A single role or film can change an actor’s life and career forever. It can either make or break them, and in some cases it can do both. We will always remember the actors on this list for their portrayals of some of the most crazy, loveable, and influential characters in TV and film, for better or for worse.
Check out our list of 15 Career-Defining Movie Roles We Will Always Remember
Tyler Perry as Madea
Tyler Perry is known for two things: being a one man brand and starring as his greatest character creation Madea. The all-in-one filmmaker has had 15 completed roles in feature films and 8 of them are Madea, the trash talking-wisecracking-gun toting-bible beating walking contradiction of an old lady who has a knack for protecting her own and taking in strays. She’s a character the public knows well. So well, in fact, it’s hard to separate Madea from Tyler Perry and to take Perry seriously in anything that’s not a Tyler Perry movie.
Sylvester Stallone in Rocky
Stallone has a film career spanning over 4 decades that includes acting, writing, and directing credits. His signature snarling expression and slurred speech (both caused by an accident at birth that left the lower left part of his face paralyzed) have made him an easily distinguished figure onscreen in notable films like the Rambo series, Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, and Judge Dredd, but he will always be best known for his turn as a down-and-out boxer who screams “Adriaaaaaan” in the 1976 classic Rocky.
Robert Pattinson in Twilight
R-Patz hit the big time when he won the coveted role of Edward Cullen in the much anticipated film adaptation of the popular young adult fiction book series The Twilight Saga. After five movies, shot back to back, Rob is itching to shed his Edward alter ego, but with the series’ massive popularity (it grossed $2 billion worldwide) he won’t soon shake the persona.
Sanaa Lathan in Love and Basketball
The success of Love and Basketball is not necessarily tied to the amount the film grossed at the box office but in the impact the film had on the Black audience. Sanaa Lathan’s portrayal of Monica Wright, a female basketball player who loves the game and falls for her best friend Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) was both feminine and tough, thus making her relateable to many women. No film in Sanaa’s career thus far has matched the cultural significance of Love and Basketball.
Keanu Reeves in The Matrix
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure put a surfer-talking Keanu Reeves on the map and set him on the path to a successful film career. Reeves was already a big name in movies, but it was his role as Neo, a jaded computer geek searching for his life’s purpose in The Matrix (1999) that made him a mega star. Keanu’s presence in the complicated film trilogy has overshadowed any work he did before and any work he has done since. To many people, he will always be The One.
Will Smith as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
He might be a little older, a little more hardcore, and a little more serious but to many, Will Smith will always be the box fade wearing, skirt chasing, underachieving class clown of 90’s TV glory. He was the Fresh Prince before The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and he’s still the Fresh Prince long after.
Matt Damon in The Bourne Trilogy
Before Matt Damon starred in The Bourne Identity his career had mostly consisted of dramas, so to play butt-kicking action hero Jason Bourne was a refreshing change of pace for the actor. Luckily, the world agreed and The Bourne Identity (a part of the Bourne trilogy book series by Robert Ludlum) was a box office smash, making Damon an unlikely action star and allowing three sequel films to be made.
Neve Campbell in Scream
What’ your favorite scary movie? To many who grew up in the 90’s the answer to that question will be Scream. The 1996 film re-energized the horror genre and forever set Neve Campbell in film history as one of the great scream queens for her role as the vulnerable but never-say-die Sidney Prescott.
Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller
Since they days of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Matthew Broderick has had a 26-year-long career in film but not a single one of his projects have given him the recognition or influenced a generation of teenaged rebels the way Ferris has. Broderick was an icon for teenage liberation, allowing kids to live vicariously thorough his charm and mischievous antics. He showed them how to cut loose, skirt the rules, and get themselves out of trouble for it.
Jaleel White as Steve Urkel
Jaleel White’s fate as Steve Urkel is so sealed that even in some cameos and small roles there is at least one reference to him being Urkel. It also doesn’t help that he hasn’t done any significant work since the days of Family Matters, which oddly and sadly enough is probably because no one could see him as anything but Urkel. Show business is funny business.
Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic
Leo has an A-list career and an uncanny knack for picking great roles. There’s seldom a film he’s in that isn’t acclaimed or a performance that’s not being nominated for an award, but no role has been able to surpass his portrayal of Jack Dawson in James Cameron’s Titanic. Young and handsome, Leo was the teenage dream for many young girls while Titanic became the highest grossing film of all time, that is, until James Cameron released Avatar in 2009.
Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile
The late Michael Clarke Duncan will always be best known for his role as the gentle giant in 1999’s The Green Mile. The film, based on the book by Stephen King, marked Duncan’s big break into acting and earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor that Oscar season. Since the actor passed away in 2012 it’s an achievement that family, friends, and fans will likely cherish.
Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense
He saw dead people, and it was golden! Audiences were enamored with a 10-year-old Osment’s chilling performance as a unwitting ghost boy in The Sixth Sense. His later films Pay It Forward and A.I. Artificial Intelligence garnered the young actor recognition, but he has done no work as memorable and widely received as M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller.
Jurnee Smollett in Eve’s Bayou
Show any movie lover from the 90’s a photo of Jurnee Smollet and they probably won’t be able to tell you her name, but they will be able to tell you that she’s the little girl from Eve’s Bayou, and that pretty much says it all.
Macaulay Culkin is one of the most recognizable former child stars in cinematic history thanks to his role as Kevin McCalister in one of the most popular kid films ever made Home Alone. When his family forgets him at home and flies off on vacation for Christmas, Kevin is overjoyed for a chance to do whatever he wants, that is, until trouble ensues as two local thieves try to rob his home. Kevin’s clever and mischievous antics inspired envy and admiration in kids who got to see their dream played out onscreen all the while learning a valuable lesson about the dangers and sorrows of being home alone.