I’ve been a Fast and Furious fan from the very beginning. During the spring and summer of 2001, I’d repeatedly watch the trailer for the then new film The Fast and the Furious. Something about the cars, the girls, the neon, etc. I went to see the film and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Then I went to see it again. And again. Four times in its original theatrical release, including once on the AMC Universal CityWalk IMAX screen where they used to blow up the 35 mm image.
The story of the late Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner takes us to both sides of the law, and his friendship with Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto takes us to to Brazil, London, Tokyo and the Dominican Republic. While their “family” has changed over time, each film in the franchise continues to reinvent the series and always given me a reason to race to the multiplex.
With the premiere of The Fate of the Furious only days away, I decided to rank my favorite films in the series, from worst to best. It’d be a close race, but some of the films do edge out ahead of the pack.
Just be warned, there are spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen these flicks.
7. (Worst) 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
2 Fast 2 Furious is a total blast as far as second chapters go. Watching it the first time, I remember quickly forgetting the bromance between O’Conner and Toretto due to the more animated chemistry between O’Conner and Tyrese Gibson’s Roman Pierce. The film also introduces Tej played by Ludacris, who would later become part of core ensemble. Director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) sets 2 Fast apart from the original by replacing the Los Angeles location with the neon-drenched backdrop of Miami. This brought me back to vintage Miami Vice and that’s a beautiful thing. The major connection to the first film is O’Conner himself, who’s now on the run from the law since aiding the escape of Toretto at the end of the first film. Since the series is still trying to find its footing, 2 Fast 2 Furious has the advantage of not having strong ties to the original, which helps this one stand strong on its own.
6. Fast & Furious (2009)
Fast & Furious was somewhat underwhelming at the time, but serves as a setup to the future Fast films. Even though it’s the fourth in the series, it’s the first that feels like an official sequel to the original film. O’Conner is reinstated as a federal agent and assigned to infiltrate the Mexican mafia run by Arturo Braga (John Ortiz). We also meet Braga’s right-hand woman Gisele (Gal Gadot), whose role grows in future installments. O’Conner crosses paths with Toretto, who is hunting down the killer of Dom’s girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). To complicate matters further, O’Conner’s romance with Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) is also rekindled. The film benefits from having fewer characters so we get more focus before the extended “family” grows in further Fast films. Looking back, there are more real stunts and less of the CGI that would one day overtake the series. Though it doesn’t equal the spectacle of the future installments, the chase under the mountains of the Mexico/U.S. border stands out as one of the coolest sequences of the series.
5. Furious 7 (2015)
Furious 7 marks a change in tone from the street racing action to all-out comic book film. Fast & Furious 6 villain Owen Shaw has survived a fall from a plane and his brother Deckard (Jason Statham) wants revenge. He attacks Hobbs and blows up his office sending him reeling multiple stories to a truck (he survives). You’d think this would make for a gritty revenge thriller … until Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody sends the film into Mission Impossible territory. He recruits Dom and his team to track the God’s Eye, a device that can hack into any camera in the world, in exchange for tracking down Shaw. The film suffers from being overly busy with multiple villains, and its core characters fall into caricatures. Especially Toretto, who has become a full on superhero as he survives a fall in his car down a cliff, a jump across two Dubai skyscrapers, and a collapsed parking garage. Furious 7 does produce a tearful tribute and respectable end to Brian O’Conner. O’Conner had been the heart of the series and also the most dramatic character arc, constantly having to choose between two sides of the law. Though it doesn’t feel as much like a Fast film, the fun factor is still high and manages to produce a tearful tribute to Paul Walker, who had passed away during filming.
4. Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift has even looser ties to the original film with a bold and fresh set of characters as the filmmakers continue to find a direction for the series. Director Justin Lin makes his mark on this third film in the series and he will go on to direct 4, 5 and 6. Tokyo Drift features teenage rebel Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) being sent to live with his father in Tokyo where he soon butts heads with D.K. (Brian Tee), the nephew of the local Yakuza head. Boswell befriends Twinkie (Bow Wow) and Han Lue (Sung Kang) and falls for D.K’s girlfriend Neela (Nathalie Kelley). Tokyo provides for a flashy setting and the fish out of water story sets the film apart from the first two Fast films. A surprise cameo from Toretto at the end connects it to the first two and provides a glimpse of coolness to come.
3. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
The Fast and the Furious is our introduction to the series and brings together O’Conner and Toretto for the first time. O’Conner is the undercover cop assigned to investigate the team of street racers robbing mack trucks and their cargo. We hear echoes of Point Break as O’Conner discovers Toretto’s team is responsible and he needs to bring him down. The film sets the moral conflict in O’Conner as he’s forced to choose between two sides of the law. This first installment sets the tone of the series with its high-powered soundtrack and stunning street race scenes.
2. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
Fast & Furious 6 opens with a kinetic montage of previous films (except Tokyo Drift which takes place after 4, 5 and 6). We’re reminded the series has created a mythology over the years and we see the characters grow in the footage from the previous films. The action follows a more international path as Dwayne Johnson’s federal agent Luke Hobbs hires Dom and his crew to help him bring down international criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Letty had been presumed dead in 4 and 5 but is now running with Shaw’s team. The stunts and sequences in Furious 6 are on the largest scale of the series at that time. Even though there are CGI elements, the series still maintains a pinch of credibility. The showdown with a tank on a freeway in Spain is eye-popping and the final showdown aboard a carrier plane along a (seemingly endless) runway make Furious 6 the next-to-best of the films.
1. (The Best) Fast Five (2011)
Fast Five has Dom and his crew in Brazil planning to steal the fortune of crime boss (Hernan Reyes) as the team is pursued by Hobbs and his mercenaries. The film gets a boost as it connects the coolest of characters from previous films. Director Lin balances action with drama and an ensemble cast where every character gets his or her moment(s). For me, it stands in the upper echelon of action films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon that I grew up with. Fast Five is where the series is at its best and it could have easily served as a climactic end to the series, but will instead serve as halfway point to a 10-film series.
For me, personally, the Fast & Furious series has been the gift that keeps on giving. The pop album I could listen to on repeat. The comfort franchise I can depend on to be entertained. I’ve gone to see each film 3-4 times in theaters including a seven-film marathon at AMC Universal CityWalk in Summer of 2015. I’m excited for The Fate of the Furious and where it’ll fit into this list.