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7 Best Performances From First-Time Actors, Ranked

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There have been countless performances in the history of cinema that have moved us. From Russell Crowe’s performance in A Beautiful Mind to Hailee Steinfeld’s performance in True Grit, there’s no shortage of actors of different backgrounds who have graced the screen and delivered something memorable. In some cases, the best actors working today went to college and studied their crafts before jumping into the industry. In others, they had completely different careers before making it big.

Somewhere in between are the select few who inexplicably come out of nowhere and absolutely blow us away with raw talent that nobody saw coming. It just goes to show that, while experience and training are necessary to become a movie star, luck also plays a big part. Here are the best performances from first-time actors, ranked.

Peter Hedges cast Darlene Cates as the mother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

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after seeing a tape of her on an episode of the daily tabloid talk show Sally. Cates was featured on an episode called “Too Heavy To Leave The House,” in which she talked about her struggles with her weight and how she was bedridden for two years due to medical issues caused in part by her obesity. Upon being cast in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Cates blew people away with her innate acting ability and the gravitas she brought to the role of Bonnie, the mother of Gilbert and Arnie. Being cast into a role while having never acted is one thing; holding your own against some of the finest actors of their generation in Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio is something else entirely.

Related: Best Leonardo DiCaprio Movies, Ranked

Few American Idol winners have achieved the level of sustained success that Jennifer Hudson has — and she didn’t even win the contest. Hudson was a shocking early exit that nobody saw coming, but after her performance in Dreamgirls, she went on to prove that she didn’t need to win to show America and the world that she was the most talented person in the show’s history. Hudson beat out hundreds of actors and singers for the role of Effie White, including American Idol Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino. She earned 29 awards for her part, including the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Before Barkhad Abdi was cast as the chilling hijacker and pirate leader in 2013’s Captain Phillips, he was a refugee who escaped Somalia during the Somali Civil War to Yemen when he was just six years old. From there, he and his family later immigrated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he attended school and worked at a mall selling cell phones. Abdi was chosen from more than 700 actors who auditioned for the role, and casting couldn’t have picked a better person to play the chilling role. What’s more, Abdi would go on to score an nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.

Precious is a tough film to watch and an even more difficult film to watch more than once. The pain and torment that Gabourey Sidibe invokes in this performance makes it hard to believe that this is her first time acting in front of a camera. Alas, she was discovered in an open audition at Lehman College in New York, for which she decided to skip class in order to attend. This film — and her performance, in particular — is a must-watch even if it makes you uncomfortable.

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