Look! Everyone who’s on top had to start at the bottom at some point, even A-list Hollywood celebrities. And for a lot of these stars, their big break started with small roles or less than memorable parts on a TV show or movie.
And since many of them were virtually unknown at the time, most of us overlooked them, but they later became a staple in Hollywood. Did you know that many future Oscar winners appeared on just one episode of a TV series before being given the boot? It might surprise you that these talented stars started their careers with just a few lines in front of the camera.
Brad Pitt on “Dallas”
In 1987, Angelina Jolie’s ex Brad Pitt played Randy, the boyfriend of one of the characters on the drama series “Dallas.” It was one of his earliest roles and he was on the show for four episodes before moving on to bigger and better things.
Jessica Alba in “The Secret World of Alex Mack”
Sci-fi fans may recall that Jessica Alba played a genetically enhanced human on the series “Dark Angel" in the early 2000s. But in the 1990s, she played Jessica in the similarly sci-fi series “The Secret World of Alex Mack” for three episodes.
Halle Berry on “Living Dolls”
Halle Berry first graced us with her presence in 1989 on a sitcom called “Living Dolls,” alongside Leah Remini. The series was a spin-off of the super popular sitcom “Who’s the Boss.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t a hit and ABC canceled the show after 12 episodes.
Milo Ventimiglia on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"
Milo Ventimiglia’s most memorable roles include playing Peter Petrelli on “Heroes” and Jack Pearson on “This is Us.” But he also had an extremely tiny role on the sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" where he appeared as a guest at a party.
Kaley Cuoco on “Growing Up Brady”
Before she starred as Penny on “The Big Bang Theory,” Kaley Cuoco played actress Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia Brady on “The Brady Bunch.” But it wasn’t a reboot of the sitcom. It was a TV movie called “Growing Up Brady,” which chronicled what went on with the cast behind the scenes.
Lucy Liu on “Beverly Hills 90210”
Lucy Liu has starred on the TV series “Elementary” and appeared in the film version of “Charlie’s Angels.” But she was very young and looked very different when she took on the small role of Courtney, a waitress with good grades in high school on “Beverly Hills 90210.”
Neil Patrick Harris on “Blossom”
The actor who became known as “Dr. Doogie Howser” on the show of the same name guest-starred on the sitcom “Blossom” playing the handsome young man Derek Slade. But he wasn’t the only major star in this episode of the popular '90s sitcom because Tori Spelling also made an appearance.
Matthew McConaughey on “Unsolved Mysteries”
Matthew McConaughey has been pretty successful in films like “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Interstellar.” He even appeared on the TV series “True Detective.” But he also played Larry, an ex-marine who suffered a horrible fate on an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.”
Ellen Pompeo on “Friends”
We all look at Ellen Pompeo and think that’s Doctor Meredith Grey from “Grey’s Anatomy!” But in the final season of “Friends,” Pompeo played Missy Goldberg, who was Chandler and Ross’s old college crush.
Viola Davis on “Kate & Leopold”
We may know her as Annalise Keating on “How to Get Away With Murder,” but long before she starred on the popular Shonda Rhimes series, Davis did a stint as a cop in the 2001 film “Kate & Leopold” which starred Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan.
Hilary Swank on “Beverly Hills 90210”
Hilary Swank fans remember her for films like “Boys Don’t Cry,” and the tearjerker film “P.S. I Love You.” But she was also a regular on “Beverly Hills 90210," and played Carly Reynolds for 13 episodes before she got canned from the show.
Miley Cyrus in “Big Fish”
Miley Cyrus is synonymous with her popular Disney series “Hannah Montana” and, of course, her illustrious music career. But back in 2003, she appeared in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish,” marking the start of her film career. It was, however, such a small role that most people might have missed her.
James Marsden on “The Nanny”
One of James Marsden’s earliest roles was on the sitcom “The Nanny.” In the Fran Drescher led series, Marsden played Eddie, the boyfriend of Margaret Sheffield. Unfortunately, he was only in a handful of episodes. He later showed off his singing skills in a 2002 episode of the series "Ally McBeal."
Leonardo DiCaprio on “Parenthood”
Before Rose let go of Leonardo DiCaprio at the end of the 1996 film “Titanic,” DiCaprio was on the 1990 TV series “Parenthood," which was based off of the 1989 film of the same name. His character, Garry, was originally played by Joaquin Phoenix in the movie.
Jennifer Aniston on “Ferris Bueller”
Before Jennifer Aniston became Rachel Green on “Friends,” she took on the role of Jeannie Bueller on the TV series “Ferris Bueller.” The show was a TV version of the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” but the series was canceled after just 13 episodes.
Anne Hathaway on “Get Real”
Award-winning actress Anne Hathaway has graced us with her presence in films like “The Princess Diaries” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” But she also appeared as a star of the series “Get Real,” which premiered in 1999 and aired on the Fox channel. Unfortunately, the series was canceled after one season.
Jake Gyllenhaal on “Homicide: Life on the Street”
Before Jake Gyllenhaal went brokeback in “Brokeback Mountain,” he played the son of Robin Williams in a single episode of "Homicide: Life on the Street” way back in 1994. And he’s certainly come a long way since then, having earned an Academy Award nomination in 2005 and winning a BAFTA that same year.
Kevin Hart on “Undeclared”
Before Kevin Hart took on roles in films like “Central Intelligence” or "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and its sequel “Jumanji: The Next Level,” Hart played Luke, a recurring character on the Judd Apatow created 2001 sitcom series “Undeclared," which was only on the air for 17 episodes.
Mila Kunis in “Days of Our Lives”
Ukrainian-American actress Mila Kunis gained fame for her role on “That ‘70s Show” and went on to appear in films like “Friends with Benefits.” But her humble beginnings included a one-episode appearance on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives" when she was just 10 years old.
Julia Roberts on “Miami Vice”
When people hear the name Julia Roberts, the first thing that comes to mind is her popular role alongside Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman.” But most fans don’t know that Roberts appeared in an episode of “Miami Vice” way back in 1988.
Ben Stiller on “Kate & Allie”
What would films like “Meet the Fockers” and “Zoolander” have been without the comedic talent of Ben Stiller? But back in the day, he was just an up-and-coming actor who was trying to make a name for himself. And one of his many small roles included a one-episode appearance on the sitcom “Kate & Allie.”
George Clooney on “The Golden Girls”
George Clooney earned his heartthrob status when he starred on the popular medical drama “ER” for five seasons. Then he went on to star in blockbuster films like “Ocean’s Eleven.” But before he played a doctor, he appeared as a detective on an episode of “The Golden Girls” back in 1987.
The Rock on “That ‘70s Show”
Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, went from being a WWE wrestler to becoming a full-fledged actor. But how many of his fans remember him for playing his real-life dad Rocky Johnson on an episode of the sitcom “That ‘70s Show” in 1999?
Pedro Pascal in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
Chilean-American actor Pedro Pascal is best known for his roles in shows like “Narcos” and the film “Wonder Woman 1984.” But in the season four premiere of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Pascal played a college freshman who befriended Buffy but later got turned into a vampire.
Thora Birch left quite an impression on audiences for her work in the film “Purple People Eater,” but she also starred in other memorable films like “Hocus Pocus,” "Patriot Games" and “Clear and Present Danger.” Her most recent role was a whisperer named Gamma on “The Walking Dead." But if you're dying to see Thora Birch on the big screen, we have great news! She's starring in the epic tornado action film, “13 Minutes” in 2021 alongside Anne Heche and Amy Smart.
Jason Bateman made young hearts swoon when he played Derek Taylor in “Silver Spoons.” This role helped Bateman transition to own sitcom “It’s Your Move,” and a movie role in “Teen Wolf Too.” As an adult, Bateman has starred in shows like “Arrested Development” and the highly addictive “Ozark.” Bateman has stayed busy throughout the years, making a cameo on SNL and gracing the big screen with comedic films like “The Switch,” “The Change-Up,” and “Identity Thief.”
Anna Chlumsky played the lead role in “My Girl” alongside Macaulay Culkin and also starred in the sequel “My Girl 2.” But she put her acting career on hold to go to the University of Chicago. Through the years, she has guest starred on “30 Rock” and “Law & Order” before landing a bigger role on "Veep" as Amy Brookheimer. Fans can look forward to seeing her again in “Inventing Anna” a TV mini-series slated for 2021.
Ron Howard went from playing Opie on “The Andy Griffith Show,” to playing one of the lead characters on the sitcom, “Happy Days.” And his future wasn’t necessarily in front of the camera, but behind it. Howard has directed Hollywood blockbusters like “Splash,” “Apollo 13,” and “The Da Vinci Code.” But he has also done voiceover work for shows like “This Is Us” and “Arrested Development.”
Jonathan Lipnicki was the adorable blonde kid with glasses in the 1996 film “Jerry Maguire.” He later landed roles on “Dawson’s Creek” and “The Jeff Foxworthy Show.” And he also starred in the 1999 film “Stuart Little” and its sequel before focusing on being an MMA fighter. But he also did work on independent films like “Boone: The Bounty Hunter” and on reality TV shows like “Worst Cooks in America.” He has also guest-starred on shows like “The Resident.”
Raven-Symoné won the hearts of her audience as the adorable Olivia Kendall on the sitcom “The Cosby Show.” She eventually went on to start in the sitcoms “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper,” and “That’s So Raven.” She later revisited her role of Raven Baxter in the revival series “Raven’s Home.” But she’s also known as a former TV host of “The View” and for voicing Valkyrie in the animated TV series “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Abigail Breslin made her film debut in 2002’s “Signs.” Then she starred in the film “Little Miss Sunshine,” which earned her an Oscar nomination. But over the years, she’s kept busy starring in films like “Final Girl” and “Zombieland: Double Tap.” She even starred on the TV series “Scream Queens,” and released an album titled “The World Now.”
Miko Hughes appeared in horror flicks like “Pet Sematary and “New Nightmares,” as well as other films like “Apollo 13.” He even had a recurring role as a sinister alien on the series “Roswell.” But while his roles have been far and few between, he is currently working on a film called “Floaty” and a short called “Dylan’s New Nightmare: An Elm Street Fan Film.”
While most young actresses had cute roles, Daveigh Chase scared the living daylights out of people as the wicked supernatural ghost named Samara in 2002’s “The Ring.” She also starred in films like 2001’s “Donnie Darko,” and she voiced Lilo in “Lilo & Stitch.” She also voiced the character Chihiro in “Spirited Away.” Her last credit role was voicing the character Kiwako Seto in the video game “Let It Die” in 2016.
The Spanish-born actress Ivana Baquero gained stardom as Ofelia in Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Her more popular roles included playing Eretria in the short-lived sci-fi scries “The Shannara Chronicles,” and in the series “High Seas.” She is currently starring in the film “Black Friday!” which is in post-production.
Tahj Mowry guest-starred on “Full House” as one of Michelle’s classmates. But the young actor later moved on to play T.J. Henderson, a genius on the show “Smart Guy.” As he got older, he starred in the sitcom “Baby Daddy” and he is set to star in the film “Welcome Matt.” And there’s even talks of a “Smart Guy” reboot in the works.
Tania Raymonde played Cynthia Sanders, one of Malcolm’s classmates on “Malcom in the Middle” in 2001. But when fans saw her pop up again in the Amazon series “Goliath,” she looked virtually unrecognizable and obviously all grown up. The actress has also done films such as “Dirty Lies” in 2016 and she even had a recurring role in the popular ABC series “Lost.”
Taylor Momsen went from the sweet innocent looking Cindy Lou Who in the live-action film “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” to the rebellious teen Jenny Humprey in the CW’s “Gossip Girl.” But she left acting behind to work on her music with her band, The Pretty Reckless, who released the hit single “Heaven Knows,” and a studio album called “Going to Hell.” Recently on Instagram, she shared the link to her music video “Only Love Can Save Me Now.”
Zac Efron and his hairstyle became pretty popular in the early 2000s in “High School Musical.” But his pretty boy looks eventually evolved into a muscular Adonis style, which he had to emulate to appear in the film version of “Baywatch.” He also took on the role of serial killer Ted Bundy in “Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile.” Some of his latest projects include films like “Firestarter,” “Gold,” and a TV series called “Killing Zac Efron.”
Unlike some child stars who left the spotlight and later reemerged as adults, Ariel Winter grew up in front of everyone’s eyes as the star of the sitcom “Modern Family.” Winter has also done a great deal of voiceover work on animated television shows like “Elena of Avalor.” And she recently announced on Instagram that she’s going to be working in the comedy film “Pools.”
Anthony Michael Hall
Some of Anthony Michael Hall’s most epic films included “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” and "National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Aside from starring with Brad Pitt in the 2017 film “War Machine,” Hall has kept busy appearing as Mr. Perott in the sitcom “The Goldbergs,” and he just completed work on the film “Halloween Kills” slated for release in 2021.
Mackenzie Rosman played Ruthie Camden in the series “7th Heaven,” which lasted 11 seasons before she landed a recurring role on “Secret Life of the American Teenager.” But fans were shocked that she did a revealing photo shoot for Maxim magazine given that she played a preacher’s daughter on “7th Heaven.” And although her acting career stalled after 2015, she is still the proud founder of Fletch Athletica, which made the Doli Belt designed to carry all kinds of tools.
Aside from playing a hybrid alien in the mini-series “Taken,” Dakota Fanning has appeared in films like “I Am Sam,” “Man on Fire,” and “Twilight.” After graduating high school in 2011, she continued acting in films like “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Ocean’s 8.” In 2018, she starred in the TV series “The Alienist,” and she is currently working on the film “The Nightingale” and the TV series “The First Lady.”
Alisan Porter will always be known for her lead role in the 1991 film “Curly Sue.” Although her acting career seemingly stalled, she was a contestant on “The Voice” in 2016 and won! This allowed her to release her popular single “Down That Road.” In 2019, she released her third album titled “Pink Cloud.”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the adorable kid on the thriller vampire series “Dark Shadows" in the early 1990s. But most people remember him for playing Tommy the alien on the sitcom “3rd Rock From the Sun.” He took a bit of a break from acting to go to college but he has since returned to Hollywood to do films like “500 Days of Summer” and “50/50.” He is currently playing Josh in “Mr. Corman,” a TV series that is currently in production.
“Mrs. Doubtfire” fans still remember Mara Wilson as Robin Williams’ adorable onscreen daughter. Her work in the film was so amazing that she landed a role in the 1994 version of “Miracle on 34th Street,” and the title role in the 1996 film “Matilda.” As she got older, she turned to writing her 2016 book “Where Am I Now: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame.” And in 2018, she voiced Liv Amara in “Big Hero 6: The Series.”
Jennette McCurdy earned not one but two Kids’ Choice Awards for Favorite TV Sidekick on the show “iCarly.” So naturally, she accepted to reprise her role in the spinoff “Sam & Kat” in 2013. She also appeared in the film “Between” in 2015 and the web series “Adam and Wiley’s Lost Weekend.” And although she hasn’t been active in acting since 2018, she has 7.7 million followers on Instagram and she continues to be both a writer and director.
“Full House” fans will immediately recognize Andrea Barber as the annoying dim-witted neighbor Kimmy Gibbler. But most people don’t know that she played Carrie Brady in the soap opera “Days of our Lives” in the early 1980s. She reprised her role of Kimmy in “Fuller House” and also took on the role of Principal Willingham on the show “That Girl Lay-Lay.”
Melissa Joan Hart
From “Clarissa Explains It All” to “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Sabrina: The Animated Series,” Melissa Joan Hart did it all at an early age. But her biggest success was as Sabrina on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” which ran for seven seasons and later on the sitcom “Melissa & Joey.” She has also directed TV shows like “The Goldbergs." She also voiced the character Mrs. Chang in the series “The Casagrandes.”
Soleil Moon Frye
Soleil Moon Frye became famous in the 1980s for playing Punky on the sitcom “Punky Brewster.” She eventually landed film roles in “You Ruined My Life” and “The St. Tammany Miracle.” She recently reprised her former role in the “Punky Brewster” revival series, but fans weren't too surprised to see her playing a feisty divorced mom of three. Also, spoiler alert: the character finally discovers why her mother abandoned her.
Fred Savage was popping up here and there in the 1980s like in the film “The Boy Who Could Fly.” But his most memorable role was as Kevin Arnold in the series “The Wonder Years.” Over the years, he has starred in other shows like “The Grinder” in 2015 and he also guest starred on “Modern Family.” He has also appeared in “The Princess Bride” and “Once Upon a Deadpool.” And he has even voiced various characters in the animated series “American Dad!”
Danica McKellar will always be remembered for her role as Winnie Cooper, a.k.a. Kevin’s love interest on “The Wonder Years.” After the show ended, she guest starred on shows like “Walker, Texas Ranger.” But she has since used her knowledge of mathematics to write books about math like “Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape.” She has also done some voiceover work as Miss Martian in the animated series “Young Justice.”
Drew Barrymore won people over in 1982’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” This led her to land other roles in the 1980s like “Babes in Toyland” and “Firestarter.” As she got older, she appeared in films like “Boys on the Side,” and even produced a few films like “Whip It,” “Animal,” and the 2019 film “Charlie’s Angels.” She also starred in and produced the Netflix series “Santa Clarita Diet” and is currently the host of her own talk show “The Drew Barrymore Show.”
Anna Paquin started out playing Flora McGrath in the film “The Piano,” which earned her an Oscar. This led to other roles later in life like playing Rogue in the “X-Men” films. But her most popular role is playing Sookie Stackhouse in the vampire series “True Blood.” Since then, she has appeared in other projects like “The Affair,” “The Irishman,” and “Flack.”
Tiffani Thiessen became everyone’s crush when she played Kelly Kapowski on “Saved by the Bell.” As she got older, she took on a more adult role on “Beverly Hills, 90210,” playing Valerie Malone. She also played Elizabeth Burke on “White Collar” and appeared on the sitcom “Alexa & Katie.” But she has recently reprised her role of Kelly on the “Saved by the Bell” revival series.