These days, even ridiculous action movies have extensive canon and complicated timelines. Getting the Fast and Furious movies in order for a binge isn’t as simple as just queuing up the films in the sequence in which they came out—at least, not if you want to watch the story from start to finish. Vin Diesel’s supercharged blockbusters have become a cinematic universe unto themselves, but they didn’t start out that way.
2001’s The Fast and the Furious was actually based on “Racer X,” a piece of investigative journalism published by Vibe about the street racing scene in Los Angeles. But then Universal made another one. And another. And another. Much like Dom Toretto’s iconic Dodge Charger, the franchise couldn’t be stopped once it burst off the block. And because the grand saga wasn’t planned from the beginning, the timeline is a bit less linear than a quarter-mile drag.
Watching the movies in the actual Fast and Furious order of release is simple, but you might also enjoy viewing the story in chronological order.
The Fast and Furious timeline isn’t as complex as Star Wars or the MCU, but it does have some odd quirks in its chronology. The biggest one is that The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the third film in release order, takes place much later than that in the actual story. Though it’s arguably the most ancillary entry in the series, Tokyo Drift acts as a major guidepost for the chronological Fast and Furious order. And, with spin-offs and shorts aplenty, the rest of the timeline is a bit more complicated than it might seem.
The one that started it all, The Fast and the Furious is more cop movie and gearhead fantasy than it is a titanic action blockbuster. All that flair and CGI budget came later. And yet, the story is one of the best in the series, following Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) on an undercover police mission to bust a street racing gang led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). Things don’t go as planned, of course, and the two develop a deep respect for one another—a bond that eventually grows into brotherhood.
Absent Diesel and every other star save for Walker himself, 2 Fast 2 Furious is a bit of a weird sequel. Suddenly an on-the-run ex-cop after the events of the first film, Brian is convinced to go undercover with a dangerous drug kingpin. His prize? A full pardon. His partner? The incomparable Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson). 2 Fast embraces its predecessor’s simple love of two-bit crooks and drag races, with the L.A. skyline swapped out for Miami. If you’re a real purist, you can precede 2 Fast with the aptly titled short film “The Turbo Charged Prelude for 2 Fast 2 Furious.”
This is where the chronological Fast and Furious order gets confusing, and not just because the people who name these movies are clearly out to prank us. Fast & Furious is the fourth film in release order, but the third chronologically, reuniting the original core four characters of Dom, Brian, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster). It is directly preceded by the short film Los Bandoleros, which shows how Dom, Letty and the gang get together in the Dominican Republic.
Ask most film critics, and they’ll tell you that Fast Five is where the series really gets good. Of course, it’s actually the fourth main entry in the series if you’re watching in chronological order. Picking up immediately after the ending of Fast & Furious, Fast Five brings in characters from every previous entry, delivering a high-octane heist flick that might be the series’ best. Oh, and the Rock is also in it.
Fast Five established the franchise as a modern action titan. Fast & Furious 6 proved that it was here to stay. Want to race a tank? Done. Want to race a jumbo jet? Done. Fast & Furious 6 has all that absurdity and more, and it also marks the end of the pre-Tokyo Drift portion of the timeline.
Finally, six movies in, we’ve reached where Tokyo Drift takes place in the Fast and Furious timeline. The film features an entirely new cast of characters led by the enigmatic Han (Sung Kang), as well as hyper-serious beats like drifting for phone numbers and putting a Nissan engine in a 1967 Mustang Fastback. Han’s apparent death midway through the film is the reason it was pushed later in the timeline, as Kang proved so good that he just had to come back. Unfortunately, that retcon isn’t always the smoothest. Those iPods that Twinkie (Bow Wow) sells wouldn’t exactly be brand new in the 2010s.
Furious 7 takes place immediately after Tokyo Drift and also makes it far more important to the overarching story. Han’s death is revealed (see: changed) to have been an act of vengeance from Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), whose younger brother Owen (Luke Evans) battled Dom in Fast & Furious 6. The film also acts as an extended tribute to Paul Walker, who passed away prior to its completion. For a movie about jumping supercars between skyscrapers in Dubai, Furious 7 is shockingly emotional and poignant.
The first entry in the series written after Paul Walker’s death, The Fate of the Furious hones in on Dom, Letty, and a Bond villain who showed up to the wrong franchise called Cipher (Charlize Theron). This is also the last mainline Fast film to feature Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs as a primary character, as the actor’s on-set friction with Vin Diesel pushed him into a spin-off instead.
The first full spin-off in the series, Hobbs & Shaw delivers exactly what the title promises – Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw teaming up begrudgingly to take down a cybernetically enhanced Idris Elba. It’s big and explosive, taking place after the events of The Fate of the Furious but before F9: The Fast Saga.
If you thought the sky was the limit for the Fast and Furious franchise, you were wrong. It’s actually space. Known more for its incredible rocket car sequence than for its convoluted super-spy storyline, F9 also replaces one former wrestler with another by introducing John Cena’s Jakob Toretto. Thought-to-be-dead characters rise from the grave, Ludacris hacks a satellite by hand, and F9 pulls off the series’ best impression of shōnen anime to date. The film also features Toretto family flashbacks that take place before The Fast and the Furious.
Fast X continues the saga from the ending of F9, with familiar foes still causing mayhem and some new faces entering the fray. If Vin Diesel is to be believed, it’s also the beginning of the end for the core Fast and Furious story.
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