“F9” is the latest entry in the saga of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his loose “family” of street racers, crooks and ne’er-do-wells. And while the nine “Fast and Furious” movies arguably belong in the pantheon of cinematic spectacle, the first film was originally lucky to get even one sequel.
Diesel opted out of “2 Fast 2 Furious” due to what he felt was a lackluster script. And the third film, “Tokyo Drift,” seemed like a natural stopping point when Paul Walker, who starred in the first two films, temporarily left the series. The franchise was only saved in a bit of Hollywood wrangling when Diesel was asked to cameo at the end of “Tokyo Drift,” in exchange for a producer role in any future installments, and the option to bring back his preferred castmates.
And there lies the turning point for a generation of moviegoers. The fourth film, “Fast & Furious,” was effectively a reimagining of the franchise, introducing the playful spirit that would come to define it: What if James Bond could dead-lift 800 pounds?
In the first three films, it’s all about the cars. There was a built-in audience with the kind of gearheads who love to pore over horsepower, steering and any other little cog that makes a car go vroom. And while that’s fun and all, there’s only so much you can explore within that world.
After the revamp, the series became driven by its characters, especially the characters who looked like brawny Marvel superheroes and could drive as well as they threw a punch.
The Fast movies became a lot more fun and, more importantly for a summer blockbuster, didn’t take themselves too seriously.
In the spirit of competition, the following is a ranking of the nine films, from worst to best. (We opted to exclude the spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw,” but honor Dwayne Johnson with a nod for single-handedly pulling down a helicopter with his glistening, bulging forearm.)
9. “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003)
When these movies are at their best, they’re both spectacles of action and touching odes to the values that bind us together as a community. It’s hard to find much of that in the second film.
After constructing a Los Angeles in the first film that felt lived-in and vibrant, “2 Fast” plucks the one outsider, cop-turned-fugitive Brian O’Conner (Walker), and drops him into a leaden Miami underground for a covert mission to beat his rap sheet — with poor results. There’s a glorious final chase, in which an airborne Camaro crash-lands on a boat in the middle of lake, and we’re introduced to the characters of Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), who play into future Goofus-and-Gallant bits in later films.
In an appreciation of the late director John Singleton, who directed this film, Bilge Ebiri offered up this modest defense of the maligned sequel. “For all its sun-drenched, candy-colored aesthetic, the film’s world is steeped in mistrust: Every character has an ax to grind,” Ebiri wrote. “Singleton takes the aggressive, one-note conflicts of the action genre and builds whole networks of resentment out of them. This lends the picture a weird authenticity, despite the general dopiness of the plot.”
Maybe it helps to look at “Fast 2” like this: a gritty, not-quite-origin story about the anger and chaos our heroes are trying to cast off with the stomp of a gas pedal.
8. “The Fate of the Furious” (2017)
There’s a handful of movies contained within the eighth chapter of the Fast series — each of them a little more disappointing than the last.
There’s the story line involving a checked-out Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, who are grabbing their skintight shirts on the way out the door to their characters’ 2019 spinoff. There’s Charlize Theron, misused as the woefully ill-conceived cybervillain Cipher, who wants . . . something. (Something evil and nefarious, no doubt, but what?) Then there’s the family narrative. Except, wait: Dom has two families. Kind of. One of them involves an old flame he became involved with after his beloved Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) was killed. (Never mind that Letty was ultimately resurrected and found suffering from amnesia.) Dom’s quest to save his only son — fathered with a Brazilian cop (Elsa Pataky from “Fast Five”) — pulls him away from his Los Angeles family in a frustratingly long plot that doesn’t add any fresh twists to the tale. But there are also fast cars evading a Cold War-era Russian submarine on an icebound lake. Much to consider here. Too much.
7. “Fast and Furious” (2009)
There’s nothing bad, per se, about the fourth film.
It’s the last time we see the criminal-vs.-cop tension between Dom and Brian, before they make it official and become family once and for all. And that supporting cast! The always delightful character actor John Ortiz plays the supervillain — one hiding in plain sight — and
Gal Gadot launches her American film career here, as Dom’s love interest. It wasn’t meant to be.
It’s just that it’s kind of dull in comparison to what comes after it. Where subsequent films thrive on wide, dolly shots of cars wreaking havoc on various international cities, the major action here is primarily set in an underground tunnel on the U.S.-Mexico border. It feels small, but it’s a sign of good times ahead.
6. “Furious 7” (2015)
It was always going to be a tough task trying to assemble a film after the death of Walker, who was killed in an unrelated automobile accident during the making of this installment. And it doesn’t help that the entire chronology of the already sprawling and messy saga had been reordered in an after-credits sequence, offered up in “Fast & Furious 6.” (The events of the third film, “Tokyo Drift,” were shown to have taken place between the sixth and seventh installments. Still with us?)
But thankfully this movie simply speeds through any plot contrivances with pure silliness. There’s Kurt Russell, as the fittingly named covert government operative Mr. Nobody, who whips out a bucket of Coronas to entice Dom to come work for him. There’s Johnson, who cracks his arm out of a plaster cast by flexing his biceps — before yanking a drone from midair. There’s a car that jumps between two Abu Dhabi skyscrapers. And all the talk about the importance of family? It really began to hit home here, with a touching final tribute to Walker.
5. “F9” (2021)
After 20 years of full-throttle heists, races and high jinks, the series finally succumbs to an origin story. We learn that Dom has a brother, Jakob (John Cena), and we hear about the Toretto family’s dalliances with the criminal underworld, through melodramatic flashbacks. And guess what else? All of the gang is reunited. Three of the main cast members of “Tokyo Drift” reappear as goofy rocket scientists, and — stick with me here — the character of Han (Sung Kang), who died in the third film, is back from the grave.
The film is slightly weighed down by its hefty running time of 145 minutes, nearly 10 minutes of which consist of meta-textual jokes about Diesel’s ethnic ambiguity, winking allusions to characters’ seeming invincibility and convoluted explanations of past plot holes. That said, director (and co-writer) Justin Lin, returning for his fifth film, introduces a few novel twists to this latest chapter: land mines; a use for those rocket scientists; and a Toretto family affection for elaborate zip-line contraptions. It’s a charming and outrageous corrective after previous films had started to take themselves a wee bit too seriously.
4. “The Fast and the Furious” (2001)
There’s still something charming about the original film, 20 years on. Even if there had never been a “2 Fast 2 Furious,” — let alone eight separate sequels, you could do a lot worse that to land on this movie while channel surfing on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
It’s a little messy, sure, not to mention silly. But it shows how much fun can be had watching people drag-race through the streets of Los Angeles. Director Rob Cohen and writers Gary Scott Thompson, David Ayer and Erik Bergquist thrust you into a tightknit community of beautifully diverse characters, who are guided by their big feelings and strong affection for one another.
Certain jokes and dialogue haven’t aged well. And the habit of the early films of relying on the injection of nitrous oxide fuel to speed up a car — akin to the warp speed of sci-fi — is cheesy at best. But the film is redeemed by an excellent highway chase scene (and other striking, non-CGI car stunts) in which we get a peek at the world to come.
3. “Fast and Furious 6” (2013)
The Fast crew meets their (almost literal) match with the introduction of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his team of mercenaries — highlighted by Joe Taslim’s prodigious martial artist Jah — in the unofficial launch of the series’ defining trait: physics-defying one-upmanship of itself.
Sure, there were also nine films in the “Star Wars” Skywalker saga. And okay, they may have had intergalactic travel. But can they boast a muscle-bound Diesel barreling at full speed down a highway bridge, then leaping across a chasm — to a second bridge — all to save his beloved Letty, in midair, after she has leaped off a tank? That sequence is absurd enough, but then there’s the final airport scene — Just how long is that runway? — involving characters getting sucked into jet engines, the heroic death of Gadot’s Gisele (although in this universe, reports of her demise may be premature) and Diesel bursting out of the fiery wreckage of a downed plane.
Pure, mind-numbing joy.
2. “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006)
This movie shouldn’t work. If part of the problem with “2 Fast” was that it took us away from the Los Angeles setting of the first film, the third movie drops us on the other side of the world, in what could have meant one of two fates for the series: the direct-to-video rack at the CVS checkout line or the franchise’s quiet finale.
Thankfully, director Lin, who would shepherd much of the series to its gleefully insane heights, was given the reins. Lin constructs a very simple and elegant fish-out-of-water tale, alongside cars that, even in this series, have never looked or felt cooler. The best parts of the Fast films have always been the way its city streets establish a visual language of mayhem. Here, Lin captures the vibrancy of Tokyo’s nightlife and bright neon. “Tokyo Drift” is probably the last time the Fast saga tells a simple and effective story between its bruising action scenes.
1. “Fast Five” (2011)
Who doesn’t love a heist film? If you’re making a case for an Oscar for stunt artistry, there are few better arguments than “Fast Five.” It’s the pinnacle of the series — and action films in general, over the past decade.
It’s the beautiful inflection point from the protagonists’ origins as low-stakes thieves to globe-trotting spies. The film kicks off with the stunning heist of a few cars from a train, unraveling into an even more breathtaking sequence in which a bank vault is catapulted through the streets of Rio. It’s Johnson’s first appearance as the no-nonsense government agent Luke Hobbs, sent to foil Toretto and crew before realizing their hearts are in the right place. It’s the perfect vehicle for bravura direction and editing, without ever losing the momentum of each ridiculous and joyous stunt.
A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to actress Gal Gadot as Gal Godot. The article has been corrected.