released Fast and Furious franchise its ninth canonical film, F9, on June 25, 2021. In a bid to outdo the previous films, our car-driving heroes one-up their crazy antics by ... going to space. Yes, you read that right. The evolution from the original movie, a paint-by-numbers action flick about street racing, has been something to behold. In the Fast and Furious cinematic universe, there’s a little something for everyone: some fans love it for its schlocky fun, others say the series is really a meditation on the American Dream.
Fast takes the unrealistic and makes it commonplace ... A film could try to do what Fast does, but it will be unbelievable because it hasn't earned that.” John Cena told Entertainment Weekly ahead of F9’s release. “It's almost like the audience winking at the screen being like, ‘Of course you guys are going to do that.’ And Fast isn't afraid to occasionally wink [back] at the audience to say, ‘Thanks for allowing us to do this,’ which is a really good trait of any form of entertainment — never take yourself too seriously.” There’s definitely an audience ready to wink at the screen: all in all, the franchise has made $5.9 billion dollars.
But if you’re new to the
Fast family and wondering what all the fuss is about, it’s a lot to take in. The universe is sprawling and confusing; there are prequels and short films, and the timeline is pretty screwy. Plus, the franchise loves to play with narrative norms: retconning is commonplace, dead characters magically come back to life on the regular, and villains become heroes and vice versa. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also joyous fun. So if you want to finally take the plunge into the series before the series ends with a 10th and 11th film and more potential spinoffs, here’s a primer on which ones should you watch and in which order. (Except for the Netflix animated series, which is in the same universe but with a totally different story aimed at kids. Like we said, it’s a sprawling and confusing world.) 1 The Fast and the Furious (2001)
The one that started it all! There’s illegal street racing in cool cars. Brian (Paul Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel), two dudes on opposite sides of the law, bond
. And scene. In hindsight, two things are striking: first, how young the actors are, since the film came out 20 years ago, and second, how simple the premise is, compared to future movies. Point Break-style
Should you watch? Definitely, as an intro to the series and for the nostalgia factor, but just keep in mind it only barely resembles the souped-up franchise now. And some aspects are incredibly dated, like when the heist crew steals some
very lucrative tech: DVDs. 2 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
If you’re a completist, there’s
a six-minute short film set after the first movie, which shows Brian leaving behind life as an FBI agent and becoming a fugitive. Much better-known is the official sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, in which Brian forced to go undercover to bring down a drug lord. This movie is .. not good, but it does introduce us to team members Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson). Diesel is nowhere to be found in this movie (off filming xXx and worried that a sequel would ruin the fun).
Should you watch? If you want to see some characters’ origin stories, fine, but it’s not necessary. It’s a good thing the franchise survived its sophomore slump.
3 Los Bandoleros (2009)
This short film written and directed by Diesel follows the romance of Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Spoiler alert: they reconnect and make out a whole bunch.
Los Bandoleros also formally introduces Dom’s crime partner Han (Sung Kang) to the franchise. (It’s almost canon that “Han,” as portrayed by the same actor in the totally separate film (2003) is the same Han that appears here and later in Better Luck Tomorrow Fast franchise — but it isn’t formally accepted, so Better Luck Tomorrow isn’t go on this list.)
Should you watch?
Los Bandoleros is short, and you can watch it for free on Vimeo. It’s not as stunt-filled, though, if that’s your thing, and it’s mostly just stage-setting for the next movie. 4 Fast & Furious (2009)
This is where it starts to get confusing:
Fast & Furious was the fourth feature film released but you should watch it third — or fourth, if you’re counting short film Los Bandoleros — as it’s set after the second one. The plot follows Dom, who’s on the hunt for the man who murdered Letty (but as is common in Fast world, this won’t be the last we see of her character).
This film marks the first time the original crew — Brian, Dom, Letty, and Mia (Jordana Brewster) — all appear together since the first movie. But this is
also the film that starts to expand the cast of characters, ignore fundamental norms like logic and gravity, and crank up on the high-powered stunts.
Should you watch? Even though the next movies are better, the seeds of greatness are there. Also, the “What happened to Letty?” plot in later movies won’t make sense if you haven’t seen this one.
5 Fast Five (2011)
And just like that, the franchise totally reinvents itself with a heist movie, veering away from the street racing that had previously defined the series.
Fast Five ushers in the modern iteration of the Fast family: a high-octane plot, featuring characters who border on superheroes and also happen to drive cars. It also marks the entry of Luke Hobbs (The Rock), who begins his Fast life chasing after our heroes, before (eventually) becoming one of them.
Should you watch? A thousand times yes. It’s often considered the best of the bunch.
6 Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
Morphing again into an international spy thriller,
Fast 6 introduces us to the villainous Shaw family with mercenary Owen (Luke Evans). It also cements the mix of over-the-top plot, insane stunts, and ensemble cast — some of whom sometimes suffer genuine consequences, just when you least expect it.
Should you watch? It’s a good follow-up to
Fast Five. You just might shed a tear at one of the character deaths in this — and it’s one of the few that sticks. At least for now. 7 The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
The only film with a totally different lead actor,
Tokyo Drift was originally written with Diesel as its lead (he at least makes a cameo at the end). Instead, newcomer Lucas Black ( NCIS: New Orleans) stars as an outsider learning how to “drift” in Tokyo street racing. It’s less beloved than the others for some obvious reasons, but on the plus side it gives us a lot of time with Han, who acts as a mentor.
This is also the film that screwed up the timeline of the movies. Han dies in
Tokyo Drift, which was released in 2003. But “ franchise plot manipulation” allowed the series to keep Han as a character: the decision was made to push Tokyo Drift forward on the timeline so that more Fast movies (with Han in them) could be squeezed in before we see this story unfold. So a revised chronology looks like this: Fast 2, Fast 4, Fast 5, Fast 6, Fast 3. Han appears in the fourth, fifth, and sixth movies, then his death occurs in Fast 3. Confused yet? So were fans, but Han’s so beloved that they loved the efforts to include him.
Should you watch? It’s fine, not great. And the retcon of Han’s arc is covered in the other movies.
8 Furious 7 (2015)
It’s revealed that Owen Shaw’s brother Deckard (Jason Statham) is the one who killed Han, out of revenge for what the team did to Owen in
Fast & Furious 6. This is the movie with the “car flying between two skyscrapers” stunt you might remember from the trailer, but it’s more appropriately known as a fitting sendoff for long-time character Brian.
Should you watch? Yes, absolutely. Some of the plot stuff is head-scratchingly silly, but it handles the real-life tragedy of actor Paul Walker’s death with impressive grace.
9 The Fate of the Furious (2017)
New villain alert! Cipher (Charlize Theron) is apparently the mastermind behind the last two movies, and her machinations cause Dom to abandon his family for a bit. No spoilers, but the reasons for his seeming betrayal propel the story forward in interesting ways. The
Fast movies are constantly exploring the notion of family, and nowhere more so than in this film.
Should you watch? This is the movie that became legendary for
behind-the-scenes drama and subsequent rift between two of the leads. On screen, it’s not quite as good as some of the ones that came before it, but it’s worth it for Theron’s deliciously evil performance. 10 Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
This spinoff film pairs unlikely duo Luke and Deckard (yes, that’s right, the villain of a few movies ago is now an antihero).
It’s unclear when there’ll be a sequel, and/or if Statham or The Rock will show up in the franchise’s final films, but they’re having an absolute blast here. It also opens up the extended universe and gets away with a level of humor and silliness that you won’t see in the other films.
Should you watch? Yeah. This might not have been as successful as some of the official
Fast films, but it is highly entertaining in all the right ways. Plus, Idris Elba as the film’s baddie is chef’s kiss. 11 F9: The Fast Saga (2021) F9 really goes for it: some of the characters literally take a car into space, and fans calling for Justice for Han will be relieved to see the character’s back from the dead and part of the Fast family once more. But the main plot centers on Dom’s backstory, introducing his brother Jakob (welcome to the franchise, John Cena!), while also explaining why such a family-oriented character would have a sibling he’s never mentioned before.
Should you watch? There’s a car that goes to space. How could you not?!