The phrase, “I knew them BEFORE they were famous” is usually reserved for people you knew back in high school who made it to the big leagues. You know, the girl who sat in the back of the room and doodled all day who eventually went on to work for Marvel. The boy who was a theater nerd who eventually went on to star in Rent. That sort of thing. But, if you’re a movie geek like myself who grew up watching schlocky stuff like Return of the Killer Tomatoes, which featured a very young George Clooney, then you can say “I knew them BEFORE they were famous,” because you actually did. Well, sort of.
And that’s the thing. Everybody has to start somewhere, right? In a recent article, I mentioned how Mustafa Shakir was in an early horror movie called The Cavern long before he became Jet Black in the recently (and sadly) cancelled Cowboy Bebop. This got me to thinking about other big-name actors who started out in much, Much, MUCH smaller roles only to eventually become household names. How many of these early roles have you seen these actors in?
Return of the Killer Tomatoes (George Clooney)
As far as self-aware sequels go, you’d have a hard time finding one more self-aware than the sequel to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (Well, other than Gremlins 2, I suppose). In Return of the Killer Tomatoes, a mad scientist named Professor Mortimer Gangreen (played by John Astin) wants to avenge the tomatoes that lost the battle in the first movie, as they were defeated by the worst song in the world, “Puberty Love”. In this wacky sequel, Professor Gangreen wants to use music as a force to empower the tomatoes rather than weaken them, and if that plot sounds too unbelievable to be real, then you desperately need to be introduced to the “Tomatoes” franchise, ASAP.
The movie came out in 1988, and George Clooney was 27 when he played the role of Matt Stevens, who’s the main character’s best bud and roommate. One of Clooney’s funniest moments in the movie is when his character shamelessly advertises different products because the film ran out of money (and no, I didn’t make that up. That’s an actual plot point in the film).
George Clooney would of course later go on to be an amazing actor, even winning an Oscar for his role in Syriana. He also arguably became an even better director, making movies like Good Night, and Good Luck, The Midnight Sky, and most recently, The Tender Bar. But, if you ask me, Return of the Killer Tomatoes is still my favorite role of his. And I’m not even joking.
Leprechaun (Jennifer Aniston)
1993’s Leprechaun, starring Warwick Davis and Jennifer Aniston in her very first leading role, is about a leprechaun that is taking revenge on a family that he thinks has taken his pot of gold. A plot like that could have possibly been scary, but Warwick Davis is a hoot instead, cracking jokes like Freddy Krueger and being an overall goofball. It’s the kind of movie where a four-leaf clover is the equivalent of a deadly stake driven into Dracula’s heart. So, yeah, it’s definitely the kind of movie that would have sequels in the Hood (twice!), and in outer space (Because why not?)
Jennifer Aniston is only in the first movie though, and she plays a stuck-up teenager who runs and screams a lot until she finally develops a backbone and helps take on the leprechaun. Riveting stuff. Aniston would of course go on to mega stardom as Rachel on Friends, as well as do other movies like Horrible Bosses, We’re the Millers, and Murder Mystery, with Adam Sandler.
The Little Shop of Horrors (Jack Nicholson)
I know what you’re thinking. Jack Nicholson isn’t in Little Shop of Horrors, and you’re right. He’s not. He was, however, in 1960’s The Little Shop of Horrors (Emphasis on the “the”), though, which is a Roger Corman movie. The plot is pretty much the same as the 1986 classic musical, which is based off of this story—a florist helps sprout a blood drinking plant. But this one is not a musical. It’s still funny, though.
But here’s the thing. It does NOT star Jack Nicholson. In fact, he plays the masochist in the dentist seat that Bill Murray plays in the musical version. In total, Jack Nicholson’s probably in this movie for less than 5 minutes. But, if you find any DVD copies of the film, you’re still likely to see the name Jack Nicholson -- who went on to star in such films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shining, Terms of Endearment, Chinatown, The Departed, jeez, the list goes on and on -- right smack dab on the cover. Because hey, when you have star power like Jack Nicholson in one of his early roles, you floss it, baby.
Critters 3 (Leonardo DiCaprio)
Critters, as a series, has sometimes been referred to as a “poor man’s Gremlins,” which I don’t think is entirely fair. While yes, it does feature rabid little monsters, kind of similar to the what the Mogwai eventually become if you feed them after midnight, Critters has always intentionally been a lot campier, and Critters 3 is no exception. In this 1991 direct-to-video gem, which is Leonardo DiCaprio’s first movie role, the Critters start to lay eggs and terrorize a family. Leo’s character accidentally (?) kills his mean stepdad by locking him in a room with the Critters. Fun times all around!
But seriously, Leo looks very young in the role, but he was actually around 17 at the time the movie came out. Now that’s acting. He would later go on to be in such classics as The Aviator, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street, and he won an Oscar when a bear mauled him in The Revenant. See him next in the comedy, Don’t Look Up.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (Matthew McConaughey AND Renee Zellweger)
While yes, both Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger both make appearances in Dazed and Confused, I thought The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation would be a more interesting film to end on since it’s probably the worst film ever made with not one, but TWO eventual Oscar winning actors in it. The 1995 film is about a prom night gone awry as four teenagers end up in a night from hell with Leatherface and a deranged tow truck driver, the latter played by McConaughey. Zellweger plays one of the teenagers, and she can give it just as much as she can take it. You go, girl.
As mentioned, McConaughey won an Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyer’s Club, and also starred in films like Magic Mike, Interstellar, and The Gentlemen. Hear his distinguishable voice next in Sing 2. Renee Zellweger has won two Oscars, one in a supporting role for Cold Mountain, and another in a leading role in Judy as Judy Garland. She’s also been in popular films like Jerry Maguire, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Chicago. So, yeah, this low-budget horror film has quite a bit of clout.
And that’s the list. Have you seen all of these films? For news on some of the best horror movies or other cool stories, make sure to swing by here often.
Lover of Avatar (The Last Airbender, not the blue people), video games, and anything 90s, he will talk your ear off about Godzilla, so don't get him started.
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