As Paul Walker boasted in this joke video from last year, The Fast and the Furious was his franchise. The actor died Saturday in a fiery car crash following a fundraiser at Always Evolving, the high-end auto shop that he is part owner of. According to TMZ, the shop’s CEO Roger Rodas took Walker on a 20-minute ride because Walker had wanted to check out the Porsche Carrera GT, and the crash killed both of them on the way back just some 500 yards from the shop.
Walker was a passionate racer even before the Fast and Furious series began, and he was perhaps even the reason why the franchise exists, persuading director Roger Cohen to make a car-racing film when they worked together in 1999’s The Skulls.
That was the beginning of six Fast and Furious films. Fast and Furious 7, which had just about completed filming and was due out in July 2014, is reportedly being delayed but not scrapped, though Universal had signed up to extend the series even further, and the fate of those sequels are not yet known. Walker’s death puts the entire franchise in uncertainty—how will Fast and Furious survive after its star was killed under circumstances similar to what the films themselves glorified? As police officer turned street racer Brian O’Conner, who joins Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) crew, when Walker steps on the gas pedal, his boyish glee takes over the camera, and you can really understand why people fall in love with speed. We rank all six films in the franchise for the uninitiated, from worst to best.
Fast & Furious (2009)
Director Justin Lin preferred dark, nighttime races and pissed-off egos in this fourth installment, an attempt at a serious revenge drama. He also found inventively absurd excuses for races (fighting for a spot on a team that traffics heroin across the U.S-Mexico border, and driving in underground tunnels between the two countries). This reboot reunited Walker with Diesel and brought most of the crew back together after the Tokyo Drift detour, but it would take one more movie for the franchise to kick into high gear.
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Perhaps better titled 2 Slow 2 Tedious, director John Singleton opted for a campy Dukes of Hazzard feel, which made the cars look slower than in other editions. Without Diesel, this sequel seems like a lightweight, but brought on the much welcomed team of Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris. But Walker has great fun cheering endlessly at the windshield (“woo-hoo!”) and saying, “Let’s see what this baby can do!” countless times. This is Walker at his best and happiest.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
It’s a joy watching colorful, shiny pocket rockets do ballet under the neon lights of Tokyo. The beautiful little machines even skate through the Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest intersection. This phantasmagoria, the third in the franchise and the one that installed director Justin Lin (and introduced the cool Han, played by the superb Sun Kang) as king of the furious sequels, might be the most fun of them all. But this is also the only film in the franchise without Walker, and the absence is felt heavily, since Lucas Black looks like a fish out of water.
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
The original seems dated now, but it all started here, from the unstoppable Diesel/Walker combo right down to the nitrous boosts. Walker’s looks are irresistible in this original, and the last battle is a classic, a stripped down drag race that’s terrifying, proving that the most simple tricks in cinema can also be the most thrilling.
Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
There’s nothing stripped down about this one, which features a tank, and the crew even brings down a plane. The whole thing is bat shit crazy, but oh so fun. Bringing The Rock into the family makes complete sense, but he crowds out the ensemble a bit, and Walker is the one who suffers the most. Don’t stop the movie when the credits roll, since there’s a coda that ranks as the best in a franchise of good epilogues. It’s even better than Diesel’s appearance in Tokyo Drift, and ties the Japanese installment to the other five films.
Fast Five (2011)
Director Justin Lin combines the best of Tokyo Drift’s hot exoticism with the colorful ensemble that the films have built up over the years, adding The Rock to the mix and making him chase the crew. Number five is more dramatic and a little more manageable than Fast & Furious 6, and every member of the crew gets to shine. Walker achieved perfect balance, so if you want to watch Fast and Furious at its best, start here.
Other Paul Walker Performances:
Joy Ride (2001)
Walker isn’t just the Fast and Furious guy. Joy Ride is quite a brilliant little indie flick, written by Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams, who knew how to push the conventions of the trucker-on-the-road-behind-you thriller through gripping turns, and Walker has pretty good chemistry with the fantastic Steve Zahn.
Eight Below (2006)
A cheesy Disney adventure flick that’s a sugarcoated reinterpretation of the 1983 Japanese hit Nankyoku Monogatari, about a team of sled dogs that are left for dead in an Antarctic camp but managed to survive. Walker plays the loving guide who won’t give up on the dogs. The snow-bound movie is actually not bad, rescued by the dogs, who give by far the best performances in the film.
Running Scared (2006)
For a man who has a reputation of being a limited actor with good blue-eyed and blond-haired looks, Walker has had many memorable (if small) roles in a number popular hits like Varsity Blues, She’s All That, and Flags of Our Fathers. But his best performance might be in the frenetic cult movie Running Scared, where Walker plays a small-time crook with a heart of gold. He comes alive in this mess of a film and almost holds the whole thing together. Walker might have died young, but he’s still not done. We can still watch him in action later this month with the Hurricane Katrina drama Hours due out in theaters—and Fast and Furious 7 next year.