With Top Gun: Maverick streaking past the 1986 original to gross over a billion dollars at the box office, it marks Tom Cruise celebrating four decades at the top. He made his name in 1983’s Risky Business, a raunchy 1983 comedy and has been a headliner ever since. However, less folks will remember his debut, a cameo in 1981’s Endless Love, which despite being directed by Franco Zeffirelli, played poorly with critics and is now mostly remembered for its Lionel Richie and Diana Ross theme song.
We’re familiar with actors having some cinematic skeletons in their closets – George Clooney was in his fair share of B-movies (Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, anyone?) before finding fame on the smaller screen as Doug Ross in ER. However a blessed few have made their debuts in movies that have gone on to be truly iconic. Let’s take a look at three of the best.
Few who saw Nyong’o’s performance as Patsey in 2013’s 12 Years a Slave would have guessed it was her first outing in a feature-length film. Rapturously received by both critics and cinemagoers, Steve McQueen’s harrowing drama saw Nyong’o nominated for a BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards for Best Supporting Actress, taking the SAG.
We’re used to actors going behind the camera, from Clint Eastwood through to Jon Favreau, but Nyong’o did it the other way around. Having worked on the production crew of Ralph Fiennes’ 2005 The Constant Gardener, she wrote, produced and directed 2009’s In My Genes; a documentary about Kenya’s albino populace. From there she enrolled in a masters in acting at Yale, landing 12 Years a Slave almost immediately after graduating.
Nyong’o had acted in front of a movie camera only once before, in the 2008 short East River. That movie quietly disappeared before being re-unearthed in the wake of her Hollywood debut. Now she’s one of the most sought after stars in Hollywood and beyond. Later this year she’ll be seen in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and is currently developing a TV show based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah, which she will both produce and star in.
Now, like Nyong’o, an established part of the Marvel Universe with his portrayal of supervillain Thanos, Brolin’s starry start came at a much younger age. 1985 saw a 16-year-old Josh play Brandon Walsh, big brother to Sean Astin’s lead character Mikey in Spielberg’s classic The Goonies. The comedy adventure, also Astin’s Hollywood debut, has become a cult classic over the decades. Jeff Cohen (Chunk) may be an executive attorney now, but he’s revealed that doesn’t stop people asking him to do the infamous ‘truffle shuffle’ on an almost daily basis.
We can still see its impact on popular culture in popular band The Fratellis, named after the bad guys in the movie. There is also a game based on the movie on gaming platform Foxy Bingo, namely The Goonies Returns. It features not only the now-iconic branding, but also characters from the show and even a reference to that notorious truffle shuffle! Part of the reason The Goonies endures is there’s never been a sequel. Director Richard Donner set the internet alight in 2015 when he told a TMZ cameraman that he was ready to go, but as of yet, there’s nothing concrete. Are we really going to see the man who played Thanos back down in the caves? Goonies never say die.
James Earl Jones
When we think of James Earl Jones, it’s for that voice – as terrifying voicing Dave Prowse’s Darth Vader as it was inspiring as Mufasa in The Lion King. He got his first film break in another classic; Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Dr. Strangelove, playing Lieutenant Zogg, the bombardier in charge of the nuclear missile Slim Pickens rides to Earth. Mostly a theater actor in the 60s and 70s, Star Wars was Jones’ breakthrough to Hollywood stardom in the 1980s and beyond, leading to roles in movies like Coming To America and Cry, The Beloved Country. Unsurprisingly, Jones also continued to keep his hand in at voice acting, with appearances in The Simpsons and in video games like Kingdom Hearts II and Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun. Now 91, Jones was last seen reprising his role as the King in Coming 2 America in 2021. 57 years in Tinseltown is no mean feat.
Keep one eye out for young actors in your favorite new movies. They may be going on to bigger, and better things in the future.