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Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in ‘Fast Five’.

The franchise has evolved from a Point Break-inspired street-racing movie to Hollywood's most beloved over-the-top action franchise

There are a few different ways to watch the Fast and Furious films.

The first, and most obvious, would be to view them in the order they were produced: The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious (no more definite article for this series!), Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7 and the new The Fate of the Furious (oh, wait, they brought the definite article back).

But you could also enjoy them according to the chronology of the narrative, which places Tokyo Drift in between F6 and F7, due to some retroactive-continuity shenanigans. Or, for those without approximately 18 hours to spare and limited patience for Vin Diesel's enunciation, you could simply watch them in the following order, from best to worst.

Fast Five (2011)

There are few franchises that survive into their fifth instalment and fewer still that take the opportunity to reinvent themselves. What was once a relatively cheap brand built on hokey street racing and sexless hetero romance takes a gigantic swerve here in director Justin Lin's all-time action masterpiece (I am dead serious). With Vin Diesel's Dom Toretto and his merry band of NOS fetishists now on the run in Rio de Janeiro, the series gloms onto the inherently rewarding heist genre, while also amping up the cast's ethnic diversity and pushing a tongue-in-cheek sensibility that was begging to be let loose after four staid entries. In addition to bringing a "gang's-all-here" vibe to the series (ostensibly one-and-done characters from all four previous instalments pop up), Fast Five introduces the one thing that's allowed the Furiousverse to survive so very long: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. As the baby-oil-coated, sweat-dripping, bon-mot-tossing federal agent Luke Hobbs, Johnson elevates the franchise to new, Hulk-y heights. His throwdown with Diesel toward the middle of the film is a deliriously choreographed ballet of homoerotic fisticuffs, a fight scene for the ages. And we haven't even touched upon the climax, in which our heroes drag a gigantic safe through the streets of Rio, inflicting millions of dollars' worth of damage and (likely) causing dozens of fatalities. It's pure popcorn lunacy.

Furious 7 (2015)

This is a bit of a cheat – yeah, we're only at the No. 2 spot and I'm already issuing a mea culpa – as the real-life circumstances surrounding F7's production colour everything about it. That would be the death of Paul Walker, who played Toretto BFF Brian O'Conner and was as crucial to the films as Diesel, cars, and close-up shots of women clad in short shorts. We may never know how F7 would have played out had Walker not died mid-production (in a car crash, no less), but it's safe to say that the ending we did get will stand apart in cinema history as a profound – and profoundly weird – instance of real life bleeding into fiction. If you were, say, an alien dropped in from outer space and compelled to watch the ending of F7, you would be baffled as to why it was treating the departure of O'Conner from the gang as such a weepy event on par with a state funeral, but for most everyone else, it was an intense, unprecedented act of cinematic catharsis that hammered home the series' preferred theme on the importance of capital-F Family. (Oh, and the film had a scene where a sports car crashed through not one, not two, but three Abu Dhabi skyscrapers.)

Fast and Furious 6 (2013)

After rescuing the series from VOD purgatory with Tokyo Drift and reinventing it with Fast Five, director Justin Lin crafts his farewell to the muscle-car-and-musclehead odyssey with this deeply cartoonish, mostly riveting adventure. Lin builds upon all the successes of Fast Five – Johnson's hardass Hobbs is back, the gang reunites for one last score, there's a ridiculous McGuffin at the heart of the plot – but truly lets loose with the action sequences, which turn Toretto and company into gravity-defying superheroes, leaping from car to car like it was just another day in Metropolis. The film's only misstep – not unique to the series, but more pronounced six films in – is its wan villain, a motive-less British mercenary named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). At least Owen's defeat paves the way for the entry of his bigger, badder, balder, even more British brother Deckard (Jason Statham), whose cameo in F6's post-credits stinger is a genuinely thrilling bit of fan service.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Most Furious-heads (which is what I've decided to call the franchise's fans) rank this Japan-set effort at the bottom of the series, probably because it abandons every character from the previous two instalments, with the exception of a Diesel cameo at the very end. Yet Tokyo Drift has its own uniquely goofy charm, with director Justin Lin well aware that the series is a malleable product fit for multiple genre retrofits. So we get not just a street-racing film, but also a yakuza movie (complete with a Sonny Chiba appearance!) and a high-school melodrama, all set against the dizzying lights of Tokyo's Shibuya district. Lin also introduces the franchise's second secret weapon, after Hobbs: Sung Kang's constantly snacking hustler Han, who brought so much charm to the narrative that producers twisted around the series' entire timeline to ensure the character, who dies here, stuck around for three sequels.

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Rewatching this mediocre effort from genre mainstay Rob Cohen ( The Skulls, xXx), it's a great mental exercise to imagine it spawning a multibillion-dollar global enterprise. While the eighth film cost a reported $250-million to produce, the original model spent a piddly $38-million to tell the simple tale of a car thief named Dom and the cop named Brian tasked with bringing him down/loving him. Its transparent Point Break trappings fall away, though, whenever Diesel and Walker share the screen, the pair coasting on an easy chemistry that drowns out Cohen's otherwise lacklustre efforts.

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

After the first film earned a shocking $200-million worldwide, Diesel suddenly decided to actually read the scripts sent his way and passed on what he deemed a lacklustre sequel, opting to do The Chronicles of Riddick instead (which proved to be a stealth move, as that sci-fi/horror film spawned a mini-franchise of its own). No knock on Walker, but without Diesel, his surfer-boy vibe just can't carry this thrifty-looking follow-up, even when paired with Tyrese Gibson's charming loudmouth Roman Pearce (who would become more of a comic-relief character than muscled-up Diesel replacement as the series wore on). At least Chris "Ludacris" Bridges delivers a loose performance, and Cole Hauser offers one of the series' most believable villains.

Fast & Furious (2009)

Marketed with a clever tag line – "New Model. Original Parts." – the fourth instalment set the groundwork for later franchise triumphs, but man, what a long, slow slog it was to get there. The most self-conscious and serious of the Furious films, it reunites original stars Diesel, Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez but traps them in a dull drug-trafficking plot that culminates in lazy and poorly lit set pieces. Kang's Han and the introduction of Gal Godot's criminal go-between Gisele Yashar enliven matters, but just barely.