10 Classic Acting Debuts: Eddie’s Take

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Miss Portman in her big screen debut in Leon: The Professional, a debut for the ages!

List compiled by Eddie on 23/09/2016

There’s something inherently exhilarating about witnessing a first class acting debut. We the audience get a sense that before our very eyes is the beginning of a great and defining career before the camera and a for most movie lovers that means a career in our lives as watchers of the motion picture.

Over the many years in the film industry there have been many standout breakthrough performances but perhaps not as many stand out feature debuts although the below list is a varied and intriguing one that showcases some talents from the outset were allowed to flourish and started off with a memorable bang.

Some of these below performers may have had stints either in TV shows, TV movies or stage productions but for the purposes of feature debuts all these acting turns acted as fantastic examples of the power many of these actors possessed or still possess to this day.

As always happy reading and happy watching!

For Jordan’s take on classic acting debuts CLICK HERE

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Sheridan and McCracken with there on screen dad Brad Pitt in Terrence Malicks wonderful Tree of Life

10.  Hunter McCracken/Tye Sheridan – Tree of Life (2011)

McCracken and Sheridan play – Jack and Steve

Whilst cheating somewhat to include both these child performers into the list, there is little doubt that the two-pronged team of McCracken and Sheridan really made Tree of Life the movie picture it was. Their portrayal of innocence turned to adulthood is of the highest order and while McCracken has yet to fulfil the promise shown here, Sheridan has gone from strength to strength in what looks to be a great acting career.

Did actors go on with promise shown? Not yet and Yes.

9. John Cazale – The Godfather (1972)

Cazale plays – Fredo

Much has been made about the astounding contribution Cazale made to the films he appeared in, a film list that sadly will forever remain a handful due to his untimely early passing. Cazale’s debut in the all-time classic that is The Godfather may have been slightly passed by due to the stars surrounding him but there’s little doubt that his ability as an actor was on show here from the get go.

Did actor go on with promise shown? Yes.

8. Alan Rickman – Die Hard (1988)

Rickman plays – Hans Gruber

Whilst Rickman made many an appearance on stage and on TV before his appearance as all-time classic bad guy Hans Gruber, there was nothing quite like witnessing him chew the scenery up in the 1988 action extravaganza. From the accent, the facial expressions and the oozing charisma, Rickman absolutely nailed his first big screen gig and created a villain for the ages.

Did actor go on with promise shown? Yes.

7. Val Kilmer – Top Secret! (1984)

Kilmer plays – Nick Rivers

In what may seem like a left of field or controversial choice, Val Kilmer’s debut in this long looked over comedy gem is a turn that showcased his natural charisma as an actor. From singing, dancing or just generally making a fool of himself it’s obvious to see studio execs rubbing their fingers with glee at the opportunity of casting Kilmer as their heartthrob lead in big budget tent pole flicks, something that eventuated only for Kilmer to drop his game over the last decade.

Did actor go on with promise shown? Yes and then a big no.

6. Sharlto Copley – District 9 (2009)

Copley plays – Wikus Van De Merwe

Approaching his middle age, South African native Copley got his big break by appearing in his old friend Neil Blomkamp’s 2009 Sci-Fi classic that came out of nowhere to set the box office and critical world alight. Copley was an anchoring presence in amongst all the prawns and hard to decipher accents in what was a startling debut acting gig.

Did actor go on with promise shown? No.

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Bale displayed power as an actor from a very young age, never more so evident than in Spielberg’s WW2 epic.

5. Christian Bale – Empire of the Sun (1987)

Bale plays – Jim “Jamie” Graham

There could be some debate as to whether or not this Spielberg war epic was in fact Bales big screen debut (he had another film out the same year) but there is nothing to question the amazing turn by the young British actor in what was and is one of the best child performances of all time. Bale is front and centre almost the entire run time of this tale and he wholeheartedly embodies Jim Graham and delivers an acting turn that was a sign of things to come.

Did actor go on with promise shown? A resounding yes.

4. Orson Welles – Citizen Kane (1941)

Welles plays – Charles Foster Kane

A directional turn, an acting turn and really an all-round performance turn by the soon to be household name, Orson Welles helped make Citizen Kane into the renowned classic it is today. Making the move from stage and radio to the big screen proved to be mightily fruitful for the powerhouse that was Welles and set the benchmark high for the movie maker that he perhaps never again met.

Did actor go on with promise shown? Yes.

3. Brad Dourif – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Dourif plays – Billy Bibbitt

It takes a lot to steal the limelight off an on form Jack Nicholson but that’s exactly what young actor Brad Dourif did in his debut turn in Milo’s foreman 1975 classic. Dourif displayed a real ability to be an actor we the audience could feel compassion for and feel empathy for in a turn that will always remain his greatest feat as an actor.

Did actor go on with promise shown? No.

2. Natalie Portman – Leon: The Professional (1994)

Portman plays – Mathilda

While she may now be a big screen beauty, a blockbuster lead and one of the best actresses working in the industry today, Portman got her start as a young acting maestro in this Luc Besson classic that asked the then pre-teen Portman to be innocent, lovely and also a murderous hit girl. Portman’s turn is nothing short of extraordinary and her excellence helped propel Leon to the revered status it holds today.

Did actress go on with promise shown? Yes.

1. Ed Norton – Primal Fear (1996)

Norton plays – Aaron

A truly commanding supporting turn in this ripping thriller saw the then freshly discovered Norton receive an Oscar nomination for his portray here of troubled murder suspect Aaron, a suspect that harbors a few deep dark secrets. Norton astounds with his ability to be menacing, sad, and charismatic and his handling of accent, facial tick and general inhabitation of his character is a work of a real acting genius.

Did actor go on with promise shown? A resounding yes.

Primal - end

If this isn’t creepy, I don’t know what is! Norton at his menacing best

Is there any glaring omissions from a classic acting debut? Where is Tatum O’Neill you may say or Julie Andrews. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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18 responses to “10 Classic Acting Debuts: Eddie’s Take

  1. Pingback: 10 Classic Acting Debuts: Jordan’s Take | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  2. Interesting and informative post. I have seen “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” but it has been a number of years, and I didn’t remember that Brad Dourif was in the film. I associate him primarily with the Child’s Play movies, and the only other thing I can recall him being in was an episode or two of the “Star Trek: Voyager” television show.

  3. So happy you included two of my favorites–Rickman and Norton!

    I knew Cazale’s career was tragically cut short, but I had no idea The Godfather was his first movie! I always thought he was one of the most underrated aspects of the first and second movies.

  4. I like your list, Eddie. I thoroughly agree with your assessment of Val Kilmer. What a waste! Julliard trained and then he made that hot mess with Marlon Brando, “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” I really enjoy Edward Norton and Natalie Portman. Natalie’s turn in Closer was well done. I know this wasn’t his first film but Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in “October Sky” gave us a glimpse of the talent that would come to fruition in “Brokeback Mountain.” Great list!

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