From Best to Best? The Definitive 'Fast and Furious' Rankings
The Fast and The Furious Film series is one of the most lucrative and interesting in Hollywood. It began as a way to highlight the street crime element of racing and has completely evolved over the past 15 years into something completely removed from the original, while retaining the essence of what made it popular to begin with. To commemorate the 7th (and Paul Walker’s final) release in the series, I have gone back and watched all of the films, with a breakdown for each, as well as my ranking from worst to best. Although, I’d argue the worst Fast and Furious film is still a damn good time.
7. The Fast and the Furious: Toyko Drift
The red headed stepchild of the Fast and Furious franchise, it is the only film that doesn’t star Vin Diesel or Paul Walker in the series (although Vin Diesel does make a cameo), Tokyo Drift suffers mostly from the lack of charisma from the cast. Lucas Black’s Sean is supposed to be a sympathetic fish out of water in Tokyo, but there was no character I truly cared about, other than Sung Kang’s Han. He provides the film with soul. He is captivating in every scene he’s in with his slight mannerisms and almost sorrowful look. To its credit, Tokyo Drift is probably the purest racing film in the franchise, as the focus is almost completely on Japanese racing culture. Also, showing a driver who isn't a complete expert to begin with is a nice change of pace. It also mark’s Justin Lin’s first shot at the franchise (as he completely changes the franchise’s upward momentum and trajectory with the fourth film), and he adds a more dynamic touch to the races. This film is also out of order in the series. Despite being the third release, in the timeline, it’s actually the 6th film canonically. The second half of the film is pretty exciting, but the lack of interesting characters and overall indifference I felt for them detract from the great racing sequences and unique focus of the film, making it the worst film in the franchise, although it’s still a highly entertaining film.
6. The Fast and the Furious
The one that started it all….From the moment Paul Walker (Brian) and Vin Diesel (Dom) meet, it’s bromance at first sight. Watching this again after the evolution of the franchise definitely puts the newer films in perspective. A relatively straightforward plot that sees an undercover cop brought into the illegal street racing world really shines with its emphasis on family, which is something the Fast and Furious movies have always focused on, despite their over the top nature. Aside from the main two, the characters are pretty uninteresting, which is something the later movies do a much better job with. My biggest qualm is that the investigation that Brian is undergoing has zero resolution, but I guess suspension of disbelief comes to play here. With some great races and somewhat questionable plot, The Fast and The Furious is hardly the best in the franchise, but it’s a damn fun ride.
5. 2 Fast 2 Furious
“It’s a hoasis up in here, bruh,” Roman magnificently proclaims as he and Brian enter the club together to meet the antagonist of the much maligned second installment in the series. With that golden line of dialogue setting a high bar, the rest of the film is surprisingly adequate. Sure, the supporting cast of Ludacris and random Asian girl don’t really do much, but they're a step up from the douche crew that followed Dom around in the first film. Vin Diesel’s presence is somewhat missed, but the plot of the second film is much more cohesive than the first, with arguably better race sequences, including the first true “Fast and Furious” trick, which involves landing a car on a yacht. The fact that Eva Mendes and Paul Walker’s characters never actually hook up is also an interesting twist that doesn’t necessarily benefit the film, but should be noted. Overall, it shares some of the dated aspects of the first film, but is a better product.
4. Fast & Furious
4. Fast & Furious - The first of the Fast franchise that really changes the direction of the films from more localized pieces to world hopping adventures. Brian returns to being an undercover FBI officer, and most of the main cast from the first films, along with some new additions, are brought back to recapture the magic of the original. Justin Lin really takes this opportunity to transform a franchise built on street racing into a franchise that’s essentially about a super team of ridiculous drivers, and it’s an incredible transition. I appreciate how this transition is done incrementally, but this iteration is where the change becomes glaringly obvious. Also, the set pieces and overall feel for the driving sequences become far more intense, likely due to the better technology available. John Ortiz’s Braga is a pretty interesting villain, which also makes it a more engaging film to watch. While not the best of the series, this iteration definitely sets the stage for the huge step up in quality of all the subsequent films.
3. Fast Five
Ratcheting up the action to about a billion, this film introduces the Rock's character, Hobbe's, into the series, which is good, as he provides an interesting foil to Dom. Between his elite unit hunting down our heroes, and the drug kingpin of Rio also searching for the team, this film assembles the biggest cast of the first five films, bringing back every major player that's still alive from all the first four movies. This large group dynamic works very well, and leads to some interesting relationships (Han and Giselle) as well as some funny moments (most of the Tej and Roman stuff). The narrative of the film is pretty straightforward, but leads to a strong and cohesive story despite a decent amount of moving parts. Also, the final chase sequence with Dom and Brian racing through the streets of Rio carrying a 10 ton safe that destroys everything in its path is probably the most memorable sequence in all the films (although, as of this writing, I have yet to see the 7th). Completing the transition begun in the fourth film, Fast Five cements the Fast and Furious’ film legacy as not a great racing film series but a great action film series.
2. Furious 7
The opening scene, featuring Deckhard Shaw’s (Jason Statham) destruction following an unseen rampage to see his now crippled brother from the last film, sets the tone of self awareness for the seventh film in the series. Newcomer to the series, James Wan, who has an impressive credit list to his name, takes the world building left by Justin Lin to create the most over the top edition of the Fast and Furious films to hit the cinema. The main cast is parsed down, primarily due to the consequence of the sixth film. Shaw, working alongside a heavily underutilized Djimon Hounsou rather than a rival crew, leads to a more focused feeling. Statham’s character shows up at impossible times, which makes the self parody of the film all the more apparent, and he’s more super villain than human. Cars are launched from planes, The Rock flexes so hard his cast breaks, and Paul Walker has the greatest elementary school drop off in film history. That’s just a snippet of the blockbuster gold flowing throughout the film. As a huge continuity buff, seeing old faces like Lucas Black, even if they don’t really do anything, was also a plus, and the film series has everyone’s arc wrapped up nice and tight. Plus, Kurt Russell’s government agent is an absolute treat every time he is on the screen. His appearance shows that there is still life in the franchise to introduce interesting characters and ideas. The hand to hand combat of this film is probably the strongest in the series as well, with a couple of standout fights featuring Tony Jaa and Paul Walker or basically any fight with Jason Statham. The family theme is once again not so subtly pushed down the audience’s throats, to the point that it lacks some of the impact of previous films. However, as a tribute to Paul Walker and everything he’s meant to the franchise, the film excels, with a touching character arc that is a bit meta. It shows his progression from hero to full on family man.
1. Fast & Furious 6
While I mentioned Braga as a series highlight as far as villains go, no villain compares to Owen Shaw. Fast 6 finally gives the series a true villain who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, complete with a crew that can push our heroes to their limits. Part sociopath, part military man, and 100% badass, Luke Evans kills it as the big bad, making his villain the most interesting of the first six films. There’s plenty of world hopping in this feature, making it more akin to a Mission Impossible film than your typical racing fare. As mentioned regarding Fast Five, the franchise is in full blown action mode at this point, although it’s thematic focus on family is in full effect, as the crew reassembles to discover the truth about a know amnesiatic Letty. Oddly enough, The Fast and the Furious franchise is surprisingly detail oriented regarding the accuracy of events in previous films, and this movie has numerous references to older movies, which works in its favor because it makes the overarching plot all the more cohesive. The story works despite the complete change in scope of films from the first to the sixth, the misplacement of Tokyo Drift in the timeline, and old characters popping up from previous movies. As badass as his brother is, Owen Shaw remains the most captivating villain to me, which is enough to vault the sixth film into elite status as the greatest in one of the greatest film franchises ever.
The interlude before the fourth Fast film, Los Bandeleros is also directed by series star, Vin Diesel. It shows the introduction of Don Omar and Tego Caldéron’s characters, as well as what Dom has been doing in the interim since the first film. Not particularly action oriented, it’s a slow look at someone who lives a quarter mile at a time. They learn of the gas shipment that they target at the beginning of the fourth film, and it exists mostly to introduce new characters, while reintroducing older ones as well. Being only 20 minutes, it’s the least interesting of the iterations of the Fast movies, but seeing as its only a prequel to a film, it’s hard to rank it as a full feature film.
Turbo Charged Prelude
The prologue to 2 Fast 2 Furious, this short that lacks almost any dialogue mostly shows Brian’s escape from LA leading him to Miami just before the events of the second film. It’s hardly mind blowing, but it fills in some holes between the films. Being a part of the franchise, I just thought it deserved a mention with Los Bandoleros.
As you can probably tell, I love this franchise and each film brings something new to the series, which is something unusual in most large Hollywood franchises. Also, how many series actually get better as they diverge further and further from the original? In this respect, Fast films are unlike anything I can recall, and always provide an exhilarating thrill ride with ridiculously amazing set pieces and an unusual sense of family that finds itself at home only behind the wheel. Despite the rankings, all of the films are worth a watch, and you can't really go wrong with any of them. Ride or die, my friends.