Hollywood is always looking for its next big star. With thousands upon thousands of aspiring actors vying to headline big projects, only a few end up becoming bankable names on the big screen. While actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio became stars very early in their careers, other actors waited years for their big breaks.
Although it takes time for them to become big stars, many actors put on some of the best of the best work of their careers in smaller roles before making their big breakthrough.
“A Soldier’s Story” (1984) – Denzel Washington
Adapted by Charles Fuller of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A soldier’s story gained momentum towards the end of 1984, eventually being nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Directed by a socially conscious filmmaker Norman Jewisonthe film depicts a black army investigator who travels to the Jim Crow South to solve the murder of a black sergeant.
Adolf Caesar reprises his role from the original production to deliver a delightful performance as the slain sergeant, with each line reading more delightful than the last. More famous, however, is the appearance of Denzel Washington in a leading role, reprising his role from the play as Private First Class Peterson. It’s interesting to imagine that if the movie was made 10 or even 5 years later, Washington is probably in the lead.
‘American Graffiti’ (1973) – Harrison Ford
Only the second film from the Star Wars visionary george lucas, american graffiti is one of the most influential films of all time. inspiring Dazed and confused to Licorice Pizzathe film follows a group of friends as they roam the streets of Modesto, California in the early 1960s on the last night of summer.
The cast features a plethora of notable faces, including Ron Howard, Cindy Williams and Richard Dreyfuss. However, none would go on to have such a great career as Harrison Ford. Ford, who was pursuing a career in carpentry at the time, only took the role with the requirement that he would not have to cut his hair. While it would have seemed unlikely in 1973, Ford would become the biggest star of the bunch.
“Catch Me If You Can” (2002) – Amy Adams
One of the most enjoyable movie-watching experiences of the legendary Steven Spielberg, Catch Me If You Can is a delightful adventure through a wild, almost unbelievable tale. Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and tom hankthe loosely factual story follows young Frank Abagnale Jr., a con man, as he is pursued by FBI agent Carl Hanratty.
The film’s electric pace and lucrative cast may distract you from some names that appear in the film, one of which is a twenty-eight from your old Amy Adams. Adams, who would go on to become one of the highest-paid actors in the world, appears in a supporting role as a naïve nurse with whom Abagnale falls in love. Although she has made many accomplishments since, Catch Me If You Can remains a highlight of Adams’ career.
“My Summer of Love” (2004) – Emily Blunt
Based on the novel of the same name by Helen Cross, my summer of love is a rich and often poignant look at the emotions and reactions of adolescents. The film, directed by the famous Polish director Pawel Pawlikowskiconcerns the rediscovered relationship between two young women from opposite social backgrounds.
Unknown at the time, the young women are embodied by Nathalie Press and Emily Blunt in his very first role. Only two years later, Blunt would go on to star in The devil wears Prada,which became an iconic blockbuster and rocketed her to stardom. When he was just a young actor, my summer of love fully showcases Blunt’s cunning and intelligence as an actor.
‘Six Degrees of Separation’ (1993) – Will Smith
SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION is as brilliant as they come. Comedy, drama, satire and mystery rolled into one, the film is about Paul, a young man, who shows up at the apartment of a wealthy New York couple claiming to be a friend of their children as well as the son of a renowned actor Sydney Poitier.
The role of Paul, created by the famous theater actor Courtney B. Vancewas replaced in the film, going to Will Smith. Smith, who had been a notable name due to his time on The prince of Bel-Air, was largely a new face in pictures having only appeared in two films so far. His sensitive and deceptive performance flagged Smith as a name to watch, something that has been playing out ever since.
‘Smooth Talk’ (1985) – Laura Dern
Freely adapted from Joyce Carol Oates short story “Where are you going, where have you been?” speak softly is both a figurative and literal allegory of burgeoning female adulthood. Sadly underperforming at the box office, the film surrounds 15-year-old Connie, who experiences a sexual awakening that is challenged when a mysterious older man takes an interest in her.
The actors daughter Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern, Laura Dern, who plays Connie, has acting credits dating back to just 6 years old. Having already acted in films such as Foxes and TeachersDern’s real escape would not come until a year later in 1986 with blue velvet. Despite being only 18 in the film, Dern’s performance in speak softly is captivating and nuanced, proving that she is a truly natural actress from an early age.
‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ (1986) – Nicolas Cage
The 1980s were a decade of ups and downs for Francis Ford Coppola. While the 70s saw him emerge as a defining director, making all-time greats like The Godfather and Revelation now, the 80s were more random. One of Coppola’s more modest successes was Peggy Sue got marrieda fantasy comedy that surrounds a housewife who is blasted back in time to her high school days.
While the star Kathleen Turner was already a leading woman through films such as body heat and Romanticize the stoneit was a risk to throw Coppola’s nephew, Nicholas Cage, as his co-star. Although Cage’s over-the-top style is now considered iconic, his performance has been criticized for being cartoonish. Despite this, he would reach the mainstream a year later with Dreamerfor which he would win a Golden Globe.
“To Die For” (1995) – Nicole Kidman, Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck
While it was a standout 1995 film, die for is still underestimated. Accurately written and darkly comedic, the film is inventively delivered, combining direct-to-camera monologues and documentary-style filmmaking. Realized by Gus Van Zantthe film is about Suzanne Stone, a determined and ruthless news anchor who will destroy anyone who gets in her way.
The film is superbly acted from top to bottom with Nicole Kidman giving a searing performance as a ruthless news anchor. Also in the movie are Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck, both representing young students. Hailed by critics, the performances combined with an exceptional story make the film captivating. When he was just young in die forviewers can see the outlines of two actors who would later be considered two of the best of their generation.
“The Chinese Syndrome” (1979) – Michael Douglas
Characterized by film historian Rob Edelman as “one of the smartest Hollywood films of the 1970s”, The Chinese Syndrome was a critical and commercial success. Realized by James Bridgesthe film concerns a journalist who is put in the middle of a conspiracy while covering a story about a nuclear power plant.
Jane Fonda delivers a powerful performance as a hard-hitting reporter while Jack Lemon is equally terrific in a nervous, edgy classic performance by Lemmon. Also appearing is 35 years old Michael Douglas, who until then was a successful producer, but had not yet reached his zenith as an actor. It’s only 5 years later with Romanticize the stone that Douglas would be considered a bankable star.
“The Believer” (2001)
Possibly the greatest self-hate movie ever written, The believer is shockingly eloquent and certainly ferocious. Winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, the film would go on to underperform at the box office. Written and directed by Henry Bean, The believer follows Danny Balint, a young neo-Nazi intellectual from New York who is challenged when his identity is confronted.
Attempt to break into more serious roles as an actor after being on the Disney Channel, Ryan Gosling found his juxtaposition playing the role of the anti-Semitic Balint. Gosling has since become one of Hollywood’s most respected actors, however, often for roles that don’t require such ease as this. Becoming one of the most thoughtful project selectors of any modern actor, it all started for Gosling with The believer.
NEXT: Performances That Reignited An Actor’s Career
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10 Great Movies Starring Famous Actors Before Their Big Breaks – CNET – ApparelGeek