Everyone has got to start somewhere. Most of your favorite actors had to work their way up from humble beginnings, unless their parents were already famous and the studios were looking to cash in on their name. Other than that though, most of them actually worked for it. Many actors started out as an extra. It’s the logical first step. Some got to stand around looking like normal background humans, while others may have even had a line or two that they got to speak. Over the years, we’ve become accustomed to seeing these actors as the main stars, making it weird to spot them in the background. Every time you watch an old movie and see some megastar just standing off to the side in a minor role you think to yourself, “I wonder if this is their first movie?” Well, for many of the members on this list, it is.
For the most part, the movies that most stars are extras in are films that no one saw. Maybe the movie itself was so minor that it barely had an audience or the role itself never made it to the final cut. There are some major stars who had background roles that were visible in larger films though. It is these roles that this list focuses on. After all, what fun is talking about an extra if you can’t actually see them? For each of the stars on this list, their first appearance on camera would be forgettable if this was a different time, but this is the age of the Internet and the Internet never forgets. We stay vigil. We’ve found them. Most of the extras here weren’t extras for very long, so these roles captured them before they were the big wigs they would soon become. Some of the pictures are quite clear, while others are sort of blurry or difficult to see. We’ll get through it together. Here are 15 movie extras before they were famous.
15. Renée Zellweger – Dazed and Confused
Even though Renée Zellweger might not be as recognizable today after having some work done, there was a time that she was crazy famous and everyone loved her sweet, sucked-on-a-lemon style face. But before she was amazing as Bridget Jones, she needed to start from the bottom rung. Her first role in a major film was a pretty great one in Dazed and Confused. She actually has a few spots in the background in it, yelling at kids, setting up a beer funnel in the back of a truck and walking by Matthew McConaughey and crew.
FUN FACT: There are two high school girls that walk by McConaughey before he utters the famous line: “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” The first of the two to walk by him is Renée Zellweger.
14. Amy Adams – Pick of Destiny
Yeah, Amy Adams had been in several things before she appeared in Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, films like Drop Dead Gorgeous, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Catch Me if You Can, and more, but her role in The Pick of Destiny is simply great. Right after Jack Black informs the crowd via song that his “voice is f–ing powerful,” a gorgeous woman mouths “I love you” to him. Actually, that was her credited name, Gorgeous Woman. The power of Black’s voice tussles everyone’s hair and clothes around and after that she’s gone. But boy was she ever gorgeous in that brief moment.
13. Evangeline Lilly – Freddy vs. Jason
When Lori (Monica Keena) is having a freakout about her Freddy Krueger nightmare and the entire school starts rudely listening in, Mark (Brendan Fletcher) comes over to help her. Well, actually, instead of helping her, he goes on a crazy detailed tirade about the violent and grotesque history of Freddy which immediately puts Lori into full psychotic breakdown mode. During this hilarious interaction though, there is someone very serious and very attractive hiding in the background. It’s Evangeline Lilly, wearing green, looking every bit as good as she always does. She looks really concerned about what’s going on in front of her. What a great actress putting together a moving performance.
12. George Clooney – Centennial
The uncredited village extra, that’s how George Clooney started. If ever you’re watching the TV mini-series, Centennial, in the “Indian Village scene,” you can spot a man-child that looks very much like a brunette version of George Clooney in the background. Turns out, it is him, just about six years before starting on E/R (That’s E/R, not to be confused with ER, which Clooney also starred in—Yeah, it’s confusing). There are no videos from this show because moving pictures were still a new invention around the time it came out. Heh, Clooney’s not that old, he’s just always looked it.
FUN FACT: George Clooney has always looked 50-years old.
11. Sly Stallone – Bananas
In Woody Allen‘s Bananas, there’s a sequence that has the bumbling Allen on a subway trying to mind his own business as two thugs harass, assault and rob other passengers. It’s really obvious to pick out that one of the uncredited thugs is Sylvester Stallone, looking like a true greaser. The scene is pretty crazy, as Sly and his pal basically try to kill an old lady beside Allen—all while he’s trying to avoid it. At the next stop, however, Allen gets up the courage to shove the two men out of the subway car before the doors close. Unfortunately for him, they just come back in and surround him, glaring at him threateningly. This wasn’t the first time that Stallone was an extra (Downhill Racer & Lovers and Other Strangers) nor the last (Klute), but it was the most memorable.
10. Elijah Wood – Back to the Future II
It doesn’t matter that he’s technically not an extra; he’s amazing and he’s so little. Elijah Wood as Video Game Boy is just full of questions, classic queries such as, “How do you play this thing?” and “You have to use your hands?” This role in Back to the Future Part II would be the role that started it all for Frodo Baggins. Just a young little gaffer, Wood was not impressed at all with the Wild Gunman arcade game in the future. After he and his buddy get the thing working, Michael J. Fox just barges in and steals their game. It doesn’t appear that anyone even put money in the thing, but who are we to judge one of the best movies of all time. After this role, Wood began getting offered larger roles like that in The Good Son.
9. Megan Fox – Bad Boys 2
Long before Megan Fox was standing around looking sexy on camera in the movies she starred in, she was standing around in movies as an extra. Even though she was in a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie (Holiday in the Sun—great flick; check it out), her first big film was as an extra in Bad Boys 2, a Michael Bay movie, her specialty. I believe she has two spots in the film, but only one made the final cut. The one shot that made the final cut is just of her legs dancing. The one that was edited out is better because you can actually make her out if you squint. I think she’s super young in this one too, which makes it weird. This marked the last time that Fox didn’t speak on camera. Ahh, the good ol’ days. Nah. She’s actually decent in Jennifer’s Body.
8. Keira Knightley – Phantom Menace
Keira Knightley (left) was in a few minor things on TV before her big break as Sabe in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Sure, she had a name and a centered position in the camera. Heck, she even had a few lines, but she really was nothing more than an extra. She was decked out with makeup to look like Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala. At the time, you wouldn’t know it was Knightley even if you knew what she looked like in 1999.
FUN FACT: Another actress who basically got her start in Star Wars playing a nearly identical role as Knightley was Rose Byrne, who played Dorme in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, another Queen Amidala double.
7. Matt Damon – Mystic Pizza
In his first role, Matt Damon wasn’t just an extra. He had a name, a line and a laugh. His name: Steamer. His line: “Mom, do you want my green stuff.” His laugh: kind of nasally. The movie: Mystic Pizza. It’s neat to see Damon and Julia Roberts sharing the screen together in 1989. This was Roberts’ first major starring role and Damon’s first ever appearance. They wouldn’t share the camera again until Ocean’s Eleven, 13 years later. There is a story that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are extras in the Fenway Park scene in Field of Dreams, playing baseball fans, but I don’t think anyone has ever been able to spot them. Damon looks like a natural on camera in Mystic Pizza, but he would need to do a couple more spots as an extra before really breaking into the game for good.
6. Brad Pitt – No Man’s Land
In 1987, the superstar Brad Pitt was just another guy trying to break into the movie industry. He was an extra in at least four movies, Hunk, No Way Out (as a waiter), No Man’s Land (waiter) and Less Than Zero. In Less Than Zero, Pitt is nothing more than a dancing blur during a party. In No Way Out, he is a dude laughing behind Kevin Costner‘s back. In Hunk, he’s a guy at the beach during the most ridiculous volleyball scene ever filmed… Seriously, two guys play one-on-one volleyball. Is that even possible? In No Man’s Land with Charlie Sheen, we get our best look at a young Pitt. It really wouldn’t be another four years, until Thelma & Louise, that Pitt would be truly made recognizable by the world. Nowadays, he’s so famous he can’t go anywhere without being recognized.
5. Matthew McConaughey – Unsolved Mysteries
The year before Wooderson said “alright, alright, alright,” he was playing Larry Dickens on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries. Technically was he an extra? Nah, not technically. He was closer to the star of the show. Glistening with sweat, McConaughey cuts the grass until he is called in by his mother. Apparently, in this crime re-enactment, there is a man that is exposing himself to young children in the middle of the street. McConaughey races out there and gets into an argument with this pantless man (this is all true). As the argument goes on, McConaughey fakes a punch to scare the man, two for flinching, but then he gets shot in his front lawn for his troubles. McConaughey’s cries of pain and the jolts from getting shot are purely magnificent. No wonder he was picked up to do Dazed and Confused the next year. This guy had an inside lane to stardom after day one.
4. Charlize Theron – Children of the Corn III
Good lord, would you just look at that. I mean, just look at her. The unbelievably attractive Charlize Theron started out as just that, unbelievably attractive. Her first role as an unbelievably attractive extra in Children of the Corn III isn’t of the highest quality, but it sure is beautiful. Sitting in the church with a bunch of average looking extras, Theron glows like an angel as she ponders what the preacher is blabbing on about. Later on, when vines start attacking everyone, Theron is the one they go for, obviously picking on the best looking woman in the group. During this scene stolen directly from Evil Dead, Theron is then taken advantage of by these evil vines as she writhes and screams. Apparently, as rumor would have it, the scream isn’t even Theron’s. The filmmakers dubbed over it with someone else. That means that she literally was just a pretty face. Not to me. Never to me.
3. Jackie Chan – Enter the Dragon
That man getting savaged up there by Bruce Lee? That’s Jackie Chan. Chan was in a million movies as an extra, just a faceless guy doing kicks and flips in the background of any martial arts movie. In a few of those movies though, like Enter the Dragon, Chan was lucky enough to beaten up by the main star. In the scene pictured above, Chan jumps on Lee’s back giving him a big bear hug, a move that has never really been that effective. The bear hug expert, Lee, reverses it easily and grabs a hold of Chan’s ridiculous haircut. He holds him there a minute, thinking what to do next. The solution? He snaps Chan’s neck simply by pulling his hair. Yeah, Jackie Chan was killed by Bruce Lee pulling his hair.
FUN FACT: Bruce Lee pulled Jackie Chan’s hair to death.
2. Denzel Washington – Death Wish
This might alarm you, but the great Denzel Washington wasn’t always all that great. Well, maybe he was great, but filmmakers didn’t allow him to show it. In fact, his first ever film appearance, as an uncredited alley thug in the Charles Bronson film Death Wish, he was about as unspectacular as you could get. After getting caught by Bronson beating up some poor guy in the alley, Denzel and his two amigos walk ever so slowly toward Bronson. Denzel brandishes a crowbar or a pipe or something and he grimaces. Bronson doesn’t get rattled. He just casually shoots all three men. That’s it. Try doing that to Denzel today and things won’t go so swimmingly.
1. Bruce Willis – The Verdict
Now part of the classic game, “spot the Bruce Willis in the courtroom.” The scene in The Verdict pictured above was one of the last times that the superstar Willis was not a superstar on camera. It would be six years from this point that Willis starred as John McClane in Die Hard, and his life, and ours, would never be the same again. Notice the full head of hair, the slightly off-centered seating, these are things that we are not used to seeing in connection with Willis. He also had an uncredited role in The First Deadly Sin before The Verdict, but he wasn’t as pretty as he is here.