15 D-List Stars Who Climbed Their Way To The Top

We’ve all had those jobs where we feel like it can’t possibly get much worse than this. In fact, maybe you are working one of those jobs right now, feeling like you’re the biggest loser in the world. The good news is that some of your favourite celebrities have worked the equivalent of those jobs in their industry: they have been what is colloquially termed as “D-List stars”.

From working as a "dancer" to appearing in an unpopular reality dating show, some of Hollywood’s now highest paid and most well-established stars were once in dire straits, doing whatever they could to survive and to make it in show biz.

This is truly a case where we learn that celebrities are just like us. The only difference is that they are now millionaires, although many have had to embarrass themselves on a far more public level than we ever have to get where they are today.

Read on for the 15 D-List Stars Who Climbed Their Way To The Top.

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Emma Stone singing Bitch on Partridge Family
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15 Emma Stone

Emma Stone singing Bitch on Partridge Family

Emma Stone, who is now the star of box office hits like The Amazing Spider-Man as well as Academy Award winning films like La La Land and Birdman, was once on a reality television show entitled In Search of the New Partridge Family.

The show’s purpose was to find a cast for a show entitled The New Partridge Family. So, essentially, they made a show about preparing for another show.

As questionable as this premise might seem, Emma Stone actually rocked it during her time on the show, singing songs by Pat Benatar and Meredith Brooks. She did win a spot on the show eventually, but The New Partridge Family never got picked up. Would Stone be where she is now if it had been picked up? We will never know.

14 Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm getting rejecting on dating show

As a sweet, young 25 year old, Jon Hamm was not the big shot actor that we know and love today, starring in box office hits like Bridesmaids, and award-winning television series like Mad Men and Saturday Night Live, winning him a Golden Globe award and a Primetime Emmy award.

No, instead, he was making cameo appearances on sad 1990s reality dating shows— a show called The Big Date, to be exact.

On the show, Hamm introduces himself to a woman named Mary Carter and explains why he would make a good date. He is in competition with two other men, and it is up to Mary Carter to decide which man she will go on a date with. Mary did not choose Hamm.

Needless to say, Hamm has moved on to bigger and better things since then!

13 Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper interviews Louis CK

Before the beautiful and talented Bradley Cooper was featuring in critically acclaimed box office hits like The Place Beyond the Pines, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, American Sniper, and 10 Cloverfield Lane, Cooper was making random appearances as uncredited characters and extras in several television shows like Sex and the City and Law & Order.

He’s come a long way since then, hasn’t he? Today, Cooper is even making his directorial debut, helming a remake of A Star is Born starring Lady Gaga.

Before all this, though, Cooper made an appearance as an audience guest in a show called Inside the Actors Studio, introducing himself as a second year actor and asking Sean Penn a question about his role in Hurlyburly. Did he know then that someday he would be interviewed by aspiring actors in a similar way?

12 Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt failed modelling career

Did you know that one of the most iconic male actors in Hollywood was once a mediocre model and featured temporarily in a long-running soap opera?

That’s right, Brad Pitt, star of Fight Club, Troy, the Ocean’s franchise, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 12 Years a Slave, and The Big Short, was once only known as Chris for two episodes of the soap opera Another World.

At this time in the 1980s, Pitt was also making one-time and uncredited appearances on shows like Growing Pains and films like No Way Out and No Man’s Land. From there, Pitt began to appear in bigger films, this time with credited roles, and by 1994 Pitt had reached critical success for his role in the horror film Interview with the Vampire. From there, his career skyrocketed— but we will never forget him as the soap opera character Chris.

11 Renée Zellweger

Renee Zellweger Dazed and Confused

Remember the 1990s classic Dazed and Confused? Yes, it was a good movie… but it is hard to believe that Renée Zellweger could have starred in it— as a extra!

That’s right, Queen Zellweger, star of one of the most iconic romantic comedies of all time, Bridget Jones’s Diary, played an extra in Dazed and Confused just 8 years before her big break.

During this time, she was also playing minor or uncredited roles in various low budget films such as A Taste for Killing and 8 Seconds. She very quickly worked her way up, however, starring in the sequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and soon landing high profile gigs in every blockbuster under the sun. Always a class act, we’re sure that even as an extra she was still as talented as she is now.

10 Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling in the Mickey Mouse Club and La La Land

Ryan Gosling— arguably Hollywood’s most heartbreakingly dashing actor— was once a Disney star. Between the ages of 13 and 15, you could find Gosling on Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Club, crooning '90s pop ballads alongside Justin Timberlake, sporting matching oversized sweat pants and sweat shorts, and dancing like the smooth mover he’s always been!

Gosling also appeared on a Canadian teen soap called Breaker High, but quickly moved up from there, starring in several well-received independent films, and finally gaining international fame for his role as the bashful and sexy Noah from The Notebook.

In an interview with David Letterman, Gosling joked that Disney soon stopped using him on the show because he wasn’t as talented as the rest of his co-stars. We are highly sceptical of that!

9 Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum Stripper Photo

Although Channing Tatum has always been known as one of Hollywood’s most athletically built stars, he is now known as so much more, starring in box office hits like Magic Mike, the G.I. Joe franchise, as well as critically acclaimed successes like Hail! Caesar and The Hateful Eight.

Once upon a time, however, Tatum was known just for the aesthetic form of his body. Prior to making it big in Hollywood, Tatum was male stripper "Chan Crawford" at a night club. From there, he got scouted to become a model, eventually dancing his way into various music videos and commercials until he finally made it big in 2006 with his breakthrough role in Step Up and as the romantic lead of She’s the Man.

8 Meg Ryan

Meg Ryan in As The World Turns

Meg Ryan, Hollywood’s original girl next door and blonde sweetheart, was once at the bottom of the pecking order in the acting world, also making her start as a soap opera star.

Before she landed her watershed role in Top Gun as Goose’s wife Carole Bradshaw, making her famous for the iconic line “Goose, you big stud! Take me to bed or lose me forever,” Ryan was a character on the soap opera As the World Turns during the 1980s, where, as Betsy, she was involved in a popular fan-worshipped relationship with the character Steve.

During this time, Ryan was also featured in a Burger King commercial, but soon thereafter hit it big with Top Gun and then, a bit later, with When Harry Met Sally..

7 Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore in As The World Turns

Brad Pitt was not the only star to make her debut in the soap opera As the World Turns. Indeed, academy-award winner Julianne Moore also began her career on the show.

Moore played the two half-sisters Frannie Hughes and Sabrina Hughes from 1985 to 1988. And yet, as corny and cringe-worthy most soap operas are, Moore even managed to come out on top in this experience, winning a Daytime Emmy for her acting in the show.

From there, she appeared several made-for-TV movies and small credited and uncredited roles in various films. Finally, in 1993, Moore appeared in the film Short Cuts and was nominated and won several awards for her performance. This was later supplemented by several other critically acclaimed films, and she eventually rose to great prominence in 1997 for her role in Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

6 Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone as Stud in Porn

It is pretty hard to believe that the great Sylvester Stallone, star of the classic Hollywood blockbuster Rocky and Golden Globe and Academy award winner, began his career as an adult film star.

Indeed, Stallone started off his career by starring in an adult film in the 1970s by the name of The Party at Kitty and Stud’s (or later known as Italian Stallion). Given the subject matter, name, and era, it’s not difficult to imagine the quality of such a film.

From there, Stallone worked his way up, starring in small roles alongside already famous stars like Robert Redford and Jack Lemmon, eventually leading him to his breakout role as Rocky in the Rocky series. From there, of course, Stallone became a world wide sensation— but we’ll never forget his humble beginnings.

5 Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan in All in the Family

Another Hollywood actor well known for his rather athletic physique, Jackie Chan also made his debut starring in an adult film— this time, a Chinese one!

The film is entitled All in the Family, and is the only film that Chan has ever starred in that has not involved an action or stunt scene… at least, not the kind of stunts he usually does.

Although this was one of Chan’s very early exploits, it was certainly not what got him noticed by big shots in both the Hong Kong or Hollywood film industry. His hard work in martial arts and acrobatics is what got him noticed by several producers, and he eventually won a name for himself as one of the best stunt mans in the film industry’s modern history.

4 Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood Rawhide

It’s hard to imagine Clint Eastwood as anything other than the dashing protagonist in an old school Hollywood blockbuster— but sure enough, Eastwood started at the bottom before getting to where he is today.

Before making it big with his role in the Western television show Rawhide and as "the man with no name" in the Dollars franchise, Eastwood was an aspiring actor, attempting auditions and being constantly rejected. He played in several movies as an uncredited extra or with very small roles, getting paid a pittance and regularly being criticized for his now iconic delivery of lines through his teeth.

Eastwood did not actually make it big until he was 30 years old, when his role in Rawhide brought him national success, and finally the fat paycheques he had been looking for.

3 John Travolta

John Travolta Two of a kind

John Travolta has had a tumultuous career, going from 1970s dazzling star to a bit of a joke in the early 1980s.

Despite his successes in the 1970s with films like Grease and Saturday Night Fever, Travolta managed to plummet himself into the D-List in the 1980s with some seriously bad films. Two, in particular, had critics questioning Travolta’s acting abilities all together: Perfect, a film where Travolta co-starred with Jamie Lee Curtis, and Two of a Kind, where Travolta co-starred again with Olivia Newton-John. Both were considered critical and financial failures, and many believed that was it for Travolta’s once promising career.

Fortunately, in the 1980s, Travolta fortunately took back his career with successful films like Pulp Fiction, which got him an Academy award nomination, and the Look Who’s Talking franchise.

2 Farah Fawcett

Farah Fawcett Noxzema

The late Farah Fawcett dazzled viewers in the 1970s with her role as Jill Munroe in the original Charlie’s Angels ABC television series, and her career in television only blew up from there. Indeed, in 1996, Fawcett was ranked number 26 on a list by the TV Guide entitled 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.

This makes it all the harder to believe, then, that Fawcett started off by just starring in commercials. Indeed, for a very long time, Fawcett was hailed as nothing more than a very beautiful woman. At university, she was constantly rated one of the most beautiful women in her class, and later when she moved to Hollywood, she was first just used as a pretty face for toothpaste and Noxzema commercials.

Fortunately, someone managed to spot her talent, and she rose to much greater heights from there.

1 Tom Selleck

Tom Selleck The Dating Game

The dashing Tom Selleck also started off his career in a modest fashion. During his senior year of college in 1965, Selleck appeared on the reality television show The Dating Game, and later appeared again in 1967! Without his moustache, he is certainly hard to recognize, which unfortunately might have been part of the reason he never won on the show.

It was their loss, though, because although afterwards he began appearing in commercials for Pepsi, it was not too much later that Selleck became the 1980s heartthrob that we know and love.

Although he has dabbled in film, Selleck’s true calling has actually always been television (just at a higher level), with his role in Magnum PI winning him an Emmy award and a Golden Globe award, as well as several People’s Choice awards.


Did we miss an A-list celebrity that started off on the D-list? Let us know in the comments!

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