Unfortunately for anyone who goes to movies with me, I love a film franchise. The mindless humor, the endless spinoffs, the rhythmic lull of the formulaic storylines, the dramatic reveal of a random famous actor doing a 30-second cameo — it’s like ASMR for my celebrity-obsessed brain. Recently, the Fast & Furious franchise, a particularly long and infamously franchise-y series of movies, released its tenth installment, Fast X, which was as good a time as any to catch up on all nine of the previous films.
As it turns out, the Fast movies are a lot like a soap opera: They will never end, no one dies, and they exist in an increasingly implausible version of reality. Linear time, the laws of physics, the finality of death — none of it matters when you have upwards of five movie stars and some large hunks of metal to explode. Even I, a woman who knows nothing about cars, am pretty sure they can’t do things like fly, go to space, or keep working while on fire. But it sure is fun to watch them pretend.
Joined by an enthusiastic boyfriend to explain the car-related plot points, I dedicated several weeks to this 21-hour project, leaving a few nights in between each installment to process it all. (My boyfriend also revealed that he once re-created the movie’s “stare and drive” move on a busy road on his bike. I feel great about his decision-making skills.) Two decades, five streaming platforms, and an untold number of very loud cars later, I think I’m sold.
What did I learn from these big shiny stuntmen with wheels? That Vin Diesel has the voice of God, luxury car brands will willingly destroy a shocking number of vehicles in exchange for product placement, and family — especially family that can drive — is forever. Below, my painstaking efforts to understand ten movies about hot people doing crazy shit in cars. I’ve rated them on a scale of 1 to 1,000 mph to accurately reflect the speeds I believe they’re driving in these films. Major spoilers ahead, obviously.
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
In retrospect, movie No. 1 is mostly scene-setting: We meet Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), the Corona-loving, tank-top-wearing ringleader of a ragtag group of sun-kissed criminals, including Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and his girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Using their incredible driving skills and also nitrous oxide to make cars go scary fast, Dom and his crew do a wide range of vehicle-related odd jobs in L.A, both legal and illegal: repairing cars, building cars, street racing, theft, etc.
Then there’s Brian (Paul Walker), an undercover cop trying to get into Dom’s crew to find out who’s heisting all these trucks around California. Walker looks like the source material for Chace Crawford, which is to say, incredibly attractive. Anyway, between drinking Coronas, saying grace, and programming their cars to do insane things, Brian and Dom do several jobs together and generally bond, while Brian falls in love with Mia. Everyone keeps tossing big-ass harpoons into the air and attaching them to cars, planes, and other large metal objects — an incredible strategy. Eventually, one of Dom’s family members is gravely injured, prompting Brian to call in an airlift for him and, in doing so, reveal that he’s an agent. Everyone goes their separate ways — for now …
600 mph, a solid start.
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Suddenly, we’re in Miami, but without Vin Diesel, who apparently opted out because he didn’t think franchising the movie was a great idea — although now he’s clearly changed his tune. But don’t worry, Devon Aoki is here with the most incredible pants. The Euphoria girls would have been obsessed with her, but they were barely even in utero when this movie came out. Anyway, Brian’s eyes are bluer than ever, and he’s street racing with Ludacris until the police rope him into bringing down a drug dealer, promising him clemency on all the crimes he committed in the last movie. To get it done, he recruits his childhood friend Roman (Tyrese Gibson), who is always hungry and also kind of mad at Brian for being a cop. (Same.) Also, Eva Mendes is helping them. After a handful of car chases and close brushes with death, Brian and Roman both walk free with a stack of cash hidden under their shirts. Nice.
800 mph, plus 50 for pants clout.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Where are all my boyfriends and who replaced them with Bow Wow? For some reason, we are now hanging out with a high-school guy named Sean who’s sent to live with his military dad in Tokyo after getting in trouble for racing cars. There, he is introduced to the concept of drifting, which is when you sort of let the car slide around really fast in a circle that you’re somehow still in control of. Apparently, this is a real thing.
Sean drives some cars, meets some criminals, flirts with a girl, makes some enemies (including that girl’s boyfriend), and participates in several highly problematic scenes involving Asian women. Thankfully, we are introduced to a cool and nice character named Han in this movie (more on him later), and Vin Diesel makes a blessed cameo in the final scene.
200 mph, only because drifting is pretty cool.
Fast & Furious (2009)
Vin Diesel is back, baby, and for some reason he kicked those thes out of the title! Who needs definite articles when you have family? Dom and Mia still hate Brian for pretending to be their friends while actually spying for the police, but they all reluctantly team up in the Dominican Republic to avenge Letty, who was killed by a drug lord she was informing on for the FBI. This is all supposed to take place before Tokyo Drift, because Han died at the end of that movie, and yet here he is, stealing an entire truck of oil on the highway with Dom. An average Tuesday for this crew, surely.
Also here: Gal Gadot, a sexy driver working for the drug lord who cannot resist Dom’s nipple-hugging shirts and waxen head, even though he tells her he’s still getting over his recently deceased girlfriend. As you can probably guess, Gadot’s character — her name is Gisele — joins the team and everyone ends up taking down the drug lord in a mountainside car chase involving going dizzyingly fast through tiny tunnels. Brian patches things up with Mia and Dom, and Dom decides to stop running from the police and go to jail, only to be jail-broken by Mia and Brian while on the bus to prison.
650 mph. Now that we’ve moved on from actual car racing, things are really getting interesting.
Fast Five (2011)
No longer furious, Brian, Mia, and Dom get the whole gang together to steal a buttload of money from a Brazilian drug cartel. Why? Mia is pregnant, which she announces while the trio are ankle-deep in gutter water and being hunted by both the DEA and a powerful horde of criminals in Rio. Somehow, no one is freaking out about this because, again, family!
I didn’t know I wanted the experience of hanging out with multiple friend groups at once translated to the screen, but here we are: Two guys from the sequel, Han from Tokyo Drift (still alive, because time is no longer linear), the Spanish-speaking brothers from movie No. 4 (Don Omar and Tego Calderon), and Gisele’s long-ass legs, all clinking Coronas. Can you have not one but two guys whose main character trait is “always hungry” in the same movie? Apparently, yes. While they snack and hatch the heist, the U.S. government is busy recruiting Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, looking especially boulderlike) to find and arrest them, and he teams up with a Rio police woman named Elena (Elsa Pataky). The whole thing culminates in — can you guess by now? — a big crazy car race, only this one involves dragging a huge concrete bank vault through the streets of Rio (via harpoon, of course), somehow without smushing a single civilian. Claps all around.
900 mph. It’s hard to go wrong with a heist movie!
Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
Surprise! Letty is actually alive and doesn’t remember anything about what happened before her “death.” (See what I mean about soap operas?) Also — oh no! She’s working for the bad guys, who absolutely love using an amnesiac to do their bidding. To get her back, the gang has to take down her boss Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a London-based mercenary who’s wreaking political havoc by funding … some kind of explosives the U.S. does not want going off. Does it really matter what the villains in these movies actually do?
Letty’s big return is complicated by the fact that Dom is now dating Elena, the Brazilian policewoman who was helping The Rock hunt him down in the last movie. (For those keeping track, we now have amnesia, a suddenly non-dead character, and a love triangle.) Also notable: Ludacris figures out how to put nitrous oxide in the harpoons. Handy! Letty eventually switches sides despite not remembering any of her old life, just in time for the big chase. This time, it happens partially in the air. Gisele and her long legs fall to their death (for now), and sad Han goes to Tokyo, where suddenly it’s ten years earlier and he is dying in an exploding car (also for now). Have I lost you yet?
700 mph. Points off for accidental time travel.
Furious 7 (2015)
“Turn Down for What” is blasting, Iggy Azalea is here, and it doesn’t get more 2015 than this. Even though “fast” is no longer in the title, movie No. 7 wins coolest stunts: cars parachuting out of planes, cars flying between sky-scrapers in mid-air, cars driving straight into each other for no reason at all … a smorgasbord of anti-gravity fun. The Corona brand synergy remains strong — there’s even a branded bucket to hold all those frosty boys. Also, the soundtrack bangs.
Plot-wise, this movie has even more going on than the last: more characters, more stakes, more scenes stitched in from a 2003 film, more special fancy highly sought-after doodads. This time, everyone’s trying to get their hands on an AI program that can hack into any camera on earth and track people using facial technology. Meanwhile, the villain from the last movie has a pissed-off British brother named Deckard (Jason Statham) who’s out for blood after our family threw his brother off a plane, somehow managing to paralyze but not kill him. Kurt Russell and a fancy suit pop in to ask Dom if he can save the creator of the spooky AI program (Nathalie Emmanuel), offering him revenge on Deckard and some magical perpetual safety status if he can get it done. At some point, Letty miraculously remembers everything, and the gang survives being chased by the scary AI program, a pissed-off Nigerian terrorist in a helicopter (played by Djimon Hounsou), and a collapsing building.
950 mph. Flying cars!!!
In a seriously sad turn of real-life events, Paul Walker died in the middle of the movie’s production, and it ends with a sweet little tribute to the tune of Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again,” which was commissioned specifically for this purpose. The subsequent movies pretend Brian just dropped out of life as a car-driving criminal, probably because it would be far too sad to actually kill him onscreen. RIP, Paul Walker.
The Fate of the Furious (2017)
We’re back and our guy is more furious than ever, because Charlize Theron kidnapped his baby! Also, he has a baby! Theron plays Cipher, a cyberterrorist who used to date Vin Diesel and blackmails him into working for her. For someone so dangerous and powerful, Cipher has horrible hair — dreadlocs, in fact. I guess between all that top-secret government file hacking, she had no time to do any Listening and Learning? Anyway, Cipher and her white-person dreads kidnap Dom’s ex Elena, the policewoman whom he briefly dated while he thought Letty was dead, and their baby, while also revealing to Dom that said baby exists. The journey to avenge them both involves more harpoons and ends with Statham (who’s suddenly not evil?) shooting his way out of a private jet while carrying Dom’s baby in a car seat. It is kind of cute, but also terrifying. In much better news, Dame Helen Mirren drops in as the mother of our two British criminal masterminds and says “cuppa.” Couldn’t ask for anything better.
750 mph. I respect the dark humor of dropping a baby into a plane full of criminals.
Charlize Theron has a bowl cut. I repeat: Charlize Theron has a bowl cut. What does this franchise have against her hair?! Is Gal Gadot the only woman allowed to look hot?
The Rock’s biceps are nowhere to be found, possibly because they were beefing with Vin Diesel’s biceps and the feuding muscles refused to be on a set together. Instead, The Rock filmed a spinoff with Jason Statham, Hobbs & Shaw, which I did technically watch but doesn’t have any bearing on the primary plot. Moving on.
To explain the introduction of yet another beefy character, this one played by John Cena, we get some cute flashbacks of Dom’s teenage years, when he was first discovering the joys of tight tank tops. Cena plays Dom’s long-lost brother, who left town after their father died in a rigged auto race gone wrong. While they process their outsized familial strife through hand grenades and a giant super-powered magnet, that rando from the third movie comes back, and also Han re-alives himself. (Okay, fine, he was “alive” this whole time.) The family gets bigger, the world turns, the Fast & Furious universe spins further and further away from the orbit of reality. Did I mention some of them drove to outer space?
600 mph, one for each hand grenade.
Fast X (2023)
Well into the year 2023, this franchise still loves cutting to close-ups of women’s butts. You have to admire the consistency, and also the butts.
Freed from the last threads of plausible physics, Fast X is more unhinged than ever. Giant bombs are rolling through Rome, Charlize Theron is breaking out of a secret government prison in Antarctica, and Rita Moreno is monologuing. Also, Brie Larson is here? Jason Momoa brought his pink scrunchie to play a genderqueer psychopath with way too many snakeskin jackets. The writers retconned his ass into Fast Five, setting him up as the nephew of the criminal our group killed after stealing all his money and dragging it in a safe through the streets of Rio.
Apparently everyone bad is good now, including Theron and Cena’s characters, the latter of whom spends most of the movie in a very off-brand and unsexy pickup truck. Paul Walker’s daughter Meadow makes a cute cameo, Momoa does his nails while gabbing with a bunch of corpses, and we’re left with a cliffhanger, Dom and his son ostensibly about to get blown up in the middle of a dam. Also, yet another character thought to be long-deceased is alive (I won’t tell you who, but there’s only one left) and working on one of Cipher’s many arctic submarines. Absolutely no questions here.
550 mph. Too much going on!
Personally, I feel the franchise drifted (sorry) too far into cornball territory with the last two movies, and as much as I don’t want any members of the family to die, reviving every character has really lowered the stakes death-wise. Maybe kill one of the villains instead of suddenly making them nice? Just a suggestion for the three-part series finale. See you in 2025!