15 Famous Actors You Didn’t Know Started in Horror Movies

actors started in horror movies

Every Halloween and every Friday, the 13th, local movie theatres all over the country dust off the old classics horror films and show them to packed houses. There is just something about this film genre that appeals to a lot of people – maybe the vicarious thrills and the need to be really scared while knowing that it’s not real.

Some of these films have never received much acclaim; some have received recognition and praise; none of them have received an Academy Award. Interesting, though, is the fact so many superstar actors and actresses actually began their careers in horror film. Here’s 15 who did.


1. Leonardo DiCaprio – Critters 3 (1991)

Leonardo DiCaprio – Critters 3 (1991)

At age 17, Leonardo DiCaprio was hardly a “household name.” In fact, he had just landed his first film role in the movie Critters 3, an attempt by writers and directors to resurrect the storyline, by moving the setting to the big city. DiCaprio played Josh, the stepson of a horrible landlord, and the apartment becomes the scene of the latest hatching and invasion of critters, the offspring of the remaining few that had not been rounded up in Critters 2.

Almost the entire film takes place in the apartment as Josh and others battle the creatures down to the last two, which the Intergalactic Council insists remain alive. That, of course, left the door open to Critters 4 which was actually being filmed at the same time. Both 3 and 4 were pretty much box office bombs, with terrible reviews.

DiCaprio, however, was discovered, and became the heart throb of many a teenage girl after that. 6 years later, of course, he soared to fame with his role in Titanic, and movies since have included Departed, Inception, and most recently, Wolf of Wall Street.


2. George Clooney – Return to Horror High (1987)

George Clooney – Return to Horror High (1987)

Clooney moved to Los Angeles from Ohio, after having majored in broadcast journalism at the University of Gincinnati, to become an actor. He managed to get some bit parts on TV shows, but finally was cast as Oliver, a young cop in Return to Horror High.

The film was about a film crew, making a movie in a high school in which a series of murders had remained unsolved. One by one the crew members are murdered (actually fake on purpose). Oliver’s murder, however, is not fake, and it occurs 15 minutes into the film.

That was Clooney’s entire debut into film. He went back to small parts in TV series and then got a role in Return of the Killer Tomatoes, a horror/comedy film which he may not want to claim. Ultimately, he secured a leading role in the TV series ER. He continued to star in films and, ultimately went into directing as well. His most recent film In the Air was a huge hit.


3. Jim Carrey – Once Bitten (1985)

Jim Carrey – Once Bitten (1985)

In this horror/comedy film, Carrey played a teenage boy (Mark) who was still a virgin and debating whether to lose that virginity to current girlfriend Robin. He is then seduced by a “countess” at a singles bar, in reality a vampire who must drink the blood of a virgin male 3 times before Halloween, if she is to retain her youth. She gets in two bites, before girlfriend begins to notice strange behavior and reclaims Mark from the countess.

Needing her third bite, the countess kidnaps Mark, and in hot pursuit, Robin and friends chase them. Realizing that the countess must have a third bite from a virgin, Mark and Robin quickly make love in a coffin, foiling the countess’s plot and resulting in her immediate aging.

The film did not get hugely great reviews, but Carrey’s career was basically launched. Since that time, he has starred in or directed more films than probably can be counted, including a number of kids’ movies, such as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.


4. Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Next Generation (1994)

Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger – Texas Chainsaw Massacre Next Generation

Originally released in 1994, this movie did not do well at film festivals and so was shelved for three years. It was re-released in 1997, and, by that time, both McConaughey and Zellweger were on their way to becoming box office stars. Texas Chainsaw….” was, of course, another in the series which have become rather classics in horror film history.

This plot is still in Texas, and four teens run into Leatherface and his family in the backwoods on prom night, due to a car accident. The rest of the plot mirrors the earlier versions, as three of the teens are killed, and Vilner, Leatherface’s older brother has the top of his head severed off by a helicopter. The lone survivor is Jenny, played by Zellweger. McConaughey was the character who lost the top of his head.

Recently, McConaughey claimed he had forgotten that he had played that role, perhaps because the film was only viewed by truly diehard fans of the series, usually on Halloween night. Since that time, however, McConaughey has played a number of starring roles in movies such as The Lincoln Layer, A Time to Kill, Amistad, Wedding Planner, Magic Mike, and, most recently, Interstellar.

Zellweger has been no “slouch” either, starring in Jerry Maguire, Chicago, Cold Mountain, Bridget Jones: Age of Reason and, most recently, The Whole Truth.


5. Chloe Grace Moretz – The Amityville Horror (2005)

Chloe Grace Moretz – The Amityville Horror (2005)

Only 6 years old when she was cast in this re-make of the original film, Chloe was 8 at the time it opened. And, indeed, this film launched Moretz’s career. Today, at age 18, she is a major star.

The film was based on a true story of a mass family murder in the home, in Amityville, NY, in which the oldest son killed his parents and siblings. He went off to jail and the house went up for sale. The first couple who moved in with their three children left 28 days later, insisting that the place was haunted.

The movie is based upon these 28 days. Moretz played an amazing role at such a young age and claimed afterward that she was not the least bit frightened for she knew it was all fake. Since that time, she has had leading roles in 500 Days of Summer, Today You Die, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Kick Ass, Carrie, and The Equalizer, to name a few.


6. Charlize Theron – Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

Charlize Theron – Children of the Corn III Urban Harvest (1995)

This film was the continuing saga of Joshua and Eli, two brothers who lived in Nebraska until Eli killed their father. They are now fostered to a family in Chicago, and Eli takes corn seeds with him, in order to “infect” the populace there.

Ultimately, after Eli has killed the foster parents, the school principal, and the social worker who has discovered more about his past, and after he has taken control of the school’s students by feeding them his corn, Joshua steps up and kills both Eli and “The One Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Finally feeling free, Joshua does not realize that the first shipment of corn seeds has just been delivered to Germany.

Theron’s role was quite minor, as one of Eli’s followers, and it was not a speaking part. This was the first role she got after having been “discovered” by a talent agent while she was having an argument with a bank teller. After this film Theron was cast as a hit woman in the film, 2 Days in the Valley, and then finally with a huge success, The Devil’s Advocate. After several other successful films, she won an academy award for best actress for her portrayal of a female serial killer in Monster.


7. Bradley Cooper – My Little Eye (2002)

Bradley Cooper – My Little Eye (2002)

This film is horror version of typical reality shows, like “Big Brother.” While the 5 occupants of the house believe that they are being filmed for a TV viewing audience, the only actual viewers are “black site” internet subscribers who have paid $50,000 to watch murders. One of the occupants is a co-conspirator with a stranger, Travis (played by Cooper) who claims he is lost, and a cop who arrives on the last day of the occupancy. Prior to this role, Cooper had played TV spots.

After this role, he shot to stardom with his role in Wedding Crashers, followed by the 3-part Hangover series. More recently he has had starring roles in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and American Sniper. At 40, he claims he still have a long way to go in the industry.