10 Classic Acting Debuts: Jordan’s Take


Halloween’s huge success was thanks largely to Jamie Lee Curtis’ brave acting debut

10 Classic Acting Debuts

Though perhaps (or in some cases, certainly) not among the more revered, below are some of the most memorable feature film debuts of prolific actors that deserve to be searched out and recognized, especially in the case of Jason Alexander in an early ’80’s slasher…

Everyone has to start somewhere, even if it does mean being swallowed by a killer bed in a waking nightmare or playing an alien seductress, and that’s what makes reflecting on these careers so much fun.

For Eddie’s take on Classic Acting Debuts CLICK HERE

A list by Jordan

10. Jason Alexander – The Burning (1981)

Jason Alexander, with hair, in The Burning

Jason Alexander, with hair, in The Burning

Alexander plays – Dave

Fellow Seinfeld stalwart Julia Louis-Dreyfus also made her first acting appearance in a campy horror classic (Troll, 1986), but Alexander’s is more memorable, thanks largely to the fact that he plays a jock and has a full head of hair. He’s by no means the star, but it really is fun seeing him play such a now out-of-character role in a cult favourite such as this.

Did actor go on with promise shown? Yes. Seinfeld is often touted as TVs greatest sitcom and George Costanza is a huge part of that.

9. John Belushi – Animal House (1978)

John Belushi and his iconic sweater in John Landis' Animal House

John Belushi and his iconic sweater in John Landis’ Animal House

Belushi plays – John Blutarsky

Delta Tau Chi Fraternity’s most disreputable citizen John Blutarsky is the role that propelled Belushi from Saturday Night Live favourite to more renowned comedic fame. Though his career was cut short at the age of just 33, this, as well as being a Blues Brother, solidified his reputation.

In a slice of trivia, this was also the debut film of Kevin Bacon (pre Friday the 13th) and future Indiana Jones star Karen Allen.

Did actor go on with promise shown? In a handful of feature films he showed his unquestionable charisma, but there just weren’t enough of them. No.

8. Natasha Henstridge – Species (1995)


Sil certainly is fetching in Species

Henstridge plays – Sil

Playing a beautiful yet deadly alien hunted by a team of mercenaries as she attempts to mate and breed her species on Earth is certainly a way to be noticed. Sil is etched into the memories of all those who wandered the video store aisles in the ’90’s.

Did actor go on with promise shown? While I am an unapologetic fan of The Whole Nine Yards and Ghosts of Mars, looking at her filmography, I’m still going to have to go with no.

7. Jamie Lee Curtis – Halloween (1978)


Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween

Curtis plays – Laurie Strode

Halloween was the premier horror movie that taught us of the inherent dangers of being a babysitter in an idealistic suburb, and playing the unlucky high-schooler in Carpenter’s pulse pounding masterpiece was a  young Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of the incomparable Janet Leigh and so perfect for the role that it shot her to Scream Queen fame almost instantaneously, with The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train and  Road Games soon to follow.

Did actor go on with promise shown? Yes. She is one of the most recognizable actresses of the ’80’s.

6. Matthew McConaughey – Dazed and Confused (1993)


Matthew McConaughey with Rory Cochrane in Richard Linklater’s Classic

McConaughey plays – Wooderson

“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”

Wooderson is the atypical, dazed former high school student whose niche in life is being popular with the younger generation and refusing to give up on the high school dream. He is also one of the most significant characters in a beloved film filled with them, and his above quote speaks for his simple pleasure philosophy.

Did actor go on with promise shown? Yes. His ladies man shtick wore very thin, but he has since reinvented himself as a method actor up there with the most effective currently working

5. Jessica Harper – Phantom of the Paradise (1974)


Jessica Harper sure chose a strange/brilliant film to debut in

Harper plays – Phoenix

Phantom of the Paradise was Brian De Palma’s first film of note, and showcases many of the techniques that he would later incorporate in his genre defining follow-ups, in particular Carrie. Though this oddity is centered around the absurdly tragic titular Phantom, Jessica Harper’s Phoenix is the key character, and her innocence against all odds shines though brightly.

Did actor go on with promise shown? She would appear in Dario Argento’s grand opus Suspiria 3 years later, but since then hasn’t remained in public consciousness. No.

4. Kate Winslet – Heavenly Creatures (1994)


Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures

Winslet plays – Juliet Hulme

After Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and Dead Alive, the human and tragic story of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme’ intense and fateful relationship in Heavenly Creatures was a drastic change of tone and pace for New Zealand director Peter Jackson. Often hard to watch, but at all times superbly crafted, this now-cult film has retained its vice-like grasp, thanks in large part to Winslet’s firecracker debut.

Did actor go on with promise shown? A resounding yes, winning a much deserved Best Actress Oscar for her performance in 2008’s The Reader.

3. Johnny Depp – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)


Johnny Depp looking very happy with his first film appearance

Depp plays – Glen Lantz

The obvious pick. Many ultra-famous actors made early appearances in ’80’s horror flicks, but few are as well known as Depp’s doomed appearance as Nancy’s boyfriend in Craven’s first A Nightmare on Elm Street. I’m sure he’s not had a proper night’s sleep since.

Did actor go on with promise shown? Yes (well, until he jumped the shark in his partnership with director Tim Burton).

2. Eddie Murphy – 48 Hrs. (1982)


Reggie Hammond remains one of Murphy’s career highlights

Murphy plays – Reggie Hammond

In his prime, Walter Hill had the enviable ability to collate the perfect group of actors to elevate his iconic action films from standard fare to endlessly enjoyable. 48 Hrs isn’t as famous as The Warriors or Southern Comfort, but thanks to Murphy and Nolte’s chemistry, it’s just as great.

Did actor go on with promise shown? Yes – for the next decade

1. Bruce Campbell – The Evil Dead (1981)


The first Evil Dead is a far more intense affair

Campbell plays – Ash Williams

Few actors are as synonymous with a role as Bruce Campbell is with Deadite slaying, naturally cowardly Ash, who is the last character you’d expect to survive ’till dawn in the original cabin in the woods and has since dispatched more undead with chainsaws and zombies than you can wave a severed hand at.

Did actor go on with promise shown? Don’t be fooled by the fact that he is currently back to playing Ash again in Ash vs Evil Dead, The Chin has a devoted fan base that have followed him to the bowels of B movie purgatory and back again and not regretted a second of it.

Honourable mention

Patricia Arquette – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)


Elm Street was a breeding ground for talent

Arquette plays – Kristen Parker

I couldn’t leave another nostalgic Nightmare on Elm Street pick out, especially when it involves arguably the most fun entry in the series and an actress both underrated and enchanting (its the blue eyes, and the fact that she went on to star in True Romance and Lost Highway).

Did actor go on with promise shown? Yes. yes, yes, yes; in both film and TV.

Agree with the picks here? Or did I miss the most obvious? Let us know in the comments below!

13 responses to “10 Classic Acting Debuts: Jordan’s Take

  1. “Alright, alright, alright”

    Dazed and Confused is such a great film, and it used to be the only McConaughey performance I could stand. Glad the guy has had such a fantastic run.

  2. Great article! What about Kevin Spacey in 1986’s Heartburn? He played the thug who robbed Meryl Streep at her group therapy session. Of course, we know he went on to be a 2x Oscar winner and a hit on the small screen as well as theater.

  3. Pingback: 10 Classic Acting Debuts: Eddie’s Take | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  4. Pingback: Opinion Piece – Please Don’t Remake Suspiria | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  5. I think Melanie Lynskey acted well in Heavenly Creatures too, since it was her debut too. She and Kate had gr8 chemistry in it. I love her as the creepy Rose in Two an’ a half men too 🙂

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