Special Report

Movie Roles That Launched Hollywood's Biggest Stars

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

21. Samuel L. Jackson
> Breakout film: Do the Right Thing (1989)
> Role: Mister Señor Love Daddy
> Recent blockbuster: Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

Samuel L. Jackson has been performing in movies and on television since the early 1970s. His breakout role, however, would come in 1989, in the role of Mister Señor Love Daddy in the Spike Lee film “Do the Right Thing.” Jackson would go on to appear in films such as “Jackie Brown,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” and “Pulp Fiction.” His performance in the latter film earned him his lone Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Source: Courtesy of United Artists

22. Scarlett Johansson
> Breakout film: Ghost World (2001)
> Role: Rebecca
> Recent blockbuster: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Sometimes called by the truncated name Scar Jo, Scarlett Johansson was nominated for two Oscars (Best Supporting Actress for “Jojo Rabbit” and Best Actress for “Marriage Story”) in 2020, the 12th time an actor was nominated for two roles in the same year. The 2001 film “Ghost World” about teenage angst got critics’ attention. David Denby of the New Yorker recommended the film for “Johansson’s devastating monotone.” Johansson, known today for her role as Black Widow in Marvel films, also voiced characters in movies like “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.”

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

23. Tom Cruise
> Breakout film: Risky Business (1983)
> Role: Joel
> Recent blockbuster: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Tom Cruise’s climb to fame can be traced to a famous scene from “Risky Business” in which he lip-syncs the Bob Seger song “Old Time Rock & Roll” in just his underwear. A string of blockbusters, such as “Top Gun,” “A Few Good Men,” and “Jerry Maguire,” has catapulted Cruise to superstardom. The three-time Oscar nominee has also starred in the action movie franchises Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

24. Tom Hanks
> Breakout film: Splash (1984)
> Role: Allen Bauer
> Recent blockbuster: Toy Story 4 (2019)

Before the two-time Best Actor Oscar winner (“Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump”) became America’s Everyman, Tom Hanks cut his acting teeth on television in series such as “Bosom Buddies” and “Family Ties.” Cinematic stardom began with Hanks’ role as Allen Bauer, a man who falls in love with a mermaid in the enchanting film “Splash.”

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

25. Will Smith
> Breakout film: Bad Boys (1995)
> Role: Mike Lowrey
> Recent blockbuster: Bad Boys for Life (2020)

Will Smith rose to prominence as an actor starring in the TV series “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” which ran for six seasons beginning in 1990. But it was his starring role alongside Martin Lawrence in Michael Bay’s 1995 cop film “Bad Boys” that proved to audiences he was ready to be a movie star. Smith quickly followed up the film with leading roles in “Independence Day” in 1996 and “Men in Black” in 1997. The Oscar-nominated actor recently returned to the part of Detective Mike Lowrey in “Bad Boys for Life,” which is currently the top grossing film of 2020.

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