Fast & Furious icon Vin Diesel is one of the most popular action stars today. But apart from helming big-budget franchises like Riddick and XXX, Diesel has also had his fair share of under-the-radar films. From starring in his own directorial ventures to collaborating with legendary director Sidney Lumet, the actor has had a diverse filmography.
At the same time, he has also acted in a few underrated action comedies and dramas before he became a household name. With the release of F9 this year, Diesel is yet again relevant in popular culture and it only makes sense for his fans to check out some of his lesser-known gems.
10 Strays (1997) – Available On VUDU
This gritty crime drama stars Vin Diesel as Rick, a drug dealer and self-proclaimed ‘hustler’ who struggles to get out of his repetitive lifestyle. With the movie set in New York, Strays also explores the character’s relationship with the city and how it shapes his pursuit of a new life.
Following his short film Multi-Facial, Vin Diesel’s first feature film also found him directing, writing, and producing. It is an impressive debut for the actor, showing his dramatic prowess. Even though he might be currently seen as Hollywood’s ‘tough guy,’ Strays allowed him to debunk familiar gangster tropes and analyze toxic masculinity from a more critical lens.
9 Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) – Available On DIRECTV
The titular protagonist of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a 19-year-old who has briefly returned home for a short stint after undergoing a brutal experience in Iraq. As he and his squad get used to their newfound fame, Billy also ponders on the horrors that they faced. With the movie directed by Ang Lee, it functions as an introspective statement on war and its futility.
Vin Diesel stars as Shroom, one of Billy Lynn’s commanding officers in the war. The film’s themes aside, it allows Diesel to share screen space with an impressive ensemble including the likes of Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, and Steve Martin. Even though the actor is present for limited scenes, this makes for one of his most thoughtful roles.
8 Find Me Guilty (2006) – Available On FuboTV
Find Me Guilty is not just a legal thriller but also an unconventional biopic on gangster Jackie DiNorsico. After he’s incriminated on several counts of fraud, he pleads to serve as his own defense for a case that went on to become the longest criminal trial in American history.
The dark comedy wouldn’t be recognized as much as Sidney Lumet’s other best movies but Find Me Guilty gives enough space for Vin Diesel to shine in the lead role. With witty one-liners and a cocky persona, he perfectly embodies the role of Jackie DiNorsico and turns the film into a one-man show. It is a must-watch for disproving those who feel that Diesel isn’t a good actor.
7 The Last Witch Hunter (2015) – Available On Peacock
Vin Diesel appears as the titular hero in this fantasy action film. An immortal witch hunter, Diesel’s Kaulder relies on his skills and centuries of experience to combat a plague before it destroys the world.
The film is riddled with common genre cliches but Diesel’s charisma is enough to make The Last Witch Hunter an entertaining popcorn flick. The supporting cast includes Elijah Wood and Michael Caine, both of whom steal the show in their respective scenes.
6 A Man Apart (2003) – Available On HBO Max
In the action-thriller A Man Apart, Vin Diesel stars as a DEA agent who vows revenge on a druglord when his wife is killed by his gang. The film plays around with the revenge movie formula, chartering familiar territory. At the same time, it adds a sense of humanity to its lead character rather than just glorifying violence.
The film is bolstered by Vin Diesel’s emotional range as a man along with engaging combat action sequences. A major reason for checking out A Man Apart is also the fact that it is directed by F Gary Gray. Diesel and Gray would collaborate years later for The Fate of the Furious.
5 Los Bandoleros (2009) – Available On Vimeo
The Badoleros serves as a prequel to the fourth Fast & Furious film. Through the movie series’s iconic car chases, the short depicts Dominic Toretto and his crew stealing oil tankers from the Dominican Republic.
While Vin Diesel fans might have avidly watched every Fast & Furious flick, there are chances that they might not have seen this short that was also written and directed by him. The Badoleros also marked a watershed moment as it showed the earliest signs of the series’s transition towards the heist genre. This was further cemented with Fast Five and since then, the whole franchise has been way more than just a film series on drag racing.
4 The Chronicles Of Riddick: Dark Fury (2004) – Available On VUDU
An animated direct-to-DVD feature, Dark Fury is the middle chapter between Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. With the original cast returning this film explains why Riddick went into hiding after the events of the first film.
The narrative perfectly fits the universe of the Riddick series and it gives yet another opportunity for Diesel to show off his husky voice in the animated format. As a voice-actor, Diesel has already established his popularity as The Iron Giant and Groot. In Dark Fury, he also gets to share screen space with Keith David, an undisputed maestro of voice-acting, who reprises his role as Imam Abu al-Walid.
3 Boiler Room (2000) – Available On Showtime
For audiences who are interested in great movies about money, the financial thriller Boiler Room might make for an exciting watch with its exploration of the Great American Dream, and greed. Giovanni Ribisi stars as a college drop-out who joins a corrupt brokerage firm to make a quick buck.
The film’s ensemble has many actors who would go on to become major stars in the 2000s, including Nia Long, Ben Affleck, and of course, Vin Diesel as one of the firm’s employees. Boiler Room is another case to show how Vin Diesel has also acted in critically-acclaimed favorites other than box-office hits.
2 Knockaround Guys (2001) – Available On DIRECTV
While mobster movies are aplenty, Knockaround Guys is unique in the sense that it deals with the sons of mobsters instead. Vin Diesel stars as one of the four sons of major Brooklyn gangsters. In order to prove their worth to their fathers, these brats end up meddling in the affairs of a Midwest town ruled by a corrupt Sheriff.
The ensuing chaos provides for enough thrills and laughs to make Knockaround Guys a light, fun watch. Diesel was starting out with action roles around this time and this film is a good example to show how effortlessly he could fit in within this genre.
1 Multi-Facial – Available On YouTube
Offering the earliest glimpse of Vin Diesel’s acting skills, Multi-Facial was a satirical look at the process of film casting. Diesel plays a multi-racial actor who is frustrated with his struggles and wants to get his big shot. Unfortunately, casting directors want his characters to subscribe to cultural stereotypes.
The 20-minute-short film was also written and directed by its leading man and offers a young glimpse at its future star. In fact, it is an important milestone for the actor himself. As reported by IndieWire, the short had captured the attention of Steven Spielberg who went on to offer Diesel a role in Saving Private Ryan.
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