Straight to the Top: 5 Breakout Performances That Bolstered Acting Careers

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When acting seems effortless and easy, that’s probably a good performance you’re watching. Some people might think acting is just showing up, saying some words, and looking sexy, but it’s a grueling, difficult, and rigorous job. Unless you’re Schwarzenegger or Steven Seagal or something and you do actually just show up and say some lines. Sometimes actors toil on the sidelines for years waiting for their big break. The big break being that breakout role that will take them from actor/waiter to full on professional actor. Sometimes you know it when you see it. “Who is that?” you might think as you’re watching this crazy person on screen. “Where did they come from?” Here are five breakout roles that took the actor from “Who?” to “Ah they got another Oscar.” Of course there are more than five in the history of film but – we’re sticking to five.

5 Owen Wilson

Before there was Armageddon and Marley & Me and any other big budget flick, there was Bottle Rocket. It was the movie that introduced the world to Wes Anderson and Luke and Owen Wilson and it’s a hilarious, charming crime caper made on a tiny budget. Owen plays Dignan, a man-child with a five-year plan. There are some so-so performances in the movie and some great ones (hey it was a little flick) but Owen Wilson definitely stands out. He’s flawed, funny, and endearing. Kind of makes you wish he’d do more movies like this.

4 Amy Adams

Like Jessica Chastain, Amy Adams is a ubiquitous redhead, and it seems like every performance of hers is amazing. The Fighter, The Master… but first there was Junebug. It’s a 2005 indie film about an outsider going to North Carolina to meet her in-laws. Doesn’t sound earth shattering but it’s a great flick, and Amy Adams stole the movie as the sweet, seemingly innocent pregnant girl Ashley. If you watch it you know she’s about to become a big deal – and she did.

3 Jessica Chastain

People were calling Chastain the busiest actress no one had hear of –until recently that it. She worked under the radar and had a slew of movies come out in 2011 and 2012, including The Help where she played the peppy, blonde neighbor. She got an Oscar nomination for that. Now she’s everywhere and she’s kind of the new Cate Blanchett. She’s got the bin Laden film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty coming out so keep an out on her. She’s pretty much everywhere.

2 Leonardo DiCaprio

Once upon a time the name Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t conjure up images of Oscars, fat paychecks and model girlfriends. Once, no one knew who this skinny kid was. It wasn’t Titanic that broke him out, although that did break him out on a gigantic international scale and make him basically like a national treasure. It was the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape directed by Lasse Hallstrom in 1993 that made people take notice. He played the younger brother of Johnny Depp and it’s a pretty amazing performance. Check it out.

1 Rooney Mara

Now she’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and she’s been on every red carpet looking gaunt and pale for the last year, but until pretty recently Rooney Mara wasn’t on too many people’s radar. That changed with The Social Network. She played the fast talking girlfriend who dumps Mark Zuckerberg because he’s a self-obsessed jerk. She wasn’t the lead but she stole the very first scene of the movie and obviously won the director David Fincher over because he made her Lisbeth in his version of Dragon Tattoo. Look out for more of her, and go back and watch The Social Network to see how great she was. She looks nothing like Lisbeth.

Honorable mention

Jack Nicholson

Well, everybody started as an unknown, even the man himself, Mr. “courtside seats at the Lakers” Nicholson. He didn’t just spring out of nowhere as a successful, iconic, Oscar winner. He’d worked before the classic 1969 movie Easy Rider but it was his small but memorable part in that as a goofy Southern guy named George Hanson that took him a big step further to being… that man. He’s hilarious as a preppy guy who suddenly gets drunk and high with the hippies. Check it out – you can’t miss that grin.


There are a lotmore great breakout roles – let us know some of your picks.

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