This weekend, Vin Diesel and family will once again pop Coronas and race into the multiplex with the long-delayed F9. It's the latest (and not the last) in the unexpectedly enduring blockbuster series that has somehow transitioned from a street-level undercover drama to a space-bound super-spy franchise.
With their physics-defying action and telenovela narratives, the films are a cultural phenomenon that leave fans salivating for more and naysayers hungry for something better. With both sets in mind, we assembled nine vastly different older films packed wall-to-wall with vehicular mayhem. Some are underseen classics and forgotten gems. Others are master-classes in action that the Fast movies could do well to emulate. And all are sure to get your blood pumping.
Vanishing Point (1971)
The film that realized the cinematic allure of the Dodge Challenger long before Dom Toretto started boosting DVD players, Vanishing Point as maintained a certain cinematic reverence thanks to Tarantino's incessant name drops. The film is about as pure an adrenaline rush as anything of its era: It's as white-knuckle as Bullitt's famous chase, only director Richard C. Sarafian had the foresight to realize audiences were there for the chases, so he delivered a feature-length one.
The Exorcist director William Friedkin scored an Oscar for The French Connection, whose centerpiece chase is as iconic as they come. But the little-seen Sorcerer is in a class its own. Like the Fast films, it involves a group of criminally inclined malcontents assembled to carry out a mission, in this case transporting a bunch of unstable nitroglycerine via truck through the jungle (and across a rickety rope bridge). Unlike the Fast movies, they have to do it slowly, lest they explode. Led by Jaws star Roy Scheider, what unfolds is an oppressively tense piece of nihilistic action, one that perplexed critics upon its release but has since been reevaluated as a lost action classic.
Point Break (1991)
Nerds like me love to point out that the original The Fast and the Furious is essentially a low-key remake of this seminal Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze action yarn. Still, any chance to talk about the marvels contained in Kathryn Bigelow's classic should be taken: Point Break remains a high water mark for '90s machismo and perhaps the best deconstructionist buddy cop/bank robber/surfing/skydiving/bromance/beach football/foot-chase/shootout thriller ever made. The action holds up with each pulse pounding beat, and its perfectly calibrated sense of escalation remains a hallmark of the Fast series even as it leaves its more-grounded roots in the dust.
Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)
Technically, F9 director Justin Lin's breakout precedes his fast debut, Tokyo Drift, in Fast canon: Sung Kang's Han made his debut in this jittery caper film before crossing over to Tokyo Drift and becoming the perpetually snacking fan-favorite due for justice in F9. Better Luck Tomorrow is very much of its time — its low-budget edginess and herky-jerky aesthetics reek of a post Go filmscape (which in turn reeks of the post-Tarantino age). Still, glimpses of Lin's signature mayhem are on full display, and Kang's charisma is the star shines through.
Side note: Why hasn't John Cho appeared in a Fast movie? Discuss.
Running Scared (2006)
The late Paul Walker's non-Fast filmography — and, if we're being honest, half of his actual Fast filmography — is nothing particularly spectacular, give or take a Joy Ride. But this go-for-broke piece of manic filmmaking from The Cooler director Wayne Kramer is a pure blast of hyper-stylized pulp. With its surreal fairytale overtones, the story of a low-level crook chasing a lost gun across a skuzzily nightmarish cityscape is all sorts of coked-up style over substance, but when the substance is this go-for-broke, that isn't really a problem. (See also, Fast franchisee Jason Statham's more-cartoonish Crank). This is a forgotten gem of its era, and while it's undoubtedly off-puttingly grim for many, Walker's sweaty, jittery performance points to an actor who could do more than dodge speeding cars and look pretty.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)
This kimchi western from I Saw the Devil and The Last Stand director Kim Jee-woon (and starring Parasite lead Song Kang-ho) hit theaters three years before Fast Five, but the films are kindred in their escalation. Whereas Fast Five crescendoed with the series' best action sequence — the Rio De Janeiro vault heist — Kim's film opens with a bugnuts 40-minute train heist/motorcycle/horse chase that just keeps getting nuttier and nuttier. The comparisons might not be overt, but the South Korean western and the Vin Diesel franchise are of a piece in their embrace of inconsequential plot points and over-the-top one-upmanship.
The Raid 2 (2014)
The Raid films' visceral hand-to-hand brawls have influenced every action film that has released in their wake, including the Fast saga. But The Raid 2 features one wild smashup that plays like a low-budget take on Children of Men's most iconic setpiece. The reckless disregard for its crew resulted in some of the most exhilarating, white-knuckle choreography ever committed to film. It's enough to make one long for a time when the Fast movies had to find scrappier solutions instead of leaning on nine-digit budgets to make things go boom.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
How The Fate of the Furious's casting director could have seen Charlize Theron dominate the screen in George Miller's cacophonous masterpiece and then relegate her to an exposition-spouting, stationary villain with a culturally appropriative harido is unfathomable. Theron is a force of nature in Fury Road, a film whose commitment to gonzo stunts and practical vehicular mayhem is unmatched. In two hours, it packs enough action to fill four Fast movies. That's no knock on Fast: Fury Road is just a different beast, one that proves that you don't need CGI rigs when you've got a bunch of gnarly cars and a crew of stunt people perfectly willing to bounce off of them.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
Against all odds, the Fast saga now has more in common with the Impossible Missions Force than the street-level thugs of its past. And like the Fast franchise, Tom Cruise's M:I series is constantly trying to top itself. The only difference is, M:I takes a cue from the Jackie Chan playbook, putting its star through the wringer rather than relying on CGI. In the latest and best entry, Tom Cruise basically goes to space, engages in car and motorcycle chases, dangles from cliffs and flies a goddamned helicopter. The two series are like mirror images of one another: Both focused on loyalty to friends and immaculate stunt work. Yet somehow, it's the series starring the aging Scientologist that keeps things grounded in reality and somehow more exhilarating.
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