Big stars whose early work showed little or no promise

Companion thread suggested by Zelda – what big stars have surprised you by their success?

The biggest surprise for me is George Clooney, who played Jackie’s boyfriend on Roseanne. He was quite the slacker, in character and performance. I suppose that’s how the director wanted it, but he was very forgettable and made no impression.

Jon Stewart, when he had a show on MTV, struck me as funny but unremarkable. I revise my estimation.

Also, Rosie O’Donnell from her VH1 days. I knew she was good, but didn’t see an amazing breakout performer as the host of Stand Up-Stand Up. I honestly thought that was the best gig she’d ever get.

John Wayne had bit parts in scores, maybe hundreds, of utterly forgotten westerns before his big break out role in Stagecoach.

I thought he played Roseanne’s young supervisor. Was he also a boyfriend of Jackie? I’m not remembering it that way, but maybe I missed something.

Tom Hanks. Would you expect several Oscar-nominated dramatic performances out of the goofy lead in Bosom Buddies?

needscoffee - Booker and Jackie had a sustained flirtation and went out a few times before he mysteriously disappeared after being fired (so Wellman’s could then hire creepy boss Fred Thompson).

I agree. I actively disliked him when he came on as the host of Short Attention Span Theater on Comedy Central. I also found his MTV talk show to be one of the worst things MTV did at the time. (this was when if MTV wasnt playing music videos they actually had some quality shows on for their demographic)

I think Freaks and Geeks is one of the most overrated tv shows of the last twenty years (second only to Sports Night) but I really enjoy Apatow’s movies.
Connected to that, Seth Rogen looked like a perfect ugly teenager on F&G, now he’s not such a bad looking guy.

I was going to say George Clooney, but I was thinking of him on Facts of Life.

He may not have done much in the acting department, but when he was onscreen, I had no eyes for anyone else. What a looker, then and now.

I’m going with the obvious: Keanu Reeves. How he keeps getting roles where he can show such puny results is beyond my understanding. Did anyone see the abominable remake of the classic The Day The Earth Stood Still? How many other ways can you screw up a good movie?

I would add as a category the SNL veterans with the possible exceptions of Belushi and Aykroyd and some early Eddie Murphy. Being good at sketch comedy doesn’t mean you can carry a big screen performance.

He’s still that way for me. Apparently millions of people disagree with me, though.

I’ll take your Keanu Reeves and raise you one Jerry O’Connell. Reeves is Oscar-worthy compared to this hack.

Meg Ryan had an uninspiring run on As the World Turns early on. I was quite surprised when she became mega.

I thought the first Austin Powers movie came to a grinding halt when Will Ferrell appeared onscreen as “Mustafa”. The scene was totally unfunny, so I was surprised when Ferrell went on to become a big movie star.

In the realm of music, there’s Beck, who started out with essentially a novelty hit in “Loser.”

I’d seen Tommy Lee Jones in movies before he got big, and he never seemed remotely interesting. But he stole every scene of The Fugitive and came away looking like a cross between Lee Marvin and John Wayne.

Jessica Lange in King Kong. Not many actors have been able to recover from such a famous flop right at the beginning of their careers.

When I saw this thread title I immediately thought of Paul Newman and his first major staring vehicle The Silver Chalice. It was terrible and he was wooden at best. When it came on television years later, Newman took out ads in newspapers apologizing for it. It was that bad.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr didn’t think much of Junior’s acting in his early films and thought he was being used by Hollywood because of his name. After “Little Caesar” came out, he was more impressed by “Jayar” as he called him.


I might disagree with you on this. He was a long time featured lead in a number of Westerns before Stagecoach, granted they were “Bs”. He definitely showed promise. He dominated the screen no matter whom he was matched with. Granted when he played “Singing Sandy” as his only singing cowboy role, it was less than awe inspiring.

John Travolta