It's always fun to watch an older movie and spot the then-unknown who would later become a star. "He's so young! She's so cute! Why, they're babies!" Once in a while, a film comes out with several fresh faces that go on to have long-lasting Hollywood careers. This is a tribute to those films. (However, let's not presume that the following actors all debuted in these pictures; in most cases, they had already been struggling for years.) In chronological order:
- The Last Picture Show (1971). Timothy Bottoms was the leading man, but Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shephard, Randy Quaid, and older actors such as Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, and Eileen Brennan all went on to greater heights.
- American Graffiti (1973). George Lucas and his buddy Francis Coppola discovered several of the 1970s' most popular actors. In American Graffiti we met Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Suzanne Somers, Cindy Williams, Kathleen Quinlan, Mackenzie Phillips, and Charles Martin Smith. Of course star Ron Howard was already known as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, but this film released him from the child actor ghetto and on to fame on Happy Days and as a successful director.
- Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stolz (in a small role), Anthony Edwards (in an even smaller role), and Nicolas Cage (in the smallest role of all) got their big break here. Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold also enjoyed the taste of stardom, at least for the next five years.
- The Outsiders (1983). Coppola's teen drama featured the largest collection of future A-Listers in one movie: Tom Cruise (who would be a top star by year's end, thanks to Risky Business), Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, and C. Thomas Howell. At the time of production, only Dillon was well-known.
- Platoon (1986). In terms of establishing a new wave of young actors, if it's not a high school movie, it's a war movie. In 1986, Charlie Sheen also had supporting parts in Lucas and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but he was the true star of Platoon, which also bolstered the careers of Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Kevin Dillon, and character actors John C. McGinley, Keith David, and Mark Moses. (The aforementioned Forest Whitaker, still struggling, was also in the film.)
- Do the Right Thing (1989). Spike Lee's explosive New York drama not only made a celebrity out of the indie director, it was a showcase for up-and-coming talents Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Lawrence, John Turturro, Rosie Perez, Giancarlo Esposito, and Bill Nunn.
- Dazed and Confused (1993). Little-seen during its brief theatrical release, Richard Linklater's cult classic gave us, among others, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, Jason London, and Milla Jovovich (who was already a successful model at the time).
- Black Hawk Down (2001). Ewan McGregor was already famous when he led the ensemble cast of Ridley Scott's war picture, but he acted alongside future names like Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Hugh Dancy, Jeremy Piven, Tom Hardy, Ioan Gruffudd, and Ty Burrell.
- Mean Girls (2004). I close with one for the ladies: This teen comedy was designed as a vehicle for the then-hot Lindsay Lohan, but Mean Girls' supporting cast has gone on to things bigger than tabloid infamy: Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, and Lizzy Caplan all had breakout roles here. The film also made writer/costar Tina Fey a Hollywood player; she was only known for Saturday Night Live heretofore. (Her SNL cohort Amy Poehler also got a boost from the film.)