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14 Actors Who Caught Worldwide Attention For Their First Roles

“Overnight success” stories always seem the most compelling in the entertainment industry. Some actors take years honing their acting skills to get an iconic role, while others became stars overnight. They are talented and sometimes lucky enough to hit it big with their first roles and even scored an Oscar nomination, or, in another case, an Oscar win. Many of them have never gone on to top their debut role.

For example, Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar for her first role out of drama school in “12 Years A Slave”, or Leonardo DiCaprio, playing Josh in “Critters 3” had a memorable scene as he watched the critters kill his stepdad. The images of their characters stuck in viewers’ minds at the first sight.

We’ve rounded up 14 actors who stole global attention for their movie debuts that made many admire.

#1 HoYeon Jung

Source: © hoooooyeony/Instagram© Squid Game/Siren Pictures

HoYeon Jung started her career as a freelance model in 2010 and then signed with some model enterprises. In 2021, she made her television debut, starring in the Netflix series “Squid Game” as Kang Sae-Byeok. That role brought her worldwide attention and critical acclaim.

#2 Emma Watson

Source: © Invision/Invision/East News© Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone/Warner Bros Pictures

Emma Watson is one of the most well-rounded and impressive stars in Hollywood. She got her start as Hemione Granger in the epic eight-part “Harry Potter” series, which turned her into a huge star.

#3 Sophie Turner

Source: © Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images© Game of Thrones/HBO

Sophie Turner made her acting debut as Sansa Stark on the HBO fantasy television series “Game of Thrones”, for which she received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in 2019.

#4 Hailee Steinfeld

Source: © Invision/Invision/East News© True Grit/Paramount Pictures

Hailee Steinfeld got her film debut in “True Grit” in which she portrayed a bad-ass character named Mattie Ross, seeking revenge for the murder of her father. Despite being 13 years old at the time, she received praise and was nominated for an Academy Award.

#5 Alan Rickman

Source: © Photo By John Barrett/PHOTOlink.net/Everett Collection/East News© Die Hard/Twentieth Century Fox

Before playing Severus Snape in “Harry Potter”, Alan Rickman shined in the first cinema role of Hans Gruber in “Die Hard”. For his perfect performance, the actor received worldwide recognition.

#6 Cameron Diaz

Source: © Sean Gallup/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images© The Mask/New line Cinema

At the age of 21, Cameron Diaz made her film debut opposite Jim Carrey in the comedy “The Mark”. Her first character propelled her from a relative unknown into a global superstar.

#7 Rachel Zegler

Source: © Invision/Invision/East News© West Side Story/20th Century Studios

Rachel Zegler started her acting career by playing Maria Vasquez in “West Side Story”. For her performance, she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress and became the first actress of Colombian descent to win that award.

#8 Maisie Williams

Source: © Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/East News© Game of Thrones/HBO

Maisie Williams’ first role is Arya Stark in the television series “Game of Thrones”. She earned many accolades and critical acclaim for her performance in the show.

#9 Mark Hamill

Source: © River / MEGA/EAST NEWS© Star Wars/Lucasfilm

Mark Hamill auditioned for the role of Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” and ended up getting this role. It turned him into a pop culture icon.

#10 Barbra Streisand

Source: © imago/PicturePerfect/EAST NEWS© Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection/Everett Collection/East News

Barbra Streisand first starred in the critically acclaimed Funny Girl (1968), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Viewers and critics said “wow” because her performance was perfect.

#11 Edward Norton

Source: © PacificCoastNews/EAST NEWS© Primal Pear/Paramount Pictures

Although Edward Norton has played many important roles and put his heart into characters, many argue that his best role was his first. He played Aaron/ Roy, a mentally unstable altar boy accused of murdering a local Archbishop.

#12 Anna Paquin

Source: © Invision/Invision/East News© Miramax/Courtesy Everett Collection/East News

Anna Paquin has been in Hollywood for nearly her entire life and has had many different roles. However, her best role may be her first. At age 9, she got the role of Flora McGrath in “The Piano” and it earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

#13 Jennifer Hudson

Source: © AXELLE/BAUER-GRIFFIN / MEGA/Mega Agency/East News© Dreamgirls/Paramount Pictures

For her first movie role, Jennifer Hudson beat out thousands of other hopefuls to portray Effie White in “Dreamgirls”. The character helped her win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

#14 Lupita Nyong’o

Source: © DDNY/Broadimage/EAST NEWS© 12 Years A Slave/New Regency Productions

After her graduation, Lupita Nyong’o had her first feature film role as Patsey in “12 Years a Slave”, for which she received critical acclaim. She also became the first Afro-Latina to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

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