The “Fast & Furious” franchise is easy to dismiss as big, silly or even bad — but it’s definitely awesome. The distinction may seem nebulous, but measuring each film’s success or failure has less to do with whether or not you believe what’s happening on screen than whether what’s happening has blown your mind, scrambled your expectations or shown you something so preposterous that you have to admire it. Ironically, the series began as a more mundane version of Kathryn Bigelow’s thriller about surfing bank robbers, “Point Break” but it’s grown so far beyond the parameters of what in 1991 already seemed ridiculous that it’s impossible to evaluate them on a scale of anything from zero to 60 — the former number being the resting vibration of Vin Diesel’s throaty baritone, and the latter the circumference of Dwayne Johnson’s biceps.
9. “Fast & Furious” (2009)
When 2006’s “Tokyo Drift” convinced Universal it was sitting on a largely untapped goldmine, the studio re-hired director Justin Lin and reunited the original series cast for a proper relaunch. Unfortunately, virtually every new decision feels like an “ah, f— it” solution to problems that subsequent films treated with much more nuance, especially reconnecting Brian, Dominic and the rest of Toretto’s outlaw crew. Meanwhile, an overlong finale set entirely in a cheap, phony-looking, CGI-enhanced underground tunnel robs the film of the tangibility — and vitality — that made Lin’s first “Fast and Furious” effort such a visceral delight.
8. “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003)
Despite introducing Tyrese’s goofy, charismatic sidekick Roman Pierce, and to a lesser extent, Ludacris’ Tej Parker, John Singleton’s follow-up to the original film is mostly a turd on wheels. Its attempts to re-create another undercover cop scenario involving Brian O’Conner showcase both the characters’ persistent stupidity and the franchise’s desperation, while Eva Mendes is sidelined as a bombshell love interest with lip-service authority, even as Cole Hauser’s extraordinarily bad impersonation of Robert De Niro as Argentinian drug lord Carter Verone feels telegraphed into the series from another film.
7. “The Fate of the Furious” (2017)
Bursting with cash but on the verge of bankruptcy for new ideas, F. Gary Gray mounted a handsome, appropriately operatic eighth installment featuring a couple of prestigious foes (Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren) but arguably the dumbest heel turn in modern movie history. No character has ever championed loyalty more emphatically than Dominic Toretto, so when he gets blackmailed into betraying his former friends and colleagues, every second feels more preposterous than the previous one. It features the silliest car action of the series — though, to be fair, Dwayne Johnson does punch a torpedo. “Fate” also betrays the series’ central “family” theme by making an ally of Jason Statham’s Shaw, who murdered a crew member in a previous film, without ever bothering to address the issue.
6. “The Fast and the Furious” (2001)
A transparent knockoff of “Point Break” set in the world of illegal street racing, Rob Cohen’s slick, comparatively realistic original couldn’t possibly have foreseen the wild and improbable places this franchise eventually went. But Cohen lacks Kathryn Bigelow’s chops both as a filmmaker and storyteller, using instantly dated CGI to “amplify” the intensity of the car-related action while reducing the cat-and-mouse dynamic between undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and enigmatic hijacker Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) to unconvincing macho posturing.
5. “Furious 7” (2015)
In a giant retcon of “Tokyo Drift” — including the franchise’s most contentious piece of mythology, the death of Han (Sung Kang) — James Wan mounts some suitably ridiculous action, including airdropping sports cars over Azerbaijan and jumping a Lamborghini from one Abu Dhabi skyscraper to another, while expanding the series’ rogues gallery with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw, sibling to a former adversary who later, and to much controversy, becomes a colleague. Through no fault of the filmmakers, Paul Walker’s death casts a bittersweet pall over the onscreen adventures, as Brian’s departure inadvertently underscores the series’ shift away from the core elements that initially made it popular, much less the original cast members who were overshadowed by the likes of Statham and Dwayne Johnson.