Movies and television shows are often compelling when we see them. It's quite possible that characters once thought to be useless or one-off could become series regulars or major members of a cast. This usually happens with television shows over movies, but we have seen cases where an entire movie too. A movie could be about one actor's character but gets overlooked due to the extreme talent of another member of the cast.
A great example of this is seen in the movie Bridesmaids regarding Melissa McCarthy's character of Megan Price. The movie was not about her, and she is a mere co-star in the movie. However, she is so hilarious in the role that it becomes a breakout role for her despite already being a well-established television actress.
This may happen in one-off movies, which technically hurts a movie at times. The lead actor is so good that he or she earns a part, but their co-star will outshine them so much that the lead's performance means nothing. This is not entirely a problem, as directors want the best out of ALL actors, as does the studio. It's even better for sequels.
We felt that it would be good to bring to light television and movie actors/actresses that would outshine the lead cast. It'll dive into characters a movie or TV show was not about but they'd do so well that a movie or show is always remembered for their performance. We hope you enjoy.
25 Emma Watson (Harry Potter)
When a movie is literally named after the main lead of a movie, it seems almost impossible to believe this person will not be the top star of it. In the case of the Harry Potter franchise based on the novels by J.K. Rowling, Emma Watson managed to do just that. Daniel Radcliffe played Harry Potter well, but the role of Hermione Granger would allow Emma to step out as a tremendous actress over her male counterparts.
Watson would also age with the movie like the others, and would only become more and more beautiful as the franchise went on. The looks helped her stand out more, but the acting was still amazing. Other than Alan Rickman, the best acting of any kind in the movies happened with Emma Watson. The movies are remembered for the overall cast, but Emma made herself a huge star here and is still beloved for her work on them.
24 J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
The movie Whiplash revolved around two main characters played by J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller. A music teacher (Simmons) was considered quite mean. A student (Teller) would call him out on it and even cost him his job as a result. Eventually, the teacher was thought to be so good that the student still learned from him to step out and become great.
Simmons acted insanely well in this movie. Though the movie was not completely about his character, as he was a mere supporting act, it is mostly remembered for him. He was considered so great that he would be nominated for several awards, including an Academy Award...which he would also end up winning.
23 Marilyn Monroe (Some Like It Hot)
Years ago, there was no bigger star in the modeling world than Marilyn Monroe. She would get into the acting world and eventually find even bigger stardom as a result. One of her biggest movies came with Some Like It Hot. It revolved around two men who witness a crime involving the mob in New York. In order to stay alive, they try to get away by going south.
They would dress in drag and join an all women's show. This was where Monroe's character came into play. Though the movie was about the men, Monroe stole every scene she was in. This happened often with her due to her beauty, but also due to her iconic voice. People were taken with her, men and women alike. Though everyone did well here, Monroe helps this movie stay in the memory of millions of people.
22 James Dean (Giant)
James Dean was considered to be one of the biggest stars in the United States back in the 1950's. He would appear on Broadway but made a huge name for himself in television and film by the early 50's, mostly due to how great he was as a performer. However, he was one of the first true teen heartthrobs, along with musician Elvis Presley. He would win a Golden Globe and see a nomination for an Oscar, which helped his stardom increase.
By 1956, the movie Giant was a huge opportunity for Dean. He'd star alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, but would mostly work in a supporting capacity. He and Hudson would both be nominated for an Academy Award for the film. However, Giant is only remembered today for James. This is possibly due to it being his last movie, but also his finest performance where he was better than all his A-List co-stars.
21 Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
When it comes to the movie Django Unchained, it is clearly a movie designed to star Jamie Foxx as Django. His co-star in the movie, King Shultz, would be played by Christoph Waltz. The character would buy Django and due to not believing in slavery, he'd make him a partner in his business of bounty hunting. They'd eventually come across a plantation with a few men on the run from the law who worked for Calvin Candie on the Candyland Plantation.
This character was played by Leonardo DiCaprio in a memorable and amazing performance the likes of which he's always known to deliver today. This would be the place Waltz's character perishes but Foxx manages to shine. DiCaprio's part was clearly a bit small, but he would be so amazing in the role that he'd be nominated for several awards. Out of all his movies, this performance stands out even still. That's no accident.
20 Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted)
The movie Girl, Interrupted stood out heavily in 1999 and 2000. It did not make a lot at the box office, but the critical appeal was huge for the movie. Today, it is considered to be one of the best movies in the careers of every star involved. The film was supposed to mostly be about Winona Ryder's character, but it quickly became a role Angelina Jolie shined heavily in.
Jolie would play a sociopath who was institutionalized with Ryder's character in a mental facility. Ryder did well in her role, but Jolie knocked it out of the park. She was so great that she won both a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Supporting Actress due to her impressive performance. Ryder is now barely remembered for her role in the film.
19 Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect)
Rebel Wilson had been in a few smaller roles before stepping foot on the set of Pitch Perfect. However, as Fat Amy, she truly stood out above all the other girls. While everyone in the movie had their moments, the star was supposed to be Anna Kendrick. She managed to perform incredibly well, but Wilson seemed to be the one everyone talked about. This became very apparent when the second film gave her a much bigger role.
Rebel would be part of the third installment too, and pretty much be a co-lead in the movie here. Her father would be the head of a crime family that she eventually took down. Overall, Rebel stood out and executives realized it and adapted to make sure to capitalize on her fame with the fans.
18 Tom Cruise (Tropic Thunder)
Tom Cruise is one of the biggest stars in the world, and seemingly everything he touches turns to gold. However, most know Cruise as a man who is in shape and seems to be in big action movies. It was a big departure for him to jump into a comedic movie where he would not be in the main cast, wear a fat suit, and become unrecognizable in make-up. Yet that happened in Tropic Thunder.
While Robert Downey, Jr. would be nominated for an Oscar in the movie, Cruise's role was a big deal for critics too. He played such an interesting part that people ate up every second of it. He would even get nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Though he did not win, this role would become a huge deal for Cruise for some time. Tropic Thunder is still remembered in part due to Cruise's role in the project.
17 Brad Pitt (12 Monkeys)
12 Monkeys would become an outside of the box hit in 1995 and would star Bruce Willis as the main star. Though Willis was already a huge action star due to things like Die Hard, this was not so for some of his co-stars. In particular, Brad Pitt, who had been rising up in Hollywood by that time period. Pitt would basically become a huge deal after the results of the movie, as Willis may have put butts in the seats but Pitt became why they remembered the movie.
Pitt's role was not technically iconic for him, as he went on to have more huge success. However, 12 Monkeys would put him on the map in places others did not know he could be. He would see an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor due to his impressive work. To this day people still believe it was a Brad Pitt movie and not a Bruce Willis project when you refer to the film. That should tell you about Pitt's impact.
16 Meryl Streep (Devil Wears Prada)
The movie known as Devil Wears Prada did a lot for a number of people in the movie. Ann Hathaway was getting into a bigger role that many felt she was ready for. Meanwhile, Emily Blunt was getting her first big role, period. However, while Hathaway was good in the movie only one woman stole the film, Meryl Streep.
She was among many younger actresses and helped them realize how acting was really done. She played a role that was supporting, which was something she rarely took at this point in her career. Though joined by many great actors and actresses in the movie, her role would become heavily memorable. She would be nominated for and win a Golden Globe Award for her role in the movie, as well as see an Academy Award nomination.
15 Judi Dench (Shakespeare In Love)
In a movie designed to be about William Shakespeare, it was certainly doing its job in accomplishing this. Alongside some great actors like Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, and Colin Firth, it seemed that Judi Dench scored the biggest win among most. Though Paltrow would be remembered for her role here, Dench is likely remembered so well due to who she played.
Judi played Queen Elizabeth I, someone, of course, well-known to history. She was not the biggest star of the movie nor was she in it as long as everyone else, but to stand out as well as so many in a movie about someone else is truly amazing. She would be nominated for an Academy Award for the role and would win. That's clearly saying something.
14 Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass)
Chloe Grace Moretz was still a young kid when the movie Kick-Ass was filmed. Though a pretty girl, many felt this was all she would bring to the table. This was quickly forgotten as she was a foul-mouthed girl who could fight better than the boys. She'd even use weapons better than most too. Overall, the character of Hit-Girl was extremely beloved and helped her stand out above all her other male co-stars.
This became such a big deal in the first film that her role would become heavily increased in Kick-Ass 2. She would remain the same type of Hit-Girl we knew and loved from the first movie and increase the crazy antics by 1000%. Moretz would end up seeing many more roles as a result of her impressive work here. She's still doing well in Hollywood today.
13 Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)
When Abigail Breslin was named alongside the likes of Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Hudson for the Best Supporting Actress nominations for the 2006 Academy Awards, it was a major story. Very few women under the age of 18 had ever been nominated for an Oscar after the child awards were done away with years ago. Her role as Oliver Hoover in Little Miss Sunshine was too good to overlook for critics, however.
Abigail was by no means a major name in Hollywood at this time, and most did not even know about her work in the movie before her nomination. After she was nominated, people went crazy for how well she performed and knew why she was nominated. Overall, she was alongside some great actors in the movie, she shined in what is still her best and most iconic role.
12 Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men)
The movie known as No Country for Old Men had a pretty great cast, so it's not a wonder it stood out during Oscar and Golden Globe season. Though Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin were the main cast of the movie, Javier Bardem stood out above them all. Heath Ledger was actually offered the role Brolin ended up getting for obvious reasons. The role would likely have been more remembered if Ledger did get it.
Instead, this movie was completely about Javier Bardem's character known as Anton Chigurh. Though Bardem had been acting for several years before this, it is No Country for Old Men that put him on the map to many. In the book of the same name, his character is likely the fan favorite of the entire thing. So it was no shock to fans of the book that Bardem stood out. He'd even win a Golden Globe and Academy Award for the role.
11 Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
When Quentin Tarantino decided to make a movie about WWII, it made total sense to try and find a German actor. Not just a random guy who could use a German accent. Not only did it make things more realistic, but it allowed us to see a truly great performance. Christoph Waltz played a leader in the movie known as Inglourious Basterds to such a great level that he became a star overnight due to the role.
Waltz has been in several terrific movies since this one too. However, Inglourious Basterds allowed for us to be introduced to a truly magnificent performer. The Golden Globe and Academy Awards felt the same and would not only nominate him for his role in the movie, he'd actually end up winning too. Waltz has remained a top figure in the acting world ever since.
10 Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
Jennifer Hudson lucked out big time when she would get the role of the lifetime in Dreamgirls, a movie with some heavy hitters in much bigger roles. Hudson was a great singer who appeared on American Idol and had a good first studio record. She'd even be pretty much handed Whitney Houston's hit song of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going." Though alongside stars like Eddie Murphy, Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx, and Danny Glover she stood out with her role as Effie White.
Hudson was so special in the role that she would pretty much be iconic for this role for several years, and to this day it may very well be her biggest movie ever. This makes sense, as the role was so beloved by critics that she won both a Golden Globe and Academy Award for her work on the film. Funny enough, it was her first movie. Impressive!
9 Joe Pesci (Goodfellas)
Martin Scorsese is obviously one of the best directors in the world today. So it comes as no shock that he could make sure to help cast tremendous actors. Likely one of the best was Joe Pesci. Though rather small, Joe stood over many as his tough guy antics managed to land well. He was believable as a high-class criminal and believable as one who could beat you up in a major way.
Goodfellas might be one of the best films in history, thus it is no surprise that Pesci's performance is so remembered. Yet he was actually a supporting actor in the movie, funny enough. Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro were his co-stars in the movie, yet it was Pesci who would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film. Did he amuse you?
8 Anthony Hopkins (The Silence Of The Lambs)
When doing a movie that involves one of the most notable serial killers in history, it makes sense that this character is going to stand out a bit. The Silence of the Lambs was by no means only about the character of Hannibal Lector. The movie follows the star played by Jodie Foster who was trying to seek the help of the imprisoned Hannibal Lector to track down Buffalo Bill, a man just like himself.
However, he may not be as smart...which is what she was counting on when using Hannibal's help. Hopkins becomes the clear star of the movie without any real doubt. In fact, the movie is mostly remembered due to Anthony Hopkins chilling performance. He'd even win the Academy Award for his role. The part was so beloved that about a decade later, a solo Hannibal movie would be made using Hopkins as the character.
7 Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
The movie known as Les Miserables came from the insanely popular Broadway musical of the same name. However, it comes from the brilliant mind of French writer Victor Hugo. He is known for several books but Les Mis has become his most popular due to the musical become so beloved nowadays. Hathaway played a big supporting character role in the movie named Fantine while Hugh Jackman played the lead role of Jean Valjean.
Hathaway was already well-known before taking the role on. We all knew she was a skilled actress with a beautiful singing voice. However, Anne truly acted and sang her heart out for this role. The role required her to cut her hair short and basically play a poor woman who sells her body all to help take care of her daughter. She would be nominated for several awards and would win many, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
6 Leonardo DiCaprio (What's Eating Gilbert Grape)
The movie known as What's Eating Gilbert Grape would star two pretty huge names from Hollywood today, Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. The 1990's were popular for taking books and making them into movies, with this being no exception. Johnny's character was the star of the movie, and this was during Depp's rise in Hollywood. People would clearly watch for him, but Leonardo DiCaprio stole the film.
We all know how amazing Leonardo DiCaprio is as an actor today, but at this time very few people were aware. He'd step out in a major way as he played a mentally challenged kid. He was so amazing in the role that people actually thought, at one point, he really was like this in real life. Clearly, he was not, but he was brilliant. Both the Golden Globes and Academy Awards agreed and nominated him for Best Supporting Actor in 1994. He'd sadly lose both, but he'd be back...a lot.
5 Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men)
When you have a movie involving Jack Nicholson, you know the movie is usually going to be good. Jack has a certain style about his acting and a certain cadence that everyone has gotten used to. So when he arrived on the set to play Colonel Jessup, everyone expected the same Jack they had always seen beforehand. Yet that was not what we saw here. Technically, he played the bad guy.
Tom Cruise was the lead and did a brilliant job alongside stars like Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, and Kevin Pollack. Jack and Tom now are known for one of the most famous films in history dubbed "the code red" scene by many. Jack would end up being nominated for several awards due to his performance. One is an Academy Award, for which he won. We could certainly handle that truth.
4 Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting)
Good Will Hunting focused on Matt Damon's genius character and would even be written by him and his real-life friend and co-star Ben Affleck. The movie would get tons of honors at the Academy Awards including the Best Original Screenplay honor. However, the movie might have had both of these future Hollywood A-listers, but they were nothing much at the time. However, their heavy-hitter co-star was a huge pick-up for the movie.
They'd manage to get the brilliant Robin Williams, who was very well-known by this time. He would be allowed freedom of improvisation in the movie, which was not always allowed. However, when you have someone as great as Robin Williams around...you let it happen. There are several classic scenes today that Williams literally improved entirely. He was so great that he'd join his co-stars and win an Academy Award for his work.
3 Robert De Niro (The Godfather Part II)
Most people will tell you the best three-part series in movie history would be The Godfather franchise. Legendary performers were in these movies such as Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, George Hamilton, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton. Yet one man seemed to make a huge impact on the franchise, but only appeared truly in The Godfather Part II. It was almost a tradition to win awards in these movies.
Robert De Niro entered into the franchise in a major way. Like Al Pacino before him, Robert De Niro would be nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. Also like his co-star turned lead, he would win the Oscar for his role.
2 Val Kilmer (Tombstone)
The movie Tombstone was about the real-life family of brothers known as the Earp family. It particularly focused on real-life lawman Wyatt Earp. The movie was focused on a certain time period in his life that took place in Tombstone, Arizona. Especially his showdown in the O.K. Corral. Considered a bit lawless with gangs all over, Wyatt did not want to ever get back into politics or law. However, he'd eventually do so seeing the need of the town and due to the gang attack on his family.
The movie would also star a real-life friend of theirs named Doc Holiday, who had tuberculosis since he was young. He was truly one of the fastest gunmen in the west, if not THE fastest. Val Kilmer played the role of Doc while Kurt Russel played Wyatt Earp. However, Kilmer would become iconic in his role and stand out heavily. It is still considered one of the best performances in any Western movie ever made.
1 Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Heath Ledger was not entirely beloved when he was cast in The Dark Knight. Though he had been in some relatively well-liked movies such as Brokeback Mountain, The Brothers Grimm, Monster's Ball, and The Patriot...no one felt he was right for the part he would get. He would be cast in the role of The Joker by director and writer of the Dark Knight series, Christopher Nolan. Fans all over despised the move and thought it was crazy.
This made Heath only want to work harder to become amazing. So he'd lock himself in a room for days with no one else around, he'd read horrible things and much more to get in touch with the character. It worked, however, as his performance was amazing. He shut the world up big time. He'd sadly pass before the film hit theaters, but he would become the only man from a superhero movie to win an Academy Award for an acting role. A distinction he still holds to this day.
Sources: [IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes]