“Mom, do you want my green stuff?”
Outside of winning the lottery or having a trust fund, success typically is earned through hard work and dedication. You have to start from somewhere. That’s most easily noticeable in the careers of actors, who work their way up to reach stardom and, as a result, tend to have some strange and unusual roles in their early acting days. For as much as gossip magazine try to emphasize “Stars go grocery shopping, JUST LIKE US!” they’re probably better off demonstrating that sentiment by, say, showing Ben Affleck do a Burger King commercial before he got famous. Even the actors who seemingly broke out of nowhere had to put in their dues, and that American quality for hard work is something we support, even when we go out of our way to find the most embarrassing early career film choices of famous people in order to poke fun at them.
So let’s find the most embarrassing early career film choices of famous people in order to make fun of them.
The Most Hilarious Debut Film Appearances of Famous Actors
Okay, now that’s just kicking someone when they’re down.
Now, some actors storm the scene in their debut role, like Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise, while others show up in films that are so different from the rest of their career it becomes a part of that actor’s “how they got here” story, like Johnny Depp in Nightmare on Elm Street. Most actors, however, have small, inconsequential parts. They’re usually fine, and range from a quick appearance to a few minutes of screen time, like Kevin Spacey’s film debut in in the film Heartburn to barely noticeable appearances, like how Jennifer Aniston was an extra briefly on camera in the film Mac and Me (which is such a hilariously bad movie her role there almost made this list).
In going through the filmographies of some of our favorite actors in order to find some truly embarrassing moments, we noticed a few things. First, a good 90% of actors were toiling away in obscurity for years before their big break came. Second, there was a decent split between people who decided to start off in TV and transition to film, and those who literally went straight into film, without even a guest appearance on a TV show to break their fall. And finally, we discovered that the 1986 movie Wildcats was the first film ever for both Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, and that they played teammates on a high school football team, and that makes their chemistry in White Men Can’t Jump about ten times more amazing and wonderful.
It’s honestly pretty impressive for your first role to be as comically, well, comical as the following debut performances, since it means that they didn’t do any student art films, or small cameos on respected films, they just jumped straight into “well I’m going to have to get nominated for an Oscar or something to make up for this” territory. And we love every one of them for it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Hercules” in Hercules in New York (1969)
You no doubt are familiar with this classically terrible film, where the Governator was credited under the stage name “Arnold Strong.” It’s one of those movies so bad that there are numerous videos dedicated to depicting the worst, dumbest moments of it. If you have managed to go this long in life completely unaware of this film, watch this set of clips, and lightly chastise yourself for not using the internet correctly. At the time, Schwarzenegger was a famous bodybuilder (well, as famous as a bodybuilder could be) and he was hopeful he could get into acting. He eventually broke through, getting the lead role of Hercules in Hercules in New York, a film that devoted roughly 90% of its budget, and creativity, on paying a guy twenty bucks for suggesting that having a famous strong man play a mythological strong man figure might just be an okay idea for a movie.
Arnold’s performance in it was…not good. But that’s not really his fault—you don’t put Arnold into a movie for the acting, no matter how much the Golden Globes want to make you think otherwise. You put Arnold in a movie so that he can be strong and get in fights, so you should probably invest more into your special effects budget than, you know, putting a guy in a cheap bear suit and telling Schwarzenegger to wrestle it while basically shouting, “You stoopid bay-air” in a thick Austrian accent. This movie was so bad it effectively covered the future Kindergarten Cop with shit movie stink so bad that it took until 1976 for him to get another actual film role, which earned him a Golden Globe for “Best Acting Debut,” hilariously proving that Hercules in New York was so atrocious everyone pretended it didn’t exist, while also firmly establishing that the Golden Globes were bullshit back in the 1970s. Arnold’s career didn’t get to take off until the 1980s with Conan the Barbarian and, of course, The Terminator, and while he probably used that time to take some acting lesson (but not too many acting lessons, let’s be honest, we’ve all seen him act) he also probably had an agent who spent the entirety of the decade going to casting directors and apologizing for the existence of this film.
Liam Neeson: “A Pilgrim” in Pilgrim’s Progress (1978)
Hahaha, holy shit, just look at that. Look at it. In 1977, a 25-year-old Liam Neeson, the Oscar-nominated thespian who can find you and kill you with a certain set of skills, was cast in his first film. That film, a religious movie called Pilgrim’s Progress, is available online in its entirety. You have to watch it, or at least the first five minutes or so where the man who portrayed Aslan plays a pilgrim who was actually supposed to be Jesus. This movie is so, so bad. It’s not bad for religious reasons, it’s bad for “the audio doesn’t synch up with how the actors’ mouths move” reasons and “holy shit look how absurd Liam Neeson looks” reasons and just, the sheer absence of acting, direction, or editing.
It’s a beautifully bad film. And the best part is that Neeson isn’t even the main character in it. He just motors through his handful of scenes, dead-eyed and soft-spoken, showing up to tell the main character, “Yo, don’t do sins and stuff. Go that way” while the main character is like, “Okay, see you later! One of us is going to be famous someday, I hope it ends up being me!” Well, it wasn’t. This man played Zeus, for God’s sake, and here you see him just…well, just look at him up there. Liam Neeson has a net worth of $75 million, and the first movie he was ever in is a movie they actually show at churches that is so bad that the people watching it would rather go back to a particularly boring sermon.
Benicio Del Toro: “Duke the Dog-Faced Boy” in Big Top Pee-Wee (1988)
Oh, Benicio. Suddenly your decision to star in The Wolfman makes so much more sense. Benicio Del Toro, Oscar winner and easily one of the top 5 actors who studied in the school of “intimidating mumbling,” was once a 21-year-old actor who was told, “If we glue some pubes on your face, you can be a dog-faced person in the shitty sequel to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure that no one will like.” He apparently responded by saying, “Sign me up! This is my big break! Look, I’m already in character! Arooooooo!” You probably remember Big Top Pee-Wee if you growing up when Pee-Wee Herman was a main cultural touching point, or you might hear “a shitty, shitty sequel of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure exists and was directed by the guy who made Honey I Blew Up the Kid exists” and feel a little sad that you no longer live in a world where you were blissfully unaware of this film’s existence.
Either way, tucked away in this entirely forgettable film was the debut of a young Puerto Rican actor who would go on to be known as “Oh right, that guy, yeah he’s pretty intense” to film audiences around the nation. And he looks ridiculous in it. Pee-Wee Herman was a big name at the time, so we can understand why you’d take the part as your first film role, but now Del Toro’s Wikipedia page will forever have the words “he made his film debut playing Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in…” It’s a cautionary tale, really.
Patrick Swayze: “Ace Johnson” in Skatetown, USA (1979)
If “Patrick Swayze as Ace Johnson in Skatetown, USA” isn’t the best sentence we’ve ever had the pleasure to write, it’s way, way, way up there. For those of you who were around in the 1970s, you might remember that disco was a huge thing back then, and it was pretty goddamn insufferable. Did you know that Saturday Night Fever got nominated for a fucking Oscar? And it was for John Travolta as Best Actor? The 70s were a goddamn mess.
Skatetown, USA was a film that centered around a roller disco competition. If you think that sounds awful, well guess what, you’re absolutely fucking right it is! Swayze plays one of the contestants named Ace Johnson, which is the best name. You can actually watch his debut here. He skates for about three minutes that, somehow, feels like it’s an hour long, probably because it’s disco roller skating, which is neither cool nor enjoyable to watch. Swayze was a 25-year-old relatively established dancer when he was cast in this role, and it’s clear that they cast him for no reason beside skate-dance ability and how he looks without a shirt. While he nails the latter point, he honestly is only okay as a disco dance skater. He does some spins and stuff, but he doesn’t look polished and professional. Sure, most of that has to do with the editing, which was essentially nonexistent, but Swayze made a pretty huge leap between this and, say, Dirty Dancing.
Kevin Costner: “John Logan” in Malibu hot Summer (1981)
Alternate Title: Sizzle Beach U.S.A.
Kevin Costner plays a cowboy named John Logan in this movie that is technically not a porno, but tries to cram as much nudity as they can without legally being considered one. Malibu Hot Summer, a.k.a. Sizzle Beach U.S.A., a Troma production, was filmed in the late 70s and centered on three women living in a beach house in Malibu together following their dreams (these dreams may or may not require a lot of interaction with penises and the constant removal of shirts to be achieved). Kevin Costner’s there as the young owner of a nearby stable, since we all know that people go to Malibu for the horseback rides (surprisingly not a euphemism in this instance). The best part about this movie is that it never got a full release until 1986, after Costner had already become famous, so all the posters for the film emphasize Costner’s role in it, despite him being basically just the love interest for one of the three story arcs happening in this soft core skin flick. So while he doesn’t do much in it, you’d assume that the movie is all about him, with the VHS cover showing a crouching Costner (hidden dragon) crudely airbrushed onto a beach overlooking two sunbathing bikini babes and the tagline of, we shit you not, we so so shit you not, “Hot sand! Hot bodies! HOT COSTNER!”
For a film that reeks of “I moved to Hollywood to be famous, but this is the best I’m going to do and I might as well get paid while people still will give me money for me to take my top off”, it is genuinely surprising that one of the actors managed to break free of Troma’s clutches and make a career for himself. Because the rest of the movie… well, let’s just put it this way. The (very NSFW) trailer closes out with the line “It can only happen in America! Rated R” which might be the saddest interpretation of the American Dream we’ve encountered yet. But, we cannot stress this enough, this was not a pornographic film. The reason why we’re making such an effort to drive that point home is…
Sylvester Stallone: “Stud” in The Party at Kitty and Stud’s (1970)
Alternate title: Italian Stallion
BECAUSE SYLVESTER STALLONE’S FIRST MOVIE WAS TOTALLY A PORNO. AN ACTUAL HONEST TO GOD PORNOGRAPHY FILM. Sorry, we’ll stop yelling, we just had to get that out there. Holy actual shit, you guys, the internet is a gift and every day you have the chance to learn something like this. We’re so happy for you to be reading this, because you no doubt are as amused and excited as we were when we saw that the imdb page for Stallone’s first movie was described as, “Kitty and Stud are lovers. They enjoy a robust sex-life, which includes fellatio and light S&M, specifically, Stud belt-whipping Kitty. Three women come over for a party and Stud services them, one after the other.”
This is a 71 minute porn movie where Sylvester Stallone bangs a bunch of women that come over to his house. It was made with a $5,000 budget, and of course it got re-edited and re-released after Rocky came out six years later and Stallone suddenly became famous. Go ahead and watch the trailer, it’s fucking hilarious and further proves that the 1970s were a wreck. It opens with Gail Palmer, a porno producer and writer (so progressive!) in front of some editing equipment. “I just spent 30 days in the dark with a man that’s every women’s dream, this guy right here, Sylvester Stallone.” She continues, “After editing this film, I can assure you that everything you’ve ever wanted to see of Sylvester Stallone can be seen in this new X-rated film…However, due to the nature content of this film, there are only two scenes we can show you acceptable for a G-rated preview.”
We’re then given a bunch of quick cuts of Stallone basically…frolicking in the snow wearing a fur jacket while disco plays and the title of the film flashing dozens of times. We also get a scene of Stallone dancing and smoking what seems to be a joint before it cuts away to scrolling text that literally is Stallone talking about how desperate he had to be to star in a porno. Keep in mind, this is the closing section of a trailer that was made to promote this film. It’s an excerpt from a 1978 interview with Playboy, quoting Stallone as saying “I was starving when I did it…I was desperate…you know when you’re hungry you do a lot of things you wouldn’t ordinarily do!” You know. Penis things.
We’re probably not going to top this in terms of movies that famous stars got their start in, but we can close things off with the best character credit of the bunch.
Jean-Claude Van Damme: “Gay Karate Man” in Monaco Forever (1984)
Technically, Jean-Claude Van Damme had two uncredited, non-speaking roles before his work in Monaco Forever, but we’re going to count this because A: it is his first speaking role, and the first time he appears in the credits of a film and B: he plays a character named Gay Karate Man and goddamn it this is supposed to be a funny article so there’s no way in hell we’re passing up the chance to talk about the time that Jean-Claude Van Damme played a gay karate man.
Monaco Forever centers around an American jewel thief trying to set up a robbery in Monaco for all 48 minutes of its run time. The only two minutes that are worth talking about happen when the jewel thief (henceforth referred to as “Not JCVD”) is walking along a road when Van Damme pulls up in a slick convertible and asks, in French, if Not JCVD would like a ride. They drive off and it takes Van Damme literally two lines of dialogue before he dramatically exclaims “The sky is so beautiful, eh?” and playfully grabs Not JCVD leg because he wants to make gay sex on him. “Are you an athlete? You have a good body” he continues because he is going to sex this guy up. Not JCVD dumbly assumes this is just Frenchies being French (“I do play sports, why do you ask? What do you mean am I a pitcher or a catcher? I play outfield actually”) but apparently the third time Van Damme did the old flirty leg grab was too much, because Not JCVD smacks his hand away, gets Van Damme to stop the car, gets out and says, “I’m going to teach you some manners” because this was the 1980s and it was still culturally acceptable to threaten to beat someone up for being gay and thinking you’re attractive.
And that’s where things take a turn for the fantastic. Not JCVD, henceforth referred to as The Homophobe, has them walk over to a spot so he can totally kick this gay person’s ass (but not in a sexual way. In a punching way). Now, we all now know that this is Jean-Claude Van Damme, an unstoppable force of kicking and action star good looks, but as no one had seen him in a film before, they didn’t know what to expect. “Please don’t’ hurt me. Can’t we just talk about this? I thought I had good manners” he says as The Homophobe puts up his fists and gets into a fighting stance. “Come at me faggot” he shouts in French, as everyone watching cringes and goes, “Oh man, the 1980s did not age well.” That’s when Van Damme looks into the camera menacingly, says, “okay” in English, takes off his robe (yeah he was wearing a robe this whole time) and does a whole series of coordinated kicks that land just an inch away from the Homophobe’s face, causing him to scamper the fuck off out of total fear as Van Damme shouts that he’s a sissy boy.
It’s the perfect role for Jean Claude Van Damme’s debut. It gives you everything you’d want from Van Damme—kicks, a bare glistening torso, over-the-top bad acting (he ends the scene strutting off like an early 90s stand-up comic doing a “straight people walk like this but gay people walk like thiiis” gag) but with the added bonus of, and we’ll say it again, his character name being Gay Karate Man. Gay Karate Man!
Movies are so great, you guys.