In the pursuit of becoming Hollywood’s new favorite film star, actors must take care to choose roles that will help to further their careers. It is practically impossible to know which films will wind up being a hit at the box office since moviegoers have such varied tastes and there is no set guideline as to what will constitute a hit film. There have been a myriad of films that wasted millions during production only to flop at the movie theater and also a number of films that took almost nothing to make, only to become a major success. The same can be true for character roles, as the old saying goes, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” In fact, even the most miniscule role can make a huge impact with audiences if the actor is able to make the character stand out on screen.
While all aspiring actors are hoping that their next role becomes the catalyst to what ultimately makes them famous in the entertainment industry, there are very few actors that can boast playing a character that has had a truly iconic scene on the silver screen. Yet, the actors that have been lucky enough to have a truly magical moment on the big screen can thank these scenes for helping to further their careers. It has helped them to get even more roles down the line and have made them instantly recognizable to audiences. Check out our list of the 15 iconic film scenes that made the actors famous and see how many you can remember from films gone by.
15. Kirsten Dunst In Spider-Man
Kirsten Dunst started off her career being thought of as just a child actor and it was difficult for audiences to view her any more than just the little vampire girl that got to kiss Brad Pitt in the film, Interview With A Vampire. Yet, she was able to transform her look and public perception once she played the role of Mary Jane Watson in the Spider-Man film series. From the signature red locks to the onscreen chemistry with Tobey Maguire, Dunst made quite an impression on fans. The most iconic scene in the film was when Maguire hung upside down and revealed his lips for a kissing scene with Dunst’s character, Mary Jane Watson. This became the ultimate in romantic gestures but practically impossible to recreate for regular people. Maguire actually gave interviews on how horrendous this kissing scene was for him since water was getting into his nose from hanging upside down and breathing through the mask was very difficult. Perhaps it’s not such a turn-on to almost drown while kissing but it sure did look good on film.
14. Hugh Jackman In X-Men
Prior to Hugh Jackman starring as the Wolverine character in the X-Men film series, he hadn’t ever filmed in an American movie. Jackman actually wasn’t the first choice for this iconic role and he wasn’t exactly winning over the producers during his first run at the character. At the 2017 Producers Guild Awards, Jackman gave an interview with E! News and stated, “I was kind of struggling, to be honest.” He went on to say that it was a sit-down with the studio executive, Tom Rothman, that helped him to revamp the way he was playing the character. He stated, “He told me that he believed in me, that from the moment he’d seen my tape he had a gut feeling I was the guy, but watching my dailies was like watching someone put a lampshade over a light.” Obviously, he was able to amplify the way he played the character and won over everyone, including audiences. Now, it would be impossible for any other actor to portray the role of Wolverine without them undoubtedly comparing their version with Hugh Jackman.
13. Cameron Diaz In There’s Something About Mary
Prior to Cameron Diaz being cast in the 1998 film, There’s Something About Mary, she had already made a name for herself as the hot blonde in The Mask. Yet, she needed a role that would give more personality to her public persona, which is exactly what There’s Something About Mary did for her. The most iconic scene in the film involved Diaz using “hair gel” while on a date with Ben Stiller’s character, Ted. While it’s arguably the funniest scene in the film, Diaz reportedly took issue with it because she thought that the audience would be too disgusted to laugh. This was undoubtedly something she worried about since she was still looking for that pivotal role that would catapult her into true stardom in Hollywood. After test screenings proved that the audience found the scene hilarious, it was included in the final cut of the film and the rest is history.
12. Julia Roberts In Pretty Woman
When the script for a hooker with a heart of gold began circulating in Hollywood, the role of Vivian Ward wasn’t exactly the most appealing to some of the most acclaimed starlets. In fact, Molly Ringwald was in talks of claiming the role in the 1990 hit film, Pretty Woman, but reportedly turned down the role. Ringwald had already achieved the title of America’s Sweetheart in ‘80s films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles and she didn’t seem to want to jump at the chance to play a hooker. Instead, the role was given to Julia Roberts and it instantly catapulted her into super stardom. While the film has a number of memorable scenes, the moment when Edward Lewis presents the ruby necklace to Vivian prior to venturing off to the opera is instantly recognizable. The scene has become so iconic that it was even recreated during the film, The Sweetest Thing, with Christina Applegate playing the role of Vivian Ward.
11. Sylvester Stallone In Rocky
Prior to Sylvester Stallone’s appearance in the first Rocky film, he had acted in a number of other roles. However, it was this 1976 film that truly skyrocketed him as a superstar in Hollywood. There were a number of scenes in the film that were ultra-memorable to viewers but the training scene where he lifts his arms in triumph at the top of the stairs has become truly iconic. The scene has become so iconic that the city of Philadelphia took notice and displayed a Rocky Statue to commemorate that defining moment of the film. Every year, millions of people visit the Art Museum Steps in Philadelphia and make the same pilgrimage with the Rocky music playing in their heads. The Rocky Statue was originally constructed for the third film in the series but then Sylvester Stallone donated it to the City of Philadelphia. Before fans of the films make their way up the same stairs that Rocky trained on, they can take a photo with the bronze statue at the bottom of the stairs.
10. Leo And Kate In Titanic
While both Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet starred in a number of roles prior to their 1997 film, Titanic, there was never a film that had such an impact on their persona as their roles as Jack and Rose. Leonardo DiCaprio will have that iconic scene of him holding Rose DeWitt on the front of the boat for the rest of his career and it won’t matter what hair color Kate Winslet chooses to dye her hair, she will always be known for her role in Titanic. Knowing that this is a scene that fans will constantly remember him for, DiCaprio famously recreated it in 2014 when Jonah Hill was on Saturday Night Live. He gave Hill the same backwards hug he gave Kate Winslet’s character in Titanic and the crowd roared. Anyone that has taken a cruise or even sailed on a boat has inevitably tried this iconic stance from the Titanic scene and it has even been referenced in other films. In the 2003 film, Love Actually, the young character, Sam, used that Titanic scene as a comfort for when he was feeling down. He even recreated it with his stepfather during the film.
9. Macaulay Culkin In Home Alone
As a child actor, Macaulay Culkin started his career at an early age but didn’t gain true fame until his iconic role in Home Alone in 1990. The scene where he grabs his face in the mirror is burned into everyone’s brain. He was that adorable little kid that everyone hoped would grow up to be just the same as he was in Home Alone. While he did continue on to make a number of other memorable films, he had a lot of troubles behind the scenes. After a bitter custody battle and a judge finding that his parents had squandered much of his earnings, Culkin disappeared from the headlines for quite some time. When he reemerged, he began making headlines for an alleged drug addiction and difficulties in his long term relationship with Mila Kunis. He ultimately lost his appeal in the world of film (as well as Mila Kunis), but he’ll always be remembered for his iconic role in the Home Alone film series.
8. Matthew McConaughey In Dazed And Confused
There aren’t many actors that can boast having their most iconic moment on the big screen being in the very first film they ever made. Yet, Matthew McConaughey was able to make a huge impact through just one simple line in his very first film. The character he played was David Wooderson and the line that will live on in infamy is, “Alright, alright, alright.” Although the film was released in 1993, that same line is still referenced to this day. People instantly recognize him for the character he played in Dazed and Confused and he has even referenced that line during key moments in his career. From his interviews to his acceptance speeches, that line from the Dazed and Confused scene has taken on a life of its own. Not only did it help to propel his career in film but it made him instantly recognizable and likable with audiences.
7. Ali Larter In Varsity Blues
Ali Larter had starred in a number of television and smaller roles prior to her first appearance on the big screen but they all went pretty much unnoticed. It wasn’t until she starred as Darcy Sears in the 1999 film, Varsity Blues, that people truly sat up and took notice of her. Larter’s scene where she emerged to reveal that she was completely nude with nothing but whipped cream to cover her lady parts was a jaw-dropping moment for Mox and for audiences. This scene solidified Larter as a major hottie on the big screen and worthy of getting even more roles. Nowadays, she is seen as one of Hollywood’s leading ladies and has even had roles in the Resident Evil franchise. While she portrayed the woman scorned in the 2009 film, Obsessed, fans were left wondering how any man could resist the beautiful blonde from the whipped cream scene in Varsity Blues.
6. Olivia Newton-John In Grease
Olivia Newton-John had already made a name for herself with Australian audiences when she was a regular on such shows as Go Show and The Happy Show but she didn’t become known to American audiences until her iconic role as Sandy Olsson in the 1978 film, Grease. She put her singing talent to good use during the film and fans instantly fell in love with the chemistry between her and John Travolta. American audiences learned all the Grease songs by heart, adopted all of the dance moves with ease and constantly recreated the film in high school musicals throughout the United States. However, the most iconic scene in the film was undoubtedly when Olivia Newton-John’s character emerged as the “bad girl” that Danny Zuko would drool over. From her puffed out hair to the black leather ensemble to the signature cigarette, this was the scene that audiences grew to know her for and helped to propel her into American superstardom.
5. Anthony Hopkins In The Silence Of The Lambs
Anthony Hopkins was already a well-respected actor prior to his role as Hannibal Lecter in the 1991 film, The Silence of the Lambs. However, none of his other film roles had the same major effect with audiences the way his Hannibal Lecter role resonated with moviegoers. The scene where Lecter is wheeled out with the jailhouse mask over his face is instantly recognizable and terrifying to fans. This was the only role that Hopkins ever won an Academy Award for, despite the fact that he has appeared in a number of film roles throughout his career. This was the film that undoubtedly helped him to achieve some of his future film roles, even though many of them were decidedly much different than his former Hannibal Lecter role. While he was definitely great in everything from Nixon to Amistad, fans were elated when he reprised his Lecter role in Hannibal and Red Dragon.
4. Linda Blair In The Exorcist
As a child actress, Linda Blair had already been in two other films before she appeared as the possessed child, Regan, in the 1973 film, The Exorcist. However, her role in this demonic possession film would become her most famous to date and would “haunt” her for her entire career. There were a number of ultra-memorable scenes in the film, including her walking down the stairs in a tortured backbend or rotating her head all the way around. Yet, the scene where audiences truly got to see the crazed look in her eyes and the scarred nature of her face was the one that inevitably haunted moviegoers’ nightmares. Because this horror film became so iconic, it wasn’t surprising that the character would haunt the young actress as she tried to continue her film career. As a result, the majority of her future appearances were in horror-related films and to this day, The Exorcist is still the film she is best known for throughout her career.
3. Meg Ryan In When Harry Met Sally
Although Meg Ryan had been in a number of films prior to her appearing as Sally Albright in the 1989 film, When Harry Met Sally, this was the first time she was featured as the leading lady. Her portrayal ultimately resulted in her first Golden Globe nomination but most importantly, it helped to propel her career and solidified her public persona as America’s Sweetheart. The most iconic scene in the film was undoubtedly when she simulated an orgasm in the diner. The scene was so memorable that the diner, Katz’s Delicatessen, capitalized on the film’s popularity by placing a sign that reads, “Where Harry Met Sally… Hope you have what she had! Enjoy!” While there’s no telling how many people went there to recreate their favorite scene from the film, it shouldn’t surprise people that her portrayal helped to land her further roles. She went on to star in other ultra-memorable films like Sleepless in Seattle and City of Angels, with the world all still remembering her from her Sally Albright days.
2. Tom Cruise In Risky Business
Prior to Tom Cruise starring in the 1983 film, Risky Business, he had been in four other films on the big screen. While The Outsiders put him in the company of some of the other members of “The Brat Pack,” it was Risky Business that truly solidified him as a leading man in Hollywood that could stand on his own. The scene that involved him sliding in on his socks became iconic in the eyes of moviegoers. The fact that he was able to make such a resounding impact on audiences helped him to gain future roles like in the other ‘80s films, Top Gun and Cocktail. While Cruise has had a stellar acting career over the years, that scene in Risky Business continues to stay with him. In fact, when he was asked to partake in the Lip Sync Battle segment on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Cruise even threatened the first few beats of the song that played during that iconic dance scene. However, he wound up choosing different songs for the battle because “That wouldn’t be fair, would it?”
1. Rachel And Ryan In The Notebook
While both Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling had appeared in films prior to their roles in the 2004 film, The Notebook, this was the film that truly helped to launch both of their careers. Gosling was seen as the ultra-hot carpenter that would make all the female moviegoers swoon whenever he would appear on screen and McAdams became the go-to female actress when Hollywood executives were looking to cast for another romantic chick flick. Gosling went on to appear in a number of other roles that tried to shed him from his character from The Notebook but he will undoubtedly be forever known for that iconic scene when he shared that intense kiss with Allie in the rain. McAdams was able to capitalize on her public persona created by The Notebook to go on to star in a number of similar romantic films like The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Vow and About Time. However, she completely veered from her typical screen role when she appeared in the second season of HBO’s True Detective. While critics were pleased with her law enforcement portrayal, McAdams will also undoubtedly be best remembered for her role in The Notebook.