Breaking Down the ‘Fast and the Furious’ Franchise a Quarter Mile at a Time

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Sixteen years, eight films, and over $500 million dollars in damages later, The Fast and the Furious is somehow going stronger than ever. The high-octane film series has moved well beyond L.A. street races to become one of the world’s highest grossing action franchises ever, but the road getting there had its share of potholes.

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

The movie that started it all, this film introduces most of the heavy-hitters that would go on to define the franchise. Spearheaded by the film’s two leads (Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner and Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto), the beginning of this franchise is actually a fairly humble one in retrospect. The series’ signature sleek style is established from its very first car chase, but the movie maintains an air of realism that provides stark juxtaposition to the craziness that would ensue just a few films later.

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

While the initial movie ages fairly well and is still incredibly entertaining, its first sequel? Not so much. Bogged down by awful dialogue, the script of the film was so bad that Vin Diesel even turned down a staggering $20 million dollar offer to return, and is nowhere to be seen. For anyone looking to get caught up on the series or complete a re-watch, this entry can be skipped entirely.

The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Even though a failure at the box office (Tokyo Drift is the only entry in the franchise to not gross $100 million domestically), this might actually be the most interesting film of the series. Yes, the viewer must suffer through Lucas Black’s accent for two hours (ugh), but more time and effort was put into the script than most of the other films. The movie takes the time to delve into social aspects such as immigration and racism, and at points actually has something to say instead of just something to blow up.

The most important introduction of the third film, however, is Han. The character is easily the most interesting of the series, and the script takes time to give him layers, while so many other characters in the franchise are simply archetypes. His inclusion was so paramount that once the writers and directors realized what they had on their hands, the next three films were shifted to predate Tokyo Drift in the timeline so that he could continue to be involved.

Fast & Furious (2009)

This is where the fun begins. Walker and Diesel make their full-time return to the lineup for what would become the franchise’s turning point. The plots and characters escape the streets and become larger than life. The leads practically transform from people into superheroes minus the costumes, and the franchise buys wholeheartedly into the ridiculousness that has now become its signature tone. Justin Lin also firmly cements himself as the go-to director for the series with his ability to handle ensemble casts and massive action sequences with ease.

Fast Five (2011)

The fifth installment picks up immediately where the fourth left on and amps up the craziness to an even higher degree. The film marks the introduction of Dwayne Johnson’s character (Hobbs), who is on a mission to take down Dom’s team when the usual hijinks ensue. A few of the series’ best action sequences take place in this entry, including a train sequence that can’t be done justice using mere words. There’s also that little scene with the vault you might have heard of…

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

While 6 does a good job of setting up the next film as the timeline returns to the present, it fails to hit the highs of Fast Five. While nowhere near as bad as 2 Fast 2 Furious, some of its moments do not quite hit the emotional resonance they are aiming for. The movie focuses more on bringing Michelle Rodriguez back into the fold for future installments than it does saying goodbye to a couple of its far more interesting characters. Fast 6 also doesn’t allocate enough time to saying goodbye to Gal Gadot’s Gisele and Sung Kang’s Han, as their departures feel incredibly abrupt, even though the viewer knew for a while that Han was living on borrowed time.

Furious 7 (2015)

The story behind the filming of Furious 7 could almost be a movie unto itself, as Paul Walker’s tragic death midway through production left the cast and crew in disarray. The talk of “family” has become a bit of an in-joke for the series, but family is exactly what the cast had become over the course of filming such a long-running franchise. Many wondered whether the movie should even be completed, yet what followed is one of the most impressive bits of film-making to ever come out of Hollywood.

Furious 7 marked James Wan’s first foray into the world of big-budget action, but it is the way he rallied everyone together following the tragedy that would end up being his stamp on this series. Script rewrites and a brilliant but subtle use of CGI allowed the team to finish production, and the emotional beats that the movie pulls off are nothing short of astounding. The efforts of the cast and crew allowed for the movie to evolve from that of a standard action sequel into a touching sendoff to their beloved friend.

What are some of your favorite moments from the series? Will you be knocking back some coronas as you revisit the earlier movies before checking out The Fate of the Furious later this week? Let us know in the comments!

My name is Geoff and I believe purgatory is the state of never being able to fully clear out your DVR. I spend my time staying up way too late reading books, playing video games, and watching movies and TV. You can find me on Twitter at @GeoffMiller47