You’d have to look pretty hard to find a finer crop of actors than this year’s Academy Award nominees. In addition to a bunch of old pros and past winners, even some of the younger actors ― like Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, and Amy Adams ― are now multiple times nominated.
But everybody has to start somewhere, and before they were offered roles in high-quality productions like Zero Dark Thirty and The Master, they had to prove themselves in projects that are not so likely to go down in history.
From corny commercials to walk-on roles, from bad period hairdos to one incredibly racist movie, here are the more forgettable parts played by this year’s Oscar nominees in their early careers!
1. Daniel Day-Lewis
He’s almost certain to make Oscar history this year by becoming the only guy in history to win Best Actor three times. Who knew this year’s front-runner had such a sketchy past? As a young teen he appeared in 1971’s Sunday Bloody Sunday as "Child Vandal," scratching up cars and giving a kid a nasty look. (He’s the rebel in the red bandana.) It's not so obvious that he's destined to play America's most beloved president, judging by this brief role.
2. Jessica Chastain
She has her pick of the most prestigious projects out there now that she’s a two-time Oscar nominee, but she got her start in guest spots on shows like Veronica Mars, Journeyman, and ER.
3. Bradley Cooper
Before he became a household name with The Hangover, Bradley was in love with his spy pal Sydney Bristow on Alias. We prefer him with Jennifer Lawrence, though.
4. Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin got his start under the name Leaf, younger brother of the more famous River Pheonix. He was a pretty dark and disturbed dude even at a young age, as evidenced by this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
5. Anne Hathaway
Anne made her debut as a regular on this short-lived Fox series. Clearly the casting director had good taste, seeing as future Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg plays her brother. In the pilot, sassy teen Anne speaks directly to camera and slams "self-aware" teen shows like My So-Called Life and Dawson's Creek... pretty bold for a show that didn't make it past its first season.
6. Amy Adams
Amy has been nominated for playing a nun, a tough-talking boxer's girlfriend, and now the no-nonsense wife of a cult leader, but her early roles were much sunnier. She’s sure come a long way from guest spots on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The West Wing, and That ‘70s Show, but her most fun early role is her first, as a skanky ditz cheerleader in the 1999 beauty queen comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous. This year is her fourth time gracing the Best Supporting Actress category ― isn’t it about time she won on already?
7. Helen Hunt
Helen is nominated for her bare-all role as a sex surrogate this year, but one of her early roles was much less provocative. She played Sarah Jessica Parker's BFF in the cheesy 80s movie Girls Just Want To Have Fun.
8. Naomi Watts
Sorry, Russell Crowe, but your critically-panned Les Miserables performance didn't get you an Oscar nod this year. However, Russell's co-star in the 1991 Aussie miniseries Brides Of Christ fared better ― who knew the shy girl in pink in this movie would one day be bravely battling a tsunami in The Impossible?
9. Sally Field
For proof that the world is changing, you need only watch Sally’s breakout role as The Flying Nun and marvel ― people used to watch this. On primetime! Without making fun of it! It was Sally's second sitcom hit, but thankfully she went on two perform in more, um, grounded projects in the future, which have won her two Oscars already. Will this year earn her a third?
10. Philip Seymour Hoffman
Number of people who watched Philip play a bully in the campy dark comedy My Boyfriend's Back and thought, "You know, that guy's gonna win an Oscar someday...": zero.
11. Christoph Waltz
He's played some deadly dudes in Tarantino movies, but Christoph comes off awfully sweet in the 1979 series Parole Chicago (which doesn't take place in Chicago, but actually 1920s Berlin). Of course, seeing as we don't speak German, we just have to guess what's going on.
12. Jennifer Lawrence
Jennifer thanked MTV in her Screen Actors Guild Award acceptance speech for helping her get her SAG card. But who’d have guessed that the actress known for such tough-girl roles as Katniss in The Hunger Games and Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook would’ve started off playing such a spoiled princess? This My Super Sweet 16 promo is a far cry from her breakout role in the gritty Winter’s Bone, but that’s why she’s already been nominated twice ― the girl has range!
13. Denzel Washington
Whoa. Denzel is such a respected Hollywood commodity now, it's hard to believe he had to make his big screen debut in an incredibly offensive "comedy" from 1981, Carbon Copy. The storyline follows George Segal, who discovers he has a black son and proceeds to ask, "Why are you doing this to me, God?" Even though Denzel was in his mid-twenties when the movie was made, he seems to be playing a simple-minded ten-year-old, and let's just say the racist humor has not aged well. Proof that sometimes "they don't make 'em like they used to" is a good thing.
14. Hugh Jackman
This year he's nominated for singing in a beloved Broadway musical adaptation, but once upon a time he was... singing in a beloved Broadway musical revival. Okay, so maybe not everyone has come so far...
Which Oscar nominee do you think has the most embarrassing black mark on their resume?