12/02/2002 at 01:00 AM EST
He's the new model action hero, a tattooed snowboarder who tears down an Alp a nanosecond ahead of an avalanche. As reluctant federal agent Xander Cage in last summer's $141 million hit XXX
, Vin Diesel "catches the Zeitgeist of the younger generation," says director Rob Cohen. "He's anti-authoritarian and has an antiheroic presence. He's loyal and strong, smart and sarcastic." The former nightclub bouncer, 35, grew up in Manhattan as Mark Vincent, of Italian and African-American descent. "People can relate to his multiethnicity," Cohen says. "Vin represents that big chunk of America that doesn't look at blond-haired, blue-eyed actors and think that could be them." In other words, an Everyman for everyone, now being offered every action script in Hollywood.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER/TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY/1991
In what director James Cameron called "the taming of the Terminator," Arnie reemerged after seven years not as T1 's coldblooded menace but as a cyborg hero fighting to save the world, dispatching his evil adversary with a sardonic "Hasta la vista, baby!"
SAMUEL L. JACKSON/SHAFT/2000
Updating the iconic New York City detective and ladies' man from 1971 came naturally to Jackson, says director John Singleton. "Sexiness can be an attitude as much as physicality, and Sam has attitude to burn. He just exudes so much cool."
The most dazzling special effect in this cyberthriller was Reeves as a futuristic warrior, sinewy and strong from martial-arts training. "We told him we wanted to make the most physically demanding movie ever made," said codirector Larry Wachowski. "His eyes lit up."
BRENDAN FRASER/THE MUMMY RETURNS/2001
"I didn't want a super macho guy, the character needed more depth," says director Stephen Sommers, who cast Fraser as a former foreign legion officer chasing an angry relic through 1930s Egypt. "He could take a punch, throw a punch, crack a joke and still have time for romance."
WESLEY SNIPES/BLADE II/2002
Snipes "understands that Blade isn't all about cool suits, cars and gadgets," says director Guillermo del Toro. "He's taken a curse and turned it into a gift through will." Like the half-human, half-vampire hero, "Wesley is, in an incredibly amicable way, a loner."
THE ROCK/THE SCORPION KING/2002
No wrestling with the Method for the WWE star as warrior. The aim: to "help people, get the girl and throw in witty lines," says director Chuck Russell. Plus, "he could pull off the costume."
HARRISON FORD/INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM/1984
His intrepid archeologist jumped out of planes, evaded crocodiles and never got over his fear of snakes, but Ford said his hardest stunt in the "Indy" trilogy was "keeping that hat on the whole time."
Crowe spent months learning swordplay to portray the Roman general Maximus. "He has that macho, aggressive masculinity," noted director Ridley Scott. Australian-bred actors "don't do things in half measures. They look like they've been around and been knocked around."
/THE BOURNE IDENTITY/2002
As Jason Bourne, a superspy with amnesia, Damon "doesn't try, he just does," explains director Doug Liman. "He can transcend the norm for action films. He's naturally likable without having to resort to cheesy dialogue, heroic without having to say, 'I'll be back.' "
WILL SMITH/MEN IN BLACK II/2002
Suited up to slay aliens with attitude, Smith had it made in the neutralizer-resistant shades as endearingly cocky, coolly deadpan Agent Jay. "The more you can ignore the bizarre situation" of the intergalactic comedy, Smith told The New York Times
, "the funnier it is."
JACKIE CHAN/THE TUXEDO/2002
After some 100 films, the famed martial artist added song and dance to high-kicking comedy. Next up will be romance. he said. "I want slow-motion shots of the beach, of the girl."
PIERCE BROSNAN/DIE ANOTHER DAY/2002
In his fourth outing as James Bond, 007 "is having the time of his life killing people, drinking martinis and shagging his way through the high society of every country he goes to," Brosnan told Variety