Nowadays, there's no shame in horror movies: Well-respected actors like Lupita Nyong'o, Toni Collette, and Florence Pugh have earned critical acclaim and even awards speculation for their roles in recent indie horror hits. But horror has often been maligned, a genre where actors could get their start before becoming famous—and then never talk about again. Many of the A-listers on this list have spoken about their scary movie starts, but others have kept it under the radar. Don't be surprised if you've completely forgotten these celebrities were in horror movies before they made it big. And for another freaky flashback, revisit these '90s Horror Movies, Ranked From Worst Reviewed to Best.
Jennifer Aniston, Leprechaun (1993)
Jennifer Aniston's first credited onscreen film role was in Leprechaun, though she didn't appear in any of the increasingly ridiculous sequels.
Octavia Spencer, Halloween II (2009)
Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer hasn't shied away from horror since hitting it big: She starred in 2019's Ma, getting a much more prominent role than in Rob Zombie's Halloween II. And for some questionable choices from highly acclaimed stars, these are The 15 Worst Movies Starring Oscar-Winning Actors.
Paul Rudd, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
In the deeply unpopular Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Paul Rudd played the grown-up version of Tommy Doyle, the little boy Laurie Strode babysat in the first Halloween. And for more modest beginnings for famous actors, check out these 25 Stars You Didn't Know Got Their Start in Commercials.
Renée Zellweger, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1997)
By the time Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation got a wide release in 1997, Renée Zellweger had already broken through with Jerry Maguire, but when she made the movie in 1994, it was her first starring role.
Matthew McConaughey, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1997)
Zellweger wasn't the only future Oscar winner to star alongside Leatherface—Matthew McConaughey menaced Zellweger's Jenny as the aptly named Vilmer Slaughter. And for follow-ups that critics actually loved, here are 20 Movie Sequels Better Than the Original.
Michelle Williams, Species (1995)
While '90s horror aficionados surely remember that Natasha Henstridge played the alien Sil in Species, they may not recall that Michelle Williams played Sil as a young girl.
Henry Cavill, Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)
The bizarre Hellraiser: Hellworld wasn't originally conceived as a Hellraiser movie, which makes it a strange viewing experience—as does the appearance of a before-he-was-famous Henry Cavill. And for horror films that are actually worth watching, check out The 50 Best Horror Films of All Time, According to Critics.
Idris Elba, Prom Night (2008)
Before he took on the titular role in Luther, Idris Elba was a lesser detective in the 2008 remake of Prom Night, based on the Jamie Lee Curtis cult classic.
Kevin Bacon, Friday the 13th (1980)
While you won't recognize most of the camp counselors who meet a gruesome end in any of the Friday the 13th movies, Kevin Bacon stands out for his memorable death scene—and, of course, his future fame. And for more fun content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Patricia Arquette, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
While Patricia Arquette's Kristen Parker survives Dream Warriors as the film's Final Girl, the actor didn't return for the next film in the series, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, where the character was played by Tuesday Knight.
Adam Scott, Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
Adam Scott is beloved for his comedic work, but his role in Hellraiser: Bloodline was unintentionally funny, thanks to a ridiculous wig.
Chloë Grace Moretz, The Amityville Horror (2005)
Young Chloë Grace Moretz played the daughter of the troubled Lutz family in this remake, which also starred Ryan Reynolds early on in his career.
Katherine Heigl, Bride of Chucky (1998)
Several years before she became a household name on Grey's Anatomy, Katherine Heigl got upstaged by two murderous dolls in the darkly funny Bride of Chucky.
George Clooney, Return to Horror High (1987)
The satirical slasher Return to Horror High may have been ahead of its time, and that's certainly true when it comes to the casting of George Clooney, who was a decade away from his leading man status.
Demi Moore, Parasite (1982)
Not to be confused with the Oscar-winning 2019 film, the 1982 Parasite is about a much more literal parasite, and features Demi Moore in her first major movie role.
Amy Adams, Psycho Beach Party (2000)
Shortly after her appearance in 1999's Drop Dead Gorgeous—but years before her several Academy Award nominations—Amy Adams had a small part in this campy slasher parody.
Patrick Dempsey, The Stuff (1985)
Blink and you'll miss Patrick Dempsey in The Stuff: He wasn't even credited for his brief appearance in Larry Cohen's schlocky satire of consumerism.
Johnny Depp, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Because A Nightmare on Elm Street has become such an iconic horror classic, Johnny Depp's role as Glen isn't exactly unknown. In fact, his fountain of blood death—and his crop top—have made him something of a slasher legend.
Charlize Theron, Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)
Charlize Theron made her cinematic debut in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, which has the dubious distinction of being the first Children of the Corn film to not get a theatrical release.
Naomi Watts, Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)
But Theron isn't the only A-list actor who popped up in a Children of the Corn film pre-fame: Naomi Watts had the starring role in the sequel, Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
When Halloween H20 came out, Joseph Gordon-Levitt had already made a name for himself on 3rd Rock From the Sun, but that didn't make his appearance in this slasher sequel any less surprising.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Critters 3 (1991)
Angela Bassett, Critters 4 (1992)
After Critters 3, there was Critters 4. The movies were filmed back-to-back, and the latter was released the same year Angela Bassett starred in Malcolm X.
Chris Hemsworth, The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
It's not like Chris Hemsworth was a total nobody when he made The Cabin in the Woods, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe hadn't quite taken off and propelled Thor to superstardom.
Scarlett Johansson, Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
Speaking of the MCU, future Black Widow Scarlett Johansson faced some real black widows in the arachnophobic horror comedy Eight Legged Freaks.
Mischa Barton, The Sixth Sense (1999)
People remember The Sixth Sense for the shocking twist ending, but probably not for the appearance of Mischa Barton as a murdered girl trying to save her sister from the same fate.
Jon Stewart, The Faculty (1998)
Before The Daily Show, Jon Stewart was an actor and a comedian, but he wasn't exactly going for laughs as one of the possessed teachers in The Faculty.
Salma Hayek, The Faculty (1998)
Another member of the titular factory: Salma Hayek, who played school nurse Rosa Harper, and met a predictably ghastly fate.
Hilary Swank, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
The TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer features some before-they-were-famous actors, but don't forget that the movie also gave future Oscar winner Hilary Swank her film debut.
Tony Goldwyn, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
You might know Tony Goldwyn as Fitz on Scandal, but diehard slasher fans remember him as one of Jason's victims in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.