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The 20 Greatest Movie Performances by a First-Time Actor

23 April 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Lediona Kasapi


There are some exceptional cases when a good actor/actress was born that way. Some of them were on the most wanted list in their first try in movie industry. Some of these natural born talents are still remembered; some are almost or totally forgotten. But a goal on the first shot is always something cool to be mentioned.


20. Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween

halloween laurie

Jamie Lee Curtis’ debut was John Carpenter’s classy independent horror masterwork, a film notable mostly for its music and cinematography. The intro tells us that at one night of 1963, Michael Myers, a six-year-old boy, stabbed his 15 year-old sister to death. Fifteen years later, Mike escapes from the mental institution where he was once convicted to terrorize the town of Haddonfield.

Nobody suspects him when he walks with a white mask on Halloween night. He shows a special interest in stalking Laurie Strode.

Laurie Strode is Jamie Lee Curtis’ debut role. Her reputation of being a scream queen is more than deserved. Halloween was her first acting contract, but definitely not the last with the horror genre. On the other hand Jamie has proved her competence to play different characters, from cult to auteur cinema. She’s also a writer of children books.


19. Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins (1964)

One simply can not experience a proper childhood without the Marry Poppins figure, the lovely Miss “Practically perfect in every way”.

In this magical Walt Disney production, Mary Poppins is a nanny who is hired by an Edwardian English banker to look after his kids. This spoiled and sombre family look as grey as an autumn London sky, until the super nanny starts to teach them how to live every day like a joyful holiday.

The film combines musical, live action and animation. Julie Andrews won an Oscar as the Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1965. Her acting was not just a breakthrough in her movie career, but also a window presenting a new imaginary world for every kid that has ever seen Mary Poppins.


18. Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit

Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit

Frank Ross, a farmer, is murdered by hired hand Tom Chaney. Frank’s 14-year-old daughter Mattie Ross sets out to capture the killer. She hires a man with true grit, Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, the toughest US marshal she can find to aid her to capture Tom.

Cogburn seems to be a drunken angry old man. Against his wishes, she joins Cogburn to track Tom. Texas Ranger LaBoeuf wants Tom Chaney dead for his own reasons. So they make a cute unlikely trio haunting the same guy and the “full of surprises” journey begins.

Hailee Steinfeld was cast for the role of Mattie Ross after competing against 15,000 other applicants. She made a high-toned debut in a Coen Brothers western next to Jeff Bridges. It couldn’t have been better even in her wildest dreams.


17. Alan Rickman in Die Hard

Alan Rickman in Die Hard

This classic action movie presented Alan Rickman to the world for the first time.

New York cop John McClane has just arrived in LA to spend Christmas with his wife, Holly. After he arrives at Nakatomi Plaza, he meets Holly and they have an argument in a private bathroom.

When Holly leaves to give a speech, thirteen armed terrorists led by Hans Gruber seize control of the building and take the occupants of the 30th floor, who are the only ones left in the building. Now it’s up to McCLane to face the terrorists and save his wife and the other hostages.

After several appearances on British television films, Hans Gruber is Rickman’s first role in a motion picture. Alan Rickman’s villains are the most memorable of all his roles. Once a villain, always a villain.


16. Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused


Richard Linklater knows for sure how to make a coming of age film. It is a story of high school kids in a small town in Texas during their last day of school. The cool title came from Led Zeppelin’s song with the same name.

It’s May of 1976. The seniors are excited to chase the newbies. The sportsmen have signed a pledge not to get drunk, stoned, or laid, but none can resist the temptation of the youth calling. There are many memorable characters in the film that may remind you of yourself, or someone you used to know in high school.

But to be first mentioned are Mitch Kramer, who becomes the new target of the seniors to get hazed, the typical cute weirdo with a beautiful mom, and a pretty sister (in this case) and Randall “Pink” Floyd, the school’s star football player who moves easily through different groups, from nerds to stoners.

It’s Matthew McConaughey’s breakthrough in big screen. There’s an unforgettable audition tape somewhere on the web for Dazed and Confused. Matthew McConaughey plays the role of an older buddy, David Wooderson, a friend of Randall “Pink” Floyd, who’s still hanging around with younger high school fellas.


15. Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore


Max Fischer is an eccentric 15-year-old boy at Rushmore private school. There he fails exams but keeps organizing clubs and plays.

Max is very mature for his age. He falls in love with Miss Cross, a widowed elementary school teacher in Rushmore. Max befriends with Herman Blume (Bill Murray), an unhappy local industrialist, who also falls for Rosemary Cross. This odd love triangle soon makes their personal and professional lives spin out of control.

Rushmore is the subsequent film of Bottle Rocket. It’s another Wes Anderson independent masterpiece, as visually stunning as all Anderson’s movies. This film is Murray’s big turn into independent cinema and Jason Schwartzman’s debut.

Schwartzman was 17 when Anderson met him at a party via Sofia Coppola. Since no one else could replace Schwartzman in the Max Fischer role, sometimes nepotism is bliss.



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  • Brian Lussier

    Too many American films, but it’s a good collection of performances nonetheless. Glad to see Natalie Portman getting recognized. Too often, people only praise Gary Oldman in that film, but it’s Portman who has to deliver the most difficult part, and she does it brilliantly! She deserved a bloody Oscar for The Professional!

    • João Fernandes

      God.. You are rly annoying! You comment all the lists and most of the time you just say crap shiet.. plz, why dont you write your own list and send it to the website? just stop..

      • Brian Lussier

        What the fuck is your problem?! What did I say that was annoying on this one, you fucking kike!?! And BTW, no, I do NOT comment on all the lists, I actually skip about 2/3 or even 3/4 of them…

  • Martin

    Barkhad Abdi didn’t won at the academy awards

  • Bhowmik Tanumay

    Where’s Matt Damon in Goodwill Hunting ??

    • Brian Lussier

      It wasn’t his first film.

    • Terek Brajan

      Matt Damon’s first movie was Mystic Pizza Good Will was his 8th

  • Jena Malone for Bastard Out of Carolina!!!!

  • Fatih Çam

    Not sure whether it is the first film of his career or not, but the list might’ve included Christian Bale for Empire of the Sun.

    • It’s not, although he was great in Empire of the Sun. Check out 1987’s ‘Mio and the Land of Faraway’ for Bale’s first feature film appearance. It’s a classic 80’s fantasy movie.

  • Leonardo Gil

    Where is Haing S. Ngor in ‘The Killing Fields’? His striking performance without any training deserves to be here! 🙁

  • Pedro Bento

    Kravchenko was the best!

  • Ryan Crinnigan

    Please. Bjork in “Dancer in the Dark.”

    • That was going to be my exact response (though technically Björk starred in another (passable) film, THE JUNIPER TREE, before playing Selma in the outstanding DANCER IN THE DARK)…

  • Dan Sever

    Rob Brown in Finding Forrester. Story goes that he was there to support his girlfriend auditioning for a role and wound up landing the lead.

  • Jim Davis

    What about Lauren Bacall in “To Have and Have Not”.

    She delivered one of the most famous lines in film with a provocative smoulder: “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow…”

  • Christopher Sisson

    John Cazale in The Godfather, How is this not on the list?

    • Terek Brajan

      Cazale is a great actor, but have small role in first Godfather(Godfather II is another story)….just like Robert Duvall in To Kill A Mockingbird

  • Carson

    Léaud in the 400 Blows really ought to be on this list.

  • Jennifer McNally

    Yet again, an article with terrible grammar and sentence construction. PLEASE hire people who know how to write, Taste of Cinema!

  • Edgar Soberón Torchia

    Shirley MacLaine in “The Trouble with Harry”, Paula Prentiss in “Where the Boys Are”, Diana Ross in “Lady Sings the Blues”.

  • Dagarar

    Come on. Where Tommy Wiseau in The Room?

  • Javier Mazza

    Geoffrey Rush in Shine!!!!

    • Terek Brajan

      Geoffrey Rush Shine was his 5th movie

  • Olympia Singh

    Adrian Brody-The Pianist
    Jennifer Lawrence- Winters Bone
    Alicia Silverstone-Clueless

    • Tristan Reed

      None of these were their debut film roles? 🙂

    • Javiera

      at least you tried

    • Terek Brajan

      Adrian Brody Pianist was his 21st movie
      Jennifer Lawrence- Winters Bone 4th movie
      Alicia Silverstone-Clueless also 4th movie

  • Freojim

    Brando as a paraplegic in “The men” (1950) is real and painfully alive amidst most of the other actors in that film.

  • OskarMatzerath

    Haing S. Ngor is The Killing Fields. Quite the omission, given he won an Oscar and all…

  • aquabear

    Lauren Bacall in “To Have and Have Not.”

  • Terry Powell

    Mac Davis in North Dallas Forty.

  • asalways

    Why on one ever mentions Jamie Lee Curtis is Tony Curtis’s daughter? But probably that’s a good thing for her…

    • Nancy Hall

      Janet Leigh, of Psycho fame, was her mother.

  • Kinga

    Have you seen “Ida”? The girl who plays Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is not even an actress 🙂 She was just an ordinary girl who was sitting in some club, and the other actress from this movie (Agata Kulesza) saw her and called to the director and told him that she just found a perfect girl for this role 🙂 Such a story. And I think that Trzebuchowska is amazing in “Ida”.

  • Gary Hart

    Timothy Hutton won an Oscar and Golden Globe in his first Motion Picture, Ordinary People. He was in 90 percent of the film, and was the main character, but he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. It was a fortunate gaff by the Academy. He would have had to go up against Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull, and his performance in Ordinary People would have not been immortalized by the Academy that year. If you have not seen this movie, you need to, and make sure you keep a box of Kleenex beside you. They just removed it from Netflix, and I have no idea if Hulu has it.

    • fantail31

      love Ordinary people. Heartbreaking.

  • Terry Coolidge

    Has no one here seen “Whale Rider?!?!?!” Keisha Castle-Hughes’ performance is tremendous. Easily worthy of bumping one or two (or more) from this list.

  • DiCaprio in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”

    • Terek Brajan

      4th movie

  • Lucia OG

    Jodie Foster in Taxi driver???

    • Terek Brajan

      Taxi Driver is Jodie’s 7th movie, her first was a role of Samantha in th movie Napoleon & Samantha from 1972

  • Freojim

    How about Brando in “The Men”?

  • Terek Brajan

    Timothy Hutton , Ordinary people (1980), academy award and a golden globe

  • I am actually not sure if this counts, as one of them had a few really tiny TV roles before, but: Olivier Gourmet and Jeremie Renier in the Dardenne brothers’ La promesse (1996). They have both since built great careers, and deservedly so (Gourmet is one of my all-time favourites), but in this film they were so fantastic!

  • fantail31

    Peter O’toole – Lawrence Of Arabia! Best ever.

  • Manfred Winter

    Uncomplete list without James Dean in “East of Eden”.

  • Jennifer Bos

    both Kate winslet and Melanie lynskey in heavenly creatures

  • Is English your first language?

  • Bette Midler with her joltingly amazing performance in THE ROSE…and also Dolly Parton in 9 TO 5…both singers took to acting quite naturally in their own respects…