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Can a movie-star be undiscovered for years?


This is a spin-off from a chat Jim and I were having in the Star Trek thread. He was talking about how Chris Pine has missed his window as he’s done several big movies now and not been noticed. I think he might be right, but here’s my question.

One of the world’s biggest movie stars has a theory that if you’re not discovered within 3-5 years of getting a part in a huge movie you’re never going to be a movie star. I don’t want to name names, but these theories always so interesting and I think he might be right. For example, you get a Johnny Depp or someone in the likes of the first Elm Street and the public get a look at him in even a small role. Within 5 years he’s got his own vehicle and it does well. Pitt likewise appeared in the likes of Thelma and Louise and within 5 years he’s Brad Pitt.

Has anyone pottered around for a while doing bits and bobs and then become a movie star? The difference between a movie star and a character actor btw is someone who’s name goes above the title and the movie makes a lot of money whereas a character actor is a respected actor, but can’t be relied on to carry a BIG movie personally.

Has any actor or actress ever been discovered more than 5 years after a wide-scale debut? A good modern example would be Hemsworth in the first Trek suddenly becoming Thor a year or two later. Assassin’s Creed will be the test for Fassebender, everyone knowing who he is, but this being his first solo vehicle.



Samuel L Jackson is the first counter-example that springs to mind. He started in film in the 70s before going into theatre, then coming back and doing a few minor film roles throughout the 80s, but only really hit it big after Pulp Fiction in '94.


Will Smith told David Letterman that he thought he became an A-Lister with “Hancock” although it’s interesting if you look at his filmography that that’s actually the point he started going down hill - and he became a “name” with Bad Boys/Independence Day and probably a “Movie Star” with Men in Black.


Julianne Moore maybe? She didn’t really become a star (as much as she is) until the early 00s, building off the back of Boogie Nights and the Big Lebowski I’d say, but was in The Fugitive in the early 90s and Jurassic Park 2.


Sam actually fits the theory. He wasn’t in anything people saw until a very small role in Goodfellas in 1990 and by 94 he was the best thing in Pulp Fiction. Next year he’s co-star in Die-Hard.

It’s amazing how true this holds and it’s sad for Pine as the actor’s theory was that if the public love you they know right away. You get a part people see, you get hired after that movie comes out and your massive breakout role in usually thus around 3 years later.

Painful but probably true. Willis in Moonlighting to Die-Hard is another good example, the same journey Smith went on from Fresh Prince to MIB (which of course is when he became a movie star).



Johnny Depp is one of those examples where he was an indie favourite for years before Pirates made him a phenomenon.

Helena Bonham Carter is probably just as famous as anyone but doesn’t really have a bona fide vehicle.


Depp was still a movie star and on all the lists. Loads of popular movies before Pirates.



Oh yeah, I was a huge Depp fan back in the day so was lobbying for him to be in everything. But, I still think Pirates was the biggest of his career and launched him into that top top tier echelon.

I can’t really think of a counter example – maybe Joseph Gordon Levitt - he was on Third Rock for years and it wasn’t until Rian Johnson’s Brick that people started taking notice of him as an actor, once Nolan got a hold of him he became a household name. He could have easily been Macauley Culkin.

People like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are enjoying a later-career resurgence, that might be worth thinking about.


Julianne Moore also fits the theory. She came onto the scene in 92 with Hand that Rocks the Cradle and within 5 years she’s the female lead in Jurassic Park 2 for Spielberg. In between she’s female lead in Hugh Grant’s next big movie, a Richard Donner action flick and Benny and Joon. She’s never slowed down.

My God. This really is true.

I love that actors have all their own wise theories like we do in comics in terms of what works and what doesn’t.



He was also in Coming To America and School Daze in '88, and Do The Right Thing in '89.


Tina Fey fits too. She has a small role in her excellent Mean Girls, which was a huge breakout, and within 3 years she’s headlining her own comedies.

The rule is: If you’re going to be a major movie star you will know within 5 years of getting up on-screen.

Character actor totally different. You can be discovered at any age. Morgan Freeman did work like Street Smart and so on for years, but he’s always the second or third name on a poster despite pretty much being the world’s greatest actor. He never carries a big movie himself.



Do The Right thing where people saw him I reckon and 5 years later he’s Jules in Pulp Fiction.

IT HOLDS!!! :slight_smile:



Helena Bonham Carter is more of a character actor than someone who will carry a big Hollywood movie.



I still think JGL could break the mould – there was 5 years between Third Rock and Brick and then another 4 between that and 500 Days of Summer-slash-the-JGL-needstobeineverything! movement.

It’s a solid theory though. I like it.


She was in them but she wasn’t the “star” by your own definition: someone who’s name goes above the title and the movie makes a lot of money… be relied on to carry a BIG movie personally.

Nine Months was sold on Grant and Colombus, Assassins on Stallone and Banderas, Benny and Joon on Depp and Masterson and The Lost World… well, it’s been ages since I’ve seen it, but c’mon, dinosaurs. No-one’s seeing those films for the humans.


I think it does largely hold true - possibly because the kind of mass-appeal movie stars we’re talking about tend to be pretty young (thirties or thereabouts). So given the conditions of the theory, unless you start at a very early age and get parts in big movies unusually early in your career, there’s going to end up being a limited timeframe between when you appear in a widely-seen movie and when you get crowned a star.


Female lead, dude. Who can ask for more?



I love Joseph Gordon Levitt, but in the 11 years since his big breakout with Brick he’s only had one co-lead in a hit movie (Looper). The public has spoken and they’re never wrong. By the same stage Brad Pitt had been Brad Pitt for YEARS.



Depp was famous, but he wasn’t making the big bucks or generating them at the box office before he played a funny pirate with a gold tooth.

He still can’t manage it when he plays anything else either. Terrific actor, but a “star” only in that he generates headlines and that’s mostly for his personal life.

If you want to look back into mid-20th century Hollywood then Bogart is the most oft-quoted example, he was in lots of films at Warner Bros for a decade before ‘Maltese Falcon’ really put him on the map and then ‘Casablanca’ made him a star by showing he could play a romantic lead.

But generally I agree; once you’re getting work, as an actor, you’re likely to get invited to play a big role within a few years. Either it clicks then or it doesn’t.

I think Pine could buck the trend, but he’s going to fair better by taking the fame that he has and applying it to indie films, where he will be the lead and he’ll get more interesting roles too.

Sort of like Johnny Depp.