Hollywood is a place stars are made. People like Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Tom Hanks have become household names thanks to the media titans in southern California. Actors with enough star power can easily command millions of dollars for a single movie role. For some, stardom comes quickly and easily, like it did for Johnny Depp after he starred in "A Nightmare on Elm Street." For most, it requires proving their chops in small films and even smaller roles, leaving many stars with overlooked first films.
Will Smith is one of the most well-known names in Hollywood. He began his celebrity career as a wise-cracking but lovable rapper before transitioning to the small screen in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." When it came time for him to take over the world of movies, however, he was forced to pay his dues like everyone else. That happened in a little known ensemble movie called "Where The Day Takes You," which also saw the film debut of David Arquette. Set in the world of runaway kids living on the streets, Smith played Manny, a character that was surprisingly cheerful despite being homeless and wheelchair bound. Most people missed the movie due to its limited release, but the strong cast featured jaw-dropping performances by Sean Astin, Alyssa Milano, Laura Flynn Boyle, Balthazar Getty and Dermot Mulroney, as well as a moving soundtrack by Melissa Etheridge.
Most actors aren't even as lucky as Will Smith. Matt Damon currently commands as much per picture as Julia Roberts, but when he landed his first role in "Mystic Pizza" she was one of the stars while he was just a kid named Steamer with one line and nearly no screen time. But at least he got credit for his role, which helped him land "School Ties," one of the movies that helped launch his career. Many actors don't even get that.
One of the most famous uncredited debut performances is Harrison Ford's bellhop character in "Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round." It is often cited as an example of how the hardest working actors have to start in obscurity, but it is really much more common than most people realize. Dennis Quaid also started his career as an uncredited bellhop in "Crazy Mama," before landing a credited role in "I Never Promised You A Rose Garden." Mel Gibson, however, didn't get credit for his role in the same film, forcing him to wait for "Summer City" before he could see his name on the big screen.
Even if an actor is given a credit, they can be overlooked. When Anthony Hopkins starred in "The Lion In Winter" with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn, his performance was heralded as one of the great film debuts of all time, leaving Timothy Dalton in the weeds even though he filled a substantial role. "Toys," the 1992 Robin Williams film, wasn't LL Cool J's first film, but it was his first significant role. It was also Jamie Foxx's feature film debut, something that's often forgotten.
Now, thanks to websites like IMDB and Wikipedia, an actor's complete body of work is just a click away. Video on demand services like Netflix can stream them right into our homes, and overlooked first films from our favorite stars are no longer inaccessible. The only real problem left, is figuring out which ones are worth watching.