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The Best First Roles by Your Favorite Actors

Updated August 12, 2020 6.3k votes 824 voters 48.1k views30 items

List RulesVote for the most impressive acting debuts

Everyone has to start somewhere. Sure, it’s hard to imagine Tom Hanks ever putting on a wig and high heels, or Jim Carrey playing a silly red alien, but that’s how these future Hollywood acting legends got their start in the business. Did you know that Brad Pitt appeared on the soap opera Dallas? Do you remember that Kevin Bacon played one of the frat pledges that you rooted against in Animal House? You do now! Lots of famous actors got their start in small parts that might surprise you.

Can you name your favorite famous actors' first significant roles? We may have skipped over some inconsequential roles with little or no speaking lines, but these first parts played by now famous stars will definitely take you back. These roles and characters mark first time that we actually got to see these great actors in action. Some of these guys hit a home run during their first at bat, like Edward Norton, who received an Oscar nomination for his role in Primal Fear, and Michael Douglas, who garnered a Golden Globe nod for Hail, Hero!

Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, there is the embarrassment factor. Just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had to have his lines dubbed in post because his Austrian accent was incomprehensible in the movie Hercules in New York. Or worse yet, Sylvester Stallone, who dabbled in soft core porn as a character named Stud in the adult film The Party at Kitty and Stud's

Do you remember these early roles from top Hollywood actors? Many of these parts came before these actors were famous and helped launch their careers. Upvote the best first roles played by now famous actors below and see how these men have changed and how far they've come since early in their careers!
  • Alan Rickman, Die Hard

    Quick, think of the most iconic film villain of all time. If you're a big fan of films from the 1980s, there's a good chance Hans Gruber is your top choice. Alan Rickman was already a decorated actor in British theater before making his away across the Atlantic to square up against John McClane in Die Hard in 1988.
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    Edward Norton, Primal Fear

    It would be nearly impossible to point out a more stellar acting debut than Ed Norton's performance in his Academy Award nominated role as Aaron in Primal Fear. The 1996 drama's twist ending left audiences in disbelief, thanks to Norton's ability to play a sweet and naive monster in hiding.
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  • Will Smith, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

    Not every actor hits a home run with their first gig, but Will Smith isn't every actor. He played the fictional Will Smith in the fish out of water sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for six seasons starting in 1990. Smith would of course go on to become one of the most successful film actors ever, starring in monster blockbusters like Men in Black and Independence Day.
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  • Matthew McConaughey, Dazed and Confused

    "It'd be a lot cooler if you did." Matthew McConaughey's film debut came in Richard Linklater's cult classic Dazed and Confused in 1993. He played that creepy older dude who liked to hang out with high school kids. The Academy Award winner has since put together an impressive filmography with over 50 credits to his name.
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