Few things make me happier than finding one of my favorite actors starring in an old horror movie. The cheesier and more awful the movie, the better I enjoy the newbie actor’s performance. It’s comforting to know that these rich and famous actors, all at the top of their industry, started at the bottom like everybody else.

For a genre that doesn’t get much respect, horror consistently delivers new talent. Many of today’s A-Listers got their start in low-budget and shoddy horror films, while others were a little luckier with their early roles.

I figured, being as it’s Halloween time, I should pay homage to their early roles. First, it shows you just how much, um, range, some of these actors have (or not). Second, it’s fun to wonder how their careers would have been different had they not been Classroom Girl #1 in Urban Legends: Bloody Mary

There’s also something so delightful about knowing that Tom Hanks, one of my favorite actors, started his acting career in a horror/thriller with terrible dialogue and ATROCIOUS acting, as evidenced by this clip.

If nothing else, I hope you enjoy this list for its Bad Movie Night potential. Seriously, I’ve never seen Leprechaun or Hellraiser: Hell World (what an amazing title!).

So, without further adieu, here is a list of 20 actors who saw their film debut in horror, followed by 20 actors who had early roles in some “iconic” horror films.

Enjoy!

Debut Roles

horror actors

  1. Ben Affleck – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

What you probably know him for today: uh, let’s see—Good Will Hunting, Directing Argo, doing his best in Batman v Superman, and countless other films

horror actors

  1. Patricia Arquette – A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

What you probably know her for today: True Romance, Stigmata (an underrated bit of 90s camp), Medium, and Boyhood

horror actors

  1. Jennifer Aniston – Leprechaun (1993)

What you probably know her for today: Her iconic role as Rachel Green on Friends, a bunch of rom-coms, and generally not aging a day past 35.

horror actors

  1. Patrick Dempsey – The Stuff (1985)

What you probably know him for today: Being vaguely dreamy in Grey’s Anatomy

horror actors

  1. Johnny Depp – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

What you probably know him for today: His legendary collaborations with Tim Burton (like Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd, and Corpse Bride, among others), along with his exemplary early work and his most recent phoning it in from Pirates of the Caribbean. That and generally being a mess.

horror actors

  1. Leonardo di Caprio – Critters 3 (1991)

What you probably know him for today: well, as one of the most prominent actors in Hollywood, he’s got tons of titles under his belt—Titanic, The Departed, The Wolf of Wallstreet, Inception, Django Unchained…thee’s a lot.

horror actors

  1. Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Troll (1986)

What you probably know her for today: Seinfeld, Veep

horror actors

  1. Chloe Grace-Moretz – The Amityville Horror (2005)

What you probably know her for today: Kick Ass, the Carrie remake, and the upcoming Suspira remake (she’s been in loads of horror remakes)

horror actors

  1. Tom Hanks – He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

What you probably know him for today: Forrest Gump, Toy Story, Saving Private Ryan, Castaway, 66,000 other movies, and being America’s dad.

horror actors

  1. Mariska Hargitay – Ghoulies (1984)

What you probably know her for today: Badass Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU

horror actors

  1. Holly Hunter – The Burning (1981)

What you probably know her for today: The Incredibles, Saving Grace, Batman v Superman

horror actors

  1. Jessica Lange – King Kong (1976)

What you probably know her for today: The best thing to come out of the American Horror Story franchise, as well as Tootsie (one of my favorite comedies)

horror actors

  1. Rooney Mara – Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005)

What you probably know her for today: As the determined and icy anti-heroine Lisbeth from David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

horror actors

  1. Eva Mendes – Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

What you probably know her for today: Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Hitch, The Other Guys

horror actors

  1. Elizabeth Olsen – Silent House (2011)

What you probably know her for today: As Scarlett Witch in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

horror actors

  1. Adam Scott – Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)

What you probably know him for today: Step Brothers, Parks and Recreation, Krampus, Big Little Lies

horror actors

  1. Brooke Shields – Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) (More people should know about this incredibly underrated religious horror movie!)

What you probably know her for today: Not letting anything come between her and her Calvins, The Blue Lagoon, Suddenly Susan

horror actors

  1. Hilary Swank – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

What you probably know her for today: The Next Karate Kid, along with her Oscar-winning performances in Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby

horror actors

  1. Charlize Theron (Girl, those brows…) – Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

What you probably know her for today: After winning an Oscar for Monster (2003), she went on to play professional badasses in Mad Max: Fury Road, and Atomic Blonde

horror actors

  1. John Travolta – The Devil’s Rain (1975)

What you probably know him for today: Grease, Pulp Fiction, Face/Off

Early Roles

horror actors

  1. Amy Adams – Psycho Beach Party (2000)

What you probably know her for today: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, American Hustler, Arrival, Batman v Superman, Sharp Objects

horror actors

  1. Kevin Bacon – Friday the 13th (1980)

What you probably know him for today: Footloose, Tremors, Apollo 13, Mystic River, X-Men: First Class

horror actors

  1. Angela Bassett – Critters 4 (1992)

What you probably know her for today: What’s Love Got to Do With It, Waiting to Exhale, American Horror Story, Black Panther, and being a flawless and ageless queen.

horror actors

  1. Jim Carrey – Once Bitten (1985)

What you probably know him for today: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar Liar, The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

horror actors

  1. Henry Cavill – Hellraiser: Hell World (2005)

What you probably know him for today: As Clark Kent/Superman in the DC Extended Universe

horror actors

  1. George Clooney – Return to Horror High (1987)

What you probably know him for today: ER, Batman & Robin, Ocean’s Eleven et al., O Brother, Where Art Thou?

horror actors

  1. Idris Elba – Prom Night (2008)

What you probably know him for today: Pacific Rim, Heimdall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Beasts of No Nation, and being fine as hell

horror actors

  1. Katherine Heigl – Bride of Chucky (1998)

What you probably know her for today: Grey’s Anatomy, Knocked Up, 27 Dresses

horror actors

  1. Joseph Gordon Levitz – Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

What you probably know him for today: Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper,

horror actors

  1. Keira Knightly – The Hole (2001)

What you probably know her for today: Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pride & Prejudice,

horror actors

  1. Mila Kunis – American Psycho II: All American Girl (2002)

What you probably know her for today: That’s 70s Show, Family Guy, Ted, Bad Moms

horror actors

  1. Matthew McConaughey – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) (Also, this movie is BONKERS)

What you probably know him for today: Dazed and Confused, Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective, Interstellar, acting as Texas’s official celebrity representative

horror actors

  1. Viggo Mortensen – Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

What you probably know him for today: The Lord of the RingsA History of Violence, Eastern Promises

horror actors

  1. Brad Pitt – Cutting Class (1989)

What you probably know him for today: What don’t we know Brad Pitt for? He’s one of the biggest actors in Hollywood, forever A-List. Recent titles include Inglorious Basterds, Moneyball, World War Z,

horror actors

  1. Paul Rudd – Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

What you probably know him for today: Anchorman, I Love You Man, Role Models, being Ant-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

horror actors

  1. John Stewart – The Faculty (1998)

What you probably know him for today: Host of the Emmy and Peabody award-winning The Daily Show

 horror actors

  1. Sharon Stone – Deadly Blessing (1981)

What you probably know her for today: Basic Instinct, Casino, Catwoman

horror actors

  1. Naomi Watts – Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

What you probably know her for today: Mulholland Drive, The Ring, King Kong,

horror actors

  1. Michelle Williams – Species (1995)

What you probably know her for today: Shutter Island, All the Money in the World, Venom

horror actors

  1. Renee Zellweger – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)

What you probably know her for today: Bridget Jones’ Diary, Chicago, Cold Mountain

Have you seen any of these movies? Could you tell these actors would go on to be rich and famous? Let me know in the comments!

Share