It remains to be seen whether this weekend’s Furious 7 will really be “one last ride” for the franchise, but just in case, we’ve decided to pay tribute to our favorite cinematic rubber-burners by taking a look at the best and worst entries from each cast member’s filmography. This is going to be a bumpy ride, so buckle up – it’s time for Total Recall!
Long before Diesel made audiences laugh, cheer, and shed a tear as the monosyllabic Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, he proved his unique worth as an animated galoot in The Iron Giant, suffusing director Brad Bird’s future cult classic with immense poignancy simply by speaking a handful of lines. We still can’t hear the word “Superman” without choking up.
Diesel has more than proven his ability to play gun-toting strong, silent types, as well as his comfort with acting to green-screened futuristic landscapes; Babylon A.D., which pitted his grizzled mercenary character against a psychotic Russian mobster played by Gerard Depardieu, should by all rights have been a lot of fun. Alas, if it’s dystopian Diesel you’re after, you should definitely stick with the Chronicles of Riddick movies.
While Walker ultimately became best known for his action roles, his wholesome good looks might have made him a terrific rom-com leading man – and as he demonstrated as all-around swell guy Skip Martin in Pleasantville, he also had more than enough charm and sincerity to pull it off. Being able to say “you’re the keenest girl in school” with a straight face? That’s a gift, people.
Arguably the most violent act perpetrated against Hawaiian culture since Pearl Harbor, Meet the Deedles starred Walker as one-half of a sibling surfer duo whose idiot antics convince their father (soap legend Eric Braeden) to ship them off to Yellowstone, where they bumble into a plot cooked up by a renegade ranger (Dennis Hopper) who plans to divert Old Faithful. Possibly worth watching if you are related to one of the former members of Oingo Boingo who make a cameo appearance.
Rodriguez set a fairly high bar for herself with her breakout performance in this highly regarded indie drama about a troubled teenager who learns to channel her aggression in the ring, which also launched the career of writer-director Karyn Kusama – who wrote the screenplay inspired by her own boxing lessons. Not only was Rodriguez not a boxer before winning the role, she’d never even landed a speaking part in a film. The rest is history.
Directed by Uwe Boll. We could say more, but what would be the point, really?
Plenty of action stars have subverted their tough-guy personas, but few do it as effortlessly as Johnson, whose blinding charisma is so powerful he managed to emerge from The Tooth Fairy unscathed. (More on that in a minute.) His brief appearance in The Other Guys is a terrific example: Alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Johnson played a meathead star cop with an arrest record as sparkly as his toothy grin – and an unfortunate inability to comprehend or overcome the law of gravity.
Dwayne Johnson as a brutally violent hockey player who’s cowed into deputy tooth fairy duty by an enraged Julie Andrews (and supplied with fairy magic by Billy Crystal)? It seems like the stuff that legendary comedies are made of, but unfortunately, Tooth Fairy lacked a certain (ahem) biting wit. On the bright side, it’s still more fun than the direct-to-video sequel starring Larry the Cable Guy and a pig.
Admittedly, playing a multiplatinum rapper wasn’t exactly a dramatic stretch for Ludacris, but his appearance as Skinny Black helped personify the level of success that Hustle & Flow protagonist DJay (Terrence Howard) was trying to attain – as well as the barriers he had to struggle against in pursuit of his dream. It is, as they say, hard out here for a pimp.
There’s a certain amount of mildly anarchic potential inherent in the idea of a car wash-centered comedy starring some of hip-hop’s biggest stars – but for a movie like The Wash to really work, it should ideally be managed by someone with more filmmaking experience than writer-producer-director DJ Pooh, whose nickname summed up the critical and commercial reaction to the project. Fortunately for Ludacris, his involvement was limited; while headlining stars Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg loomed large over the credits, he was content to serve walk-on duty as an irate character credited only as “Customer”.
Gibson hasn’t had an overabundance of opportunities to shine outside the Fast and Furious franchise, but he did enjoy a piece of the critical spotlight for The Take, a relatively little-seen 2007 thriller about an armored car driver (John Leguizamo) gunning for vengeance against the criminal (Gibson) who masterminded a robbery that left him disgraced and close to death.
Plenty of worthwhile stories have been spun out of the conflict between young military officers and their hard-driving superiors, but Annapolis – starring James Franco whose hostile relationship with his commander (Gibson) spills over into the boxing ring – is emphatically not one of them. On the bright side, it introduced Gibson to Annapolis director Justin Lin, who he’d later work with on Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6.
After picking up his first film role in the 1994 Kevin Costner/Elijah Wood drama The War, Black made his breakout with Sling Blade, starring opposite Billy Bob Thornton as a young boy who develops an unlikely friendship with a developmentally disabled killer. Thornton won an Oscar for his screenplay, while Black picked up a few accolades of his own, including a Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor.
As an actor, lining yourself up opposite Robert Duvall is basically winning half the battle; sadly for Lucas Black in Seven Days in Utopia, the outcome of the other half depends on stuff like a solid direction and a great screenplay. As far as most critics were concerned, neither of those crucial components were in evidence in this faith-based drama, about a young golfer (Black) whose career crisis is defused by the sage advice of an older, wiser friend (Duvall) ? but fortunately, Utopia proved little more than a blip for either actor, both of whom quickly went on to greener cinematic pastures.
Like any action star, Statham has plenty of shoot-’em-up duds on his résumé, but as his steely work on The Bank Job illustrates, he’s a terrific tough guy if he hasn’t been left holding the bag for a shoddy script. Based in part on real events, Job boasts a tightwire-taut narrative and witty dialogue to go along with its action sequences; years later, we’re still waiting for someone to hand this guy the keys to a truly transcendent franchise.
We repeat: Directed by Uwe Boll. We like to think Statham and Rodriguez may have shared a knowing smile or two on the Fast and Furious set.
Given all the hits he’s had during his distinguished career, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that Kurt Russell’s best-reviewed movie is a period dramedy about a war bride (Goldie Hawn) who falls into the arms of a musician (Russell) while working at a factory during her husband’s overseas service. But even if it doesn’t have the kind of cult following enjoyed by Escape from New York or Big Trouble in Little China, Swing Shift is still a pretty excellent film – and if nothing else, it helped kindle his decades-long love affair with Hawn.
Most viewers have relatively relaxed standards when it comes to the action sci-fi genre, but even in that context, 1998’s Soldier – starring Russell as a monosyllabic space warrior known as Sergeant Todd 3465 – scrapes the bottom of the barrel in terms of interesting dialogue, character development, or exciting set pieces. Viewed by its screenwriter, Blade Runner co-writer David Peoples, as a “sidequel” to that Philip K. Dick-derived classic, it’s exactly the kind of movie that used to collect dust on the shelf of your local video store…and has rarely been thought of since.