The Definitive Ranks of the Furious
Two weeks back, to celebrate the eighth installment of what will soon become the sixth-highest worldwide grossing movie franchise of all time — no, really, it’s about to overtake friggin’ Batman you guys — I made an effort to rank the Fast and the Furious movies. This was a much more challenging endeavor than I could have imagined. It was kind of like trying to pinpoint the best individual threads in a big and beautiful 17th century Flemish tapestry. It was also like being the judge at a coolest cat contest where one of the contestants is an old and shaggy circus tiger and another is a wiener dog in sunglasses and a third is a raccoon painted to look like a Pikachu.
There are simply too many variables to account for and too many axes along which to compare these eight deeply different movies for little old me and my little old brain to handle. People have always said that art is subjective, and that was before these hectic mishmashes of hard-boiled machismo and hand-to-hand monkey wrench combat came along. How can one consider Dominic Toretto’s rage at Deckard Shaw for murdering his friend in Tokyo with a car explosion and then also consider Dominic Toretto’s gratitude toward Deckard Shaw for jumping out of a madwoman’s airplane with his newfound son in a carseat one movie later and think, “hmm, okay, yes, I know exactly what to do with both of these events in my brainspace,” and not just be selling oneself a big load of hooey?
This is a franchise full of ripped bros and rooftop barbecues, of tragedies and Tonka trucks, of Corona-sipping and computer-hacking. It is as much about making out on muscle cars as it is about muscle cars on parachutes. And the butts! There are so, so many beachside butts in bikini bottoms, each of them more big and brown and Brazilian than the last. How on God’s green earth can one man presume to properly differentiate and, moreover, qualitatively assess these two-hour experiences as independent entities?
Fortunately, I got friends. Just kidding — I got family. And fam lent me a hand at giving this fool’s errand a shot. I asked for a few Facebook favors in the form of Fast and Furious ranked lists, and boy did those busters come through! Nineteen responses, most of them sincere, I think, and so without further ado, here are — finally — the consensus rankings of these eight gloriously ridiculous superhero movies.
Pockets ain’t empty, cuz.
The last place decision was easy and obvious and almost unanimous. The second film in the franchise, which includes Paul Walker, some dude called Agent Bilkins, and nobody else from the original movie, was pretty much lukewarm ass. No one denies this. The action shifts here from the rough and seedy outskirts of Los Angeles to bright and vibrant Southern Florida where the cars look like life-sized plastic Hot Wheels toys and the dark-skinned racers have names like Orange Julius and Slap Jack — I’m sorry, hang on, was this movie written by two-term Governor of Maine Paul LePage?
This is a silly movie with exactly one memorable vehicular stunt, which occurs when Brian and Roman fling the ’60s pony car they are driving off a ramp, into the air, and onto a bad guy’s barely undocked big boat. We don’t need to spend much more time here. That said, I would be remiss not to mention that were it not for 2 Fast 2 Furious there would probably be no “Act a Fool,” the jam that has aged less poorly than the rest of Ludacris’s discography and his big 2003 hairdo. So there’s that.
You learn by doing it. The first drifters invented drifting out here in the mountains by feeling it. So feel it.
See? This is hard as hell. Some of you just can’t even, I’m sure, and are done with this dumb damn listicle. Fine! Good riddance! Wait, no, come back. Let me explain.
Many people only barely tolerate Tokyo Drift as a legitimate Fast and Furious movie, what with it lacking Paul Walker and Vin Diesel and having, in their place, some Texan hick and fucking Lil’ Bow Wow. And not just Lil’ Bow Wow, but Lil’ Bow Wow back when he was like, “no, please, I’m a grown-ass man for chrissake, call me Bow Wow.” You made this goddamn bed, Lil’ Bow Wow, and you will sleep in it until you sleep no more. I don’t make the rules here. You did this.
But the black sheep of the franchise is not without its ardent fans and staunch defenders, most of them rallying around the introduction of Han Lue, a.k.a. Han Seoul-Oh, which, get it? He’s easily the most chill and stoic and would-love-to-grab-a-beer-with-that-guy guy in the whole dang series. Han was so effortlessly cool and likable here that after they killed him off, they tied the sequels’ continuity into a pretzel knot just to bring him back for three more movies, retroactively punting Tokyo Drift several years into the future, because who really cares? And as such, this is now a movie ostensibly set in some sort of bizarro 2014 Japan full of spiked hair, cargo shorts, visors, and flip phones.
If not for Han, there would really be no redeeming qualities here. I guess it kind of looks pretty? The street racing is elegant and impressive, too — probably the best it is in the series — but when an understated appreciation for street racing fundamentals are your ace in the hole, I mean, unless we are ranking Mario Kart games, you end up in seventh place. You made this goddamn bed and you will sleep in it.
One thing I’ve learned from Dom is that nothing really matters unless you have a code.
Here’s the reboot that saved the series, made possible by the miracle of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster all somehow finding simultaneous holes in their bustling late 2000s schedules, providing an opportunity to give this old, dead, widely derided franchise one last go-round. From the get-go, this was perfectly marketed, calling American youths on their collective bluff about wanting change just a couple of months after the election of Barrack Obama. Ballsy to bank on tapping back into a demographic whose fondness for the series was wholly ironic. “New model. Original parts.” What a tagline! Letty growing frustrated with Dom as a flaming fuel tanker flips end over end toward their literal gas-guzzler of a car. What a Super Bowl ad! “Oh, you assholes didn’t appreciate the Japanese drifting movie where we tried something different? Fuck you, here’s the first one all over again, but bigger and dumber and without any definite articles in the title.” What an attitude!
Thing is, aside from being the reunion, the return, the resurrection, what have you, there’s not a lot of meat on this bone. The gang’s all here, but only until Letty gets murdered twenty minutes in. It’s Dom against Brian, again, but only until it’s both of them against some Mexican guys. The best action sequences — a couple of flashy tunnel chases and Letty’s killer getting speared right in half by Dom’s outta nowhere hundred-mile-an-hour wheelie — feel as quaint as a monster truck rally in hindsight given where this franchise went from here. Oh and, believe it or not, false alarm, Letty’s not even actually dead! And unlike with Han, they don’t even resort to breaking the timeline to bring her back into the fold. But we’ll get there.
No one’s ready for this.
Have you been paying attention to the history of the 2003–2009 era of this francshise? Okay, good. Snap cut to the present day. Here in the most recent movie, the Rock leans out of a speeding armored Ram truck on snow treads and redirects a torpedo with his bare hands into one of the Humvees in the Russian paramilitary convoy currently chasing Dom’s crew across the ice while Jason Statham infiltrates a secret airplane fortress with a jetpack in order to rescue Dom’s newly discovered boychild, who’s been kidnapped by Charlize Theron doing her best impression of Angelina Jolie’s Gone in Sixty Seconds character — those blonde dreads, what the fuck even are those things — so that Dom can return from going rogue in time to divert a heat-seeking missile into a stolen nuclear submarine, saving the world.
Yeah, that escalated quickly. Try to keep up. It’s 2017 now, Vin Diesel is about to turn 50, Paul Walker’s been dead for four years, and The Fate of the Furious couldn’t give less of a shit about either of them because this is no longer a car movie franchise that derives its heart and soul from the dynamic between criminal Dominic Toretto and cop Brian O’Conner and their shared love of fast cars. Rather, it is an extended cinematic universe where A-list action stars play heroes and villains and where Newtonian physics no longer apply. Long gone are any concerns about granny shifting and double clutching; this movie begins with Vin Diesel winning a Havana street race going backwards in a stripped down antique rustbucket that is, oh yeah, engulfed in flames.
These are not complaints. This is a tonal evolution to behold, to marvel at. A rinky-dink trilogy about autobody fetishes and petty crime pivots and builds and snowballs into, again, the sixth-highest grossing international movie franchise of all time. Imagine that! This is remarkable and beautiful and bittersweet. This is the American Dream getting T-boned by runaway globalism; the franchise was on life support and in desperate need of a second chance with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker just eight years ago, and now it’s completely outgrown its need for any one or two people, let alone those two goofy-ass jabronis, what with Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham and Charlize Theron involved now — oh, and Kurt Russell! Kurt Russell is here too, just hanging out in a couple of scenes with tenth billing or so, because why not? And so is Helen Mirren.
But have we gone too far? Is this not excessive? As these movies grow ever more big and bombastic and Bay-like, have they lost touch with their roots? Have they — oh God, oh no, not this — turned their back on family? The slower, less furious, more scattered movies have clearly found their way to the bottom of our rankings, but this full-tempo shitshow, in which self-driving cars fall from the sky and briefly take over the streets of New York City — this isn’t topping our list, either. Like Goldilocks, we’re holding out for something that splits the difference. Something just right.
You don’t turn your back on family, even when they do.
Full disclosure, this one’s my personal favorite. It straddles that line between warmth and warpath just perfectly and in doing so provides the best of both worlds, of all worlds, of all possible worlds, forever. It is nothing short of delightful.
First things first — Letty’s back! Listen, I know. Nobody cares. It’s only Michelle effing Rodriguez, after all. But whether you love her or hate her — and to clarify, we all hate her — do you know who does love her? Dom loves her. Got it? Good.
Also, for the first time in the series, Dom and Brian and their friends and associates are unequivocally the good guys — full-blown babyface John Cenas, both of them. Criminal records be damned, their hearts are in the right place, those sons’a’bitches, because they’re loyal to each other — and perhaps to a fault. There’s even an overt metaphorical contrast coming courtesy of cool and calculated bad man Owen Shaw, who likens his team-building approach to fine-tuning a car, assembling the right crew from the right parts and replacing them as needed. Such ruthless efficiency! How deliciously German! (Shaw is English.)
Let’s see, what else? Oh, right — Dominic Toretto soaring through the motherfucking sky like goddamn Iron Man, across an obliterated highway overpass, intercepting his tank-a-pulted amnesic wife in mid-air. And then that whole ending, with the marathon-length runway and muscle cars blowing through cargo plane fuselages like they’re made of popsicle sticks and glue. Poor Gisele! And then that mid-credits sequence, finally bringing Tokyo Drift back into the fold, and also Jason Statham, with a vengeance. Poor Han! God, did I love this.
You’ll always be with me. And you’ll always be my brother.
Note the black, understated wordmark for this one, in lieu of something chrome and slick and shiny. Folks — we are in goddamn mourning here. Why? Oh, fuck right off, you know damn well why. But let’s not dwell on the sadness — this is meant to be a celebration! Paul Walker’s death was handled with tact and aplomb and we will leave it right there. And if you want to stay there, waiting for the bus to pick you up and drive you across a bridge built by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth over to a YouTube wormhole, and if you never care to finish this way-too-damn-long thing I’ve written for you — hey, cool, fine. I get that. Death is a bitch and such. You do you.
Okay — the rest of you — still here? Good. Let’s talk about motherfucking cars parachuting out of cargo planes. Let’s talk about descending forty-odd stories in a glass skyscraper by driving motherfucking cars out of the skyscraper and into a neighboring skyscraper and then repeating that asinine process back into the original skyscraper. Let’s talk about the Rock’s fifteen minutes of screen time, which begins with a fistfight with Jason Statham and concludes with my man flexing out of a full-length arm cast — “Daddy’s gotta go to work” — and power-booting through the windshield of an overturned stolen ambulance. Let’s talk about how Statham’s character obliterates a motherfucking hospital, in which his brother is recovering, in order to send a message to the surviving doctors about how seriously they need to focus on keeping his brother alive. Let’s talk about Vin Diesel collapsing a motherfucking parking garage with a stomp containing the power of a thousand Donkey Kongs. Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Good God, I’m growing delirious. Things can only get so fast and so furious before I begin to lose control of both mind and body. Let’s not talk anymore. Let’s just move on.
Ask any racer. Any real racer. It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.
I’m surprised — somewhat pleasantly — that the goofy little movie that started it all is so high on our list, but should I be? The truck sequence, the Spillner betrayal, the race wars at Race Wars, the final vroom-vroom-heavy showdown. And Leon. Long before this franchise became — one last time — the sixth highest grossing movie series in history, its 2001 debut had cemented its own legacy as a guilty pleasure mid-budget action movie. Had the movies petered out after Tokyo Drift and never gotten that pivotal second chance, rest assured, the original film would have still gone down as an insanely quotable and eternally watchable cult classic, and Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto as some kind of roughneck folk hero. Hell, I have half a mind to just revisit some of his memorable lines for the rest of this write-up, and since half a mind’s all I have in the first place, fuck it, here we go.
I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.
Sage wisdom. It’s also fun to think of Fate of the Furious Dom stressing over his autobody garage having a rough quarter.
Take it upstairs Einstein! You can’t detail a car with the cover on.
More solid advice. You might find “beautiful women are just like nice cars” to be a problematic and objectifying metaphor here in 2017. But this isn’t 2017, and you’re not enlightened, friend; it’s 2001, and you’re just a big ol’ pussy.
You’re gonna need more than that crotch rocket.
The pink slip to my dad’s Jetta says the original line here was “rice rocket,” but, Christ, this isn’t 1986, it’s 2001. Glad to see Dom getting with the times.
You break her heart, I’ll break your neck.
There’s that steady, unwavering aggression! By the way, that’s not a threat, Brian — it’s a promise. Don’t do it! Don’t you dare break Mia’s heart! Ugh, but he does.
I said a ten-second car, not a ten-minute car.
Look, Dom knows cars. A promise is a promise, Brian. What were you thinking? Can’t even drag this piece of shit across a finish line.
You almost had me? You never had me — you never had your car!
Yes! Angry cocky Dom! This! So much this!
I never narc’d on nobody! I never narc’d on nobody!
Dear lord, that’s the good stuff, that black tar Toretto rage.
Two years in Lompoc. I’ll die before I go back.
Jesus. What’s up, Dom, everything okay?
That’s my dad. He was coming up in the pro-stock circuit. Last race of the season, he was coming into the final turn when a driver named Kenny Linder tapped his bumper and put him into the wall at a hundred and twenty miles an hour. I watched my father burn to death.
I can still remember him screaming. The people who were there said my father died long before the tanks blew. They said it was me that was screaming.
I saw Linder about a week later. I had the wrench in my hand… and I hit him. And I didn’t mean to keep hitting him, but by the time I was done, I couldn’t lift my arm. He’s a janitor at an elementary school. He has to take the bus to work… and they banned me from the tracks for life.
Dear God, no.
You can have any brew you want as long as it’s a Corona.
This guy! This fucking guy!
We find ’em, we take ’em as a team, and we bring ’em back. And above all else we don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.
It’s not my personal favorite — we’ve been over this — but it’s hard to argue with Fast Five as a consensus pinnacle of the series. It’s the fulcrum of the pivot, smoothly blending the cars-and-convicts heart and soul of the early movies with the superhero stunts and stakes of the later ones. It’s the best of both worlds. In one scene it has Vince — Vince! Remember Vince? — still calling Brian a buster, helping Dom steal cars from a moving train. In another scene it has Vince sacrificing his dumb, extraneous life to save, holy shit, The Rock’s.
Above all, it’s a heist movie. And who of sound mind didn’t want to see Ocean’s Eleven with cars? It’s here in Fast Five where Dom and Brian first organize their dream team by calling in old favors to the colorful characters from the scattered first four movies, retroactively boosting the status of those movies in the process. Suddenly 2 Fast 2 Furious wasn’t just “mostly shitty,” but rather, “mostly shitty, but also the origin story for how Tyrese and Luda got brought into the fold, so it’s got that going for it.” Imagine how much time and effort Marvel spent crafting that steady drumbeat of stand-alone comic book movies before getting to The Avengers. Lotta years, lotta dollars, right? And now imagine the lightbulb that lit up when The Fast and the Furious realized it had fallen ass-backwards into doing its own Avengers with its sporadic collection of Tokyo drifters, Israeli spy girls, tech guys, demo men, and fast-talking comic relievers.
Really, what this thing accomplished is flat-out amazing. Our old friends enter Fast Five trying to jack fancy cars and stay out of prison. They leave it having torn the streets of Rio to shreds using a big-ass safe as a cop-killin’ wrecking ball, millions of dollars richer, jamming to “Danza Kuduro” all the way home. It’s pure bliss, unmitigated success, and notably the only movie in the dang franchise that doesn’t end carrying the emotional burden of someone’s death, scripted or otherwise. This right here is the essence of The Fast and the Furious — hopelessly stupid and enormously fun.