With a global haul of $5.9 billion, the Fast & Furious franchise is a mighty flex of American box office muscle. The nine action films have found an undeniably successful balance of adrenaline, ruckus, and heart. And after nearly 20 years, they’ve come to define the genre.
But to appreciate the entire franchise is to see how it’s changed. The early entries live and breathe street racing; the later ones morph into heist films that trot across the globe. The first few struggle without the VFX and stunt standards to match their vision; the recent ones shift to technical full throttle. The movies launch (and lose) stars. Their sense of humor evolves. Ultimately, as the series transforms from scrappy origins into larger-than-life tentpole status, it becomes a crash course in how to build blockbuster confidence.
Sure, you could watch them in chronological order—but here’s how we think you should proceed.
Fast & Furious
Perhaps true to its name, the series’ fourth entry is quintessential Fast & Furious, and it’s the best place to start. The movie honors its street racing origins throughout, even as its glossy, high-octane identity begins to emerge. Evidence of that? The rollicking cold (no ... hot!) open scene: Dom (Vin Diesel), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and the team overtake a gas tanker as it barrels down a steep slope toward a cliff’s edge. Compared to daintier sequences in the earlier films, this heist scene is colossal, contemporary, and immediate. It bellows, “I am blockbuster—hear me roar!”
The Fast and the Furious
Paired with 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Things weren’t always so smooth. Often resembling a music video and dripping with toxic masculinity, these debut entries—the first two in the franchise—feel a bit like a time capsule. But the poor state of VFX technologies do create something remarkable: a unique, almost space-inspired aesthetic. In the countless scenes of underground street racing, drivers hit their NOS-activated boost (that’s nitrous oxide to the uninitiated). When they do, it’s a Star Wars-esque, hyperspeed tunnel: Surroundings blur, colors streak, and their neon-lit cars seem to hover off the ground. For all that’s stale about these older films, the effects are a blast to revisit.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
No actors from the first two Fast films play a key role in Tokyo Drift, and without Paul Walker’s piercing, blue-eyed stare, the absence of sexual tension is tangible. Instead, Lucas Black is the driver in this franchise outlier, and he’s a drawly Southern boy who gets dropped into the world of drifting in Tokyo, Japan.
The movie definitely captures the awe and art of drifting (one moonlit, mountainside sequence is especially breathtaking), but the can’t-miss scene in Tokyo Drift actually takes place in a club. After turning down the unlikely advances of countless women, Black makes his way to a secret door, opening to a body shop in the back of the club. In a delightful redirection of the relentless male gaze, Black begins to ogle, not women but cars. The camera pans sensually across the bodies of bikes and race cars, all to the tune of Juelz Santana’s “There It Go (The Whistle Song).” It’s hilarious, and a welcome change of tone in a movie that doesn’t otherwise play so well today.
The franchise isn’t known for being intimate or realistic, but moments in Fast Five challenge that cliché. Close-ups of worried eyes and tense fingers show us characters in quiet, private moments. And Mia’s (Jordana Brewster) pregnancy announcement generates some genuine emotional urgency. But for all its tenderness, the movie doesn’t abandon adrenaline: the action is grittier and more believable than ever. Varied lengths of shots and intensities of volume create the series’ arguably most impressive sequences. Of all the entries, Fast Five has the most finesse and command.
Fast & Furious 6
Things take a sharp turn toward absurdity with the series’ sixth entry, and that’s half the fun. Cars nail the landing after bursting through the open nose of a burning, crashing plane. Dom accurately calculates the speed, velocity, and acceleration needed to intercept a falling Letty with his own airborne body. Moments like these might be laughable, but we dare you to look away.
The sudden death of Paul Walker in 2013—as a passenger in a single-vehicle car crash—stunned the world, but also the filmmakers behind the already-in-progress Furious 7. After a hiatus for mourning and rewrites, the production worked to gracefully retire the character of Brian O’Conner.
It’s sobering to notice the number of long and back-side shots of O’Conner used in the second half of Furious 7. In a majority of these new or previously unfinished scenes, Walker’s two surviving brothers serve as body doubles. And while most close-ups are intentionally blurred by movement during action sequences, we look directly into the eyes of a computer-generated Walker in the final, reverent scene. Walker laughs as he pulls up beside Vin Diesel for one last ride, then splits off at a fork in the road. Paired with the original song “See You Again,” the moment is transcendent, one of the most moving and integrated tributes in movie history.
The Fate of the Furious
F&F’s eighth film is shockingly dark. Although the Shaw brothers were no small opponents in the sixth and seventh entries, the enemy now is upgraded to mega-villain. Cyberterrorist Cipher (played uncannily by Charlize Theron) is violent, yes. But she’s also the first villain in the franchise to launch plans for world domination. She seduces, she blackmails, and—quite disturbingly—threatens to murder an infant. As Cipher seeks control of global surveillance and technology systems, her motives are deep, existential, and modern. To see the normally light-hearted franchise take on topics so grim is unexpected.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
But not to worry: We’ve saved the lightest for last. Hobbs & Shaw is a new thing entirely for the franchise—an agile, free, and, above all, funny entry. (This does make perfect sense, as Deadpool 2 director David Leitch steps in.) In the earlier films, Tyrese and Ludacris’ witty banter provided most of the comic relief. But Dwayne Johnson, as Hobbs, and Jason Statham, as Shaw, might steal their crown. Impressive supporting roles are icing on the cake: a returning Helen Mirren as Shaw’s criminal mum; Ryan Reynolds as a CIA agent with a crush on The Rock; and Kevin Hart as the clingy Air Marshal Dinkley.