When it comes to the horror genre, general trends suggest that the actors who start out in horror stay in horror. Once an actress makes her big break in a scary movie, she becomes typecast as a ‘scream queen’. Low budget horrors, too, often end up being major flops, and the actors who were cast in these somewhat embarrassing failures can likely kiss their serious acting careers goodbye. Essentially, making the choice to be in a horror film could easily make or break the future of an actor’s career. Some of the best and worst career choices have involved being in a horror movie.
But sometimes being in a horror movie – even an embarrassing one – gives the actor just enough exposure to catch the eye of other Hollywood big wigs, opening the doorway to more opportunities to grow their careers. Sooner or later, the celebrity’s role in the past horror movie is just a distant memory… Until now.
Whether it was a truly scary horror film, or a comical/scary flick, here we’ve compiled a run-down of some of Hollywood’s most prestigious A-listers who got their start in horror movies. Read on and marvel at their transformation from newbie actor to Hollywood royalty.
20. Robert Englund – $14 Million
Robert Englund is best known for playing the terrifying Freddie Krueger in the “Nightmare On Elm Street” franchise, which started in 1984. He played the role so well that he wasn’t replaced for the numerous sequels that came about after the first movie. When the remake was first announced, Jackie Earle Haley, the new actor playing Freddie Krueger, reportedly had to get Englund’s public blessing so that the fan base could move on.
19. Viggo Mortensen – $30 Million
The handsome Viggo Mortensen wasn’t just the heir of Gondor, but in 1990, he had a creepy role in the film “Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.” He was a then-unknown actor who played a hitch-hiking cowboy who ended up luring the film’s protagonists to their bloody dooms.
18. Sissy Spacek – $35 Million
Sissy Spacek played the title role in Stephen King’s 1975 film, “Carrie”, a geek-turned-psychotic killer via telekinesis. Images of Carrie in a blood-stained prom dress with a deadly look in her eyes would be forever cemented into pop culture. The movie even featured a young John Travolta, and remains a Hollywood horror classic. Spacek has gone on to have a long and rewarding career in Hollywood, recently featuring in hits such as The Help.
17. Jamie Lee Curtis – $35 Million
Jamie Lee Curtis got her start in the 1978 film that would become one of the most iconic horror movies of all time, “Halloween”. The film was a low-budget production, and proved that you didn’t need special effects or a lot of money to create something that was truly terrifying. The movie also gave Curtis a very strong start in her acting career, and continues to work, and has even appeared in sequels for the Halloween franchise.
16. Renee Zellweger – $45 Million
Before her face changed, before she was Bridget Jones, or dancing it up in “Chicago”, Renee Zellweger‘s first major role was in the 1994 film, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” where she was picked up by the infamous killer family. She shared the spotlight with Matthew McConaughey.
15. Keira Knightley – $48 Million
Keira Knightley wasn’t a stranger to film, but she hadn’t had a featured role in anything until the 2001 movie, “The Hole”, which was to be her biggest role yet. The psychological horror film boasted other bigger names at the time such as Thora Birch, who was the star at the time. The film received mixed reviews, but Knightley’s performance was praised.
14. Kevin Bacon – $50 Million
Before he was a hollow man or cuttin’ loose, Kevin Bacon was in the very first “Friday the 13th” movie, which came out in 1980. Bacon played a camp counselor by the name of Jack, who doesn’t quite survive until the end of the movie. He was only in his early twenties when he filmed the movie that would start the famous franchise.
13. Bradley Cooper – $60 Million
Before he was winning awards and gaining notoriety in Hollywood as a serious actor, Bradley Cooper was fresh out of school after obtaining his Master of Fine Arts in acting from the New School, and found himself in a British horror film called, “My Little Eye”, released in 2002, where he played a sketchy guy joining 5 other people staying in an isolated mansion for several months.
12. Ben Affleck – $75 Million
Before he was Batman and winning Oscars, Ben Affleck had a bit role in Joss Whedon’s cult classic, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. This isn’t to be confused with the television series – Affleck featured in the original 1992 film. Five years later, Whedon would revisit and revolutionize Buffy into the icon played by Sarah Michelle Gellar.
11. Jon Stewart – $80 Million
The 1998 horror film “The Faculty” is considered to be the film that launched a thousand careers. Daily Show’s Jon Stewart is no exception to that. Even though he was only in a few movies, this is the film that he often talks about. He played a small role as a professor who dies after getting stabbed in the eye with a pen full of cocaine. We suppose there are stranger ways to die in a low budget scary movie…
10. Charlize Theron – $110 Million
Charlize Theron is one of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses who is also exceedingly talented. She’s firmly on the A-list now, but Theron’s film debut was in “Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest” where she played a follower of the film’s antagonist, Eli. Considering that the “Children of the Corn” franchise was a popular one, this likely opened many doors for Theron’s career.
9. Demi Moore – $150 Million
These days, Moore is known for both her illustrious film career and her tumultuous and endlessly fascinating private life. However, in 1982 Demi Moore‘s second acting gig would be released in theaters as the 1982 movie, “Parasite”. It’s set in an apocalyptic world where civilisation as we know it has been obliterated by atomic disaster.
8. Jim Carrey – $150 Million
Jim Carrey was at the ripe young age of just 23 when he was cast as a virgin high school student in the horror-comedy film, “Once Bitten” in 1985. This would be the breakout role for our favorite comedian, and it’s interesting to see Carrey’s classic comedic timing and pattern in one of his earliest works.
7. Jennifer Aniston – $150 Million
Jennifer Aniston is one of the hottest celebrities in the world today, best known for her role as Rachel Green in the hit series, “Friends”. Back in the day, she was an actress on the verge of making it big in the 1993 slasher horror flick, “Leprechaun”. It’s not too hard to figure out exactly what the movie is about by just taking a peek at the title – but if you need a hint, this low budget horror film portrays the story of murderous leprechaun set on having its revenge on people like the young, scantily clad Aniston.
6. John Travolta – $160 Million
Before he was Danny in “Grease” or disco dancing in “Saturday Night Fever”, John Travolta‘s breakout role was playing Danny in the 1975 movie, “The Devil’s Rain”, where he was dealing with devil worshippers. Needless to say, this film was very different from the films that eventually made Travolta a household name.
5. George Clooney – $180 Million
In 1987, before George Clooney was one of Hollywood’s most valued treasures and most recently a newlywed, he was playing a cop in the movie “Horror High” investigating a bunch of murders taking place in the local high school. His character doesn’t make it to the end, and his hair and features much darker than they are today.
4. Leonardo DiCaprio – $220 Million
It might be hard for us to remember that Hollywood royalty DiCaprio was once a child actor. Indeed, before he was the Great Gatsby and way before he was Jack in “Titanic”, Leonardo DiCaprio was a young kid in the 1991 film, “Critters 3”, which quickly became a cult classic. The script was awful, the special effects not so special, and overall, the movie was made for laughs and gore. But if you’re squeamish or scare easily, it’s definitely a horror flick.
3. Brad Pitt – $240 Million
One of Brad Pitt‘s earliest movies was the horror-comedy film, “Cutting Class”, which was released in 1989. Pitt played the popular kid and basketball star Dwight. When a string of murders begin happening in the school, Pitt’s character faces him head on. The film ended up getting primarily negative reviews but, as we know, it didn’t stop Pitt blossoming into the A-list celebrity he is today.
2. Tom Hanks – $350 Million
Tom Hanks is known as one of the most successful actors of his generation, who has won numerous awards and has played some of the most iconic roles in cinematic history. In 1980, as his career was starting, he had a small part in a low budget horror film called, “He Knows You’re Alone.” Looking back at the film, it’s hard to believe that the young man in the scene didn’t know what a commercial success he would become.
1. Johnny Depp – $350 Million
Before he was battling pirates and buddying up with Hollywood legend Tim Burton, Johnny Depp started out as one of Freddy Krueger’s victims in the 1984 film, “Nightmare on Elm Street”. While his character didn’t survive, the gorgeous young Depp’s acting career skyrocketed and he went on to become an award-winning actor and is now one of the most successful and recognizable actors in the world.