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Best Vin Diesel Movies

It might be hard to picture barrel-chested action hero Vin Diesel as a theater kid, but believe it or not that is exactly where everything started for him. Back when he was a boy of 7, Diesel (still going by his given name Mark Sinclair at the time) and some friends broke in to New York's Greenwich Village theater to vandalize the place, only to be caught red handed by the artistic director. Instead of calling the police, the director offered the boys parts in an upcoming production. Diesel remained involved with the theater throughout his youth and as a young man decided to pursue a career in Hollywood.

Diesel has polarized critics in the years since, with films like The Pacifier (2006), Babylon A.D. (2008), and The Last Witch Hunter (2015) not exactly helping his cause. But, for every dud on his résumé there's a great movie to match it, some of which have managed to fly well under the radar. From ambitious dramas to animated classics, here are the best Vin Diesel movies.

Strays (1997)

Vin Diesel's feature length debut Strays was described as "an Edward Burns drama redressed in muscle shirts" by DVD Talk, who reviewed the film when it was finally released over a decade after it premiered to acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival. While this comment wasn't necessarily meant as a compliment, it piqued the interest of those who enjoyed Burns' New York-centric character studies but wanted to see beneath the surface of the Big Apple. Diesel stars as a frustrated drug dealer toying with leaving his life of crime behind for a well-to-do girl, a role that he had no choice but to create for himself: "There just wasn't a role for me and I realized that the only possible way that I could realize my dream would be if I wrote a script."

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

While critical response to the first film in the Fast and Furious franchise was lukewarm at best, the numbers don't lie. Director Rob Cohen took Universal's $38 million budget and produced a healthy return on the investment, bringing in a total of $207 million at the worldwide box office and launching the franchise that would cement Vin Diesel's place as a Hollywood star. The film follows gang leader Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and FBI agent Brian O'Connor (the late Paul Walker), with the latter working undercover to discover which gang is behind a spate of recent hijackings. The Fast and the Furious is a shameless throwback to B-movies of years gone by, the kind of teen exploitation films that used to pack drive-in theaters with like-minded youngsters in need of some cheap thrills. Critic Reece Pendleton said none of it would have worked without Diesel, who "carries the movie with his unsettling mix of Zen-like tranquillity and barely controlled rage."

Boiler Room (2000)

Boiler Room is another New York crime thriller, though this time the shady stuff goes on in the office as opposed to the streets. The story follows an ambitious college dropout (Giovanni Ribisi) named Seth who decides to try his hand at becoming a stockbroker after the casino he runs from his apartment is shut down. This leads him to a firm operating outside of Manhattan's financial district, where he is shown how to close a deal by none other than Vin Diesel, who later goes on to compete for Seth's loyalty as the newcomer climbs the company ladder. While Ribisi was singled out for plaudits, the entire cast were praised for putting in compelling performances and nailing the jargon-heavy dialogue that comes with a financial drama. It isn't quite The Wolf of Wall Street, but first-time director Ben Younger manages to create an engrossing rise-and-fall tale against a backdrop of some serious daddy issues.

Pitch Black (2000)

David Twohy's sci-fi horror flick Pitch Black was never intended as a franchise starter, but after it became a sleeper hit a film universe was born. The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) was given a vastly increased budget yet bombed hard at the box office, and Riddick (2013) relied on overseas markets to break even. Neither movie lived up to the expectations of the budding fandom centered around Vin Diesel's anti-hero Riddick. Perhaps Diesel's most iconic role to date, Richard B. Riddick is a criminal who we first meet aboard a doomed ship bound for a distant space prison. The BBC praised the leading man's presence in its Pitch Black review, admitting Diesel's "larger than life" performance helped the film exceed the sum of its parts. Not every character is developed quite as well, with a number of them there simply as creature bait — but every horror film needs a few disposable characters, right?

Fast Five (2011)

Despite reuniting Vin Diesel and Paul Walker as Dom and Brian, The Fast and Furious franchise hit a bit of a roadblock with its fourth installment — to the point it almost put the brakes on the series entirely. While it performed admirably at the box office, critical consensus was not good, with critics saying the stunt work remained up to scratch but the story was severely lacking. Director Justin Lin aimed to put that right when he returned for 2011's Fast Five, and he delivered what the Chicago Reader called "the most exciting, visually jazzy, and absurd entry in the series." Reviews on the other side of the Atlantic were just as positive, with The Telegraph praising the addition of Dwayne Johnson to the cast. The British broadsheet likened Vin Diesel going up against The Rock to "a cosmic event, like some freak planetary collision," and Diesel clearly couldn't agree more with that assessment.

Find Me Guilty (2006)

Find Me Guilty stars Vin Diesel alongside Games of Thrones' Peter Dinklage and Vikings' Linus Roache in a courtroom drama based on the true story of the longest Mafia trial in United States history. The hulking action hero takes on the role of Jackie DiNorscio, a "mechanic" for the infamous Lucchese family who decides to defend himself in court rather than take the advice of lawyers who want him to rat on his bosses in exchange for a reduced sentence. Veteran film critic Roger Ebert spoke out in favor of Diesel's casting, saying he was "a good choice for this role, bringing it sincerity without nobility." The late Ebert's former colleague and co-host Richard Roeper also gave the leading man a glowing review. "For the first time in years Vin Diesel has a project that reminds us why he was tabbed to be a movie star in the first place."

The Iron Giant (1999)

Despite being one of the greatest animated movies of a generation, The Iron Giant failed miserably at the box office, the victim of a botched advertising campaign by Warner Bros. execs who seemed to have no clue how to handle this classic Cold War tale. It marked the debut of future Incredibles director Brad Bird and arguably remains his best film to date, skillfully adapted from the 1968 story Iron Man by the British poet laureate Ted Hughes. Vin Diesel provides the voice of the titular giant, a 50-foot tall robot who befriends a 9-year-old boy. Aside from the seamless blend of CGI and hand drawn animation, the budding friendship between man and machine is what makes The Iron Giant such a special film, and it wouldn't have worked without Diesel's unique tones according to producer Allison Abbate: "You can really hear his heart. He makes the giant imposing but still charming."

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Most of the cast of Steven Spielberg's WWII epic Saving Private Ryan went through numerous auditions to land their parts, but this wasn't the case for Vin Diesel. The actor's dreams of making it in Hollywood were given a real boost when his agents received a personal phone call from the director himself. Spielberg had seen Diesel in a previous project, and wrote a role just for him. Saving Private Ryan of course went on to be a global smash, raking in $482 million at the worldwide box office and receiving a total of 11 Oscar nominations, five of which led to wins. Despite not having a clue about his character when he accepted the part, Diesel immediately felt at home playing Caparzo, the brash and heroic Italian-American private who meets his end trying to help a child.

Furious 7 (2015)

Furious 7 isn't just the highest grossing film in the franchise — at the time of this writing, it sits at No. 6 on the list of highest-grossing movies of all time, just above Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011). Interest in the film spiked for the wrong reasons after the sudden death of star Paul Walker, whose Porsche Carrera GT was destroyed when (according to the coroner's report) it came off a Los Angeles road after being driven at speeds of up to 100 mph. After rumors that the seventh installment in the series would be canned, it was confirmed that a combination of Walker's two brothers and a blend of CGI would be used to finish the film, and the result was a fitting tribute to the departed actor, though James Wan's movie was far more than just a long goodbye. Vin Diesel and the rest of the cast provided an "authentic chemistry" that gave a melody to the "relentless beat" of the film according to the New Yorker's review, which also called the film a "gleefully kinetic" experience that nailed all of its action sequences with "acrobatic aplomb."

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

As far as the numbers go, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most successful films Vin Diesel has ever been a part of. The surprise smash wound up posting the biggest August opening ever, pulling in $94 million over its first weekend and going on to earn $773 million worldwide, a staggering figure for a film that involved none of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's big name heroes. While Star-Lord and his fellow Guardians were a mystery to most at the time, by now even the most casual Marvel fan knows them by name, with one name in particular on everyone's lips as the sequel approaches. Voiced by Vin Diesel, the walking, talking tree Groot won the hearts of viewers after nearly sacrificing himself to save the lives of his companions, and is set to return in Vol. 2 in sapling form. While some have been quick to accuse Marvel of using Baby Groot as a marketing ploy, director James Gunn has insisted that he is integral to the ongoing story.