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SYFY WIRE Debate Club

Vin Diesel's 5 best movie roles (other than Dominic Toretto, obviously)

By Tim Grierson & Will Leitch
Debate Club

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

Do you realize that Vin Diesel is now entering his third decade of movie stardom? As an actor, Diesel may not have the most range, but he knows what he's good at and sticks to it. He's a guy's guy, albeit one who's not as young as you might think he is (he was born on July 18, 1967).

His most famous role will always be Dominic Toretto in the Fast & Furious movies, but he's made his mark with other parts as well. With Bloodshot on the way, here are Diesel's five best non-Fast & Furious genre roles … man's gotta have family.

05. Hugo Toorop from Babylon A.D. (2008)

You'd be forgiven for not remembering who (or what) a Hugo Toorop is. It's the mercenary character that Diesel played in the woebegone dystopian sci-fi thriller Babylon A.D., which was buried by 20th Century Fox and released during the dog days of summer in 2008.

This is no misunderstood masterpiece: Hugo is a generic riff on the actor's far more compelling monosyllabic heroes, and he and co-star Michelle Yeoh barely have any chemistry. Critics weren't kind, rightly so — Variety wrote that Diesel "look[ed] less like he's trying to save the planet than like he's fighting off a really bad hangover."

Perhaps not surprisingly, right after this, he made three Fast & Furious movies back-to-back.

04. Xander Cage, introduced in xXx (2002)

The character Xander Cage is ridiculous. His one real gimmick, at least in the first xXx film back in 2002, is that he was an "extreme sports professional." This is one small step away from Gymkata.

Diesel, of course, makes him into, well, Vin Diesel. He was unhappy with the script for the second film, xXx: State of the Union (2005), so they killed off his character. But that didn't stop him from reviving Cage for a third film, 15 years after the first one — because honestly, why not?

03. Riddick, introduced in Pitch Black (2000)

A year before The Fast and the Furious, Diesel got his first taste of major film stardom in a glorified B-movie about a group of passengers on a spaceship that crash-lands on a planet populated by gnarly creatures.

Pitch Black may not have been great cinema, but it introduced the world to the cocky antihero Richard B. Riddick, a tough convict who's not afraid of anything — although he's got a little issue with bright light.

The film's surprise success has launched two sequels to date, The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) and Riddick (2013). Diesel has been a part of more beloved blockbusters, but the Riddick films are where he's happily indulging his jones for bare-knuckled pulp fiction.

02. The Iron Giant from The Iron Giant (1999)

Diesel's first real starring role — albeit only a voice performance — is in what may be the best genre movie he's ever made, a sweet, touching throwback about a gentle robot who decides to go against what he was programmed to do.

That the Iron Giant of Ready Player One seemed so violent and against the character's very nature is largely due to Diesel's sensitive, humanist tone in The Iron Giant: you believe this robot could hurt others, but just won't. It'd be a long time before we heard this Diesel again.

01. Groot, introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

The Guardians of the Galaxy films are filled with an array of colorful characters, but perhaps none is adored as much as one stoic tree.

"It appealed to the thespian in me," Diesel has said about playing Groot. "You're talking about a very challenging character to pull off. How could you really create a whole character with three words? To really bring the emotion and chart the arc."

Well, he figured it out, turning "I am Groot" into more than a catchphrase. Depending on the moment, it can be an expression of surprise, anger, affection or sadness, and Diesel's unexpectedly expressive vocal performance worked perfectly with Groot's big, emotional eyes.

And although it might sound like a pretty cushy gig for an actor, you can't say Diesel didn't give his all to the role — including handling the foreign translations for overseas audiences.