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Look Twice! Before They Were Famous Actors in Big Movies You Forget They Were In

Ever be watching a movie and suddenly see a young face that looks awfully familiar? Probably happens a lot. Many stars of today started out in small roles in big films, sometimes in minor walk-ons or a brief speaking part. Here are fourteen now famous actors and actresses who show up for a short time in major motion pictures before they made it big.


Johnny Depp

Platoon (1986)

Oliver Stone‘s epic and personal story about combat in Vietnam centered on Chris (Charlie Sheen), a young man who volunteers into the military and end ups assigned to Bravo Company in the 25th Infantry Division where he is under the command of two ideologically diverse Sergeants, witnessing some of the more horrific moments in the war. The cast of the of Oscar winning drama is filled with several big names, including Willem Defoe and Tom Berenger, plus a lot of young up and coming soon to be stars, one of which is the baby-faced Johnny Depp, who appears briefly in only his third film role playing Lerner who is most notable for being the translator when the platoon raids a small rice village suspected of housing Vietcong operatives. It wouldn’t be long before Depp was headlining his own films and on to superstardom.


Matt Damon

Mystic Pizza (1988)

Just before Julie Roberts was about to take her position as the Queen of romantic comedies, she starred in this tale of two sisters working at a local pizza parlor with Roberts playing Daisy, a middle class girl falling for a rich guy with a heart of gold. On an early date, where his family has gathered for a meal at his house, Daisy is a little out of sorts in the wealthy environment. She even knows one of the servant girls. At the table is most of her new boyfriend’s family, though it’s clear he’s not on the best terms with any of them. Across the table from Daisy is Steamer, the younger brother, played by Damon in his film debut who even gets a few lines. That big beaming smile surely caught the attention of someone and it wasn’t long before Damon was on his way to international film sucess.


John Cusack

Sixteen Candles (1984)

John Hughes had a string of massive teen comedy hits in the 1980s, and none have had the lasting power like this charming coming of age tale staring Molly Ringwald as Samantha, a nebbish young girl with a longing in her heart for the handsome and dashing Jake (Michael Schoeffling), a popular boy already with a beautiful girlfriend. Samantha’s best friend is the nerdy “Farmer Ted” (Anthony Michael Hall) who, while tiny, geeky, and all-around obnoxious (though with a good heart) believes himself a ladies man. In his posse are two even more geeky boys named Cliff (Darren Harris) and Bryce (Cusack). This was Cusack’s second film role after a brief role in the forgettable Rob Lowe vehicle Class the year before. A minor part, he has a few lines though it’s easy to see how that earnest, innocent face would quickly become a household name a year later in the career making film, The Sure Thing and a long career in the movies.


Jack Black

Demolition Man (1993)

In the future, swearing will be illegal and sex will be done without touching. Also, all restaurants are Taco Bell. That’s at least how the world ends up in this action-packed thriller starring Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes, playing a cop and a criminal cryogenically frozen in the present and thawed in the future. In the story, loosely borrowing from Fritz Lang‘s 1927 epic Metropolis, most live on the safe, clean, comfortable surface with those not adopting the rules of this utopian society huddled underground. The leader of these people is Edgar Friendly (Denis Leary) and he’s surrounded by dirty, disheveled followers, one of whom, in a blink or you’ll miss it moment, is none other than Jack Black in his third film role. He’d go another seven years before finally breaking out in the 2000 hit, High Fidelity (starring the above mentioned John Cusack) where he stole every scene he was in and from there became a top-billed star.


Wesley Snipes & Woody Harrelson

Wildcats (1986)

Speaking of Wesley Snipes, back in the 1970s and 80s, eternally peppy Goldie Hawn was lighting up theaters in a number of well-received comedies, and in 1986, was cast as Molly McGrath, the new head coach of an inner-city high school football team. The hard-luck team of misfits is full of big personalities, and two the of the biggest are Krushinski (Harreslon) and Trumaine (Snipes), star players on the team who need a little guidance. Film debuts for both the future stars, Harrelson was about to burst on the scene in television in a supporting role on the huge hit Cheers, where he would stay until it ended in 1993, but not before teaming up with Snipes in theaters for the second time in White Men Can’t Jump (1992) before becoming a major film star. Snipes on the other hand took his debut and ran with it, having a string of film roles that included a third pairing with Harrelson in 1995 called Money Train before becoming a big star himself.


Gwyneth Paltrow

Hook (1991)

Bringing to life the fabled tale of Peter Pan, director Steven Spielberg cast comedian Robin Williams in the title role and set about filming a massive, large-scale production with a huge, all-star cast, including Dustin Hoffman and Julia Roberts. The role of Wendy was played by two women, with Maggie Smith portraying the older Granny Wendy and in a brief flashback, Paltrow as Young Wendy. In her second film role, Paltrow, who is Spielberg’s goddaughter, made a big impression with her blonde good looks and charming smile. A few years later, she would turn heads, and lose hers, in the crime drama Se7en (1995) before heading to the Oscars for a win in the romantic drama Shakespeare in Love (1999).


Milla Jovovich

Chaplin (1992)

The story of legendary film star and innovator Charlie Chaplin comes to the big screen in the fictionalized biography of the acclaimed writer, director and controversial actor. A young Robert Downey Jr. proves himself a great talent in the lead, while the huge supporting cast is populated by a long list of big names. Lost in that list is a face that melted hearts in her third movie role. Jovovich plays Mildred Harris, a 16-year-old girl who falls under the charms of the 30-year-old Chaplin, dating briefly before marrying and divorcing a year later. While her role is small, Jovovich made a big impression and it wasn’t long before she was cast in the career-defining Fifth Element and then on to Resident Evil success.


Kevin Spacey

Working Girl (1988)

Though Indiana Jones and Han Solo are big names for Harrison Ford, he also had a few shots at romantic leads, and in this Mike Nichols‘ Film, he plays opposite Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver about a double-crossed secretary who seizes an opportunity to play her boss and get ahead in the cutthroat world of Wall Street investment banking. Tricked into a meeting with Bob Spek (Spacey) in a limo, she is appalled by his behavior, which includes drugs and possible prostitution. Spacey was already working in television at the time and had made his film debut in Heartburn two years earlier, but this brief role had significance and would help pave the way to films like Glengarry Glen Ross before his Oscar winning turn in American Beauty.


Zoe Saldana

The Terminal

The story of an immigrant named Viktor (Tom Hanks) whose country, embroiled in a sudden civil war, is no longer recognized as sovereign by the United States. Steven Spielberg directed this comedy/drama, casting Saldana as Dolores, a customs agent who interacts with Viktor. Viktor makes friends with Enrique Cruz (Diego Luna) who has a big crush on Dolores and tries his best to help him make a date. Her role is short and the young actress is compelling in her brief sixth film role, a year after another short role in Pirates of the Caribbean The Curse of the Black Pearl. Of course, she would later hit it big in the Star Trek reboot.


Chris Pratt

Wanted (2008)

This action thriller about an office worker who learns he is the son of a renowned assassin, recruited into the fold by a mysterious woman when she tells him his father’s killer is now after him. Starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie-Pitt, the film focuses much of its attention on elaborate special effect sequences. McAvoy’s character, named Wesley, has a girlfriend who is cheating on him with his best friend and office mate, Barry (Pratt). His part is small, but Pratt shows a bit of that roguish charm that would make him a huge box office sensation a few years later.


Cuba Gooding Jr.

A Few Good Men

A military courtroom drama that sees Tom Cruise facing off against Jack Nicholson, this Arron Sorkin play, adapted for the big screen, has several big name stars on the cast list, including Kevin Bacon and Keifer Sutherland. In the third act, the film shifts to the testimony and cross examinations between the two counselors, Cruise and Bacon. A short list of witnesses take the stand, with a brief appearance by Gooding Jr. as Cpl. Carl Hammaker who comes and goes in a blink. This was a year after his acclaimed role as Tre Styles in Boyz n the Hood, but four years later, he would team up with Cruise again and win an Academy Award for his portrayal of Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire.


Matthew McConaughey

Larger Than Life (1996)

A motivational speaker learns that his father has passed away and left him a big inheritance, a real live elephant. Bill Murray plays Jack, who takes possession of the pachyderm and needs to transport it across country. At one point he meets a trucker named Tip Tucker (McConaughey) at a truck stop and tricks him into thinking his load has been canceled and so has room to take on Vera the Elephant. Tucker is a fast-talking, hyper-active driver who tries to get Jack on his side, but eventually finds out he’s been fooled. McConaughey is barely recognizable under the long hair and trucker cap, but easily spotted once he starts talking. The same year he co-starred with Sandra Bullock and Samuel L. Jackson in A Time to Kill, he was just building a name for himself, on his way to a string of leading romantic man leads before earning his Oscar for the Dallas Buyers Club.


Viggo Mortenson

Witness (1985)

After a young Amish boy traveling in the city with his mother witnesses a murder in the train station bathroom, a detective goes undercover in the Amish community when the boy’s life is thought to be in danger. Harrison Ford plays John Book, the Philadelphia cop who takes an interest in the boy and his mother but also befriends the peaceful community, including Moses Hochleitner (Mortenson) a member of the Amish village that stands with Book. Mortenson’s debut, his role is small and it would be another fifteen years before he got his big break in the Lord of the Rings series.


Julianne Moore

The Fugitive (1993)

A wealthy, respected doctor comes home to find his wife murdered and he the prime suspect. Harrison Ford (three times on this list) plays the good doctor who, once convicted, manages to escape when his transport bus is struck by a train. He goes on the run to try and clear his name, at one point sneaking into a hospital to research his leads. An ER doctor, played by Moore, spots him checking a patient, realizing he’s not on staff. The role is brief and one of her early parts, but her fresh face and authentic performance mark the real start of  fast rising career as one of Hollywood’s most talented actresses, leading to her Oscar win in 2014 for Still Alice.


Who are some stars you’ve seen in films you’d forgotten or didn’t expect to see? Let us know in the comments below.

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One Response

  1. newguy87 February 18, 2016