(*This is an updated version, with the original written on June 22, 2021, by Andrew Korpan on ATM Online.)
You can’t outwrestle the power of family. The Fast & Furious series has existed for over two decades, bringing about mainstream popularity for Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and others we’ve become accustomed to in the family line. Whether it’s taking on submarines, skyscrapers, bank heists, getting into space, or defying every ounce of gravity, the “driving-the-car” element is a quiddity of this series that proves “it doesn’t matter the type of vehicle; only the person behind the wheel.” With over $7 billion under its mileage and a few more films on the way in the next few years, let’s buckle up to rank all eleven F&F films. (Note: This will not include the short movies or television series; yes, there are massive spoilers ahead.)
#11 – 2 Fast 2 Furious
We get it; you had to make a sequel because the first one made a good chunk of money. But that still doesn’t justify meandering character development and underwhelming effects. After letting Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) go in the first installment, O’Connor (Paul Walker) relocates to Miami and becomes assigned a new mission to take down a drug lord. He enlists the help of his friend Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and undercover Custom Agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), who sparkles the screen more than anyone else hired for this movie.
The buddy-comedy genre experiences little freshness here, even though Walker and Gibson try to have fun with it. Desperately missing the presence of Vin Diesel, the production time breezily flew through this one without much consideration for the stakes. What we’re left with by the end of it is an unappealing car ride only bolstered by the three leads and some clumsy dialogue.
Director John Singleton might have an eye for edginess and a fetishistic appeal, but this sequel lays low by its leaden script and lack of freshness.
#10 – The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
This standalone spinoff sequel (or prequel to Furious 7 due to the timeline structuring) is in the same boat as 2 Fast 2 Furious, with the only gleeful exemption of living up to its namesake title with some exhilarating driving sequences and a notable standout from Sung Kang’s introduction as Han Lue. Other than that, this simple story flounders as much as it does leave the viewer unengaged.
We get introduced to Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), who gets sent to Tokyo to live with his dad due to his disruptive behavior and becomes embroiled in underground drift racing by learning the corks from Han. The crippling factor is Black’s performance, which generates vapid results with no clear direction or compelling narrative. His characterization leaves the feature desperately clawing onto preposterous tactics to flow through its runtime, and even then, it becomes a tedious film to get through. Outside of Kang, most other actors are tagging along in the constraints of the usual F&F motion picture.
Sure, you can find great pride in the action like any other film in this series, but an adequate narrative needs to arrive from somewhere, and Tokyo Drift doesn’t fit that bill.
#9 – Fast & Furious (2009)
The first twenty minutes of the fourth installment are highly promising, with a James Bond-esque opening and reuniting of the main leads Dominic Toretto, Brian O’Connor, Letty Ortiz, and Han Lue (from Tokyo Drift to tie the knot). However, it’s all flat and perfunctory afterward with the quest to apprehend another drug lord, Arturo Braga (John Ortiz).
And yes, the plotlines lead to both Dom and Brian going on their objectives, with Brian remaining in good standing with the FBI to locate Braga while Dom seeks revenge as Letty was “apparently” murdered at the hands of Braga’s henchmen. Justin Lin didn’t fully grasp the concept of this series after Tokyo Drift because this becomes entirely redundant in terms of characterization and storytelling (again). Everyone remains rote, going through the motions until we reach an adequate conclusion that even fizzles out and only sets up the following installment.
Why it’s settled above the two most bland in the series is because it handles its car scenes with respectable aplomb and reunites the two stars (Diesel and Walker) that become synonymous with the collection to an acceptable degree. Had Lin driven more vigor into the characters, we’d be looking back at this one more fondly.
#8 – Fast X
We’ve discussed the latest one in length in our review and what we listed about its theatrical run. The tenth installment is a visually loud and expressive feature about the danger the family must face at the hands of Dante (Jason Momoa), son of the drug lord Hernan Reyes, prominently featured in Fast Five. Rashomon the previous installment all you want, or have Momoa explosively dance in the ridiculous proceedings here as much as possible: this movie is not that great.
Yes, by twenty years now, we should know what to expect when we band together at the theaters. However, we’re simply testing more bombastic budgetary measures to appeal to worldwide audiences and scrap every dollar possible (a subtle nod towards the film barely becoming a profit). It should’ve been a relatively simple film, as the antagonist wants revenge against Dom and his family for his losses. The problem is Fast X doesn’t know where to stop or, at least, juggle the subplots so they all manifest into a cohesive unit. Some storylines could’ve quickly been scrapped, and others need to be more tonally fit. But, since it’s a massive blockbuster, everyone jumps on the bandwagon (even for only minutes of screentime) to get their paychecks and head home till they receive the call for the next one. It must have been wonders for veterans of this series, like Jordana Brewster and Jason Statham, to look like footnotes in this overstuffed feature.
We spend more time hoping for the series to end than to plod and continue for another two installments. Enough has to be enough somewhere, guys; the intention of doing an Avengers: Infinity War-redux here is stupendously baffling and doesn’t work since the IP has taught us to have fun with explosions and not care when it comes to stakes or tension. Director Louis Leterrier conjures up a distractingly frenetic feature in Justin Lin’s departure, and it only has several enjoyable moments (the Rome bomb chase sequence, for instance) and two worthwhile performances from Jason Momoa and John Cena.
At least the returns of Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot can please hardcore fans (if willing to forgo the cacophony of the producers’ desperation tactics) for the next ones.
#7 – Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw
Fun yet unnecessary, this spinoff seems more like an apologetic letter to Universal Studios as it put them in a rattled position with F9 postponed till 2021 and Dwayne Johnson reportedly not having enough to deal with Vin Diesel’s antics that he left the main series to conjure a side quest alongside Jason Statham. What unfolds plot-wise is Deckard Shaw (Statham) joins forces with Luke Hobbs (Johnson) to protect his sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) to take down a cybernetically enhanced soldier named Brixton (Idris Elba) and prevent him from using a virus to destroy the world.
Director David Leitch, head of the first John Wick and Deadpool 2, brings his stylistic take on the over-the-top action sequences, which are objectively adequate. Johnson and Statham do their best to milk the friction between their characters, but it all becomes pestiferous as they spend more time hurling insults than providing genuine catharsis. And the meandering exposition doesn’t benefit much, so it’s a film that relies heavily on its star power and chaos.
We get it: you can reference “Superman” and throw out testicle jokes. It’s cheap comedy, but it’s also languorous. Both lead stars can do better and not become cardboard standees in another mediocre outing.
#6 – F9
The most cumbersome to rank on this list, partially due to the series’ standards of street racing being eradicated in favor of fourth-wall-breaking moments and not-so-subtle cues from the screenwriters themselves. Slingshotting past the evident point of self-parody is one thing, but acknowledging it onscreen with your characters becomes forceful and even more preposterous. If this is your thing, it might be one of your favorites in the series.
The ninth installment revolves around another world-ending MacGuffin narrative, led by the villainous Cipher (Charlize Theron) and Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen). The spike for this rollercoaster ride in the monotonous premise is that they’re teaming up with Dom’s estranged brother, Jakob (John Cena). Director Justin Lin returns to the series to finally showcase the backstory of the Toretto family, where Jack Toretto perished in the eyes of his two sons on the racetrack. Through some (relatively good) flashbacks, Jakob reluctantly contributes to the incident that took their father’s life, so Dom ousted him in a race from the family and stumbles upon him in this mission.
While admirable for giving us this plot thread, the lack of riveting connection is apparent here. Diesel plays himself as an automated robot that Cena copies almost move for move. Their tension is devastatingly manufactured, and the “brothers” would’ve been better off showcasing their muscles instead of glaring at each other in a jejune fashion. Lin jump cuts excessively that only the action screams “noteworthy” here that you’re better off riding along with it. And Han’s return is another cruel habit of the franchise to bring back supposedly “dead” characters in the fold (simultaneously, they technically lied in the marketing about “justice is coming”).
The flashbacks and tomfoolery action are the only exciting parts of this installment. This is quite a mediocre outing for what could be considered another “resurrection” of this series after the evident absence of the late Paul Walker.
#5 – The Fate of the Furious
Some folks will clamor this is ranked a bit too high on this list, but the eighth installment has a certain charm that makes it suspiciously enticing (even without the presence of Mr. Walker from this point on). Maybe the kinetic energy struck in the commercial or cultural territory further, or we got a revamped flavor in the franchise by going for a “spy caper” route in this one. No, that’s not to say all works, as it jars from severe to cracking jokes every five minutes.
Dominic Toretto (Diesel) gets coerced to work alongside Cipher (Charlize Theron), a mastermind cyberterrorist, and work against his family as they battle on and off until the inevitable reunion in the third act when a nuclear submarine tries to escape the ice-cold land of Russia. Lazily, the screenwriters decided to evoke the “heroes fight each other,” as seen when Marvel and DC went to war over Captain America: Civil War and Batman v. Superman a year earlier. So Dom uncovers his former girlfriend Elena (Elsa Pataky) and their son held captive and must fight to save him from Cipher’s wordy threats. Oh, and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is now embroiled in a little rivalry with Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) after the fallout from the last installment, and Shaw transitions into a hero this time.
Director F. Gary Gray plays the usual hits of an F&F film but doesn’t precisely hamper down the attitude of Dom nor experiment with a darker route with the family at war with one another. Instead, we have some colorful locations to show off ramped-up car action, and not much else matters by the end of it. It’s all bloated fun, and whatever happens, so take your pick for the sake of it.
Sadly, this would end the collection’s hot streak (initiated with Fast Five).
#4 – Fast & Furious 6
Ah, yes. This is the moment where the series broke unreservedly, dismantling its ground roots of street racing for absurd car sequences and death-defying occurrences. Folks didn’t seem to mind, so we got a success either way.
Following the fifth installment’s success and the team’s financial security after this heist, they head off to different parts of the world to enjoy life. However, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) lures Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family back into action as there’s a new mercenary gang causing chaos in London led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). The tip of the iceberg is that Dom’s former lover, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), survived the events of the fourth installment and is dealing with amnesia while with Shaw’s crew. Dom and his team take on the opposing forces, hoping to stir Letty back into his arms.
With lots of humor and high-octane sequences, Fast & Furious 6 hones down on its greatest strengths, even when it becomes a cyclical and generic filmmaking exercise. The star-strudded cast and teamwork keep things racing along, so all is admirable with this work. At least the timeline gets cleared up in the post-credits (regarding Tokyo Drift) while setting the stage for Furious 7. Either way, it’s more of an underrated watch, so no harm, no foul.
#3 – The Fast and the Furious
While quaint and utterly unrecognizable by the series’ standards nowadays, the original will always have that charm about being a cheesy exploitation feature from the mid-20th century. The semi-grounded crime drama is flavored by a world of local street racing and high-speed heists (yes, we always have to go after the trucks). Undercover cop Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) tries to build a name for himself on the racing scene, becoming tangled in discovering Dominic Toretto and his group of street people who value the philosophy of family and automobiles.
You got street racers’ talk, Brian pining over Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and some other folks wrapped up in jealousy or committing crime whenever they please.
It’s recklessly silly (and derivative of Point Break), even with the B-movie dialogue and CGI that don’t hold up for a series this massive. Yet, it’s relatively simple and entertaining and kicked off something that would enlarge Walker’s and Diesel’s careers for years. I guess the main question is: What would’ve happened had this series stayed grounded and not veered into territory charted for superheroes/CGI blockbusters?
#2 – Furious 7
Unabashedly fun yet surprisingly deft, Furious 7 is a top contender for one of the best F&F films (if not the best). Sure, it is not perfect, as it has the usual pitfalls of lacking some character development, and whether you can tolerate the insane stunts is up to your standards. But this film stands out for a multitude of reasons.
The story begins with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeking revenge for his brother Owen after the events of Fast & Furious 6, and Dom (Vin Diesel) and his team get thrown into a world of turmoil. To protect themselves, they work alongside Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to prevent a terrorist, Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou), from obtaining a hacking program developed by Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). Together, the team secures Ramsey while being the target of Shaw and Jakande in a wild adventure of car sequences by flying out of planes or through skyscrapers or encountering chaos around Los Angeles in the third act.
Director James Wan gets some thrills for us in this popcorn movie, Dwayne Johnson flexes his muscles (in a cameo of sorts), and Jason Statham brings a cold-blooded, brooding demeanor to his presence as he stands opposite Vin Diesel. We also got some neat cameos from Ronda Rousey fighting with Michelle Rodriguez for a moment and Lucas Black (returning from Tokyo Drift).
But those aren’t the selling points in the sixth sequel. No, that goes to Mr. Paul Walker, who sadly passed away during the feature’s production, and the team had to utilize old footage/CGI for his last shots. Walker gives a sincere performance, amplified by a solid side narrative of him finally retiring and hanging up his boots to be with Mia (Jordana Brewster) and his kids. The last ten minutes are a passionate, somber tribute to the man who catapulted this series to where it is now, thanks to a stirring soundtrack of “See You Again” and one last montage of his journey alongside Diesel before their characters drive off in separate directions. This seemed nigh on impossible in a world where ludicrous car stunts take place, robbing us of any tensions or emotions.
Rest In Peace, Paul Walker. Your presence is sorely missed.
#1 – Fast Five
Justin Lin finally cracked the code for how to make the most fascinating F&F movie: setting it up as a heist feature. Yes, some pacing issues and the same corny dialogue egregiously vex us critics while we nitpick how similar it is to Ocean’s Eleven. But there’s too much fun and dynamite car action to invest in where it sturdily holds itself up for the runtime. And if we’re being genuine, this is the last feature to stick with its roots of the “racing” genre (well, somewhat) before it becomes overtly ludicrous and breaks every law of physics known to humanity.
After freeing Dom (Diesel) from the prison bus at the end of Fast & Furious, the trio, including Brian (Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster), escape to Rio de Janeiro, where they gather the team to steal $100 million from the corrupt businessman Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Simultaneously, they’re hunted for extradition by DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and his party, who becomes embroiled in the chaotic atmosphere while remaining faithful to their agenda. Lin finally succeeds in melding together the plotlines as they all integrate to become a (more, compared to the rest of this series) cohesive thread where the band is trying to succeed in stealing this money for their liberation, yet being on the hunt by two different groups. The dynamic is wonderfully charged thanks to Johnson’s hulking, hunter-presence, and Gal Gadot lights up the screen with her spirited, voluptuous presence.
The third act might be the series’ pinnacle, synergizing high-octane physics with insane car movements to transport the vault across the city. It’s almost the cinematic equivalent of combining sugar and fats at once. The series may not have ended here, but this was a moment where its confidence roared with surging zeal and became its highest point. A reliable compass for the family to band together to pull off this risky heist, and then a cartoonish glee baked into its third act.
As pleasing and heart-rending as Furious 7 is, Vin Diesel and Co. know Fast Five remains a certified classic in this car series (to the point they rehashed some of its elements over a decade later for Fast X). An entertaining ride indeed and something the franchise may not have the chance to come close to again.