Actors Who Made It Big Fast

Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 4:40 pm

There are actors who toiled in obscurity for years, and then there are actors who made it big fast. Within just a few short years of starting their film careers, these actors and actresses found themselves headlining movies or otherwise drawing lots of attention. Maybe it was talent, maybe it was who they knew, or maybe it was just good old-fashioned luck. Whatever the case, I present a few interesting examples of actors who made it big fast (and, yes, this list also contains actresses who made it big fast).

Anna Paquin – While she’s known these days for playing Sookie Stackhouse on HBO’s True Blood, Anna Paquin got her start at the tender age of 11. That’s when she starred as Flora McGrath alongside Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel in The Piano. The film was a hit, and Paquin won a Best Supporting Actress award for her role. It doesn’t get much bigger than winner the Oscar on your first time out.

Steven Seagal – After returning to the U.S. from Japan, Seagal opened up an aikido dojo in California. He ended up with a number of celebrity clients, one of them being agent Michael Ovitz. Impressed with his potential star quality, Ovitz paid for a screen test and helped land Seagal his very first acting role in Above the Law. Playing Det. Sgt. Nico Toscani, Seagal helped lead the film to a $20 million gross and a freshness rating of 62% at Rotten Tomatoes. Even Roger Ebert gave the film a positive review, and it was the first of many films where Seagal would play an unstoppable badass.

Nicolas Cage – Young Nicolas Coppola first appeared in an uncredited cameo in the 1980 film Brubaker. Three years later, he changed his name to Nicolas Cage (reportedly to avoid cashing in on the fact that his uncle is Francis Ford Coppola) and landed the male lead in Valley Girl. He would become a consistent headliner from there, and he would eventually morph into one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Edward Norton – Norton made his film debut in 1996, and what a year it was for him. In that one year, he had significant roles in Primal Fear, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, and Everyone Says I Love You. That success was followed up in 1998 by a blistering performance as a white supremacist in American History X, and 1999 would see Norton play opposite Brad Pitt in the cult classic Fight Club.

Julia Roberts – The most successful actress ever at the box office, Julia Roberts spent 1987 and 1988 in such films as Firehouse, Blood Red, Mystic Pizza and Satisfaction (this one opposite Justine Bateman, who was supposed to be the real star of the show). Two years after making her debut, Roberts was cast in Steel Magnolias, and she picked up her first Oscar nomination for the role. She really exploded the following year, starring in both Flatliners and Pretty Woman. After 1990, her success couldn’t be stopped. Not bad for three year’s worth of work.

Charlie Sheen – As the son of actor Martin Sheen, Charlie had some little parts in films like Apocalypse Now when he was growing up. But it was 1984’s Red Dawn which gave him his first substantial role. By 1986, he was starring in The Wraith and Platoon, and he followed those up with Wall Street in 1987. The L.A. escort business has never been the same.

Jason Statham – The former swimmer was working as a male model when he met director Guy Ritchie. Not long after, Statham was cast as a streetwise con artist in the 1998 movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Statham was suddenly internationally known for his shaved head and laid-back acting style. He would team with Ritchie again in 2000’s Snatch (opposite Brad Pitt), and the success of that film would eventually land him his own franchise with 2002’s The Transporter.

Val Kilmer – After completing his stint in Juilliard’s prestigious acting program, Kilmer became one of the actors who made it big fast by starring (and singing) in his very first film, the comedy Top Secret! (1984). The following year, he headlined Real Genius and then played “Iceman” in the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun. While his star power has waned in recent years, Kilmer certainly came out of the gates strong.

Salma Hayek – Blessed with a stunning face and unbelievable body, Hayek spent the first two years of her film career (1993 & 1994) appearing in Spanish-language movies. She rose to international prominence in 1995’s Desperado, a movie which showed off all her assets in a steamy love scene with star Antonio Banderas. In 1996, she wowed audiences once again by re-teaming with director Robert Rodriguez for From Dusk Till Dawn. Playing a vampire named Santanico Pandemonium, she caused jaws to drop with her slow, erotic dance number (some of which featured her wearing a giant snake).

Daniel Radcliffe – His success was assured when he was selected from out of thousands of candidates to portray Harry Potter on the big screen. He was reported to have made 250,000 pounds for the first film, while Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was said to make him more than 8 million pounds. He’s starred in six Harry Potter movies to date, and he still has two more to go. Even if his acting career dies out after that, he’ll have made himself a rather nice chunk of change. He can buy all the owls and broomsticks he wants with that kind of money.

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So there you have it: 10 actors who made it big fast. If you can think of anyone I left off the list, feel free to let me know in the comments section. And, yes, you’ll have to wait for your comment to be approved, but that’s simply a formality designed to keep away those damn spammers. Don’t let a little wait scare you away.

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 at 4:40 pm and is filed under Movie Megalists, Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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