In 2001, it might have seemed impossible that the a $40 million racing movie starring the guy from The Skulls would go on to spawn a franchise featuring eight installments and multiple Academy Award winners. And yet, as surely as a NOS button will speed a car across a finish line, that is exactly what’s happened. This week’s Fate of the Furious is the biggest installment yet, but does that make it the best? In addition to the obviously astounding action sequences, there are a lot of emotional intangibles that make a Fast and Furious movie a Fast and Furious movie. So, after watching all eight speedy and enraged films and factoring in things like critical reception, box-office performance, heartstrings pulled, lessons imparted, and significance to the franchise, we’ve created this ranking of Fast and Furious movies.
8. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Consider 2 Fast the weird adolescent period of the franchise. Vin Diesel skipped it, and with Brian (Paul Walker) suddenly living in Florida, that meant no Mia (Jordana Brewster) or Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) either. Tyrese and Ludacris would eventually join the franchise and become worthy additions to the Family, but in their first appearance they make the movie feel more like a spinoff than a linear progression. 2 Fast kind of works now as an origin story for those two jokers, but the setting and the pseudo-love story all feel like filler until the main thread of the universe picks back up again. Look, any Fast and Furious movie is going to be fun to watch, and listening to Tyrese and Luda deliver hammy one-liners is a great time, but the best part about 2 Fast is that it convinced Vin Diesel he needed to come back to the franchise.
7. Fast & Furious (2009)
Fast and Furious fares better with a rewatch than it did on initial viewing, but that’s probably because you already know the franchise revives itself in subsequent entries. At the time it mostly made you wonder, Is this all they’ve got left? Paul Walker looks flat-out tired for most of the fourth movie, and killing off Letty just makes Dom and Brian and Mia sad. Watching Brian still try to stay on the right side of the law gets a bit tedious when you know he’s an outlaw at heart. Fast & Furious does give us Gal Gadot, which is great, but the fourth movie is otherwise merely a bridge to what would come next. At least Mia finally got to be a getaway driver.
6. Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
The best-kept secret in the whole Fast universe is that Tokyo Drift is actually pretty great! The concept needed a reset after the band got broken up in 2 Fast, so the series went to study abroad in Japan for a semester. Lucas Black and Bow Wow star in what’s basically an action-powered light drama about high-school outsiders. Drift is mostly indispensable for introducing Sung Kang’s Han, and his death in the movie serves as a sort of prologue for Furious 7. Much like Fast & Furious, Drift is improved by the way the franchise grew up after it. So thanks for the memories, Tokyo.
5. The Fate of the Furious (2017)
Vulture’s Emily Yoshida says Fate is “weighed down by its own muscle,” and it’s easy to see why: It’s the first installment made completely without Walker, and the movie struggles to find an emotional center without him. Instead, there’s a circle-the-wagons approach that brings back almost every living character who has passed through the Fast family, and it’s these guest stars — particularly Jason Statham, who has a wonderful sequence with a baby — who lift Fate of the Furious when it starts to drag. The dynamic between the primary players is so ingrained it works like clockwork by now, and if Dom and Letty and the rest of the Family become some kind of Impossible Mission Force overseen by Russell’s Mr. Nobody, well, that’s a Furious future worth exploring.
4. Furious 7 (2015)
This movie shouldn’t have even been possible. Vin Diesel and the Rock and Jason Statham and Kurt Russell and Ronda Rousey and the entire principal Fast cast all in the same movie? And it was awesome instead of a bloated catastrophe? Unreal. Furious 7 is a case study in a movie’s writers having an ethos of “and …” instead of “or …” No fantasy is left unfulfilled here. Dom and Brian drive a car from one skyscraper to another — through the air. Michelle Rodriguez even wages her fight scene in a ball gown, if that’s what you’d been waiting for. Did we mention Kurt Russell is there? But for all their bombast, the sneakily most enduring thing about these movies is how much we’ve come to care for the cast over the years. The ending of Furious 7 — in which a digital Paul Walker gives one last sun-dappled smile before driving off to heaven in a white car — could have easily felt exploitative, but it’s so big and so heartfelt that it’s a perfect cinematic moment. Who doesn’t dream of getting the chance to good-bye to a lost friend one last time?
3. Fast Five (2011)
After Fast & Furious, things were looking a little bleak for the franchise. Fast Five was a go-for-broke attempt that would either rejuvenate the Fast films or be their death knell. Fortunately, it was very much the former. Five juiced up the franchise by abandoning car races in favor of a series of ever more elaborate heists, and became the first in the series to make more than $200 million at the domestic box office. (It also earned the strongest critical reviews for the series to that point.) And Fast Five is a great action movie: Dom gives one of his signature at-the-hood-of-a-car lectures to Hobbs. The Rock shows up and fights Vin Diesel. A pair of Dodge Chargers use a giant steel safe as a wrecking ball. This is the movie that birthed the franchise we know today.
2. Fast and Furious 6 (2013)
The second and third spots on this list are so close, we had to go to the photo finish for verification. But in the famous words of Dominic Toretto, “It don’t matter whether you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.” But Furious 6 has a few key factors that push it over the top. The essential Sung Kang is still around, as is his adorable burgeoning romance with Gal Gadot’s Gisele. Michelle Rodriguez returns after being absent from most of the two previous films, and gets one of the best fight sequences in the whole series opposite MMA champion Gina Carano. (Furious 7 had Ronda Rousey, but she can’t match Carano’s brooding charisma.) The Rock joins the team, which means he gets to fight alongside Diesel, not against him. There’s also Tyrese’s tank-evading leap, and the just-the-right-amount-of-crazy moment when Dom soars over a bridge to catch Letty in midair. These are all signature scenes in the series, and they’re tied together with the goal of making the Family whole again. It ends with everyone hanging out in the Toretto backyard in L.A. for what would turn out to be the final time. There’s still no better place to close out a Fast movie than that.
1. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
While the original may not have the best execution of all the Fast movies, it’s still the purest distillation of the franchise’s soul. Rewatching The Fast and the Furious now, the movie seems almost quaint: All those tanks and submarines and flying super-cars sometimes make it easy to forget that this all started with the notion of living your life a quarter-mile at a time. Not one movie in the franchise has trafficked in irony, but the earnestness of The Fast and the Furious is still downright moving by comparison. The betrayals and the deaths hit a little bit harder because the world is only as big as the east side of Los Angeles, and seeing the entirely practical stunt work of three little Honda Civics hijacking semitrucks is still just as jaw-dropping now as it was 16 years ago. No matter how big it gets, The Fast and the Furious is still about protecting the family you’ve chosen and sticking together until the end. That groundwork was laid in the original movie, and that’s what makes it the undisputed best entry in the franchise.