Having recently re-watched all of the amazingly-over-the-top, action-packed, ridiculously-cheesy-in-a-good-way movie series that is the Fast and the Furious films, I feel it is time to sort through my feelings on some of these characters who have come together to form, not a team, but a family. And the best way to do that is with a list.
First, the rules. I’m putting nine characters up for consideration. All the main team members of the last few films are in play. Apologies to Mia Toretto and Elena Neves but we had to draw the line somewhere. And yes, Sean Boswell is included in these deliberations. No, I don’t care that he really has only appeared in two of the movies, he was the main character of Tokyo Drift, so he gets included.
This should be obvious, but just in case you haven’t watched the films be aware of, you know… spoilers. So let’s get to it, starting with…
#9 – Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot)
Quote: “You don’t send a man to do a woman’s job.”
Appearances: Fast and Furious, Fast Five, Fast and Furious 6
Gisele is your classic mysterious, femme fatale character. She first shows up in a small role as a member of Braga’s drug smuggling ring in the fourth film. She has her life saved by Dom during a heroin exchange and ends up playing a much bigger role in the next two movies.
She’s recruited to Dom’s team (sorry… family) for the heist in Brazil. As it turns out, she’s a former agent for the Mossad and has serious skills. She uses her beauty to get close to targets for the mission and demonstrates some serious driving skills. In the sixth movie she shows off some pretty superb fighting and shooting skills as well. There’s basically nothing this girl can’t do.
She’s also one of the few characters to die. Like legit die… without somehow mysteriously surviving like a comic book villain. Even her passing lends power to her character. She sacrifices herself to save her boyfriend Han’s life. Shooting a henchman while falling from a plane.
Overall, Gisele is a strong and interesting character, but some of her strongest traits actually keep her at the bottom of this admittedly strong list. She’s the silent, mysterious type, so she understandably gets less screen time and dialogue. It’s tough to really become a favorite character when people don’t see that much of you.
#8 – Sean Boswell (Lucas Black)
Quote: “My parents split up when I was three. Me and mom moved around a lot, mostly because of me. Well, it was all because of me. I kind of made myself an outsider, you know… without even thinking about it. But I realize now, outsider or insider, it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is knowing what you really want, and going after it.”
Appearances: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Furious Seven
Some people don’t like Sean Boswell. Some people think that he’s a boring character and that Tokyo Drift was the low point of the Fast and the Furious series. These people are wrong. (For the record, the fourth movie, Fast and Furious is the worst of the series, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Sean stars in the third film of the series (what’s really actually Fast and the Furious 6.5 once the timeline is finalized). He represents something completely different from every other character on this list. When we first meet Sean, he’s not an accomplished street racer or a brilliant mechanic or a genuine badass like everyone from the first two movies. He’s just a kid. But that means we get to watch him grow and change during the movie he stars in. Character development! Who knew…
Tokyo Drift didn’t go too over the top like what started to happen with each successive film thereafter. It did have some gorgeously choreographed drifting scenes, which rival anything from the whole series, which makes Sean look better. The American kid with the southern drawl makes our time spent in Japan worthwhile. Plus, his friendship during the film introduces us to Han, who is an amazing character.
The biggest problem is that obviously not many other people felt the same way I did. Sean’s only other appearance in the series is to officially tie the timelines of all the movies together in Furious Seven when he gives Dom the two artifacts he recovers from Han’s destroyed car. It’s hard to justify putting him higher on the list because of that. Hopefully they incorporate him into future movies.
#7 – Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez)
Quote: “You want a piece of ass, go to Hollywood Boulevard. You want an adrenaline rush? That’ll be two large.”
Appearances: The Fast and the Furious, Fast and Furious, Fast and Furious 6, Furious Seven
The character from the Fast and the Furious universe with the strangest story. Seriously, it’s like something out of a bad soap opera. Letty is killed off to serve as a plot device to drive Brian and Dom back together in the fourth movie, allowing them to make more movies. But as the series got extended, they obviously felt like she would have been nice to have around. The solution? The classic “she didn’t actually die because she miraculously survived but now has total amnesia and can’t remember anything” device.
Letty is a seriously bad chick who you do not want to mess with, but she also shows just enough softness to make her relationship with Dom believable. She’s a great sidekick character who backs people up and more than holds her own behind the wheel when she needs to.
However, the majority of her usefulness lately has always been as a character to set up the plot. I mentioned her death in the fourth movie and there’s also her reappearance in Fast and Furious 6 where her memory-less self is the sole reason that Dom and the crew are dragged back into the thick of things; which leads to both that movie and Furious Seven.
#6 – Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges)
Quote: “Whoa… fellas, fellas. I know my tags are outta date, but damn!”
Appearances: 2 Fast 2 Furious, Fast Five, Fast and Furious 6, Furious Seven
Tej is an interesting character to me because he’s hard to pin down. He shows up in 2 Fast 2 Furious as an entrepreneur-type who runs the local street racing scene while also having some serious chops as a mechanic. He’s one of the only characters in the series who isn’t an amazing driver and he spends most of the action packed parts of movies in the background, running the show and pulling the strings. He’s technical and tactical.
That makes him important to the series simply because he adds a change of pace to things. Like a good sports team you need more than one type of player on the roster. Ludacris’ character makes it up to number six on my list though because of the excellent comic relief he brings to the table.
The Fast and the Furious is a series that leans hard on action and doesn’t mind the fact that the dialogue is painfully cheesy in areas because they know what their target audience wants and cares about. But when you have this much overly-intense-to-the-point-of-ridiculousness drama, you NEED a character who can make the audience laugh. Tej cracks great jokes, mostly at the expense of Roman Pearce and delivers funny lines throughout his onscreen appearances. His delivery of the line, “Uh fellas… they got a tank.” in Fast and Furious 6 is fantastic, and I obnoxiously repeat it to friends to this day.
You don’t have to be a star character or an amazing driver to be a great part of the films. You just have to be great at what it is you do.
#5 – Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson)
Quote: “The crew we’re after, they hit like thunder and disappear like smoke. You go in alone, you won’t ever touch them. I’ve been chasing these guys across four continents and twelve countries and believe me the last place I want to be is in front of your doorstep selling Girl Scout cookies. I need your help Dom. I need your team.”
Appearances: Fast and Furious, Fast Five, Fast and Furious 6, Furious Seven
Like an injection of nitrous oxide, the Rock arrived on the Fast Five scene to rev up the action. Initially, he’s the new villain. A tough as nails federal agent tasked with recapturing the recently escaped Dom and his crew that busted him out. We know he’s a hardcore dude because he does things like mutter, “stay the f**k out of my way,” within the first five minutes of showing up on screen.
He eventually goes toe to toe with Dom in a brawl, losing (come on, like they were going to let one of their two main characters lose a fist fight) but still placing him under arrest. He switches sides though after his special forces team is ambushed and killed during the transport, and Dom and company save his life. Unlike Brian, he doesn’t have to give up his agent status since all he really does is help them take down a corrupt police force. From there, he’s essentially a member of the team, bringing in the crew to help him in what becomes the plot of the sixth and seventh movies.
The Rock makes use of his famous traits from his wrestling career. It makes him totally believable as a guy who can bust through walls and take dozens of punches from guys without flinching. From any other character in the series it would be a hard sell, but it seems only natural for Hobbs. He also uses his acting chops, selling lines and even adding a lot of levity to things with his humor and his ridiculously funny facial expressions. For a lot of people, he steals scenes and his reception from fans definitely had a lot to do with him playing a much larger role in the last two movies. For whatever reason though, I’ve just never really come around on him. So he slots in at number five.
#4 – Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel)
Quote: “I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters. Not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.”
Appearances: The Fast and the Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast and Furious, Fast Five, Fast and the Furious 6, Furious Seven
Dom Toretto would agree that older, original muscle cars are better than they new-fangled plastic toys of today, and so it is that Vin Diesel’s character, the original badass of The Fast and the Furious series is better than Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson’s new version.
Dom’s transition from flawed street racer just trying to carve out his slice of life to full-on action hero has been the most painful part of the Fast and Furious movies for me. He’s been reduced to a guy who gives amazing intimidating stares while mumbling lines about how important family is over and over and over again.
He’s somewhat redeemed since he is really good as an action hero (jumping off cars and catching women out of midair, head butting a British version of the Hulk into unconsciousness, and straight up brawling with Deckard Shaw on top of a parking garage) but in the end it feels like a downgrade from the interesting character he started out as.
Those early performances are fantastic. Even his brief cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift nearly steals that whole movie. He brings the two main traits the films rely on: a toughness born from the streets and the ability to drive cars really well. The only time he loses a race is when he lets Brian beat him in the four-way drag race in Fast Five. His 1970 Dodge Charger is as much an icon of the series as he is. He’s the leader of the crew and Vin Diesel is way too good of an actor and too nice of a person for me to rank him any lower.
#3 – Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson)
Quote: “Come on, man. Guns, murderers and crooked cops? I was made for this, bro.”
Appearances: 2 Fast 2 Furious, Fast Five, Fast and Furious 6, Furious Seven
Roman Pearce is another thoroughly underrated character. Similar to Tej, he spends a lot of his time providing comic relief in the films. He hops around in the series, co-starring in 2 Fast 2 Furious but then not showing up again until Fast Five when the whole cast of characters from the series up to that point finally comes together.
It’s Tyrese Gibson’s first portrayal of the character, as Paul Walker’s sidekick, that seals his spot for me. Unlike a lot of the characters we come across, Roman isn’t a deadly force kind of guy. He can drive well, but doesn’t have the same pedigree as Brian or Dom. Where everyone else seems okay with the ridiculous plans and challenges the crew faces, Roman is usually the first and sometimes the only person to raise any objections. He’s the normal guy in a group full of supermen. His habit of constantly eating (due to his “high metabolism”) is the set-up for plenty of jokes throughout the movies and he makes himself useful with his ability to talk his way out of anything and cause a distraction.
Maybe it’s the fact that in a lot of ways he’s the most believable character in the whole group that makes me like him so much. We all probably know somebody similar to him, the cocky goofball who ends up as the butt of a lot of jokes and gets himself into trouble, but is a great and loyal friend. Roman proves his chops in 2 Fast 2 Furious and he makes the most of every scene he gets from there on out.
#2 – Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker)
Quote: “You asked me why I let Dom go. I did it, because at that moment, I respected him more than I did myself. One thing I’ve learned from Dom is that nothing really matters unless you have a code.”
Appearances: The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Fast and Furious, Fast Five, Fast and the Furious 6, Furious Seven
The original leading man of The Fast and the Furious series, Brian O’Conner eventually got surpassed by Dom as the face of the franchise. Brian is the audience’s avatar for the story. He heads into the underground street racing world as an undercover cop with no real knowledge of how things work, and as he discovers more and more about it he finds that he prefers it over his old life. Sure he goes back to the FBI after restoring his name in 2 Fast 2 Furious, but all it takes is another run-in with Dom for him to make a final decision on where his loyalty lies.
Initially just a racer out to prove himself, Brian also develops into a sort of conscience for the rest of the crew. He doesn’t want people to die and he looks out for them by keeping their best interests in mind. In Fast and Furious 6, the rest of the group is happy to hunt down Owen Shaw just to get Letty back. It’s Brian who has the presence of mind to make sure full pardons are also part of the deal. He doesn’t just want the group to survive, he wants them to live free and happy, and for Dom to be a part of Mia’s and his kids’ lives.
Paul Walker’s death placed a question mark on the whole future of the franchise, and it still does. It’s a testament to how close this group of actors and actresses was in real life when you see how hard each one of them took the news. The production team did a phenomenal job finishing up Furious Seven and they made a gutsy (and pretty heartwarming) decision to bring his story arc to an end without killing him off. Not only would that have been the easy way out, but they could have also potentially set up the plot for a couple more films in the future.
Instead, Brian O’Conner eases off into retirement from the crew to look after Mia, Jack and a second baby on the way. The montage at the end of Furious Seven was a touching tribute.
#1 – Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang)
Quote: “I have money, it’s trust and character I need around me. You know… who you choose to be around you lets you know who you are. One car in exchange for knowing what a man’s made of? That’s a price I can live with.”
Appearances: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast and Furious, Fast Five, Fast and the Furious 6
Han is the most tragic figure from the franchise. We know his fate is sealed from the end of his first appearance. It makes it a little strange watching him in the following three movies. We see how he develops as a person a little bit every step along the way, each time knowing the end result but not totally understanding how all the pieces fit together. He starts out more quiet and aloof than the rest of the group and uses his wits and charm to get things done, but begins to change as he falls for Gal Gadot’s character.
That helps makes Gisele’s death in the sixth movie feel so much more painful. It’s not just a member of Dom’s crew that dies, it’s Han losing the love of his life. You can almost see him lose a piece of his soul in his reaction afterward. Finally, everything is explained and we understand how it is that Han ends up in Japan seemingly adrift, with no real direction or goal.
All the crazy stuff that Han goes through in the fourth, fifth and sixth installments of the Fast and Furious franchise make the events of Tokyo Drift seem rather tame, and Han treats them that way. It helps explain why he has no problem giving Sean Boswell a 2000 Nissan Silvia to race against D.K. knowing full well that the car is going to get destroyed in the process. It really doesn’t seem that big a deal when you’ve kept an airplane from taking off by hitting with a harpoon gun.
He takes Sean under his wing and makes him a part of his crew. It’s a choice that causes Han a lot of problems by fracturing his relationship with D.K. But it’s during a chat with Sean that Han explains why he doesn’t mind taking on the extra trouble. The quote listed above and his follow-up, “Life’s simple. You make choices and you don’t look back,” tell you everything you need to know about how he ticks.
Having Sean around seems to remind Han what’s it like to have someone be a part of his crew. He trusts Han and is loyal to him. When D.K. catches up to Sean and begins smashing his car during the chase, Han slams on his breaks and gets between the two. He could have made a clean getaway and escaped to set himself up somewhere else, but he chooses to protect his friends instead, a choice that costs him his life.
Unlike Dom, Han doesn’t use the word “family” over and over during the Fast and Furious films. He doesn’t have to for the audience to know that it’s just as important to him as it is to Vin Diesel’s character. Actions speak louder than words.