Film franchises can be a tricky thing - while some are as carefully planned as the grid-system streets of New York (though frustratingly difficult to sit through because the first two movies don't have a fucking ending), others are like the sprawling, windy, clearly-improvised streets of some rural European town you barely remember visiting that one spring break. The latter kind can be especially difficult for the poor stiffs in the marketing department to handle, as each unexpected financial success births the next film in what was never intended to be a franchise.
Sometimes retconning is necessary (ie a little movie called Star Wars that was definitely not the fourth chapter of an epic pre-planned nine-chapter saga), or having the forethought/arrogance to just name your standalone film as if there'll be a shit-ton of sequels (usually involving a colon, or the main character's name followed by "and the..."). And there is, of course, the time-worn tradition of just slapping a 2 on the end of the second film & ascending in number from there, with an optional subtitle.
It's fitting that The Fast and the Furious franchise is far too fast and furious to stop and consider any of these possibilities, perhaps the only SIX-MOVIE franchise to not even give a fuck about any conceivable naming pattern. I feel like a plucky social worker trying to make sense of these troubled youths' shenanigans, with their cars and their bikinis and their house music, but I'll try to lay it all out for you nonetheless.
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
The film that birthed a multi-million dollar franchise actually stole its title from a 1955 Roger Corman B-picture. (and its plot from maybe the best 90s action movie ever). I don't like to think it stole them, though, but rather hijacked them with muscle cars from a semi-truck in a thrilling high-speed chase.
It's never stated outright who exactly the title refers to, nor is the title itself ever uttered as a line of dialogue. Arguably every character in the film, and the film itself, exhibits speed (either impulsive behavior or quick physical movement) and anger in equal measure, though not always at the same time. Still, I like to think of Vin Diesel as "The Fast," always one step ahead, and Paul Walker as "The Furious," doggedly pursuing him but constantly frustrated by losing every race. The film's end is a natural conclusion of The Furious' arc as he lets go of his anger & allows The Fast to get away, quitting the classically rage-driven institution of the LAPD in the process. It's actually a pretty stale re-watch, I'd just skip ahead.
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
In my (many) fantasies about the meeting they had to name the sequel, I've come up with the following theoretical situation: Having suffered the loss of Vin Diesel, executives were desperate for a way to reassure fans of the first film that the new one didn't need Diesel to be even more fast and even more furious than its predecessor. After a late, sweaty night of fruitless debate & frustration, a young upstart assistant in the corner finally uttered the solution.
"Two. Number. Twos."
That's fuckin'-A right, two number twos. Most sequels only get one, but this one has such number twos that they eliminate words from the original title, while also describing the movie AND offering a potential explanation for Diesel's absence. This shit was just too fast and too furious for that guy, and who needs him, anyway? They replaced him with an even darker-skinned ethnic bald guy. It's also the only film in the franchise to be directed by a fucking Oscar nominee (yknow, John Singleton, director of Boyz n the Hood & current record-holder for youngest Best Director nominee ever). It's also the first of the franchise to just start hurling cars around like weapons.
The sheer audacity of 2 Fast 2 Furious practically dares the film to have any more sequels - what would they even call them?!
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Ah. They coloned it. Tokyo Drift returns the two "the"s & the "and" edged out by its predecessor's huge-ass number 2s, and suggests a new series of subtitled chapters in The Fast and the Furious' now-ongoing cinematic universe. It's my belief that this titling move had absolutely no balls, and did little to make up for the gaping hole in the film that was Paul Walker's absence (which couldn't even be filled with cameos by Vin Diesel & Home Improvement's pre-teen heartthrob Zachary Ty Brian). As the series' most obviously neutered entry, it naturally fared worst at the box office & is most commonly subject of the question "was that direct-to-dvd?"
But everything happens for a reason. Tokyo Drift's reason could be then-unproven action director Justin Lin, who has directed every subsequent film in the series. Without Tokyo Drift, nobody'd have ever known the Better Luck Tomorrow guy (you should totally netflix Better Luck Tomorrow, it's pretty good) could shoot car-action like that. Hand-in-hand with Lin, though, came trouble for the space-time continuum. We need to talk about Han.
-- Concerning Han, The Franchise's Walking Time Paradox --
I have to assume Sung Kang is a really cool guy to hang out with, because director Justin Lin keeps casting him in every one of his movies (including Better Luck Tomorrow, which you should really check out, it's pretty good). Tokyo Drift introduced him as likable high-school con man Han. If you're keeping track, you know Lin directed every Fast and the Furious movie after Tokyo Drift as well, and naturally he brought his buddy Sung Kang with him, writing Han into every story. Kang's charismatic enough that there shouldn't be any problem with that.
Except that, in Tokyo Drift, Han fucking dies. In a fire. His car explodes. He dies so hard it's unquestionable; the kid's dead, ma. The character's subsequent appearances in the series place Tokyo Drift as, chronologically, the series' final film, making every other movie in the series a prequel. They have to be, because Han's not a burnt corpse in them. He even mentions going to Tokyo just before his exit in the fourth film, but given the fifth's clear place in time after the fourth, that must not have been his final trip to Tokyo (meaning not the one where he dies in a fucking fire).
But as the franchise progresses, so too does its use of state-of-the-art cell phone/GPS technology that outstrips anything seen in Tokyo Drift, as well as Sung Kang's visible age. And Tokyo Drift takes place in High School, making Han some sort of Benjamin Button who tragically never makes it to childhood. Either that or the Han that shows up in the rest of the series is actually a backup clone of Han that somebody kept around in case the real Han died in a fire. Or he's The Fast and the Furious' Billy Pilgrim, forever unstuck in time. The franchise doesn't make sense unless one of these theories is true.
...Or Justin Lin just really likes making movies with his pal Sung Kang.
-- Back To Our History of Titles --
Weak third entry aside, the franchise soldiered on. But who'd want to continue with it anyway, right? Now that they've started coloning, we know exactly how they'll title the rest of them. The Fast and the Furious: Spring Break Shark Attack. Whatever. Yawn...
Fast & Furious (2009)
Oh shit, wait, that's how you do it. Fuck that last movie, it never happened. Fuck subtitles. Fuck chapters. Fuck "the"s & "and the." This is it. Fast & Furious is the fastest title yet - and the most infuriating to me, personally, because I still think they missed a huge opportunity by not calling it The Fast and the 4ious. Over time, I've come to accept that title may have lined up with 2 Fast 2 Furious' naming pattern too closely, and The Fast and the Furious will be god-damned before its sequels' names start rubbing shoulders. This title also supports my theory that Fast & Furious are in fact Vin Diesel & Paul Walker's respective nicknames. What'll those two get into next?!
Dispensing all that extraneous bullshit must've been what lured home the first film's core cast - Vin Diesel! Paul Walker! Michelle Rodriguez! Jordana Brewster! ...Sung Kang! They're all here! And a lot of moviegoers missed them, because this thing made bank at the box office - all thanks to the fastest possible title a film in this series could have. Definitely the fastest.
Fast Five (2011)
"You thought a three-word title was fast? Fuck you." -Fast Five
Holy shit, this title doesn't even need two different F's. I keep thinking they can't get any faster, and then those marketing geniuses hit the red button on their mental steering wheel and flames erupt from the tailpipe - BOOM. FAST FIVE. A title so fast that it singlehandedly made this movie become the 66th highest worldwide grossing film of all time. There have been a lot more than sixty-six movies made over the years, kids, so that's kind of a serious number. That's Cameron money!
...Almost! And it wasn't because the series shifted gears from street-racing to be about heists and fighting and guns, introducing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a testosterone-dripping CIA agent out to capture our fugitive heroes (in all seriousness, Fast Five's makeup team deserves special recognition for handling the amount of visible sweat on The Rock at every given moment). Or the return of almost everybody else in the franchise (Tyrese! Ludacris! An Eva Mendes cameo! Sung Kang!) Or that its kickass action sequences added up into one of the most genuinely fun summer movies in years. It was the power of that fast title.
Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
So, wait, then what the hell is this all about? Fast & Furious 6 isn't necessarily a slow title - it certainly doesn't have time for any "the"s - but it's nowhere near as fast as Fast Five. Even Fast Six would've been a letter faster than Fast Five, but that gimme was completely ignored. Using the number "6" instead of the whole three-letter word "six" is also pretty fast, but why throw "Furious" back into the mix? Excepting the hiccup that was The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, these titles have only picked up speed. Why would they slow down again?
Here's what finally hit me - The Fast and the Furious franchise doesn't give a fuck. It's never going to stick to a title pattern, and in this case, it has gone out of its way to avoid a title pattern, not just with the last installment, but with any installment. And it's that badass nonconformist attitude that unifies the series after all - its lack of a title pattern is its title pattern. Look, I made a little chart:
Oh, (The) (2) Fast (and/&) (the) (Furious) (Five)(:)(Tokyo)(Drift) Franchise, don't ever change (by not changing).
Wait, shit. Every title has the word "Fast" in it. It's... that simple. Just call it the Fast Franchise.
Fast & Occasionally Furious. How'd I miss that...