With nine movies and counting, the Fast and the Furious franchise is still going strong, pulling in big stars and big bucks. Since 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, the series has offered a slew of cool cars, outrageous stunts and macho melodrama — as well as big, beautiful, bald leading men. Today, action stars Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are beloved for their bravado and bald allure alike, but what was the road that led to hairlessness becoming so dominant in the action genre?
Think about it: For decades, masculinity in Hollywood was defined by leading men with thick heads of hair, from Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne to James Dean, from Paul Newman, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino to Michael Keaton and Harrison Ford. Even in romantic comedies, where schlubby dudes regularly get the girl, bald actors are often relegated to supporting roles. (We love you all the same, Stanley Tucci!) So what caused the shift? How did we get from the tousled locks of Sylvester Stallone to the glistening dome of The Rock? Let’s polish up some answers.
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Russian-born movie star Yul Brynner is best known for playing King Mongkut of Siam in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The King And I. In 1951, Brynner originated the part, making the leap from TV actor to Broadway star. He went on to reprise the role for the Hollywood film adaptation, winning a Tony and an Oscar for his efforts. But most pertinent to our interests here, this also marked the moment where he shaved his head: This boldly bald look would become Brynner’s signature.
In 1960, Brynner gave audiences a new kind of cowboy, headlining Academy Award-nominated director John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven. In the epic Western, Byrnner starred as a Cajun gunslinger who leads a motley band of cowboys in taking down a merciless gang of bandits. With co-stars Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn, this film had machismo — and plenty of hair — to spare. But with a scalp as shiny as his silver belt buckle, Brynner brought a coolness under gunfire that would prove not only cinematic, but also seminal.
Star Trek Generations (1994)
Patrick Stewart didn’t choose to go bald for a role; genetics made the choice for him when he was just 19 years old. In a 2007 interview with the BBC, the then-67 year old thespian recalled how within the span of a year, much of the hair up top fell away. Self-conscious about this, he tried to cover his scalp with hats and a comb-over, but that all came to an end in an extraordinary fashion, thanks to a good friend with a judo black belt and a “strong personality,” who demanded, “You be yourself. No more hiding.”
You can hear the full story here:
This leads Stewart and us to Star Trek Generations, in which he took his beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation character to the big screen. Having long regained his confidence, the debonair British actor cut a sharp figure as the gallant and bald Captain Jean-Luc Picard, proving a perfect match for the franchise’s first charismatic captain, played by William Shatner. From there, Stewart would not only take on the final frontier in several sequels and the upcoming spinoff series Star Trek: Picard, but also make the leap to superhero, playing mighty telepath Professor Charles Xavier in several X-Men movies, including the critically heralded Logan.
In 1988, Bruce Willis was a newly minted action star thanks to Die Hard. But as the years — and a pair of Die Hard sequels — passed, his hairline went down the sidelines. It was at the turn of the century that Willis tried a new look for his action hero persona in Unbreakable: Reteaming with The Sixth Sense writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, Willis starred as a meek and seemingly ordinary man who has incredible power. The freshly bald look allowed audiences to see an unexpected side to Willis, stripped of the cocky smile and roguish charm that had defined much of his career.
Through this shaved-down dome, Willis delivered a new kind of hero with the unbreakable David Dunn. He’d reprise the role in sly sequels Split and Glass, yet the rebranded action star kept the bald-is-beautiful vibe going with other pre-established characters in The Whole Ten Yards, Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day To Die Hard.
As he did, Willis was redefining baldness as badass, but he wasn’t doing it alone: In 2000, his Die Hard With A Vengeance and Unbreakable co-star — and brother in balding — Samuel L. Jackson took his hair all the way down to headline the Shaft reboot, which paved the way to the MCU’s Nick Fury being one bald and badass motherf–(shut your mouth!).
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Do you even remember Vin Diesel with hair? In early films like Saving Private Ryan, Boiler Room and Pitch Black, the aspiring leading man sported a buzzed look that was barely there, but still there. It was a ‘do that read tough guy, but more specifically soldier, which may explain why Diesel took it down a notch for the first Fast and Furious movie: Street racer Dominic Toretto is macho as hell, but he’s not much for rules.
Diesel’s character was meant to play a free-living foil to Paul Walker’s straight-laced (and shaggy-haired) cop, Brian O’Conner. With his close-crop, glitzy bling and bulging biceps, Toretto was flashy in all the ways undercover Brian didn’t dare to be. But, if we’re going to get really technical here, this still isn’t Vin fully bald: That didn’t happen until 2002, with the outlandish espionage thriller xXx. But by the time Diesel returned to the car chase-centric franchise in 2006’s Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, he brought his totally shorn scalp with him. Still, it took some time to build a crew of like-headed heroes.
The Transporter (2002)
Like his compatriot Stewart, Jason Statham made his mark as an actor while already bald and unashamed. Since his film debut in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, this gruff guy has been rocking a receding hairline and a bare patch at the back, and that didn’t change once he kicked off the first of several action franchises with 2002’s The Transporter.
This fast-paced flick boasted car chases, gunfights, explosions, sex and Statham busting out his bare torso, finely sculpted from years as a professional high diver. At no point does his lack of traditional leading man locks prove a problem: This British bruiser’s grit-teeth gravitas awed audiences again and again in a long list of action flicks, including the absolutely insane Crank movies, the espionage comedy Spy and the next franchise on our list…
The Expendables (2010)
First Blood. The Terminator. Die Hard. The landscape of 1980s action movies was defined by the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. These three and many more action stars of past and present joined forces as an epic ensemble for The Expendables, directed by and starring Sly himself.
The film follows a band of elite mercenaries, deeply dedicated to the bonds of brotherhood and the cause of justice. But what we’re interested in are the bald dudes, and The Expendables has plenty of beauts. The first entry of this action-stacked franchise boasts Willis, Statham, WWE star Stone Cold Steve Austin, UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture and former NFL linebacker Terry Crews. Whether he intended to or not, Stallone threw down a gauntlet for bald action team-ups. How did Diesel and company respond? Glad you asked!
Fast Five (2011)
For four films (The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious), this franchise was cruising at the box office, but getting crushed by critics. That changed with Fast Five. Maybe that was because cynics had finally warmed to the unique blend of sex, cars, crime and family drama that the franchise had been doling out. Maybe it was the balls-to-the-wall action sequences — like that bonkers safe chase — dreamed up by screenwriter Chris Morgan and director Justin Lin. Or maybe it was the overwhelming star power of Vin Diesel facing off against Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
For movie fans, it’s almost impossible to picture Johnson without his meticulously clean-shaved scalp. But back in his WWE days, he favored a buzz cut. As he made the transition to movie star, that was his look for supporting roles in the mystery dramedy Southland Tales, the spy comedy Get Smart and family-friendly fantasy The Tooth Fairy (you can’t handle the tooth!). The buff performer took it down shorter as the headliner of the lesser-known action pic Faster, but Fast Five was when Johnson first went totally bald for a role. And it stuck, by choice.
Fast & Furious 6 (2013) / Furious 7 (2015)
Fast Five was the franchise’s biggest hit yet, and audiences were in awe of the combined charisma of Diesel and Johnson (not to mention some hair-sporting co-stars). To ramp things up for the sequel Fast & Furious 6, Johnson’s federal agent teams up with Toretto’s crew to bring down a dangerous threat. This paved the way to a jaw-dropping cameo that brought Statham into the Fast and Furious fold.
This led to Furious 7, where Statham swaggered in as the main antagonist, mercenary-with-a-grudge Deckard Shaw. This is the one where The Rock declares, “Daddy’s gotta go to work,” then flexes his enormous bicep so hard it bursts out of a full-arm cast. Then, he goes toe-to-toe with the Transporter star for a knockdown, drag-out brawl. Once more, critics and audiences went wild: Furious 7 not only won rave reviews but also became the first of the franchise to make over a billion dollars at the box office. So, like Johnson before him, Statham signed back on and switched sides for the ferociously anticipated follow-up. And he wasn’t the only one.
The Fate of the Furious (2017)
At this point, The Fast and The Furious franchise boasted four beautiful bald men as part of the core crew: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson, who’d been playing comic relief as Roman Pearce since 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious. But the eighth film shook things up in an almost unimaginable way by having Dominic Toretto turn on the family for which he’d risked his neck and countless whips over the course of 16 years!
Far less shocking, Fate of the Furious also banked over a billion dollars at the box office while pleasing film critics. By this point, it was impossible to deny the success of this franchise or the allure of its ensemble. A film series borne of car-chase setups had become a phenomenon that both critics and audiences adored, and that respected stars like Oscar-winner Charlize Theron and Golden Globe-winner Idris Elba were lining up to get in on.
Hobbs & Shaw (2019) and Beyond
For this Fast and the Furious spinoff, Johnson and Statham’s fan favorites join forces to bring down a rampaging super soldier (Elba). With a close-cut, the latest English star addition doesn’t quite qualify as bald, which means that technically, The Expendables still has more bald men in its core crew than this franchise. However, if we’re talking quantity (and let’s face it, quality), Fast and Furious has nine movies and counting to Expendables’ trilogy (that might tip into a fourth feature). And as kickass as Sly’s crew is, it’s impossible to argue that Diesel’s bald dudes aren’t heavier hitters when it comes to star power.
So what’s next for the bald and the burly of Fast and Furious? Justin Lin’s reuniting a bunch of past co-stars for Fast & Furious 9, including Diesel and Gibson, as well as Theron in a headline-snagging bowl cut. Newcomers include John Cena, Michael Rooker and Cardi B — maybe one or two of them will take their short haircuts down to scalp level, though it doesn’t look like it’ll be the outrageous rap star.
Either way, if this sequel proves there’s still gas in the tank, audiences can look forward to Fast & Furious 10. For now, its plot is under wraps: All we know for certain is that Diesel will be back as the franchise’s premiere bald badass. And that’s enough for now.