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10 Roles That Changed The Direction Of Actors' Careers – Screen Rant

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Some actors in Hollywood experience remarkably stable careers, but others have a project that dramatically changes things for better or worse.
Hollywood can be a rather fickle place; one day an actor is one of the biggest stars in the world, and the next day they're out of a job. Times change and people change, and sometimes, that leads to the actors having to change with the public.
Some, such asNope director Jordan Peele, can completely reinvent their reputation and role in Hollywood. Some actors were able to do this by taking on roles that may not have been the first thing to come to mind and completely change the direction of their careers.
Liam Neeson was not at the height of his career when Luc Benson came knocking on his door. The 56-year-old actor was offered a role that he thought would be a little side adventure with an opportunity to spend some time in Europe. Curious, he took on what he thought was a direct-to-DVD film. That film ended up being Taken, a huge box office smash that led to Neeson, who was more recognizable for very serious roles, being recast as an action star.
Related: 10 Best Kills From The Taken Series, Ranked
Neeson described it in an interview with GQ in 2014, saying, "I wanted to do more physical stuff. I thought it would be kind of a little side road from my so-called career. Thought it would go straight to video. But it just got great word of mouth. I was stunned." Neeson continues to star in primarily action films to this day.
It is hard to imagine a time when Leslie Nielsen was not known by the public as an old man of comedy. The late actor became a huge box office star in the 80s and 90s with a string of film parodies that were adored by the public. Which makes it stranger that Nielsen was known as a serious actor at MGM in the 50s and 60s, before his role in Airplane, one of the most rewatchable films of the 1980s.
Nielson was cast as he had not done comedy before, according to Director David Zucker. Nielson himself said that he believed his serious roles were miscast, and he found his home in films like Airplane and The Naked Gun. "I've finally found my home – as Lt. Frank Drebin," he said about his new comedic characters of the 80s.
One of several stars whose careers took a new path in 1980 was Kurt Russell. A long-time child star for Disney, Russell was looking to shed that image in favor of a more adult image to match who he was by this time. Working with John Carpenter, Russell was cast in one of his most famous roles in the science fiction film, Escape From New York.
Related: 10 Best Antiheroes From 1980s Movies
Russell described the new trajectory of his career in an interview for John Carpenter's website promoting the film. "We were just like pirates, out on the sea, having a good time," he said, unaware that this film would go on to make him one of the most celebrated action stars of the era. While he would still work for Disney sometimes, Kurt never had to worry about being held down by his former child star image again.
Goldie Hawn was a prominent tv star in the 60s due to her performance on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, where she developed a persona of a bubbly blonde girl. However, she would soon be off this show due to her performance as the young, suicidal fiancée of Walter Matthau in Cactus Flower.
Time Magazine began their review of the film saying, "Cactus Flower answers one of the less pressing but more engaging questions facing America today: Can Laugh-In's Goldie Hawn really act? Yes, she can." Hawn would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and soon leave Laugh-In for her long and successful film career.
Foxx is one of the most impressive men in Hollywood. A singer, actor, and comedian, he has packed a lot of roles into his distinguished career. Before Ray, Foxx was known as a comedian from The Jamie Foxx Show. In taking on Ray, a musical biopic done right, Foxx added two new careers to his resume and won himself an Oscar.
Foxx had to win over Charles himself and got the man's blessing to play him. It worked well, as no one else could have played him. Taking on this role opened the door for movies like Django Unchained and Baby Driver. It proved how talented Jamie Foxx truly is.
Before doing the groundbreaking film Philadelphia, Tom Hanks was known as a solely comedic actor. While appearances in films like A League Of Their Own showed potential in dramatic roles, they were still comedies. Starting on TV with Bosom Buddies, Hanks ended up finding a niche in comedy throughout the 1980s.
With Philadelphia, he was able to share the screen with Denzel Washington and ended up winning himself an Academy Award for best actor. The film helped change the stigma toward HIV-positive people and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Hanks has since said that the film would not be made today with him in the role since it would be inauthentic. Why that may be true, the film did a lot for a lot of people and put Hanks at the top of the acting mountain in Hollywood.
Kristen Stewart is a talented actress that has won over many of her Twilight-based detractors with a wide variety of stellar performances, culminating in an Oscar nomination last year. A lot of this would not have happened without her appearance in Camp X-Ray, a small-budget military drama that shows Stewart playing a young military guard at Guantanamo Bay.
The film was praised when it came out, particularly for Stewart's performance, and is still regarded as one of her best. A review from The Daily Beast said, "If this is evidence of what’s in store for us from a post-Twilight Stewart, which will also include an upcoming project with acclaimed French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, then her future is looking pretty bright." She hasn't quite landed her big post-Twilight feature yet, but the potential is certainly there.
Since the 1970s, Yuh-Jung had been a star in her native South Korea, noted for starring in hits like 1971's Woman of Fire. However, it was Minari, a must-watch for many reasons, that brought the attention of a western audience, many of whom had never seen her previous films.
It won her numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Yuh-Jung ended up being named one of the most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2021, solidifying her stardom across the world. While unfair that it took her so long to be recognized worldwide, Yuh-Jung should continue to be a popular face in world cinema as time goes by.
Leonardo DiCaprio was still riding high off of his post-Titanic fame in 2002 but wanted to appear in something that challenged him more than his previous films. He ended up looking for and finding his idol Martin Scorsese, begging him for the lead role in Gangs of New York, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz. "I grew up in a generation of actors that admired the work from the 1970s, where the director's vision was paramount, and at the top of that list was Marty's work," he said at a 2014 New York Film Society event.
The film was successful and has led to numerous other collaborations between Scorsese and DiCaprio. He has starred in fou other films for Scorsese, with a fifth one on its way. Once dismissed by some as a teen idol, DiCaprio is now widely considered a legend in Hollywood, and a lot of that comes down to Gangs of New York.
While Chan had been an international star for over two decades before Rush Hour was released, he had not had a lot of Hollywood success. A first attempt at breaking into Hollywood, which included appearances in the Cannonball Run movies with Burt Reynolds, was not very successful.
He made his second attempt at Hollywood 12 years later, with his starring role in Rush Hour alongside Chris Tucker. Despite not being a fan of the film, Rush Hour was a huge success, Chan's first in Hollywood. It led to numerous other Hollywood movies being pitched to Chan, who ended up being one of the most prolific actors in the Industry during the 2000s.
Next: 10 Actors That Just Need One Great Movie To Become Household Names, According To Reddit
Christian is a recent graduate from the University of Rhode Island. Long passionate about the film industry, he enjoys watching classic films. He is also passionate about Boston sports, particularly his favorite baseball team, the Red Sox.


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