No actor can begin their career at the top. It's rare for an actor to get an incredible debut role and immediately nab an Oscar for it. That's not to say it never happens, just that it's unlikely. This means most big film actors once started at the bottom, meaning, made-for-television films.
Of course, some made-for-television films are awards bait. The Emmys have an entire category dedicated to miniseries and television movie events, but most of the time, Lifetime movies are overlooked. Here are ten recognizable actors you might not realize once starred in a Lifetime movie. In most cases, because their careers were just beginning.
10 Ashley Benson in Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal (2008)
Before she was a pretty little liar, Ashley Benson was part of the notorious Fab Five. The teen drama aired on Lifetime in 2008 and, like with most Lifetime movies, was based on a real story. In 2006, five teenage cheerleaders caused tons of trouble at McKinney North High School in Texas. They skipped school, violated dress codes, drank alcohol on campus, posted illicit photos online, and generally were a menace to the student body.
Benson played the ringleader of the group, co-captain Brooke Tippit. The movie also starred Jenna Dewan as their new coach, Emma Carr, one of the only adults willing to stand up to the girls. Dewan's character was based on Michaela Ward. It was her recount of events Lifetime based the movie off of.
9 Nina Dobrev in My Daughter's Secret (2007)
Before getting her break-out role on the popular CW drama, The Vampire Diaries, Nina Dobrev starred in a Lifetime movie called My Daughter's Secret. It was one of her first official acting jobs. The film followed Dobrev's character, a seventeen-year-old named Justine, who gets hooked into a robbery.
Justine begins to date a notorious "bad boy" who convinces her to be the look-out while he and his friends break into a jewelry store. If anyone finds out about her involvement, she could wind up being charged as an accessory to the crime. It might not be as deadly as hanging out with vampires, but the film is a pretty fun one to watch, especially to see Dobrev's beginnings as an actress.
8 Zac Efron in Miracle Run (2004)
Miracle Run is a 2004 Lifetime movie about the social stigma surrounding autistic children. Corrine Morgan-Thomas (played by Mary-Louise Parker), s the mother of two autistic twins, Stephen (Zac Efron), and Philip (Bubba Lewis). Corinne struggles to get her boys diagnosed, and when she finally does, she feels at a loss for how to handle their disability.
Corinne's husband, Douglas (Aidan Quinn), doesn't want to deal with autistic children, so Corinne leaves him and decides to fight for her sons to live a normal life. Efron has come a long way from playing on Lifetime movies. His latest role as Ted Bundy in the Netflix biographic crime drama is a pretty far cry from his role in Miracle Run.
7 Jason Momoa in Tempted (2003)
We know Jason Momoa for his butt-kicking roles like Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones or Aquaman in the DC Universe. Before he became the super-famous stud with great hair we all know and love, he was playing alongside Virginia Madsen in a little-known Lifetime flick.
In 2003, Jason Momoa and Virginia Madsen acted as co-leads in Tempted, a romance set in Hawaii. Madsen's character, Emma, travels to the island to spread the ashes of the nanny who raised her. There, she meets Kala (Momoa), a native who takes an interest in her. Despite being married, Emma can't help but fall prey to Kala's charms.
6 Kirsten Dunst in Fifteen and Pregnant (1998)
It's hard to imagine Kirsten Dunst in a Lifetime movie. These days she has become a pretty accomplished actress, particularly after starring on the FX crime anthology, Fargo. For her role in Fargo, Dunst was nominated for an Emmy, Golden Globe, Satellite Award, and Critic's Choice Award - which she won.
She is known as an indie film darling these days, frequently garnering critical praise for her film roles. But in the late '90s, Dunst was playing a fifteen-year-old struggling to deal with a surprise pregnancy after having sex with her boyfriend for the first time. Dunst has always had a knack for picking pretty good scripts. Despite being a Lifetime film, Fifteen and Pregnant is still regarded as one of the network's best original movies.
5 Taraji P. Henson in Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story (2011)
Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story is a Lifetime Movie Network film that premiered in 2011. Taraji P. Henson starred as Tiffany Rubin. The film is based on the real story of Tiffany Rubin's rescue of her six-year-old son after he is abducted and taken to Seoul, South Korea.
We find out in the film, and in the real story, Kobe was actually kidnapped by his biological father, Mark Miller (played by former Lost star, Terry O'Quinn). Henson was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, Satellite Award, Image Award, BET Award, and a Black Reel Award for her performance. Of her nominations, she won the Image, BET, and Black Reel.
4 Sarah Paulson in A Christmas Wedding (2006)
Sarah Paulson has been nominated for numerous awards, particularly for her work on the FX horror anthology series, American Horror Story. But in 2006, she was playing Emily in a Lifetime Christmas movie called A Christmas Wedding. The film also starred Eric Mabius (Ugly Betty) and Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman).
In the movie, Emily and Ben (Mabius), are only a month away from their Christmas wedding when Emily is suddenly called away to work. Ben is suddenly put in charge of finalizing all the wedding details and disaster is waiting around every corner. A known perfectionist, Emily struggles to keep herself calm while watching her dream wedding spin out of control.
3 Mark Ruffalo in On the 2nd Day of Christmas (1997)
Like Sarah Paulson, Mark Ruffalo also starred in a Lifetime Christmas movie. The movie is called On the 2nd Day of Christmas. It premiered in 1997. Ruffalo played a security guard named Bert. He catches two pick-pockets trying to steal from the Limbers department store. Because it's so close to Christmas, Bert is tasked with looking after the small-time thieves, adult Trish (Mary Stuart Masterson) and her young niece, Patsy, until Social Services can come bay after Christmas.
As one would expect, Trish and Bert begin to fall for one another. It's a sweet, if predictable, Christmas movie. He might be the Hulk now, but Ruffalo used to be a go-to guy for romantic comedies between this and movies like 13 Going on 30 and Just Like Heaven.
2 Reese Witherspoon in Wildflower (1991)
Wildflower, the 1991 Lifetime film, is a surprising movie to discover because it is full of actors who would go on to become awards darlings. Also, the film was actually directed by Diane Keaton! Reese Witherspoon is an incredibly famous actress nowadays, but in 1991, she was just starting out. This movie served as her television debut. She played Ellie Perkins in this movie, younger sister to Sammy Perkins (William McNamara).
Sammy and Ellie stumble upon a cabin where they meet Alice Guthrie (played by Oscar-winning actress, Patricia Arquette). Alice is partially deaf and stuck living with an abusive father. The group of three become friends, but their friendship is put to the test when Alice's father discovers them together and punishes Alice for her disobedience.
1 Hilary Swank in Dying to Belong (1997)
Hilary Swank is the winner of two Academy Awards (one for Boys Don't Cry and the other for Million Dollar Baby) and copious other awards and nominations, but before she received all that acclaim, she was starring in a Lifetime movie about college hazing called Dying to Belong (1997).
She starred in the film along with Scrubs actress, Sarah Chalke. Swank played Lisa Connors, a freshman in college. Then her roommate, Shelby, decides to pledge a sorority and mysterious dies. Lisa becomes convinced something more insidious was at play than the suicide, Shelby's death was conveyed as and decides to hunt for the truth, no matter where it takes her.