Vin Diesel is every inch the action hero, but perhaps an unexpected movie star. Over his nearly 25 years onscreen, the actor (born Mark Sinclair) has found a sweet spot with roles that call on his physicality as well as something a bit more cerebral — whether that's one of the military men he's portrayed (including a role Steven Spielberg wrote especially for him) or a lovable talking tree.
Then there's the Fast and Furious movies, which proved Diesel is not just a leading man but a business man, as he took the reigns on the franchise with Fast & Furious 6 and ushering it into its renaissance (and making himself one Hollywood’s most bankable actors in the process).
Below, A.frame looks back at some of Diesel's best work, including the roles he's best known for as well as a few surprises.
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 Oscars and won five, including a Best Director Oscar for Spielberg.
Diesel lent his deep, distinctive voice to the titular character in this beloved animated film. 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 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 street racing, the film follows undercover LAPD officer Brian O'Conner (the late Paul Walker) as he attempts to infiltrate a crew of thieves led by Dom. Featuring must-see action set pieces and kick-ass characters, it's no surprise the film has spawned one of the biggest franchises in the world, with nine movies and counting.
Reuniting with Fast and Furious director Rob Cohen, xXx tells 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.
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 hero persona on its head and flexed his comedic muscles in this Disney film for the whole family. He plays Navy SEAL Shane Wolfe, who is assigned to protect the family of a scientist from dangerous threats against them — only to 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.
Ang Lee's highly ambitious film 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 (Diesel), and left him with PTSD. Once home, Billy and his squad are honored during a halftime show ceremony, 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.
"I am Groot." Diesel's entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy and proved to be the heart of the team, despite only speaking those three words. It's Baby Groot (also voiced by Diesel) who steals the show in Vol. 2, with writer-director James Gunn injecting a dose of heart and his trademark humor in the little tree, who is as vicious as he is a very good dancer. Diesel reprised the role in two Avengers movies — Infinity War and Endgame — as well as Thor: Love and Thunder, and next stars in 2023's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
The latest installment in the Fast and Furious saga follows Dom Toretto as he and his crew are pulled out of retirement when his long-lost brother Jakob (John Cena) resurfaces with plans to enact a world-threatening terrorist plot. Nine movies in, F9 goes back to the beginning to reveal the origins of Diesel's Dom, while delivering some of the wildest and most jaw-dropping set pieces in the series. The movie also sets up the franchise's two-part finale, with Fast X set to hit theaters in 2023.
By Reyna Cervantes