You'll Barely Recognize These 30 Actresses In Their First Roles

One of the most enjoyable things about following a favorite actress' career is seeing them grow in their craft and change their appearance with their many roles. We remember stars from when they were young, like Kirsten Dunst playing a child vampire, and now acting in renowned films with big and small studios behind them. These actresses all give us a piece of themselves in every part, so we feel a kinship with them when we see them on screen.

The actresses on this list are icons of film, television, and theater. Many of them have been working in the entertainment industry since they were very young. And all of them are still working today, which is a testament to their talent and bankability. They are doing away with the notion that a leading actress is only worthy in her youth by staking out their own production companies and directing their own films.

We love seeing all of their roles that we may have forgotten. It reminds us of how far they've come, and how much they've blazed trails through our favorite entertainment and culture at large. Show business wouldn't be the same without Ellen DeGeneres coming out on television, or Oprah Winfrey cheering us all on while taking on the racism and sexism of the industry. Our culture is better because all of these women chose to give us a small part of themselves.

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Photo: Warner Brothers/Getty Images
Kirsten Dunst in Interview With a Vampire (1994)

Let's kick this off with a personal favorite: Dunst as Claudia, the child vampire in Interview With a Vampire. Claudia was murderous but looked like a tiny doll.
Photo: Courtesy of A24 Films.
Kirsten Dunst in Woodshock (2017)

This year, Dunst starred in Woodshock, the debut feature from Laura and Kate Mulleavy, the Rodarte fashion designers. It's a hazy stoner dream tale from indie powerhouse A24.
Photo: United Artists/Getty Images.
Angelina Jolie in Hackers (1995)

In Hackers, Jolie played a feisty computer hacker who does some serious damage. She's totally rocking the '90s thin eyebrow trend.
Photo: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage.
Angelina Jolie in 2017

Luckily, her eyebrows grew back from the tweezer-happy '90s. In 2017, she released First They Killed My Father, her directorial effort that landed her a Best Foreign Film Oscars entry at the Academy Awards.
Angela Bassett in Kindergarten Cops (1990)

Yes, that is Bassett as a flight attendant in Kindergarten Cops. Bet you missed that appearance the first time you saw it!
Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images.
Angela Bassett in 2017

Now, Bassett is a powerhouse actress whose credits read like a novel. In 2018, she will star in the upcoming adaption of Black Panther, which has fans freaking out over the new Wakanda.
Photo: Warner Brothers/Getty Images.
Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple (1985)

Goldberg was a mainstay on the comedy circuits prior to acting, and she made her dramatic debut in the painful book adaptation The Color Purple, alongside Oprah Winfrey.
Photo: Courtesy of Atlas Distribution Company.
Whoopi Goldberg in 9/11 (2017)

This year, she starred in a 9/11, a thriller about the devastating terrorist attack.
Sandra Bullock in Hangmen (1987)

That's Sandy in the poster for Hangmen, rocking a black bandanna and that smirk we've come to love.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Sandra Bullock in Ocean's 8 (2018)

Since Hangmen, Bullock has become one of Hollywood's most beloved actresses. In 2018, she'll be helming a band of thieves at the Met Gala in Ocean's 8, and we can't wait.
Photo: Spelling/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Julia Roberts in Satisfaction (1988)

Look at Julia's hair! The '80s were known for larger-than-life coifs, and Julia's signature red curls brought all the drama.
Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate Publicity.
Julia Roberts in Wonder (2017)

This year, she traded the curls for a boss bun as the mom of a special needs child in Wonder.
Photo: Everett Collection.
Julianne Moore in Tales From the Darkside (1990)

Another redhead with big hair, Julianne Moore went full-on perm in the early '90s.
Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Julianne Moore in Suburbicon (2017)

Since then, Moore has become a mainstay on the A-list, appearing in such films as A Single Man and Still Alice, for which she won the Academy Award. Next year, she'll play feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
Photo: 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images.
Cate Blanchett in Paradise Road (1997)

We hardly recognized Blanchett as a peasant in 1997's Paradise Road. The beloved actress is also notably missing her signature blonde bob.
Photo: Courtesy of Marvel Studios.
Cate Blanchett in Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

She may be a brunette in Thor: Ragnarok, but her character Hela is an instant icon with those giant antlers.

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Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Jennifer Lawrence in mother! (2017)

What a difference a decade makes. Lawrence is now Hollywood's second highest paid female actress, and she's won an Oscar for best Actress. She also starred in the Hunger Games, a YA book adaption franchise where she brought Katniss Everdeen's fierceness to life. In 2017, she starred in Darren Aronofsky's mother!, and we're still not sure what that movie was about.
Dame Judi Dench in The Third Secret (1964)

Talk about a throwback — here is acclaimed actress Dame Judi Dench in her very first film role, The Third Secret, from 1964. Note her diction, hairstyle, and costume — it's so different than the Judi we know today.
Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.
Dame Judi Dench in Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

These days, Judi Dench is untouchable. Her legacy has earned and Oscar award and several nominations, as well as BAFTA noms and the title of Dame from the Queen of England.
Photo: Cineville/Film 4 Int/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Salma Hayek in Mi Vida Loca (1994)

Hayek began her career as a telenovela star in her home country of Mexico, but she branched into film with Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life) in 1994.
Photo: Courtesy of Summit Entertainment and Millennium Media.
Salma Hayek in The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017)

Now, Hayek is a huge Hollywood star and besties with Penelope Cruz. Her most recent film, The Hitman's Bodyguard, captures her skills and bankability in action flicks.
Jennifer Lopez in "In Living Color" (1990s)

Remember "In Living Color," the sketch comedy show? Lopez first graced our screens as a Flygirl dancer before branching out into film and music.
Jennifer Lopez in World of Dance (2017)

These days, Lopez is a business. She still performs music, acts in movies, and just wrapped up season 1 of World of Dance, her reality dance competition show. That's right, even after all these, Lopez is still dancing. We can't forget her iconic turn as Selena Quintanilla in Selena, the film role that Lopez was born to play.
Photo: Twentieth Century Fox/Photofest.
Winona Ryder in Lucas (1986)

Winona Ryder stole our hearts in Beetlejuice, but before that, she was the dorky girl in marching band in the 1986 teen drama, Lucas.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Winona Ryder in Stranger Things (2017)

Flash forward to 2017, and Ryder is right back where we remember her: as a fixture in the '80s. Except this time, she's a part of Stranger Things, where she was kinda sorta maybe snubbed for Emmy.
Allison Janney in Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

Wow, we're totally transfixed by Janney's hair and bright blue eyeshadow in this scene from Drop Dead Gorgeous, in which she plays a neighbor.
Allison Janney in I, Tonya (2017)

These days, Janney is revered by the likes of Kate Winslet and Jennifer Lawrence. She stars in the upcoming true story of Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, as Harding's mother. Harding herself is played by Margot Robbie.
Photo: Warner Brothers/Getty Images.
Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple (1985)

By 1985, Oprah Winfrey had already worked her way into the competitive talk show TV world, and she made her dramatic film debut in The Color Purple.
Photo: Courtesy of Quantrell D. Colbert/HBO.
Oprah Winfrey in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2017)

Winfrey may have left television, but she's still acting in film roles. 2018 will see her as a multidimensional being in A Wrinkle in Time, and we are counting the days until it drops.
Jane Lynch in Best in Show (2000)

Lynch was a fixture in the comedy circuits before landing her fist big-time role in Best in Show, where she plays a dog trainer alongside national treasure Jennifer Coolidge. If you have not seen this movie, correct that immediately.
Photo: VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images.
Jane Lynch in 2017

Today, Lynch is developing her own daytime variety show, and we are so ready to see what the Emmy-winning Glee alum can do.
Viola Davis in City of Angels (2000)

Talk about a throwback: Viola Davis in City of Angels is almost unrecognizable (she's wearing the blue medical scrubs). Davis began her acting career in theater, and transitioned into film in the late 90s.
Photo: Courtesy of Mitch Haaseth/ABC.
Viola Davis in How To Get Away With Murder (2017)

These days, Davis is one of the most recognized faces on TV and film. She stars in How To Get Away With Murder and makes us shiver every time she's on screen. In 2017, Time Magazine listed in her as one of its 100 Most Influential People in the World.
Octavia Spencer in Being John Malkovich (1999)

This isn't Spencer's first film role, but it was certainly her most highest profile gig at that point. Did you notice her in the elevator?
Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water (2017)

Spencer most recently appeared in The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro. Her role as Dorothy Vaughn in Hidden Figures won her an Academy Award nomination, her second after 2011's The Help.
Photo: Fine Line/Photofest.
Sandra Oh in Double Happiness (1994)

Sandra Oh's very first film role is really giving us those 90s vibes. She played an actress who dealt with balancing her dreams with the wishes of her traditional Chinese family.
Photo: Courtesy of Dark Sky Films.
Sandra Oh in Catfight (2017)

Since Oh started off in Hollywood, she's had a long career, playing characters like Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey's Anatomy. This year, she starred opposite Anne Heche in the slasher thriller Catfight.
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries (2001)

Anne Hathaway's very first film role was in Disney's The Princess Diaries, and what a huge debut it turned out to be.
Photo: Gary Gershoff/WireImage.
Anne Hathaway in 2017

Nowadays, Anne Hathaway is firmly on the A-list, having earned an Academy Award for her role as Fantine in Les Misérables. She is one of Hollywood's highest-earning actors.
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Titanic came out in 1997, but prior to that breakout role, Kate Winslet debuted in Heavenly Creatures, a 1950s murder mystery, after previously working in television.
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Kate Winslet in Wonder Wheel (2017)

Winslet is a powerhouse: she's one of the few stars to have earned EGOT status (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards). She most recently appeared in Woody Allen's Wonder Wheel.
Photo: Pressefoto Kindermann/ullstein bild/Getty Images.
Helena Bonham Carter in A Room With a View (1985)

Helena Bonham Carter is most well-known for her roles in period films and anything offbeat. She began her career in A Room With a View, a film adaptation of the book by the same name.
Photo: Courtesy of TIFF.
Helena Bonham Carter in 55 Steps (2017)

Bonham Carter still works in period films, and plays off-kilter witches. She married director Tim Burton, and has appeared in several of his films, including Alice In Wonderland. In 2018, she'll also be starring in the Ocean's 8 ensemble cast.
Photo: Everett Collection.
Gabrielle Union in She's All That (1999)

Gabrielle Union's first roles were playing the sidekick friend in She's All That and Clueless, but it would only be a matter of time before she became the leading star.
Photo: Courtesy of Open Road Films.
Gabrielle Union in Sleepless (2017)

These days, Union appears on film and television, and most recently wrote a hilarious book called We're Going To Need Some More Wine. She regularly dazzles us on BET's Being Mary Jane.
Jodie Foster in Tom Sawyer (1973)

Jodie Foster has had a long, storied career. Her acting career began when she was just five years old. Tom Sawyer, a musical, gave audiences one of their first glimpses at a star in the making.
Photo: Dave Benett/Getty Images.
Jodie Foster in 2017

These days, Foster is untouchable: she's won two Oscar awards, three BAFTA awards, and numerous other honors, including the Cecil B. DeMille award in 2013 for "outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment."
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
Jada Pinkett Smith in Menace II Society (1993)

We first saw Jada Pinkett Smith on television in A Different World, before transitioning into movies. The classic Menace II Society was marked her film debut.
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Jada Pinkett-Smith in Girl's Trip (2017)

Since then, Pinkett-Smith starred in the Matrix trilogy and has done a variety of voice work. Her most recent film, Girl's Trip, earned over $100 million.
Lucy Liu in Bang (1995)

Lucy Liu didn't start acting until college, when she participated in student theater at the University of Michigan. Her professional career began in television before landing one of her first film roles in Bang, where she played a sex worker.
Photo: Jim Spellman/WireImage.
Lucy Liu in 2017

Nowadays, Liu is a beloved star who's worked in film since the early 90s. She's done a variety of acting, from the action of Kill Bill to voice acting in Kung Fu Panda.
Sarah Paulson in Levitation (1997)

Sarah Paulson began in theater before transitioning to film and television. In Levitation, she plays a pregnant teen. We can barely recognize her with her fiery mane.
Photo: Courtesy of IFC Films.
Sarah Paulson in Rebel in the Rye (2017)

Paulson is a huge star, and is heavily respected in the entertainment industry. Her roles in American Horror Story and The People vs. O.J. Simpson have been nominated for several Emmy awards, with the latter earning her the coveted statue. In 2018, she'll also be joining the cast of Ocean's 8, along with several leading stars on this list.
Photo: Lolafilm/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Penélope Cruz in Jamon Jamon (1992)

The dream of the 90s is alive with Penelope Cruz's first film role in Jamon Jamon. The film was an instant breakout role when she was just 17 years old.
Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.
Penélope Cruz in Murder on the Orient (2017)

Cruz is a hugely popular star, having acted in roles ranging from drama to action. She's the first Spanish actress to have won an Academy award, for her role in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Ellen DeGeneres in Coneheads (1993)

Here's a serious throwback: comedian Ellen DeGeneres made the transition from standup to film with 1993's Coneheads.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/KCA2017/WireImage.
Ellen DeGeneres in 2017

These days, Ellen is as beloved as her talk show of the same name. Her sitcom Ellen saw her come out as the first lesbian actress playing an opening lesbian character. She's voiced the adorable fish in Finding Nemo and has hosted the Oscars. In 2016, President Barack Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Photo: David Farrell/Getty Images.
Helen Mirren in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968)

Look closely: that's actress Helen Mirren in her acclaimed role in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream back in 1968.
Photo: VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images.
Dame Helen Mirren in 2017

Mirren is one of film's most talented and prized actresses. She's won the Triple Crown of Acting: an Academy award, an Emmy, and a Tony award, as well as three BAFTA awards. 2018 will see her in three films, including the anticipated Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built.
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