It’s been ten years since Fast Five zipped into our hearts and helped remind us that big, dumb action blockbusters could always be bigger and dumber. It also assured us that, with this infinite promise of undiminished vehicular returns, the Fast & Furious films would be here to stay—and somehow avoid most of the animosity thrown at other AAA tentpoles of its ilk. With an understanding of physics almost as incomprehensible as its naming conventions, the Fast Saga could be downright detestable nonsense. It’s not. The big-hearted, dopey stuntfests manage to win over cynics and convert new devotees to the family with every escalating entry.
“This is the best kind of ridiculousness. Silly earnest monologues are elevated by great acting for comic effect in the same way as the physics-bending close calls,” our editor-in-chief and F&F convert Josh Jackson wrote of the franchise. In fact, he called it the “highest form of popcorn entertainment.” We agree. This dude-bro soap opera (or 3-in-1 body wash opera) evolves into something incredible from its simple origins, its web of characters and relationships holding up some of the best one-upmanship in the action business.
So now, with F9 finally here, rocketing to the final frontier, it’s the perfect time to pit the Fast films against each other. And yes, it doesn’t matter if a film wins by an inch or a mile.
We’re also counting Hobbs & Shaw since it involves the same characters and its full name (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) adds another hilariously complicated wrinkle to a franchise that just can’t settle on how to punctuate its titles.
Director: John Singleton
While director John Singleton had the savvy to enlist Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris into the franchise, he’s also the weakest action director to ever get behind the wheel of a Fast & Furious. 2 Fast 2 Furious also has the worst script of the bunch, with Michael Brandt and Derek Haas turning in a screenplay that’s ultimately gross (poor Devon Aoki), rushed and dull. Easily the worst coked-up Hollywood bro one-liners the films have ever churned out. Oh and in case that wasn’t enough, there’s no Vin Diesel. He skipped the film because the script was too bad. Really, too bad for Babylon A.D. and The Last Witch Hunter star Diesel. But all is not lost. This is the film where the hints of silly sci-fi start bleeding into the franchise, and Singleton injects some multicolored energy into things that seems to come, of all places, from Speed Racer. But without that Walker/Diesel chemistry, nor a stream of excellent setpieces, 2 Fast 2 Furious is 2 Bad 2 Watch.—Jacob Oller
Director: David Leitch
As the F&F universe further spins out and off into wider radii, Hobbs & Shaw is the first sign that a Fast & Furious movie isn’t as well-defined as we may have hoped. Even the film’s many lavish set pieces—a chase down the side of a skyscraper that morphs into a car vs. motorcycle spree through the streets of London; a battle royale in the Etheon facility; the aforementioned all-out brawl in the Hobbs family’s land that culminates in a helicopter sparring with a human centipede of tow trucks, each vehicle crapping nitrous gas into the grill of the tow truck behind it—fade into an over-CGI’d mélange of exceptional people doing exceptional things, reducing all stakes to a motivation for Shaw to make fun of how Hobbs is a graceless behemoth, or for Hobbs to make fun of how Shaw is a tiny weak old man with stubby stupid legs. Leitch, who’s proven himself a precise action filmmaker with his work on John Wick and with a few bravura scenes in Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, can’t quite anchor his kinetic choreography here, never losing any sense of geography so much as admitting his geography doesn’t matter, guys just sort of flailing everywhere in the melee of Hobbs and Shaw’s prowess while the camera always feels just shy of being in the right place at the right time. More and more, Leitch embraces the idea of a sweet action scene over the visceral execution of it. As is the case with Atomic Blonde, Leitch seems committed again to developing an homage to a certain era of genre filmmaking, then desensitizing the audience to whatever well-crafted style it’s mimicking. With Hobbs & Shaw, our duo follows in the footsteps of Riggs & Murtaugh, Cates & Hammond, Tango & Cash, Turner & Hooch—taking ’80s buddy cop action movies and focus-grouping them down to the nub. Bland backpack rap blares over one montage after another while comic book panels and subtitles slide past the screen as unpleasantly as Mel Gibson’s mullet.—Dom Sinacola
Director: Justin Lin
How bad can a script be while still resulting in an eminently watchable movie? The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift pushes these limits hard, but gets by on the flash Justin Lin brings to his first film in the franchise and the magnetizing movie star pull of Sung Kang. Han also benefits from being contrasted with Lucas Black’s Sean Boswell (a cartoonish Southern doofus whose full face of 5 o’clock shadow and receding hairline are supposed to be in high school) and Bow Wow’s horny hustler Twinkie. Han couldn’t help but seem like he’d descended from the coolness gods. He’s got a Brad Pitt in the Ocean’s movies thing going on, always sly and always munching on snacks. It’s rare to see the birth of a new superstar, but it’s hard to argue Sung Kang’s presence in this film is anything but. Sure, the script is one of the grossest of the franchise (which could also inform why future entries lean more towards high-octane spycraft rather than fully investing in street racing culture) and its ostensible lead is as charismatic as Mountain Dew’s hillbilly mascot, but Tokyo Drift still manages to be more than the Teriyaki Boyz’ great theme song or the D.K. / Donkey Kong meme. Those drift races are still a joy to watch, even if you’re often rooting against the hero.—Jacob Oller
Director: Justin Lin
This latest entry marks the return of director Justin Lin, who helped guide the series’ evolution from Tokyo Drift to Fast & Furious 6, and while he struggles with how unwieldy F&F has become, his undeniable understanding of what makes these movies tick keeps the film roaring along. Lin’s still adding new characters and twists to this high-octane telenovela as often as prefixes, retconning deaths and introducing long-lost brothers as easily as he moves from simply defying physics to defying astrophysics—as easily as he turned street-racing spies into globe-trotting superspies. The crew, including the newly domestic Dom and Letty, is pulled back into the world of…whatever it is they do...once again and their impossible mission (which they always choose to accept) has to do with another globally destructive techno-MacGuffin and a globally destructive flesh-MacGuffin: Dom’s younger brother Jakob (John Cena), excommunicated from the family for sins that become apparent over the course of extensive flashbacks. As Dom’s uneasy relationship with Jakob becomes clear—over the course of explosion-laden jungle races, rooftop chases and posh sitting room brawls—F9’s knowing relationship with its own cartoonishness balances it out. One of the funniest gags sees Tyrese Gibson’s Roman openly speculating if he and the rest of the crew have plot armor. Are they actually invincible? The gang realizing that they’re all in a movie seems like it could honestly be the next step, with them turning their cars towards the camera and bursting out of the fiction like Daffy Duck in Duck Amuck. While both come too late in the film for my taste (leaving much of the film hanging on how pleased you get seeing the admittedly amusing returns of Sung Kang and Lucas Black), two innovations keep F9 on the cutting edge of ridiculous action: Magnets and rockets. But such winning ideas, timed as they are to energize a relatively dramatic entry like last-minute nitro boosts, have a hard time standing out amidst the meandering plot and the narrative’s bevy of cameos. Perhaps the most telling way in which you can tell that F9’s action is a little underwhelming is that the standout moment from the film is purely dramatic. A shockingly well-directed “life flashing before your eyes” sequence allows Diesel to undersell a bevy of emotions through little more than a lemon-pursed mouth, while Lin spins his past, present and future around him. It’s not a great standalone entry into the Fast canon, but as the franchise speeds towards its finish line, it’s still satisfying to know that it’s in the hands of someone well-versed in the series’ strengths and still willing to imagine new ways to crash its toys into each other.—Jacob Oller
Director: Rob Cohen
Oh, The Fast and the Furious. You had no idea what you would one day become. The opening quarter mile of the franchise is no slouch, and introduced us to Brian (Paul Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the Torettos, Dom (Vin Diesel) and Mia (Jordana Brewster). Walker doesn’t really have it at this point, serving mostly as a wooden pretty face, and neither does Rodriguez, but there are some elements that F&F had from the start. The first movie wastes no time establishing the films’ vibe: Unabashedly horny, casually diverse, adrenaline-addicted, himbo action. The script shows glimpses of the endearingly meatheaded macho mentality that would come to define the films and Diesel is pure tank top charisma, but while the racing stunts—especially the opening heist—are mostly enjoyable, they can’t possibly live up to the excess of the franchise’s future. That’s not really the fault of this stage-setting first film (though the FBI plot does feel like it needs to be amped up in order to compete with the rest of the movie), but it’s like comparing a first-gen gaming console to a top-of-the-line modern rig. In the immortal words of Tom Hardy’s Inception character, the franchise needed to learn to “dream a little bigger, darling.” And thank our NOS-fueled lucky stars that it did.—Jacob Oller
Director: F. Gary Gray
The Fate of the Furious is the reason moving pictures exist. Not the only reason, just the main one: The glory of dynamic motion which involves the pulse and the heart. The Fast franchise is a group of action films centered around a crew of talented outlaws who engage in illegal street racing and, later, heists. Although the lineup has changed over the years, the basic formula has stayed the same: An eccentric crew of colorful characters with various talents, led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his co-conspirator/girlfriend/wife Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) get involved in ever-increasing stakes. This group refers to themselves as “family,” and their bond is the sinew of the franchise. As the series escalates—escalation is the name of the game here—everybody eventually becomes part of the family, even the antagonists who are sent after them. The first movie saw undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) joining the crew and this habit is followed in later movies by Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). But none of this dry summation can give you an accurate idea of this franchise or its charm: These are movies where topping the previous installment is itself the art. How much crazier can the stunts get? How strong is the family’s bond? How many incredible moments will these stars have on screen? How intense can the stakes get? How byzantine are the plots? How can they possibly pull it off? The Fast franchise, and its latest installment, The Fate of the Furious, is so clever, so perfectly executed, emotionally sincere, self-aware and gloriously cinematic that I think it’s made me happier, and more entertained, than any other movie I saw in 2017. —Jason Rhode
Director: Justin Lin
The final film in director Justin Lin’s initial run on the franchise before returning to helm entries 9-11, Fast & Furious 6 is one of its soapiest entries. Deaths, births, surprise survivors, lost memories—the plot is more The Young and the Restless than The Fast and the Furious. That said, it does a few things right: It makes Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty a villain (Rodriguez is almost always better as an antagonist), it shows off some badass vehicle designs (I dare you to watch Luke Evans’ car flip oncoming traffic like a BattleBot and not get excited) and satisfyingly amps up the setpieces into more and more ridiculous territory. Leaping from a speeding car to catch the love of your life as she’s jettisoned from a flipping tank? Getting into a fistfight while you and your assailant’s cars dangle from an airplane mid-takeoff? These escalatory stunts build from Fast Five, though they’re held together by a weaker plot. The MacGuffin is lame (some kind of doomsday device), the villain is erratic (his code is precision, he says before wantonly crushing bystanders under his tank’s treads) and Gina Carano’s character arc is so obviously telegraphed that she may as well not even have been in the film. Poor Mia (Jordana Brewster) continues to be reduced to moronic kidnap fodder while Han and Gisele’s relationship is frustratingly concluded. It’s a F&F entry of extremes, with some downright incredible and imaginative action and dull, repetitive drama (something that comes with the amnesia territory).—Jacob Oller
Director: Justin Lin
The second film in director Justin Lin’s glorious reign over the Fast and/or Furious franchise offers the initial glimpses of the logic-bending blockbuster spectacles to come. Functionally rebooting the world Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) seemed to have left behind, Lin’s follow-up to the also-great Tokyo Drift sets the groundwork for what would become the series’ defining theme. It’s all about family in this fourth installment, bringing on Gal Gadot’s Gisele and bringing back Paul Walker’s Brian to stack up what would become the formidable multicultural crew who’d eventually learn that absolutely nothing is impossible when they’re behind the wheel of a car. From its first setpiece to its last, speeding through the desert catacombs underneath the Mexico-U.S. border, Fast & Furious is about as good as franchise filmmaking can get—continuing, rebooting, expanding and serializing all at once, with almost effortless aplomb, as a prelude to the true gonzo masterpiece two years later, Lin’s own Fast Five. —Dom Sinacola
Director: James Wan
Watching Furious 7, one gets the distinct impression that, when faced with a creative choice, the filmmakers asked themselves, “What’s the most insane, over-the-top thing we can do here?” Then they did just that. For a series of films that, especially over the last few chapters, has been a continual escalation in physics-defying stunts, Furious 7 takes it to an entirely new level. The result is a damn lot of fun. Furious 7 is part revenge thriller, part daring heist, and more than a little of a loving goodbye to a dear friend. Franchise star Paul Walker died in a car crash before filming was complete, and both his life and death loom large over the movie. As his character, Brian O’Conner, experiences one harrowing escapade after another, you wait for the moment where he meets his end. It feels inevitable, and waiting around every corner. There are more than a few instances where Walker’s face is digitally pasted on another body—his brothers stood in for him to help finish the production. The movie is also a celebration of his life. There’s much talk about family in the Furious films; the gang’s been picking up strays and bringing them into the fold since day one. The chemistry between the cast is undeniable, and it’s easy to see how much everyone involved enjoys themselves. You probably already know whether or not you want to see Furious 7. If you enjoyed the previous two, you’ll especially dig this—and, for good or ill, you know what you’re going to get. Expect some truly mind-boggling action sequences, slick cars and hit-and-miss comic banter between Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris). The Rock flexes out of a cast in slow motion, there are way more close-up shots of butts than ever necessary, and things get fully melodramatic on occasion. There’s also a ton of cheesy lines, which will turn some viewers off, but the dialogue is delivered with total earnestness and a sly, tongue-in-cheek touch. Furious 7 traffics so heavily in history that it will carry the most weight with already extant fans, especially in an emotional sense. That said, there are enough WTF action moments and eye candy to sell the movie to more than just diehards.—Brent McKnight
Director: Justin Lin
Early in Fast Five, director Justin Lin’s third film in the Fast & Furious—which just so happens to be the title of his previous film—franchise, U.S. Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (The Rock) reminds his team of elite operatives, “And above all else we don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.” Of course referring to a cadre of international outlaw thieves (?) led by Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) and ex-supercop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), Hobbs is the first character in the storied series to just come in and state all of the previous films’ subtext out loud: These people’s symbiotic connection to automobiles makes them superheroes. What Dominic Torretto would then insist: Their symbiotic relationship to each other makes them gods. Because the magic of the Fast & Furious movies, crystallized in Fast Five, is that it finally realizes that the logical next step from a powerful relationship between man and machine is a powerful relationship between man and machine and man, everything operating in ultra-rare synergy down to the laws of physics, which bend to the will of our titular crew. Stealing $100 million but causing so much more in public property damage—it’s OK as long as a drug lord suffers most. Which he does, after Dom and Brian drag a multi-ton safe through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, reality at their mercy, justice (existential and cosmic) on their side. Fast Five isn’t stupid—it’s the savviest movie in the bunch, the cornerstone of the series’ mega-success—just extremely comparable to Vin Diesel’s body: Over-big, over-blunt and wielded with the overwhelming belief that the world revolves around it. When something’s got this much mass, it grows its own gravity. —Dom Sinacola