From his explosive action skills to his razor-sharp comedic timing, Vin Diesel has dazzled audiences for nearly 25 years to become one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars. Whether he’s a brave WWII soldier, the best babysitter ever, or heading to the farthest reaches of the galaxy as the most lovable of guardians, the charismatic actor certainly knows how to pack a theater.
In honor of his 55th birthday, A.frame is looking back at some of Diesel’s best work – from the worldwide hits to his lesser-known roles.
In one of his first major film roles, Diesel joined the battle on the European front in Steven Spielberg’s nail-biting World War II epic. Diesel appears as Private First Class Adrian Caparzo, a soldier in Captain John H. Miller’s (Tom Hanks) platoon, as they’re sent on a dangerous mission to rescue Private First Class Ryan (Matt Damon) after he’s gone missing. Like so many others throughout the film, Diesel’s character meets a tragic fate, serving as a reminder of the human cost of war. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won five, including a Best Director Oscar for Spielberg, his second.
Diesel lent his deep, distinctive voice to the titular character in this beloved animated film set in the 1950s. Directed by two-time Oscar winner Brad Bird, The Iron Giant tells the story of a massive 50-foot alien robot who crash lands on Earth. With an unknown origin and purpose, he quickly befriends a young boy named Hogarth Hughes, who attempts to protect the Iron Giant as the U.S. government sets out to destroy him. While the critically acclaimed film underperformed at the box office, it eventually developed a huge fan base upon its release on home video and is now considered one of the best animated films of the ‘90s. Diesel’s Iron Giant has gone on to make cameos in such films as Ready Player One and Space Jam: A New Legacy.
The film that started it all and introduced audiences to what is arguably Diesel’s most famous role: Dominic Toretto. Set in the high-octane world of Los Angeles street racing, the film follows undercover LAPD officer Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) as he attempts to infiltrate a crew of thieves led by the charismatic Dom. Featuring sleek street-racing scenes, intense action set pieces, and kick-ass characters, it's no surprise that the franchise the film spawned has gone on to become a worldwide phenomenon.
Reuniting with his Fast and Furious director, Rob Cohen, xXx is the origin story of Diesel’s Xander Cage, an adrenaline junkie who is reluctantly recruited into the U.S. National Security Agency and sent on a dangerous mission to stop international terrorists. Along the way, Cage evolves from a motocrossing punk to a bona fide action hero, and the course of his life is changed forever. xXx took the action style fans fell in love with from The Fast and the Furious and cranked the octane up to 11, adding a soundtrack that’s a headbanger’s paradise.
Diesel returned to one of his earliest roles as the dangerous intergalactic criminal Riddick from 2000’s Pitch Black. On the run from bounty hunters after escaping prison in the previous film, Riddick finds himself stranded on Helion Prime, where he discovers a dangerous empire called the Necromongers, who are hell-bent on galactic domination. The Chronicles of Riddick took ideas and concepts presented in Pitch Black and expanded them into an ambitious, larger-scale sci-fi epic and turned Riddick into the ultimate antihero. The film was followed by Riddick in 2013.
Diesel turned his action persona on its head in this Disney hit, flexing his comedic muscle in the process. When Diesel’s Navy SEAL Shane Wolfe is assigned to protect the Plummer family — whose father is a deceased government scientist — from dangerous threats against them, he encounters his biggest threat: kids! In this heartfelt, fish-out-of-water story, Shane goes on to learn more from the family than he initially expected (including changing a diaper!) and eventually develops a deep bond with all of them.
Set in a dark, cyberpunk world, this sci-fi flick features Diesel in the role of Hugo Toorop, a mercenary who is hired to escort Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) from Russia to the United States. Soon they’re hunted by an enigmatic cult and it’s revealed to Toorop that Aurora is pregnant with Earth’s next Messiah. Babylon A.D. explores themes not usually present in such high-concept films, with plenty of biblical allegories tossed about in between the heart-pounding action scenes. Though not critically well-received upon its release, over time, the film has developed a bit of a cult following.
“I am Groot.” Diesel's first foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe may involve repeating those same three words over and over again as the lovable Groot, but Diesel nevertheless manages to effectively convey a range of emotions as he and the rest of the Guardians, led by Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), make their way through the galaxy to battle the nefarious Ronan (Lee Pace). Director James Gunn injects a much-needed dose of heart and his trademark humor and presents Groot as a character that emotionally and physically grows throughout the film, leading to him making the ultimate sacrifice. Diesel reprised the role in subsequent MCU films including this year’s Thor: Love and Thunder.
In Ang Lee’s highly ambitious film, Diesel plays the pivotal role of Shroom. The movie follows young soldier Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) as he returns home from the Iraq War after a deadly encounter that resulted in the death of his platoon leader, Shroom, and left him with PTSD. When home, he and his squad are honored with a ceremony at a Thanksgiving football halftime show, during which Billy recalls his service in Iraq. Through flashbacks, we learn of Billy’s perceptions of heroism and war and the father-figure role that Shroom played in his life. Diesel delivers a heartbreaking performance in this interesting look into the horror of war and the perception of it from those on the sidelines.
The latest installment of the Fast and Furious saga follows a now-retired Dom Toretto as he and his crew are called back into action when his long lost brother, Jakob (John Cena), resurfaces and plans to enact a world-threatening terrorist plot. Longtime fans of the series are treated to the origins of Diesel’s character in callbacks to events merely mentioned in the first film. The action spectacle is also off the charts, featuring some of the wildest and most jaw-dropping set pieces in the series, cementing Diesel and crew as action movie mainstays. The film also sets up the long-running series’ grand two-part finale, Fast X, the first part of which is set to be released next year.
By Reyna Cervantes