Updated date:

25 Best Movie Acting Debuts

Author:

G. Jones has been an online writer for over 4 years. They are from Manila, Philippines and love writing about the entertainment industry.

Natalie Portman starred opposite Jean Reno in The Professional (1994)

Natalie Portman starred opposite Jean Reno in The Professional (1994)

The role that often comes to mind when you talk about first movie acting roles is Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) where he played Glen Lantz—the guy who gets eaten by his bed. After Nightmare, Depp turned to TV and became popular in the series 21 Jump Street, which made him ripe to take the lead of Edward Scissorhands (1990), 6 years later. More movie roles soon followed right after.

There is no easy shortcut to Hollywood stardom, but for some, whether they came from stage, TV, or just arrived for the first time, comes that one breakout, life-changing role. The following 25 actors and actresses’ very first movie roles had the most impact on their careers (some even got nominated for an award and won), prove that they’re either just too talented even for luck, or it was just inevitable because that word “star” has always been hanging above their heads.

Let’s begin the countdown.

The wonder from down under, Crocodile Dundee grossed $328,203,506 worldwide

The wonder from down under, Crocodile Dundee grossed $328,203,506 worldwide

25. PAUL HOGAN as Michael J. "Crocodile" Dundee in CROCODILE DUNDEE (1986)

The debut nobody saw coming. Hogan came out of nowhere to star in the titular role of an Australian outback bushman. The movie was an international success. In the US, it was second only to Top Gun in box office receipts. Hogan won a Golden Globe for his role and followed it up with two more sequels.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Mick “Crocodile” Dundee

Crocodile Dundee (1986)

Peter Faiman

Terry Dead

Almost An Angel (1990)

John Cornell

Lightning Jack Kane

Lightning Jack (1994)

Simon WIncer

Porter

Flipper (1996)

Alan Shapiro

Vince Hopgood

Strange Bedfellows (2004)

Dean Murphy

Paul Hogan Filmography: Crocodile Dundee (1986), Crocodile Dundee II (1988), Almost An Angel (1990), Lightning Jack (1994), Flipper (1996), Floating Away (1998), Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001), Strange Bedfellows (2004), Charlie & Boots (2009).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

24. CAMERON DIAZ as Tina Carlyle in THE MASK (1994)

Cameron Diaz was as an Elite model before trying out 12 times for the role of Tina, a sexy lounge singer who became Stanley Ipkiss' (Jim Carrey) love interest. She was able to beat other bombshells like Anna Nicole Smith, Vanessa L. Williams, and Kristy Swanson for the role. Diaz became a star overnight and in just 3 years, was a bonafide sex symbol known all over the world.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Mary Jensen

There’s Something About Mary (1998)

Farrelly Brothers

Natalie Cook

Charlie’s Angels (2000)

Joseph McGinty Nichol

Christina Walters

The Sweetest Thing (2002)

Roger Kumble

Maggie Feller

In Her Shoes (2005)

Curtis Hanson

Elizabeth Halsey

Bad Teacher (2011)

Jake Kasdan

Cameron Diaz Filmography: The Mask (1994), The Last Supper (1995), She’s the One (1996), Feeling Minnesota (1996), Head Above Water (1996), Keys to Tulsa (1997), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), A Life Less Ordinary (1997), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), There’s Something About Mary (1998), Very Bad Things (1998), Being John Malkovich (1999), Any Given Sunday (1999), Things You Can’t Tell Just By Looking At (2000), Charlie’s Angels (2000), The Invisible Circus (2001), Shrek (2001), Vanilla Sky (2001), The Sweetest Thing (2002), Gangs of New York (2002), Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003), Shrek 2 (2004), In Her Shoes (2005), The Holiday (2006), Shrek the Third (2007), What Happens in Vegas (2008), My Sister’s Keeper (2009), The Box (2009), Shrek Forever After (2010), Knight and Day (2010), The Green Hornet (2011), Bad Teacher (2011), What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012), Gambit (2012), The Counselor (2013), The Other Woman (2014), Sex Tape (2014), Annie (2014).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

23. JAMIE LEE CURTIS as Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN (1978)

Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh's daughter was playing cop roles on TV before becoming Michael Myer's first prospective victim in the first movie of the successful horror franchise. The movie's huge success labeled Curtis as the the new scream queen. And scream and scream she did. Something her mother was known for in Hitchcock's Psycho.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Laurie Strode

Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter

Ophelia

Trading Places (1983)

John Landis

Wanda Gershwitz

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Charles Crichton/John Cleese

Helen Tasker

True Lies (1994)

James Cameron

Tess Coleman

Freaky Friday (2003)

Mark Waters

Jamie Lee Curtis Filmography: Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980), Roadgames (1981), Halloween II (1981), Trading Places (1983), Love Letters (1984), The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984), Grandview, USA (1984), Pefect (1985), A Man in Love (1987), Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987), Dominick and Eugene (1988), A Fish Called Wanda (1988), Blue Steel (1989), Queens Logic (1991), My Girl (1991), Forever Young (1992), My Girl 2 (1994), Mother’s Boys (1994), True Lies (1994), House Arrest (1996), Fierce Creatures (1997), Halloween H20 (1998), Homegrown (1998), Virus (1999), Drowning Mona (2000), The Tailor of Panama (2001), Daddy and Them (2001), Halloween: Resurrection (2002), Freaky Friday (2003), Christmas with the Kranks (2004), The Kid & I (2005), Beverly Hills Chiuahua (2008), You Again (2010), Veronica Mars (2014), Spare Parts (2015).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

22. JENNIFER HUDSON as Effie White in DREAMGIRLS (2006)

Hudson won over 700 other actresses vying for the role of Effie, the lead singer of the Dreamettes, a role that she looked born for. The American Idol alumnus owned it, and proved she was a talent to be reckoned with by winning Oscar's Best Supporting Actress, beating other actresses that include Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal).

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Effie White

Dreamgirls (2006)

Bill Condon

Louise

Sex & the City (2008)

Michael Patrick King

Rosaleen Daise

The Secret Life of Bees (2008)

Gina Prince-Bythewood

Winnie Mandela

Winnie Mandela (2011)

Darrell Roodt

Irene

Chi-Raq (2015)

Spike Lee

Jennifer Hudson Filmography: Dreamgirls (2006), Sex and the City (2008), The Secret Life of Bees (2008), Fragments (2009), Winne Mandela (2011), The Three Stooges (2012), The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete (2013), Black Nativity (2013), Lullaby (2014), Chi-Raq (2015)

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

21. NATALIE PORTMAN as Mathilda in LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994)

Portman had her start in an ultra-violent, cult action movie by French auteur Luc Besson, as 12-year old Mathilda who became an apprentice for an assassin (Jean Reno). How bad-ass is that, right? She gets to kill people and smoke cigarettes! Portman made such an impression in the movie that everyone couldn't wait for her to grow up.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Mathilda

Leon: The Professional (1994)

Luc Besson

Padme Amidala

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999)

George Lucas

Alice

Closer (2004)

Mike Nichols

Evey Hammond

V for Vendetta (2006)

James McTeigue

Nina Sayers

Black Swan (2010)

Darren Aronofsky

Natalie Portman Filmography: Leon: The Professional (1994), Developing (1995), Heat (1995), Beautiful Girls (1996), Everyone Says I Love You (1996), Mars Attacks! (1996), Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999), Anywhere But Here (1999), Where the Heart Is (2000), Zoolander (2001), Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), Cold Mountain (2003), Garden State (2004), Closer (2004), Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), V for Vendetta (2006), Paris, je t’aime (2006), Goya’s Ghosts (2006), My Blueberry Nights (2007), Hotel Chevalier (2007), Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007), The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), The Other Woman (2009), New York, I Love You (2009), Brothers (2009), Hesher (2010), Black Swan (2010), No Strings Attached (2011), Your Highness (2011), Thor (2011), Illusions & Mirrors (2013), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Knight of Cups (2015), A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015), Jane Got Gun (2016), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

20. LESLIE CARON as Lise Bouvier in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951)

Leslie Caron's acting start is a story right out of the movies. She was a ballerina discovered in theater by none other than Gene Kelly who cast her in his movie An American in Paris to replace a pregnant Cyd Charisse. She played the French love interest of Kelly's expatriate G.I. in Paris making a living as a painter. Caron's best role came in 1958 with Gigi.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Lisa Bouvier

An American in Paris (1951)

Vincente Minnelli

Lili Daurier

Lili (1953)

Charles Walters

Gigi

Gigi (1958)

Vincente Minnelli

Fanny

Fanny (1961)

Joshua Logan

Jane Fosset

The L-Shaped Room (1962)

Bryan Forbes

Leslie Caron Filmography: An American in Paris (1951), The Man with a Cloak (1951), Glory Alley (1952), The Story of Three Loves (1953), Lili (1953), The Glass Slipper (1955), Daddy Long Legs (1955), Gaby (1956), Gigi (1958), The Doctor’s Dilemma (1958), The Man Who Understood Women (1959), Austerlitz (1960), The Subterraneans (1960), Fanny (1961), Guns of Darkness (1962), The L-Shaped Room (1962), Three Fables of Love (1962), Father Goose (1964), A Very Special Favor (1965), Promise Her Anything (1965), Is Paris Burning? (1966), Il padre di famiglia (1967), Madron (1970), Chandler (1971), Surreal Estate (1976), The Man Who Loved Women (1977), Valentino (1977), Nicole (1978), Goldengirl (1979), All Stars (1980), Chanel Solitaire (1981), Imperative (1982), Dangerous Moves (1984), Courage Mountain (1990), Guns (1990), Damage (1992), Funny Bones (1995), Let It Be Me (1995), The Reef (1999), Chocolat (2000), Le Divorce (2003).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

19. KATE WINSLET as Juliet Hulme in Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Winslet's debut film (with Melanie Lynskey) was a dark drama based on the 1954 true story of the Parker-Hulme murder case in New Zealand and directed by Peter Jackson. Its one of those mature acting films and it brought out Winslet's prodigious talent. Director Ang Lee took notice and cast her in Sense & Sensibility* (1995). Two movies later and she was in Titanic (1997). And...well, you know the rest.

*Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress nomination

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Rose DeWitt Bukater

Titanic (1997)

James Cameron

Marianne Dashwood

Sense & Sensibility (1995)

Richard Eyre

Clementine Kruczynski

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Michael Gondry

Hanna Schmidtz

The Reader (2008)

Stephen Daldry

Joanna Hoffman

Steve Jobs (2015)

Danny Boyle

Kate Winslet Filmography: Heavenly Creatures (1994), Sense and Sensibility (1995), A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995), Jude (1996), Hamlet (1996), Titanic (1997), Hideous Kinky (1998), Holy Smoke! (1999), Quills (2000), Enigma (2001), Iris (2001), The Life of David Gale (2003), Plunge: The Movie (2003), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Finding Neverland (2004), Romance & Cigarettes (2005), All the King’s Men (2006), Little Children (2006), The Holiday (2006), The Fox and the Child (2007), The Reader (2008), Revolutionary Road (2008), Carnage (2011), Contagion (2011), Movie 43 (2013), Labor Day (2013), Divergent (2014), A Little Chaos (2014), The Divergent Series: Insurgent (2015), Daisy Chain (2015), Steve Jobs (2015), The Dressmaker (2015), Triple 9 (2016).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

18. WARREN BEATTY as Bud Stamper in SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961)

It didn't take long for Shirley MacLaine's baby brother to follow in her footsteps. Beatty was initiated into movies playing Natalie Woods' boyfriend. The movie was a hit and Beatty loved his face on the screen so much he never looked back. He also learned the craft of filmmaking from director Elia Kazan which inspired him to make his own movies.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Clyde Barrow

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Arthur Penn

George Roundy

Shampoo (1975)

Hal Ashby

Joe Pendleton

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

Warren Beatty & Buck Henry

Bugsy Siegel

Bugsy (1991)

Barry Levinson

Senator Jay Billington Bulworth

Bulworth (1998)

Warren Beatty

Warren Beatty Filmography: Splendor in the Grass (1961), The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), All Fall Down (1962), Lilith (1964), Mickey One (1965), Promise Her Anything (1965), Kaleidescope (1966), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Only Game in Town (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Dollars (1971), The Parallax View (1974), Shampoo (1975), The Fortune (1975), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Reds (1981), Ishtar (1987), Dick Tracy (1990), Bugsy (1991), Love Affair (1994), Bulworth (1998), Town & Country (2001).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

17. FRANCES McDORMAND as Abby Marty in BLOOD SIMPLE (1984)

McDormand's first film was as Abby, a woman having an affair with the bartender who works for her husband, who knew about them all along and arranges to have them killed. Blood Simple was a breakthrough indie film and also the first film of the Coen Brothers. McDormand went on to make more films and won numerous acting honors including the Oscars, Emmys and the Tonys (a.k.a. the Triple Crown). Not a simple feat.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Mrs. Pell

Mississippi Burning (1988)

Alan Parker

Marge Gunderson

Fargo (1996)

The Coen Brothers

Elaine Miller

Almost Famous (2000)

Cameron Crowe

Dean Sara Gaskell

Wonder Boys (2000)

Curtis Hanson

Glory Dodge

North Country (2005)

Niki Caro

Frances McDormand Filmography: Blood Simple (1984), Crimewave (1985), Raising Arizona (1987), Mississippi Burning (1988), Chattahoochee (1989), Hidden Agenda (1990), Miller’s Crossing (1990), Darkman (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Butcher’s Wife (1991), Passed Away (1992), Short Cuts (1993), Bleeding Hearts (1994), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Beyond Rangoon (1995), Palookaville (1995), Fargo (1996), Primal Fear (1996), Lone Star (1996), Paradise Road (1997), Johnny Skidmarks (1998), Madeline (1998), Talk of Angels (1998), Wonder Boys (2000), Almost Famous (2000), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), Laurel Canyon (2002), City by the Sea (2002), Something’s Gotta Give (2003), North Country (2005), Aeon Flux (2005), Friends With Money (2006), Miss Pettigrew’s Lives for a Day (2008), Burn After Reading (2008), This Must Be the Place (2011), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Promised Land (2012), Every Secret Thing (2014), Hail,Caesar! (2016).

Blood Simple - CRITERION COLLECTION

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

16. MONTGOMERY CLIFT as Ralph "Steve" Stevenson in THE SEARCH (1948)

Monty jumped from stage directly to a starring role in Hollywood. In The Search directed by Fred Zinnemann, he plays an American soldier in post-war Germany who helps a young Czech boy get reunited with his mother. Monty was nominated for Oscar's Best Actor award which went to Laurence Olivier for Hamlet.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Matt Garth

Red River (1948)

Howard Hawks

George Eastman

A Place in the Sun (1951)

George Stevens

Fr. Michael William Logan

I, Confess (1953)

Alfred Hitchcock

Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt

From Here to Eternity (1953)

Fred Zinnemann

Rudolph Petersen

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Stanley Kramer

Montgomery Clift Filmography: The Search (1948), Red River (1948), The Heiress (1949), The Big Lift (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), I Confess (1953), Terminal Station (1953), From Here to Eternity (1953), Raintree County (1957), Lonelyhearts (1958), The Young Lions (1958), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Wild River (1960), The Misfits (1961), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Freud: The Secret Passion (1962), The Defector (1966).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

15. GLENN CLOSE as Jenny Fields in THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (1982)

John Irving's bestselling novel's adaption to screen has Close play the feminist mother* of T.S. Garp (Robin Williams). A major role by all standards for a yet to be tested actress, but Close immediately made her mark with a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. Garp opened the doors for a long acting career.

*while Close played the mother, she was only 4 years older than Williams

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Jenny Fields

The World According to Garp (1982)

George Roy Hill

Sarah Cooper

The Big Chill (1983)

Lawrence Kasdan

Alexandra “Alex” Forest

Fatal Attraction (1987)

Adriane Lyne

Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

Stephen Frears

Cruella de Vil

101 Dalmatians (1996)

Stephen Herek

Glenn Close Filmography: The World According to Garp (1982), The Big Chill (1983), The Natural (1984), The Stone Boy (1984), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), Jagged Edge (1985), Maxie (1985), Fatal Attraction (1987), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Immediate Family (1989), Reversal of Fortune (1990), Hamlet (1990), Hook (1991), Meeting Venus (1991), The House of the Spirits (1993), The Paper (1994), Mars Attacks! (1996), 101 Dalmatians, Mary Reilly (1996), Paradise Road (1997), Air Force One (1997), Cookie’s Fortune (1999), 102 Dalmatians (2000), Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her (2000), The Safety of Objects (2001), Le Divorce (2003), Pinocchio (2003), Heights (2004), The Stepford Wives (2004), The Chumscrubber (2005), Nine Lives (2005), Evening (2007), Albert Nobbs (2011), Low Down (2014), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), 5 to 7 (2015), Anesthesia (2015), The Great Gilly Hopkins (2015).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

14. EDDIE MURPHY as Reggie Hammond in 48 HOURS (1982)

During the height of his popularity as a Saturday Night Live regular, Murphy turned to acting and got the role of Reggie, a convicted felon who gets a 48 hour prison leave to help a detective (Nick Nolte) track down a murderer. The huge commercial success of 48 Hours and succeeding hits like Beverly Hills Cop shot Murphy to the top of the A-List.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Reggie Hammond

48 Hrs. (1982)

Walter Hill

Billy Ray Valentine

Trading Places (1983)

John Landis

Axel Foley

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Martin Brest

The Klumps/Buddy Love

The Nutty Professor (1996)

Tom Shadyac

Donkey

Shrek (2001)

Andrew Adamson / Vicky Jenson

Eddie Murphy Filmography: 48 Hrs. (1982), Trading Places (1983), Best Defense (1984), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), The Golden Child (1986), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Coming to America (1988), Harlem Nights (1989), Another 48 Hrs, (1990), Boomerang (1992), The Distinguished Gentleman (1992), Beverly Hills Cop III (1987), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), The Nutty Professor (1996), Metro (1997), Mulan (1998), Dr. Dolittle (1998), Holy Man (1998), Life (1999), Bowfinger (1999), Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000), Shrek (2001), Dr. Dolittle 2: Showtime (2002), The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), I Spy (2002), Daddy Day Care (2003), The Haunted Mansion (2003), Shrek 2 (2004), Dreamgirls (2006), Norbit (2007), Shrek the Third (2007), Meet Dave (2008), Imagine That (2009), Shrek Forever After (2010), Tower Heist (2011), A Thousand Words (2012).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

13. MARK HAMILL as Luke Skywalker in STAR WARS (1977)

Hamill was doing okay with his recurring roles in TV soaps, when his friend Robert Englund (Freddie Krueger, in your dreams) urged him to audition as Luke Skywalker in George Lucas' new epic sci-fi movie. The successful Sci-Fi hit made Mark Hamill and Luke Skywalker parts of a million fans' vocubulary. The rest, my geek friends, is history.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Luke Skywalker

Star Wars (1977)

George Lucas

Kenneth W. Dantley Jr.

Corvette Summer (1978)

Matthew Robbins

Pvt. Griff

The Big Red One (1980)

Samuel Fuller

Will Tasker

Slipstream (1989)

Steven Lisberger

Michael Raynor

Timerunner (1993)

Michael Maso

Mark Hamill Filmography: Star Wars (1977), Corvette Summer (1978), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), The Big Red One (1980), The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia (1981), Britannia Hospital (1982), Return of the Jedi (1983), Slipstream (1989), Fall of the Eagles (1989), Midnight Ride (1990), The Guyver (1991), Black Magic Woman (1991), Sleepwalkers (1992), Time Runner (1993), Body Bags (1993), Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Silk Degrees (1994), The Raffle (1994), Village of the Damned (1995), Laserhawk (1997), Hamilton (1998), Watchers Reborn (1998), Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998), Walking Across Egypt (1999), Wing Commander (1999), Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders (2000), Joseph: King of Dreams (2000), Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), Thank You,Good Night (2001), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), Reeseville (2003), Ultimate Avengers (2006), Futurama: Bender’s Big Core (2007), Scooby Doo: Camp Scare (2010), Thelomeris (2011), Minkow (2011), Airborne (2012), Sushi Girl (2012), Virtually Heroes (2013), Kingsman:The Secret Service (2015), Scooby-Doo: Moon Monster Madness (2015), Lego DC Comics Super-heroes: Justice League:Attack of the Legion of Doom (2015), Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

12. GREER GARSON as Katherine "Kathy" Ellis in GOODBYE, MR.CHIPS (1939)

Goodbye, Mr.Chips started the movie career of Greer Garson playing the wife of Robert Donat's lovable headmaster in his younger days. She was an unknown TV actress at the time and because of this, became a big star. Garson was nominated in her debut but lost to Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O'Hara (well, its Scarlet O'Hara!). But, it didn't take long for her own statue to come, courtesy of Mrs.Miniver (1942).

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Katherine Chipping

Goodbye, Mr.Chips (1939)

Sam Wood

Mrs.Kay Miniver

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

William Wyler

Madame Curie

Madame Curie (1943)

Mervyn LeRoy

Susie “Sparrow” Parkington

Mrs. Parkington (1944)

Tay Garnett

Eleanor Roosevelt

Sunrise at Campobello (1960)

Vincent J. Donehue

Greer Garson Filmography: Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), Remember? (1939), Pride and Prejudice (1940), Blossoms in the Dust (1941), When Ladies Meet (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Random Harvest (1942), The Youngest Profession (1943), Madam Curie (1943), Mrs. Parkington (1944), The Valley of Decision (1945), Adventure (1945), Desire Me (1947), Julia Misbehaves (1948), That Forsythe Woman (1949), The Miniver Story (1950), The Law and the Lady (1951), Scandal at Scourie (1953), Julius Caesar (1953), Her Twelve Men (1954), Strange Lady in Town (1955), Sunrise at Campobello (1960), The Singing Nun (1966), The Happiest Millionaire (1967), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Little Women (1978).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

11. JESSICA LANGE as Dwan in KING KONG (1976)

Dino DeLaurentiis discovered Jessica Lange while she was modeling and cast her in the female lead* of his King Kong remake. The movie was a huge success and Lange won a Golden Globe acting award. Though, it would be 3 more years before she made another film, her success was forthcoming. She won two Oscars for Tootsie (1982)** and Blue Sky (1994) out of a total of 6 nominations.

*Meryl Streep auditioned but DeLaurentiis deemed her “too ugly” for the part
**in 1982, nominated for both lead (Frances) and supporting (Tootsie) acting categories

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Dwan

King Kong (1976)

John Guillermin

Cora Smith

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)

David Mamet

Juie Nichols

Tootsie (1982)

Sydney Pollack

Frances Farmer

Frances (1982)

Graeme Clifford

Carly Marshall

Blue Sky (1994)

Tony Richardson

Jessica Lange Filmography: King Kong (1976), All That Jazz (1979), How to Beat the High Co$t of Living (1980), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), Tootsie (1982), Frances (1982), Country (1984), Sweet Dreams (1985), Far North (1988), Everybody’s All-American (1988), Music Box (1989), Men Don’t Leave (1990), Cape Fear (1991), Night and the City (1992), Blue Sky (1994), Losing Isaiah (1995), Rob Roy (1995), A Thousand Acres (1997), Hush (1998), Cousin Bette (1998), Titus (1999), Prozac Nation (2001), Masked and Anonymous (2003), Big Fish (2003), Broken Flowers (2005), Don’t Come Knocking (2005), Neverwas (2005), Bonneville (2006), The Vow (2012), The Big Valley (2012), In Secret (2013), The Gambler (2014), Wild Oats (2016).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

10. JOHN MALKOVICH as Mr. WIll in PLACES IN THE HEART (1984)

A veteran of the stage, the greatest living actor (some say) made his debut as the blind Mr. Will who helps a widow (Sally Field) and a black handyman (Danny Glover) save the family farm by planting cotton. In his very first screen appearance, Malkovich was nominated for the Oscar Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Haing S. Ngor for The Killing Fields.*

*incidentally, was also Haing S Ngor’s film debut

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Mr. Will

Places in the Heart (1984)

Robert Benton

Mitch Leary

In the Line of Fire (1993)

Wolfgang Petersen

Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom

Con Air (1997)

Simon West

John Horatio Malkovich

Being John Malkovich (1999)

Spike Jonze

Marvin Boggs

RED (2010)

Robert Schwentke

John Malkovich Filmography: Places in the Heart (1984), The Killing Fields (1984), True West (1984), Death of a Salesman (1985), Eleni (1985), Rocket to the Moon (1986), The Glass Menagerie (1987), Making Mr. Right (1987), Empire of the Sun (1987), Santabear’s High Flying Adventure (1987), Miles from Home (1988), The Sheltering Sky (1990), Old Times (1991), The Object of Beauty (1991), Queens Logic (1991), Shadows and Fog (1992), Of Mice and Men (1992), Jennifer Eight (1992), In the Line of Fire (1993), Alive (1993), Heart of Darkness (1993), O Convento (1995), Beyond the Clouds (1995), Mary Reilly (1996), The Portrait of a Lady (1996), The Ogre (1996), Mulholland Falls (1996), Con Air (1997), The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), Rounders (1998), Being John Malkovich (1999), The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999), Le Temps Retrouve (1999), RKO 281 (1999), Shadow of the Vampire (2000), Les Miserables (2000), Knockaround Guys (2001), I’m Going Home (2001), Les ames fortes (2001), The Dancer Upstairs (2002), Hideous Man (2002), Napoleon (2002), Ripley’s Game (2002), Johnny English (2003), Um Filme Falado (2003), Adaptation (2003), The Libertine (2004), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), Colour Me Kubrick (2005), Flipping Uncle Kimono (2005), Art School Confidential (2006), Eragon (2006), Klimt (2006), The Call (2006), Drunkboat (2007), In Transit (2007), Beowulf (2007), Polis is This (2007), Burn After Reading (2008), The Great Buck Howard (2008), Changeling (2008), Gardens of the Night (2008), Mutant Chronicles (2008), Afterwards (2009), Jonah Hex (2010), Secretariat (2010), RED (2010), Disgrace (2010), Transformers:Dark of the Moon (2011), Lines of Wellington (2012), Warm Bodies (2013), Siberian Education (2013), RED 2 (2013), Cesar Chavez (2014), Penguins of Madagascar (2014), Casanova Variations (2014), Cut Bank (2014), Dominion (2015).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

9. ALAN RICKMAN as Hans Gruber in DIE HARD (1988)

For the record: Hans Gruber is one of the most iconic, impossibly hard to forget bad guys ever put on film. The late Alan Rickman has been acting on TV for 10 years before first appearing on the big screen opposite Bruce Willis. Younger audiences know him as the wizard Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies, but, it was in this movie, that he made his first magical entrance.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Hans Gruber

Die Hard (1988)

John McTiernan

Sheriff of Nottingham

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Kevin Reynolds

The Metatron

Dogma (1999)

Kevin Smith

Alexander Dane / Dr. Lazarus

Galaxy Quest (1999)

Dean Parisot

Severus Snape

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

Chris Columbus

Alan Rickman Filmography: Die Hard (1988), The January Man (1989), Quigley Down Under (1990), Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Close My Eyes (1991), Closet Land (1991), Bob Roberts (1992), Mesmer (1994), An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), Sense and Sensibility (1995), Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny (1996), Michael Collins (1996), The Winter Guest (1997), Judas Kiss (1998), Dark Harbor (1998), Dogma (1999), Galaxy Quest (1999), Play (2001), Blow Dry (2001), The Search for John Gissing (2001), Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Love Actually (2003), Something the Lord Made (2004), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), Perfume:The Story of a Murderer (2006), Snow Cake (2006), Nobel Son (2007), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Sweeney Todd (2007), Bottle Shock (2008), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), Alice in Wonderland (2010), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1 (2010), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2 (2011), Gambit (2012), The Butler (2013), A Promise (2013), Dust (2013), A Little Chaos (2015), Eye in the Sky (2015).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

8. EVA MARIE SAINT as Edie Doyle in ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)

Saint's debut film after lounging in TV serials was a dream come true. On the Waterfront is one of the greatest American movies ever made. Winner of Oscar's Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and for Saint, Best Supporting Actress playing the grieving sister of a murdered dock worker and also Terry Malloy's (Brando) love interest. Thanks in part to Grace Kelly turning down the role and making Rear Window instead.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Edie Doyle

On the Waterfront (1954)

Elia Kazan

Celia Pope

A Hatful of Rain (1957)

Fred Zinnemann

Nell Gaither

Raintree County (1957)

Edward Dmytryk

Eve Kendall

North by Northwest (1959)

Alfred Hitchcock

Kitty Fremont

Exodus (1960)

Otto Preminger

Eva Marie Saint Filmography: On the Waterfront (1954), That Certain Feeling (1956), A Hatful of Rain (1957), Raintree County (1957), North by Northwest (1959), Exodus (1960), All Fall Down (1962), 36 Hours (1965), The Sandpiper (1965), The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966), Grand Prix (1966), The Stalking Moon (1968), Loving (1970), Cancel My Reservation (1972), Nothing in Common (1986), Time to Say Goodbye? (1997), I Dreamed of Africa (2000), Don’t Come Knocking (2005), Because of Winn-Dixie (2005), Superman Returns (2006), Winter’s Tale (2014).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

7. TATUM O'NEAL as Addie in PAPER MOON (1973)

Little orphaned girl who meets a con man (her dad Ryan O'Neal) in which they become partners in crime, is one of the most unforgettable movie duos played by real life father and daughter* . Tatum O'Neal had no acting experience but it turned out, was a natural and won the Oscar Best Supporting Actress** award beating co-star Madeline Kahn and also young actress Linda Blair in The Exorcist.***

*was originally planned for Paul Newman and daughter Nell Potts
**at age 10, the youngest recipient in history
***was 14 at the time

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Addie Loggins

Paper Moon (1973)

Peter Bogdanovich

Amanda Whurlitzer

The Bad News Bears (1976)

Michael Ritchie

Alice Forsyte

Nickelodeon (1976)

Peter Bogdanovich

Sarah Brown

International Velvet (1978)

Bryan Forbes

Ferris Whitney

Little Darlings (1980)

Ronald F. Maxwell

Tatum O’Neal Filmography: Paper Moon (1973), The Bad News Bears (1976), Nickelodeon (1976), International Velvet (1978), Circle of Two (1980), Little Darlings (1980), Certain Fury (1985), Little Noises (1992), Basquiat (1996), The Scoundrel’s Wife (2002), The Technical Writer (2003), My Brother (2006), Saving Grace B. Jones (2008), Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal (2008), The Runaways (2010), Last Will (2010).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

6. ANNA PAQUIN as Flora McGrath in THE PIANO (1993)

Flora, her mute mother Ada (Holly Hunter) and their piano arrive from Scotland to the shores of 19th century New Zealand to live with her new husband. A role so innocent in a very mature environment, Paquin surprised not only Hollywood but the whole world. She won Oscar's Best Supporting Actress* award also, much to her surprise (and the rest of the competition, read: Holly Hunter, Emma Thompson, Rosie Perez, and Winona Ryder).

*was 11 years old at the time, just a year younger than Tatum O’Neal

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Flora McGrath

The Piano (1993)

Jane Campion

Young Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre (1996)

Franco Zeffirelli

Chloe Hamon

Blue State (2007)

Marshall Lewy

Lisa Cohen

Margaret (2011)

Kenneth Lonergan

Christina

Free Ride (2013)

Shana Betz

Anna Paquin Filmography: The Piano (1993), Jane Eyre (1996), Fly Away Home (1996), Amistad (1997), Hurlyburly (1998), A Walk on the Moon (1999), She’s All That (1999), It’s the Rage (1999), X-Men (2000), Almost Famous (2000), Finding Forrester (2000), Buffalo Soldiers (2001), Darkness (2002), 25th Hour (2002), X2 (2003), The Squid and the Whale (2005), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Blue State (2007), Mosaic (2007), Trick ‘r Treat (2007), The Romantics (2010), Open House (2010), Scream 4 (2011), Margaret (2011), The Carrier (2011), Straight A’s (2013), Free Ride (2013), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), The Good Dinosaur (2015).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

5. EDWARD NORTON as Aaron Stampler in PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

The search for the role of the altar boy with split-personality disorder is the stuff of legends. Norton* beat 2,000 other candidates among them Leonardo Di Caprio, James Marsden, Ed Furlong, Wil Wheaton, and Matt Damon. Norton's screen test was so convincing it fooled everyone including director Gregory Hoblit, that when word got out, they were touting him as the next Brando.

*was nominated for the Oscar Best Supporting Actor and won the Golden Globe

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Aaron Stamper

Primal Fear (1996)

Gregory Hoblit

Derek Vinyard

American History X (1998)

Tony Kaye

The Narrator

Fight Club (1999)

David Fincher

Monty Bogan

25th Hour (2002)

Spike Lee

Eisenheim

The Illusionist (2006)

Neil Burger

Edward Norton Filmography: Primal Fear (1996), Everyone Says I Love You (1996), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), Rounders (1998), American History X (1998), Fight Club (1999), Keeping the Faith (2000), The Score (2001), Death to Smoochy (2002), Frida (2002), Red Dragon (2002), 25th Hour (2002), The Italian Job (2003), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Down in the Valley (2005), The Illusionist (2006), The Painted Veil (2006), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Pride and Glory (2008), The Invention of Lying (2009), Leaves of Grass (2010), Stone (2010), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Bourne Legacy (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Birdman (2014).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

4. JULIE ANDREWS as Mary Poppins in MARY POPPINS (1964)

The role of the delightful, singing, dancing, magic-wielding English nanny landed on Andrews after she was denied the role of Eliza Doolittle in the movie version of My Fair Lady. But, since then, Andrews became synonymous with Mary Poppins in which she won the Best Actress award at the Oscars. A truly supercalifragilisticexpialidocious turn of events.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins (1964)

Robert Stevenson

Emily Barham

The Americanization of Emily (1964)

Arthur Hiller / Al Shenberg

Maria Von Trapp

The Sound of Music (1965)

Robert Wise

Lili Smith

Darling LIli (1970)

Blake Edwards

Victoria Grant / Victor Grezhinski

Victor/Victoria (1982)

Blake Edwards

Julie Andrews Filmography: Mary Poppins (1964), The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), Torn Curtain (1966), Hawaii (1966), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), Star! (1968), Darling Lili (1970), The Tamarind Seed (1974), 10 (1979), Little Miss Marker (1980), S.O.B. (1981), Victor Victoria (1982), The Man Who Loved Women (1983), That’s Life! (1986), Duet for One (1986), A Fine Romance (1991), Our Sons (1991), Relative Values (2000), The Princess Diaries (2001), The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004), Tooth Fairy (2010)

Mary Poppins 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

3. BARBRA STREISAND as Fanny Brice in FUNNY GIRL (1968)

Fanny, the Ziegfield folly girl who rose stardom mirrors Streisand's own rise to popularity. A role she took from Broadway to Hollywood and insured her legend. She won the Academy for Best Actress*, sharing it with Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter.

*she was in the voting block, voting for herself actually caused the tie.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Fanny Brice

Funny Girl (1968)

William Wyler

Dolly Levi

Hello, Dolly! (1969)

Gene Kelly

Katie Morosky

The Way We Were (1973)

Sydney Pollack

Esther Hoffman Howard

A Star is Born (1976)

Howard Zieff

Yentl Mendrel

Yentl (1983)

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand Filmography: Funny Girl (1968), Hello, Dolly! (1969), On a Clear ay You Can See Forever (1970), The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Up the Sandbox (1972), The Way We Were (1973), For Pete’s Sake (1974), Funny Lady (1975), A Star is Born (1976), The Main Event (1979), All Night Long (1981), Yentl (1983), Nuts (1987), The Prince of Tides (1991), The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), Meet the Fockers (2004), Little Fockers (2010), The Guilt Trip (2012).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

2. MARLEE MATLIN as Sarah Norman in CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD (1986)

The story of the deaf woman who is encouraged by a school teacher (William Hurt) to talk landed on Matlin, an actress with no film credit whatsoever. And she won an Oscar award for Best Actress beating the likes of Jane Fonda, Sissy Spacek, Kathleen Turner, and Sigourney Weaver. She was only 21 years old at the time, the youngest to ever win the major award.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Sarah Norman

Children of a Lesser God (1986)

Randa Haines

Jillian Shanahan

Hear No Evil (1993)

Robert Greenwald

Daphne Stark

It’s My Party (1996)

Randal Kleiser

Jane Claire

In Her Defense (1999)

Sidney J. Furie

Amanda

What the Bleep Do We Know (2004)

William Arntz/Betsy Chasse/Mark Vicente

Marlee Matlin Filmography: Children of a Lesser God (1986), Walker (1987), The Linguini Incident (1991), L’Homme au masque d’or (1991), Grand Canyon (1991), Hear No Evil (1993), It’s My Party (1996), Snitch (1996), Two Shades of Blue (1999), In Her Defense (1999), When Justice Fails (1999), Askari (2001), What the Bleep Do We Know? (2004), What the Bleep?: Down the Rabbit Hole (2006), Excision (2012), 4Closed (2013), The One I Love (2014), Silent Knights (2015).

25-best-movie-acting-debuts

1. ORSON WELLES as Charles Foster Kane in CITIZEN KANE (1941)

Actor, director, writer, producer. The greatest filmmakers of today still sigh at the thought of Welles' achievements in cinema as if to say, "wow." Only 24 at the time, and already a famous stage and radio whiz kid, Orson Welles' jump to the big screen is no less than making the greatest film of all time, is unparalleled—the greatest anyone could ever accomplish in the medium.

5 MEMORABLE ROLES

RoleMovieDirector

Charles Foster Kane

Citizen Kane (1941)

Orson Welles

Franz Kindler

The Stranger (1946)

Carol Reed

Harry Lime

The Third Man (1949)

Carol Reed

Othello

Othello (1952)

Orson Welles

Hank Quinlan

Touch of Evil (1958)

Orson Welles

Orson Welles Filmography: Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Journey Into Fear (1943), Jane Eyre (1943), Tomorrow is Forever 1946), The Stranger (1946), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Macbeth (1948), Black Magic 1949), The Third Man (1949), Prince of Foxes (1949), The Black Rose (1950), Trent’s Last Case (1952), Othello (1952), King Lear (1953), Trouble in the Glen (1954), Three Cases Murder (1955), Mr. Arkadin (1955), Napoleon (1955), Moby Dick (1956), Ford Star Jubilee (1956), Man in the Shadow (1957), The Long Hot Summer (1958), Touch of Evil (1958), The Roots of Heaven (1958), Complusion (1959), Ferry to Hong Kong (1959), David and Goliath (1960), Crack in the Mirror (1960), Austerlitz (1960), La Fayette (1961), I Tartari (1961), The Trial (1962), The VIPs (1963), Chimes of Midnight (1965), Is Paris Burning (1966), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Casino Royale (1967), The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967), I’ll Never Forget What’sisname (1967), The Immortal Story (1968), Oedipus the King (1968), Tepepa (1968), House Cards (1968), The Southern Star (1969), The Kremlin Letter (1970), Catch-2 (1970), Waterloo (1970), Malpertuis (1971), A Safe Place (1971), Ten Days Wonder 1971), Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972) Treasure Island (1972), Necromancy (1972), Hallmark Hall of Fame (1972), F for Fake (1974), Voyage of the Damned (1976), The Muppet Movie (1979), The Secret of Nikola Tesla (1980), Butterfly (1982), Where is Parsifal (1983), Hot Money (1983), The Enchanted Journey (1984), Someone to Love(1987).

THE RECAP

ACTORMOVIEROLE

1. Orson Welles

Citizen Kane (1941)

Charles Foster Kane

2. Marlee Matlin

Children of a Lesser God (1986)

Sarah Norman

3. Barbra Streisand

Funny Girl (1968)

Fanny Brice

4. Julie Andrews

Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins (1964)

5. Ed Norton

Primal Fear (1996)

Aaron Stampler

6. Anna Paquin

The Piano (1993)

Flora McGrath

7. Tatum O'Neal

Paper Moon (1973)

Addie

8. Eva Marie Saint

On the Waterfront (1964)

Edie Doyle

9. Alan Rickman

DIe Hard (1988)

Hans Gruber

10. John Malkovich

Places in the Heart (1984)

Mr. Will

11. Jessica Lange

King Kong (1976)

Dwan

12. Greer Garson

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

Kathy Ellis

13. Mark Hamill

Star Wars (1977)

Luke Skywalker

14. Eddie Murphy

48 Hours (1982)

Reggie Hammond

15. Glenn Close

The World According to Garp (1982)

Jenny Fields

16. Montgomery Clift

The Search (1948)

Steve

17. Frances McDormand

Fargo (1984)

Abby Marty

18. Warren Beatty

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Bud Stamper

19. Kate Winslet

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Juliet Hulme

20. Leslie Caron

An American in Paris (1951)

Lise Bouvier

21. Natalie Portman

Leon: The Professional

Mathilda

22. Jennifer Hudson

Dreamgirls (2006)

Effie White

23. Jamie Lee Curtis

Halloween (1987)

Laurie Strode

24. Cameron Diaz

The Mask (1994)

Tina Carlye

25. Paul Hogan

Crocodile Dundee (1988)

Crocodile Dundee

Also from this author:

Comments

Jo on February 19, 2018:

Tim Curry.