I was talking to a friend this week and mistakenly identified Good Morning Vietnam as Robin Williams’ film debut. I’d forgotten that seven years prior he was in Popeye. But GMV was definitely his breakout movie. Popeye’s performance in the box office was dismal and he was stuck in TV purgatory once Mork and Mindy was cancelled. He did appear in a handful of forgettable B-movies, but once GMV hit the big screen, things took off for Williams. People now saw him as more than just a funny guy. He was an outstanding actor.
Most actors appear in a pile of movies (most of which none of us have even heard about) before they were able to experience the “break out role” like Williams did. It’s always amazing to see someone debut with a memorable performance in an equally memorable movie. In this week’s movie, Jacob Tremblay was not only cute, but delivered a performance I know I’ll never forget. It wasn’t technically his first, but it was at least his first feature-length film in which he is both seen (as opposed to lending his voice) and credited.
So, I decided to put together my own top ten greatest film debuts of all time:
10. John Cazale as Fredo in The Godfather (1972)
9. Jennifer Hudson as Effie White in Dreamgirls (2006)
8. Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave (2013)
7. Gabourey Sidibe as Precious in Precious (2009)
6. Natalie Portman as Mathilda in Léon: The Professional (1994)
5. Oprah Winfrey as Sofia in The Colour Purple (1985)
4. Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988)
3. Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins (1964)
2. Christian Bale as Jim in Empire of the Sun (1987)
1. Orson Welles as Kane in Citizen Kane (1941)
Honourable mentions: Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in True Grit (2010); Barkhad Abdi as Muse in Captain Phillips (2013), and Robert Duvall as Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962).
Admittedly, I’ve not seen some key performances in some very well known and influential movies. Judging strictly from what I’ve heard, these would be the top ten movie debuts in movies I haven’t seen yet (in no particular order):
- Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween (1978)
- Johnny Depp as Glen Lantz in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
- Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (1968)
- Anna Paquin as Flora in The Piano (1993)
- Tatum O’Neal as Addie in Paper Moon (1973)
- Edward Norton as Aaron in Primal Fear (1996)
- Sidney Poitier as Dr. Luther Brooks in No Way Out (1950)
- James Dean as Cal Trask in East of Eden (1955)
- Owen and Luke Wilson as Dignan and Anthony in Bottle Rocket (1996)
- Tom Cruise as Cadet Captain David Shawn in Taps (1981)
Congratulations Room. This is your week.
Best Actress: Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder. That’s right Jamie, you uncultured swine!
Best Actor: Al Pacino in The Godfather.
Best Quote: “I am Iron Man.” — Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark in Iron Man.
Just a few interesting notes about Room. The producers wanted Brie and Jacob to bond early on before filming began so that they’re mother/son relationship would come off more authentic. In the process, Jacob’s mom asked him if he had any questions for Brie. He asked her 1) her favourite colour, 2) her favourite animal, and 3) if she liked Star Wars (1977).
And this may have worked too well. Even though he was a fine young actor, Jacob couldn’t bring himself to yell at Brie at a point in the movie where his character is supposed to do that. The director had the entire cast and crew jumping up and down yelling until he was able to do it himself.
I love my new-to-me DVD’s. If any of you know where I can get a copy of Downfall (2004) or High Fidelity (2000) for cheap, let me know.