Freaky first film roles: 10 movie stars who got their big break in horror

When you think of horror films, you don’t often think of award-winning, thespian actors, but the genre has been a launchpad for a surprising number of movie stars who can now count themselves among the A-list. 

From iconic horror performances like Jamie Lee Curtis’ long-running portrayal of Laurie Strode in the “Halloween” franchise to forgotten bit parts from Oscar-winners like George Clooney in “Return to Horror High,” here’s a look back at some familiar faces who got their big break screaming their heads off in horror classics. 

Kevin Bacon, “Friday the 13th”

The slasher classic “Friday the 13th” launched a horror franchise that now boasts 12 installments and the career of a young actor named Kevin Bacon. After several guest appearances on tv soap operas like “Guiding Light” and “Search for Tomorrow,” Bacon scored his big break (and one of the more memorable death scenes in the film) in this quintessential horror classic.

Paul Rudd, “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers”

Before becoming one of Hollywood’s funniest leading men, Rudd broke into the business with 1995’s “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.” Though the sixth installment of the Halloween film series was a bust at the box office (only grossing $15.1 million), Rudd’s breakout role in “Clueless” that same year kick-started his career. 

Jennifer Aniston, “Leprechaun” 

Aniston is currently one of the world’s highest-paid actresses, but her first major film role had her going toe to toe with a vengeful, diminutive, mystical creature in 1993’s horror-comedy “Leprechaun.” Though she never appeared in any of the six sequels, we’re still holding out hope!

Leonardo DiCaprio, “Critters 3”

Following up an uncredited role on one episode of “Rosanne,” DiCaprio made his film debut just a year later as the stepson of an evil landlord in “Critters 3.” Unfortunately, the low budget, direct-to-video didn’t exactly set his career on fire. The Academy Award winner has since described the film as “possibly one of the worst films of all time.”

Mischa Barton, “The Sixth Sense” 

You probably haven’t forgotten the shocking twist at the end of “The Sixth Sense,” but odds are you did forget a young Barton delivering one of the film’s best jump scares halfway through the film. Though she started as a young actress performing in stage plays Off-Broadway, Barton landed a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part in M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller at just 13 years old. 

Jamie Lee Curtis, “Halloween”

John Carpenter’s “Halloween” ignited a slasher film movement that still exists today and put a career in motion for Curtis. As the daughter of actress Janet Leigh, immortalized in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” it was only fitting that Curtis would make her acting debut as a scream queen in a horror classic. 

Johnny Depp, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”

After dropping out of high school to become a rock musician, Depp’s career trajectory took a turn when he scored a part in Wes Craven’s supernatural horror film “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” The hit film quickly made Depp into a bonafide teen idol and led to early roles on the TV show “21 Jump Street” and in films such as “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Benny and Joon.” 

George Clooney, “Return to Horror High” 

Unfortunately, the producers of “Return to Horror High” did not make a good movie, but they did get one thing right when they cast a young Clooney in a supporting role. The satirical slasher movie follows a film crew picked off by a mysterious killer while filming in a high school. Though Clooney’s character didn’t get a ton of screen time (he’s killed off early in the film), the Oscar winner would get the last laugh when his acting career hit the stratosphere ten years later. 

Octavia Spencer, “Halloween II”

Another Oscar winner with early appearances in horror films, Spencer, made a brief appearance in Rob Zombie’s sequel/reboot “Halloween II.” Though the film was slaughtered by critics, Spencer didn’t shy away from her horror roots — even after winning Oscar gold — when she returned to the genre with 2019’s “Ma.”  

Jack Black, “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer”

With over 150 IMDB credits to his name, Black had an early career full of bit parts and cameos long before becoming a household name. One of the more perplexing roles in Black’s repertoire was his uncredited turn as Titus Telesco, a dreadlocked drug dealer in “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.” Though poor Titus would meet his demise via a pair of hedge clippers, Black’s career would soon take flight with films like “High Fidelity” and “The School of Rock” just a few years later. 

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