'Full House' Revival In The Works

Top Career-Defining Film Roles

April 22nd, 2008 8:30am EDT
The Silence Of The LambsEver seen a movie with some little-known or vaguely recognizable actor and then had to ask yourself, 'Who WAS that person?' Or have you seen an actor in a movie that suddenly made you see that person in a whole new light? For some actors, all it takes is one role to make their movie careers flourish. Following is a list of some of our favorite career-making performances in no particular order:

1) Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman"
It's probably one of the most obvious "career launching" roles of the last 30 years, but no compilation of career-defining movies would be complete without it. The "hooker with a heart of gold" motif wasn't new when "Pretty Woman" was released in 1990. But Julia's foray into the theme won over audiences and made her into the quintessential female romantic comedy lead of the 90s. Hers was the toothy smile that launched a thousand magazine covers.

Pretty Woman

2) Jamie Lee Curtis in "Halloween"
Sure, she had famous parents (actors Janet Lee and Tony Curtis). So you could say that Jamie Lee Curtis was a shoe-in for a successful Hollywood acting career. But her breakout movie role as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter's creepy 1978 horror film made her a star. She demonstrated her girl-next-door charms and fended off the boogie man too (we will never look at wire coat hangers the same way). In one mighty swoop, she was a Hollywood darling

3) Steve Carrell in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"
Steve Carrell had been in the business a long time before 2005's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." With bit roles in dozens of films and a long successful run as a correspondent on "The Daily Show," Steve was a well recognized face in many circles. But "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" proved once and for all that he could carry a movie. And - let's just get right down to it - that scene where he gets his chest waxed? C'mon. That takes serious commitment from an actor. Way to go, Steve.

Steve Carrell

4) Tom Cruise in "Risky Business"
We probably shouldn't have been surprised when he jumped on Oprah's couch back in 2005. After all, Tom Cruise's breakout role involved dancing in his underwear. He'd worked on a few notable projects around the same time as 1983's "Risky Business" (including "The Outsiders" with Matt Dillon and Patrick Swayze), but this movie catapulted his career and led him into 20-plus years of strong movie stardom.

5) Molly Ringwald in "Sixteen Candles"
Long before Ellen Page and Vanessa Hudgens were making waves in Hollywood, Molly Ringwald was the ultimate movie teenager. In this classic 80's flick she played Samantha Baker, a girl who was crushin' big time on the hottest guy in school and whose family forgot her sixteenth birthday. Not only did the film help define Ringwald's career, but it has influenced many a teen flick since.

Sixteen Candles

6) Will Smith in "Independence Day"
He was already a famous rapper and television star in 1996. So a film career seemed only a matter of time. "Independence Day" just happened to be the film that gave Will Smith's movie career a kick start. He showed off the good looks, dramatic acting chops, and comedic timing that have come to define him as an actor. And, hey, he kicked some alien butt while he was at it.

7) Abigail Breslin in "Little Miss Sunshine"
We're going out on a limb with this pick because, at the age of 12, little miss Breslin hasn't really been alive long enough to have had a "career" in the traditional sense - though she's got plenty of movie credits to her name. But her star-making performance in 2006's "Little Miss Sunshine" melted our hearts and turned her into Hollywood's new "it" kid. And who else could have made dancing to Rick James look so endearing?

Little Miss Sunshine

8) Reese Witherspoon in "Legally Blonde"
She was reasonably well known before 2001's "Legally Blonde." She had starred in some dark films like 1996's "Fear" and 1999's "Cruel Intentions." And she'd gotten attention for her role as annoying over-achiever Tracy Flick in the Matthew Broderick comedy "Election" (1999). But "Legally Blonde" was the film that turned cute-as-a-button Reese Witherspoon into an all-out America's sweetheart. With her 2006 Oscar for "Walk the Line," she has lately dodged the constant "Blonde" references. But still, who could forget her charming California girl taking Harvard Law by storm?

9) Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs"
In his long and prestigious career, his role in this 1991 thriller is a particular standout - which says a lot because this guy has a pretty impressive body of work. As Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, Anthony Hopkins took the spine-tingler genre to a whole new level and won himself an Oscar in the process. In fact, just talking about his eerie performance gives us a sudden hankerin' for some fava beans...

The Silence of the Lambs

10) John Cusack in "Say Anything"
It wasn't his first movie. In fact, he'd had a number of successful projects before this 1989 Cameron Crowe gem. And although his performance as the adorably awkward Lloyd Dobbler didn't originally result in a box office smash, "Say Anything" has since gone on to become a classic. It showcases Cusack's style and gives us an early glimpse of the actor he would become - THE quirky-but-loveable romantic lead.

So what are your favorite movies that have made an actor's career? Post your comments and to get in on the discussion!

Story by Chelsea Fogleman
Starpulse contributing writer