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12 Huge Stars in Their First Major Role vs. Now

See Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lopez, and more A-listers in their breakout roles.

There are some celebrities who we all just accept are at the top of the A-list and who have held their place there for quite some time. (Think George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.) But, it took some time for these actors to make it to that position, and there's no better proof than taking a look at the stars in their first major roles versus now. Their looks have changed since the time they started out, and so have their careers.

When it comes to the 12 big celebs below, some started out as child actors, some made a name for themselves in theater before transitioning to movies, and some worked their way up from small supporting parts to leading roles. But whatever path they took, it's fascinating take a look back and see how it all began.

RELATED: 12 Actors Who Look Exactly Like the Real People They Played.

Angelina Jolie: Then

Angelina Jolie in "Hackers"
MGM/UA Distribution Co.

Angelina Jolie's first starring role was in the 1995 movie Hackers, about a group of teenage computer hackers who get involved in corporate crime. Jolie, who was 20 at the time, starred alongside her future husband, Jonny Lee Miller.

Angelina Jolie: Now

Angelina Jolie at a photocall for "Eternals" in Rome, Italy on October 25, 2021
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Now 46, Jolie is one of the biggest celebrities around, known for both her acting roles and her directing. She won an Academy Award in 2000 for Best Supporting Actress for Girl, Interrupted and went on to star in movies including Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Maleficent. In her latest movie, Eternals, she plays a Marvel superhero.

Halle Berry: Then

Halle Berry in "Boomerang"
Paramount Pictures

After acting in some smaller parts in films including Strictly Business and Jungle Fever, Halle Berry came to mainstream fame in the 1992 movie Boomerang (pictured). The romantic comedy is about a womanizing advertising executive played by Eddie Murphy; Berry plays his love interest.

Halle Berry: Now

Halle Berry at the Annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit in October 2021
Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Berry went on to become the first—and currently only—Black woman to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress, which she won for Monster's Ball in 2002. The A-lister, now 55, has also starred in movies including Die Another Day, X-Men, and Cloud Atlas.

Leonardo DiCaprio: Then

Leonardo DiCaprio on "Growing Pains"
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Leonardo DiCaprio started his acting career as a child, so his first major role came when he was a teenager and joined the cast of Growing Pains during its final season (pictured). Around the same time he also appeared in the movies This Boy's Life alongside Robert De Niro and Ellen Barkin, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, for which he received his first Oscar nomination.

Leonardo DiCaprio: Now

Leonardo DiCaprio at the 2020 Oscars
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic via Getty Images

As of today, 46-year-old DiCaprio has appeared in dozens of movies, including Catch Me If You Can, The Departed, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. After being nominated five times, he finally won an Oscar for Best Actor in 2016 for The Revenant.

Will Smith: Then

Will Smith on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Will Smith was a rapper before he was an actor—he and DJ Jazzy Jeff even won the first Grammy award for Best Rap Performance in 1989—and his first big role combined both interests. After starting a music career under the name the Fresh Prince, Smith began starring on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1990.

Will Smith: Now

Will Smith at the premiere of "Bad Boys for Life" in January 2020
Silvia Elizabeth Pangaro /

After starring on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Smith, 53, became known as a blockbuster action star thanks to Independence Day and the Men in Black movies. He's also taken on more dramatic roles in movies like Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness, and this year's upcoming King Richard.

RELATED: The Worst Will Smith Movie of All Time, According to Critics.

Tom Hanks: Then

Tom Hanks in "Splash"
Buena Vista Distribution

Tom Hanks' first starring movie role was in the 1984 comedy Splash (pictured) about a man (Hanks), who falls in love with a woman who is actually a mermaid (Daryl Hannah). Around the same time, he also starred for two seasons on the TV series Bosom Buddies.

Tom Hanks: Now

Tom Hanks speaking during the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in September 2021
Rich Fury/Getty Images

As everyone knows, Hanks became one of the most successful actors of all time. The 65-year-old two-time Oscar-winner has appeared in romantic comedies (Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail), dramas (Saving Private Ryan, Apollo 13), and even animated movies as the voice of Woody in the Toy Story franchise.

Jennifer Lopez: Then

Jennifer Lopez in "Selena"
Warner Bros.

Jennifer Lopez began her career as a professional dancer, appearing in music videos and touring with musical productions. She was also one of the Fly Girls dancers on the sketch comedy show In Living Color. After making the switch to acting and appearing in smaller parts in movies including My Family and Money Train, Lopez starred as singer Selena Quintanilla in 1997's Selena (pictured), majorly advancing her career.

Jennifer Lopez: Now

Jennifer Lopez at the PSIFF Awards Gala in January 2020
DFree /

Now 52, Lopez went on to become a hugely popular actor, pop star, and celebrity. Acting roles after Selena include Out of Sight, The Wedding Planner, and Hustlers.

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Jodie Foster: Then

Jodie Foster in "Taxi Driver"
Columbia Pictures

Another actor who began their career as a child star is Jodie Foster. Her first big role came in 1976 when she appeared in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver alongside De Niro. The role was controversial since Foster was cast when she was only 12 and played a child being sex trafficked. For the part, Foster was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Jodie Foster: Now

Jodie Foster at the L.A. Dance Project Annual Gala on October 16, 2021
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic via Getty Images

The two-time Oscar-winner's career marched steadily on. Foster, now 58, is known for starring in Nell, The Silence of the Lambs, Contact, and many more. She also became a director, with projects including the 2016 George Clooney and Julia Roberts movie Money Monster.

George Clooney: Then

George Clooney in "ER"
Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution

Speaking of Clooney, after appearing in many smaller TV parts, he rose to fame playing Dr. Doug Ross on the long-running medical drama ER in 1994 (pictured). Clooney stayed on the series until 1999, during which time he also appeared in the movies Out of Sight and Batman & Robin.

George Clooney: Now

George Clooney at the premiere of "The Tender Bar" on October 10, 2021
Samir Hussein/WireImage via Getty Images

Some of Clooney's big roles in the years since ER include the Ocean's 11 series, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Syriana, for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Now 60, he's also directed Good Night, and Good Luck, The Ides of March, and more.

Whoopi Goldberg: Then

Whoopi Goldberg in "The Color Purple"
Warner Bros. Pictues

Whoopi Goldberg's career has taken her from the stage to movies to sitting behind the table at The View. Her first major film role came into her life in 1985 when she appeared as Celie in the adaptation of The Color Purple.

Whoopi Goldberg: Now

Whoopi Goldberg at the 2021 Met Gala
Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Now 65, Goldberg is an EGOT winner—meaning she's won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award. Some of her big projects include Ghost—for which she won her Oscar—and the Sister Act movies. She's currently the moderator on the talk show The View.

Meryl Streep: Then

Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro on the set of "The Deer Hunter"
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Meryl Streep began her career as a theater actor, and her big breakthrough roles on screen both came in 1978 when she appeared in the miniseries Holocaust and the movie The Deer Hunter (pictured)—she won an Emmy for the former and was nominated for an Oscar for the latter.

Meryl Streep: Now

Meryl Streep at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for TIFF

At 72, Streep is considered one of the best actors of all time. Some of her many movies include Out of Africa, The Hours, and The Devil Wears Prada. For Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie's Choice, and The Iron Lady she won three Oscars out of a whopping—and record—21 nominations.

Denzel Washington: Then

Denzel Washington on "St. Elsewhere"
20th Television

Like some of the other actors listed here, Denzel Washington made the transition from being a theater actor to a screen star. His first major TV role was Dr. Philip Chandler on the medical series St. Elsewhere in the 1980s.

Denzel Washington: Now

Denzel Washington at the New York Film Festival in September 2021
Jim Spellman/Getty Images

In the few years that followed St. Elsewhere, Washington, now 66, appeared in Glory—for which he won his first Oscar—Malcolm X, and Philadelphia. As his career has gone on, some of his other hits have included Training Day—for which he won his second Oscar—American Gangster, and Fences, which he also directed.

Brad Pitt: Then

Brad Pitt in "Thelma & Louise"

Brad Pitt's big breakthrough role was playing a hitchhiker in Thelma & Louise in 1991 (pictured). His movie and TV career started a few years earlier with appearances on Dallas, 21 Jump Street, and Growing Pains.

Brad Pitt: Now

Brad Pitt at the Oscars in April 2021
Chris Pizzello-Pool/Getty Images

Like many of the stars on this list, Pitt, now 57, ended up landing an Oscar. He won the award for Best Supporting Actor in 2020 for his role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Some of Pitt's many other major films include Fight Club, the Ocean's 11 movies, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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