Everyone has got to start somewhere, and this is true for film stars as well as any other profession. For many of today’s stars, somewhere was actually pretty decent and a look back through history shows that there have been some fantastic debut films by Hollywood’s finest. This includes Natalie Portman in Leon: The Professional, Ed Norton in Primal Fear, Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun, Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween and Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I. Not all actors can look back on their first major theatrical release with such great pride, however.
Many of today’s stars started off with some rather embarrassing, yet entertaining, performances. Often it has little to do with the performer themselves, and instead it is to do with the film. Starting off as an actor you cannot pick and choose like the established stars, which means that often a performer will pick a role which they would not have done otherwise. These embarrassing debut films add some charm to these stars, and many of them will be able to look back and laugh on their first performance (this is probably quite easy when you have more money than you know what to do with).
Each performer on this list has worked their way up the ladder and gone on to become established stars in the movie industry. This shows that they have worked hard to reach the top, even if there is a performance or 2 which they may cause them to blush.
Here are the top 10 embarrassing debut film performances from Hollywood’s stars.
10. Clint Eastwood – Revenge of the Creature
The name Clint Eastwood instantly conjures images of a tough, grizzly anti-hero and “The Man with No Name,” but this is not how Eastwood’s career began. His debut role was a lab technician in the Revenge of the Creature, which was the sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon. It was hardly a classic, and fortunately Eastwood’s screen time was minimal to save his blushes. Eastwood’s character is conducting an experiment which he thinks has gone wrong as one of the rats is missing, but he then embarrassingly finds the missing rat in his lab coat.
Fittingly, Eastwood was uncredited and therefore was “The Man with No Name.” Not quite as cool as his mysterious Spaghetti Western character, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
9. Benicio del Toro – Big Top Pee-Wee
Benicio del Toro has played some fantastic characters in brilliant films, including Javier Rodriguez in Traffic, Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Jackie Boy in Sin City. His first role is not quite as cool as these great characters, as he plays the role of Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in Big Top Pee-Wee. Everyone has to start somewhere, and for Benicio that was a minor role which involved having hair stuck to his face. The film is a sequel to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, with this adventure seeing the title character and his talking pet pig help a travelling circus to win over the townsfolk. A talking pet pig and Benicio del Toro as Duke the Dog-Faced Boy may sound like an amusing watch, but unfortunately this is not the case.
8. Jack Nicholson – The Cry Baby Killer
Jack Nicholson is easily one of the coolest guys in Hollywood, and he has also put in some masterful performances in films such as The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, As Good as it Gets and Batman. His debut role would be in Roger Corman’s cult film The Cry Baby Killer in 1958, in which he plays the role of a jittery psychopath who takes a group of people hostage. Corman is a famous low budget B-Movie producer who has created some truly bizarre films (many including Nicholson), and although this is far from the greatest piece of cinema, these films did help to springboard Nicholson to fame.
7. Julia Roberts – Firehouse
’80s comedy Firehouse has been widely panned, but it would be the first film performance from Academy Award winner Julia Roberts. This certainly won’t be a piece that the star from Pretty Woman and Erin Brockovich will take pride in, but she can take some comfort in the fact that she was uncredited in her minor role as a fire-fighter. The plot is about an evil businessman that is setting fire to buildings around the neighbourhood, whilst 3 new female recruits have just joined the local fire station. Not only do the new recruits have to deal with the fires, but they also have to deal with being teased by the males in the department. It’s hardly a classic, but it would be the start of a long and successful journey for Roberts and it would not take her long to breakthrough and become one of the most notable romantic comedy performers in the ’90s.
6. Jennifer Aniston – Leprechaun
Before she was earning big bucks as Rachel on F.R.I.E.N.D.S or appearing in numerous romantic comedies, Jennifer Aniston was trying to break into the industry. This rather hilariously came in the form of the cult hit Leprechaun in 1993. Aniston landed the lead role as Tory Redding, and it is not her performance that may cause her to blush. Instead, it is the fact that it is a horror film about a sadistic leprechaun that goes on a killing spree to find its pot of gold. The tagline “Her luck just ran out” also adds to the comedy value and make it a must watch.
Appearing on the Graham Norton Show in 2014, Aniston recalls her embarrassment when her fiancé (Justin Theroux) watched the film with her after stumbling on the film whilst flicking through the channels in the initial stages of their relationship.
5. Leonardo DiCaprio – Critters 3
Leonardo DiCaprio has become one of the most respected men in the business, and put in dozens of sensational performances in films such as Titanic, The Beach, The Departed and Wolf on Wall Street. Even one of his earliest roles, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Earned him the respect of the industry, but just a few years earlier he made his film debut in a not so glamorous role. In straight-to-video Critters 3, furry aliens are attacking an apartment building in L.A, with DiCaprio’s character, Josh, and co trying to escape to the roof. It is nail biting stuff, and although slightly embarrassing, I’m sure he can now look back on this and laugh.
4. Angelina Jolie – Cyborg 2
Angelina Jolie was so embarrassed when she first watched this film that she was physically sick, but had she known how things would play out I’m sure she wouldn’t have minded too much. Jolie, 17 at the time, played the role of Casella “Cash” Reese, a cyborg that was developed to seduce and assassinate through self detonating. Reflecting on the role, the Hollywood superstar said “I think I thought I was making a real movie, which is odd, since there’s a scene where I’m decapitated and talking – as one does. But, yeah, I saw it and got really sick. I just remember my brother Jamie holding me and saying, ‘It’s going to be all right’”. As it turns out, he was right.
3. Nicole Kidman – BMX Bandits
Nicole Kidman has picked up dozens of awards and even has her own Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but it hasn’t always been glitz and glamour for the respected Australian actress. Before breaking through in the ’90s, Kidman was cutting her teeth in a number of low budget films in her home country in the ’80s. Her debut film, BMX Bandits, sees her play the role of 16-year-old Judy who is part of a trio that are chased on their bikes by criminals that are desperate to get their special walkie talkie’s back. Tagged “The Australian Goonies” by Tarantino, this is a generous comparison and Kidman has little to take from the film except learning how to ride a BMX. The plot, low budget and painfully ’80s style and soundtrack make this a cringe worthy debut.
2. Courteney Cox – Masters of the Universe
Whilst Jennifer Aniston was attempting to break through by being chased by a sadistic Leprechaun, Courteney Cox was being saved by He-Man from Skeletor after finding the Cosmic Key in the dreadful Masters of the Universe (based on the toy line). The film was a spectacular flop, both critically and financially, and Cox must have feared for her career as well as feel embarrassment from this film. The nonsensical plot, poor acting and being unfaithful to the original storyline ensured that this film is widely regarded as a huge mistake. Unlike the studio, which soon shut down, Cox was able to bounce back from this shocking film and her and Aniston would soon become Hollywood stars.
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger – Hercules in New York
When Schwarzenegger decided he wanted to crack the film world following his success in bodybuilding, he was given the opportunity in 1969’s Hercules in New York. This was many years before his breakthrough roles, and this meant that his accent was a lot stronger in this film than any other. It would turn out to be a complete disaster of a film, with a painful performance from Schwarzenegger that saw his voice dubbed over upon release. He also wrestles/boxes a man in a very cheap bear costume, ensuring that this is the most cringe-worthy entry on the list but also quite an entertaining watch. Arnie was credited as “Arnold Strong Mr Universe” in the film.
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