Which Oscar Winning Actors First Starred In Horror Movies?

Horror is notorious for being snubbed by the Academy, and while not every film in the genre is Oscar-worthy, as is the case with every other genre, there have been many cases where a horror film churns out a performance so brilliant it’s disappointing to see it be snubbed. So, it’s not entirely surprising that those who got their start in the genre and have since won Academy Awards don’t often speak of their time in horror. But without the genre of spooks and scares providing their stepping stone into stardom, they might not be where they are today. And you may just be surprised by some of the big-name stars who got their start in horror movies.

Brad Pitt

While he may have garnered heartthrob status after starring in Thelma and Louise, Brad Pitt first made his film debut in the 1989 film Cutting Class. Pitt played Dwight Ingalls, a high schooler who becomes a suspect after a series of murders. It’s not a great movie, but it is one of Pitt’s first, and he works well with what he’s got. He’d later go on to win his first Oscar in 2020 (after 5 nominations, mind you) for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Patricia Arquette

When it comes to franchises, the sequels are almost always criticized for their weakness in comparison to the original. And while none of the films in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise will ever quite be as influential and acclaimed as the first, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is considered by many to be one of the best. Not only does it hold its own as a sequel film, doing something new and interesting with its plot, but it also marked the very beginning of the film career of Patricia Arquette, who played the film’s final girl Kristen Parker. Arquette went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2015 for Boyhood.

Jack Nicholson

While it may not technically be his very first film role, The Little Shop of Horrors was one of the ones that kicked off Jack Nicholson’s career. He plays a small part in the film, but it was enough for his career to evolve into super stardom, as he’s now widely regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time. Unlike some others on this list though, Nicholson has returned to the horror genre a few times, most famously as Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Today he has 12 Oscar nominations, 3 of which were wins, and is the most nominated male actor to date.

Hilary Swank

Before winning Oscars for her roles as Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry and Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank had a supporting role in 1992’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer. She played Kimberly, one of Buffy’s stuck-up best friends. Her role isn’t huge here but given her profound career now, it’s clear that she had that x-factor from the very beginning. And hey, who doesn’t love a cheesy 90s movie? Especially one starring Swank.

Matthew McConaughey & Renée Zellweger

Back in 1995, the horror genre paved the way for two Hollywood heavyweights. Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger both starred in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, with Zellweger playing the film’s final girl, and McConaughey playing one of the villains. While Next Generation may not have been super well-received, it is interesting to see two actors who are known for such different genres now pop up in a sequel of one of horror’s leading franchises

Tom Hanks

We all know and love him, whether he’s playing Woody in Toy Story or the titular Forrest in Forrest Gump, there’s no denying Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors in Hollywood. There are so many films that come to mind when thinking of him, but how did he get his start in film? Well, surprisingly, it was in the 1980 horror flick He Knows You’re Alone. Hanks plays Elliot, a college student, and while he has minimal scenes, he steals the ones he does have, setting the stage for a profound and accomplished career in the future.

Jennifer Connelly

When it comes to first roles in horror, perhaps no one on this list is quite as impressive as Jennifer Connelly. She landed her first starring role in horror master Dario Argento’s Phenomena. Connelly plays Jennifer Corvino, a young student who finds out she has the power to connect telepathically with insects. It’s a weird premise, sure, but how many actors can say they got their start working with such an acclaimed horror creator? She would later go on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2001’s A Beautiful Mind.

George Clooney

Before stealing everyone’s hearts as Dr. Doug Ross in ER, George Clooney played Oliver in 1987’s Return to Horror High. While he may be the first victim in the film, he went on to have a prolific career as a leading man. Whether that be in romance, dramas, or action films, he’s just about done it all, and he’s solidified himself as a much-adored Hollywood star. Clooney has two Oscars, one for Best Supporting Actor for Syriana and he also took one home for producing Argo, which won Best Picture.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Oh, Leo. He’s a true heartthrob in every sense of the word, whether he’s playing the ill-fated Jack Dawson in Titanic, or the charming Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. While many may credit Leonardo DiCaprio’s 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape for kickstarting his acting career, he actually got his start two years earlier in Critters 3 when he was only 17 years old. Dicaprio plays Josh, the stepson of a corrupt landlord, and unlike some of the actors on this list, survived the end of his movie. He’s since been vocal about this film being one of his worst, but hey, it seems like everything worked out just fine for him. He won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance as Hugh Glass in The Revenant.

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