Ah, horror films. They may be the black sheep of the cinematic world, never earning the sort of respect that more serious films are bestowed with, but there is something primal about horror films that speaks to each and every moviegoer, not just the gorehounds or adrenaline junkies.
Since the aim of horror films is to scare, most put more effort into things like atmosphere and creature design, rather than big name actors. Many young actors and actresses often find that horror movies are the easiest way to break into the industry, since the only prerequisites are the ability to scream at the top of your lungs and a willingness to take a paltry paycheck.
While many of Hollywood’s A-list started out in less than glamorous roles early in their careers, the following list is comprised of some lesser known horror genre jumpstarts! Here are 18 Famous Actors Who Got Their Start In Horror Movies.
13. Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts & Eva Mendes – Children of the Corn franchise
We’ll go out on a limb and wager that most of you weren’t even aware that the Children of the Corn series had nine installments, let alone was responsible for introducing audiences to not one, not two, but three Hollywood starlets.
Children of the Corn III, aptly subtitled Urban Harvest, involves some possessed strain of corn growing in downtown Chicago, featured a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance from Furiosa herself, future Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron as a brainwashed cult member.
Aussie Naomi Watts fared a little better, in that she actually had a speaking role in Part 4, where she starred as a hapless pediatric doctor who remains way too dedicated to her patients, despite the fact that the kids she was treating were slaughtering anyone old enough to drive.
12. Jason Alexander – The Burning (1981)
This underrated slasher gem follows the story of a groundskeeper at a summer camp who is horribly disfigured after a practical joke results in the titular burning. After recovering, he decides to get his bloody revenge on those who wronged him with a pair of oversized garden shears.
The film was a platform for many young actors, including future Oscar winners Holly Hunter and Fisher Stevens, but seeing Vandelay Industries latex salesman George Costanza prance around with a full head of hair is the clear stand out. The Burning marked Alexander’s big screen debut, though he’d starred alongside Scott Baio in a made-for-TV film (Senior Trip) a few months prior. Talk about bursting onto the scene.
11. Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Halloween H20 (1998)
A multi-faceted talent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has the ability to seamlessly transition from genre to genre, whether it’s playing an alien with an unfortunate haircut in 3rd Rock from the Sun or playing Robin to Christian Bale’s Batman (but not really), JGL has earned the admiration of both audiences and critics alike.
Before he adopted a French accent and took up tightrope walking (The Walk), but after he saw dead people with an affinity for playing baseball (Angels in the Outfield), Joseph Gordon-Levitt got an ice skate to the face courtesy of the one and only Michael Myers in Halloween H20.
10. Chloe Moretz – The Amityville Horror (2005)
Chloe’s more recent foray into horror with 2014’s remake of Carrie may be fresher in people’s minds, but she actually began her career with another horror movie remake, 2005’s The Amityville Horror.
Playing the youngest daughter of future Merc With a Mouth Ryan Reynolds, Chloe embodies the creepy kid in a horror movie trope, as she is manipulated into playing on the roof by the malevolent spirits that occupy the family house. Only seven years of age when making the film, she actually performed the nausea inducing rooftop scene sans stunt double or green screen! Couple that with the fact that she performed most of her own stunts in Kick-Ass, and you’ve got a pre-teen girl who is way more badass than you.
9. Jennifer Aniston – Leprechaun (1993)
Only a year before she became New York’s worst waitress who inspired a nation of creatively-challenged women to cut their hair in the exact same way, Jennifer Aniston was a denim cut-off aficionado who battled an evil leprechaun with an affinity for Gaelic puns.
That’s right, before she was America’s sweetheart, the future Rachel Green made her debut in the very first film in an increasingly ridiculous franchise about a leprechaun who uses the buckles of his shoes to disembowel people if they tried to steal his gold. After her breakout success on NBC’s Friends, of course, she never wandered back to the film series, which somehow racked up five sequels before pushing back from the table in 2003.
8. Michelle Williams – Species (1995)
Before she was breaking hearts on Dawson’s Creek or destroying the concept of true love in Blue Valentine, Michelle Williams was the product of human/alien gene splicing. Named Sil, she is kept in a lab for study, but when her behavior becomes more violent and unpredictable, the scientists that created her decide to kill her.
7. Kevin Bacon – Friday the 13th (1980)
Before he was fighting the tyrannical oppression of evangelical blowhards through the power of emotive dance (Footloose)…before he was tracking down a complex network of cult members with seemingly unlimited resources (The Following)…before he was exterminating previously undocumented prehistoric man-eating worms with snakes for tongues (Tremors)…a young Kevin Bacon played a sleazy camp counsellor who gets killed via an arrow through the throat after doing the deed with his promiscuous lady friend at Camp Crystal Lake.
6. Adam Scott – Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)
As Ben Wyatt in the television comedy Parks and Recreation, Adam Scott may have plummeted his hometown into financial ruin with his winter sports complex, Ice Town, but that’s nothing compared to what his character Jacques does in the fourth installment of the Hellraiser series.
Back in 18th century France, Jacques and his benefactor commission the construction of a puzzle box that acts as a conduit between our world and Hell. Jacques then murders a prostitute in a ritual killing that conjures the torture loving Cenobites to Earth, where they go on to torment humanity for two good movies before moving on to dreams, cyberspace, actual space, and a really embarrassing, low-rent ninth film that looks like it was shot in someone’s backyard.
5. Josh Hartnett – The Faculty (1998)
While audiences were introduced to the tall Hollywood heartthrob as the son of a retconned Laurie Strode in Halloween H20, it wasn’t until he starred in Robert Rodriguez’s high school bodysnatchers flick, The Faculty, that people began to pay attention.
As a brooding bad boy with a wicked car, an entrepreneurial spirit. and a Walter White-like affinity for chemistry, Hartnett’s character’s homemade narcotics not only saves his town, but the entire world from outer space sea slugs who are somehow well versed in the art of seduction. Also, he chops off former Daily Show host Jon Stewart’s fingers with a paper cutter and stabs him in the eye with a pen!
4. Leonardo DiCaprio – Critters 3 (1991)
After the runaway success of Joe Dante’s Gremlins, it seemed as if everyone in Hollywood was interested in making movies revolving around nasty little creatures who run amok. One of the more memorable films in this series of rip-off’s was Critters, about little alien furballs with razor sharp teeth.
While Critters wasn’t particularly good, it did spawn three sequels, one of which saw a pre-Titanic, post-Growing Pains Leonardo DiCaprio fighting for survival against the killer hedgehogs in an apartment building. While Leo and his lawyers fought against the release of one of the Oscar-winner’s early films, Don’s Plum, we think the money would’ve been better spent erasing this smudge on an otherwise spectacular career.
3. Johnny Depp, Patricia Arquette and Breckin Meyer – A Nightmare On Elm Street series
It’s fairly common knowledge that Captain Jack Sparrow got his start in Hollywood with the first film in Wes Craven’s iconic Nightmare series. Boyfriend to the film’s heroine, Depp stars as the hapless Glenn, whose geyser of gore death scene still ranks as one of the franchise’s best kills. We can thank this casting choice for the illustrious career of Johnny Depp, as prior to facing off against Freddy Krueger, he had no aspirations for the silver screen and was instead pursuing his dreams of music stardom.
After the head scratching second film, Craven returned to the monster he created and helped pen the third installment in Freddy’s reign of terror. Considered by many fans of the series to be the strongest of all of the Nightmare sequels, The Dream Warriors sees a pre-Oscar Patricia Arquette lead a ragtag group of troubled teens against the man with knives for fingers.
Finally, before Breckin Meyer was a bro-tastic lawyer (Franklin and Bash) or journeyed cross country in pursuit of a sex tape (Road Trip), he starred in the much-maligned sixth chapter of the Nightmare saga, Freddy’s Dead, where he is killed inside a video game. It’s worth mentioning that Depp returns for this film in a cameo to discourage Meyer’s stoner character from using drugs via a PSA-style dream, although he is credited as Oprah Noodlemantra.
2. Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
This half-sequel half-remake that nobody asked for is notable for the fact that two of its stars would go on to become Oscar-winning household names. McConaughey plays Vilmer, a psychotic tow truck driver and Zellweger is the unfortunate high school student who runs afoul of him. Although we’d argue that Zellweger’s character is really a victim of terrible mid-’90s fashion.
Featuring a Leatherface in drag, a superfluous DIY leg brace that is somehow controlled with various television remotes, and a bizarre subplot that suggests the homicidal chainsaw wielding family is in the employ of the Illuminati, and you have a film that Mike Clark of USA Today called, “The kind of cinematic endeavor where you suspect both cast and crew were obligated to bring their own beer.”
1. Paul Rudd – Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1996)
While audiences often look fondly to Clueless as the first time they saw the future Ant-Man, horror buffs will know that Paul Rudd’s cinematic debut was in Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. In it, the future superhero portrays an all grown up Tommy Doyle, one of the kids Jamie Lee Curtis babysits in the original Halloween. Since then, Rudd’s character has developed an unhealthy fascination with Michael Myers.
The much maligned sequel was plagued with production problems, including hasty reshoots and a messy script, which could explain how Rudd’s character manages to out-creep The Shape himself.
Given Tommy Doyle’s penchant for stalking around, delivering stilted dialogue over the phone and engaging in pervy voyeuristic spying, we’re surprised that he wasn’t the one who was inflicted with the curse of Thorn by a Druid-inspired cult hoping to exploit pure evil for medical science. Yes, that’s the plot of the film, don’t ask.
Did we miss any of your favorite stars’ breakout horror roles? Be sure to let us know in the comments section!