Becoming a Hollywood A-lister is no easy feat. It usually takes years and years of grinding to book supporting roles that lead to starring roles that lead to big-name success. However, some actors get shot directly into the mainstream consciousness thanks mostly - if not entirely - to one breakthrough role. When you become the face of a major film franchise, millions of people learn who you are overnight.
Hugh Jackman, a man most known for appearing in stage musicals, became a runaway success story thanks to his role as Wolverine in the X-Men franchise. Chris Hemsworth went from Australian soap operas to the big time thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Robert Pattinson went from "that guy who played Cedric Diggery" to one of Hollywood's hottest young stars thanks to his part in the Twilight franchise. Get ready to vote up your favorite franchise leaders; here are some of the most high-profile examples of no-name actors who became the face of a Hollywood franchise.
- Photo: Star Wars / 20th Century Fox
No one expected Star Wars to become the biggest franchise in the known universe when the first film was released in 1977, but that's exactly what happened. Portraying the main hero of the franchise, Mark Hamill was taken along for the ride. Luke Skywalker was Hamill's debut on screen in a live-action film (he provided his voice to the animated film Wizards that same year) - and what a debut it ended up being.
While the actor has transitioned to primarily doing voice work in the latter stages of his career, he has been a hero to millions of fans around the world for decades now. Hamill officially said goodbye to the franchise that made him a household name decades earlier with 2019's The Rise of Skywalker, but he'll always be the true face of Star Wars.
31078Great breakout star?
- Age: 64
- Birthplace: Oakland, California, United States of America
- Photo: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome / Warner Bros.
It is hard to imagine where Mel Gibson would be today without the massive surprise success of the Mad Max franchise. With a production budget of around $200,000, the 1979 original would go on to gross around $100 million back in the days when that number was truly astonishing. Gibson, then a complete unknown in America, would go on to star in the first two Mad Max sequels and become one of the biggest names in the film industry for multiple decades.
While recent years haven't been too kind to Gibson, for a while there it was hit after hit after hit: Lethal Weapon, Tequila Sunrise, Braveheart, The Patriot, What Women Want, Signs. The man had hit streak that lasted over 20 years, which isn't easy to do in a business as fickle as Hollywood.
22554Great breakout star?
- Age: 64
- Birthplace: Peekskill, New York, United States of America
- Photo: The Hunger Games / Lionsgatee
Jennifer Lawrence may be a four-time Academy Award nominee and one of the most recognizable Hollywood stars on the planet nowadays, but when she was cast as Katniss Everdeen, the actor was a relative unknown. Before becoming an A-lister thanks to The Hunger Games, Lawrence was known for her main role on the television sitcom The Bill Engvall Show, her turn in the 2010 indie darling Winter's Bone, and playing Mystique in X-Men: First Class.
The 2012 YA adaptation became a hit with critics, spawned a highly successful film franchise, and shot Lawrence's star into the stratosphere. She became one of the most well-liked actors of her generation, and her bankability and prestige - bolstered by acclaimed turns in Silver Linings Playbook, for which she won an Oscar, and American Hustle - allowed her to take chances on riskier fare like mother! and Red Sparrow.
27584Great breakout star?
- Age: 30
- Birthplace: Louisville, Kentucky, United States of America
- Photo: Superman / Warner Bros.
During the casting process of the original 1978 Superman film, the production team was looking for a true unknown who could faithfully embody both the fumbling Clark Kent and the all-American Superman. Quite the tall order. And as challenging as this task was, they managed to find the perfect fit with Hollywood newcomer Christopher Reeve.
The Juiliard-trained actor was struggling to break through at the time, with roles primarily coming through the stage and the small screen before hitting a home run in a major way with Superman. He would become an icon to multiple generations of kids all over the world after starring in four Superman films. Years after he last donned the iconic costume, his career was altered forever by the tragic 1995 equestrian accident that paralyzed him from the neck down.
19445Great breakout star?
- Age: Died at 52 (1952-2004)
- Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America