As we await the inevitable day that Universal’s Jurassic & Furious (2025?) descends upon our world, combining fast cars with faster dinosaurs and even-faster-than-that movie stars, it’s time to take a brief moment to look back. 20 years ago, the characters of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) made their debut on movie screens, beginning a bromance that would inadvertently ignite one of Hollywood’s longest running narratives. Said narrative would somehow see us go from the streets of Los Angeles to drift racing in Tokyo, dropping cars out of a plane with a parachute, multiple resurrections, a couple of pro wrestling friends, and sending a hoopty into outer space. And all that began because Brian wouldn’t stop pesturing Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) about the tuna sandwich, since he didn’t know how to ask a woman out.
Now that the 9th film has been released to a rather mixed reception, and having recently watched all 9 films, I thought it would be time for me to rank these automotive fairy tales. For the record, I’m not ranking the Hobbs & Shaw film from 2019, mostly because The Rock and Jason Statham are just kind of doing their own thing over there (and I didn’t want to re-watch it – in fact, has anyone ever re-watched that movie?). So, without any further ado, here are the Fast & Furious films ranked from worst to best:
9. Fast & Furious (2009) ⭐1/2
Above all others, this is the movie in the franchise that drags the most. It sidelines Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) for reasons that were idiotic at the moment and in retrospect. Great care is put into building upon the Dom/Brian relationship, but the movie as a whole is too dull to be a fun time. The lack of humor makes you feel the absence of Roman (Tyrese) and Tej (Ludacris), while the villain is poorly developed despite all the screentime they devote to him. Adding insult to injury is the ill-fated flirtation Dom has with Gisele (Gal Gadot), which was so awful that everyone involved with the franchise pretends it never happened like a bad Halloween sequel. It’s a skip for anyone who isn’t a completist with these movies.
8. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) ⭐⭐
In recent years, Tokyo Drift has developed a cult following for reasons that are easy to see. For starters, it’s here where Han (Sung Kang) becomes a fan favorite. The film’s location and story (one where the main character has to actually learn and improve as a driver due to his new surroundings) is a big change of pace from the first two films, and the characters have some interesting pathos that help us see them beyond just action movie caricatures. Buuuuut let’s not get carried away here! It does some things surprisingly well, but the central conflict leaves something to be desired, as the stakes feel very direct-to-video-ish. Nonetheless, this entry’s significance is establishing director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan as players in this universe, as well as a surprise ending scene that would leave fans excited for what’s to come.
7. The Fate of the Furious ⭐⭐
Here comes one of the most frustrating entries on this list. Fate is at all times loud, bombastic, beautifully shot, but maddeningly stupid as characters defy all gravity as well as all logic when it relates to their shared histories. Deckard Shaw was built up as a bloodthirsty killer in the previous film, but it’s cool now. Dom nearly kills everyone, but it’s cool, we’ll welcome him back into the family even before he explains his actions. The action set-pieces, while entertaining, are upended by poor character decisions, soap opera-esque writing, and a villain that fails to live up to their established super-intelligence.
6. F9 ⭐⭐
The one where they went to space! That’s what it’ll be known as, but I’ll remember it as the one where the stunts and disregard of gravity hit a new nadir. Dom meets his long lost brother Jakob (John Cena); didn’t Dom have a Cuban cousin in Fate of the Furious? I wonder how that fits into the family lineage. At this point in the series, the writers have the characters get meta about their lives, openly acknowledging the formulaic trappings of their ability to survive insane events without a scratch. But Scream this is not, there’s no clever writing – just more dumb things that happen while we acknowledge we’re doing the dumb thing. Oh and Han returns from the grave, but the reason why is also dumb. But dammit, there’s just enough death-defying nonsense to make it watchable in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way, and the Toretto family flashbacks are at least interesting to watch. Like Fate, there’s a much better movie here if the scripts gets a couple rewrites, instead we settle for a movie that is just too silly even for this series’ low standards.
5. 2 Fast 2 Furious ⭐⭐1/2
I originally did not expect the first Fast sequel to land this high. But due to the shortcomings of the other entries in the franchise, it kind of stumbled and bumbled its way here. Nonetheless, 2 Fast 2 Furious embodies the mindless fun the series is known for. The late John Singleton embedded the movie with a rich, neon-like aesthetic, while the chemistry between Tyrese and Paul Walker makes the movie a worthy member of the buddy action movie club. Plot-wise, the film is weak sauce, featuring a rather lame villain, and while the street races are fun, the action scenes are too low-rent, which accounts for the movie’s lukewarm rating.
4. The Fast and the Furious ⭐⭐1/2
Where it all began. Like most franchises, Fast fans hold the original in high regard. However, as a newcomer to the series, I think it’s… OK? It’s definitely rough in parts, with a script that does a disservice to many of its supporting characters. However, the reason people remember this one is the bond between Dom and Brian. Reminiscent of the fascinating energy between Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves in Point Break, Diesel and Walker establish a big brother/little brother bond that we enjoy watching all the way until it’s conclusion in Furious 7. It’s also arguably Diesel’s best performance in the series, and the best utilization of his movie star charisma. Despite it’s reputation, however, this is an entry that has been dwarfed by a few of its sequels.
3. Furious 7 ⭐⭐⭐
When it’s all said and done, Furious 7 may be the entry the franchise is most famous for. It’s where the series peaked (so far) in terms of both domestic and worldwide box office, and the ending’s goodbye to Paul Walker created a moment that is etched in film history. However, I don’t believe it’s quite as good as the film’s sterling reputation. It suffers from a clunky script that has to balance two disparate story threads that don’t really compliment each other. Djimon Hounsou is wasted as one of the film’s chief antagonists, and so is Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw, to a certain extent. Despite that, the stunts are some of the most memorable of the series, even as the middle finger to gravity gets bigger and bigger, and the ending is the best we could hope for given the circumstances. I remember it being an emotional moment in 2015, and it hasn’t lost that power in the proceeding 6 years.
2. Fast & Furious 6 ⭐⭐⭐1/2
There’s just something simplistic and enjoyable about this film, as we hit the ground running from the momentum of Fast Five. The chemistry between the cast is fantastic, Owen Shaw is a villain we love to hate, and the set pieces are fun without being convoluted, including a few bone-crunching fight scenes. At the heart of it is the romance between Dom and Letty, finally getting a chance to develop after years of not giving Michelle Rodriguez enough to do. The movie’s ensemble/action formula is well-worn, but it owes a debt of gratitude to the number 1 entry on this list…
1. Fast Five ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The series’ metamorphosis from street racing crime thriller, to a heist/action spectacle, reached its peak with Fast Five. The Rock’s Luke Hobbs emerges as the best adversary Dom has ever had, while the central conflict affects the lives of every major character as opposed to a select few. Nods to Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job allow the film to confidently weave thrilling setpieces with some of the funniest character interactions in the series (thanks in no small part to Tyrese and Ludacris). One of the film’s biggest strengths is it understands pacing, knowing when to accelerate the momentum, or slow it down for some timely character moments. Dom and Brian’s found family, all drinking coronas in a hidden bunker, exemplifies the spirit of this series. Yes, the fight scenes and car chases are excellent in Fast Five, but what makes it a homerun is a cast of characters that feel like family to each other. After going head to head with The Rock, Dom’s crew would now be a worthy addition to the world’s cinematic family. Yes, these movies can be very stupid, but like any genre – the highs are worth it.
So that’s it! After weeks of binge-watching, I get to finally close the book on this franchise – for now. I’m probably going to go watch an Amish drama, or a talking dog movie. Just, anything that doesn’t have cars in it.