THERE’S A CERTAIN TYPE OF PERSON WHO LOVES FAST & FURIOUS MOVIES.
Not necessarily the same type of person who loves action flicks or car chases—maybe that too—but one who can appreciate films with charm even despite their shortcomings; who can take the cheesy one-liners with the authentically-inspired racing sequences. There’s a lot to love about Fast & Furious, now nine movies in. And as each new installment has gotten bigger and bigger, and steered away from street racing altogether, most of its fans have stayed on board too. The films follow a group of street racers, for the most part consisting of Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, an alpha dog car-wiz who attracts all kinds of misfits and lost souls to his crew, and Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner, an ex-cop who originally befriends Dom on an undercover mission infiltrating his team of hijackers, but eventually coming to admire and respect the criminal and falling in love with his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). Over the years, the two become friends and brothers, despite the rocky start, and set out on various missions together—and separately.
From its humble street racing beginnings in 2001’s The Fast and the Furious to shedding its main characters entirely by the third installment, Tokyo Drift, to making that third installment a prequel to the next three films and including its supporting character (Han) in each of them, joining him together with the two stars from the first movie (Dom and Brian), to turning the series into a string of elaborate heists and its criminal protagonists into unlikely heroes—and at times superheroes—there may be no franchise that’s endured the kind of absurd lineage that this one has.
Fast & Furious has evolved like no franchise in history, never tonally tied to its predecessors, while at the same time informed by each of them to a fault. Not just growing from moderately tame to wildly insane, but building to its increasingly—and gloriously—ridiculous scenarios and stunts, almost by ear, throughout the years to achieve the incredible standard it’s now set for itself and continues to challenge.
The star-studded DNA has eventually evolved more into the Avengers-type of super team (which may have originally begun with 2010’s The Expendables in modern times), even if the approach in Fast Five, a year before the first Avengers movie, was way more earnest and organic of an assemblage than the long-term vision that was deliberately put into action by Marvel. And now with F9, the limitations of a super team have been reinvented once again. With Fast & Furious, every installment is something new and different, with each of the early films playing its part in making the series what it is today: ensemblecasted action movies where virtually anything goes, but with a heart that’s all about the characters themselves—a glorified band of welldiagrammed antiheroes where each one could very well be some fan’s favorite.
Over the years, through all the different iterations and tones, through all the character-shedding and subsequent character reunions there’s something that’s always remained the same about these films; something almost intangible. Held together by sincere themes of loyalty and family—but not in the mafia kind of way because with Dom, it’s either you take it or leave it—and a need for speed, no matter how preposterous, Fast & Furious has always tried to toe the enigmatic line between sentimental and adrenaline-fueled.
What Batman is to his bat suit and bat gadgets, this team of heroes is to their cars, pushing the limits of what’s possible for automobiles and continuing to defy audience’s expectations for what’s possible for action movies as well, much to the incredulity of our own gaping mouths. Paul Walker’s unexpected death in 2013 adds a whole new layer to these films, and is a major reason why I can’t help but get misty-eyed during the more heartwarming moments in each one. Whether you’re new to the franchise or a long-time fan, I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s something to love about every single one of these installments. Not included on this list is the 2019 Hobbs & Shaw spinoff movie because, while it’s veryenjoyable in its own right, it’s more comedy-focused than anything else and has no firm place in the overall saga that’s been constructed out of the other nine. But considering the crazy world of Fast & Furious, who knows what the future will hold? So without further ado, let’s suspend a bit of our disbelief and rank some Fast & Furious movies.
9. THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017)
Every franchise has one: an installment that goes too far. In the world of Fast & Furious, this may seem like a redundant phrase for many. Yet for fans of this particular franchise, we relish in the over-thetop action tropes and creatively implausible stunts. However, with its eighth installment, the line of plausibility wasn’t crossed with people and cars being physically pushed to asinine extremes, but with lose-lose moral conflicts.
In The Fate of the Furious, or F8, Dom gets strong-armed into joining up with cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) and turning against his entire team after discovering that she’s kidnapped his infant son that he didn’t know he had. Cipher hopes that his talents will help her get her get a hold of a nuclear weapon so she can have the world in the palm of her hand. The film takes our beloved antihero and turns him into the most destructive he’s ever been, literally driving through buildings and theoretically murdering thousands of people via collateral damage inwhat has to be the biggest innocent civilian catastrophe performed by a protagonist in movie history. Director F. Gary Gray and writer Chris Morgan make Dom choose betweensaving his son and saving entire nations. As parents, we always put our children above anyone else, but this film takes the hyperbole too far, even despite Dom’s plans to get himself out of the jam, which the audience is kept in the dark about for nearly 2 hours.
Admittedly, The Fate of the Furious was a necessary, and logical, direction for the franchise to go in. When you have a series like this, the rule book for potential storylines essentially gets tossed out the window. It won’t always work, but that’s the risk you run when you have a franchise where anything goes. However, if we’ve learned anything from this film it’s that there are certain directions that are more uncomfortable than others.
Morgan may very well be thetruest and most consistent action blockbuster screenwriter of the past 20 years, but with this eighth installment he writes himself into a tight corner, with a story that can only go in so many directions once he’s established for the hero a leverage that’s too valuable—even untouchable. And thus, whatever comes afterwards must either follow a reasonable outcome or become unbelievable. As far-fetched as some of these plots have been—let alone their stunts—the one thing that Fast & Furious has kept grounded are its characters. However, with F8, it has a difficult time doing even that. However, the writer, along with Gray, still finds those iconic Fast & Furious moments along the way, such as the amazing opening street race, which perfectly embodies the “It doesn’t matter what’s under a hood. The only thing that matters is who’s behind the wheel” credo, or Jason Statham entertainingly talking to a baby during a shootout in an homage to Hard Boiled, or the welltimed car-shield during the climax.
Gray also directs one of the best non-car action sequences of the entire series with the prison brawl early on, with brilliant fight choreography, appropriate amounts of speed ramping, and fantastic physical performances by Dwayne Johnson, Statham, and literally every background actor involved.
If any of these movies have abandoned the original Fast formula, this one has, perhaps due to the fact that it’s the first without Paul Walker’s Brian. F8 is probably most similar to Fast & Furious 4 in both its darker tone and the lone-wolfing of Dom. However, where Dom had Brian at his side in the 2009 film, whether he wanted him there or not, he’s literally isolated here and it’s unsettling.
Theron is way too sinister as a villain. We literally hate everything about her to the point where it begins to extend outward to the film as a whole. She has far too much screen time for an antagonist that we can’t sympathize with at all. The movie attempts lofty thematic goals, not only challenging Dom’s code, but that of the fans of the franchise as well, and does so with an existential approach that neither establishes a clear motive, nor makes enough sense to actually enable us to consider the polemic.
The Fate of the Furious is more off-the-rails than any other in the franchise, not because of the stunts—those are actually surprisingly (and disappointingly) tame here—but because the main plot is almost too serious to be fun at times. Even the past films at their absolute darkest have tinges of popcorn entertainment shining through. Here, it’s not until we can get away from our protagonist and antagonist that we’re able to relax.
Craziest Stunt: Snow ramp for use in submarine explosion
The moments with the non-Dom crew are entertaining because we’re able to forget what’s at stake, albeit briefly. Newcomer Scott Eastwood as Eric, the by-the-books rookie agent who tags along on the team’s mission, has great rapport with Tyrese Gibson’s Roman, providing a great foil for the famous jokester. Both characters are punching bags for their respective cohorts, despite their vastly different personalities. There’s some other fun relationship building between Johnson’s Hobbs and Statham’s Shaw, undoubtedly inspiring their own titular spin-off two years later. Much more James Bond than Ocean’s Eleven, this 2017 installment ramps up the tech talk and phone conversations in an obvious way, with undoubtedly more screens in this movie than any action movie I’ve ever seen. The end result, appropriately, is a lessened connection to our characters.
Although once you can look past the uneasiness of Dom sitting on the wrong end of the steering wheel and never paying the consequences for any of his actions, The Fate of the Furious is occasionally as fun as it should be. Yet despite the enormous stakes, the film somehow feels less tremendous than all the others.
8. 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003)
2 Fast 2 Furious may have the lowest stakes in the entire franchise, but this also allows for the fun to be the most carefree. Directed by John Singleton in his first action flick, the sequel plays like a cliche ‘90s shootem-up, but with cars. In a series that’s just one giant guilty pleasure, this might be the guiltiest of them all.
Over the years the film has become the unlikely black sheep of the franchise, but this might be more due to the fact that it’s the only installment sans Vin Diesel. The silver lining is that, looking back, it was the brief space we needed to appreciate Dom and Brian’s brotherly bond that would commence again in the fourth film. And as a big bonus, we were introduced to the series’ comedic relief, Roman Pearce, played by Tyrese Gibson. The plot is pretty simple. Brian (Paul Walker), who’s now a former police officer, has relocated to Miami to live life as a street racer.
After being arrested one night, the police make a deal with him that they’ll drop the charges if he helps them take down ruthless crime boss Carter Verone (Cole Hauser). Brian recruits his estranged friend Roman, and the two of them infiltrate Verone’s gang. This gets hairy as Brian falls in love with Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), another agent deep undercover as Verone’s girlfriend.
Led by Walker, Gibson, and Mendes, 2 Fast 2 Furious gets by on the charms of its stars. Walker is proof that you don’t have to be a great actor to carry a film, and that perhaps great acting might be a little overrated in general—especially when you have his kind of charisma. You wouldn’t want anybody else in this role, and his chemistry with Gibson is undeniable here, just as it is with Diesel.
If the first film was a delicious heap of self-aggrandized dialogue that became classic quotes, the sequel embraces its banter and is aware of the silliness (and just may have singlehandedly worked the word “bruh” into the mainstream lexicon). Trading in the LA neighborhood atmosphere for the sunny beach town of Miami, 2 Fast 2 Furious doubles down on the urban vibe with a generation-defining hip-hop soundtrack, sleek racing sequences, and a plethora of neon imports.
The characters here become a part of their milieu in a way that
establishes the mindset for the rest of the films. Fast & Furious
movies have always been about their inhabited settings nearly as much as the characters that inhabit them. And with this sequel, the characters are no longer struggling with outgrowing their locale, but trying to adapt to it. As beautiful as the city is,
why shouldn’t they be? Despite having the first and one of the most heartless in a long line of ruthless villains, 2 Fast 2 Furious
still never really puts its protagonists on the ropes very much.
Craziest Stunt: Driving a car off a ramp onto a boat
Brian and Roman achieve their mission with a decent amount of ease, even if that breezy journey yields an exciting watch. Setting the tone for the outlandish stunts that this series would become famous for, the film features some memorable twists, although the exact details of the job at hand become a little hairy, especially in the final act. If nothing else, 2 Fast 2 Furious allowed audiences to embark on a thrill ride with little-to-no stress involved, inviting future installments to retain a piece of that same carefree mentality, even though the stakes would objectively get higher and higher
7. FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013)
What do you do when you pull off a job to end all jobs and get enough money than all your previous jobs combined? You make the motivation more personal. The sixth installment opens with Dom finding out, via DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), that Letty is still alive, and that she’s working for an international criminal mastermind, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who’s going country to country stealing billion-dollar tech and killing a bunch of people in the process.
The saga could have ended with Fast Five, the ultimate score, but this time our ensemble mega-team is reunited for something bigger.
For once the end goal is not about the money (unless you’re Roman). If they successfully stop Shaw then Hobbs will ensure a full pardon for all their crimes. They can finally have their cake and eat it too. In a series where each installment feels completely separate from the rest, Fast & Furious 6 was the only one that lacked that individuality upon its release. Suffering a bit from following the behemoth that is Fast Five and the surprise factor that came with it, the sixth movie is also the only one to actually follow suit with its predecessor. Five and Six can be viewed as a pair, even if the latter is less of a heist and more about saving the day. Despite all the time spent with the villain, he’s one of the weakest in the series. Don’t get me wrong, we can definitely feel his prowess, but he’s not compelling enough to warrant all the attention drawn onto him or to justify the lack of clarity with the mission.
Director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan do make a point to draw parallels between Toretto’s team and Shaw’s, depicting the real difference between antiheroes and villains, but that might be as far as it goes. Honestly though, a weak villain motive can’t get in the way of this movie being so undeniably entertaining. Even when there are loads of verbal exposition for stretches, as well as a useless plot point wasted on Brian flying to America just to break into a prison and find out information that ultimately goes nowhere, the film still delivers the goods in its isolated scenarios. How some of these sequences relate to the rest of the movie is minuscule, but the flavor they add to the whole package is memorable and I wouldn’t ever take them out.
While Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty puts up a surprisingly fair fight with Gina Carano’s Riley Hicks, Roman and Han (Sung Kang) get absolutely demolished by Joe Taslim’s Jah in one of the most enjoyable instances of an unlikable character taking down a hero/heroes in movie history. Lin makes sure to balance the austere intensity with comedic irony, and wisely refrains from making the sparring match matter all that much—it’s just pure entertainment. While the rest of the film feels much more significant and emotional than its predecessor, this is one of the rare moments where the narrative can really breathe.
Craziest Stunt: Letty bridge-jumping in Spain, and the overall exploitation of jumping onto moving cars.
There are a lot of moving parts here, and not a lot of ways to make them flow. Luckily, this time around Lin and company seem to be a lot more free from the shackles of making sure this isn’t a racing movie. Fast Five adamantly refused to have any real racing, aside from a throw-in scene involving stolen cop cars. But this movie evens the pace with more car action sprinkled in, even during its thrilling airplane climax. It’s also important to note that this is Walker’s last FULL appearance in the franchise prior to his death (Furious 7 was partially rewritten to film some of his scenes with doubles). Fast Six features his best and most dramatic performance of the series.
In 2013, the franchise around him was changing too. The movies were becoming less about Dom and Brian’s bond, and more about dividing the attention between all the other characters (it’s a good thing we like them all). With this sixth film, we can see how everyone’s matured over the last ten years, and our core team, especially Dom, finally gets to be viewed as the heroes, even if that means they lose some of that mischievous charm in the process.
6. FAST & FURIOUS (2009)
This may be blasphemous because of what this movie meant back in 1976 and how it inspired the countless underdog stories that came after it, but the first Rocky is a little overrated. But that’s not to say the movie is bad. Just like the Italian Stallion, himself, Rocky has heart. In his first film, Balboa is a nobody boxer who hasn’t made anything of himself. And when some freak opportunity presents itself, he finally works hard and gets what he wants with very few obstacles in his way. In the films that follow, the conflict is more palpable, but here Rocky has it pretty easy.
t’s hard to believe that this was only Dom and Brian’s second appearance together. The fourth installment in the series also serves as a soft reboot of sorts, continuing the timeline following 2 Fast 2 Furious, but also with a new direction in mind. The second outing with director Justin Lin and the first in which Diesel serves as producer, Fast & Furious shifts the focus from
car culture to performing bigger stunts and pushing the limits
of automobiles, something we would continue to see more and
more of throughout the series.
Fast & Furious may suffer from being one of the most serious of the franchise, but not without reason. Early on in the movie, Dom’s girlfriend Letty gets murdered and now the outlaw spends the rest of the film trying to find her killer to avenge her death. Meanwhile,
Meanwhile, Brian, who hasn’t spoken to Dom in five years since he helped him with his getaway (in the first movie), thus revealing him to be a cop, is also on her killer’s trail as he’s connected with a big-time heroin trafficker. Dom and Brian’s paths cross soon enough, which reunites the two men and forces them to reconcile their differences. Writer Chris Morgan does an excellent job crafting a story about Dom and Brian’s complicated relationship and actually developing it, all while masking this film as a revenge thriller.
Craziest Stunt: Letty bridge-jumping in Spain, and the overall exploitation of jumping onto moving cars.
The two stars aren’t following the typical route for mending their wounds, but do so through inadvertent bonding which takes place while taking down a drug cartel—each for his
own reason. This process could have resulted in something very cliché and routine, but despite the occasional lazy dialogue and the abundance of platitudes, the story itself is far from formulaic in how it unfolds. There’s a wrong way to handle the fixing of a relationship, but these filmmakers truly understand the weight underneath Dom and Brian’s bond, establishing it as the undercurrent for the future of this franchise, much like it is during the first film. Focusing
on the characters first and foremost, just as it’s written into
the Fast & Furious DNA, and doing the groundwork to further
their stories in a meaningful way, this fourth installment
more than justifies its own existence and that of the rest of
A crucial stepping stone for the next chapter in the franchise, Fast & Furious is also a ton of fun. While never trying to be more than it is, the film still manages to level up almost every facet from its predecessors and has since turned out to be the nexus for the entire series.
5. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2003)
“Okay, first you get rid of Vin Diesel in the second film, and now Paul Walker is gone in the third? What the heck is going on here??” Fans were understandably nonplussed when Tokyo Drift was first released back in 2006: Is it part of the actual canon for the series? As it turns out, Justin Lin would have many surprises in store for the franchise and what this film would mean to it. Over the years, the third installment has become a favorite for many.
Looking back it seems like a bold move to have a spin-off movie become the nascent propeller for an entirely new direction for a series of which it was spinning off of in the first place. However, this was not always the plan.
Originally slated as a stand-alone with new characters entirely, Tokyo Drift eventually did become canon and, timeline-wise, an immediate sequel for the next three films. It’s this very unconventional approach, along with the distinct nature of its predecessor, 2 Fast 2 Furious, that gave the series different branches to build upon.
When something happens twice it’s a coincidence, but after the third time it’s considered a pattern.
If 2001’s The Fast and the Furious set the familial thread that runs directly through each and every installment in this franchise, then Tokyo Drift established a standard of individuality that continued for the rest of the series while also building upon its unified ethos.
Following an American high schooler, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), who’s sent to Tokyo after getting in trouble for drag racing, the movie fully immerses its protagonist into Japanese car culture. Along the way, Sean gets involved with a girl, Neela (Nathalie Kelley), the pseudogirlfriend of the territorial shot-caller D.K. (Drift King, played by Brian Tee) and the nephew of the head of an organized crime syndicate. D.K.’s right-hand man, Han (Sung Kang), takes Sean under his wing to teach him the art of drifting.
The first in a longtime partnership with director and producer Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan, Tokyo Drift gives an inside look into the drift culture of Japan, and in 2006 was most American’s introduction to the craft. However, Lin doesn’t just rely on the exotic newness of a foreign racing style to drive the film’s appeal, but puts drifting up on a pedestal and makes it look beautiful. When it comes to pure racing, this movie has some of the most stylish and exciting sequences of the entire series. Even if it’s not necessarily the best overall, considering its loose relevance to the rest of the saga, it’s arguably the coolest.
Craziest Stunt: Drifting through a crowd of people.
Lin, along with his DP and editing team, has a craftiness behind the camera that feels fresh, especially for the time, with no wasted shots or lazy cuts, even when the characters aren’t racing. We get a great sense of the space that we’re inhabiting, looking through the lens of an exploratory camera with a mind of its own: following our characters, then departing to trace the room, and then meeting back up again. The director does this on several occasions as he breathes life into every moment he shoots.
Following a more formulaic second installment, Lin’s movie takes risks. It breaks the fourth wall, beats up on its protagonist, and even kills off a lovable character. The director effectively develops Han in such a limited space to the point that he’s become a resounding Fast & Furious favorite—even prior to his run in the next few films—and his death is probably the franchise’s most heartbreaking moment that doesn’t have to do with Paul Walker.
Other films in the series have a bravado that’s expected considering the magnitude of the heists and the depth of the ensembles, but Tokyo Drift is like the mouthy short dude who somehow ends up taking down all the bigger guys in the room. And in street racing, looks can be deceiving. Fortunately, the former unsung hero of the franchise is finally starting to get some recognition these days
4. F9 (2021)
After an objective low point with The Fate of the Furious, the franchise needed yet another restart of sorts. In this year’s F9, Dom and the others get in touch with seemingly every aspect of their own cinematic lineage.
Callback after callback, F9 just might epitomize the Fast series more than any other in knowing exactly how to handle fan service. A reunion of nearly every main character in the history of the franchise (literally), the movie has redefined what it means to play to your core audience without sacrificing much narrative integrity. Accomplishing a nearimpossible character balance, Justin Lin assembles the biggest crew yet and still manages to let everyone shine in his or her own way.
Dom, Letty, and their usual gang of misfits gather together after Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) sends them
a distress signal. Apparently one half of a doomsday device called Ares has been stolen by a group of terrorist spies. Dom quickly learns that his estranged brother Jakob (John Cena) is one of the ones responsible, and so he decides to get involved after initially being reluctantto.
He disowned Jakob years ago and no longer considers him family. Meanwhile, Jakob has always had a chip on his shoulder due to living in his brother’s shadow.
With Lin back to direct for his first outing since Fast 6, the ninth installment very much heads back to its roots, in more ways than one. Serving as an origins story for Dom, F9 interweaves the present day events with flashbacks from our protagonist’s youth, with the opening scene set in 1989 as his younger self (Vinnie Bennett) watches his father get killed on the race track. Alongside him is his younger brother, Jakob (Finn Cole), who Dom learns was the one who cut the line to their dad’s engine, thus leading to his death.
More than any other in the series, the physical objective of F9 feels secondary to the personal issues. The highlight comes from the team splitting up and reuniting with different Fast & Furious alumni across the globe. Mia returns, joining Letty on a trip to Tokyo after they find out that their fallen comrade Han may have had some mysterious ties to the Ares device.
Longtime Fast screenwriter Chris Morgan gets replaced with Lin and Daniel Casey (making this the first non-Morgan entry since 2 Fast 2 Furious), and the change-up is slightly noticeable. Having a balanced and consistent pace on one hand, thanks to Lin behind the camera, the details of the crew’s mission still get a little foggy, especially as the film tries to convince the audience that the stakes of saving the world are more important than discovering Dom’s past and solving the mystery around Han. This may be so, but we never once believe that the movie actually believes it’s true. Simply put, the universe within Fast & Furious gets intensified so much so that we stop caring about the non-character conflict, and thus, the potentiallyintriguing idea of an Ares device unintentionally becomes relegated to a mere MacGuffin.
The identity of F9 is very much in its own history, as it should be. The flashbacks give us some great moments in Los Angeles—where this world first began—which always keep this ambitious entry grounded. Like most of the recent installments, however, there’s a giant lack of car culture, yet this time the cars themselves are hardly ever showcased either, shoehorned in as obligatory pieces rather than glossy gauds to drool over.
Craziest Stunt: Tarzanswinging on a bridge rope.
But if anything, the added backstory elements have opened up the door to be expanded on even further in future installments. Bennett may not look quite like a young Vin Diesel, but the filmmakers obviously went for talent over visage, since the actor absolutely nails the conviction for the part and also Diesel’s guttural cadence. Despite some lackluster racing sequences and a laughable exploitation of a super-magnet (but would we want it any other way?), this latest entry sets the bar astronomically high yet again while serving its purpose to further connect all of these seemingly tangential films. Filled with selfreferential jokes (“See! What I tell you—not even a scratch!”), some of the wildest stunts compiled into a single movie, and the best surprises since news of Letty’s resurrection in Fast Five, F9 is a love letter to both the characters that inhabit it and the fans who’ve stuck around for two decades; a wild ride that’s insanely fun every step of the way—especially if you don’t think too much about it.
3. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001)
The one that started it all. Who would have thought that one of the biggest franchises of all time would have such humble beginnings? With a story about street racing culture and an undercover cop who befriends a big-time hijacker, it’s the film’s core values of loyalty and family that have come to inform the rest of the series, infusing it with an obstinate moral code and unique sense of modesty to girdle all its bravado, even during the most insane moments.
A modernized version of Roger Corman and the American International drive-in fodder of the 1950s, The Fast and the Furious follows an undercover cop, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), as he infiltrates a gang of street racers, led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who are prime suspects in a recent string of hijackings. Brian falls for Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), and soon gets in the alpha dog’s good graces by proving his loyalty.
However, Dom doesn’t know he’s a cop. And Brian is now faced with a tough dilemma as he, too, has become emotionally attached and doesn’t want to believe that his new friends are guilty of the crimes being pinned on them. The dialogue is so embracingly cheesy in this early entry that we can turn every self-aggrandized line into a quotable classic. Yet despite the formulaic pretense, The Fast and the Furious continuously subverts expectations even in this seemingly limited and sophomoric space.
Craziest Stunt: The train track race.
Underneath it all, this is a story about the levels of good and bad—a theme which admittedly isn’t all that original in Hollywood, but also one that doesn’t always communicate as well and as subtly as it does here. There are twists in the script, written by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, and a young David Ayer, even where you least expect it. The film essentially makes the audience give Dom and his gang the benefit of the doubt, but then, without betraying its characters, takes the story to a place we never expect and we’re suddenly forced to make the decision all on our own.
The influential and kinetic camerawork by DP Ericson Core works until it doesn’t, but the adrenaline-fueled racing sequences wouldn’t have become so iconic under more proven conventions.
Director Rob Cohen and his team take risks even when probably advised not to, but now 20 years later we’re glad that they did—the result being a very evenly distributed action film where even the slower parts are highly engaging. At the film’s core are the relationships it establishes. The growing bonds between Dom and Brian, and, likewise, Brian and Mia, are the lasting legacy of this movie for any fan of the franchise—these bonds that drive the conflict just as much as they allow us to relish in the resolutions.
Diesel is the definite high point among the performances, bringing an emotion to Dominic Toretto that’s absolutely necessary to love the character despite all of his flaws and vices. Launching the actor’s fame into the stratosphere and showing how he could be every bit of the action star Sly Stallone was in the ‘80s, but with perhaps a much more believable mixture of anger and plight, The Fast and the Furious still never requires him to carry the film on his back.
His co-star Paul Walker shows us that charm is just as important as conviction when you’re acting, especially when you have as much as he does. Exuding an insane amount of charisma, the late actor ensures that the audience is on board with his character the moment they meet him.
A movie that gets better the more you watch it (and appreciated the more you fall in love with its sequels), The Fast and the Furious almost shouldn’t work as more than a mere display of well-directed action and intensity, but the charms of its leads and their tricky dynamic are the undeniable driving force behind its popularity, and thus, that of the rest of the franchise.
2. FAST FIVE (2011)
If Fast Four began shedding the street racing culture that had been written into the franchise’s DNA, then Fast Five was the nail in the coffin. The departure was nothing short of deliberate, and a very smart move. Rather than continuing to drink from the same well over and over again, the series evolved, but not without the necessary transitions that took place in the first four movies. With Fast Five, the franchise fully submerges itself into the heist genre and crafts a storyboard that somehow manages to avoid any sort of tunnel vision.
What does the FBI do when they’re trying to catch the people at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list, who just so happen to be helping take down a much more dangerous man? That’s the dilemma The Rock’s character faces in his debut in the franchise as DSS agent Luke Hobbs.Of course Hobbs is not the star of the film. With Dom having escaped from prison with the help of Brian and Mia, the trio is now in hiding from the law, climbing up the FBI’s Most Wanted List in the process. During a job gone wrong, three DEA agents get murdered—not by any of our heroes, but by their accomplice who works for Brazilian crime lord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida).
Dom, Brian, and Mia find themselves with the upper hand and access to $100 million of Reyes’ money, planning to steal it in one last job that will be able to buy their freedom for good. To get it done, they assemble a team of past confidants (cue epic character montage).
Fast Five isn’t just a heist movie, but a good one. Clear cut and intricate, the details aren’t convoluted, and the way the plot unfolds is exciting and adrenalinefueled. The obvious selling point here is the ensemble, but what makes the movie so much fun is how it’s utilized, each character unapologetically tilting the dynamic of the super team in a different direction. The line-up ensures that several dynamics are at play, with a lot of moving parts, all of which come together with a memorable finale and a couple of great twists.
When the film debuted in 2011, it felt like worlds were colliding. Working with depth established over four movies already, Fast Five still finds ways to both honor its four predecessors and develop the characters from those movies. Director Justin Lin not only captures these authentic emotional moments, but enhances them. When Mia tells Brian she’s pregnant, every aspect of the filmmaking comes together to lift the scene up: the music cue, the way he frames the shot so that Dom can be a part of it too, as he should be, and the way Diesel’s face reacts without ever falling into any sort of stock expression.
Then later on in the film we get the “Last Supper”- inspired meal the night before the big heist, where each character is developed in a more slice-of-life fashion as the director wisely slows down the pace for a moment of brief respite amidst the whirlwind that comes before and after.
The stunts are often laughably implausible—a trend that will not only continue, but get doubled down on with each new installment— especially as we depart from the racing aspect into bigger and bigger jobs. However, our enjoyment of these movies greatly depends on our acceptance of the ridiculous and our appreciation for the charms that justify them.
Fast Five simultaneously takes itself seriously, but also doesn’t. Rather than using comedy to lighten the mood, it uses the absurdities of a train heist or a giant safe destroying cars on a bridge to do so. If we can stretch our imagination to believe that a man can turn into a spider, then why can’t we do the same for movies that aren’t rooted in comic books and science fiction? In that regard, Fast Five takes a lot of bold risks and makes the audience believe that these things are possible within this world.
Craziest Stunt: Double towing a giant safe through Rio, and the subsequent weaponizing of said giant safe.
As superhero movies were redefining the idea of “high-concept” in 2011, the Fast & Furious franchise was doing the same for personalstakes, action shoot-em-ups where the fate of the world wasn’t at risk. Ten years after the release of the first movie in 2001, Fast Five ushered in a new era of action filmmaking and enthusiasm. Future installmentsmay have since gotten us used to this big, bold approach—especially as it relates to cars…yes, cars—but this was the moment when many people fell in love with the franchise, whether for the first time or all over again. Fast Five goes full swing into the ext phase of the series while also adding to it a whole new layer. Yet another new beginning of sorts, the film finds the sweet spot between where the series was in the past and what it eventually turned into. These movies will likely never be quite like this one—not in terms of quality, but in regards to doing what they do best: surprising their audience. And sitting in that movie theater back in 2011, we finally got to experience how perfect these films could actually be. Not to mention that in-credits cliffhanger…
1. FURIOUS 7 (2015)
In 2015, Furious 7 was the proper culmination of the franchise up to that point—in more ways than one. The death of Paul Walker prior to the film getting completed cast an unavoidable shadow overhead. There’s an emotional subtext present even before that beautiful, and way-too-sad, phone conversation between Brian and Mia, and subsequent farewell between Brian and Dom during the epilogue.
However, the film had a heavy weight written into its DNA already. Dom’s iconic homestead is destroyed, Han has been killed, and Letty still struggles to regain her memory. And now, on top of it all, with every meaningful moment Brian has with Mia or Dom, you can’t help but speculate how much of their performance is real emotion.
Following the events of the previous film, in which our team of heroes places Owen Shaw in a coma, Owen’s brother Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) tries to get his vengeance on each of them, starting with Han in Tokyo—tying this movie together with Tokyo Drift. Now Dom, Brian, and the others attempt to get to Shaw before he gets to them.
Meanwhile, Kurt Russell plays Mr. Nobody, the “shadow” leader of a covert ops team, who recruits Dom to obtain a virtually-omniscient computer surveillance program called God’s Eye. In return, he will let Dom use the God’s Eye to find Shaw
Shying away from the superteam concept established in the previous two films, instead sprinkling the plot with fun cameos, Furious 7 levels up the series without trying to go bigger than its massive predecessors—a and even keeps The Rock relatively at bay. Although, the film is plenty big regardless of its cast. Director James Wan and writer Chris Morgan focus more on getting back on track with the essence of the Fast & Furious universe. With a poignant attention to character—perhaps due to Walker’s death—and arguably the best action sequences of the franchise, Furious 7 carries a piece from each film in its legacy while also firmly maintaining its own identity.
Wan’s style shines through in this seventh installment, but works symbiotically with the inherent charms of the actors and production design so as to not simply stand on its own, but serve a purpose. Wan is a filmmaker known for his focus on storyboarding and dedication to narrative payoffs, even with an intricate plot. And as Furious 7 gets pretty intricate, the director always keeps the audience in view and keeps the story pushing forward with his deliberately kinetic, but steady, pacing.
Craziest Stunt: Skyscraperhopping in a Lykan.
Previously known for his work in the horror genre, Wan infuses the action film with his typical color grading and intense camerawork, with interesting photography, disorienting perspectives, and music video splicing to match the soundtrack beats. His slick editing and slight sheen make the action sequences feel like a video game, in the best possible way, with a car-studded finale in Los Angeles that feels straight out of Grand Theft Auto. The director handles the chaotic chase scenes with a coherent vision and still finds time to slow down certain shots (but not too many) in order to admire what’s going on around us, or even just to look at the cars.
Furious 7 also has the best array of WTF stunts, but what makes them even more impressive is how they all still feel like they’re in the realm of plausibility. And that’s because most of them are. Apparently 90% of the action sequences were done using CGI, including the famous parachuting cars and Brian’s jumping from a bus falling off a cliff. And then there’s the epilogue. As Paul Walker’s final film, the tribute to him at the end is beautiful just as it is heart-wrenching for any of us who love this franchise. He and Diesel, together, are the spirit underneath it all, yet he was always the calming presence who grounded even the most preposterous moments.
Despite about a third of his scenes being filmed with CGI over body doubles—mostly his brothers Cody and Caleb—Walker gives a solid performance with fantastic stunts in his swan song, his prowess as an action star at its peak. The actor’s sendoff is done perfectly. Rather than killing off his character, the film focuses on Brian’s call to family life, leaving his runningand-gunning with Dom behind. It’s every bit as authentic and poetic as you had hoped it would be. Where Fast & Furious 6 feels like the entire film is hanging onto its plot for movement, Furious 7 rolls the ball effortlessly. There’s no real sitting and waiting around—only action and reaction. The story behind Furious 7 may have overshadowed the film itself, and understandably so, but it’s perhaps the most “Fast & Furious” installment in the entire franchise and a near-perfect action movie.