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17 Popular Actors You'll Be Surprised To Learn Were In Horror Movies

Miramax / Warner Bros

Over the course of their careers, all of these actors have reached the height of success, appearing in beloved movies, winning major awards, and becoming the names and faces that we recognize immediately. But they weren't always as famous as they are today, and there were some weird pit stops on their roads to success. Here are some big name actors you had no clue appeared in horror movies.

Jennifer Aniston

Trimark Pictures / Wikimedia Commons

While she landed some major roles on television series like Molloy and Ferris Bueller, both shows were quickly canceled. It wasn't until 1993 that she would land her film debut in the weird little horror-comedy Leprechaun, starring alongside Warwick Davis.

Trimark Pictures

Aniston plays Tory, a spoiled teenager who faces off with an angry leprechaun who's trying to recover his stolen gold. The writer and director of the movie, Mark Jones, apparently came up with the plot after watching a Lucky Charms commercial, of all things. Jones was impressed by Aniston's audition, so despite her being unknown he fought to have her cast.

While Leprechaun didn't immediately launch her to stardom, it would only be a year later that she would be cast in the show that would make her famous, Friends. Even though she looks back at her first movie role with embarrassment, she can at least be glad that she didn't end up in any of the Leprechaun sequels, which ended up being much, much worse.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Dimension Films / Wikimedia Commons

Unlike Jennifer Aniston, who was fighting to get her big break, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was already a somewhat-known actor thanks to his role as Tommy on 3rd Rock From The Sun, and smaller parts on shows like Roseanne and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. He'd also had a handful of movie roles, including in 1994's Angels in the Outfield.

Walt Disney Pictures

But when you're an actor you can't always afford to be choosy, which is probably how JGL ended up with a part in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, the 7th Halloween sequel that is mostly notable for being not nearly as awful as the sequels/reboots that came after it.

Dimension Films

Lucky for him, his character is only in the opening scenes long enough to be killed off-screen before we even get re-introduced to Laurie Strode. He's since become a household name thanks to starring in movies like 500 Days of Summer, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, and Snowden.

Eva Mendes

Dimension Films / Sony Pictures / IMDB

Eva Mendes's career was only just getting started when she got her first movie role in the direct-to-video Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror. Her character, Kir, meets her demise by jumping into a flaming silo as a sacrifice to "He Who Walks Behind the Rows."

Dimension Films

Fortunately, her acting career didn't also end in flames, nor did it scare her off of acting in horror movies. She was however, unhappy with her performance, so she hired an acting coach, though it's hard to say whether the quality of her performance was her fault or the movie's.

Two years later, in 2000, she gave the horror genre another shot in the role of Vanessa in Urban Legends: Final Cut. The sequel to 1998's Urban Legends, focuses on a film student making her thesis project about a serial killer who kills based on urban legends, only to have those killings start to happen in real life.

Sony Pictures

Unfortunately her character in this film doesn't fare much better than in her first role, and she meets her end off-screen and has her body discovered hanging from a bell in a bell tower. One year after Urban Legends: Final Cut, Mendes got a role in Training Day, which set her on the path to fame.

Bradley Cooper

Universal Pictures / Lions Gate / IMDB

In the last 5 years Bradley Cooper has become one of the go-to A-List actors in Hollywood. If you're looking for prestige (and Oscars) then he's the one to cast. However, that hasn't always been the case. While 2001 was a big year for Cooper, with him being cast in the TV show Alias and his feature film debut in Wet Hot American Summer, in 2002 he appeared in a British horror movie called My Little Eye.

Universal Pictures

The movie, set in a Big Brother-esque reality show that starts getting a little too real, features Bradley Cooper as (spoiler) one of the villains orchestrating the show, and the murders, for a paying audience, thought no one in the house knows that. While the movie's far from perfect, it will make you wonder why Bradley Cooper isn't the villain more often, because he's scary good at it.

In 2008 Bradley Cooper made his return to horror in the adaptation of Clive Barker's Midnight Meat Train, where he plays an obsessive photographer who gets caught up in the violent murders of a serial killer on the subway.

Lions Gate

As far as adaptations go, this one is pretty solid. There's a major twist at the end at the end that you won't see coming, and this is one movie that is actually pretty underrated. Clearly Bradley Cooper lives and works by the idea of "go big or go home."

Hilary Swank

20th Century Fox / IMDB

While she hasn't been around much recently, there was a time where Hilary Swank was one of the biggest names in Hollywood. Her Oscar wins for Best Actress in 2000 (Boys Don't Cry) and 2005 (Million Dollar Baby) cemented her place as one of the big names in acting. But you gotta start somewhere, right? And Hilary Swank's "somewhere" was a little cult horror movie called Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

20th Century Fox

While pretty much everyone who grew up in the '90s remembers the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, not many people know that there was actually a movie version of it that came first, starring Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry. Hilary Swank played Kimberly, a ditzy queen bee who starts out as one of Buffy's entourage, until Buffy discovers what really matters (killing vampires, of course).

20th Century Fox

Hilary Swank wasn't the only big name that got her silver screen debut in this movie, but like Bradley Cooper in My Little Eye, her role makes you wish she would get more villainous roles, because she would be so very good at it.

Ben Affleck

20th Century Fox / IMDB

Ben Affleck wasn't always the award-winning actor and filmmaker that we know and love. While he got his start on the PBS series The Voyage of the Mimi, one of his first movie roles (though uncredited) was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

His blink-and-you'll-miss-it part as a rival school's basketball player isn't exactly the kind of role that creates a star, but Good Will Hunting, and his fame, was only 5 years away.

20th Century Fox

Amy Adams

New Line Cinema / Strand Releasing / Warner Bros

Amy Adams has made a name for herself as not only one of the highest-paid actresses working in Hollywood, but also one of the most talented. While most of her more recent roles have been in serious Oscar-worthy dramas (let's just ignore her involvement in the DC movies), the start of her career was....different. Her very first acting job was in a satirical thriller-comedy called Drop Dead Gorgeous.

New Line Cinema

The movie is a "mock-umentary" about a small town, Michigan beauty pageant where the towns-folk are a little too invested in the competition, leading to all sorts of death and mayhem. Adams plays Leslie, one of the girls competing in the pageant.

Her second movie role was also more on the comedy side of horror, in a spoof that combines a '60s beach/surfer movie with an '80s style slasher. The movie was appropriately titled Psycho Beach Party.

Strand Releasing

Adams plays Marvel Ann, the girlfriend of the movie's love interest Starcat (played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Nicholas Brendon). Within a few years she would be getting starring roles in movies like Catch Me If You Can and Enchanted, but we'll never forget where she started.

Mila Kunis

Concorde-New Horizons / Lions Gate / IMDB

Mila Kunis was only 15 when she began her role as Jackie on That 70s Show, but even as young as she was she still had some...interesting...roles on her way to stardom. Her first movie role, at the tender age of 12, was in 1995's remake of Piranha.

Concorde-New Horizons

Mila Kunis plays Susie, the young daughter of the film's main character, Paul, who is at camp when the piranhas escape into the river. She does manage to survive the feeding frenzy, though one of her friends (played by Punky Brewster's Soleil Moon Frye) isn't so lucky.

3 years later she would get her break in That 70's Show, but Piranha wouldn't be the only horror movie she would appear in. In 2002, she was cast as Rachael in the American Psycho sequel we really didn't need, American Psycho II: An American Girl.

Lions Gate

Rachael apparently becomes drawn to murder after witnessing Patrick Bateman kill and dissect her babysitter. While Mila Kunis is great as an evil sociopath, the whole movie is a bit of a mess, to the point where she's admitted that she's embarrassed by her involvement and publicly begged producers not to make another sequel. And this is from the actress who did Jupiter Ascending, so you know it's got to be bad.

Mila Kunis wasn't the only big name actor in American Psycho II, her professor (and focus of her obsession) is a familiar face we're used to seeing explore the final frontier.

William Shatner

Daystar Productions / Sandy Howard Productions / Lions Gate / IMDB

While I'm sure William Shatner wishes everyone would forget his role in American Psycho II, that was far from the first time he had a role in a horror movie. The same year that he started playing Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek, he starred in a gothic thriller called Incubus.

Daystar Productions

The 1966 movie is notable for being the second feature film to be shot entirely in the made up language of Esperanto. Shatner plays Marc, a wounded soldier who falls in love with a succubus. The film was actually considered lost until a copy was discovered in Paris in 1996.

After Star Trek ended in 1969, Shatner spent a lot of the '70s acting mostly on television, but his few movie roles weren't in movies that were going to be winning any awards. In 1975 he starred alongside Ernest Borgnine in The Devil's Rain.

Sandy Howard Productions

William Shatner plays Mark, a man facing off with a group of Satanists in the rural countryside. Infamous Satanist Anton LaVey worked as a technical advisor on the movie, and also had a cameo as one of the satanists. Another famous face made it's first appearance in this movie, but we'll come back to that in a minute. The Devil's Rain was so bad, it pretty much killed the movie career of the director, though Shatner's career made it out (mostly) unscathed.

Then of course there was his previously mentioned role as Professor Starkman in American Psycho II. You'd think he would have learned his lesson from The Devil's Rain, but I guess for some actors a pay check is a pay check, no matter how famous you are.

Jason Alexander

Miramax / Sony Pictures Television

Jason Alexander's role as George Costanza on Seinfeld not only made him famous, but also became the character that we would forever associate with him. As far as I'm concerned, Jason Alexander is George Costanza. So can you imagine George Costanza in a slasher film? Because Jason Alexander's first acting role was in a slasher movie called The Burning.

Miramax

The 1981 horror movie is pretty much your standard '80s slasher. A prank on a camp's janitor goes terribly wrong, 5 years later he's back for revenge. Jason Alexander's character, Dave, serves mostly as comedic relief, though he does get to at least survive until the end credits. While it's definitely not the best slasher movie of the decade, its far from the worst.

Demi Moore

Embassy Pictures / IMDB

While Demi Moore might not be as big a name now, there was a time in the '80s and '90s where she was one of the biggest names in Hollywood, thanks to roles in movies like St. Elmo's Fire, Ghost, and A Few Good Men. But her fame and success all started with a starring role in the 1982 sci-fi/horror movie Parasite.

Embassy Pictures

Set post-nuclear apocalypse, Demi Moore plays Patricia Welles, a lemon grower who is trying to help Dr Paul Dean destroy the parasite he was forced to create to help control the human population. The movie itself is pretty garbage, but a review of the film in Time Out called it "visually as uninteresting as a catfood commercial," which might be the greatest line ever written in a movie review.

Leslie Nielsen

Warner Bros / Paramount Pictures

I can hear your reaction now, "Surely, you can't be serious?" But I am serious, and don't call me Shirley. Not only did Leslie Nielsen, beloved comedian and actor in movies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun appear in a horror movie, but in it he plays a murderous psychopath. That movie was 1982's Creepshow.

Wanter Bros.

The anthology movie Creepshow is the result of a team-up between writer Stephen King and director George A. Romero (the man who gave us the modern-day zombie). In the segment "Something to Tide You Over," Leslie Nielsen plays the villainous Richard Vickers, who gets revenge on his unfaithful wife and her lover by burying them up to their necks on the beach right before the high tide rolls in. After watching them die on closed-circuit cameras, he gets an unpleasant surprise when his victims decide to pay him a visit. Underneath all that seaweed, you might recognize the lover, Harry Wentworth as another familiar, if unexpected, face.

Ted Danson

Warner Bros / Paramount Television

In the same year he was cast as Sam Malone, the bartender for the bar where everybody knows your name in Cheers, Ted Danson played the ill-fated Harry Wentworth alongside Leslie Nielsen's Richard Vickers. While he pays the ultimate price for his love affair with Vickers' wife, the two lovers definitely get the last laugh. And thanks to his successful career in television, so did Ted Danson.

John Travolta

Sandy Howard Productions / MGM / IMDB

While more recently considered a laughing-stock thanks to the "Adele Dazeem" incident, for a long time John Travolta was one of the biggest and most-respected names in Hollywood. But his first credited movie role was in a movie that was...less than respected. Remember when I said that William Shatner wasn't the only familiar face in The Devil's Rain?

Sandy Howard Productions

While it might be hard to tell it him's thanks to the fact he's playing a weird eyeless satanist, but that dimpled chin is recognizable anywhere. While his breakout role in Saturday Night Fever would come two years later in 1977, he would appear in one more horror movie first, though this time it would be in one that's actually good.

Based on the novel by Stephen King, Brian De Palma's Carrie was the first of what would become many adaptations of King's work. In it, Travolta plays Billy, who along with girlfriend Chris plots the prom night prank that sets off the movie's carnage. Even though Carrie gets her revenge on Chris and Billy, John Travolta can rest easy about his part in this movie, considering Carrie is not only one of the best movies of the decade, but one of the best horror movies ever made.

Viggo Mortensen

New Line Cinema / IMDB

Viggo Mortensen had a decently steady career throughout the '90s, with roles in movies like Carlito's Way, G.I. Jane, and the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho, but it wasn't until he was cast as Aragorn, son of Arathorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy that he became an immediately recognizable actor. Long before his turn as the rightful king of Gondor, he was Eddie "Tex" Sawyer, a member of the cannibalistic Sawyer clan in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.

New Line Cinema

The 1990 entry to the franchise focuses on a couple trying to survive their encounter with Leatherface, Mortensen's Tex, and the rest of the Sawyer clan. The movie was pretty much doomed from the start, thanks to an initial "X" rating that required major cuts to the film in order for it to be screened in theaters. While some have questioned whether the movie was ever intended to actually have an X-rating or whether it was a publicity stunt, chances are this is one role Viggo Mortensen wishes he could take back. But he's not the only major celebrity who probably regrets getting involved with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.

Matthew McConaughey

New Line Cinema / GQ

Before he was an Oscar winning actor, Matthew McConaughey was known as a rom-com heart throb. But even before that he was part of Leatherface's posse in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The Next Generation.

New Line Cinema

While we're used to seeing him in some pretty wild roles, his turn as Vilmer is particularly unhinged. While Vilmer meets his end thanks to a well-timed plane propeller, Matthew McConaughey's career did get to survive the closing credits, since just two years later he would have his star-making role in A Time To Kill. His career wasn't the only one to withstand a nasty run-in with Leatherface's chainsaw, as you can tell by the recognizable actress we see McConaughey and co. terrorizing in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4 trailer.

Renée Zellweger

New Line Cinema / Mirror

It's hard to picture Bridget Jones getting her start in a horror movie, but here we are. While she actually had an uncredited role in Dazed and Confused (alongside future co-star Matthew Conaughey) one of her first movie roles was as Jenny, the one victim in Texas Chainsaw Massacre who actually survives the events of the movie.

New Line Cinema

Despite the overwhelmingly negative reviews for the movie, several did have positive things to say about both Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey's performances. Fortunately, success (and successful movies) weren't far off, since she would get her big break in 1996 thanks to her starring role in Jerry Maguire alongside Tom Cruise.

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