Top Ten: ‘Fast & Furious’ Franchise (as of July 2021)
20 years ago, a little film called The Fast and the Furious debuted to box office success. Though at the time, even Vin Diesel likely did not expect what the series would become. Last month saw the release of the tenth film in the franchise, F9. Over the years, the property has seen enormous box office receipts, increasingly ridiculous action setpieces, amusement park rides, and even hilarious viral memes. Though Diesel and others claim the long-running series will end after the tenth installment, which is broken into two parts for some reason, I’m honestly not sure if that will ever truly be the case. For now, this is how the franchise breaks down for me:
10. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
I’ve recently discovered that this entry holds a soft spot for many, with some even naming it among the best of the franchise. Though it does have some bright spots here and there, I cannot say it has the same effect on me. Despite a budget of over $75 million, the 2003 film looks like it was shot on a fairly low budget. Aside from an electrifying introductory race, the film is a bore visually and narratively, and it includes one of the most forgettable villains of the franchise. We do have to thank the film for introducing Tyrese Gibson to the property, as he continues to provide some much-needed comic relief.
9. The Fate of the Furious (2017)
I have always believed that Furious 7 should have been the last film in the main series, and the first venture to not include Paul Walker after his untimely death did nothing to prove me wrong. This entry absolutely suffers from the absence of Brian and Mia O’Connor, but the issues go far beyond that. The movie consists of a plot that makes it seem as though the team behind these films just ran out of ideas and pulled something out of thin air that makes no sense in the timeline. Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto now has a son with a character we haven’t seen since two movies ago, and this leads him to turn on the team. What results is a long, numbing case of dullness that not even the inclusion of Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren could save from obscurity.
8. Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
As a disclosure, from this point forward I can say that I do like the remaining films in the franchise, even if that’s mildly the case. In a property known for lacking in narrative judgment and intellect, that’s probably most true for this spin-off. It’s not the most ridiculous film in the franchise from an action standpoint, but nearly the entire runtime is taken up by two grown men (played by series regulars Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham) arguing like children when they’re not busting the heads of the bad guys, led by a literal superhuman played by Idris Elba. Despite all of that, this entry can be as fun as the best of them if you allow yourself to be swept up in it. Vanessa Kirby is a wonderful addition that I do hope makes an appearance in an upcoming film, and fans of the main series need not worry as there is plenty of family here.
I can’t help but wonder why Fast and Furious 9 would not have sufficed as the title here. At least 2 Fast 2 Furious has a goofy pizzazz to it. Naming conventions aside, the most recent entry does nothing to take the series in a new direction, but it is definitely an upgrade from the previous film. Though there are indications in previous entries that this franchise no longer takes itself too seriously, that’s pretty much confirmed through the meta-commentary provided by Tyrese Gibson. When Roman and Tej (Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, respectively) literally shoot a car into space, it becomes clear that the main point of the franchise is to keep getting bigger. My biggest complaint here is the explanation for Brian’s absence in the big mission is that he’s babysitting the kids, which I find hard to believe. It just proves the franchise dug itself a hold by continuing on without Paul Walker.
6. Fast & Furious (2009)
This one is consistently ranked among the very worst of the series, but I find it to be a welcome return for the four main cast members for the first time since the saga began. The narrative actually makes sense based on where we last left the characters, with FBI agent Brian teaming up with fugitive Dom to take down a drug lord responsible for the death of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). It is undeniably nice to see the friendship built up again, as that relationship has always been a strength of the franchise. Granted, the film does take itself way too seriously, most clearly displayed by a scene in which Diesel’s Dom Toretto uses skid marks from tires to put together a crime scene. It makes me wonder if we’ll eventually see a spin-off in which we learn how he somehow became a forensic scientist.
5. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
This film is notable for not featuring any of the characters from the first film (aside from a late cameo by Diesel) despite being considered part of the main franchise. Here we follow Sean (Lucas Black), a high schooler very clearly played by a grown man, who experiences the world of street racing in Tokyo. This entry lacks due to Sean being the least interesting character in the film, but it also finds success by featuring some of the very best racing scenes of the entire franchise. It serves as a reminder that this series did begin with racing as a central theme. The film also deserves praise for introducing one of the franchise’s best characters in Han (Sung Kang).
4. Furious 7 (2015)
The final film in the series to feature Paul Walker is most notable for that reason alone. Fortunately, it does include a very well-done tribute in the end, which surely brought many fans of the franchise to tears when it premiered. Aside from that, this is unfortunately where the series started interjecting random narratives to bring the team back into action, rather than delivering a more coherent story in the context of the overall narrative. In this case, the villain the team shut down in the previous film has a brother, Statham’s Deckard Shaw, and boy is he angry at our heroes. Still, the film features some wild stunts and really drives home the family theme that has come to dominate the series.
3. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Call it nostalgia if you’d like, but the original still has charms that last after 20 years. Part of the joy of this film is that, in comparison to all of the other entries, it feels so small in scope and scale. It’s a very simple story of an undercover cop who gets involved with a team of street-racing thieves and somehow comes to understand them on a trusting level. If the sequels never happened, this would be a fun little relic of early 2000s blockbuster filmmaking. In actuality, it’s where the seeds were planted for the characters that continue to stick around. Give the film credit for actually being fairly character-driven, despite the action-heavy scenes.
2. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
These films are clearly designed first and foremost to be fun, and that has never been more true than with the sixth entry. That’s largely because the film is a globe-trotting adventure that features some of the best stunts of the franchise. Most notable is a scene on a bridge, where Dom slingshots himself from a car, flies through the air like Superman and catches Letty mid-flight before a car breaks their landing (yes, cars are treated like giant pillows consistently in these movies). The film also features nearly the whole team back and at their best, this time working alongside their previous counterpart Hobbs for their chance to save the world for the first time. That said, the film is definitely not without its flaws. As aforementioned, Letty is back here, signaling that the plot is built on the horrid “fake death” trend seen in many franchises these days. However, this is a minor concern when you’re having a blast.
1. Fast Five (2011)
This may largely be the consensus pick for best of the series, but there’s certainly a reason for that. Here we have the various characters from different points in the series all coming together for the first time, a year before The Avengers did that for the MCU. And like that film, I think it’s fair to say that the members of “The Family” are established as superheroes in their own right. What we have here is a heist film featuring absurd scenes that are completely illogical but vastly entertaining. Within the context of the whole series, the film also strives by building its plot as a logical next step for the characters, who see the profits of the heist as a way to escape as fugitives of the law. Most of all, the friendship between Dom and Brian is felt most effectively here. If that sounds a bit sentimental, that’s because it is. However, the Fast films work best when the two share the screen as caring partners in crime.
Though we can only guess how far the series we’ll go from here, it is fascinating to consider what it has become from its somewhat humble beginnings. I can truly say that I enjoy most of these films for what they are, without considering any of them great movies. While they certainly will not fulfill an urge to explore films that prompt thinking on a deep level, most of them succeed in providing entertainment if you’re in the mood for some big, dumb fun.