The best Fast and Furious movies show why it’s arguably the most successful film franchise based on underground street racing ever made — although it’s long since outgrown its roots across 11 entries to become a wide-ranging subgenre-bending action megahit. 2001’s The Fast and the Furious launched Vin Diesel to stardom and established the now-legendary friendship between Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Conner (played by the late Paul Walker). Nobody imagined it would become the multi-billion dollar franchise that’s entertained the world for over 20 years, nor that its characters would shift their ambitions from stealing DVD players to sending Ludacris into space.
2023’s Fast X pushed the franchise even further from its humble beginnings, but all 11 Fast and Furious movies — even spinoff Hobbes and Shaw and the controversial Tokyo Drift — keep things fresh by building on the original premise of fun, fast cars, and family. 2 Fast 2 Furious built on the formula the first movie laid out for the Fast and Furious movies. It wasn’t until the fifth Fast and Furious movie, Fast Five, that it crossed over into what it is today: a full-blooded, revved-up blockbuster franchise overflowing with gloriously ridiculous action set-pieces and grounded with a simple but earnest message about family above all else. Like all franchises though, the Fast and Furious movies aren’t created equal, and the best Fast and Furious laps the worst several times over.
11 Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
Considering the popularity of their characters, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw could have been one of the strongest franchise entries instead of the worst Fast and Furious movie. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham had genuine chemistry in Fate of the Furious. Naturally, it became decreed that the duo should reprise that chemistry for a full 135-minute feature: Hobbs and Shaw. Either actor is clearly capable of anchoring his own movie, but together they’re an exhausting pair. It turned out pretty quickly that, while Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw made for stand-out moments as part of an ensemble cast, being the center of attention for an entire movie didn’t suit them.
Hobbs & Shaw both lacked what the best Fast and Furious movies so great — heart. Their interplay consists of shouted insults, macho posturing, and not-so-veiled threats about what the other can shove where. All of this is present in other Fast and Furious movies of course, but without the moral core of the franchise the many “Hobbs and Shaw” moments in Hobbs & Shaw feel jarring. There are none of the heartfelt musings on family and friendship present in the series proper, scenes of two actors trying to prove who’s the bigger tough guy. To cap it off, Hobbs and Shaw has a confusing ending. A couple of misfired cameos from well-known actors are a good reminder that the Fast and the Furious franchise has never been about A-list star power, but instead a refreshing underdog spirit.
10 The Fate of the Furious (2017)
The best Fast and the Furious movies franchise have flirted with moments of Michael Bay–level action, but the forays into territory usually held by movies like Mission: Impossible and James Bond went way too far with The Fate of the Furious. It’s not just the Arctic climax — which involves a giant submarine and a “nuclear football” — that makes The Fate of the Furious one of the worst Fast and Furious movies. The franchise seemed unsure of how to proceed after the loss of Paul Walker (and the gut-punch of an emotional climax of Furious 7) and Fate of the Furious feels like it’s trying to compensate by throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. The Fate of the Furious involves a hackneyed plot about Dom turning to the dark side.
This initially interesting narrative move that ultimately isn’t worth leaving the crew without a compelling leader, or a decipherable mission. The multiple plot threads feel disconnected, and the narrative of The Fate of the Furious feels like it was defined more by available set pieces than adherence to a consistent story. What The Fate and the Furious did deliver on was action (even if it felt unsuited to the franchise). Hobbs’ and Shaw’s prison break scene absolutely explodes from the screen in a mass brawl that capitalizes on the best parts of the Rock’s movie stardom. A zombie car centerpiece is inspired lunacy, and the sight of Jason Statham slaying a shootout while carrying around a baby is arguably worth the price of admission. Mostly, though, F. Gary Gray’s lone contribution to the franchise feels both aimless and unnecessary.
9 The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is the outlier of the franchise, but still considered by most to be the worst Fast and Furious movie. After two films that ostensibly set up a series about the cop misadventures of Paul Walker, the 2006 movie brushed all that aside to make a high school film about an army brat (Lucas Black) moving to Japan and learning how to drift. It would be an insane, franchise-ending move if the results weren’t so incredibly entertaining. Black sports a criminally thick Southern twang, as well as a shocking amount of chest hair for an alleged high schooler. However, whatever The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift lacks, it makes up for in personality.
From its slick theme song to its beautifully staged drift races in its unique Japan setting, The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift is endlessly entertaining. The movie also introduced Han(Sung Kang), the best F&F character this side of Dominic Toretto, a character so phenomenal the series made its next three entries prequels just to keep him around. Director Justin Lin marries bravura style to the series’ most refreshingly simple story, framing the motion of drifting cars like a testosterone-doused ballet. The Tokyo setting is a gorgeous, evocative backdrop, and that cameo at the end is such a satisfying cliffhanger. Tokyo Drift isn’t by any means a bad movie, and there are supporters who consider it among the best Fast and Furious movies, but its detractors are right in their assertion that — for all its strengths — it’s far too removed from the main franchise to be considered for the top spot.
8 Fast & Furious (2009)
Fast and Furious is the first real sequel to the original, the second and third installments missing Vin Diesel, who declined participation due to lackluster writing (while still finding plenty of time to partake in xXx). The movie is also series MVP director Justin Lin’s first step in revamping the films from a series of exploitation-style underground car flicks to a bona fide, balls-to-the-wall action franchise. The 2009 release is essentially a soft reboot, as it’s far better at setting up Fast Five than it is at capitalizing on the compelling dynamic between Brian and Dom set up in the original film.
Fast & Furious’“death” of Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty casts a pall over the proceedings that never really lets up, making it by far the moodiest and least popcorn-fodder-feeling of the Fast films. 2009’s Fast and Furious can take credit for bringing Brian and Dom back together again, but was also criticized for the character direction it chose for them. Many didn’t care much for Brian in a buttoned-up suit, or Dom as Terminator-style angel of vengeance with none of his ringleader charm As with most of the Fast and Furious movies, it’s hard to imagine the franchise as it is today without it, but Fast & Furious is one of the more forgettable entries.
7 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
While 2 Fast 2 Furious established that The Fast and the Furious wasn’t going to be a one-off, it’s not among the best Fast and Furious movies — although it’s very far from the worst of the franchise, and a more than worthy sequel in its own right. Rocking a title so horrible it somehow comes right back around to being amazing, 2 Fast 2 Furious had few characters return from the first installment, which meant the conspicuous absence of Vin Diesel. The first sequel in the franchise imagines a world where this entire series is about Paul Walker playing a stereotypical Southern California cop in a series of car-centric police procedurals. 2 Fast 2 Furious was also directed by the late John Singleton. He employs a hyperkinetic style that transforms the racing sequences into neon-drenched anime episodes, making for a stylish and fun opening ten minutes.
However, screenwriting has never been the highlight of these films, and 2 Fast 2 Furious is also burdened with some seriously questionable (and casually misogynistic) dialogue. Then there’s the bizarre casting of Dazed and Confused‘s Cole Hauser as an Argentinean druglord, without a doubt the series’ most lackluster villain. Hindsight is 2020, and a video essay from YouTuber Ben From Canada reframes the movie as an exploration of a genuinely nuanced and subtle bisexual love triangle between Brian, Roman, and Eva Mendes’ Monica Fuentes. It might give the slightly puerile script more credit than it’s due, but the wild take affords the movie a rewatch it hasn’t wholly earned. All in all, 2 Fast 2 Furious is a middling entry among the 11 Fast and Furious movies, and one that’s definitely a product of its 2003 release year.
6 Fast X (2023)
2023’s Fast X is the first part of an epic two-part conclusion to the Fast and Furious movies (although there are already conversations about a potential Fast and Furious 12). As such, it’s difficult to judge Fast X as a standalone movie. It is the first half of a story, and one that may well be the end of the entire Fast and Furious franchise. It’s fair to say that Fast X always had some big shoes to fill, and being the opening act of the franchise finale meant it would always struggle to be the best Fast and Furious movie. However, despite some criticisms regarding the point in the narrative Fast X chose to end — with some feeling it left too much of a cliffhanger — it’s still managed to hold its own and is far from one of the worst Fast and Furious movies.
Jason Momoa’s Dante Reyes, the new series villain who is way more sadistic and theatrical than The Dark Knight’s Joker, has been heavily praised. While Momoa is a scene stealer any time he’s on-screen, the rest of the Fast X cast have their moments, and the last-minute return of Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs sets up a sequel which — if it lives up to its place as the last in the franchise — definitely could be among the best Fast and Furious movies. Generally Fast X seems to have been received well for what it is, although time will tell how it ultimately ranks compared to other Fast and Furious movies when the sequel and second half of its story arrive.
5 Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
One of the best things about The Fast Saga is that, for a while, it totally reinvented itself with each film. In a world of cookie-cutter studio filmmaking, it’s remarkable that this series doesn’t settle on any particular formula until its sixth entry, Fast and Furious 6. While that formula is ultimately a good one, having been set by the inimitable Fast Five, it’s also a bit of a letdown to see the films switch into cruise control after so much swerving and drifting. Alas, that’s just what Justin Lin does in his fourth time in the director’s chair. Things chug along in a steady but workmanlike fashion.
Everyone on the team has their standard action movie quips, and the whole film feels the safest of all the entries. The most notable sequence is a dimly-lit finale as endless as the airport runway on which it takes place. While Gal Gadot’s Gisele is killed off (though not permanently, given her not-so-surprising cameo at the end of Fast X) Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty is thankfully brought back from the dead in an amnesia plot that sees the series diving headfirst into soap opera territory. The resurrection gives the film a slight but solid emotional throughline, culminating in a sweetly earnest final scene that helps underline the saga’s all-important family roots.
4 F9: The Fast Saga (2021)
Just when the series seemed stalled out with no new roads to explore, Justin Lin took the wheel and brought it roaring back to life. So it seems only appropriate that after the low point of Fate of the Furious, he’d be the guy waiting in the pit stop to gas things back up. F9 gives the series exactly the boost it needs to send it careening toward the finish line. The film has been criticized for being too ridiculous, even by the franchise’s standards, proven by Roman and Tej’s gleeful and self-aware foray into space. However, it’s all carried off with such graceful, committed elegance that it feels pointless to complain.
What makes F9 one of the best Fast and Furious movies is that it seemed to — more than any other entry — marry the series’ past with its present. For all its outrageous action, it had family at its core, and refused to let that go. A lot of that has to do with Vin Diesel. The actor is so unparalleled in his ability to grunt out something absolutely absurd and make audiences believe every word of it, that it transforms the whole film into exactly the irresistibly giddy crowd-pleaser for which movie theaters were made. The set pieces are bigger, louder, and (in the best sense of the word) stupider, but the heart hasn’t gone anywhere. After 20 years, sans Paul Walker and the Rock, there’s still plenty of gas left in the tank.
3 Furious 7 (2014)
“This will win Best Picture at the Oscars. There’s nothing that will ever come close to the power of this thing.” That’s what Vin Diesel declared upon Furious 7’s release. While that didn’t ultimately come true, the sentiment isn’t entirely misplaced. For a generation reared on these films, the tribute to Paul Walker was an emotoinal gut punch on par with the most emotionally devastating films to ever take home the gold at the Academy Awards. The fact that his mid-production death, caused by him engaging in the type of behavior these films glorify, didn’t cast a ghoulish cloud over the entire final product is its own form of miracle. There’s no question that Furious 7 was one of the best Fast and Furious movies, and it ensured the franchise would continue on to its later entries like Fast X.
Furious 7 sees the series flexing all its hard-won muscles. That’s not necessarily always a great thing; director James Wan gets lost in a relentless (and CGI-ridden) succession of sentiencies that drowns out a fairly compelling setup about Dom embarking on “one last job” to save The Family from any more funerals. Automobiles parachute out of a plane, and Dom and Brian pull off a car-jump stunt between the Etihad Towers skyscrapers — it’s thrilling, but a third-act firefight overstays its welcome by a long shot. Of course, almost all of Furious 7’s finer points are overshadowed by that emotional ending, a sequence sure to bring a tear to even the most jaded cynic’s eye.
2 The Fast and the Furious (2002)
The Fast and the Furious may be the original, but it still ranks among the best Fast and Furious movies. Directed by Rob Cohen on a budget that’s shoestring compared to later movies like F9 and Fast X, The Fast and the Furious it’s an inescapable artifact of the time of its creation — a fact that’s only stood to make it more endearing as time marches on. The first Fast and Furious movie is dominated by an inimitable 00s soundtrack, filled with cringe early-aughts fashion. Despite all this, the film holds up for one simple reason: Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Connor emerge clearly drawn from the get-go. Their relationship touches on the same sort of primal bromance that made Point Break click. However, the cop loved the outlaw so much that deep down he wanted to throw away his badge and ride off into the sunset with him.
Given its context as a movie that never set out to be the first entry in a multi-billion-dollar franchise, there’s very little that can be held against The Fast and the Furious beyond its unfortunate pandering to the male gaze (a sin that it’s far from the only movie to commit, especially given its era). It’s also no mistake that the original film is really the only movie in the franchise with some genuine tension, with a few dramatic, almost crime-thriller-adjacent elements entries progressively moved away from. All of this was of course cemented by the cast. The late Paul Walker may not be the most compelling leading man to ever grace the screen, but he instantly feels one with the role of Brian, and Vin Diesel’s Toretto makes the kind of movie star and character debut here that legends are made of.
1 Fast Five (2011)
In pole position when it comes to The Fast Saga is Fast Five, the best Fast and Furious movie. Fast Five manages to simultaneously be about everything that makes the franchise so beloved without ever feel convoluted or frenetic. It’s about brawny guys beating the tar out of each other and then hugging it out. It’s about genre- and logic-defying action set pieces, and showstopping stunts in cool cars. It’s about Vin Diesel spouting absurdities, but meaning every word. In that respect, Fast Five is the Rosetta Stone to the whole franchise, a magic act that takes its four exceedingly varied predecessors and retroactively transforms them into a setup for Fast Five, which defines the following Fast and Furious movies.
It also transitions the films from their underground racing roots to a heist-centered action franchise without making the audience bat an eye. A lot of the middle of Fast Five comes off like store-bought Ocean’s Eleven, but that’s part of its charm. This is the beginning of the crew, the beginning of Roman and Tej’s dynamic duo, Han and Giselle’s sizzling romance, and Dom’s obsession with “La Familia.” It’s also the beginning of bigger and better stunts: an expertly-filmed train heist, a parkour race through Rio, and a car chase involving a bank vault. Fast Five makes everything that came before look better and sets the foundation for everything that will come after with all the style and undersung elegance that has come to define Fast & Furious movies.