How Vin Diesel Pulled a Fast and Furious Deal to Bring Back ‘Riddick’

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Vin Diesel
Vin Diesel

Vin Diesel is best known as the guy who plays street racing Dominic Toretto in the "Fast and the Furious" franchise, but that's not the beginning and end of his ambitions as an actor. Diesel is a guy willing to fight for the right role, and he used his return to the "Fast and Furious" movies as a bargaining chip to get another shot at playing one of his favorite characters.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, filmmaker David Twohy revealed some of the wheeling and dealing that Diesel used to bring "Riddick," the second sequel to his 2000 sci-fi cult favorite "Pitch Black," to the screen.

"Pitch Black" gave Diesel his first breakout role as Riddick, an escaped criminal whose ability to see in the dark becomes a major asset when he's stranded on a remote planet in the midst of a month-long eclipse. "Pitch Black" became a modest hit that gained a passionate fan following, and Diesel and director David Twohy were eager to bring Riddick back to the screen. However, the 2004 sequel "The Chronicles of Riddick" was produced on a much bigger budget, and the return on investment wasn't good — it brought in just $57 million in the United States on a budget of $110 million.

However, Universal, the studio that made "Pitch Black" and "The Chronicles of Riddick," was also the studio behind "The Fast and the Furious," and when the studio executives wanted Diesel to return to the car-chase franchise — even for just a brief appearance — Diesel was willing to make a deal.

"After 'Chronicles,' [Universal] said, 'We are out of the Riddick business. It's just a straight business calculation of us. You spent too much money and you didn't make enough back. So, no, we're not going to do anymore,'" Twohy said. "Vin, being the savvy guy he is, said, 'Well, give me the rights back.' And they didn't want to do that ... I think this was about the time that 'Fast 3' had already shot and they were testing it. Maybe it wasn't testing as well as it should have and they decide, 'Maybe we need a cameo from Vin' – because he wasn't in that movie. So, I do believe that in his savviness, Vin said, 'Don't pay me for that cameo. Just give me the rights back.' So, [Diesel's production company One Race] basically controls the rights and because I control all of the sequels and remakes. So, we can't make a movie without each other, nor would we want to. So, that's how he got the rights back and I think that was a great business move."

It was a great trade for Diesel, considering his cameo in "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" amounted to only a minute of screen time at the end of the film. But it paid off for Universal as well, since it opened the door for Diesel to return for more "Fast" movies, each more financially successful than the last (this summer's "Furious 6" has made $787 million worldwide).

Learning from their mistakes on "Chronicles," Diesel and Twohy shot "Riddick" independently, on a lean budget of $38 million, and told a more tightly focused story, with the criminal on the run from bounty hunters. When it came time to find a distributor for "Riddick," Twohy was surprised to find that one of the candidates was the studio that initially didn't want the project.

"I thought it was going to be Sony or Film District — they were both eager to have the movie," Twohy said. "And then, guess what? Universal raises their hand, 'Well, what about us?' And I said, 'This doesn't feel right to me.' But Vin, he was saying, 'That was then, this is now." So with the 'Fast and Furious' franchise and his relationship with Universal over that and the strength of those, we placed it again at Universal. So, the company that kicked us to the curb picked up the movie and will be distributing it in the U.S. and Canada."

Diesel is clearly happy to have another shot at playing Riddick — at the film's premiere in Los Angeles, the actor said of the role, "It's the story of my life." And after the massive commercial success of "Fast and Furious," "Fast Five," and "Fast and Furious 6," Diesel's profile is high enough that he has a better shot at showing the third time is the charm for anti-hero Riddick.

"Riddick" opens in theaters Friday, September 6, and Diesel will be back in "Fast & Furious 7" next summer.

Watch Vin Diesel fight a space monster in a clip from 'Riddick':