Back in 2001 when The Fast and the Furious – a modestly-budgeted retread of Point Break set in the world of illegal street racing – was first released, few would have predicted that it would spawn a slew of increasingly profitable sequels, each with a cast more impressive and stunts more self-consciously ludicrous than the last.
Now in its seventh instalment, marking the passing of franchise stalwart Paul Walker and the addition of Jason Statham to the already testosterone-heavy affair, here’s our film-by-film guide to everything you need to know about the series so far.
Director: Rob Cohen
Worldwide gross: $207 million
In brief: The one where it all began
Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) – Undercover LAPD Officer
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) – Leader of an illegal street-racing gang
Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) – Dominic's partner in racing and romance
Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) – Dom's sister, who runs a café and grocery shop
Vince (Matt Schulze) – Brian's main rival in Dom's gang
The plot: LAPD Officer and keen petrol-head Brian O'Conner goes undercover to investigate an illegal street-racing gang who are suspected of stealing valuable electronics
Best action sequence: An attempted truck hijacking by Dom and his gang turns ugly – cue a high-speed chase with Brian opting to blow his cover and rescue his injured rival, Vince.
Defining moment: The Fast & Furious films remain iconic for their night-time street races, with flaming exhausts, deafening revving, and NOS (Nitrous Oxide) speed boosts. Here’s the first one from the series.
Typical line: "You break her heart, I'll break your neck" – Dom when he discovers Brian has feelings for Mia
Did you know?
• Neither Michelle Rodriguez or Jordana Brewster had a driving license prior to working on the film. Rodriguez – who’s been caught speeding and DUI since – says that learning for The Fast and the Furious probably gave her some bad driving habits.
• The Race Wars driving contest at the centre of the film saw 1500 car enthusiasts head to San Bernardino International Airport to populate the scene.
• The Volkswagen Jetta that Jesse drives in Race Wars was later bought by Malcolm in the Middle star Frankie Muniz.
• The Fast and the Furious was based on a 1989 feature in Vibe magazine by reporter Kenneth Li, who befriended a street racer named Rafael Estevez – a legend who known for winning high-stakes races and outrunning the cops at 200mph in his souped-up Honda Civic. Estevez now runs a garage in Queens, New York, and recently confessed that "Nowadays, my wife drives faster than me."
The verdict: If "cop goes undercover in an extreme sports gang to investigate robberies" sounds familiar, it's because that's the exact plot of Point Break. Swapping surfing for neon-drenched drag racing, what The Fast and the Furious lacks in originality it makes up for in slick chase sequences and a likeable cast headed up by Paul Walker, sporting the most Noughties-looking blonde curls imaginable, and Vin Diesel, who looks no different 14 years later. Citizen Kane it ain't, but it still holds up as a great Friday night watch.
But buckle up. There are a few dodgy sequels to plough through before the series gets good again.
Director: John Singleton
Worldwide gross: $236 million
In brief: The one with the most street-racing
Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) – Brian's childhood friend and fellow racer
Tej Parker (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges) – Street race organiser
Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) – Undercover US Customs Service agent
The plot: On the run from the law after letting Dom get away, Brian has turned to racing for money. Caught by the feds, he's offered a deal to take down Miami drug lord Carter Verone with childhood friend Roman Pearce in exchange for his freedom.
Best action sequence: Closing the case in fittingly ludicrous style, Brian and Roman crash a car onto Verone's yacht as he makes his escape.
Typical line: "Your engine ain't as big as your mouth" – Roman Pearce
Did you know?
• Two scripts were written for 2 Fast 2 Furious – one featuring Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto, in case he wanted to return, and one without him. Despite being offered $25 million to come back, Diesel thought the script, er, “sucked”.
• Walker drives his own car, a Nissan Skyline G-TR in the film, and did some of his own stunt driving too.
• The Miami house belonging to villain Carter Verone was once owned by Sylvester Stallone.
The verdict: With a title that falls firmly under so-bad-it's-good, it's disappointing that the rest of the film doesn't follow suit. 2 Fast is paper-thin and full of highly questionable racial and gender stereotypes, and the while the original film is hardly Shakespeare, we could forgive the film its flaws if the race sequences were any good. They’re not, though – they’re overly cartoony, and it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on.
Director: Justin Lin
Worldwide gross: $158 million
In brief: The one without Paul Walker
Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) – Precocious American teen petrolhead forced to move to Japan
Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang) – A Tokyo drift racer
Twinkie (Bow Wow) – A fellow American in Tokyo, Sean's way into drifting
Neela (Natalie Kelley) – Takashi's girlfriend, who takes a shine to Sean
The plot: Teen tearaway Sean Boswell has a run-in with the law due to his love of reckless driving, and is sent to live with his father in Tokyo. Falling in with the local drift-racing scene, Sean vies with Yakuza-connected rival Takashi for the title of Drift King. (Drift racing, it seems, is a driving style that involves skidding around corners, Mario Kart-style.)
Best action sequence: A genuinely hair-raising drift race through the streets of Tokyo, with a flaming demise for fan-favourite character Han.
Typical line: "You're like the Justin Timberlake of Japan, right?" - Sean confronts Takashi
Did you know?
• Asked by the studio to make a cameo appearance following badly-received test screenings, Vin Diesel only did so in order to gain the rights to the Riddick franchise.
• Over 100 cars were smashed up in the making of the film.
• Since Tokyo doesn't grant filming permits, the crew shot many sequences on the sly, with the actors walking around busy streets among real pedestrians. At one point they were caught by police and the production was closed down.
• Dead villain Han reappears in the fourth film, Fast & Furious, because the action takes place before Tokyo Drift. Chronologically, this is actually the 6th film in the franchise.
The verdict: Let’s make no bones about it – 2 Fast 2 Furious sucked, and Tokyo Drift is almost as bad. The plot is almost non-existent, the dialogue like nails on a chalkboard, and main character Sean comes straight from the Chad Michael Murray school of forgettable American beefcakes.
Thank God for director Justin Lin, who delivers some fun chase sequences through the visually-striking Tokyo streets and returned for the next three entries in the franchise. And then there's genuinely engaging fan-favourite character Han, who the filmmakers somehow decided to kill off – a poor decision that would be rectified later on.
Director: Justin Lin
Worldwide gross: $363 million
In brief: The original gang is back together
Leo Tego (Tego Calderon) – A member of Dom's crew
Rico Santos (Don Omar) – A member of Dom's crew
Cara Mirtha (Mirtha Michelle) – A member of Dom's crew, Han's girlfriend
Arturo Braga (John Ortiz) – Drug lord
Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot) – Braga's liaison
The plot: Dom's hijacking crew disbands when he finds out they're under scrutiny from the law, before an unforeseen tragedy brings him back into contact with Brian O'Conner, now working for the FBI. The two are forced to work together to take down drug Lord Arturo Braga in exchange for Dom's freedom.
Best action sequence: Dom and his crew's attempt to hijack an oil tanker goes off with a big, big, bang.
Typical line: "Sorry, car!" - Brian, before driving through a dilapidated building
Did you know?
• After the opening sequence, Han says he’s planning to go to Tokyo – a reference to his fiery destiny as revealed in Tokyo Drift. He doesn’t go yet, and keeps promising to go to Tokyo for the next two instalments. He finally does so at the end of Fast & Furious 6.
• The sweet-toothed iguana belonging to the truck driver refused to eat his ice cream on cue, despite being starved for two weeks. His lick was eventually added with CGI.
• Diesel wrote, directed, and starred in a 20-minute prequel to Fast & Furious called Los Bandoleros, showing how the gang got back together prior to the tanker heist.
The verdict: Don’t get us wrong, after the plot and character vacuum of Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious is an improvement (even if it does criminally miss out on the punning potential of calling itself Fast and Four-ious). But considering its name, the film’s a bit … well, Dull & Angsty. Vin Diesel’s gravel-meets-charcoal mumbling makes a welcome return and there’s a proper plot with characters and everything, but the final chase through an awfully-rendered CGI mining tunnel already looks more outdated than The Temple of Doom. And several of the film’s chase sequences involve the characters being directed by satnavs. How rebellious.
Director: Justin Lin
Worldwide gross: $626 million
In brief: The one where they brought in The Rock
Luke Hobbs (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) – Diplomatic Security Service agent, hell-bent on tracking down Brian and Dom
Elena Neves (Elsa Patakay) – Rio patrol officer, allied with Agent Hobbs
The plot: The gang plan a heist in Rio de Janeiro to steal $100 million from crime Lord Hernan Reyes, while Dom and Brian are hunted down by impossibly muscly DSS agent Luke Hobbs.
Best action sequence(s): There are so many to choose from here, but the heist chase which sees Dom and Brian drag a huge bank vault along the streets of Rio is as joyful as it is nonsensical.
Honourable mention: Vin Diesel and The Rock – sorry, Dom and Hobbs – punch each other in the face for three minutes:
And not forgetting: The train heist. It starts with Dom’s crew stealing cars and driving them out of a moving train, and ends with Dom rescuing Brian from a flaming truck stuck in the side of the train, before jumping into a ravine.
Typical line: "This s___ just went from mission impossible to mission in-freakin'-sanity!" - Roman Pearce. (See also: Everything The Rock says in the entire film)
Did you know?
• Johnson was cast after Diesel asked his fans on Facebook for story ideas on Facebook. One suggested writing a villain role for The Rock, so they did.
• This was the most expensive film in the series so far. The train heist sequence alone cost $25 million to make, and involved buying a stretch of railway in Mexico and an actual train to blow up.
• The human waste seen exploding from the police station lavatory is actually oatmeal.
• In this film we learn that Han's full name is Han Seoul-Oh.
The verdict: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson hasn’t earned the nickname “franchise Viagra” for nothing, and pitting him against Dom, Brian and the crew is Fast & Furious 5's greatest strength. Where previous instalments seemed to question themselves (“Will people care if we don’t bring Vin Diesel back? Shall we just ditch the other films and do one in Tokyo? How little plot is too much plot?”), Fast Five is an exercise in glorious, unrestrained excess. Really, really stupid, but really, really good.
• A guide to the cars of Fast & Furious 7
Director: Justin Lin
Worldwide gross: $788 million
In brief: The gang tears up London
Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) – Former Special Ops mercenary, now terrorist head of a crime syndicate
Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) – Owen’s older brother, cameo role
The plot: Brian and Dom are forced to return to the fray when Agent Luke Hobbs catches up with them, offering their freedom if they’ll help him take out British terrorist Owen Shaw.
Best action sequence: The entire 20 minute finale, with Dom’s gang taking down Shaw’s plane on the longest runway ever seen in the history of cinema – approximately 27.86 miles long, as estimated by aeronautics engineer Gary Spoors
Did you know?
• “They got a tank!”: The other top action sequence sees Owen Shaw driving a souped-up Chieftain battle tank along a highway. The tank was specially modified to be able to drive at 60mph.
• A race through London is kicked off by Rita Ora at Somerset House, through Piccadilly Circus, towards Leicester Square, then down towards Trafalgar Square, left to Charing Cross station, and then – well, it’s a bit hard to tell, as the Olympics forced most of it to be shot in Glasgow and Liverpool.
• Ora was digitally inserted into the scene long after filming.
• The tank scene was originally set in Piccadilly Circus, an idea eventually abandoned for being near-impossible to shoot.
Typical line: “When they drive that truck in here, I want to come crashing down on them like the walls of Jericho” – Agent Hobbs
The verdict: Fast & Furious 6 is equally loud, dumb and fun as the previous film, this time throwing a tank, a cargo plane, and a car that can flip other cars over into the mix. The majority of the action takes place in London, meaning a fun game of "spot the landmark before it’s smashed to smithereens" for UK viewers. Most exciting of all is the closing sting, which not only ties in Han’s death from Tokyo Drift, but also teases the next film’s villain: Jason Statham. Starring alongside Vin Diesel and The Rock. That’s three for three on the tally of bald punching machines.
Director: James Wan
Worldwide gross: N/A
In brief: Goodbye to Paul Walker
Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell)
Kiet (Tony Jaa)
Kara (Ronda Rousey)
Jakande (Djimon Hounsou)
The plot: Taking place after Tokyo Drift, Owen Shaw’s older brother Deckard is out for revenge. Killing Han in Tokyo, he attracts the attention of Dom’s gang, who set out to take Deckard down.
Did you know?
• There's very little CGI in the scene showing parachute-equipped cars jumping from a plane. Real cars were thrown from the back of a C-130 cargo plane, followed by real cameramen wearing wing-suits.
• Director James Wan – a horror veteran partly responsible for the Saw, Insidious and Conjuring films – has said he still cries every time he sees the ending, in which the late Paul Walker's character says goodbye to the franchise.
• To thank the rulers of the United Arab Emirates for allowing the crew to shoot in Dubai, Vin Diesel personally presented UAE princess Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum with a black Dodge Challenger, as driven by his character.
The release of the latest Fast & Furious caper is overshadowed by the passing of Paul Walker, who died in a car crash during the filming of this movie. He, along with Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster, had been with this extraordinarily successful action franchise since the very start, and his death is marked by a wistful montage at the film's end.