the air-drop sequence, the party brawl in Abu Dhabi, and the subsequent building-to-building car chase. It features some of the franchise’s highest highs, both in terms of sentiment and spectacle.
The wrench in the works is Jason Statham’s villainous Deckard Shaw, who basically represents a completely different movie that crashes into the main “God’s Eye” satellite plot at random intervals. It may be a direct result of rewrites following the death of one of its lead actors, but structurally, Furious 7 is a mess. This is also the film that solidifies Dominic Toretto’s transformation from a very tough human being to becoming The Thing from the Fantastic Four, capable of surviving any disaster unscathed and collapsing concrete structures with a stomp of his foot. We love Brian’s farewell as much as anyone, but the rest of the film still needs to be taken into account.
4. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
Let any action franchise run long enough, and eventually, you’re gonna have to do a mirror match. Fast & Furious 6 puts the newly expanded Toretto crew against their wicked opposites, a team of precision drivers-turned-thieves who have no compunctions against aiding or arming terrorists. And, to raise the stakes, their nasty counterparts have a ringer on their team: Letty Ortiz, who it turns out didn’t die in the fourth movie after all.
In addition to sporting a few standout action sequences — namely the climactic runway chase — Fast & Furious 6 has the strongest emotional stakes in the series, with Dom struggling to connect with his amnesiac ex, Brian and Mia facing parenthood, and Han and Gisele (Gal Godot) trying to plan the next phase of their lives. It also feels like a most natural series finale (so long as you turn it off before the mid-credits scene), leaving most of the characters in a good place and scaling the action about as big as the franchise’s premise can comfortably handle. As much as we love the comic booky sequels that follow, it’s still downhill from this point on.
Once the maligned black sheep of the Fast franchise, Tokyo Drift has received a favorable reevaluation from critics and fans in recent years, and we’re all for it. Justin Lin’s sidequel about a new set of characters learning a Japanese style of street racing is, when judged on its own merits, wicked fun. Like the original, this Fast and the Furious is simultaneously a sports movie and a gangster movie, with some high school coming-of-age drama added for good measure.
Sure, lead actor Lucas Black gives what remains the worst lead performance in the franchise’s history, but everything else about Tokyo Drift absolutely delights, from the thrilling racing sequences to the soundtrack to the breakout performance of Sung Kang as Han. Here’s a character so cool that Justin Lin made a total wreck of the franchise’s continuity — twice — just to keep him around. If you’re someone who hasn’t seen this since it was released, or who skipped it because it’s “non-essential” to the ongoing plot, give Tokyo Drift another shot and see why Lin was handed the keys to the Fast franchise’s following three installments.
In 2001, we doubt anyone involved in the making of The Fast and the Furious was thinking, “Someday, this will be one of the longest and most bankable film franchises of the 21st century.” Produced for $38 million dollars (half the budget of 2 Fast 2 Furious and 15% of The Fate of the Furious), the original Fast was a modest, youth-oriented drama starring the mean jock from She’s All That and a guy who had a bit part in Saving Private Ryan.
In contrast to most studio releases in the 2020s, The Fast and the Furious is unburdened by ambitions of becoming a hot intellectual property; It’s just a solid movie and a vastly different film from any of the sequels that followed. Comparing the original Fast to any one of its sequels is like comparing Rocky to Rocky IV — they may be continuations of the same characters’ stories, but they’re not even really the same genre. Nevertheless, The Fast and the Furious is about as good at being a sexy crime drama immersed in car culture as most of the Fast films are at being gonzo action pictures, so we’re happy to give it a place near the top of our rankings.
Don’t be ridiculous. There’s only ever been one way this list could end, and it’s with the masterful heist flick Fast Five. It’s the last film in the franchise before its focus pivoted, bizarrely, from racing cars and jacking trucks to fighting international terrorism, and is consequently, the last one of these movies with manageable stakes.
It’s the Ocean’s Eleven of NOS-injected action blockbusters, a film that unites nearly all of the stars from the previous four films, introduces lawman Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), and still ably juggles them all. From the first-act train chase to the legendary climax in which the Toretto crew drags a massive bank vault through the streets of Rio, Fast Five is the best film on four wheels. You’re welcome to your own opinion, but so far as we’re concerned, anyone who disses Fast Five doesn’t get any barbeque.
Want to watch any or all of the Fast movies? DT has a handy guide on where to stream all the Fast & Furious movies.