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For some stars, it was just a few short years before they hit it big, while for others it would take decades before they became household names. One thing is for sure though: Our favorite films and TV shows would not be the same without them. To remind you just how far some of your favorite celebs have come since starting their careers, we rounded up the best celebrity headshots from before they were famous. Ahead, see a pre-Save the Last Dance Kerry Washington, Nicole Kidman's very '80s hairstyle, what a teenage Rita Moreno looked like before snagging her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Anita in West Side Story, and a baby Meryl Streep—an icon even then.
Young Leo got his start acting in commercials in the late '80s, but the child star landed a recurring role in the original Parenthood (yes, there was a sitcom version before the 2000s drama version). He moved on to movies like What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Romeo + Juliet, and hit superstar status with Titanic.
Long before she founded Goop, Paltrow was a budding actress in the '90s (with a Hollywood pedigree) who starred in made-for-TV movies like Cruel Doubt (pictured here) before she got her part in Se7en. While Se7en didn't end well for her character (spoilers for those who don't know what was inside the box), it launched her film career and she went on to do Moonlight and Valentino, Emma, Sliding Doors, Shakespeare in Love, Iron Man, and so many more films before launching her lifestyle brand.
Keanu Reeves was working through the '80s, but it wasn't until his turn as Ted Theodore Logan in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure that he really made a big name for himself. He then starred in classics like Speed, Point Break, and The Matrix films.
Before he transformed himself from adorable goofball Andy Dwyer on Parks & Recreation into buff superhero Starlord on Guardians of the Galaxy, Chris Pratt got his start on the UPN/CW series Everwood.
Now this is a story all about how his life got flipped, turned upside down. Back in the '90s, before he was a Genie in Aladdin or saving the world on Independence Day or fending off aliens in Men in Black, Will Smith was known best for his rapping skills and made it big with the NBC series, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Sandra Bullock made her screen acting debut in 1987 in a movie called The Hangman, but it wasn't until 1992 when she was spotted in the charming rom com Love Potion No. 9, and in 1993 in a memorable role in Demolition Man that she started to gain real attention. She became a household name after 1994's action flick, Speed.
Before she made her way to the United States, Nicole Kidman started acting in Australian films. She skyrocketed to fame in Hollywood in 1990 in the movie Days of Thunder, with her future husband Tom Cruise.
You know her now as the wisecracking Karen on the hit sitcom Will & Grace, but Megan Mullally started acting in the early 1980s. She had a series of small parts in movies like Once Bitten and guest spots on TV shows before landing a recurring role on The Ellen Burstyn Show.
Tom Cruise started acting in the 1980s, and slid into our lives wearing a button-down shirt and socks in Risky Business. He sealed his movie star gig as Maverick in Top Gun.
Before he became the Terminator, and way before becoming the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger laid claim to the bodybuilding title of Mr. Olympia by showing off his enormous muscles.
Rita Moreno stole everyone's heart as Anita in West Side Story, but the young actress had been in show business for 11 years by then. After winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (opens in new tab), her career was catapulted into a decades long career that led to roles in the 9 To 5 TV series, Sesame Street, and most recently on Jane The Virgin and Netflix's One Day At A Time.
Before she had political dreams, Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon had her heart set on the big screen. Nixon began her acting career in the after-school special scene and it wasn't until 20 years later in 1998 that she landed her role as Miranda Hobbs, our favorite badass lawyer.
The Spanish sensation was known abroad before hitting it big in the states with Vicki Christina Barcelona. You may have remembered her starring alongside Johnny Depp in Blow or with Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky in the early 2000s. Nowadays, Cruz has taken on bigger roles and collaborated with husband Javier Bardem.
Meryl now has an impressive 21 Oscar nominations, but back in 1976 she was just getting started. It was her 1979 role in Kramer vs Kramer that really put her on everyone's radar. Streep continued to wow us as she swapped from TV to the silver screen effortlessly. Four decades later, people can rank their top five Streep films at the drop of a hat.
Winona Ryder was born in Minnesota and moved with her parents to California when she was seven years old. The actress didn't get her first role in a major feature film until she was 15, when she appeared in Lucas in 1986.
Although it was his role as Gob Bluth in Arrested Development that launched Will's career, the Canadian actor had several guest roles on popular shows like The Sopranos and Sex and the City before his big break.
After attending SUNY Purchase, Stanley Tucci headed to Broadway and landed roles in major films like Prizzi’s Honor. Tucci received his first nomination for an Academy Award in 2010 for his chilling role in The Lovely Bones, but had been a household name long before then.
Macaulay Culkin shot his first film, Rocket Gibraltar, at the age of 8. The next year he gained comedic acclaim in Uncle Buck, and then, of course, Home Alone happened, which made him one of the biggest stars of the '90s.
Kerry Washington first started acting as a teenager in Manhattan, working with a theater group that used improv to tackle social issues. In 2001, Washington caught the world's attention in Save the Last Dance. Thanks to her award-winning performance on Scandal, the actress landed a spot on Forbes (opens in new tab)' 2018 list of the highest paid actresses in TV.
Even though she had minor roles in Horse Whisperer and Remember the Titans, Kate Bosworth didn't get her big break until Blue Crush in 2002, when the Los Angeles native was 19 years old. How does Bosworth feel about film's sequel buzz? "I would love to do it, I really would," she said on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen (opens in new tab). "That movie is still such an important part of my life and it really gave me a career in many ways."
Before audiences saw Joan Allen debut in films like Compromising Positions or Manhunter (made within a year of each other), the actress built a solid career on the stage, winning a Tony for Best Actress for her role in Burn This in 1988.
Frances McDormand garnered a lot of attention for her first major role in the 1984 film Blood Simple. But she gained much more than just an award-winning career from the film—McDormand and her husband of 35 years met on the set and married that same year.
After graduating from Yale University in 1991, the Maryland-born actor found success with his first film, Primal Fear, in 1996 for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.
Chris Noth has had a successful television career for almost 40 years, playing notable characters on hit shows like Sex and the City and The Good Wife. But his first big role was in the '90s as Detective Mike Logan on Law and Order.
Andre Braugher began his career with a part in the 1989 film Glory, but his breakout role—for which he won an Emmy—was as Frank Pembleton on Homicide: Life on the Street in 1990.
When a then-19-year-old Alexis auditioned for Gilmore Girls, she had no prior experience on screen. Despite her inexperience, there was something about her that made Warner Bros. cast her as one half of the Gilmore duo. "She just jumped off the screen, you know. Those blue eyes," casting director Julie Mossberg described in an interview with Vanity Fair (opens in new tab).
After earning a spot in the National Youth Music Theatre, due to a grant from the Prince's Trust, Idris Elba worked in various odd jobs in his home city of London while auditioning. The actor's first TV role was for the soap opera Family Affairs in 1997. He later became more prominent thanks to his part on HBO's The Wire.
Her daughters, Rainey and Margaret Qualley, may be some of Hollywood’s newest stars (Margaret made her on-screen debut in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood this year), but not too long ago it was Andie Macdowell who was rising up in the industry. Macdowell landed her first role in the 1984 film Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.
Allison Williams may be the daughter of newscaster Brian Williams, but she still had to pay her dues in Hollywood. After growing up in Connecticut and working with an improv troupe at Yale University, Williams was cast in her breakout role as Marnie Michaels in HBO's Girls in 2010.
The actress found success in her home country of Australia with roles like For Love Alone and Flirting (which she costarred in with her best friend Nicole Kidman) in the late '80s. The actress moved to Los Angeles in 1993, but didn't attain her movie star status until her role in Mulholland Drive in 2001.
Sam Rockwell began acting in high school in 1989 when he shot his first film, an indie project called Clownhouse. It wasn't until 1994 that the actor returned to film—in the meantime, he was picking up minor roles in television and commercials—with a role in The Search for One-eye Jimmy.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
A graduate from the Tisch School of the Arts, Philip Seymour Hoffman made his first film debut in Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole in 1991. The turning point in his career was when he starred in Boogie Nights in 1997.
Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr.'s first film was Pound, a film written and directed by his father, when he was 5 years old in 1970. He went on to be one of the biggest actors and heartthrobs of the '80s and became a cast member of Saturday Night Live.
The Brooklyn-born actress got her first role on camera on the soap opera As the World Turns. After, Tomei went on to star in off-Broadway plays, sitcoms, and small films. It wasn't until the actress appeared in the 1992 comedy My Cousin Vinny that her true star power was recognized and she won the 1993 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Born in Connecticut, Mol moved to New York as a teenager to attend the The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Her first role was in the Spike Lee film, Girl 6, in 1996. She followed it up with small roles in major pictures but didn't rise to prominence until HBO's Boardwalk Empire in 2010.
Alec Baldwin made his first appearance on TV in the '80s with roles on shows like The Doctors and Knots Landing. Later, the comedic actor transitioned to film and snagged parts in major films like Beetlejuice in 1988.
Parisian actress Catherine Deneuve made her on-screen debut in 1957 in The Twilight Girls. Her breakout role in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in 1964 led to critical acclaim and a storied career throughout the '60s and onward.
She may be most familiar to you these days as Cora Crawley from Downton Abbey, but Elizabeth McGovern's career spans almost four decades, starting with her first feature film role in Robert Redford's Ordinary People in 1980.
After growing up in the industry—her father was a director and her mother was actress Maureen O'Sullivan—Mia Farrow began acting in minor film roles in 1959. Her first lead role was in Roman Polanski's 1968 film, Rosemary's Baby.
Bridgette Bardot first began modeling when she was 15 years old and shot her first film, Crazy for Love, in France in 1952. The following year, she debuted on the American screen, costarring with Kirk Douglas in Act of Love. It was this film that helped turn her into a sex symbol throughout the '50s and '60s.
Ryan O'Neal is best known for his work in the '70s—he starred in Love Story and Barry Lyndon—but the actor's first acting role was a guest spot on the television show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in 1960.
After returning from World War II, Roger Moore received a contract with MGM studios and made his first film, The Last Time I Saw Paris in 1954. After a stint in television, the British actor joined the iconic James Bond franchise, taking over the part from Sean Connery in the '70s.
With a famous father like Jon Voight, it's no wonder Angelina Jolie didn't wait long to step in front of the camera. The A-list actress appeared in her first film, Lookin' to Get Out, with Jon at the age of 7. She later returned to film in the 1993 movie, Cyborg 2: Glass Shadow, and became one of Hollywood's rising stars a few years later with her role in Hackers.
Madonna moved to New York City in 1978 to study at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and pursue a career as a dancer. In 1980, she joined the band Breakfast Club as their lead singer, but ventured out on her own a year later. By 1982, the pop icon had scored a record deal with Sire Records and her song "Everybody" was high on the dance charts.
If you didn't catch Uma Thurman's debut film, Kiss Daddy Goodnight, don't feel bad—it was a low-budget thriller that was panned. But a year later that the actress received her breakout role in the 1987 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
The Blondie lead singer wasn't always so blonde. After growing up in a small New Jersey town, Debbie Harry moved to Manhattan to pursue her music career. It was there that she met her boyfriend, guitarist Chris Stein, bleached her hair (to emulate Marilyn Monroe), and founded the new wave band that would eventually storm the country's music charts.
It's hard to remember a time when Goldie Hawn didn't dominate the acting world, but back in 1967 she was just starting out with her first role as Sandy Kramer on the television show Good Morning World. Her first major film role in Cactus Flower cemented her spot in cinema and snagged her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Although she's had powerhouse vocals all her life, it was at the age of 12 that Celine Dion met her music manager (and future husband) René Angélil. By 1990, the Canadian singer released her first American album Unison with Columbia Records.
After getting married at the age of 16, Marilyn Monroe (neé Norma Jean Baker) lived with her first husband in California. She signed a contract with 20th Century Fox in 1946 while her husband was overseas, they divorced, and she took the stage name of Marilyn Monroe. Her first role with the studio was in Dangerous Years in 1947, but her big break was in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953.
The esteemed actor has received an Oscar nomination every decade for the last 40 years—and his stellar career all started with his first picture, The Cry Baby Killer, in 1958.
The actress is best known for her roles in films spanning the late '90s and early '00s, but Anne Heche's first major role was in television on Another World from 1988 to 1992.
Robert De Niro
Although Robert De Niro filmed his first movie, The Wedding Party, in 1963 at the age of 20, it wasn't until six years later that the film premiered. By its 1969 premiere, he had already appeared in several other productions. The Academy Award-winning actor's career really took off after his 1973 film Mean Streets.
Betty White has been on TV for more than 80 years and is the definition of an icon. But how did the comedic actress get her start? Back in the '40s she began working in radio and appeared on various game shows. In 1949, she got her own radio show called The Betty White Show, and that same year she began cohosting the variety show Hollywood on Television.
A young Brad Pitt caught the world's attention in 1991 when he made his big screen debut as a hitchhiker in Thelma and Louise. It wasn't long after that the hunky actor began landing leading roles in films like A River Runs Through It, Legends of the Fall, and Interview With a Vampire.
British actress, Dame Judi Dench, began her career on stage performing Shakespearean plays in London and extending into television and films in the UK. Today, the actress is best known for her role in the James Bond franchise as M, first dating back to License to Thrill in 1999.
Born in South London, David Bowie's first hit song, "Space Oddity" was released in 1969. However, the music icon's breakout album Ziggy Stardust wasn't released until 1972.
Before Helen Mirren could boast about her acting Triple Crown (she's won an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony award), she was hard at work on the stage as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Mirren made her film debut in 1967, but it wasn't until 1994 that the actress earned her first Academy Award nomination for The Madness of King George.
After first working on Broadway, Marlon Brando left the theater behind and began to pursue a career in film. In 1951, he earned critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for his role as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Warren Beatty made his movie debut in 1961 in Splendor in the Grass—the actor would go on to be a 14-time nominee at the Academy Awards and star in classic films like Bonnie and Clyde and Reds.
Jodie Foster emerged on the scene as a child actor on the television show Menace on the Mountain in 1970. A few years later, she starred in her first feature film called Napoleon and Samantha, and began working with Disney studios.
Lynda Carter became notable after winning the Miss World USA beauty pageant in 1972 representing Arizona. After, Carter pursued a career in acting and appeared in guest spots on TV shows like Nakia and Starsky and Hutch. In 1975 that her superpowers kicked in and she was cast in the Wonder Woman TV show.
John Cusack was one of Hollywood's leading men throughout the '80s and '90s, but his first movie Class isn't one people typically remember. In the 1983 film, Cusak had a smaller part, while Rob Lowe was the lead.
Denzel Washington began acting in the late 1970s, by 1982 he had landed his first substantial role on the television series St. Elsewhere.
Laura Dern's mother, Diana Ladd, held more than 120 roles on television and film, so it should come as no surprise that Dern inherited her mother's acting chops. The Big Little Lies actress' first role was in her mother's film White Lightning in 1973.
Before she strolled through the halls of West Beverly High School in 90210, Shannen Doherty booked gigs as a child actress in television and film, including Little House on the Prairie in 1982.
Although most people recognize Cheryl Ladd as Kris Munroe from the '70s iteration of Charlie's Angels, the actress initially got her start with a small part on Josie and the Pussycats.
Sarah Jessica Parker
Before she was an A-lister, Sarah Jessica Parker got her start on the television show Square Pegs, then took on roles in films like Footloose and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.
Born into a military family in North Carolina, Julianne Moore began pursuing a career in acting at the age of 24. After a few minor television roles, Moore made her film debut in the 1990 flick, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.
Susan Sarandon got into acting after she graduated from college. After gaining credit for smaller roles throughout the early '70s, Sarandon was cast in the cult classic movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1976.
The legendary '60s actor's first film was War Hunt in 1962. Three years later, the star won a Golden Globe for his role in Inside Daisy Clover—but it wasn't until he landed the lead in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969 that his full potential was realized.
He may be an international movie star these days, but George Clooney paid his dues on TV before he struck it big. The Kentucky-native booked minor roles before earning more meatier parts on shows like ER and The Facts of Life.
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