Superhero movies are big business, and starring in them is a job many actors would kill for. With their salaries having considerably more zeroes on the end than ours and their faces plastered on posters, buses, and memes across the world, it can often seem that the movie stars who inhabit roles such as Captain America and Superman are, like their characters, on a level above us mere mortals.
But everyone has to start somewhere. These guys and girls were once in high school, too, with spots and embarrassing hairstyles. And they all had early acting jobs that they probably struggle to watch these days. There’s almost always an episode of CSI.
So as a reminder that these stars are human too–albeit unimaginably rich and attractive humans–here are fifteen photos of future Avengers, Justice League members, and X-Men before they got their big break.
15. Chris Pratt
He may be raking in big box office bucks as a frickin’ Guardian of the Galaxy, but Chris Pratt had a long road to this success. After growing up in Lake Stevens, Washington, he dropped out of community college halfway through his first semester and ended up homeless in Maui, Hawaii, sleeping in this Scooby Doo-styled van.
His experience wasn’t quite as tough as that of many homeless people, as he later recalled, “It would be different if I lived on the streets of Chicago and ate garbage from a dumpster. We just drank and smoked weed and worked minimal hours, 15-20 hours per week, just enough to cover gas, food and fishing supplies. You know, it was a charming time.”
While waiting tables, he had a conversation with actress Rae Dawn Chong, which led to her casting Pratt in her directorial debut. He went on to star in the sitcom Parks and Recreation, his springboard to blockbuster success.
14. Gal Gadot
No embarrassing yearbook pictures from DC’s new Wonder Woman, who seems to have looked amazing in every picture ever taken of her. Born and raised in Israel, Gal Gadot won the Miss Israel competition in 2004, going on to represent her country in the Miss Universe competition, as pictured above.
She then had a rather unconventional route to her success as a star. When she was 20, Gadot served two years of enlisted service in the Israeli military before going on to study law. It was only after a year of this that she began to pursue acting and modeling, landing roles in an Israeli TV drama and then the Fast and the Furious franchise.
With this range of experience behind her, Gadot was a perfect fit for the role of Wonder Woman. She not only looks the part, but has the toughness and resilience to take on any malevolent god of war. Those villains had better watch out when Wonder Woman reaches cinemas on June 2nd.
13. Chris Evans
Chris Evans was being cast as the cool guys right from the start of his career, as evidenced by this card from the 1999 board game Mystery Date, for which he modeled as the character ‘Tyler the Surfer’. You could choose him as your date if, like Tyler, you were into walking around cliffs and hanging out by the bonfire–a cool dude, indeed.
This was one of Evans’ very first jobs, around the time he was finishing up high school. Over the following years, he moved straight into an acting career, picking up roles in films like the parody Not Another Teen Movie before landing himself a superhero gig as the Human Torch in 2005’s Fantastic Four.
12. Ben Affleck
Here’s a particularly young Ben Affleck reading a copy of GQ and looking miserable. Presumably, there wasn’t anything he was looking forward to in the Fall Preview. Affleck didn’t have the easiest start in life, as his father was an alcoholic and his parents split when he was twelve.
Nevertheless, he started acting early, with his first professional gig at the age of seven in a local indie film which led to him starring in a PBS children’s series. This success carried on to his professional career, with him starring in many great movies…until Daredevil happened, that is.
Still, this disappointing first venture into superhero territory and the career downturn of around the same time didn’t keep Affleck down for long. He’s now one of Hollywood’s most successful directors and stars. He now headlines the DC Extended Universe, where all his practice being a miserable-looking child has paid off in his performance as the miserable Batman.
11. Scarlett Johansson
Today, we all know her as the unfeasibly agile international assassin known as Black Widow, a key member of the Avengers. But long before that, Scarlett Johansson began her career with some substantially more innocent roles.
Born and raised in New York, the actress made her debut at just the age of 10 in the fantasy comedy, North, though the only one of her early films you might actually remember is 1997’s Home Alone 3 (pictured above) in which she played the older sister of the main kid.
Johansson made an impressive transition to adult roles in films such as Lost in Translation and Girl With A Pearl Earring, before being cast as Natasha Romanoff in 2010’s Iron Man 2. She’s only risen in fame since then. Now, when’s that solo film finally going to be announced?
10. Hugh Jackman
The tough-as-adamantium-nails, no-nonsense, no-friends Wolverine is probably the last person you’d invite to your child’s birthday party, so it comes as a surprise to find out that long before his acting success, Hugh Jackman earned his rent money as a clown for hire. Yes, that’s really him.
The young Australian wasn’t particularly good at it either, as he told one interviewer, “I was Coco the Clown and I had no magic tricks and I remember a six-year-old standing up at a party saying ‘Mummy, this clown is terrible, he doesn’t know any tricks’—and he was right.”
Thankfully, he found a job more suited to him, breaking into acting very soon after graduating from his Performing Arts school. His real break was being cast as Wolverine in 2000’s X-Men, a role he’s since reprised nine times, including this year’s brilliant Logan.
9. Robert Downey Jr.
Here’s the future CEO of Stark Industries looking young and innocent as a student at California’s Santa Monica High. Not long after this, Robert Downey Jr. started his career early, becoming a minor star of the ‘80s with films including Weird Science, Back to School, and The Pick-Up Artist.
He had a promising career ahead until it was blighted by his problems with drugs and alcohol. He carried on acting, with films in the ‘90s and ‘00s including Chaplin, Natural Born Killers, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and A Scanner Darkly, but never got the big break viewers of his earlier films might have expected from him.
Not until 2008, that is, when after being clean for five years, he landed the role of Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, and became possibly the main star of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, headlining its bigger films to this day. That fresh-faced high school student had a long trek to fame ahead of him, but he finally made it.
8. Zoe Saldana
Even interplanetary assassins were in high school once. Here’s Zoe Saldana showing off a very ‘90s hairdo during her days at Newtown High School in New York. Saldana grew up both in NYC and in the Dominican Republic, where she developed an early love of dance.
Not long after high school, she performed with the New York Youth Theater, which set her on the course towards an acting career. After the obligatory episode of Law & Order, she starred in films such as Pirates of the Caribbean, going on to bigger roles in Star Trek, Avatar, and eventually, 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
7. Patrick Stewart
As Professor X, Sir Patrick Stewart is perhaps even more emblematic of the X-Men movie series than Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. The distinguished actor has a career spanning six decades, so there’s a whole load of pre-Xavier pictures of him to dig up.
This particular image is from the 1973 TV series I, Claudius. It’s particularly odd to see the now-iconic actor with a full head of hair, although it’s actually a wig. Stewart lost his hair at age eighteen due to a health condition. This may have knocked his confidence, but it didn’t stop him from becoming a great actor, signing up with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966 and appearing on many stages in the years following.
Stewart’s TV career was really kickstarted in 1987 when he signed up to play Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, which lasted for seven seasons and led to him being cast as the wheelchair-bound telepath Professor X.
6. Chris Hemsworth
He’s now well-known around the world as the overly muscular Thor, one of the key members of Marvel’s Avengers, so it’s appropriate that Chris Hemsworth’s first ever role was another one inspired by ancient myth.
The Australian children’s TV show, Guinevere Jones, followed a modern-day incarnation of Guinevere from the Camelot legends, and Hemsworth showed up for two episodes as King Arthur himself. Here, he looks younger and considerably less buff than the thunder god he’d go on to play, but still rocks the long-hair look.
Hemsworth became something of a TV star in his native Australia, appearing in the soap opera Home and Away from 2004 to 2007, before moving to Hollywood and landing a small but significant role as Captain Kirk’s father in the Star Trek reboot. This brought him to the attention of Marvel and he had himself a pretty fine career.
5. Brie Larson
She’s yet to make her debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel will be the latest exciting addition to the lineup of the Avengers when Infinity War reaches theaters in May next year.
To the public’s eyes, it seems like she’s shot to fame pretty quickly. But that’s actually not the case. Larson’s been working on her acting career for quite some time, having started studying drama at the age of six. Seen here aged 13, Larson was the youngest student ever at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, then went on to be a child star on shows such as Raising Dad.
It was the 2015 drama Room, for which she won an Oscar, that considerably rose her profile in the world of Hollywood, and it’s no coincidence that shortly after this, Larson was offered starring roles in films such as Kong: Skull Island and of course, Captain Marvel.
4. Henry Cavill
You may think that this image of Henry Cavill in his school cricket team marks him out as stereotypically English, but Cavill is, in fact, not from the United Kingdom. He was born and raised on Jersey, a self-governing island in the English Channel.
Far from the herculean hero he’d go on to play, Cavill was bullied in his early years for his weight issues. Not letting this stop him, he began to act in school productions. After several roles in British TV, he was screen-tested at the age of just 22 to be the new James Bond. Though he didn’t land the gig, this must have come as a shock to those who teased him at school.
Success came through his role as Charles Brandon in The Tudors, from 2007 to 2010, which resulted in him being cast as Superman, possibly the most famous of all superheroes, when DC decided to play off Marvel’s success and reboot their own cinematic universe.
3. Ryan Reynolds
A far cry from the foul-mouthed star of Deadpool, here’s an innocent young Canadian teen posing with his girlfriend’s puppy. Aww. This old snap was dug up by a relative of the girl he was dating at the time and posted to Reddit.
It wasn’t long after this that Ryan Reynolds moved to LA (presumably leaving the girl behind…at least she had the dog) to try and make it in the movies. His early roles included the movie Sabrina the Teenage Witch and a long-running main role in the sitcom Two Guys and a Girl.
It took a few attempts for him to make it big in the superhero genre, though. He first appeared as Deadpool in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which didn’t exactly treat the character well. Then, there was Green Lantern…and the less said about that, the better. But last year’s Deadpool finally won over fans, and the inevitable sequel is on its way.
2. Jennifer Lawrence
This high school student from Louisville, Kentucky would grow up to be one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars, though you might not be able to tell from this picture, or indeed from knowing her at the time, as teenage Jennifer Lawrence was something of a social misfit and suffered from anxiety.
After being spotted by a talent scout, however, Lawrence left school two years early to pursue acting. Despite having no formal training, she managed to earn herself parts in TV shows, such as Monk, Medium, and a regular role on The Bill Engvall Show. She soon made the transition to cinema, starring in the low-budget hit Winter’s Bone before grabbing big roles in the X-Men and The Hunger Games series.
She was suddenly a massive star, and deservedly so, as Lawrence’s performance as Mystique adds a lot to X-Men: First Class and its sequels. As the series continues, we’ll no doubt see more of her as Charles Xavier’s shapeshifting friend.
1. Christian Bale
Before Batfleck, there was Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne. He’s another actor who’s been in the game since his early years. In fact, Bale got a very big break at the age of thirteen when he was cast by Steven Spielberg in the lead role in Empire of the Sun, about a young boy who becomes a prisoner of war during World War II.
The attention this role brought him was almost too much for Bale, and he nearly gave up acting. However, he was persuaded against this by Kenneth Branagh, who cast him in his 1989 adaptation of Henry V. Various film roles followed throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s.
But it was in 2005 that Bale first put on the Batsuit. The success of Batman Begins led to him making a trilogy of these movies with Christopher Nolan, with The Dark Knight setting the standard very high for all the superhero movies that would follow it.