They all start somewhere. We all do. In movie land, however, where you come from can vary greatly. Some actors are lucky enough to appear in great films right from the start of their careers. Those are the movies we'll be discussing below.
All film buffs love discovering movies and, similarly, actors and directors. Remember finding Wes Anderson and the Wilson brothers in Bottle Rocket? Maybe you saw Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums or even Armageddon (in which young Owen Wilson appears) first. But then you go back and see where these guys came from. True film buffs start from the beginning.
In that spirit, let's go back to the start (or near the start) for some of our favorite actors. We won't take you all the way back in every case, but all the following movies are early examples of true promise. These stars got famous for a reason.
[The following movies are taken from the American Netflix menu. Apologies if any aren't available in your area.]
Future star: Tom Hardy
Starring: Matt King, Amanda Burton, James Lance
Bronson was actually the coming out party for two important names: Hardy and co-writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising, Drive), who saw the explosiveness in his young star and built a film around him that played to that strength. Bronson is the story of "the most violent prisoner in Britain," Charles Bronson (Hardy), a man who's spent (and is still spending) his entire adult life behind bars, and more, in solitary confinement. Hardy bulked up, mastered the convict's unique manner of speaking, and immersed himself in prison. The actor dedicated himself to the role so piously, the real Bronson, impressed, shaved off his iconic mustache and sent it to Refn for use in the movie. Watching it, there's seemingly no line between reality and fiction. Hardy is Bronson, in every way. It's still his scariest, most thrilling, combustible performance.
Muriel's Wedding (1994)
Future star: Toni Collette
Starring: Rachel Griffiths, Jeanie Drynan, Sophie Lee, Bill Hunter
Collette, Oscar nominated for her role in The Sixth Sense, started out in her native Australia doing voice work and short films. But she rocketed to industry fame in 1994 with her heartbreaking, hilarious performance in Muriel's Wedding. The then-22-year-old gained over 40 pounds for the title role, an ugly duckling character who's the butt of her friends' jokes and her father's ire. But Muriel dreams big, and she sets out for Sydney, where she imagines meeting her own Prince Charming and starting a new life away from her family and small town. Muriel's Wedding has gained a significant cult following, and rightly so. But it also made a star of Collette while earning her a Best Actress Golden Globe nomination.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Future star: Kevin Spacey
Starring: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin
Spacey, known for sharp supporting performances in his early years, gained serious momentum for lead work after his self-righteous, humbling turn as office manager John Williamson in Glengarry. The film, based on David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, is a brutally honest portrait of a real estate sales office's inner workings. The cutthroat world, lorded over smugly by Williamson, despite his having little experience, comes back to bite him. And Spacey, with an honesty that would come to define his future performances, vacillates between confidence, anger, and outright shame as he manages the different personalities of the group. His reading of Mamet's famous line, "Will you go to lunch!?" still lives in film lore.
The Yards (2000)
Future star: Charlize Theron
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Ellen Burstyn, James Caan
Directed by the talented James Gray, The Yards features two other future stars in Wahlberg and Phoenix, but they were both pretty well known when this movie came out, especially Marky Mark. Theron was also, but to a lesser degree. The Yards marked her as a serious actress who could handle real drama after several well-known, but poorly received, performances (The Devil's Advocate, Reindeer Games). The Yards is a dark thriller about a family of railway workers who get mixed up in corruption and, eventually, murder. Theron plays the boss' daughter who has romantic links to her boyfriend (Phoenix) and cousin (Wahlberg). She's forced to choose sides while trying to get by in a violent world.
A Royal Affair (2012)
Future star: Alicia Vikander
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Følsgaard, David Dencik
Okay, Vikander isn't all the way there yet but she's bonafide, and one of the brightest young actresses working today. If you haven't seen her in 2015 (Ex Machina, Testament of Youth, The Danish Girl), you haven't been paying attention. But some of us were lucky enough to catch her from the beginning, a short three years ago, when the Danish actress played Princess Caroline Matilda in A Royal Affair. Her character is married off to the crazy King of Denmark, but she becomes attached to her husband's royal physician (Mikkelsen), a dashing, educated man who saves her from a royal life of manners and conservative values. Vikander, 23-years-old at the time, perfectly captures the downy innocent who emerges as a fully-formed woman. If you don't know her, start here. She'll be one of the most famous stars in the world very soon.