Before becoming fast and furious as Brian O'Conner, Paul Walker shined as high school hero Skip Martin in this 1998 Gary Ross classic. The story centers on two siblings (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) who are mysteriously transported inside a classic television series that is set in an idyllic small town, where everything is sunny side up. This role showed Paul Walker's true potential as a leading man, portraying the perpetually cheery Skip with charm and grace, and gave us a glimpse of the talented actor he would turn into in the years to come.
Before Friday Night Lights, this 1999 modern classic showcased the obsessive world of Texas high school football. Paul Walker played local jock legend Lance Harbor in director Brian Robbins' drama, the high school quarterback the whole town is pinning their hopes of a state championship to, before falling to a horrific injury, forcing the backup quarterback (James Van Der Beek) into the spotlight. It's a compelling and underrated film that shines a light on this unique culture where winning is everything, no matter what the cost. Although Paul Walker plays a supporting role, his performance paved the way for bigger and better things.
While it started to seem like Paul Walker was being typecast as the go-to big man on campus, he still managed to put his own stamp on these familiar roles, including Dean Sampson in She's All That. He can't necessarily be considered the "villain" of this teen romance, which centers on the most popular boy in school (Freddie Prinze Jr.) who turns an artistic, nerdy-ish young woman (Rachael Leigh Cook) into a part of the in crowd. However, he does show us that he can break out of the squeaky-clean roles that helped turn him into a star, playing the somewhat slimy Dean to perfection.
This is a criminally underrated movie, in my opinion, giving Paul Walker a much meatier role as elite collegian Caleb Mandrake, who is recruited into an Ivy League secret society along with townie Joshua Jackson. This film is perhaps the best example of how versatile the actor can be, showing subtle nuances in his performance as Caleb, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and forms a unique bond with Lucas, who most definitely comes from the other side of the tracks. The film also paired him with director Rob Cohen for the first time, which would ultimately lead to the filmmaker casting him as Brian O'Conner in the 2001 blockbuster The Fast and the Furious. While I'm not quite sure why it was so overlooked, you can check out this wonderful drama on Netflix Instant right now.
2001 turned out to be a banner year for the actor, with his performances in The Fast and the Furious and the great thriller Joy Ride. J.J. Abrams co-wrote this film, which is as equally underrated as The Skulls, which follows three friends (Paul Walker, Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski), who decide to break the monotony of their road trip by pranking a trucker over their CB. They soon realize they picked the wrong trucker, voiced brilliantly by Ted Levine, as their journey quickly turns into a horrific nightmare. Director John Dahl's thriller can currently be found on Netflix Instant, and I highly recommend checking it out, if you haven't already.
2006 was another great year for the actor, with performances in Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers, Eight Below and the fantastic Running Scared. Wayne Kramer wrote and directed this crime drama, which shows a completely different side of Paul Walker's acting chops that hadn't been seen before. The actor stars as Joey Gazelle, a low-level mob enforcer, who is tasked with disposing of the gun that killed dirty cops. However, the gun ends up in the hands of a 10-year-old, who used it to shoot his abusive stepfather with, who has connections to the Russian mafia. I'm not sure why this film didn't take off like it should have, and it's almost tragic that so many of the films I've written about weren't the hits they should have been. However, in light of the actor's tragic passing, I can only hope these underrated gems are finally discovered and recognized as the great films they are.
This is yet another film that was written off by many as Disney fluff, but has definitely gained a following in the years following its release. Paul Walker plays Jerry Shepherd, a sled dog trainer who tries to find a sponsor to rescue his dogs after a mission was called off due to extreme weather. Prolific producer Frank Marshall directs this Disney drama that is well worthy of revisiting now, or checking out for the first time.
While it remains to be seen what will happen with Fast & Furious 7, which Paul Walker was shooting at the time of his untimely passing, fans can enjoy his performance as Brian O'Conner in Fast & Furious 6, when it arrives on Blu-ray and DVD December 10. This action-packed blockbuster proves that this franchise is one of the only ones that actually gets better with each movie, as director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan continually find new ways to up the proverbial ante in groundbreaking ways.
We hope you enjoyed these eight memorable performances from the late Paul Walker as much as we did. While the actor most certainly will be missed by millions of fans around the globe, these great performances prove that his talent will always be with us.