The Fast and the Furious franchise is a divisive topic amongst movie watchers across the world. Some criticize the movies as shallow and over-saturated with action scenes that would generously be categorized as stretching the imagination. Others bask in the simplistic glory of the franchise, enjoying the uncomplicated but strong theme of family over all that drives the characters and the sheer absurdity that each car chase and fight sequence brings in increasing quantities.
I fall into the latter category. While the Fast and the Furious can get absolutely silly sometimes, the point isn’t to make a critically-acclaimed masterpiece that will be looked back on as the greatest films of a generation (although it might!). It’s a series of movies about an alpha male (Dominic Toretto, Vin Diesel’s greatest role) doing everything in his power to protect his crew, cracking a few heads and Coronas along the way. They’re about a former cop (Brian O’Connor, may Paul Walker rest in peace) trying to strike a balance between duty and doing what’s right, and eventually turning his back on an old life to embrace a new one. They’re about fast cars and larger-than-life villains threatening the protagonists’ way of life.
Simply put, the Fast and the Furious is about living life a quarter-mile at a time.
In honor of the impending Hobbes and Shaw release, the first spin-off of the franchise, I ranked each of the Fast and the Furious feature movies. The rankings are based off the strength of the plot, the quality of the action, and, of course, my own personal preferences. Like the movies, don’t think too hard about the how and why. Just enjoy.
8. Tokyo Drift (2006)
This wasn’t a very hard decision. Tokyo Drift is more of a spin-off than it is a true Fast and the Furious film, but the development of Han as a character has important ramifications for the rest of the series and makes it canon. It delivers the car scenes that the very first film promised, and it was the film that united director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan; they’d go on to deliver every other movie in the franchise. But that’s about where the positives end. Sean is an uninspiring protagonist, and his Southern twang gets old pretty quickly. It’s a fine movie in a vacuum, but a Fast and the Furious movie with no Dom (he shows up at the end, but otherwise isn’t seen) or Brian? It’s just not the same.
7. 2 Fast 2 Furious
The first sequel to the original film, the plot revolves around the relationship between Brian and his good buddy Tyrese. It delivers a lot of laughs and depicts Brian’s struggle to escape from his life as a lawman while trying to find a place in the world. Carter Verone is the perfect example of the vaguely exotic gangster-villain that those early-2000s action movies simply loved to cast, and Eva Mendes delivers in her role as the conflicted love interest/badass cop. It also introduces Ludacris as Tej, one of the franchise’s beloved characters.
However, for a Fast and the Furious movie, the car scenes are pretty underwhelming outside of Brian driving his car into Verone’s boat as the final action sequence. Combine that with a below-average plot despite the strength of the individual characters, and it falls in these rankings.
6. Fast and Furious
Fast and Furious, the fourth installment of the franchise, was important for the universe because it finally reunited the central cast from the first film that kicked it all off. Dom’s pain is the driving factor for the whole film, desperately attempting to find Letty’s killer, and there’s nothing more dangerous than a desperate Dominic Toretto. The car chase at the end through the tunnels of Mexico rank as one of the best in the series, and Dom’s final line about not running anymore was an excellent way to bring his character full circle for the reboot of the series.
Brian’s sidestory as an FBI agent trying to hunt down cartel lord Braga is isn’t too enticing, though, and Braga himself isn’t very interesting. The reason Letty ends up dead is because she’s working with the cops to clear Dom’s charges, but Dom wouldn’t have been happy if he was the only one in the crew who could live freely. The emotional undertones of the film highlight Dom’s soft side and make him a much more empathetic character than the first, but what the movie sets up is far more important than the movie itself.
5. Fast 6
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Fast 6 re-introduced Letty’s character and made her an enemy for the majority of the film, which was a great change of pace and introduced new layers of conflict for every character, not just Dom. Owen Shaw was a great villain, and for the first time you felt like the crew had met their match in terms of skills and smarts. They had a car chase with a tank, which was obscenely awesome, and it led right to Dom’s incredible rescue of Letty. The final scene in which they chase down Shaw on a lengthy runway has taken a lot of heat for how preposterous it is, even for one of these movies, and that’s a fair criticism. But it was all worth it to see Dom hit the gas and burst out of a burning plane in one of his classic muscle cars. Gisele’s sacrifice for Han tugged at the heartstrings.
The biggest issue is that Letty’s amnesia comes off as a cop-out; we don’t watch these movies for the writing, but to revive her and claim she can’t remember anything is an objectively lame movie cliche. It gives Letty more screen time and far more depth, which is great, because Michelle Rodriguez is a very good actress. But for how important it is to the film, it’s a weak plot device. And that runway was really long.
4. The Fate of the Furious
The most recent release in the franchise, The Fate of the Furious introduced the best villain in the franchise, Charlize Theron as Cipher. She blends evil intelligence with psychopathic emotional manipulation perfectly. Dom as the “villain” for the movie was a great twist that kept things fresh while doubling down on his dedication to family. Deckard Shaw emerging as a hero gave us more Jason Statham action scenes, which no one can get enough of. Cipher shooting Elena was one of the most heart-wrenching moments in a series that doesn’t tend to focus on that aspect of things. The crew in their cars facing off against a damn nuclear submarine was pretty sweet, too.
This film had the widest scope in terms of how international it got, and I can’t say I’m a huge fan of that. The best moments in the series are the small things, and the overarching, end-of-the-world narrative they push in the two most recent films takes away from those moments. Internal conflict within the crew certainly keeps things fresh, but watching Brian and Letty face off against Dom wasn’t nearly as fun as watching them all work in unison to defeat their adversary.
3. Furious 7
This film featured Deckard as the main villain, and man, they really made you hate him. From his elimination of Han to the bomb he sent to the original Toretto household from the first movie, it creates a truly evil character hell-bent on destroying their family. They air-dropped into Azerbaijan… while still in their cars. Hobbs breaking out of an arm cast simply by flexing was PEAK Dwayne Johnson. Letty’s tearful remembrance as Dom lay in her arms was a top moment in the franchise. The one-on-one fight between Dom and Deckard was excellent (“What, did you think this was going to be a street fight?”). Dom’s takedown of the helicopter by launching his car at it and hanging a belt of grenades on the bottom was just the right combination of thrilling and ridiculous.
This is also the last movie made with Brian as a main character, as Paul Walker passed before filming was finished. The final scene of Dom and Brian driving off in separate directions legitimately ruined my life. I cried like a baby. It doesn’t top the rankings because Moses Jakande had too large of a part for what should have been a side act to Deckard’s revenge tour, and it felt like they were trying to do a bit too much balancing both storylines. But it’s closest to my heart.
2. Fast Five
The first Fast and the Furious movie to go truly international, it reunites not only our main cast of Brian, Mia, Letty, and Dom, but all the other characters that helped them with their various plots and schemes throughout the years. Recklessly dragging a gigantic safe through the streets of Brazil is the best scene across all eight movies, and signified a big shift from low-key criminal activity to massive jobs with wanton destruction left and right. Despite rumors of The Rock being an issue in terms of chemistry with the cast, Hobbs was a great addition to the series as the aggressively straight-edge but smart and tough cop to match their outlaw style. Vince’s mini-redemption arc was a nice nod to the first film, and Mia and Brian’s relationship truly blossomed here. We didn’t know we needed to see The Rock and Vin Diesel kick the crap out of each other until it happened, and it was everything we could have dreamed about.
I really only have one issue with this movie. The amount of damage they caused raised questions about who was in the right for the first time. In previous films, the only people outside of the main cast who really got hurt were truck drivers (who they never injured, just robbed) and bad guys. But there’s no chance that no Brazilians got caught in the crossfire when they dragged an entire freaking safe through buildings. This would be a little easier to swallow if there was some kind of international conspiracy they were trying to prevent, but they were just stealing money from a drug lord for Brian and Mia’s kid. An admirable cause, but given the amount of destruction they wrecked, it doesn’t quite seem to match up.
Nonetheless, this is a fantastic Fast and the Furious film with the right balance of family values and ridiculous car stunts.
1. The Fast and the Furious
But nothing can top the original. The film that started it all, we’re introduced to the intense Dom, conflicted Brian, and the cast of misfits that Dom protects like a momma bear protecting its cubs. The setting of an underground street-racing world never gets old, from Race Wars to heists on the highway. The plot kept you hooked, not revealing that Dom and his crew were actually criminals until the very end. Jesse’s death and overall character was a great crutch as a side plot, and Dom’s internal struggles with the demons that led him to where he is really made you feel for him, even if he was just portrayed as a violent criminal with a love for his sidekicks at this point in the series. Tran was a quality villain, snide and sadistic but not too much so.
The movie wasn’t perfect by any film standards. The writing was bad, offensively so at times. Vince played a rather large role for how under-developed he was as a character. But it’s exactly what Fast and the Furious movies is all about. Protecting those you love at all costs, fast cars and testosterone-fueled fist fights, the whole nine yards. Nothing was too unbelievable. The only thing at stake was the livelihood of Dom and his family. Watching Brian become part of that family, even under false pretenses, never gets old.
It’s the perfect Fast and the Furious movie, and it’s hard to see them topping it.