20 Movies That Starred A-List Actors Before They Were Famous

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A-list actors and actresses do not always get their breakout role in their first project. While some do, others are hidden in projects that may not have made an impression but were something the viewer could have seen as a child before that person became someone to look out for later on. There are many times when people’s current favorite actors were hidden in movies that may have aired on television but did not resonate with the audience, only for the viewers to look back and find their current favorite actor had actually had a supporting or leading role in an old movie they had not watched in years.

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Brie Larson had been a hidden gem as a child and teenager, appearing in films such as Right On Track and Hoot, before ultimately becoming a massive success as an adult. Meanwhile, actresses such as America Ferrara and Anne Hathaway had their breakout roles in their earliest projects.

While Chris Evans may be considered a big deal with projects like Captain America or Knives Out, only people who truly loved parody films may remember him from Not Another Teen Movie. While Dylan O’Brien may have risen to fame because of Teen Wolf and The Maze Runner, it was The First Time that allowed him to show his kind and vulnerable sides early on in a coming-of-age story. Although Anna Kendrick is one of the biggest names in Hollywood today, that was not the case when she was just another one of Kristen Stewart’s classmates in the first Twilight movie before she broke out with Pitch Perfect.

20 Hoot (2006)

Hoot
Hoot

Release Date
May 5, 2006

Director
Wil Shriner

Runtime
90

Hoot portrayed a small group of hopeful teenagers trying to save an owl’s habitat from destruction. The story follows the growing friendship between the main trio, Roy, Beatrice, and Napoleon, as they bond by coming to love nature and fighting against the adults who want to tear down the trees. Hoot received mostly negative ratings and tended to disappear among the many films that would be released.

Hoot Was a Launch Pad for Two Future Heroes

Following the film, two of its stars, Brie Larson and Logan Lerman, would go on to star in various films. Larson would go on to make a name for herself in the thriller Room, and then take on the role of Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel and other MCU projects. Brie Larson also showed her strengths in Apple TV+’s Lessons in Chemistry, where she played a genuine chemist, Elizabeth Zott, who wanted to make scientific breakthroughs in the 1950s.

Meanwhile, not long after starring in Hoot, Logan Lerman would take on the title role in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and the critically acclaimed film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. For other eagle-eyed fans, viewers will spot Luke Wilson, who portrays a police officer, and Cody Linley, who would go on to play Jake Ryan in Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana soon after filming this project.

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19 Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)

Scott Pilgrim vs The World was, for a while, a rare example of a comic book movie adaptation done well. Scott Pilgrim is a socially awkward teenager who falls head over heels in love with Ramona. But, things get out of hand for Scott after he realizes he must defeat Ramona’s evil exes in order to date her. The film has become beloved by fans for its comic relief and cooky embracing of its comic book nature.

Scott Pilgrim Is a Host of Fun Cameos

For the most part, Michael Cera is the big draw in this movie. While he may have had his breakout role in Superbad, Scott Pilgrim tends to be one of the roles he is most remembered for. Otherwise, this film is a stomping ground for future A-list actors in the making, including Anna Kendrick, who plays Scott’s sister, Stacey, Chris Evans, who is briefly in the film as one of Ramona’s exes, Lucas Lee, Brie Larson as “Envy,” Scott’s ex-girlfriend, and Aubrey Plaza, who plays Julie, one of Scott’s friends who hate him. The actors in this movie have gone on to massive success, starring and appearing in projects such as Barbie, Alice, Darling, Ghosted, The Marvels, and Parks and Recreation.

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18 Not Another Teen Movie (2001)

Playing off of the success of She’s All That, Not Another Teen Movie embraced the overused tropes in many teen movies, making fun of all of them in a film that parodies the characters and storylines that are constantly present and repeated. In this version, Jake tries to take Janey, the least popular girl in school, out to the school dance and make her popular. The film embraced other plots from movies such as 10 Things I Hate About You, Cruel Intentions, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty In Pink.

Chris Evans and Chyler Leigh Shine in This Comedy Film

Before Chris Evans made his big stand as Captain America or Chyler Leigh became associated with television hits like Grey’s Anatomy and Supergirl, these two co-starred as love interests in the parody film. For the most part, their careers took different paths, with Chris Evans dominating the box office with his superhero movies while Chyler Leigh attached herself more to television.

Chris Evans has begun taking steps away from his superhero background, starring in movies such as Ghosted, where he is the damsel-in-distress rather than the hero. While the performances in Not Another Teen Movie were praised, the film itself was given negative reviews from critics.

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17 She’s The Man (2006)

Upset by her school cutting the ladies’ soccer team and seeing an opportunity to humiliate her previous coach and ex-boyfriend Justin, Viola jumps at the chance to take on her brother Sebastian’s identity at a new school when he ditches to go travel with his band. But, Viola’s soccer dreams and love life collide when she finds herself falling for Duke, the soccer team captain.

Channing Tatum Played Soccer Before He Danced

She’s The Man already had an established star in leading actress Amanda Bynes. But, the film’s leading love interest was Channing Tatum, only a few months before his career took off from the release of Step Up. From Step Up to Magic Mike, Channing Tatum’s career blew up after 2006. She’s The Man gave a hint at what he would go on to become. Channing Tatum would go from a traditional teen movie love interest into a more comedy-fueled performer, as he would go on to show his range in projects such as 21 Jump Street and The Lost City.

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16 The Impossible (2012)

Based on a terrifying true story, a family is ripped apart when a natural disaster creates a massive wave that separates everyone. The film’s main family consists of the parents, Maria and Henry, and their three sons, Lucas, Simon, and Thomas. The film’s main journey finds the family split in two, desperate to reunite, with Maria and Lucas on one adventure, while Henry leads Simon and Thomas on another.

Tom Holland’s Film Debut Is a Massive Success

Tom Holland would grow up to become known for his role as Peter Parker in the MCU’s Spider-Man films and the MCU as a whole. But, before he was swinging his way into action, Tom Holland was Lucas, a terrified twelve-year-old boy who had to help take care of his mother until he could reunite with his father and younger brothers. Tom Holland’s performance was captivating, showing his star power even at a young age.

Tom Holland’s success has since ranged beyond Spider-Man with Uncharted, Cherry, and The Crowded Room. He even branched out into voice acting with films such as Onward and Spies in Disguise. The Impossible was given positive reviews from critics and is a beautiful, thrilling, and emotional disaster movie.

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RELATED: 20 British Actors Who Play American Characters Flawlessly

15 42 (2013)

42
42

Release Date
April 12, 2013

Runtime
128

The story of Jackie Robinson was always going to be an important one. When telling the story of the first black athlete to play in the major leagues, 42 worked to show the importance of equality. The film received positive reviews from critics and audiences and featured an extensive cast.

It Was the Breakout Role of a Beloved Avenger

Although Chadwick Boseman’s popularity skyrocketed with his inclusion in Captain America: Civil War when he was cast as T’Challa, otherwise known as the Black Panther, it was 42 that put him on the map. Chadwick Boseman gave a beautiful performance as one of the most beloved and remembered baseball players of all time. But, Chadwick Boseman is not the only familiar face in the film. 42 also features Grey’s Anatomy stars James Pickens Jr. and T.R. Knight, along with Ryan Merriman and one of Hollywood’s biggest names, Harrison Ford.

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14 Remember The Titans (2000)

This sports film tackled football, racial equality, and overcoming adversity. Remember The Titans forced a group of high school players to work together and learn to be a team and even friends after they are merged together to create one united front.

Ryan Gosling Was a Team Player

Only a few years before Ryan Gosling would win the hearts of people all around the world with his romantic leading role in The Notebook, he would be one of the many team members in Remember The Titans. While he was not necessarily the leading man of the film, his role portrayed him as not exactly being the best football player, but to still be one of the beating hearts of the team. While he may be easily skipped over in this role, it was hard to ignore him in the success that followed in anything from Drive to La La Land to Barbie.

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13 Bridge to Terabithia (2007)

Jess is an outsider at home and at school. But, when Leslie moves to town, maybe he is not so alone anymore. The duo sparks a friendship due to their mutual bullying and finds a sense of home and camaraderie within their relationship. As neither has a home life they truly love, they become each other’s family, and quickly declare their home to be the mythical, enchanting world of Terabithia that they create in a random spot in the woods.

Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, and Bailee Madison Are Breakout Performers

Bridge To Terabithia is beautifully written and cast. But, this movie would not be what it was without the heart-wrenching performances of Josh Hutcherson as Jess, AnnaSophia Robb as Leslie, and Bailee Madison as May Belle. While this movie may have gotten their names out there, it was The Hunger Games that boosted Josh Hutcherson into further stardom due to his role as Peeta Mellark. His leading role in Five Nights At Freddy’s continued to push him forward into success.

Meanwhile, following Bridge To Terabithia’s success, AnnaSophia Robb gave a thrilling performance as Bethany Hamilton in Soul Surfer, a film based on a true story, and took on the part of Carrie Bradshaw in The Carrie Diaries, a prequel spinoff to Sex and the City. Bailee Madison would find more success in Just Go With It, a leading role in The Good Witch, and a leading role in Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.

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12 Twilight (2008)

twilight
Twilight

Release Date
November 20, 2008

Runtime
120

The Twilight franchise followed a subdued Bella Swan, having just moved to Forks. She has an estranged relationship with her father but lives in a town where everyone remembers her as a child. But, once she realizes that her new crush, Edward, is a vampire and her old childhood friend, Jacob, is a werewolf, Bella’s life gets taken for a wild ride.

This Film Hides a Future Box Office Sensation

Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattison, and Taylor Lautner were the faces of this franchise, and as the three main leads, they should have been. But, if you look closer, you will find Anna Kendrick is in this movie as well as Jessica, one of the first friends that Bella makes at school. Anna Kendrick’s role is fairly small in comparison to the length of the saga’s five films. Anna Kendrick appeared in nearly every Twilight film. She would go on to get a popularity boost from playing Pitch Perfect’s leading role, Beca Mitchell. Her success in Hollywood only grew from there in projects such as Into The Woods, Up In The Air, Alice, Darling, and Trolls.

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11 Speak (2004)

14-year-old Melinda is just starting out her freshman year of high school, and things have already fallen apart. Her friends have all separated into their own groups, leaving their initial friendship in the dust. Besides, seeing as Melinda had already made a bad impression on her friends and classmates by calling in a party to the police, she was already feeling as lonely as ever. It certainly does not help that Melinda had not found a way to reveal that she had been raped at the party by an upper-class student.

Kristen Stewart Proves She Is More Than Bella Swan

Due to Bella Swan being known for her particularly dull personality, it did not matter how well Kristen Stewart played the character, she was given a rough reputation by fans in the midst of a war on questioning Twilight’s quality. Ultimately, though, Kristen Stewart’s variety of other roles she portrayed afterward proved her charisma and personality very much existed, such as her roles in Charlie’s Angels and Snow White and the Huntsman. Even her role in Zathura: A Space Adventure gave hints to her comical range. However, in Speak, Kristen Stewart offers a sense of young vulnerability that allows the audience to fully grasp the frustration and scary changes that come with growing up, as well as the devastation that comes with traumatic experiences.

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RELATED: Kristen Stewart’s Best Indie Movies, Ranked

10 Home Alone 3 (1997)

Home Alone 3 has a similar approach to the original first two films, but it is ultimately a much different story. In this case, Alex, home sick from school, finds himself to be the only person home on his block while everyone else has left for the day and notices that there is a group of burglars wandering through his neighbor’s houses. Naturally, Alex is not believed by his parents and is torn down by his older brother and sister. But, while the first two movies are about young Kevin trying to protect his home, Home Alone 3’s stakes require Alex to unknowingly save government-level secrets from terrorists.

Alex’s Older Sister Is Scarlett Johansson

Pay close attention, and you will notice that Alex’s annoying older sister, Molly, would eventually grow up to become one of the world’s most well-known superhero faces. While Scarlett Johansson starred in various films, it was her work in Iron Man 2 as Natasha Romanoff that transformed her into a household name.

Outside of working with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scarlett Johansson also appeared in movies such as Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story, Asteroid City, and The Jungle Book. While Scarlett Johanson’s role in Home Alone 3 is not particularly large, and the character herself is fairly one-note, she is still enjoyable to watch on screen.

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9 Zapped (2014)

Zoey is surrounded by boys, and none of them are particularly impressive. They make messes, ruin her things, and are just all-around unpleasant to be surrounded by. But, everything changes when Zoey’s phone gains the ability to control the men around her, as if she is giving commands to dogs. While Zoey eventually destroys the capability, it is not without tons of mayhem first.

Zapped Is a Zendaya-Led Disney Channel Original Movie

Zendaya was already a well-known face in the world of Disney Channel, due to her work on Shake It Up, Frenemies, and K.C. Undercover, about to make its debut the following year. But, arguably, Zendaya did not reach worldwide phenomenon status until after she was cast in Spider-Man: Homecoming and her leading role in HBO’s Euphoria. Between her success as main character Rue, and making her own mark as Marvel’s MJ, Zendaya’s influence has been rising, whether it be in drama shows or action-packed movies. Two of Zendaya’s other big movies that have helped catapult her to stardom include The Greatest Showman and Dune.

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8 The Derby Stallion

The Derby Stallion Zac Efron as Patrick at a horse stable
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Lonely teenage boy, Patrick, is uncertain about what he wants to do with his life. But, he knows that his father pushing him to play baseball is not the answer. So, when he learns from his friend, the town outcast, how to steeplechase.

Zac Efron Shows Early Star Power

Zac Efron takes the lead role in The Derby Stallion, giving a glimpse of what he would accomplish later in life. While The Derby Stallion was released in 2005, Zac Efron would be hitting his big break only one year later with the premiere of Disney Channel’s High School Musical. Zac Efron’s portrayal of Troy Bolton earned him excitement from viewers, and a solid following for his next few projects, including Hairspray, 17 Again, and Charlie St. Cloud. Zac Efron’s career would then have him begin to take on more adult roles as he grew older, which included the raunchy comedies Neighbors, and Baywatch.

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7 Aliens in the Attic (2009)

When the Pearson family goes on a family vacation in Michigan, the last thing they expect is an alien invasion. Yet, this vacation house is filled with unexpected surprises. Aliens in the Attic may be a kids’ and family sci-fi film, but it was given mostly negative reviews. Even known names in the film, including J.K. Simmons, Tim Meadows, Ashley Tisdale, and Josh Peck, were not able to turn it around.

Aliens in the Attic Was Austin Butler’s First Movie

These days, Austin Butler is a household name due to his work on Elvis. But, if you were not paying attention to Disney Channel and Nickelodeon in the early 2000s, you would have missed the early rise of Austin Butler in many guest appearances in shows such as Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, Unfabulous, iCarly, Zeke and Luther, and many more. As his career progressed, Austin Butler appeared as the main male love interest to Ashley Tisdale’s Sharpay Evans in Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure, a failed spinoff of the High School Musical trilogy. He also went on to become a series regular in the short-lived ABC Family series, Ruby and the Rockits, a guest-starring role in Switched At Birth, a main role in The Carrie Diaries, and a leading role in The Shannara Chronicles.

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6 Alley Cats Strike (2000)

Alley Cats Strike Kaley Cuoco as Elisa and Kyle Schmid as Alex celebrate a victory at a bowling tournament
Disney Channel

Bowling is not what anyone thinks of when people are asked what the big sport in town is. But, when a basketball game results in a tie for The Mighty Apple, East Appleton and West Appleton must determine what sport will determine which school will receive the victory. The tie-breaker, to everyone’s shock and horror, is bowling. Luckily for West Appleton, sports-dominating Todd is listed as a member of the bowling team. Unfortunately for West Appleton, Todd cannot actually bowl, and thus begins the unlikely friendship between Todd and the bowling team.

Kaley Cuoco Is a Junior High Bowler

Before Kaley Cuoco was hanging out with Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard in The Big Bang Theory, or trying to escape a mysterious murderer in The Flight Attendant, she was just another member of the West Appleton bowling team. Cuoco played Elisa, one of the more competent bowlers in school and someone who has a love and enjoyment for the game, rather than obsessing over points. While this was not her biggest role, it was still one of her earliest films. Afterward, Cuoco would go on to be a series regular in 8 Simple Rules and Brandy & Mr. Whiskers. Following the success of The Big Bang Theory and The Flight Attendant, Cuoco also starred in Based on a True Story while also taking on the voice role of Harley Quinn in the original Max animated series, Harley Quinn.

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RELATED: Ryan Reynolds Appears as Deadpool to Accept His First Emmy

5 Sabrina, The Teenage Witch

Before Sabrina, The Teenage Witch became a sitcom starring Melissa Joan Hart, the actress had led another film of the same name, which was meant to be an introduction to the magical world. However, it was ultimately forgotten as nearly everything, including Sabrina’s last name and the actresses originally playing Hilda and Zelda, were all changed.

Ryan Reynolds’ Role Is Long Forgotten

In the film, Ryan Reynolds played Seth, a popular guy Sabrina had a crush on, who was ultimately never brought onto the show. Seth is eventually ignored in favor of Sabrina’s relationship with Harvey, also played by a different actor than who would later appear on the sitcom. Luckily, for Ryan Reynolds, he did not need this job to be remembered to push his career forward. He would go on to star in films such as Definitely, Maybe, Just Friends, The Change-Up, The Proposal, and Green Lantern before his popularity would spike with the release of Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds has continued to excite fans with projects such as Free Guy, The Adam Project, and Red Notice.

Sabrina, The Teenage Witch Ryan Reynolds as Seth and Melissa Joan Hart as Sabrina
Showtime

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4 Real Women Have Curves (2002)

Following high school graduation, Ana is trying to determine what is next for her future, as her family is not in a great financial spot to send her to college. Still, Ana’s teacher believes in her ability to do more with her life. So, while Ana works at a factory, she also prepares an application to attend Columbia. Real Women Have Curves is also a film about speaking to body positivity as women come in all shapes and sizes, and speaks to the importance of recognizing that and self-love.

This Is America Ferrera’s Feature Film Debut

America Ferrera‘s role as the protagonist of this film had her receiving accolades in response to the film’s success at the Sundance Film Festival, among others. As this was Ferrera’s first feature film role, it was also her breakout performance. But, she quickly followed it up by appearing in Gotta Kick It Up! the same year. She continued her success with Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and then took on the leading title role in ABC’s Ugly Betty, where America Ferrera brought heart and comedy to her performance as the title character, Betty Suarez. Afterward, America Ferrera received the main role of Amy in Superstore and went on to have a main role in Barbie, the biggest movie of 2023, where she got to deliver the film’s biggest and best speech.

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3 The Princess Diaries (2001)

The Princess Diaries is a comedy film about Mia Thermopolis, an average teenager whose life gets turned upside down when she learns that her late father’s side of the family is actually royalty and that she is the Princess of Genovia. Starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews and directed by Garry Marshall, the film brought out the comedy of trying to understand one’s changing identity and the complicated bonding between grandmother and granddaughter.

Anne Hathaway Made an Impression in Her First Leading Movie Role

Before The Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway‘s only other main role was in a short-lived television series, Get Real, which also starred Jesse Eisenberg. However, The Princess Diaries put Anne Hathaway on the map, as it was a breakout role for the successful actress. Jumping from the film’s success, and its sequel, Anne Hathaway also embraced the charm and fun of Ella Enchanted before The Devil Wears Prada helped Anne Hathaway’s career even further as she tackled having fun and strong chemistry with Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, and aspiring newcomer at the time, and now massively successful actress, Emily Blunt.

Anne Hathaway’s career would also allow her to take on roles in films such as Alice in Wonderland, Valentine’s Day, Interstellar, The Hustle, and Dark Waters.

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2 Yes Day (2021)

yes day
yes day

A mom and dad who usually say no decide to say yes to their kids’ wildest requests with a few ground rules on a whirlwind day of fun and adventure. Starring Jennifer Garner and Jenna Ortega.

Release Date
March 12, 2021

Runtime
1hr 26min

Should you agree with everything your kids want to do all the time? Probably not. But, with this family starting to feel estranged, maybe creating a day of family time may be a good idea. When Allison and Carlos agree to let their kids pick all their activities for the day, it is a battle of will for mother-and-daughter duo Allison and Katie to determine if Katie will get to go to a concert alone with her friend.

Jenna Ortega Had Yet to be So Closely Tied to the Horror Genre

In recent years, due to her role as Wednesday Addams in Tim Burton’s Wednesday as well as having a starring role in the Scream movies, Jenna Ortega has become synonymous with the horror genre. Even upcoming projects she has, including Beetlejuice 2, are connected to scary stories. But, at this point, Jenna Ortega was still finding her way in roles following her success as Harley Diaz on Disney Channel’s Stuck In The Middle.

While Jenna Ortega is very talented at horror projects, her close affiliation with the genre may prevent people from remembering that she can also do great in sillier comedies or family films. While You is a horror-genre series, her character was not on the receiving end of Joe Goldberg’s worst behavior.

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1 The First Time (2012)

Teenagers Dave and Aubrey find themselves making a connection at a party when Aubrey’s older boyfriend shows no real interest in her, while Dave struggles through an attempted love confession for his best friend, Jane. Throughout The First Time, Dave and Aubrey discover what it means to fall in love for the first time, as the movie encourages them to step outside their comfort zone.

Dylan O’Brien and Britt Robertson’s Chemistry Is Perfect for This

The First Time was released right after Teen Wolf premiered, showing Dylan O’Brien on the rise, while Britt Robertson already had many projects under her belt. Their work together shows a perfectly innocent chemistry that works for their characters and the situations they find themselves in. Following this movie, things only grew for both of them.

After Dylan O’Brien‘s success as Stiles in Teen Wolf, he also broadened out into the young adult dystopian genre as the lead in The Maze Runner trilogy, took on the lead in American Assassin, Love and Monsters, and took on a slightly different role in Not Okay. Meanwhile, Britt Robertson would take on leading roles in Disney Channel’s Avalon High, as well as For The People, Girlboss, The Secret Circle, The Rookie: Feds, I Still Believe, Tomorrowland, and The Space Between Us.

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