by Leona

Benedict Cumberbatch, Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland and Brie Larson. These are familiar names to us now, having played iconic or memorable roles on the big screen.

But these big movie stars of today started out as bright-eyed novices. The common thing among them is that besides being new to acting in their first few roles, they delivered impactful performances that we still remember today. Here’s a look at these movie stars in their must-watch performances in their early movies.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy (Stuart: A Life Backwards)

We know them as Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Venom (Tom Hardy), but rewind to 13 years ago, they were a couple of new actors sharing leading screen time in Stuart: A Life Backwards. Both in their early 30s then, Cumberbatch and Hardy brought the biography by Alexander Masters to life, especially Hardy’s Stuart, a friend of Masters, and whom Masters based his book on. Born to a disadvantaged life that leads him down a pathway of destruction in adulthood, Masters’ book retraced Stuart’s life backwards from adulthood. The pair shares obvious chemistry as best mates and gives audiences a heart-wrenching performance. Hardy was nominated for a BAFTA in 2008 for his portrayal of Stuart Shorter.

Michael Fassbender (Hunger)

This 42-year-old German-Irish actor’s first movie role was in 300 (2006), as Stelios, a young Spartan warrior, but he proved that he is more than just a pretty face in his 3rd movie outing in 2008’s Hunger, feature directorial debut from Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave). His acting chops were on full display, playing Bobby Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army who died on a hunger strike while imprisoned for firearms possession. Hunger is a bleak movie based on the 1981 Irish hunger strike. The movie premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and elicited a contrasting response, with audiences walking out, and those remaining giving a standing ovation. Fassbender was praised for his earnest and poignant portrayal of Sands. To prepare for his role, he went on a special diet of under 900 calories a day for ten weeks, dropping weight to give a realistic physical appearance of the malnourished Sands. Fassbender won Best Actor at the 2008 British Independent Film Awards.

Tom Holland (The Impossible)

It’s hard to believe that The Impossible is Tom Holland’s first movie role. He gave a deeply moving portrayal of Lucas Bennett in the movie about a family caught in the deadly tsunami that ravaged coastal Thailand in 2004, based on a book by Maria Belon on her experience with her family. While Naomi Watts may have gotten accolades for playing Maria, it’s Holland that quietly shines as the tenacious son who never stops trying. At the start of the movie, Lucas was just like any other boy, but as the movie progresses, he rises to the occasion and matures exponentially, understanding the need for him to take charge while his mother, the usual authority, is unable to. Holland handles the switch from child to adult subtly and deftly.  

The Impossible

Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls)

While Mean Girls (2004) may have been Lindsay Lohan’s movie, it also gave us two excellent actresses that withstood the test of time. While the movie isn’t McAdams’ first (she already appeared in the comedy The Hot Chick in 2002), it was Seyfried’s virgin movie outing. The pair plays half of the Mean Girls in school, picking on other girls, Lohan included, until, they decide to recruit her into their clique. McAdams’ Regina George is the popular girl you love to hate- good-looking, rich and a total pain in the butt. And McAdams clearly had fun being the meanest girl in school. Meanwhile, Seyfried does her best to bring out the bimbo in her, playing the empty vessel- Karen, Regina’s faithful follower. Seyfried has evidently progressed in leaps and bounds in her character choices since then. Still, it’s a lark to watch the movie again and see these actresses in action.

Mean Girls

Saoirse Ronan (Atonement)

At just 13 and in her first major movie role, Saoirse Ronan stuns us with her performance as Briony Tallis in Atonement (2007). She plays the spiteful younger sister of Cecilia (Keira Knightley) whose youthful wilful ways caused a pair of lovers to never fulfil their love for each other, being separated first by the law, and then by war. Ronan plays Briony with fire in her eyes and viciousness in her ways. The young actress was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 2008 Academy Awards, but lost out to Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton. But Atonement was only the beginning, Ronan has time and again, kept us spellbound with strong performances since then.


Brie Larson (Short Term 12)

Brie Larson has come a long way since playing the “six chick” in 13 Going on 30 (2004). Before she became an Oscar-winning actress for her incredible performance in Room (2015), Larson was a television actress, and 13 Going on 30 is one of her first movie appearances, where she didn’t have a character name. In Short Term 12, one of her early movie roles where she did have a significant part, Larson made the most of it. She plays a supervising staff of a residential treatment facility for teenagers and had to sensitively navigate the minefield that is teenage angst. Larson gave a vulnerable and emotional performance that gives us a glimpse of her depth as an Oscar-winning actress.