More often than not a big-time A-list actor more than likely got his or her start by making a brief appearance in another film without you knowing who that person was. At the time they were probably just an up and coming actor filling the shoes of a role that was needed to complete said film. Or maybe a well-known actor made a cameo in a project to give it more recognition. Then there are the rare times that certain supporting roles fly over your head because you don't identify the actor until long after the film ends.
Making a list of some of the more uncommon roles that fall into this category was fairly challenging. These aren't just the first actors, parts, and films that come to mind. Things that are too obvious like Stan Lee's cameos in Marvel comic book movies, Bruce Campbell in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy, or Johnny Depp in "21 Jump Street" are fun, but a little too easy since the audience got to the point where they expected those. This list is handpicked and hopefully a little less straightforward.
Daniel Craig - Road to Perdition (2002)
Before he was in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," before he was James Bond, and before "Layer Cake," Daniel Craig was in "Road to Perdition." Noteworthy for being one of Tom Hanks darkest films and for featuring one of Paul Newman's last performances, Craig played the smarmy Conner Rooney son of Newman's John Rooney. The lack of responsibility Conner shows along with his nervous laughter at inappropriate times and smart mouth made what was otherwise a spoiled brat raised in the mafia a bit more interesting.
Edward Norton - Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Ian McKellen - Last Action Hero (1993)
I revisited this film just recently and completely didn't realize that Ian McKellen portrayed death at the end of "Last Action Hero." McKellen would add a bit of class to an otherwise purposely ridiculous movie, but we can't forget that this is the same man that would go on to bring Gandalf and Magneto to life on the big screen.
George Clooney - South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut (1999)
George Clooney is no stranger to voicing a character on the animated television series "South Park," created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone and which begins its 18th season this September. Clooney had voiced Stan's dog Sparky in "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride" from the 1st season all the back in 1997. Two years later, Clooney would voice Dr. Gouache, the doctor who accidentally replaces Kenny's heart with a baked potato.
Alfred Molina - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
"Let us hurry. There is nothing to fear here." Alfred Molina would become known for playing the villain you loved to hate. He's best known for being Doctor Octopus in "Spider-Man 2," but his roles in "Maverick," "Species," and "Identity" along with his voice work in "Rango" and "Steamboy" would also become quite significant. Before any of that, Molina was Satipo in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the man who tries to run off with the idol and leave Indiana Jones hanging at the beginning of the film only to meet his demise moments later.
Seth Rogen - Donnie Darko (2001)
Seth Rogen's first feature film appearance was in "Donnie Darko." Rogen was mostly a bully with a handful of lines in the film, but it's kind of amazing that he'd go onto being one of the leading men in comedy films while briefly appearing here, in "Anchorman," and having a substantial role in "Freaks and Geeks."
Zach Galifianakis - Bubble Boy (2001)
Following "October Sky" and "Donnie Darko," Jake Gyllenhaal did a strange little comedy called Bubble Boy that featured appearances from Danny Trejo and Verne Troyer. But as Jimmy Livingston (Gyllenhaal) makes a stop on his way to Niagara Falls, a bus stop attendee who's a bit of a stickler is played by an up and coming Zach Galifianakis.
Danny Glover - Maverick (1994)
I was just able to see "Maverick" for the first time recently and it was really enjoyable. With director Richard Donner and actor Mel Gibson in the lead role, there was only one missing factor in a "Lethal Weapon" reunion. So naturally Danny Glover has a cameo that is not only a reference to the beloved buddy cop franchise, but is also really amusing.
Cate Blanchett - Hot Fuzz (2007)
"Hot Fuzz" is pretty glorious on its own. With its incredible blend of action and comedy and the middle segment of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy by director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. However Nicholas Angel's (Pegg) ex-girlfriend Janine, who is only shown for a brief moment and is wearing a surgical mask, is played by none other than Cate Blanchett. Having already being well-established by this point, Blanchett likely did the role because she was a fan of Wright's work and who could blame her?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - The Brothers Bloom (2008)
Rian Johnson's "Brick" was the debut film for the director and featured Joseph Gordon-Levitt in one of his first film roles the actor was utilizing to get himself out of the shadow of "3rd Rock from the Sun" and into the spotlight of a serious Hollywood actor. Johnson's follow-up would be "The Brothers Bloom" three years later and is a fantastic film on its own, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt couldn't resist making a brief appearance as a bar patron in the film.
Bryan Cranston - Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994)
This anime was a personal favorite growing up. As a big fan of the video game, "Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie" was an animated dream come true. Keeping with the "Breaking Bad" theme, the Bruce Lee inspired Fei Long was voiced by none other than Bryan Cranston even though he's credited under the name Phillip Williams. Cranston did a lot of voice work for "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," as well.