For a while there, the Fast and Furious series seemed like a franchise you could take or leave. If you were a fan of the movies, go with Dom. If not, you could pass on them without feeling your eye was off the pop culture zeitgeist. But then, Fast Five launched the Furious movies into a renaissance period. All of a sudden, like the Mission Impossible movies after Ghost Protocol, Furious movies were not to be missed. Now, the eighth (eighth) entry in the series comes out this month, one of the most anticipated movies of the year.
Who’s to say what contributed the most to the Fad of the Furious? More ambitious action scenes with practical stunts certainly helped. Focusing on worthwhile antagonists over nameless baddies did too. But it’s the casting choices that helped most. Since Fast Five, Vin Diesel’s action series bulked up its cast with a diverse set of actors, each with their own appeal. As the cast widened, so did audiences.
Below is a list of performances, encompassing the Furious cast from Fast Five to Fate of the Furious, that mark the Best Performances From The Cast of Fast and Furious.
15. Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto) – Saving Private Ryan
On Vin Diesel’s IMDb page, his four “Known For” movies are all Furious flicks. For better or worse, this franchise has eaten up Diesel’s career like the MCU has consumed Robert Downey Jr.’s. But before the first Fast and Furious, Diesel had three reputable performances that weren’t based on his action-star persona: investment drama Boiler Room, children’s sci-fi movie The Iron Giant, and a supporting role in a film by promising up-and-comer Steven Spielberg.
In Saving Private Ryan, Diesel played Private Adrian Caparzo, a WWII soldier under the command of Tom Hank’s Captain John H. Miller. Diesel got to deliver a shocking, darkly humorous line after a fellow soldier survives a gunshot thanks to his helmet, right before he gets shot in the head after removing said helmet.
In a cast that includes Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Giovanni Ribisi, and Barry Pepper, Diesel… doesn’t stand out. Which is perfect. He generously blends into the cast, so much so that you don’t notice, or fully appreciate, his natural performance as Carpazo. That is, until one truly emotional death scene.
14. Dwayne Johnson (Luke Hobbs) – Moana
After playing the boisterous Hobbs, Dwayne Johnson became Hollywood’s golden boy. With cringe inducing family fare like Tooth Fairy and The Game Plan in his rearview, Johnson’s doors opened wide, giving him access to Bayhem (Pain and Gain), leading roles in big summer movies (San Andreas), and an HBO series (Ballers). He even became a demigod.
In Moana, Johnson voiced Maui, a legend in Polynesian lore who vanished after stealing from Te Fiti, an island goddess. Maui was a perfect storm of everything that makes The Rock great, which is fitting since Maui comes off as the Moana universe’s equivalent of The Rock. He’s muscular, a showboat, and, when it matters most, an inspiration to all.
With Moana, Johnson finally discovered a family movie that served him well. The film is a finely tuned hero’s journey, and Johnson expertly plays a cocksure, superheroic figure who learns to dismount his high horse and become mentor to the next generation. There’s a humility to Maui intertwined with his showiness, and no one strikes that balance quite like Johnson.
13. Michelle Rodriguez (Letty “Ortiz” Toretto) – Girlfight
Michelle Rodriguez is an acquired taste. She gets a bad rap for her grating character on Lost. Even her well liked performances in Avatar and Machete please mainly her fanbase, doing little to convert nonbelievers. And The Assignment, her upcoming politically tone-deaf thriller, isn’t doing her any favors. But anyone doubting Rodriguez’s ability should witness her debut performance in indie darling Girlfight.
Diana Guzman (Rodriguez) is a troublemaker. With no other outlet to channel her aggression, Guzman tussles with other students at school. Meanwhile, her less than abrasive brother is forced into boxing lessons. To her brothers’ chagrin, and unbeknownst to her father, Diana convinces a trainer to give her lessons.
This was the perfect role to begin Rodriguez’s career. She wears the chip on Diana’s shoulder without letting it distract from the teen’s vulnerability. There’s a scene in the movie’s first half where she watches a series of boxing matches. It’s clear by the look on Rodriguez’s face the effect this sport having on her esteem, the hope that it starts to give her.
12. Ludacris (Tej Parker) – Crash
As far as rappers turned actors go, Ludacris hasn’t accumulated as many credits as Ice Cube, but has stayed a thespian longer than Eminem. His comfort onscreen has been clear since his first high profile gig in 2 Fast 2 Furious, but his acting potential became clear with his respectable turn Crash.
In one of Crash‘s overlapping storylines, Ludacris portrays Anthony, a car thief who thinks he has the the world figured out, and is mostly right. He notices the everyday racism that plagues Los Angeles and the rest of America. Anthony pontificates for hours on end about the world’s injustices, but his fatal flaw is that, in the face of it all, he contributes nothing. This comes into sharp focus when Terrance Howard’s Carmeron, a target of Anthony’s failed car jack, lectures Anthony for being an embarrassment.
Like Diesel in Saving Private Ryan, Ludacris blends into the tapestry of Crash’s cast until the spotlight lands on him. As Cameron berates him, the shame that washes over Anthony’s face is powerful, and it’s all Ludacris’ doing.
11. Tyrese Gibson (Roman Pearce) – Baby Boy
Another rapper turned actor, Tyrese Gibson forayed into movies in John Singleton’s Baby Boy. Gibson had to act against pros like Taraji P. Henson and Ving Rhames. Even Snoop Dogg, who had a fair share of acting credits prior to Baby Boy, proved a formidable scene partner. But Gibson really delivers in Baby Boy‘s central role.
Gibson’s Jody splits his time between living at his mom’s house, visiting his kid and the mother of his child, and cheating on his current girlfriend Yvette (Henson). All at once, every pillar in Jody’s life begins to crumble. Yvette grows tired of his infidelities as his mother’s attention shifts to her new boyfriend (Rhames). Jody has to decided if he wants to remain in stasis, or finally grow up.
Gibson conveys Jody’s turmoil, much of it self imposed, in an honest way that doesn’t turn us off to his character. While the actor seems to be having fun in the Furious movies, hopefully Gibson will decide to return to more dramatic roles in the future.
10. Paul Walker (Brian O’Connor) – Flags of Our Fathers
Playing a soldier on screen is a grueling ordeal, at least for actors trying to do it right. Not only do they have to go through arduous training, they have to get into the tortured mindset of a man at war. Like Vin Diesel, Paul Walker put in work to play a soldier in a WWII drama, this one set on the war’s Pacific Front.
In Flags of Our Fathers, Walker plays Hank Hansen, a marine who was slain by Japanese opponents on Iwo Jima. The audience doesn’t get to spend much time with Hansen, but while he’s onscreen, he communicates a big brother vibe as he guides other soldiers, keeping their spirits high. Walker displays true camaraderie onscreen, something that would serve him well in Furious movies.
Before he tragically died in 2013, Walker starred in the Hours, a thriller directed by Eric Heisserer (who would later get an Oscar nod for writing Arrival). Released after Walker’s passing, Hours gave even more of an idea of what he could do.
9. Gal Gadot (Gisele Yashar) – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Despite being one of the most critically maligned film of 2016, it’s not too hard to find things to like in Batman v Superman. They might be outweighed by the movie’s worse elements, but the good moments are still there. Ben Affleck didn’t disappoint, neither did Jeremy Irons, and fans saw a silver lining on the DCEU’s horizon: Gal Gadot.
Gadot offered the world Wonder Woman’s first big screen debut. Onscreen, Gadot carried herself confidently, which is refreshing in a movie where everything is turned up to maximum volume. While Batman and Superman pouted their ways out of the hearts that once held them dearly, Wonder Woman lassoed in new fans thanks to Gadot.
Gadot will return as Wonder Woman in a standalone movie, then again in Justice League. Of the two, Wonder Woman has given fans the most hope. Hopefully good things arise from Gadot’s collaboration with director Patty Jenkins, who worked with an actor later on this list.
8. Sung Kang (Han Seoul-Oh) – The Motel
Following a string of guest spots on various TV shows, and procuring a role in one of Furious director Justin Lin’s early films (in which he also played a Han), Sung Kang sent ripples in the indie-scene with The Motel. After finding success at Sundance, The Motel later won Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. Not a bad title for Kang to have his name attached to.
The Motel tells the story of Ernest Chin, a thirteen-year-old working at a scuzzy motel that shelters prostitutes and other shady characters. Ernest’s life is shaken up when a self-destructive young man named Sam (Kang) checks in. Kang plays Sam as a charismatic, Artful Dodger type to Chin’s Oliver. The two make an appealing team as they each navigate their respective crossroads.
Since his first appearance in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Kang’s Han has mostly been the quiet type. Kang has to reel in the energy that gave Sam life in order to play Han correctly. In both roles, he does admirable work.
7. Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto) -American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
When playing a real person, looking the part is only step one. But remembering you still have a character to play is a vastly more important step two. Jordana Brewster bares an eerily close resemblance to Denise Brown, sister of murder victim Nicole Brown. Brewster was hardly a major player in the first season of American Crime Story, but she made her part count.
In a testimony, Denise recounts a disturbing incident when O.J. Simpson made lewd gestures at her sister in public view. It’s clear part of Denise genuinely abhors O.J. for this, but suspicions are raised as to how much her emotional reaction is sincere and how much is forced, her private attack meant to indict O.J. It could be both, but Denise runs the risk of overdoing her performance.
Brewster, who has also held a role on Dallas and currently stars on a TV adaptation of Lethal Weapon, nails the testimony scene. She makes you believe her revulsion until you’re not sure how real it actually is.
6. Luke Evans (Owen Shaw) – Beauty and the Beast
If you read our list of best performances from the Beauty and the Beast cast, you’ll remember we picked High Rise as Luke Evans best work. To keep things interesting, for this we’re going with his next best work, which happens to be in Beauty and the Beast. An experienced theater actor in London, Evans had been in stage productions of Taboo and Rent. Beauty and the Beast marks Evans first, and hopefully not last, screen musical.
Evans played Gaston to crude perfection. He makes the brash hunter as animated in live action form than he was when he actually was animated. Selling every musical number loudly and proudly, Evans also stood out as one of the more competent singers in Beauty‘s cast, picking up the slack for novices like Emma Watson.
As Gaston, Evans didn’t just show people could excel comedically and musically. Judging by his performance in Beast and his entertaining turn as the cunning Owen Shaw, it seems like Evans has plenty of range left to explore.
5. Jason Statham (Deckard Shaw) – The Bank Job
No matter what grade of action movie he’s in, Jason Statham is fun to watch. Whether it’s something backed by Luc Besson, like The Transporter, or something that mostly goes unnoticed, Homefront, watching Statham is never a waste of time. But for all his intense, easily watchable performances, Statham’s greatest feat is playing a regular guy.
The Bank Job is the true story of the Baker Street robbery in 1971 London. Statham plays Terry, a humble car salesman who gets coaxed into an apparently straightforward bank heist. But little does Terry know, the situation is about to spin wildly out of control.
Terry is Statham taking a breather from all his tough guy routines. He’s a down on his luck family man, pure and simple. Even in the film’s most dramatic moments, Statham doesn’t overdo a single beat. It was tough putting this ahead of Redemption and Spy, but The Bank Job reveals a side of Statham that we don’t often get to see.
4. Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody) – The Hateful Eight
In the realm of under-appreciated character actors, Kurt Russell reigns supreme. Part action star (Escape from New York, Big Trouble Little China), part serious actor (Dark Blue, Miracle), and even a tiny part comedian (Sky High), Kurt Russell covers many bases handily. You’d think a Quentin Tarantino would be the perfect boost to his career. And it would… just not the first one.
After starring in Tarantino’s disappointing Death Proof, Russell fared better in QT’s The Hateful Eight. In a movie full of despicable characters, John Ruth (Russell) gives the rest a run for their money. A vicious bounty hunter, Ruth isn’t satisfied until he watches his captives hang from a rope until dead. Russell gets Ruth’s gritty side perfectly, but also shows off the character’s sensitivity when he’s the punch-line of a joke involving Abraham Lincoln.
Kurt Russell is a man of many talents, none of which are going away anytime soon. Chances are he’ll bring something special to his second Furious movie and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
3. Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey) – Game of Thrones
Nathalie Emmanuel first joined the Game of Thrones cast in season three. As seasons progressed, Emmanuel’s role in the show grew. Emmanuel rose to the challenge of her increasing prevalence in Thrones, and soon she would lend her talents to Furious 7. But fortunately, she still has one season of Thrones left.
Emmanuel plays Missandei, a slave at the time she crosses paths with Daenerys Targaryen. Daenery’s liberates Missandei from bondage and takes her in as a translator and, after a while, a confidant. Through Missandei’s journey, Emmanuel has subtly told us more about her character than we notice. Her coy demeanor communicates her hesitance to trust people, brought on by a life of slavery. Emmanuel also captures Missandei’s stronger side, when she becomes emboldened by her friendship with Daenerys.
Beyond Thrones and Furious, Emmanuel popped up in the second Maze Runner film and is slated to appear in the third a year from now.
2. Charlize Theron (Cipher) – Young Adult
When vying for the title of Charlize Theron’s best performance, three movies clamor for the top. One is Monster, the movie that netted Theron an Oscar. Then there’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which bequeathed Theron’s indomitable Furiosa onto the world.
But for the top of the heap, there’s no other option but Young Adult. In Jason Reitman’s second team-up with screenwriter Diablo Cody (the first was Juno), Theron plays the chronically immature Mavis Garvy. Living her mess of a life in the city, chugging a liter of Coke a day, Mavis gets word that a high school sweetheart just had a baby. Hearing this, Mavis decides this is the perfect time to rush home and win him back.
Mavis makes Amy Schumer’s character in Trainwreck look well adjusted. She’s a dumpster fire that inflames everyone who gets even remotely close to her. It takes otherworldly skills to possess a character so dangerously removed from reality, and Theron does so in a performance that could never be equalled, in this or any other universe.
1. Helen Mirren (Mama Shaw) – The Queen
It’s finally here. The culmination of a legendary career. Helen Mirren’s life has led to one crucial movie: Fate of the Furious. Even Helen Mirren needs to have fun every now and again. And it’s cute to see her and Vin Diesel correspond to make this a reality. But when it comes to the best Mirren can offer, one should never forget The Queen.
Mirren gives an Oscar winning performance as Queen Elizabeth II, in a movie that recounts her reaction to the death of Princess Diana. Mirren does a stellar job at playing the character, not the historical figure, that is Elizabeth. She keeps up the Queen’s regal demeanor, betraying her weaknesses just enough while keeping her head high.
Currently, Claire Foy plays Elizabeth II on Netflix’s The Crown (created by Pete Morgan, who wrote The Queen). Foy does a remarkable job on the show, and no doubt brought her A-game so she could stand proudly besides Mirren’s towering performance. Maybe someday Foy can be in a Furious movie too.
Fate of the Furious arrives in theaters on April, 14th. Let us know your favorite performances from the cast!