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The Fast and Furious franchise, ranked

Don’t @ me

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The Fate of the Furious is just days away from being released, and that means it’s time for the nearly annual conversation about which movie in the franchise is best and which one is the worst.

This is going to get contentious. The ranking of Fast and Furious movies has become a cherished tradition on Twitter, and everyone believes that their personal list is the correct ranking. I’m here to tell you that yours is wrong — unless it aligns with my list, which is objectively correct.

With the eighth installment in the franchise finally here, and the series approaching its 20th anniversary, it seems like a good time to settle this debate on Polygon once and for all.

Well, at least until the ninth one comes out.

The ranking will go from worst to best.

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2 Fast 2 Furious

One of the biggest issues with 2 Fast 2 Furious is the lack of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). Dom is the heart of the franchise, although Diesel himself will often state otherwise. Dom is the character that introduced the idea of family. He’s the character that turned the Fast and Furious franchise into something more than another generic action franchise. Without his presence in the film, 2 Fast 2 Furious feels like it’s missing a key ingredient.

Here’s the other thing about 2 Fast 2 Furious: It’s boring. There’s nothing to this movie that’s particularly interesting or memorable. The only thing that comes close is Carter Verone, who remains one of the best adversaries in the franchise. The cars themselves are boring, Brian’s (Paul Walker) relationship with the newly introduced Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) is boring and the actual plot of the film is boring.

The irony with 2 Fast 2 Furious being so forgettable and frustrating is that it does introduce some of the franchise’s most popular and lovable characters. Both Roman and Tej (Ludacris) make their franchise debuts in 2 Fast 2 Furious, but both of their roles are acted out monotonously. Their presences aren’t felt even when the scene centers on them.

The last major issue I have with 2 Fast 2 Furious and believe me there are so many minor ones — is that it lacks the authenticity and relationships that made the first movie a cult classic among fans. Brian and Roman are supposed to have a lifelong friendship with one another that, while went south, should have been apparent on screen. But Walker and Gibson’s performances don’t capture that kind of friendship and everything else in the movie feels inauthentic because of it. There’s no reason to root for Brian, Roman or any of the other characters and that ultimately makes it a failure.

I mean, the movie had an incredible Eva Mendes and still couldn’t pull off anything worthwhile.

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The Fate of the Furious

A lot of the issues that exist with 2 Fast 2 Furious are repeated in The Fate of the Furious. With Brian missing, Dom doesn’t have his brother, and that impacts the movie in a really negative way. The Fast and Furious movies work best when Dom and Brian are on screen together and their friendship is allowed to flourish. Obviously, this is in no way anyone’s fault, and the way they handle Brian’s absence in the movie is incredibly well done.

But as in the previous entry on this list, The Fate of the Furious lacks heart. It’s a generic action movie, and while that makes for very cool stunts, A-list actors and better sets, that was never what the Fast and Furious movies were about. It was always about the relationships between the characters on screen and the family they built up through the years. It was never just about the street racing or the cool action sequences; The Fate of the Furious forgets that.

In my review, I talked at length about all of the problems that The Fate of the Furious has, but what I keep coming back to is this thought, specifically:

The Fate of the Furious tries too hard to hold onto the past, yet makes an extraordinary effort to reinvent itself. What results is a tug of war between what was and what could be, trapped in a mess of a boring plot and disastrous storytelling. The acting is at an all-time low, with exceptions from newcomers like Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron. And although Fast Five expanded the scope of the series beyond racing cars, The Fate of the Furious stretches itself too thin.

The Fate of the Furious could have redefined the genre in the same way that Fast Five did, but it was nothing more than a disappointing experience. Like 2 Fast 2 Furious, there are brief moments when the movie appears to be reaching greater heights, but those are too far and few in between. By this point, they should know how to make a Fast and Furious movie but Fate of the Furious is a heartless homage.

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Fast and Furious

The fourth movie was caught in a really weird time for the franchise. It’s sandwiched between The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift — which changed what audiences were expecting out of the series — and Fast Five — which completely warped the franchise into something entirely new. The fourth movie is often forgotten about because it’s sort of a middle child, but it’s not without its merits.

Fast and Furious has one of my favorite story arcs: the “death” of Letty. Dom, reeling from the death of his longtime lover and best friend, goes on a rampage to avenge her death. He ends up teaming with Brian for the first time since the first film, and having the two pseudo-brothers back on screen together and trying to figure out how their relationship works makes for an interesting arc.

Unfortunately, it’s the lack of interesting supporting characters that holds Fast and Furious back from being one of the best movies in the franchise. While the reunion of Dom and Brian is interesting, there aren’t as many good action scenes and the lack of supporting characters is deeply felt. At times, Fast and Furious also feels like a standard cop movie with some cool cars thrown in, which again misses the point entirely of what a Fast and Furious movie should be.

That said, Fast and Furious still has one of the best post-credit scenes of all time, confirming what would become one of the best arcs in the franchise: Letty was alive.

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Furious 7

Furious 7 could arguably be considered the second best movie in the franchise, but that would require ignoring the existence of the first three, possibly four, movies. Furious 7 belongs to a franchise that’s bigger than anything we’ve ever experienced before. If the first couple of Fast and Furious movies were considered action films, the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth installments are like action movies on steroids.

But here’s the thing about Furious 7: It gets most of the ingredients right. Family isn’t just a theme in the film, it is the theme. Part of this is that Universal, Diesel and the team involved wanted to give Walker the sendoff he deserved. There are flashbacks to past movies, and if you’ve been a fan of the franchise since it started, it was hard not to become emotionally invested in every second of the movie.

It’s that callback to elements of the first few movies that makes Furious 7 work. Without the heart that’s so apparent in the movie from beginning to end, without the strong relationship between Brian and Dom as brothers, Furious 7 may have had to contend with similar issues to The Fate of the Furious.

Furious 7 also introduced the most important villain in the Fast and Furious franchise: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). The older brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who we were introduced to in the sixth movie, Deckard Shaw is the type of villain that only Statham could play. The actor’s ability to appear absolutely lethal and terrifying while carrying around a sense of British charm and wit is exactly what the franchise needed. His scenes with both Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Dom make for some of the best choreographed fight scenes in the franchise. Statham absolutely makes this movie, but his performance can often be glossed over.

With all of that praise, how did Furious 7 only land at the halfway mark on our list? Furious 7, simply put, does feel a little emotionally manipulative. I know I’m going to get a lot of heat for that and I don’t mind it. I think Furious 7 relies a little too much on making the family aspect stick when it doesn’t have to try as hard. We’re already invested in all of the characters on screen, and, because of Walker’s death ahead of the film’s release, audiences were also on high alert for anything emotional.

Furious 7 was the last movie before The Fate of the Furious took the franchise in an entirely new direction. Based on the newest addition to the series, it was the last time it could make an outlandish film successfully, too.

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Fast and Furious 6

Fast and Furious 6 marks the highly anticipated return of Letty. Watching her and Dom try to rekindle their relationship after she’s teamed up with Owen Shaw’s terrorist organization and lost all of her memories from her time with Dom remains one of the best plots for a Fast and Furious movie. Letty and Dom’s relationship is the one that we’re the most invested in. It’s heartbreaking to watch Dom trying to remind Letty of who she is while fighting for his life at the same time.

While this drama is playing out, we learn that Mia (Jordana Brewster), who has been living peacefully with Brian and their son, Jack, has been kidnapped by Shaw. As if the movie needed more tension, director Justin Lin just throws that thread in there. Lin’s a masterful director who knows how to handle ensemble actors, big stories and complex narratives beautifully. All of the twists and turns in Fast and Furious 6 are well handled and the heartbreaking moments between both Dom and Letty and Brian and Mia are deeply emotional on their own merit. There isn’t any manipulation happening; instead, Lin relies on audiences investing years of their lives into these characters and caring about what happens to them.

This can be seen particularly well in one of The Fast and Furious 6’s most intense moments: Letty shooting Dom. The look of heartbreak in his eyes as he realizes that Letty doesn’t recognize him and all of the moments they shared together in their past are gone.

We spend the entire movie grieving all that was and all that could have been, but the emotional rollercoaster ends with one of the most heartwarming reunions of their lives as they remember they got married. It’s a beautiful scene that makes up for all of the pain that Lin and the writers put us through. It’s this cathartic experience that it feels like we’ve been waiting two movies to finally have.

Fast and Furious 6 feels like one of the most complete movies in the franchise, and while it’s missing some of the original elements that make some of the earlier movies standout, it’s also one of the most cohesive and heartfelt.

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Fast Five

Fast Five isn’t my favorite movie but it is the most important film in the franchise. Fast Five is the turning point from a low-grade series about street racing and family into a genuine action franchise. Dwayne Johnson came on board solidifying a heightening status for the Fast franchise. Stunt scenes between planes and cars got involved. It was one of the first times that the scope of the series went global.

Fast and Furious lost a little piece of itself with Fast Five, but it gained more than it could have ever hoped for. Without Fast Five, the franchise wouldn’t have survived. Fast and Furious had a tiny bit of life in it, but with Justin Lin on board as director, Johnson on board to co-star and Diesel and Walker on board to keep the film grounded in its most important themes, Fast Five felt like the breath of fresh air that was so needed after Fast and Furious.

Fast Five also feels like one of the biggest movies, even though the sixth, seventh and eighth installments are without question far more in-depth and massive. That adds to the fifth film’s success, however. It didn’t lose itself completely in the way that the eighth film does. It was on the cusp of what audiences wanted and needed from the franchise. It had the family, it had more explosion, and it created more possibilities for itself.

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The Fast and the Furious

The moment it all began, when the only things that mattered were family, street racing, Corona and really bad fashion decisions. There are a number of people who have become fans of the Fast and Furious franchise who absolutely hate the first one because it’s so completely different from what the series eventually turned into. There are few similarities between the first movie, which was released in 2001, and the seventh or eighth films, beside some of the cast and the fact that they like to drive fast cars.

But the first film will always have a special place in my heart for two reasons: it kickstarted this entire universe we get to be a part of and it proved that a Fast and Furious movie that didn’t focus on either Brian or Dom could actually succeed. The Fast and the Furious helped to redefine what it meant to be an action movie in the early 2000s. It had actors who weren’t that well known taking on a subgenre that felt antiquated, and it relied on corny acting and one-liners. The Fast and Furious shouldn’t have succeeded, but it did, and it’s still one of the best movies in the franchise 16 years later.

What I love the most about The Fast and the Furious is how much fun the cast is having and how much they believe in this story they’re telling. There was nothing riding on this movie — there had been very little money put into it and it wasn’t, at the time, the type of movie that was going to change the majority of these actors’ lives. But something worked about the way they approached the film and the amount of love they had for it from the get-go. The movie developed a cult fan base from the get go and, as we know, would eventually spawn a billion-dollar franchise.

The Fast and the Furious is corny and at times a little too overeager with acting cues, but everything about it reminds me of why I fell in love with this franchise in the first place. It’s not the best choreographed, it doesn’t have the best action sequences, and it’s not particularly well-written or acted. But there’s something indescribably special about The Fast and the Furious that keeps it as the movie I return to the most time and time again, with a Corona in hand naturally.

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The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the supporting cast and how important they are to the franchise, but I’ve left out the name of the most important character in the entire franchise: Han.

Tokyo Drift is the only movie that completely removes Brian and Dom completely — minus that 10-second scene at the end — and does it successfully. The majority of the film takes place in Tokyo and focuses on Sean (Lucas Black), Twinkie (Bow Wow), Neela (Nathalie Kellie), D.K. (Brian Tee) and, of course, Han (Sung Kang). With the exception of Han, we never see a large focus on the majority of these characters again. Although Tokyo Drift is the only one-off installment in the franchise, it’s also the best.

There are a couple of things that Tokyo Drift does really well that the other movies didn’t up to that point. It was one of the funnier movies, the racing scenes were more elaborate, the acting was a little bit better than it had been, and it felt like more than just a simple racing movie. Tokyo Drift also incorporated the city into the story instead of just the streets. Tokyo Drift touched upon topics like immigration, discrimination, racism and alienation all while managing to incorporate the values of family and determination that were so prevalent in the original movie.

Tokyo Drift felt like the first movie where the series suggested that it could be something more. The storyline was impactful, the characters were well developed, and while the cast of Tokyo Drift was certainly having fun, there was more to the movie than just hanging out, driving fast cars and getting laid. Tokyo Drift felt like the first movie that had an actual message to get across and an important story to tell.

At the end of the day, however, Tokyo Drift remains the best part of the franchise because it introduced the most beloved character, Han. This shining star of the series was killed in the film, but he returned for a couple more entries that were set during a previous point in the series' timeline. He remains the most genuine character in the franchise and the person who’s easiest to root for. The fact that he didn’t get to live out a full, satisfying life, that it was taken away from him, is nothing short of a tragedy.