Everyone starts somewhere. Pamela Anderson owes her fame to a fortuitous appearance on the Jumbotron during a BC Lions football game. Charlize Theron broke into the industry after a talent agent witnessed her throwing a tantrum at a Hollywood Boulevard bank. For many stars, the arduous path to Hollywood fame is shortened by a combination of industry contacts and and blind luck.
Others, however, make their name the old-fashioned way. They put themselves out there, audition for less-than-glamorous roles and build their reputation over the course of years. Before she was a household name, Jennifer Aniston starred alongside Hollywood’s go-to little person Warwick Davis in the horror comedy Leprechaun. A year later, in 1994, she landed her career-defining role in the television series Friends. From there, her career blossomed as she earned roles in films like Office Space, Bruce Almighty and Along Came Polly.
For celebrities like Aniston who take the long way on their journey to stardom, there will always be layovers they’d rather forget. Embarrassing stops that — though integral to their final destination — they wish hadn’t occurred. Industry mainstay Nicole Kidman has more than a few skeletons in her closet including her role in the “high flying ride to adventure” BMX Bandits. Her ex-husband Tom Cruise, on the other hand, took a much shorter path; after a bit role in 1981’s Endless Love, he was cast in the role of Cadet Captain David Shawn in Taps, produced in the same year.
On this list, we celebrate the Kidmans and the Anistons of the silver screen. Those actors and actresses who — lacking luck — climbed the mountain of celebrity through hard work and dedication and — in their wake — left behind a few stones better left unturned. We train our eyes on the cringeworthy and the shameful as we take a close look at seven embarrassing early roles of major Hollywood stars.
Demi Moore In Parasite
Before she married Ashton Kutcher or shared a pottery wheel with a shirtless Patrick Swayze in 1990s Ghost, Demi Moore starred in Parasite, a film about a post-apocalyptic America ruled over by a greedy cabal known as the Merchants. Its poster lauding it as the “first futuristic monster movie in 3-D!” Parasite cast Moore as Patricia Wells, a naive lemon farmer who pledges her aid to a brilliant doctor intent on destroying the film’s titular parasite.
Sarcastically commenting on the film’s reliance on its 3-D aspects to compensate for its otherwise barren plot, critics at the New York Times joked that, “[to] act in a film like this, all the performer need do is lean toward the camera at every opportunity; not much else is required.”
Phillip Seymour Hoffman In My Boyfriend’s Back
Twelve years before he took home an Oscar for his performance in Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman played a bit role in the teen zombie comedy, My Boyfriend’s Back. In the film, Hoffman — playing high school bully Chuck Bronski — chases the movie’s protagonist, Johnny Dingle, through their school’s winding hallways before accidentally killing himself with a fire axe.
Looking closely, it becomes apparent that My Boyfriend’s Back served as an early opportunity for a number of Hollywood’s current elite. Matthew Fox — of LOST and World War Z — portrayed local jock Buck Van Patten, Renée Zellweger featured in a scene that was ultimately cut from the final release, and Hollywood’s current golden boy, Matthew McConaughey, appeared in the coveted role of “Guy #2.”
Jamie Foxx In Toys
This year, Jamie Foxx will star as Electro, the blue-skinned, electrically charged villain of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. After his award-winning performance in 2004’s Ray and his fierce portrayal of a vengeful former slave in 2012’s Django Unchained, it is no surprise that Foxx has had his pick of opportunities.
But in 1992, his career path was not so well defined. That year, Barry Levinson — the acclaimed director of Good Morning, Vietnam and Rain Man — was given the opportunity to direct his dream project. Toys gave Foxx his first credited onscreen role and could very well have ended his career before it began. Almost universally maligned, Toys earned Levinson a nomination for a Worst Director Razzie Award and won the ire of critics like Vincent Canby observed that the film was “not very funny. [The film’s characters] and their friends laugh more often than the audience does.”
Jennifer Lawrence In Garden Party
Before the breakout performance in Winter’s Bone that earned her an Oscar nomination and before her “strong and convincing” portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence won the role of “Tiff” in the 2008 film Garden Party. The film focuses on a diverse group of misguided teenagers as they navigate the often shadowy underbelly of Los Angeles, in search of fame, stability and purpose.
While it was perhaps a step up from playing a mascot on the television show Monk, Lawrence’s role in Garden Party certainly didn’t garner her any critical acclaim. With a 10% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, the film grossed a paltry $19,853, though reviewer Stephen Holden declared that while it was, “clumsily structured [it was] well acted.”
George Clooney In Return to Horror High
In 1987, Hollywood superstar George Clooney landed his first film role. Cast as Oliver in the schlock horror film Return to Horror High, a mullet-sporting Clooney with more eyebrows than forehead met his untimely end at the hands of a gloved maniac in the smoke-filled halls of Horror High. Mere minutes before his arterial spray painted the window of the janitor’s closet red, Clooney’s co-star — in a prophetic moment — asked him the question, “You gonna be a star, Oliver?”
Twenty-seven years later, it is more than safe to say that the answer to that question is yes. From his breakthrough role playing Dr. Doug Ross in NBC’s ER to his award-winning performances in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Syriana and The Descendants, Clooney’s credentials within the film industry — despite his humble beginnings — are unparalleled.
Leonardo DiCaprio In Critters 3
Before sinking to the bottom of the ocean in 1997’s Titanic and long before he earned a Golden Globe for his work in The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio squared off against a horde of intergalactic fur-balls in the direct-to-video horror film Critters 3. DiCaprio stars as Josh, the son of a slumlord who inadvertently plays a part in unleashing the malevolent Critters on the big city.
With a plot that has modern reviewers proclaiming the film as, “[a] boring follow-up to a fun film [that] left out everything that was entertaining and replaced it with Leonardo DiCaprio,” Critters 3 no doubt has its faults. The film does, however, provide an intriguing glimpse into the — admittedly B-grade — genesis of one of the world’s most recognizable actors.