Before They Were Icons: See What Top Hollywood Actors Looked Like In Their 20s

Believe it or not, the iconic actors that dominate Hollywood today weren’t bold mature and famous. At one point, they were young adults with big dreams of ending up where they are today. Prepare to be wowed by what some of these actors looked like in their 20s, right around when their careers really began to blossom.

Kate Winslet Was Nominated For An Academy Award Twice In Her Twenties

Picture of Kate Winslet
Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images/John Phillips/Getty Images
Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images/John Phillips/Getty Images

Kate Winslet began her acting career at the young age of 15. However, she became the talk of the town when she was nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe and won a BAFTA Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance in Sense and Sensibility at the age of 20.

Then, in 1997, at the age of 22, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role and a Golden Globe Award for her work in James Cameron’s Titanic, the highest-grossing film at the time. To this day, she remains one of the most respected actresses in the business.

Forest Whitaker Was 21 In His First Film

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Nancy R. Schiff/Getty Images/Paras Griffin/Getty Images
Nancy R. Schiff/Getty Images/Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Forest Whitaker’s film debut was at the age of 21, when he played a high school football player in the 1982 coming-of-age film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In the years that followed, Whitaker would be involved in several notable projects such as The Color of Money, Platoon, and Good Morning, Vietnam.

Since the 1980s, Whitaker has maintained an impressive career and has garnered acclaim for his performances in films such as Bird, The Last King of Scotland, and The Butler.

Sandra Bullock Became The World’s Highest-Paid Actor

Picture of Sandra Bullock
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images/David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images/David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

At 23, Sandra Bullock made her acting debut with a small role in the 1987 film Hangmen before gaining popularity with her supporting role in Demolition Man. Yet, her performance in 1994’s Speed made her a household name and led her to become a leading actress in romantic comedies throughout the 1990s.

The success of Bullock’s career would eventually lead to her being the world’s highest-paid actress in 2010 and again in 2014, with her also winning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award.

Samuel L. Jackson Got His Start In Theater

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Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images/Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

After studying drama at Morehouse College in Georgia, Samuel L. Jackson made a few appearances in made-for-TV films before his official film debut in Together for Days when he was 24. Not long after, Jackson resumed theater in New York before he caught audiences’ attention after being cast in Spike Lee’s 1991 film Jungle Fever.

Since then, Jackson has been involved in countless notable films such as Jurassic Park, True Romance, and Goodfellas. He’s known to work closely with director Quentin Tarantino on films such as Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, and others.

Denzel Washington’s Debut Role Was In A Made-For-TV Movie

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images/Kevin Winter/Getty Images for WarnerMedia
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images/Kevin Winter/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

Denzel Washington made his on-screen debut at the age of 23 in the made-for-television film Wilma in 1977, before his first Hollywood role in Carbon Copy. He received recognition for his role of Dr. Phillip Chandler in NBC’s hospital drama St. Elsewhere from 1982 to 1988, and during this time was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in the 1987 film Cry Freedom.

From there, Washington’s career took off, and he has grown to become one of the biggest actors in Hollywood, with some of his most popular films being Malcolm X, Training Day, and Glory.

Robert Downey Jr. Was Five In His First Role

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Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images/Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images/Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

When Robert Downey Jr. was just five years old, he made his film debut in his father’s 1970 movie Pound. During his teenage years, he frequently worked with the Brat Pack on films such as Weird Science and Less Than Zero.

At the age of 27, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in the 1992 biopic Chaplin. Although he struggled in his personal life for some time, Downey Jr. made an impressive comeback and is now one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood.

Julie Andrews Was 28 When She Was In Mary Poppins

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Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images/Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images/Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Julie Andrews grew up singing and performing on stage as a young girl, and by the time she was 19, she made her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend. During her 20s, she would continue to appear on Broadway and appear in some made-for-TV movies before she starred as Mary Poppins in the 1964 Disney movie musical, at age 28.

With a career that has spanned over eight decades, she has received countless accolades and is considered to be one of the most successful entertainers in the business.

Harrison Ford’s Career Didn’t Take Off Immediately

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Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images/Ian Gavan/Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images/Ian Gavan/Getty Images

In 1964, when Harrison Ford was just 22, he moved to Los Angeles, California, with the hopes of becoming an actor. He received a few uncredited bit roles in small films. It wasn’t until he was 25 that he scored his first film credit in the Western A Time For Killing.

However, in his late 20s, he was forced to put acting aside and become a carpenter to support his family. Then, in 1973, he was cast in American Graffiti, which led him to timeless roles such as Indiana Jones, Han Solo, and more.

Jackie Chan Used His Martial Arts Skills To Get Into The Movies

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Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images/Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images/Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Born in Hong Kong, China, in 1954, Jackie Chan always had an interest in martial arts from a young age. He received his first starring role in Little Tiger of Canton just before turning 20 and he spent the next decade starring in martial arts films, including New Fists of Fury, The Drunken Master, and others.

By the age of 26, Chan made his way to Hollywood, and today has been in more than 150 movies. He’s considered by many to be the face of martial arts/comedy films.

Jeff Bridges Was 22 When He Was Nominated For An Academy Award

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Art Zelin/Getty Images/Vera Anderson/WireImage
Art Zelin/Getty Images/Vera Anderson/WireImage

Born and raised in Hollywood, California, to acting parents, Jeff Bridges was exposed to showbiz at a young age and appeared in his father’s films as a boy. Bridges got his big break as an actor in his first major role in the 1971 film The Last Picture Show, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at age 22.

This set him up for a successful career, and today is known for his immense range as an actor and his popular films such as The Big Lebowski, True Grit, Crazy Heart, and many more.

Tom Hanks’ First Film Was A Slasher

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images/Christopher Polk/Getty Images for People’s Choice Awards
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images/Christopher Polk/Getty Images for People’s Choice Awards

One of the most beloved and successful actors of his generation and a cultural icon, Tom Hanks has been in the movie business for more than four decades. At 23, his first film appearance was in the 1980 slasher He Knows You’re Alone.

Since his 20s, Hanks’ films have grossed almost $5 billion in North America, making him the fourth-highest-grossing actor in Hollywood. Some of his most popular films include Big, Forest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away, and countless others. In addition, he has won two of his six Academy Award nominations.

Sigourney Weaver Was In Her 20s When Filming Alien

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Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images/ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images

Hailing from New York, Sigourney Weaver attended the Yale University of Drama, where she was even involved in some of the same Yale theater productions with Meryl Streep. Still focusing on theater, Weaver was cast in her first film when she was 27 years old, with a small role in Annie Hall.

Everything changed when two years later, she was cast as Ellen Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Her movie career then took off, and she has since starred in notable films such as Gorillas in the Mist, Ghostbusters, and Holes.

Daniel-Day Lewis Makes His Films Count

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Barbara Alper/Getty Images/Lars Niki/Getty Images for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Barbara Alper/Getty Images/Lars Niki/Getty Images for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Born in Kensington, England, Daniel-Day Lewis may not have as prolific a career as other actors but has three Academy Awards and two Golden Globes to prove his talent. After studying at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, he landed his first role at 25 in the 1982 film Gandhi before going on to other projects such as The Bounty, My Beautiful Laundrette, and Room With a View.

Considered to be one of the most successful method actors in the business, he is also renowned for his performances in films such as Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, and Lincoln.

Nicolas Cage Had A Small Role In Fast Times At Ridgemont High

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Paramount/Getty Images/Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images
Paramount/Getty Images/Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

Nicolas Cage began his career as a teenager, with his first role being in the TV movie The Best of Times. After that, he got a small role that most people miss in the popular Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Before he turned 30, he was also involved in Valley Girl, Moonstruck, and A Time to Kill. Cage would later gain recognition for his films, such as Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off, and National Treasure, before producing a string of less-than-impressive films in recent years.

Ian McKellen Was A Hit By 26

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Don Smith/Radio Times via Getty Images/ Tristan Fewings – WPA Pool / Getty Images

Born in Burnley, England, in 1939, Ian McKellen found his passion for acting as a child, performing in school plays in his youth. In 1961, he graduated from Cambridge with a Bachelor of Arts and continued to pursue a career in theater.

Three years after graduating, McKellen began acting in television, landing the lead role in BBC One’s David Copperfield when he was just 26. Some of McKellen’s other best-known roles include Magneto in the X-Men films and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

Robert De Niro’s First Film Took Six Years To Be Released

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Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images/Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images/Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Born and raised in New York City, Robert De Niro had his first film role when he was 20 years old. It was in The Wedding Party, although the film wasn’t released until six years later in 1969.

He continued acting in his 20s, although his breakout role came when he played the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather II, for which he took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actors. Over the years, De Niro has worked closely with director Martin Scorsese and starred in timeless films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas.

Betty White Has Been In The Entertainment Business For Eight Decades

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images/Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Born during the Great Depression in Los Angeles, Betty White made her first television appearance following high school, putting her entertainment career on hold during World War II. As a young adult in her 20s, White supported herself by lending her voice to radio commercials and other radio shows.

She eventually hosted The Betty White Show in her 30s. With a career that spans more than eight decades, White has been featured in countless films and television shows and is nothing short of a treasured cultural icon.

Steve Buscemi Is A Favorite Of The Coen Brothers

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Bob Berg/Getty Images/Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

After Steve Buscemi graduated high school in Brooklyn, New York, he went on to study acting in the city. He received his first major role in Parting Glances when he was 28 years old.

Over the course of his career, Buscemi has worked with the Coen Brothers on several of their projects, such as Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and more. He has also starred in other notable films such as Reservoir Dogs, Con Air and has done his fair share of voice work for animated films.

John Travolta Has Danced His Way Through A Stellar Career

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images/ Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images/ Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

When he was just 21, the singer/actor/dancer came into popularity when he appeared as Vinnie for four years on the ABC sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter and caught the eye of filmmakers. Before he turned 30, Travolta would star in hit films such as Saturday Night Fever, Urban Cowboy, and Grease, which were all box office hits.

Although his career took a downtun in the 1980s, in the ’90s, he made a comeback with films such as Pulp Fiction, Phenomenon, and Face/off, and he’s continued acting since.

Maggie Smith Started Acting As A Young Teenager

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Bettmann/Getty Images/Mike Marsland/WireImage
Bettmann/Getty Images/Mike Marsland/WireImage

Born in Essex, England, Maggie Smith began acting when she was 16 years old and made her debut on Broadway when she was 22. When she was 26, she had won a BAFTA for her performance in the 1958 film Nowhere to Go and continued working in major films and theater productions throughout her 20s.

Although she’s had an all-around successful career, she might be best known by some fans for her role as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter film series.