Hear Me Out: Tokyo Drift Is The Best 'Fast And Furious' Movie For Car People

It's not the best movie of the bunch, but it's the best car movie

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Gif: Movie Car Chases HD on YouTube, Graphic: Steve DaSilva

This past Friday, I got my COVID-19 booster shot. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, or your initial vaccine dose, and you’re medically able to do so, put this article down and go do that. It’ll still be here when you get back, I promise.

Now that you’re back ... as I laid on my couch all weekend with the TV blaring, fading in and out of consciousness as a 103-degree fever and a single dose of Tylenol battled for dominance over my mind and body, a thought struck me. One that came with perfect clarity, like seeing through the eye of a storm: Tokyo Drift is the best Fast and the Furious movie for car people.

You’re probably making this exact face right now. Hear me out.
You’re probably making this exact face right now. Hear me out.
Screenshot: Movie Car Chases HD on YouTube
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I know, the first movie is the one that kicked the whole thing off. That’s the one that introduced us to the family, gave us the grace scene, and discovered exactly how much wing you can fit on the back of a Toyota Supra. It’s beloved by enthusiasts, and rightly so — it’s the first movie that actually, bumbling though it was, wanted to be part of our world.

Tokyo Drift, by contrast, had no ties to the established characters we’d come to know in the previous films. It was so removed from Dom, Brian, Letty, and Mia that Universal couldn’t even place it in the movies’ timeline until years later. It’s the odd duck of the franchise, without a doubt — but that gives it the freedom to go deeper on car culture than any other entry in the series.

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This is cool, but it’s not exactly deeply technical
This is cool, but it’s not exactly deeply technical
Screenshot: Movie Car Chases HD

The first and third movies are really the only ones in contention for the ‘Best Car Movie’ title, by the way. From Fast Five on, the movies really hit their stride as merely car-adjacent action films. Fast and Furious, the fourth film, is just bad, and 2 Fast 2 Furious, to quote YouTuber Patrick (H) Willems, “feels like a two-hour pilot for a USA Original Series.” We’re only looking at one and three here.

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But even between those two films, the obvious choice is The Fast and The Furious, right? Taking off the nostalgia glasses, I disagree: Tokyo Drift simply has more focus on the cars themselves. The first movie may have a wealth of real-life tuner cars, but those cars are a vehicle for character interactions — not stars in their own right.

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Compare the build of the first movie’s Supra to the third film’s Mustang. How much of the Supra build do we actually see? It shows up wrecked, we get a shot panning over the parts, Dom and Brian are working on the front when they talk about Brian asking Mia to dinner, and then it’s ready for paint and graphics. Jesse gives a bit of detail on his computer, sure, but that’s more product placement for Koni than anything else.

The Mustang, however, is an in-depth build. We see the twice-swapped RB26 removed from its S15 shell and placed in the Mustang. Sean fits a truly massive turbo to the car, takes it for a drive, and then comes back to keep working. While the Supra’s maiden voyage ends at Neptune’s Net, the Mustang’s ends back in the shop with Sean looking at fouled spark plugs to check fueling. He’s really testing and tuning, and doing so in the most analog way possible.

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Tokyo Drift likely relies more heavily on the cars because of the absence of the previous movie’s stars. Without their names on the poster, the focus on vehicles is all that ties this movie to the previous entries, and gets people to buy their tickets and popcorn. For those of us really into the cars themselves, however, it’s a godsend — and the best car movie of the bunch.