While not a colossal hit in 2000, Pitch Black introduced sci-fi horror audiences to the character of Richard B. Riddick, played by Vin Diesel, who quickly became one of the genre’s coolest and most unconventional heroes.
Directed by David Twohy, Pitch Black followed a group of travelers that includes Riddick, a dangerous criminal, en route to prison. While Riddick’s transport is not the sole purpose of the Hunter-Gratzner‘s voyage, he ends up becoming the most useful man on board when the ship has to make an emergency landing on a strange planet that is inhabited by dangerous, nocturnal creatures who become a major threat to the crew during a lengthy eclipse. Though he is certainly dangerous and unpredictable, Riddick’s heroic actions lean on common antihero characteristics, which aren’t always seen in sci-fi horror and action horror films; usually, the good guys – like Ellen Ripley in Alien – tend to lead the charge.
While the film was not exactly a success, getting mixed reviews from critics and only managing to scare up $52.2 million on a $23 million budget, the character of Riddick ended up becoming a franchise in and of himself; this had a lot to do with Diesel’s performance, but also because of the character, his unique abilities, and personality.
Vin Diesel has gone on to be a major action star and has held beloved roles in major franchises like The Fast and the Furious and Guardians of the Galaxy, but his role as Riddick cemented his spot in sci-fi horror history as well. First and foremost, Riddick is not a traditional hero; in many ways, he’s the bad guy. His presence aboard the Hunter Gratzner makes many of the other crew members nervous, especially once he escapes after their landing. While he does agree to lead the survivors of the ship because his ‘eyeshine’ allows him to see in the dark where the rest of them cannot, he is seemingly unbothered by the deaths that occur, and has a strong survivalist nature – he is out for himself above all others, and even makes a deal with a bounty hunter to help him get off the planet in exchange for his freedom.
Riddick’s shifting moral compass and unique origins – him being one of the last of the Furyan race – make him a different sort of antihero. While he does possess many of the standard traits of a battle-forged soldier, mercenary, and criminal due to his history, he shows the occasional feat of heroism that is a sharp, almost 180-degree transformation each and every time; he’s unpredictable, and that’s all part of his charm. Early in Pitch Black, it is established that he’s self-serving, but he makes a few decisions throughout the film that are interesting as they unfold because they are clearly against not only his own creed, but put himself in harm’s way for the benefit of others against his own judgment.
In many ways, Riddick is the sole reason why the movie became a franchise and even spun-off into multiple different types of media such as animated short film and video games. Beyond that, the following films that made Pitch Black into a trilogy, The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) and Riddick (2013) focused on the character over anything else, and fell away from the aspects that made the first film drag. The ensemble performances ultimately detracted from what audiences really wanted more of: Vin Diesel and Riddick.
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