Special Report

What Famous Actors Did Next After Their Breakout Role

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures Corporation

Morgan Freeman
> First very famous movie: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Morgan Freeman first broke out as a star in 1987’s “Street Smart,” a role in which he played a hustler and earned an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. Then came four additional great performances, in “Glory,” “Lean on Me,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” and “Unforgiven.” So by the time he was cast in “The Shawshank Redemption,” he was already a top-tier, well-respected actor. His role as contraband smuggler “Red” Redding, who befriends Tim Robbins’ convicted murderer, put him on the map, however, and led to additional star turns in films including “Seven,” “Bruce Almighty,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and as Nelson Mandela in “Invictus.”

Source: Columbia Pictures / Moviepix via Getty Images

Natalie Portman
> First very famous movie: Léon: The Professional (1994)

Natalie Portman burst onto the scene in a big way at the age of 12, with 1994’s “Léon: The Professional,” in which she starred alongside Jean Reno as the protegée of his hitman character. Her performance was widely hailed, and international recognition came five years later, when she starred as Padmé Amidala in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.” She was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as a stripper in 2004’s “Closer,” won Best Actress for playing a troubled ballerina in 2010’s “Black Swan,” and since then has starred in additional films including “Thor,” “Jackie,” and “Annihilation.”

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Nicole Kidman
> First very famous movie: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Born in Hawaii to Australian parents and raised in Sydney, Nicole Kidman started off her career acting in a string of hit films, including 1995’s “Batman Forever” and “To Die For,” “The Peacemaker,” and “Practical Magic.” So she was already well-known to audiences when she starred alongside her then-husband Tom Cruise in Stanley Kubrick’s final film, the much-hyped “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Source: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Olivia Colman
> First very famous movie: The Favourite (2018)

Olivia Colman spent years as one of Britain’s most beloved TV character actresses, starring in acclaimed shows including “Peep Show,” “Green Wing,” “Twenty Twelve,” “Broadchurch,” “The Night Manager,” and “The Crown” (as Queen Elizabeth). She also appeared in plenty of films during this time, including 2007’s “Hot Fuzz,” 2011’s “The Iron Lady,” and 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” but she truly broke through into A-list territory with her tour de force performance as Queen Anne in the 2018 black comedy “The Favourite.” She won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, and has since been nominated for her performances in two additional films, “The Father” and “The Lost Daughter.”

Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Reese Witherspoon
> First very famous movie: Legally Blonde (2001)

Today, Reese Witherspoon is the world’s wealthiest actress and a highly successful producer and entrepreneur, but she started her film career with the 1991 coming-of-age drama “Man in the Moon.” Her performances in the critically-acclaimed “Cruel Intentions” and “Election” brought her additional recognition, but her performance as Elle Woods in 2001’s “Legally Blonde” put her on the map. She followed it up with a successful sequel and additional hits including “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Walk the Line” (for which she earned the Best Actress Oscar), and in recent years she’s appeared primarily on television, in series including “Big Little Lies,” “Little Fires Everywhere,” and “The Morning Show.”

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