If you dig through the IMDb pages of just about any A-list actor, you’re liable to find some amusing skeletons in the closet. It’s easy to forget that no matter how big a star an actor or actress has become, they almost certainly didn’t break into the industry that way. A select few may have been lucky enough to achieve stardom right out of the gate, but plenty of other household names started (or ended) their careers paying the bills with goofy B-movies they would probably prefer to keep hidden from their fans—and possibly from their friends and family.
Here are 15 of our favorite appearances from A-listers in decidedly B-movies.
15. Clint Eastwood — Revenge of the Creature, 1955
The “Man With No Name” went fully uncredited in this, his first screen appearance and a sequel to Universal’s classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s just a bit part as a seemingly absent-minded scientist, but it was preserved for all time when Revenge of the Creature was mocked on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where Crow predicts “This guy’s bad; this is his first and last movie.” With a role like this, I can’t help but wonder if an aged Eastwood would even remember it today. It makes me desperately wish some interviewer or biographer would ask “Hey, remember Revenge of the Creature? Why did you have a mouse in your pocket, exactly?”
14. Leonardo DiCaprio — Critters 3, 1991
Leo earned himself critical acclaim as a child actor in 1993 when he starred in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, but just two years earlier he made his film debut in a less auspicious vehicle, Critters 3. Here, in the series made famous to low-budget 1980’s horror fans with its “furry little ball of teeth” alien monsters, DiCaprio plays a kid named Josh, the son of an abusive and corrupt landlord father. Enjoy this heartwarming scene where dad derides Leo, calls him a crybaby, and is summarily devoured alive by Critters.
13. Jeff Goldblum — Death Wish, 1974
You could certainly do worse than Death Wish for a first film, at least in terms of cultural impact, and Goldblum can even say that he played a brief but pivotal part—his first screen role is as the apparent leader of the three thugs who assault and rape Charles Bronson’s wife, first starting him down the road to murderous vigilantism. Moreover, this is a great appearance based on Jeff’s outfit alone—he’s outfitted with one of those felty, crown cap hats and looks like Jughead Jones gone bad.
12. Halle Berry — Dark Tide, 2012
Starring in some terrible, schlocky movies at the beginning of your career, that’s to be expected. Starring in a freaking SHARK MOVIE after winning the Academy Award for Best Actress? That’s just sad. And yet, that’s where Halle Berry found herself in 2012, playing a character who called herself the “shark whisperer” and setting course for “shark alley.” Word on the street is that they have sharks there. If you’re wondering how something like that happens to an Oscar-winner, a decade-long stretch of flops and critically lambasted films probably has something to do with it. In fact, outside the “X-Men” series (where she was primarily a supporting player), her starring roles since winning an Oscar in Monster’s Ball have generated a Rotten Tomatoes average of 27% fresh. Dark Tide sure as hell didn’t help, bringing an immaculate 0% fresh average to the party.
11. Tom Hanks — Mazes and Monsters, 1982
There was a time in the early 1980s when the average suburban mother was quite certain that satanic cabals were lurking around every corner, ready to corrupt young children with the beguiling influence of Dungeons & Dragons. Building awareness were films like Mazes and Monsters, a CBS made-for-TV movie starring a 26-year-old Tom Hanks in his first major role, six years before Big. He really has the meatiest part here—his character Robbie falls hardest into the fantasy world of the game, suffering a complete psychotic break and imagining himself to be “the cleric Pardieu,” journeying the world in search of his dead brother. In the real world, this translates into stabbing homeless people to death because they look like orcs and then trying to jump off the World Trade Center into a pocket dimension. Really some of Tom’s finest work.
10. Gerard Butler — Tale of the Mummy, 1998
It’s a terrible, late-’90s, British-American mummy-horror movie, and Gerard Butler is, you know … there. In the film. Acting, ostensibly, but mostly just being a Scottish guy with the most Scottish of Scottish accents you’ve ever heard. Honestly, it’s like William Wallace to the third power. There’s not much else to say about this one; Butler’s performance is as immediately forgettable as the film itself, except for that remarkable accent.
9. Jennifer Aniston — Leprechaun, 1993
Let’s face it, there will never be a better St. Patrick’s Day horror movie than the original Leprechaun, and at least part of the satisfaction of watching it today is for the fact that it was Jennifer Aniston’s first feature film role. She plays the lead of teenage Tory Redding, a city girl transplanted into a country town chock full of shirtless boys and the occasional homicidal wee person. In all fairness, Aniston isn’t bad at all in this movie—a little over-the-top, but this is Leprechaun we’re talking about, after all. In terms of rolling with the punches, her work here might be the best acting performance on the list. Her character’s a complete ditz, the classic valley girl. I love the giant heels she chooses to wear when they go check out her house in the middle of the desert—very reasonable fashion choice.
8. Ray Liotta — In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, 2007
Liotta has made a handful of movies one could nominate for a list like this, but seeing as there’s a Uwe Boll collaboration in there, that makes the choice pretty easy. This ill-fated, loosely based videogame adaptation earns itself a spot in the WTF stunt-casting hall of fame by making Liotta an evil wizard named “Gallian,” of all things. Ray Liotta, aspiring mafioso, a freakin’ evil wizard. His medieval-era costume consists of … a leather Fonzie jacket and dress shirt from H&M? Sure, why not, seems reasonable and not anachronistic at all. I don’t understand and you don’t understand—we’ve all stepped into the Uwe Boll-niverse.
7. Demi Moore — Parasite, 1982
Demi Moore was 20 years old when she starred in Parasite, her first major motion picture. It was a real plumb role—one described by Wikipedia as a “pretty young lemon-grower.” Yeah, that sounds about right. The film was a 3D, futuristic horror mash-up about a scientist who develops and then attempts to destroy a killer parasite. Really cheap, grimy stuff, which makes all the more sense when one sees that the producer/director is Charles Band. Moore isn’t bad, but she can’t really bring the necessary gravitas to the role that “lemon-grower” demands.
6. Brad Pitt — Cutting Class, 1989
Remember when Brad Pitt starred in that high school slasher movie? Yeah, you know the one—Cutting Class? It’s that one where he plays a jock named “Dwight Ingalls” whose girlfriend won’t sleep with him “until his grades improve,” because that was teenage culture of the late ‘80s in a nutshell. But wait, is it just me or do others have eyes for Brad’s girl as well? Yes, it’s the weird, loner kid who just got released from a mental institution! And the creepy principle played by Roddy McDowall! Who will end up dead, and whose career will scrape along for a few more years before exploding into superstardom? My money is on McDowall.
5. Jack Nicholson — Little Shop of Horrors and The Terror, 1960, 1963
Jack’s career started just about as humbly as it possibly could, doing bit parts in Roger Corman features. Like so many other members of the “Corman film school”, he was given his first chance by the prolific B-movie producer-director, although it’s hard to believe he held onto the reels of his performances in Little Shop of Horrors or The Terror for long when trying to land bigger parts. The latter, 1963’s ultra-confusing The Terror, is probably one of Corman’s worst features, which is saying something. Nicholson plays a French soldier for some reason and spends the better part of 81 minutes wandering around leftover sets from previous (and better) Corman productions such as The Haunted Palace. It’s probably the most painful to watch appearance on this list, in fact—the whole movie is just a plotless waste filled with warm bodies.
4. Ben Kingsley — Bloodrayne, 2005
Pro tip: If you consider yourself a “serious actor,” then you probably shouldn’t be working with Uwe Boll in any capacity. And if you’re a former Academy Award winner for Best Actor, then you really shouldn’t be working with Uwe Boll. One could argue that the entire value of the Oscar was tarnished by Kingsley’s decision to appear in Boll’s Bloodrayne videogame adaptation as “Kagan, King of Vampires.” I wish I could have been there to see that script perusal—“Okay, so my character’s a rapist vampire and will be required to do action scenes with the 23-year-old star, despite the fact that I’m 61 and most famous for playing Gandhi? Maybe you should add a few more zeroes to that check. And could my character’s climactic catchphrase be “ungrateful bitch”?”
3. Matthew McConaughey — Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, 1994
It still feels a little bit weird to think of McConaughey as one of this decade’s most respected actors, because young Matt was in plenty of schlocky movies. This was the schlockiest, filmed in 1994 for only $600,000 and then not released for three years because it was so vile. By that point, both McConaughey and fellow co-star Renee Zellweger had become household names in Hollywood, and this quasi-remake of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre finally got a limited release. McConaughey plays Vilmer Slaughter, a member of the same cannibal family as the iconic Leatherface, and … it’s bad. It’s really, really bad. You probably shouldn’t watch it, but I’ll understand if you’ve been watching a lot of True Detective lately and feel compelled to go look this up. But don’t blame me for how bad it is.
2. Arnold Schwarzenegger — Hercules in New York, 1969
The incredible thing about Hercules in New York is the number of years by which it predates Arnold’s classic films. Conan the Barbarian, the first time that most people were exposed to Schwarzenegger, came out in 1982, a whopping 13 years after he appeared as a 22-year-old Hercules. NOW, think about Arnold’s grasp on the English language in Conan and imagine how it would have been 13 years earlier. This film, unsurprisingly, is a huge mess, and Arnold has no idea whatsoever what he’s doing up there—just a pliable hunk of muscle and meat with none of the charm that he would eventually harness in some of his ’80s/’90s roles. He was so unable to speak that the official version of the film has a very silly overdub on his voice, but if you look in the right corners of the Internet, you can still find the original audio, with Arnold phonetically sounding out his lines and flexing every other sentence. Also, he fights a man in a bear suit over a soundtrack of mandolin music.
1. Angelina Jolie — Cyborg 2, 1993
This is prime “scrub it from my résumé forever!” material. In fact, Jolie told the New York Times in 2001 that when she saw herself in Cyborg 2 for the first time, she “went home and got sick.” A sequel in name only to Albert Pyun’s dreadful Cyborg with Jean-Claude Van Damme, this was Jolie’s first starring role as a 17-year-old, playing a beautiful and deadly machine who is outfitted with a liquid explosive and rigged to blow at any moment! It’s terrible, but at least she’s got some good company in the form of Elias Koteas and the always-cranky Jack Palance, who bellows a classic, non sequitur line in the trailer: “If you’re going to dine with the devil, you need a long spoon!” I have absolutely no idea what this means.
Leonard Nimoy — Zombies of the Stratosphere, 1952
Leonard Nimoy was never an “A-lister” at any point of his life, but I simply find his appearance in this old Republic serial to be hilarious. He’s not a zombie, as the title would suggest, but a Martian with a plot to blow Earth out of its orbit. There are no zombies, by the way. Just enjoy the photo. He’s the one on the left.