Marlon Brando-The Godfather (1972)
In my opinion, Marlon Brando is the greatest and most versatile actor in the history of film. Early in his career, he had a number of iconic performances, but in the mid-1960’s, Brando hit the skids. There’s no way an actor as talented as this should struggle for decent roles, but thats’s exactly what happened. Thankfully for Brando and movie-lovers everywhere, there was this little movie called “The Godfather” that was kind of a big deal, reviving Brando’s career.
Anthony Hopkins-The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Prior to his iconic portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Hopkins was a solid character actor in assorted films and TV shows. One break as a leading man, and Hopkins instantly became one of the most critically-acclaimed actors in Hollywood. Amazing roles followed and Hopkins still retains the mantle as one of the best in the business.
Sean Penn-Carlito’s Way (1993)
We all look at Sean Penn now, and see one of Hollywood’s best actors. This wasn’t always the case though. Before his role in “Carlito’s Way,” Penn was known for his comedic work in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Thankfully for Penn and all of us, he landed a huge role alongside Al Pacino. A few years later, he would breakout in “Dead Man Walking.”
Tom Hanks-Philadelphia (1993)
Before his Oscar-winning role in “Philadelphia,” Hanks was on his way to becoming “Mr. Rom-Com.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but one fateful break led to A+ roles for the next two decades. Hanks would have been financially and commercially successful either way, but as an actor, he has to be thankful.
John Travolta-Pulp Fiction (1994)
Travolta was on his way to TV movies and furniture commercials before destiny, in the form of Quentin Tarantino, called. The former “Saturday Night Fever” star, landed the role of a lifetime in one of the most popular films of the last several decades. The film’s success and Travolta’s performance catapulted him into superstardom and blew-up his bank account.
Elizabeth Shue-Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Prior to “Leaving Las Vegas,” Elizabeth Shue was your go-to actress for a supporting role in a comedy. This film though, transformed the way in which audiences would see her forever. Unfortunately, Shue has been unable to capitalize on this major break. Nonetheless, the role in “Leaving Las Vegas” was life-changing.
Drew Barrymore-The Wedding Singer (1998)
Barrymore was best-known as the little girl from “E.T.” After that performance, she hit hard times. It took over a decade for Drew to regain her stride, but she did so in a major way, starring alongside Adam Sandler. She’s now become a major force in many of Sandler’s movies and is a mainstay in romantic comedies.
Leonardo DiCaprio-Gangs of New York (2002)
It’s always a difficult jump from teen to adult roles. While most thought DiCaprio had talent, many believed that he’d be typecast because of early performances. Enter Martin Scorsese. Leo got a great gig alongside the uber-talented, Daniel Day Lewis in “Gangs of New York.” The rest, as they say, is history. DiCaprio is one of the biggest names in modern film.
Sandra Bullock-Crash (2004)
Much like Tom Hanks, Bullock was by no means struggling prior to her role in “Crash.” She was big in the Rom-Com scene also, but we hadn’t really seen what she could do in a major dramatic role. Then came her role in “Crash,” and you know the rest. Without this break, there might not be “The Blind Side” and “Gravity” for Bullock…but there’d still be “Speed 2: Cruise Control.”
David Strathairn-Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
Any filmgoer could tell you David Strathairn was a talented actor before his career-making performance in “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Afterwards though, he became a bonafide leading man in big-time movies. The one problem, the actor hasn’t really cashed in on leading-man roles. Sure, he’s nabbed some significant supporting roles, but nothing where he standouts.