All Roads Lead to This: The Definitive Ranking of All Eight ‘Fast & Furious’ Movies
In a few days it will finally arrive: Furious 7, the latest and biggest installment of the Fast & Furious franchise. And while the death of series star Paul Walker does put a damper on some of the excitement, this is still a great time to celebrate one of Hollywood’s most reliable and inventive franchises. In 15 years, Fast & Furious has evolved from a simple B-movie about a couple of street racers into an international crime epic spanning multiple continents and more than a dozen characters.
Fast fans (or “Fastards”) tend to differ on the relative merits of each film; some prefer the earlier, more grounded entries; others like the outrageous stunts and action of the later films. The one thing they all agree on is the fact that this series is terrific. To settle some of the ongoing debates, and to honor this mighty saga, I’ve put together this list. There are sure to be many like it on the web in the next week. But remember: Mine is the only correct one.
In ascending order from buster to champion of the road, here’s the definitive ranking of all seven eight Fast & Furious movies. Ride or die.
(4/19/17 UPDATE – This piece has been updated to include The Fate of the Furious.)
8. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Director: Justin Lin
Writer: Chris Morgan
Characters Introduced: Cornpone American teenager Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), laconic drifter (both literally and figuratively) Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang).
Villain: Takashi, a.k.a. Drift King a.k.a. “DK” (Brian Tee), who rules over the tokyo drifting scene but remains a disappointment to his family, who are heavily involved in Yakuza.
Silliest Moment: Any moment that involves Tokyo Drift trying to pretend that the 24-going-on-45 Lucas Black is a high-school student. The guy has five o’clock shadow at 10AM! He has chest hair on his neck! He would look old on Beverly Hills 90210.
Craziest Moment: After an entire movie that seems completely disconnected from the previous two Fast & Furiouses, the story concludes with one final race, where Sean is told a new challenger wants to test his skills. He pulls up to the starting line to find… Dominic Toretto waiting for him. Cue audible gasps:
Best Setpiece: Though Lin would vastly improve over the next three films, his skills as an action director were still a work-in-progress on Tokyo Drift. His best work in his Fast debut is the opening sequence, where Sean Boswell establishes his reckless racing bonafides while competing with a school jock for the attention of an attractive girl. The whole sequence was done practically at a real construction site, and the shots of Sean’s car plowing through an unfinished house and then cartwheeling into the desert are real standouts.
Why It’s #8: This is not going to be a popular pick among some hardcore Fast fans, who think Tokyo Drift is the most underrated film in the entire franchise. It’s undeniably important to the evolution of the series — it introduced Lin and Morgan, who would guide the property to glory, and was the first Fast to include a globe-hopping component and a truly international cast — but in my opinion, it’s more notable than entertaining. The stunts are relatively subdued, the cast is small and forgettable (with the exception of the terrific Sung Kang, the only Tokyo Drifter who became a series regular), and the drifting gimmick doesn’t add much to the mix. More importantly, the soaring majesty of Fast & Furious lies in the yin and yang of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Therefore any Fast movie without them is automatically inferior to the rest. Tokyo Drift may have set the template for where Fast & Furious would go, but it’s the prototype, not the pinnacle.
7. 2 Fast 2 Furious
Director: John Singleton
Writers: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, Gary Scott Thompson
Characters Introduced: Perpetually hungry ex-con Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), gambling-addicted garage owner and tech genius Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), undercover U.S. Customs agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes).
Villain: Carter Verone (Cole Hauser), a merciless drug lord who recruits street racers to serve as wheelmen for his organization.
Silliest Moment: Look, I don’t have a ton of experience in the world of international drug smuggling, but it seems to me that when you’re shipping millions of dollars in illicit substances across international borders what you want to do is attract as little attention as possible. Carter Verone’s plan to hire underground drag racers to mule his product — in their heavily modified and eye-catchingly bright green and purple cars— is maybe not the best way to do that.
Craziest Moment: In fairness to the sadistic cartel leader, the cops’ plans are just as dumb. At the end of The Fast and the Furious, undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) let one of the most wanted men in the country go, then fled the scene of the crime. When the FBI finds him in Miami, they don’t arrest him; they put him back to work! How is that possible? That’s like the Durst Organization deciding to rehire Robert Durst the day after the series finale of The Jinx.
Best Setpiece: Silly as Verone’s scheme might be, it does lead to 2 Fast’s best scene, where Brian and his old buddy Roman Pearce audition to join the gangster’s organization by racing a bunch of other drivers to an impound lot where Verone’s Ferrari has been impounded. Whatever team retrieves an important package from the car’s glove box wins the lucrative employment contract, leading to a cutthroat chase across a busy Florida freeway. The show-stopping stunt involves a car that gets trapped between — and then crushed beneath — two 18 wheelers, an eye-popping visual that also doubles as a nice wink to the first Fast & Furious, where the big show-stopping stunt involved a car sliding under the bed of a semi at high speed.
Why It’s #7: See above. 2 Fast does at least feature Walker — who might be the first cop in cinema history to spend an entire movie in board shorts — but Tyrese Gibson is not a great alternative to Diesel (hah, gas jokes). In later installments, Tyrese would grow into the franchise’s delightful comic relief, but when he’s introduced in 2 Fast, Roman Pearce is mostly a tough guy cliché with distinctive word pronunciations (It’s hongry not hungry and breh not bro). 2 Fast looks good — the opening race is a candy-colored neon delight, and there’s a genuinely lovely scene between Brian and Roman set on a Miami pier at sunset — but it also saddles the franchise with the first of several generic drug-dealer bad guys, and the tension between the two heroes feels desperately manufactured in comparison with the effortless friction between Diesel and Walker. It’s not the least bit surprising that this movie ended the original cast’s story for six years. After this mediocrity, they’re lucky the franchise continued at all.
6. The Fate of the Furious
Director: F. Gray Gray
Writers: Chris Morgan
Characters Introduced: Evil hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron), Mr. Nobody’s sidekick Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), Shaw brothers mommy Magdalene (Helen Mirren.
Villain: Cipher, who blackmails Dom into helping her assemble various pieces of technology in order to rule and/or destroy the world. (It’s not entirely clear.)
Silliest Moment: On the list of silly things that have happened in the Fast & Furious universe, former ultra-baddie (turned wisecracking hero) Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) killing an entire plane full of goons while protecting a baby (and paying loving homage to the finale of Hard Boiled) has got to rank pretty high.
Craziest Moment: Look, I’m not a professional physicist. But something about the way Dom’s team destroys this nuclear submarine strikes me as slightly outlandish. I’m not sure if it’s the part where The Rock alters the course of a torpedo with his bare hands, or the part where Vin Diesel uses its own heatseeking missile against it with an impossible ice jump. Let me watch it 800 more times and get back to you.
Best Setpiece: By episode eight, Fast & Furious had mostly left behind its street-racing origins (not to mention its grip on reality). The closest it came to old school Fast fun was its cold open, where Dom heads to Havana and helps out his cousin the only way he knows how: Winning an unwinnable street race. Rigging his old junker with NOS, the whole car is on fire by the time it reaches the finish line, where Dom bails out just before the brakes fail and it leaps into the ocean. (Naturally, this tumble onto asphalt at about 200 miles an hour doesn’t even leave a scratch.)
Why It’s #6: The Havana scene (the first shot in Cuba by a major Hollywood movie in decades) and Shaw’s airplane assault are fun, but The Fate of the Furious is the first Fast in a while that really showed the franchise’s age. It turns the series’ greatest strength (its meticulous, borderline insane obsession with its own continuity) into its biggest weakness. The stunts and the physics never made sense, but the characters and their relationships always did. Not anymore. Dom turns his back on his family, then decides to trust Deckard, the guy who killed Han and made his life a living hell just one movie ago. (The script tries to justify these moves, but they feel like excuses designed to bridge the various action beats rather than ideas that grew organically from the story.) We’ll see if the team can right the nuclear-powered submarine in Fast 9 but at the moment we’re seriously considering whether the Fast movies should have slowed down after Furious 7 and the death of (the sorely missed) Paul Walker.
5. Fast & Furious 6
Director: Justin Lin
Writer: Chris Morgan
Characters Introduced: Butt-whooping DSS agent Riley Hicks (Gina Carano), evil driver and amazing martial artist Jah (Joe Taslim).
Villain: Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a former British Special Forces soldier who now runs a version of the Fast family from The Dark Side; using daring racing moves to steal valuable weapons and then sell them off to the highest bidder.
Silliest Moment: Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) recruits Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team to help him track down Shaw, and at a certain point the trail leads to the now-imprisoned Arturo Braga (John Ortiz), the drug kingpin Dom took down in Fast & Furious. Brian leaves the rest of the team in London and travels all the way to the United States, where he willingly has himself locked up to get close to Braga and see what he knows. For a man who spent the entirety of the last Fast & Furious risking his life not to go to jail — and demands a full pardon from Hobbs before he agrees to help him catch Shaw — this doesn’t seem like the smartest plan in the world. Plus, after Brian gets the info and returns to the rest of the team, Dom doesn’t even care what Braga had to say! “Brian, whatever you found out,” Diesel grumbles, “That’s for you.” Well that was a thoroughly pointless way to spend 15 minutes and nearly send a beloved character to prison forever.
Craziest Moment: The grand finale involves Hobbs, Dom, and Brian attempting to stop Shaw as he tries to escape in an enormous cargo plane. The plane lands and Shaw drives his jeep into the back of the cargo hold; Dom and Brian follow while the rest of their team drives alongside, shooting harpoon guns into the flaps so they weigh down the wings and prevent Shaw from taking off. On the “Extended Cut” of the film, Shaw enters the plane at 1:43:20. According to the pilots, they achieve “takeoff speed” at 1:48:50, and then the good guys finally bring the plane down at around 1:54:30. That’s over 11 minutes of this giant freaking plane blazing down this runway. I did some rudimentary math with the average speed of a cargo plane and estimated that this runway is at least 20 miles long; Vulture did their own calculations a few years ago and claimed it was 28.2 miles long — more than eight times longer than the largest paved runway in the entire world. Even by the logistically lenient standards of this franchise, that’s really straining credulity.
Best Setpiece: The undeniable highlight of Fast 6 comes when the heroes have caught wind of Shaw’s plan to steal a key piece of technology from a NATO base. Believing the tech is vulnerable there, Hobbs makes the not-smart decision to move it via convoy — which Shaw’s crew immediately hijacks. Even worse, Hobbs put the tech inside a heavily fortified tank, so when Shaw steals this all-important computer chip, he also steals the tank. Suddenly, even Dom’s giant muscle car looks comparatively puny, and all seems lost for his beloved family. Of course, Brian and Roman engineer a clever solution to the problem.
Why It’s #5: The tank chase is a series high point, and there are some other fun moments — I’m very partial to the scene where Roman and Han get their butts kicked by Jah, then turn to one another and vow never to tell anyone about what just happened — but overall this isn’t one of the stronger parts of the Fast saga. The idea of giving Dom’s family an opposite number to battle is a great one, but Shaw and his crew receive very little screen time and even fewer lines of dialogue, so they never develop into compelling characters or worthy adversaries. Fast 6 is the exact same length as Fast Five but it feels a lot longer — sort of like that ridiculous runway, it just goes on forever until the inevitable crash and final group shot.
Perhaps a letdown was inevitable. Up until this point, the Fast universe kept expanding; perpetually growing its mythos with new combinations of characters. After all that worldbuilding, a contraction was probably unavoidable, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing when it finally arrives and beloved characters begin dying off. For all its bombast and bluster, Fast & Furious 6 is a bit of a bummer.
4. Fast & Furious
Director: Justin Lin
Writer: Chris Morgan
Characters Introduced: Morally conflicted criminal Gisele (Gal Gadot), Vin’s truck-jacking buddies Tego (Tego Calderón) and Rico (Don Omar).
Villain: Arturo Braga (John Ortiz), a shadowy drug kingpin and apparent 2 Fast 2 Furious fan who’s copied that movie’s villain’s plan exactly, hiring his own street racers to work as wheelmen for his organization.
Silliest Moment: Braga not only gets flashy street racers to smuggle his drugs and cash; he has them drive them under the U.S.-Mexico border, through a rickety tunnel that runs directly beneath Homeland Security’s cameras. It seems vaguely plausible that one could, with a certain amount of timing and lucky, sneak past the cameras. But it seems wholly implausible that one could dig out an enormous, miles-long tunnel beneath those cameras without arousing suspicion. Where did they put the thousands of pounds of dirt they dragged out of those tunnels? Did they pile it up in front of the cameras and block their view? (A Supplementary Silliest Moment goes to the scene where the entire FBI and LAPD are desperately searching for Dom and no one can find him, and he’s “hiding out” at his house. The last place anyone would look!)
Craziest Moment: After the events of The Fast and the Furious, Dom becomes a wanted criminal and flees to South America. He only returns after he gets word that his beloved Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) has been murdered; he sneaks back into Los Angeles to find her killer. The trail starts at the site of her death in a fiery car crash, where Diesel looks at a few skid marks and a yellow stain on the road and immediately figures out what happened using what I would call “Crash-O-Vision” — which brings the accident to life before his eyes. This was just the first of many inexplicable superpowers Dom would sprout as the series progressed; others include super-strength, invulnerability, and the ability to harness and control earthquakes.
Best Setpiece: Like the James Bond franchise, each Fast opens with a big pre-credits action sequence. The best of the bunch is the one that kicks off Fast & Furious and reintroduces Dom and Letty in the middle of yet another inordinately elaborate and needlessly complicated heist at high speed — it involves jumping from cars to trucks, liquid nitrogen sprayers, and driving in reverse at 100 miles per hour. Shockingly, things go bad, and Dom and Letty get trapped between a rock and a hard place — a flaming, rolling gas truck and a sheer cliff. With perfect, impossible timing, Dom slides his Buick Grand National between tanker bounces. The CGI’s not great, but as a statement of purpose — the real Fast & Furious is back and crazier than ever — it’s just about perfect.
Why It’s #4: A lot of Fast fans will tell you this is one of the worst films in the franchise, because of its mediocre, CGI-heavy car chases and its unusually grim atmosphere. They’re half right; the driving sequences are among the weakest in franchise history, and director Justin Lin makes the cardinal sin of shooting two different chase scenes in one cruddy location (the tunnel under the U.S.-Mexico border). That’s definitely frustrating. Where others see a dour or downright dull movie, though, I see a really satisfying melodrama about the renewed tensions between Dom, who returns to L.A. to find Letty’s killer (don’t worry, she got better) and Brian, who’s torn between his loyalty to his job and his admiration for Dom and his personal code. Fast & Furious is the franchise’s John Woo movie: Lots of brooding, emotionally distraught men contemplating the thin line between cop and criminal, followed by a climactic showdown in a beautifully dilapidated church.
The darker tone is definitely a break from past films, but it looks good on the characters, who are all at least a half a decade older than when we last saw them. Their innocence gone, they’re left with fewer options and sadder roads ahead. I know most people don’t go to Fast & Furious for contemplations of mortality and dead-end careers. They want escape and most Fasts provide that. This one doesn’t. It’s not the most uplifting part of the series, but I personally find it a satisfyingly intense change of pace.
3. The Fast and the Furious
Director: Rob Cohen
Writers: Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, David Ayer
Characters Introduced: Philosophical street racer and thief Dominic Toretto (Diesel), Unfocused undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Walker), Dominic’s girlfriend Letty Ortiz (Rodriguez), Dominic’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dominic’s racing buddy and criminal partner Vince (Matt Schulze).
Villain: Johnny Tran (Rick Yune), an angry business associate and bitter racing rival of Toretto’s.
Silliest Moment: The intellectual tone is set early with the scene introducing most of the main characters at Dom’s cafe. Brian keeps coming around against Vince’s wishes; Brian says that’s because likes the tuna sandwiches (with the crusts cut off). “What’s up with this fool,” Vince asks Letty, “what is he, sandwich crazy?” Yes, because that’s a thing; people driven mad by an uncontrollable need for tuna. On the plus side, if anyone ever wants to open a Fast & Furious-themed restaurant, Sandwich Crazy is the perfect name.
Craziest Moment: For some unknown reason, O’Conner’s superiors work out a confiscated private home instead of a police station. Supposedly Eddie Fisher built it for Elizabeth Taylor; it even has an indoor pond and bridge. The first time O’Conner’s “arrested” and brought in for a secret meeting, they bosses make a big show of ordering everyone iced cappuccinos. “Regular or decaf, Sarge?” Sarge (Ted Levine) is asked. He pauses, thinking over this most important of questions, and then replies “Decaf.” Cut to: All the cops sitting around, discussing the case while drinking iced (decaf) cappuccinos from ridiculous oversized glasses. No big whoop; just a couple of cool dudes getting their espresso on.
Best Setpiece: O’Conner’s supposed to be hunting down a crew of precision drivers who’ve been hijacking trucks carrying DVD players and tube televisions (they’re almost as valuable as gold!). Before the opening credits, the team takes down a score with merciless efficiency, but O’Conner’s superiors mention repeatedly that truck drivers are going to start arming themselves if the heists continue. Sure enough, when the thieves (who turn out to be Dom and his racing buddies) try the same trick again, they’re greeted by the business end of a double-barrel shotgun, leading to an outstandingly tense sequence where Vince hangs on to the door of the tractor-trailer for dear life. Recent Fasts lean heavily on digital effects, but this scene is full of outstanding practical stuntwork, including a fair amount by Schulz and Diesel themselves, performing on moving vehicles going at “half speed” — so roughly 50 miles per hour.
Why It’s #3: The films would get bigger and better, but it’s impressive just how much of the formula was already in place in the franchise’s debut: Flashy, outlandish action, the core “family” of characters, the gray area between hero and villain, and, most importantly, the motor-oil-and-water chemistry between wide-eyed Paul Walker and gravel-throated Vin Diesel. The stunts may have gotten the people into the door, but the contentious, bromantic relationship between this perfectly mismatched odd couple kept them coming back. Though Dom and Brian both have girlfriends and wives throughout the series, it’s clear theirs is the most important love story in Fast & Furious.
2. Furious 7
Director: James Wan
Writer: Chris Morgan
Characters Introduced: Shadowy government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), brutal terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou), his right-hand man Kiet (Tony Jaa), ferocious bodyguard Kara (Ronda Rousey).
Villain: Deckard Shaw (Statham), out to avenge his younger brother Owen Shaw’s defeat at the hands of Dom’s crew in Fast & Furious 6.
Silliest Moment: Deckard Shaw strikes first when he (finally) kills Han, in a scene that was first seen way back in Tokyo Drift. After he blows up Dom’s house, Dom swears revenge on Deckard Shaw. So now we’ve got dueling revenges; Dom’s and Shaw’s. The plot involves Russell’s Mr. Nobody recruiting Dom and his team to steal an all-powerful surveillance technology called the “God’s Eye.” Once they snatch it, Nobody will let Dom use it to find Deckard Shaw. But here’s the thing: It’s not like Shaw’s gone into hiding. Everywhere Dom and the gang go, Deckard Shaw follows to mess with their plans. How about instead of jumping cars out of a plane to steal this incredibly rare technology, you just shoot him one when he shows up to kill you? He’s right there, Dom! Just get him!
Craziest Moment: At one point, a character whose identity I won’t spoil gets into a serious car accident. The other members of the Fast family pull their body from the wreckage and immediately try mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It doesn’t work. So another character speaks to them about their lives together. After some heartfelt words, the injured character awakens. So actual, medical science failed, but a few heartfelt words worked?!? This may be the first example in recorded history of a soul-to-soul resuscitation.
Best Setpiece: Skydiving in cars (a.k.a. “skydriving”) is pretty nuts, but jumping a car across not just one but two skyscrapers definitely tops it. But the fact that there’s a serious competition for the coolest sequence tells you how far over-the-top Furious 7 goes.
Why It’s #2: As tragic as Paul Walker’s death was, it did enable the Fast & Furious series to fully embrace its inner softie. From the very first installment, these have been surprisingly sentimental movies; for all the macho posturing, they’re ultimate about a bunch of dudes who genuinely love each other, and Walker’s sad passing gave Diesel and the rest license to express that affection in ways they never have before. It’s still not the best Fast & Furious movie — one other movie remains a more perfect synthesis of all its various elements and interests, and this one’s plot is just a little too goofy for its own good — but it might be the most Fast & Furious — the most over-the-top, the most exciting, and the most tear-jerkingly poignant.
1. Fast Five
Director: Justin Lin
Writer: Chris Morgan
Characters Introduced: Perpetually sweaty DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), incorruptible Rio police officer Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky)
Villain: Ruthless Brazilian crime bross Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), who is trying to retrieve an all-important microchip detailing his underworld activities after it falls into the possession of Dom and Brian.
Silliest Moment: Any scene that features The Rock sweating. His arms glisten like he’s been taking showers in Crisco and his head drips worse than Ted Striker in Airplane! He looks like he’s constantly stepped out of a pool and forgot where he left his towel. I know he’s running around Rio de Janeiro and it’s hot down there, but there are scenes where he’s drenched and everyone else onscreen is bone dry. Maybe it’s because he’s constantly wearing Under Armour? Try a more breathable fabric Rock, your gigantic man-chest is suffocating!
Craziest Moment: Midway through the closing credits, The Rock reappears in his office, where Eva Mendes’ Agent Fuentes from 2 Fast 2 Furious makes a surprise cameo tossing a file on his desk. It’s about a hijacked military convoy, but Dom’s not involved, so Hobbs isn’t interested. Fuentes insists he look anyway, and he flips through until he finds… a picture of Letty?!? But she died in Fast & Furious! Or so we thought! “Do you believe in ghosts?” Fuentes asks as everyone in the audience goes “Whaaaaat?” It’s arguably the best and most shocking post-credits (or technically mid-credits) scene in movie history.
Best Setpiece: With respect to the magnificent fight scene between The Rock and Vin Diesel, nothing in Fast Five beats the tremendous final chase, where Dom and Brian steal Reyes’ money by yanking his entire bank vault out of the wall of a police station and then dragging it through the streets of Rio. Some may tell you that this scene is physically impossible, and it may well be — but it doesn’t look impossible in the movie. Onscreen, it all seems completely real and whatever digital effects were used to get that giant vault rolling around look perfect. And that’s what the Fast & Furious franchise is all about: The triumph of what’s awesome over what’s possible. Ignore the killjoys and embrace the lunacy.
Why It’s #1: Because this is where Fast & Furious became FAST & FURIOUS, a logic-defying tribute to magnificent, glorious insanity. There’s almost no street-racing here; instead, the franchise morphs from its established cops-drugs-and-racing formula into a one-last-job heist movie, Ocean’s 11 on a steady diet of Muscle Milk and NOS energy drinks. What distinguishes Fast Five from the rest of this subgenre (besides the strong emphasis on cars and crazy stunts) is the warmth and genuine connection between the characters. Most heist movies are about cold-hearted professionals; Fast Five is about a group of friends so tight-knit they call themselves a “family.” (It’s mentioned before, but this is the installment where that really becomes the franchise’s buzzword.) When the chips are down, they choose each other, rather than selfish greed.
Where so many modern Hollywood franchises ditch their continuity to ensure the widest possible audience, Fast Five embraces its dense mythology. It’s possible to enjoy Fast Five without having seen the four previous movies, but it also cleverly exploits the web of relationships and tensions its accumulated through ten years of story. Almost every important plot point and character from all the previous Fasts makes some kind of appearance, from Dom’s big crucifix necklace to his ongoing rivalry with Brian, who can never seem to beat him in a head-to-head race.
It’s also fun, after all those movies, to finally see Dom and Brian on the same side, working together against several common enemies. And The Rock’s outsized presence makes him the perfect foil for Diesel’s increasingly moody hero. Fast Five really is something of an action masterpiece; a beautiful, inspiring poem of a film. Some claim it’s not as good as Citizen Kane. To that I say Citizen Kane does not feature the word “funderwear.”
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