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The Fast and the Furious timeline explained

2001's The Fast and the Furious started out as a blatant car-themed rip-off of Point Break, but has since morphed into a massive, sprawling franchise that's made billions of dollars and led to an untold number of jokes about family. But if you look into the family tree of this franchise, you might find a confusing, twisted bush instead. While the films are nearly all numbered in order of release, that's not actually the path the franchise's plot takes.

Instead, the series has jumped around in time as cast members have come and gone, directors have put their unique stamp on the franchise, and characters have died and been resurrected with amnesia. In fact, the Fast and the Furious franchise easily rivals most comic book movies for surprisingly dense lore, outrageous action, and heroic (one might even say superheroic) leads. So buckle your seatbelt, flash your two Gs, and keep your finger close to the NOS button as we break down the chronology of the Fast and the Furious franchise.

The Fast and the Furious (2001): One quarter-mile at a time

In 2001's The Fast and the Furious, we're introduced to Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker doing his very best Keanu Reeves impression), an undercover cop tasked with infiltrating and taking down a gang of muscle-car-loving thieves who have been stealing "millions" of dollars of DVD players from big rig truck drivers in the Los Angeles area. Brian finds a possible lead in Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), the charismatic ringleader of a group of car heads who may or may not be the same gang that Brian's after. To make things even more complicated, Dom is also the brother of Mia (Jordana Brewster), the shop owner of Toretto's Market and the object of Brian's affection. Or Brian just likes the tuna sandwich at Toretto's — no one's quite clear.

Regardless, Brian impresses Dom with his driving, eventually ingratiating himself into Dom's team (which isn't quite a family yet). Unfortunately, Brian soon learns that he can only play both sides of the law for so long, and has to come clean to the Toretto family when it looks like Dom and his gang are going to end up on the wrong end of a trucker's shotgun. With Brian's cover blown and Dom forced to pack up his bags and leave town to escape the law, the two have one last quarter-mile race. Ultimately, rather than take his new friend into custody, Brian gives Dom the keys to his car and lets him race off into the distance.

The Turbo Charged Prelude for 2 Fast 2 Furious​: Brian, king of the streets

Despite what you might think, 2 Fast 2 Furious doesn't come in as the second part of this franchise. Instead, that honor goes to "The Turbo Charged Prelude for 2 Fast 2 Furious," a short film which sees Brian on the lam from the police after letting Dom go free. For some reason, his fugitive act leads to a nation-wide alert, with his face plastered all over newspapers and the nightly news.

That sort of thing tends to present a problem when you're driving across America winning street races like some sort of gear shaft version of Johnny Appleseed. When cops seize his vehicle while Brian's driving through Texas, he's able to hitch a ride with an unnamed woman (Minka Kelly) who recognizes his face (that's just the sort of thing that's possible when you look like Paul Walker in the early 2000s). After that, he buys a new car, paints it up, wins more street races, and finds himself in Miami, the city arguably best known for being the subject of a very popular Will Smith song.

2 Fast 2 Furious: Back on the force and back on the streets

In 2003's 2 Fast 2 Furious, Brian has fully transformed from undercover cop with an unmistakable surfer bro accent into a legendary king of the Miami street racing scene with an unmistakable surfer bro accent. Together with organizer and former racer Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), Brian's been racking up the bills and notoriety in Miami. That all comes to a screeching halt when he's arrested by the Miami Police Department after they fire an electronic harpoon into his vehicle while he's driving off after a race.

The MPD want Brian to go undercover inside a criminal organization run by Verone (Cole Hauser), and they're willing to wipe Brian's criminal record if he can take the Miami drug lord down. Brian recruits his childhood best friend (and ex-con) Roman (Tyrese Gibson) to help him race his way into Verone's good graces. With the help of another undercover agent, Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), Brian and Roman are able to capture Verone, clear their criminal records, and walk away with a fair amount of illicitly acquired cash. All's well that ends well, but nothing ever ends. Two watchable, but ultimately understandable films are about to hit turbo speed before we get into chronological hijinx.

Los Bandoleros: Han lives

2 Fast 2 Furious answered the question of what happened to Brian after the events of The Fast and the Furious, but by Poochie rules, whenever Dom's not on screen, all the other characters should be asking, "Where's Dom?" That question is answered in 2009's "Los Bandoleros," a short film co-written and directed by Vin Diesel that serves as a prelude to the series' fourth feature film, Fast & Furious. The short follows Dom as he assembles a new crew for an upcoming heist in the Dominican Republic. The target? A gasoline tanker truck (Dom presumably never learned not to mess with truckers after his adventures in The Fast and the Furious). Dom's new crew includes Han (Sung Kang), Tego (Tego Calderon), Santos (Don Omar), and a familiar face in Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom's childhood friend and main squeeze.

Dom and Letty rekindle their romance just in time for the upcoming heist, which definitely won't affect the plot of Fast & Furious. Letty's technically not the only familiar face in the short film, though. Han originally appeared (and died) in 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which was the third movie released, though it doesn't take place until later in the timeline. A quick line of dialogue establishes that the Han we see in "Los Bandoleros" has never been to Japan, so we know that the short film takes place before Tokyo Drift, which is set in Tokyo (naturally). We'll get into that later, but for now, all you need to know is that Dom loves Letty, the people of the Dominican Republic, and stealing gas from the rich to give to the poor.

Fast & Furious (2009): Ride or die

Fast & Furious (they got rid of the "The," presumably to make it cleaner) begins with the heist teased in the "Los Bandoleros" short. Dom, Letty, Han, Tego, and Santos manage to steal a good chunk of oil to give to the people of the Dominican Republic. However, the celebration is short-lived; Dom knows that as long as he's a wanted criminal, Letty's in danger of being arrested too. He leaves Letty in the middle of the night, off to go live his life one quarter-mile at a time.

Meanwhile, Brian is working with the FBI as a field agent, trying to find leads on a drug lord named Braga (John Ortiz). Dom is forced to return to Los Angeles after learning that Letty was seemingly killed by one of Braga's men while she was working with Brian to take the drug lord down. If she had succeeded, Dom's record would've been expunged. Dom and Brian both go undercover in Braga's street-racing organization — Brian intending  to catch Braga, Dom intending to kill him. While there, they run into and befriend Giselle (Gal Gadot), one of Braga's right-hand women. Eventually, Dom and Brian reconcile over their complicated past and take Braga down. Unfortunately, Dom is captured by the FBI in the climax, and sentenced to 25 years in prison for all of his prior street-racing related crimes. Luckily for him, Brian is used to going against the law to save his friend. The film ends with Brian, Mia, and the rest teaming up to break Dom out.

Fast Five: It's not about cars, it's about family

Fast Five picks up right where Fast & Furious left off. Dom's escaped from prison with his family, and Brian and Mia head to Rio de Janeiro to wait to meet up with Dom and figure out their next moves. As the Fast & Furious family are wont to do, Brian takes a gig stealing cars from a train. Unbeknownst to the Family, one of the cars they steal belongs to Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), a ruthless drug lord who controls Rio with an iron fist. Dom, Mia, and Brian recognize that they've got a golden opportunity to steal enough money from Reyes to fund their fugitive lives permanently. It's more than a three-person job, so they put out the call for the Family to assemble: Roman, Tej, Giselle, Han, Tego, and Santos all arrive ready to steal 100 million from Reyes.

Unfortunately, Reyes isn't the only obstacle in their way. Luke Hobbs (an increasingly sweaty Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), a Diplomatic Security Service agent and all-around tough guy is on the hunt for the F&F Family. Along for the ride is Elena (Elsa Pataky), a Rio patrol officer with a grudge against Reyes for the murder of her husband. Dom and Hobbs have their requisite tough-guy face-off, but they're forced to work together after Reyes kills Hobbs' entire team, save for himself and Elena. The Family's heist goes off without a hitch, and Hobbs gives Dom a full 24-hour grace period before they resume their muscular-cat-and-muscular-mouse chase.

Fast & Furious 6: Live or let Letty Die

By the end of Fast Five, "the Family" were newly retired millionaires; Brian and Mia were raising their son, Roman and Tej had enough money for all sorts of dumb pranks, Han and Gisele had gotten together, and Dom had found new love with Elena. What could call the Family back for one last job? The promise of amnesty and the knowledge that Letty is alive. It turns out that Letty hadn't actually died in Fast & Furious; instead, she'd survived the explosion with amnesia, and was conscripted into a kind of evil version of the Fast Family led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Hobbs and his new partner Riley (Gina Carano) bring the Fast Family in under the idea that only fast thieves can catch fast thieves. Dom quickly runs into Letty, who's completely forgotten her previous life.

After various races and action sequences, Dom's able to convince Letty that she's being manipulated by Shaw, and convinces her to join the team. Unfortunately, she's not the only double-agent; Riley's been working for Shaw the whole time, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to betray Hobbs. It all comes to a head on the world's longest airstrip as the Fast Family battles to stop Shaw from escaping with secret government technology. Gisele sacrifices herself to save Han, Shaw is stopped, and ultimately, the Family's previous crimes are forgiven, allowing them to return to Los Angeles once again.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: DK stands for Drift King

After the death of Giselle in Fast & Furious 6, Han finally makes good on his promise to check out the "street-racing scene" in Tokyo in 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. But since Tokyo Drift is actually the third movie released in the series (and part of an aborted effort to reinvent the franchise without either Paul Walker or Vin Diesel), most of the film concerns itself with Sean Boswell (Lucas Black). Sean is ostensibly a high schooler (despite Black looking a good three decades older than nearly everyone he shares a scene with) who's sent to live with his father in Tokyo after his penchant for street racing lands him in hot water back in the states.

In Tokyo, Sean meets Han, whose cool-as-ice persona and street racing skills have made him a major player in the underground racing scene. Han takes Sean under his wing, even loaning him a car and tutoring him in the ways of drifting in order to beat D.K. (Brian Tee), the nephew of a Yakuza crime boss. Unfortunately, Han's training is interrupted when D.K. and his uncle's henchmen attack Han's garage. In the ensuing chase scene, Han is tragically hit by a passing motorist, and his fuel tank goes up in a massive ball of fire. Consumed with racing vengeance, Sean challenges D.K. to a race in which the winner has to leave town forever. Sean wins, becoming the new Drift King, but the final scene features Dom pulling up to race against Sean, explaining that "Han was family."

Fast & Furious 6 post-credits scene: Every road led to this

The post-credits scene of Fast & Furious 6 takes audiences back to the tragic demise of Han as he attempted to escape D.K.'s henchmen in Tokyo Drift. However, the scene adds one major bit of context: a mysterious stranger (Jason Statham) who's following the chase on a police scanner. With careful timing, the stranger speeds right into Han's car, just as the audience saw in Tokyo Drift. However, Fast 6 also shows Statham's character dropping Dom's famous cross necklace in front of Han, before calling Dom on the phone and delivering a foreboding message: "Dominic Toretto, you don't know me… but you will."

As he walks away, Han's car explodes, and the Fast and Furious timeline finally realigns itself. Fast & Furious, Fast 5, and Fast & Furious 6 all took place before Tokyo Drift. Furious 7, Fate of the Furious, and any further sequels presumably take place after.. As beloved as Han had become in the intervening movies, they'd always established that the prequels were what Han did before Tokyo Drift, and that Han was headed for his fiery end for a long time. By recontextualizing that moment, there's nothing but the open road ahead for the Fast & Furious franchise.

Furious 7: This time it ain't just about being fast

There's nothing more important than family in the Fast & Furious universe, but bad guys have families, too. In this case, Owen Shaw has a mean old big brother named Deckard (Statham), and he's the one who kills Han in the post-credits scene of Fast & Furious 6. When the Family hears about Han's death, Dom travels to Tokyo to pay his respects and start the hunt for Deckard. Meanwhile, Deckard's been busy; he's already attacked Hobbs and Elena (now working with Hobbs as part of the DSS) in order to find out everything he can about the Fast Family. When Dom finally meets Deckard, their climatic battle is interrupted by a mysterious government spook named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). Nobody needs Dom and his team to do some odd jobs for them in return for the use of God's Eye, a hacking tool that can find anyone on the planet… including Shaw.

Dom agrees, and his team rescues Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), the hacker who designed God's Eye, from Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou), a Somali mercenary trying to use the God's Eye device for nefarious reasons. It all comes to a head in Los Angeles, of course, where Dom and his team need to keep Ramsey away from Shaw and Mose long enough for her to disable the God's Eye. Needless to say, the Family saves the day, sends Shaw to prison, and avenges Han. The real-life death of Paul Walker leads to the character Brian's retirement, as he rides off into the sunset with Mia and their son.

Fate of the Furious: There's nothing more important than family

With the world saved and Han avenged, Dom and Letty have returned to their first love: street-racing. After beating a local racer in Havana, Dom runs into Cipher (Charlize Theron), a cyberterrorist who blackmails him into betraying his Family. But why would Dom betray his Family? For family, of course. Dom's ex-girlfriend Elena secretly had his child between the events of Fast & Furious 6 and Fate of the Furious, and Cipher is holding the two of them hostage unless Dom gives her what she wants — and what she wants is nuclear bombs.

While Dom battles against his Family and Mr. Nobody, he calls in favors from some old friends and recent enemies: Tego, Santos, the Shaw Brothers, and the street racer Dom raced in the beginning of the film all help Dom to enact a plot against Cipher while he's ostensibly working for her. Unfortunately, Elena dies, and Cipher escapes to Athens to lick her wounds and plot a future sequel. Deckard arrives to the requisite post-battle meal with Dom's unnamed son, who's christened Brian after Dom's best friend.

What mysteries does the open road hold?

So, what's next for the Family? Coming up in August of 2019 is Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw, which will see the eponymous odd couple facing off against Idris Elba. Fast & Furious 9 is on the horizon, slated for 2020, and an animated show, Fast & Furious: Spy Racers, was announced in April 2018 (although there hasn't been much news about it since). But with the confusing timeline finally resolved, and multiple spats between series leads Gibson, Johnson, and Diesel, the future looks cloudy. Johnson's spinoff might be a way to keep the popular character in the universe without actually having to keep him sharing screen time with Diesel.

Meanwhile, Diesel's got plenty of other irons in the fire — he recently purchased the rights to the xXx franchise, which became surprisingly popular overseas with the third installment, xXx: Return of Xander Cage. While many fans are eagerly hoping that the Fast & Furious franchise will head to space, a crossover with another Diesel property might be just as out of this world, but slightly more plausible. What does the road ahead hold for our favorite Fast & Furious characters? With the exception of Vin Diesel and his producers, no one really knows for sure. All we can do is live our lives one quarter-mile at time.