There are so many bright stars from the SFF genre who we praise and adore (and scream ourselves hoarse for every year at Comic Con). But today we thought we’d give a little love to those special ones who owe their careers to genre in general. Let’s take a look at some actors and actresses who began their rise to fame by gaining notoriety in SFF films and television.
Just a note before we begin that we focused on actors who started in genre works (more or less) but then expanded into more conventional work and/or significantly higher notoriety.
He very well may be the grand master of this art. While Stewart has all the gravitas that his Shakespearean roots would suggest, he has enjoyed his position as King of the Geeks due to his tenure as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise-D. Let’s be honest, how many people bought tickets to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2008 Hamlet production for the sole purpose of watching the Doctor go head to head with a starship captain?
(The answer is everyone, in case you were wondering.)
However you felt about her cameo in Star Trek, one thing is for sure: without Tim Burton, we would probably have no idea who Winona Ryder is. Her performances in Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands are what landed her on the Hollywood radar, and all of her later successes can be traced back that-a-way. Girl, Interrupted and Little Women may have brought her a wider fanbase and more critical acclaim, but we still prefer her as tragically emo Lydia, or poor naive Kim who danced beneath an impossible snowfall on a balmy Christmas Eve.
Sam Rockwell is an incredibly talented man, and is rightly enjoying quite a bit of attention in the acting world. But even if he plays a fantastic long con in Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Man, it’s hard to forget the first time you saw him in a movie theater as Crewman #6. Galaxy Quest was the perfect stepping stone for Rockwell, and we can’t stop giggling over that role. And the time he was Zaphod Beeblebrox. And Justin Hammer. Oh, and he was in Moon too, wasn’t he?
While her current career may be made up of smaller indie fare, most if us will always remember Ricci for her deadpan delivery as Wednesday Addams in the Addams Family films. Many of us were terrified of her, but more of us wanted to be her. She was the ultimate juvenile delinquent. She branched out a little bit in films as she reached maturity, but came back to her roots in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. And she even managed to make blond hair look gothic, which is probably only a feat that she could pull off.
I know what you’re thinking: “you’ve got this one so backwards—the first time people noticed Hugh Jackman was due to his titillating performance in Oklahoma!”
Well then, chances are the first time you saw the man, he was sporting a distinct set of claws. Wolverine put Jackman on the map for every kind of role in Hollywood provided it required a man made of muscle and rugged good looks. (And he managed to keep doing musicals while he was at it, which we can only respect him for.)
Yeah, he’s been the President and cops and that cowboy guy driving the race car in American Graffiti, and even a murdering husband once. But he’s Han Solo. Wait, no, he’s Indiana Jones. Han Solo. Indiana Jones. Han Solo. Indiana—HE’S HAN SOLO AND INDIANA JONES!
And there’s really nothing more to be said about it, other than the fact that Harrison Ford must bathe in magic pixie dust every morning. Because he’s still Han Solo and Indiana Jones, and we still love him for it, and that there is a kind of magic that no actor has ever really managed to duplicate.
She won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in A Beautiful Mind, but before she became a leading lady, she was dancing with David Bowie in a big 80s ballgown with big 80s hair to match. That’s right, the first time anyone saw Jennifer Connelly, she was playing a girl named Sarah in the Henson/Lucas children’s classic Labyrinth. The movie may have bombed at the box office, but let us tell you, midnight showings of this movie are always packed. Bowie’s tights probably have a lot to do with this, but it’s also fun to watch a young Ms. Connelly rant and rage about the woes of teenager-hood.
You’re right, Sarah, it’s not fair.
She’s Ripley. Not only is she one of the most badass heroes we’ve ever seen, but she is the template for empowering female figures on film. Sigourney Weaver is most of the reason why you believed every minute of her performance in Alien, gripping the arms of your chair until you were sure she would make it out all right.
Weaver has had a long and illustrious career in and outside of genre films, but there’s a reason why she’s our Queen Mother. We will watch that woman in just about anything.
Honorable mentions go out to Jeff Bridges, Drew Barrymore, and Sean Astin. The only reason none of them made the list was because we felt that coming from acting families probably helped just as much as their success in SFF films. Johnny Depp would have made the list, but we thought that 21 Jump Street might have helped him out before Tim Burton did. (Oh, Burton, you’re such a philanthropist.) That and Johnny Depp is on lists all the time, and we thought he should budge over and give other people a shot at list fame.
What about the rest of you? Did we miss any of your favorites?
Stubby the Rocket is the mascot of Tor.com and definitely got its start in genre.