He Really Can Act / Film

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Examples of one creator through one or multiple films:

     A–D 
  • Ben Affleck:
    • During the Rifftrax of the movie Daredevil, Mike is briefly impressed by a moment of good acting from Affleck as he plays blind lawyer Matt Murdock, even if Mike tackles in a joke at the end.
      Matt: What is your problem with our clients, we have good, respectable clients. What's your definition of better? Define better.
      Mike: Huh. Ben Affleck takes a stab at acting. And that's the last time we'll ever see him do that.
    • The parking lot scene in Dogma, of all things, is actually a pretty good performance.
    • The Town, is also an example of this. Also, Blake Lively reveals that she can do more than Gossip Girl, and Jeremy Renner, while not being considered anywhere near a bad actor, reveals that he has much more than The Hurt Locker in him, he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, his second nomination after his first for Best Actor in The Hurt Locker.
    • Gone Girl. While Rosamund Pike got a majority of the awards, likely because of the reveal that her character is a manipulative psychopath, Affleck's performance as the other half of a seriously messed up couple cannot be denied.
    • From the teaser footage that's been shown of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there are people who think he could have the part nailed in spite of suffering from some serious WTH, Casting Agency? backlash when he was announced for the part. Having seen the movie, many critics were completely sold on him as Bruce Wayne/Batman, despite the film's tepid reception.
  • Speaking of Affleck Brothers, Casey Affleck. After bit parts in comedies such as The Last Kiss and the Oceans Films, no one expected much. Then in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, he delivers an absolutely stunning and brilliantly understated performance as Bob Ford, the much reviled murderer of Jesse James, who wants nothing more than to be famous and beloved like his icon. His role in Gone Baby Gone showed that he was only going to get better, and he is now an Oscar winner for Manchester by the Sea.
  • Woody Allen in The Front. Up until this point in his career, he had been known for playing silly, nebbishy nerds. Although there are traces of that here, it's a deeper and more dramatic performance than even his fans are used to.
  • Leila Arcieri in Kevin Hill. Before then she was thought of as more beauty than anything else. But her role in Kevin Hill proved she's very capable of doing dramatic roles, and is more than just a pretty face.
  • Dan Aykroyd:
    • Trading Places. Say what you want about Aykroyd's acting, but he played his character pretty well. His character was going through depression, because his life has been destroyed by a bet. And he played it very convincing.
    • And then he was vindicated by Oscar nomination via his stellar performance in Driving Miss Daisy, managing to hold his own in the company of screen legend Jessica Tandy.
  • Kevin Bacon, commonly known as a teen movie star for most of his career, had almost ended that career when he starred in A Few Good Men. Critics also loved him in The Woodsman. He was also excellent in Murder in the First. And, on the other side of the fence from Murder in the First, as well as being in a similar vein to The Woodsman, he was wonderfully disturbing as a child-raping reformatory guard in Sleepers. Then there was his phenomenal performance in Apollo 13. He also won praise for his portrayal of Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First Class, particularly as everyone had dismissed him as too goofy, and he promptly proved them wrong. Very wrong.
  • Sacha Baron Cohen in Hugo gives a surprisingly good performance as the station inspector. You can feel the characters pathos when need be, it's awesome.
  • Kristen Bell surprised quite a few people, castmates included, that she could belt out one hell of a tune in Disney's Frozen. Some reviewers pointed out that the film let her unleash one of her best kept secrets (since her singing before this had been minor things, such as the Reefer Madness parody Reefer Madness: The Musical).
  • John Belushi played completely against type in the sweet romantic comedy Continental Divide, which made a lot of people wonder what could have been if he had managed to beat his drug demons before they took his life.
  • His brother James Belushi is no slouch, either. Check out his role as Fang in Gargoyles and The Woodsman in Hoodwinked.
  • Haley Bennett has already made quite a name for herself for being critically-lauded in films like the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven and The Girl on the Train. She also turned in a One-Scene Wonder performance in The Equalizer.
  • Jessica Biel found herself typecast as either a Ms. Fanservice or an Action Girl. When Liv Tyler dropped out of The Illusionist, she went to the audition in full costume, desperate to win the part of a 19th century duchess in Austria. Her casting was met with a lot of criticism, which went away when the film was released. Easy Virtue was another one, also showing off some nice singing talents too.
  • Jack Black:
    • He's known for being goofy, silly, immature, etc. Then comes along his despicable character in the King Kong (2005) remake...
    • However, it's Dustin Hoffman's tutoring for Kung Fu Panda that really allowed Black to create a truly soulful character as Po.
    • And then there's Bernie. Take every trait you'd associate with a "typical" Jack Black character and create a character who's the complete opposite. Black nailed it.
  • Orlando Bloom:
    • Most people wrote Bloom off as worthless because of his Mr. Fanservice popularity until his Self-Deprecation appearance on an episode of Extras and his performance as a near-suicidal failed writer in the London play In Celebration. Fans could have told these people that all they needed to do was watch him in Ned Kelly or Haven to see what he can do. Or Elizabethtown.
    • To a lesser extent, some people believed that he proved his acting chops in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End when Will Turner dies. To quote a YouTube comment: "I never really considered Orlando Bloom to be like an amazing actor or anything, even when I had the biggest crush on him ever, like he was first and longest celebrity crush lol, but I think he handles this whole death scene very well. I think I cried the first time I saw it."
  • Uwe Boll, known chiefly for crappy film adaptations of video games, proved his directing chops with Rampage, considered by many to be his best effort yet.
  • From the serious to the comic: David Bowie's mysterious, cool, sensual aura has bled into so many of his film/TV roles over the years that one can forget his genuine acting talent...so as a quick refresher, enjoy the short film/music video hybrid Jazzin' for Blue Jean, in which Acting for Two results in Adam Westing of the coolness and an Adorkable protagonist.
  • Lloyd Bridges came at it in the opposite direction, spending part of the 60s establishing himself as a dramatic, action hero actor on film and in television. And then came Airplane!, and his comic career was born. More than ten years of parody films like Hot Shots! later, his son Jeff Bridges is doing Blown Away and needs someone to play his character's uncle. When Jeff suggested his dad for the role, the producers apparently responded with, "Doesn't he only do comedies?"
  • Emily Browning going from the childlike and innocent Violet in A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) to Sucker Punch is mind blowing to some people. The difference in characters in immense...
  • Gary Busey: He didn't garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor (for The Buddy Holly Story) for nothing. (I mean, the guy practically was Buddy Holly, similar to how Joaquin Phoenix became The Man in Black.)
  • Many people dismissed Nicolas Cage as a bad actor who always goes crazy. He's very good in The Rock, Lord of War, Leaving Las Vegas, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, City of Angels, Windtalkers, and Wild at Heart.
  • Steve Carell:
    • Little Miss Sunshine. The guy mainly known from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart at that time put on a great performance as the formerly suicidal uncle.
    • Foxcatcher, where he played the extremely creepy and terrifying millionaire John du Pont. He even managed to get nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.
  • Mariah Carey in Precious. She even holds her own while sharing scenes with Mo'Nique Parker's Oscar-winning acting.
  • David Caruso is best known to audiences for putting on sunglasses and cheesy one-liners in CSI: Miami. Therefore seeing him in King of New York as the violent but well-intentioned police officer who is disgusted that a wealthy man can get off for murder is quite a shock. He not only plays the role extremely well, he easily holds his own alongside Christopher Walken.
  • Darlene Cates: While What's Eating Gilbert Grape is best known for being the film that proved that Leonardo DiCaprio's performances had prowess, Cates, the lady who played Gilbert's mother Bonnie, was not a professional actress. She was cast after appearing on a talk show because the filmmakers couldn't find a real actress who looked right enough to play the grossly overweight character. Despite no previous experience, her role was expanded when they found out about her surprising ability to act. For an example, check the scene where she confronts the sheriff at the police station.
  • Henry Cavill:
    • Cavill as Superman in Man of Steel. Although the movie got mixed reviews (as did the decision to make Superman largely filled with angst), Cavill's performance as Superman had several defenders cite it as one of the good things in the movie. All the more awesome since he gets to act alongside well-known actors such as Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon and Russell Crowe.
    • For those who were less impressed with the movie or found that it offered him a limited range to work with, his performance in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) provided this trope, as it allowed him to play someone with a much smoother and more affable personality.
  • Jackie Chan is known for more comedic roles, so his dramatic performance in The Karate Kid (2010) remake surprised many viewers. Not those who'd seen Shinjuku Incident. Chan plays a less glamorous version of The Godfather...and kills it.
  • You know Charlie Chaplin? The guy with the funny mustache who did slapstick in old silent comedies? Behold his famous speech at the end of The Great Dictator. Holy moley.
  • Cher. When her name came up in the opening credits for Moonstruck, the audience laughed. She bagged an Oscar for it. By the time she appeared in Mask, people felt she should have bagged an Oscar for it. Cher had already established her dramatic credentials with supporting roles in Silkwood and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.
  • Hayden Christensen:
    • He got this reaction after Shattered Glass, suggesting that his wooden performance in the Star Wars prequels were at least partly a result of the director's lack of attention.
    • He proved his acting prowess in a drama called Life as a House, released shortly before Attack of the Clones, where he earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as Sam Monroe.
    • All the points in Revenge of the Sith without dialogue managed to showcase Christensen's prowess through his facial expressions alone. And even then, he manages to deliver some of his lines in a very evil and badass manner.
  • Thomas Haden Church was best known as the goofy mechanic Lowell on the comedy series Wings. Then he appeared in Sideways in a role as far from Lowell as humanly possible and blew everyone away with his performance. And as Sandman in Spider-Man 3. He even did the motion capture for his scene after first gaining his powers.
  • While Emilia Clarke had already proved her chops on Game of Thrones, her critically panned performance in Terminator Genisys led to many thinking she'd be a one-hit-wonder - typecast as Action Girls forever. Then came Me Before You and she accomplished three things: a) she went radically against type to play an Adorkable Cute Clumsy Girl, b) opted for a smaller, more independent project that wasn't a guaranteed hit, and c) showed that she had the range to do so. She both shows off some great comic timing in the film's funnier parts, before breaking viewers' hearts as Cerebus Syndrome sets in.
  • Billy Connolly in a number of smaller roles, but the breakout is probably the film Mrs Brown. As well as The Boondock Saints franchise in which he plays the stoic, aging yet ruthless Hitman with a Heart. Anyone who's surprised by Billy Connolly's acting ability obviously hasn't seen his stand-up, where he plays hundreds of characters of varying voices and accents. There's an early video of him playing a man doing a quiet Anguished Declaration of Love, only to let off a fart in the middle of it.
  • Jai Courtney:
    • He was often derided as a creation of the Hollywood Hype Machine, with neither the charisma nor acting chops to properly headline a major blockbuster, to the point that it became a Running Gag in Honest Trailers and CinemaSins. Then came his role as Captain Boomerang in Suicide Squad, which has received a great deal of critical acclaim and audience support for his portrayal of a funny-yet-dickish career criminal.
    • Some people argue that Courtney's strength as an actor lies better in supporting roles rather than headliners, which is why his portrayal in Suicide Squad, which features an ensemble cast, was so well-received. Those people also tend to point out to Spartacus: Blood and Sand, where he plays Spartacus's best friend, Varro, in one of the most adorable and heartbreaking bromances in recent memory. He played a Roman citizen who entered slavery to pay off his gambling debts, and he handled all the accompanying drama in a completely convincing way.
  • Tom Cruise:
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, while well-known to British audiences just for Sherlock alone, still has performances that can surprise:
    • His performance as John Harrison (AKA Khan Noonien Singh) in Star Trek Into Darkness is downright chilling, going from a calm and composed officer to snarling psychopath. While his role as Sherlock Holmes is definitely of the sociopathic variety, it's still a stark contrast to him being an outright villain.
    • He has previously played an OCD-suffering genius mathematician in The Last Enemy.
    • Glimpses of his performance in The Fifth Estate biopic as Julian Assange further show his acting ability. It's possible he's just that good at playing flawed geniuses.
    • Speaking of flawed geniuses, there's also his work in Frankenstein. Not only did he play Dr. Victor Frankenstein, he and co-star Jonny Lee Miller would swap roles so they would play both Dr. Frankenstein and the Creature. It should come as no surprise that both Cumberbatch and Miller won the Olivier Award for their work.
    • Very rarely is it said that Benedict Cumberbatch is anything less than a great actor, but for anyone who says he's just a pretty face, look no further than his role as a terrifying rapist pedophile in Atonement, which is about the least sexy role a person could take on. Especially with his creepy Porn Stache.
  • Miley Cyrus in The Last Song, several critics, most notably Roger Ebert praised her acting in that film. But, she got a Razzie nomination for it. Most people that gave Hannah Montana a chance instead of automatically panning it just because it was a Disney show already knew that Cyrus had real charisma and a flair for comedy. Even in the first season where she clearly showed her inexperience, she had some moments of brilliance (watch the episode where she also plays her evil identical cousin).
  • Jeff Daniels. Here he is in Dumb and Dumber. And here he is in Gettysburg. Anyone who still has doubts definitely needs to watch The Newsroom.
  • Patrick Dempsey: Bizarrely, some have had this reaction to him in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, namely as Dylan Gould, a human villain even more despicable than most of the Decepticons.
  • Johnny Depp: He got this kind of attention for Edward Scissorhands. During his 21 Jump Street days he had been thought of more as a teen mag coverboy than an actor (a situation that did not make him happy). Even in his Large Ham roles, such as Captain Jack Sparrow and Raoul Duke, quite a bit of restraint and nuance often shows through, often because he is Doing It for the Art and because he loves the parts in question (in the former case, he always wanted to play a pirate someday, while in the latter, he was a personal friend of Hunter S. Thompson and wanted to get the role just right).
  • Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich. She's unrecognizable and really good. Any Given Sunday, in which she holds her own against Al Pacino. And in Vanilla Sky she gives the best performance of entire cast.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio: Although critics nowadays are generally big fans of him, it was quite a long and winding road before that:
  • Vin Diesel:
    • He is the kind of actor who plays the same type of character, regardless of what character he's supposed to be playing. And then he did Find Me Guilty, and suddenly people were quoting the trope name. Those few people who were paying attention (mostly Roger Ebert and a few other film critics) were talking about his performances in Boiler Room and The Iron Giant years before.
    • Also, he's pretty good in his self-directed, short film debut "MultiFacial".
    • Most people would be surprised to know that he started as a stage actor. A part of that is hinted in The Pacifier where he helps a kid put on a play.
    • He received critical acclaim for providing the voices of both The Iron Giant and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, particularly for his ability to pack a ton of emotion and meaning into simple, stoic phrases ("I go. You stay. No follow."). Furthermore, for Guardians, he committed to his role absolutely, saying his one line ("I am Groot") over a thousand times, committing facial and body language to give Groot's animators a base to work with, and furthermore providing the (translated) line in French, Russian, Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese, and German (and maybe more).
    • A particular high point for his acting was the ending of Furious 7, where he managed to break the hearts of every viewer with his narration that contained a boatload of real life subtext.
  • Hilary Duff:
    • In an odd example, her performance seems to be the only thing in War, Inc. which the critics did like.
    • Raise Your Voice is a much earlier example. The only reason it bombed was because of the demographic issues. It was too mature for her pre-teen fans.
    • She took a massive step forward in Greta, both with fans and haters.
  • Kirsten Dunst was showered with nominations and awards for her lead role in Melancholia, and with good reason. Her portrayal of a woman with depression is partially based on her own experiences with the affliction, and it shows, particularly during the wedding scene. She'd dropped off the radar for several years, but this reminded everyone about her talents in the first place.
  • Fred Durst, commonly known as the backwards red cap-wearing mook from Limp Bizkit, surprised critics with his acting in the movie Population 436. Then with his directing of the drama The Education of Charlie Banks.

    E–M 
  • Zac Efron: A lot of viewers had this reaction to him in 17 Again. His acting really is much better in this film than it is in his more famous films, especially since he's a 22 year old, playing a 37 year old turned into a 17 year old.
  • Chris Evans:
    • When it was announced he'd play Steven Rogers/Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger, Evans was mostly known for goofy/sarcastic characters, including his previous experience with superhero movies, the much-panned Fantastic Four (2005), so many fans assumed this would be the Jumping the Shark moment for Marvel films. When the movie came out, Evans drew rave reviews from both critics and comics fans.
    • He's also received praise for his gut-wrenching performance as Curtis Everett in Snowpiercer.
  • Elle Fanning:
    • Although Super 8 was built on great child actors, Fanning stands out as a true talent, especially in the Film Within a Film rehearsal scenes.
    • Now a grown-up woman, then there's The Neon Demon, which while divisive, her performance was greatly praised.
  • Michael Fassbender wasn't all that well known before X-Men: First Class, but he had been good. Then he promptly stole the already critically raved about film through a chilling performance as Magneto, which is quite something since he was essentially playing a younger version of one of Sir Ian McKellen's best performances.
  • Will Ferrell is mostly known for his comic roles, but damn if Stranger Than Fiction doesn't prove he can pull off a dramatic role. Crick's distress when he's told that he must accept his death in order to make Karen's book work feels strikingly genuine.
  • Sally Field. Light, fluffy, comedic sitcom actress, right? She was Gidget, she was The Flying Nun, she was The Girl With Something Extra — and then she was Sybil, and everybody sat down and shut up. Anyone left over was completely won by Norma Rae, or — for the last holdouts — Places in the Heart.
  • Colin Firth was known primarily for being a cute British guy in some fluffy romantic comedies, but then he was cast as George VI in The King's Speech, and nails a performance of a man who is both unprepared for the Crown and never wanted the job to begin with. His friendship with his speech therapist is wonderfully heartwarming, but the scene in which he breaks into tears with his wife, under the pressure of The Chains of Commanding, are what shows he deserved that Oscar. He also received much critical praise only the year before for A Single Man, where his portrayal of a man's grief following the death of his lover was wonderfully sensitive and understated, showing a greater depth to Firth that had not yet been seen.
  • Jamie Foxx:
  • James Franco:
    • For a while, it seemed like he was going to be remembered as whiny and irritating Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man Trilogy. Then along came Pineapple Express, and now 127 Hours, boosting his esteem considerably.
    • This had arguably happened earlier when he fully embodied the role of James Dean in a made-for-TV biopic and when he held his own in Milk. Earlier still in Freaks and Geeks as Daniel, the cool rebel deconstruction, who desperately wants to break out of the loser perception everyone has of him. His speech about being one of the "Dumb Kids" is heartbreaking, even if you know before hand that it is setting up a final joke...
    • He actually improved alot over the course of the Spider-Man movies, going from wooden in one movie, to "whiny and irritating" in the next, to very convincing in the third, as he plays Harry as evil and vengeful, with amnesia, in a moral dilemma, and dying all in the same film.
  • Brendan Fraser:
    • The man has appeared in movies ranging from crap like Monkeybone to comedies like George of the Jungle to campy blockbusters like The Mummy Trilogy and Journey to the Center of the Earth. While his acting was fairly good, his role on Scrubs seriously shows his chops as an actor. He also turned out to be a man of a thousand voices — listen to the audio books he's narrated.
    • Gods and Monsters, anyone? If you're sharing the screen with Sir Ian McKellen, just holding your own has to qualify.
    • While Blast from the Past wasn't exactly the most serious fare of his career, he did play a sheltered, socially-awkward gentleman very convincingly.
    • Audio Books? How about Inkspell? He's the vocal inspiration for one of the roles! (Mo. And he played him in the well casted Inkheart movie.)
  • Zach Galifianakis' voice performance as The Joker in The LEGO Batman Movie. He manages to pull off funny ("I'm rubbing my butt all over your stuff!") and scary ("I always come to work with a smile").
  • Ricky Gervais: The Invention of Lying, despite being a comedy, features one very effective scene of Gervais's character improvising a description of Heaven to comfort his dying mother, which shows Gervais could easily start a career as a dramatic actor if he ever wanted to. Ghost Town is another dramedy like the film mentioned above where he demonstrates his ability to play a completely serious, humorless character.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt in everything he's done since 3rd Rock from the Sun.
    • Every review for Mysterious Skin has a sentence that is essentially: "HOLY. COW. Didn't see that coming."
    • But nobody really noticed until he returned to acting after taking off a few years to go to college. And not only his acting chops, but how fully committed he can be to any role or bit performed. His stint as host of Saturday Night Live had him perform the "Make Em' Laugh" number from Singin' in the Rain to near perfection on live television. To give some perspective, even stage performances of the number nowadays don't require the actor to perform all of the stunts because of the sheer amount of athleticism required pull it off. The performance can be seen here. And yes, he does do the backflip off the wall. Twice.
    • His performance in Brick, which came out very soon after Mysterious Skin and starred Gordon-Levitt as a teenage hardboiled detective, had a similar effect. But for the grand majority of movie audiences, it was almost certainly Inception.
    • Actually, for the majority of people his breakout role was more likely (500) Days of Summer.
    • He is almost unrecognizable in Lincoln.
  • Hugh Grant: Rowing with the Wind isn't considered to be by any measure a good movie; not only is it the the third movie in as many years to center around Mary Shelley conceiving of the plot of Frankenstein, its central plot (that the Shelley clique creates a allegorical monster that leads them all to their untimely deaths) is shamelessly stolen from Gothic. (It also has John Polidori, who was an English physician in his early twenties, portrayed as a middle-aged Spaniard). But what actually make the movie worth seeing is Grant, who actually acts. Grant is one of those actors who had made a comfortable career of playing himself (or so we assume). His portrayal of Lord Byron is every bit as good as Gabriel Byrne's portrayal in Gothic, and Byrne was brilliant! The comparison is also unfair because Grant plays Byron over the course of many years, so we see many different aspects of his character, and the picture we get is a more complete one, while Byrne played Byron as a hedonistic madman, and since we only saw him on that particular night, we were never allowed to see that there was more.
  • Topher Grace's character in Predators at first seems like his usual role, an awkward wimp... until The Reveal that he's an extremely depraved serial killer who's been stringing the others along.
  • Judy Greer:
    • Believe it or not, in The Descendants she got this reaction. Go watch the scene where her character breaks down crying while forgiving Elizabeth for having an affair with her husband and try and remind yourself it's the same actress who said "Say goodbye to these!" (her breasts) in Arrested Development. Talk about range.
    • There's also this scene from The Village, which she made the same year as 13 Going on 30.
  • Jackie Earle Haley was a child actor in the 1970s and 1980s who fell off the radar and took a long hiatus from acting. When he eventually made a return, he stunned a number of critics with his work in Little Children, earning an Oscar nomination with it. For variety, his work as Rorschach in Watchmen, was considered one of the best superhero casting choices ever.
  • Mark Hamill impressed everyone after Star Wars by taking very serious roles in the Broadway versions of Amadeus, and The Elephant Man. Then he started to voice The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series... Also see Wing Commander IV, particularly when sharing the screen with Malcolm McDowell. (YouTube link.)
  • Tom Hanks: That doofy guy from Bosom Buddies, and Bachelor Party, and Volunteers, and Mazes and Monsters, ... and then he did Philadelphia, and Big, and A League of Their Own, and Forrest Gump, and Apollo 13, and Saving Private Ryan, etc., etc. It's called Tom Hanks Syndrome for a reason.
  • Daryl Hannah had always been associated with lightweight roles but proved surprisingly convincing as a psychotic killer in the Kill Bill movies.
  • Anne Hathaway:
    • In Rachel Getting Married, in which she played a resentful drug addict, she proved that she is a force to be reckoned with.
    • And in Les Misérables (2012), which won her an Oscar.
    • In The Dark Knight Rises she spends the first ten minutes or so playing a catering server who is in everything but name pre-Princess Mia. And then Bruce confronts her... and just through changing her posture, she becomes Catwoman before our eyes.
    • When she did Brokeback Mountain, people thought of it as a movie with three amazing thespians and Anne Hathaway. Arguably Hathaway has now eclipsed all of them (with the exception of Heath Ledger, who left us too soon).
  • Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine, which earned her an Oscar nomination. She's also getting some Oscar buzz for her role as a mute woman in The Shape of Water.
  • Chris Hemsworth:
  • Paris Hilton in Repo! The Genetic Opera surprised a lot of people.
  • Vanessa Hudgens proves she could go the distance in the acting department with her subtle but emotional performance in Sucker Punch where she plays the complete opposite of who she played in High School Musical.
  • Kate Hudson got an Oscar nomination for Almost Famous but a series of romantic comedies that did middling business caused people to forget what they liked about her in the first place. The Skeleton Key, where she goes against type to play a hospice nurse, sparks this reaction from fans even to this day. In a different vein for this trope, 9 had critics praising her for her singing and dancing — her song "Cinema Italiano" is a huge Ear Worm.
  • Tom Hulce made his first big acting mark as goofy Delta frat member Pinto in Animal House. Then along came a movie called Amadeus. And then, a movie called The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where it turns out he really can sing as well.
  • Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is a supermodel who made her acting debut in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Michael Bay, who isn't known for his strong female characters, essentially used her as Ms. Fanservice with no character whatsoever and Huntington-Whiteley was no better than anyone. Then came the critically acclaimed Mad Max: Fury Road in which she plays a pregnant sex slave, with critics agreeing that she gave a sympathetic, strong performance.
  • Anna Hutchison, probably best known for her role as Lily, the Yellow Cheetah Ranger on Power Rangers Jungle Fury has a fantastic performance in The Cabin in the Woods, in which she gives a truly frightening performance right until her character is brutally killed.
  • Hugh Jackman:
    • The triple role of Tomas/Tommy/Tom in The Fountain. It was amazing.
    • Another example is him portraying the double of a man who is also played by him in The Prestige. Up until the double starts "acting" as him, they actually look, sound and move like different people and the transformation is genuinely astonishing. The skill in portraying such a morally ambiguous yet still somewhat sympathetic character in The Prestige that makes the viewer forget that they're even watching Wolverine's actor also shows his skill.
    • And of course, there was a time when Jackman was just this random Australian who was cast as Wolverine, one of Marvel's most iconic characters. He didn't just steal the film, he stole the series.
    • Anyone who saw Hugh performing in Australian theatre before he went to Hollywood will tell you, "That guy's going to be a star".
  • Angelina Jolie: People only familiar with her from the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie would do well to watch such films as Life or Something Like It, where she gives a powerful performance as a TV reporter who discovers she is doomed to die in a week. Her role in Girl, Interrupted cemented her status as a great actress, and that was before Tomb Raider.
  • Madeline Kahn is known for her role in Clue, her hosting gigs on Saturday Night Live, and parts in Mel Brooks comedies like Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, What's Up, Doc?, and History of the World Part I. However she was more than just a comedienne. Check out this monologue she delivered in Paper Moon, where she was able to express anger, humor, sadness, irritability, vanity, regret, resignation, and silliness, all in under 3 minutes! She received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her performance.
  • Harvey Keitel was always a good supporting actor, proving he could hold his own alongside Robert De Niro but never getting the big parts. Then in Bad Lieutenant he gives a brilliant performance as a man we should detest but we pity due to his intense self-hatred and despair.
  • Nicole Kidman:
    • She has an Oscar for Best Actress sitting on her shelf at home, as well as a room full of other awards, so it's hard to imagine this ever applying to her. But for the first half of the Nineties, she was best known for being Mrs. Tom Cruise. Then came To Die For, which won her a Golden Globe award, and which is still considered by many to be among her best work. Then, when good roles started to cool off again despite that film's sucess, before people would wonder if it was a fluke, Kidman went into a tear with back-to-back roles in Eyes Wide Shut, Moulin Rouge!, The Others, and The Hours, the latter being the one for which she won her Oscar.
    • Pre-Tom Cruise, there was Bangkok Hilton, in which she plays a young woman framed by her boyfriend for heroin smuggling. The scene where she starts to go into an asthma attack when the heroin is discovered will impress anyone.
  • Lisa Kudrow:
    • Better known for her role as Phoebe in Friends, in the 1998 film The Opposite of Sex.
    • See also her work in The Comeback and Web Therapy.
    • And her role in Paper Man, where you can actually see her channeling "Angrish Phoebe" in a productive way that works. It's on Netflix, look it up.
  • Mila Kunis, usually known for comedies, managed to her own opposite Natalie Portman on Black Swan.
  • While Shia LaBeouf was praised for his performaces in Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the controversial nature of those films, coupled with his off-screen antics, have overshadowed his talent. However, he has gained respect in a number of films both before and after those films:
    • Holes, which was actually his film debut, proved his acting capabilities beyond the broad comedy of Even Stevens.
    • In Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, he had received cries of WTH, Casting Agency? for his Playing Against Type beyond the action films he was known for, but when the movie came out, critics had agreed that he gave an overall solid performance as a stockbroker.
    • Post-Transformers, he had taken on a role in David Ayer's WWII film Fury. He had gone into an intense Dyeing for Your Art phase, to the extent that he actually cut his face to get into the character. Many had worried about such dedication, but his performance was praised when the film came out.
  • Brie Larson earned much praise as a rising actress in the late 2000s and early 2010s, largely through supporting roles in comedies like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and 21 Jump Street. However, she then ended up taking on a much larger amount of notability as the lead in indie dramas like Short Term 12 and Room, each of which required her to portray characters with immense emotional trauma. Larson managed to pull off both feats, earning critical acclaim and winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for Room.
  • Heath Ledger used to be mainly known as "the gay cowboy." When he was cast as The Joker in The Dark Knight, the general reaction was either groans of dread or simply, "What?" He won an Academy Award and critical acclaim for his performance, and is often considered to be the best Joker ever.
  • Brandon Lee, holy shit. Most of his movies prior to this play him as a skilled martial artist, yet with a laid back comedic personality. The Crow, on the other hand, shows him Playing Against Type as the deeply hurt and revenge-driven Eric Draven and not only is it successful, it is scary. The fact that he died in the making of this movie makes his performance more haunting.
  • Jet Li:
    • A man best known as a pint-sized badass martial artist, in Ocean Heaven. The romantic drama, proudly touted as his "first non martial-arts film", has Li play a terminally-ill father of a 22-year-old autistic child.
    • Or Danny the Dog. The martial arts are used in service of the story (i.e., the fights express emotion just as clearly as the dialogue), and his mannerisms when playing a man raised as a dog are uncanny.
    • As to his martial arts movies, it is worth pointing out that Li delivered terrific performance in Hero and Fearless (2006). He managed to carry an all-around mediocre The One with his acting as well. You gotta give the man some credit — even when he knows that the audience just wants to see asses kicked and kung fu done, he still makes an effort to act well.
    • Don't forget his role as Wong Fei Hung in the Once Upon a Time in China series, arguably his most famous role and the one that is synonymous with the image of Wong Fei Hung. Also his role in The Warlords as the conflicted Anti-Hero Panq Qinqyun, the role was critically praised, earning Jet his second Hong Kong Film Award for Best actor nomination and his first win (the first nomination on which he did not win was for the aforementioned Fearless).
    • Interesting fact about The One: After Dwayne Johnson passed on the role in favor of The Scorpion King, the character was rewritten for Jet Li... with a lot less lines. Jet Li doesn't need to speak to show a lot of emotion. The scene during the final fight where he sees his empty ring finger and finds his center, allowing him to beat the bad guy, is done without any words at all, but they're not necessary there. Add to that the fact that he's Acting for Two (the crazy and power-mad Yulaw and the good-hearted and desperate Gabe), and you can see why he got the role.
  • Matthew Lillard:
    • Lillard is usually known as a Large Ham actor who played Shaggy in the live-action Scooby-Doo films. In The Descendants, he displays surprising restraint and emotion that some were not aware he was capable of.
    • The signs were there even earlier: pay attention to him as "Maniac" Marshall in Wing Commander and be stunned by the nuanced performance he gives as a 'mere' supporting character.
  • Lindsay Lohan:
    • Georgia Rule. Although it received mostly negative reviews, most critics praised her acting and said that her performance was the best part of the film.
    • Lohan has shown that she's pretty good at playing more than one character, in such films as her debut The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday (2003). Her impression of Jamie Lee Curtis in the latter is uncanny. However, the winning streak ended with I Know Who Killed Me — Lohan appeared to have a lot of trouble working with prosthetic special-effects makeup.
    • It's more that people forgot she could act. She gained praise for her very first movie, The Parent Trap. Being that her performance in her last major movie, I Know Who Killed Me was still pretty fresh in people's mind.
  • Madonna:
    • Film critics savaged her acting performances for years until her turn as Eva Perón in Evita; she eventually won a Golden Globe for her performance.
    • In fact, many critics would agree that she's done a decent job in a few of her other films—Dick Tracy, A League of Their Own, Desperately Seeking Susan, etc.
  • While Tobey Maguire may be best known for being Peter Parker in the Spider-Man Trilogy, he has considerable acting chops. A notable example comes from Brothers (2009), with one of the most terrifying performances you'll ever see.
  • Jena Malone:
    • In The Neon Demon, she takes a cue from the previously mentioned Benedict Cumberbatch in Atonement and plays a lesbian vampire who almost rapes the female lead and is also a necrophiliac. Suffice it to say, it's disturbing. Hard to believe it's the same woman who played a young Jodie Foster in Contact.
    • Then of course there's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, where many viewers declared she completely stole the show as Johanna Mason. One commentor even said: "The next Hunger Games movie could just be Johanna axing a bitch and I'd still love it."
    • One final film to note is the indie horror film The Ruins. An actress in a low-budget horror film shouldn't be that good at crying.
  • Rooney Mara: After her disastrous debut performance in the A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), many people wrote her of as the worst new star of the year. Near the end of the year, she had a One-Scene Wonder in David Fincher's The Social Network, and suddenly people began to see some potential in her. That potential was reached with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where she managed to match Noomi Rapace's performance and (in some people's eyes) exceed it. Mara later revealed that she had a miserable time working on A Nightmare on Elm Street, and almost quit acting. Thank God she didn't.
  • Steve Martin:
    • He played completely against type as Arthur Parker in the film version of Pennies from Heaven, only his second film after The Jerk. He proved there that he can act (and dance, too).
    • He also does some first-rate work in Parenthood as a father facing the challenges of raising children with deep emotional problems that he realizes he can't fix. The scene where he lashes out at his boss for giving a promotion to a less deserving, morally bankrupt colleague and when his wife reveals that she is pregnant show just how angry his character is at the world.
  • Rachel McAdams and her acting talent were never in doubt but her first two notable roles were Mean Girls and Wedding Crashers, and The Notebook suffered a lot of Hype Backlash. She then showed off her dramatic talents in Red Eye, proving her versatility.
  • Matthew McConaughey:
    • While best known for taking his shirt off constantly and talking like a drunk, he proved he was no slouch in A Time to Kill, in which he brings remarkable depth to what could have been a shallow role and effortlessly holding his own alongside veterans and critically acclaimed actors such as: Samuel L. Jackson, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey, Chris Cooper, Brenda Fricker and Charles Dutton.
    • He now seems to be returning to that with his role in 2011's The Lincoln Lawyer.
    • His critically acclaimed performances in 2012's Killer Joe and Magic Mike have been earning him serious praise, to the point that there has even been Awards buzz.
    • And now, many critics have lavished praises on his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, with some even calling it a career-best and giving another Awards buzz for him — and a Golden Globe and an Oscar.
    • Topped off with his role in the HBO anthology drama True Detective, which has received rave reviews, and he more than holds his own with Woody Harrelson.
    • The reason Christopher Nolan sought him to play the hero in his movie Interstellar is his performance as the titular character in Mud.
  • Christopher Meloni, best known for his serious role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, also showed impressive comic talents in Wet Hot American Summer and Gym Teacher: The Movie.
  • Sienna Miller was never deemed a bad actress, but she was initially best known for a really tabloid fodder-worthy relationship with Jude Law and secondly for her role as the Baroness in the infamous G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Imagine the surprise critics and audiences felt when they recognized her in her small role as David's wife in Foxcatcher, and later on when she starred in American Sniper, where she was even liked by that film's haters.
  • Mo'Nique, whose entire filmography up until this point had consisted of low-brow comedies, shocked everyone with her portrayal of an abusive, mentally unstable mother in Precious, a role which earned her a much-deserved Oscar.
  • Roger Moore:
    • Moore is best known for playing suave, charming international playboy types. Seeing him in The Man Who Haunted Himself, in which he plays an uptight exec who thinks he's being stalked by his own double and ultimately has a nervous breakdown, is a jaw-dropping experience. Partly because his performance is so good, and partly because seeing Roger Moore going realistically insane is genuinely disturbing.
    • Right in the middle of his stint as James Bond, he starred in The Wild Geese as Daniel Craig's version of Bond, ie a hard, cold badass. His first scene where he forces a drug dealer to overdose on his own product is quite unnerving to people used to his foppish, debonair Bond.
    • Not forgetting For Your Eyes Only, are we? You know, the one with him acting as ruthless as Connery, Dalton and Craig at their coldest.
  • Emily Mortimer is recognized as a very good actress, as shown in The Newsroom. But then watch her in this scene from Shutter Island. There's also her role as one of the Jerkass sisters in Our Idiot Brother.
  • Besides being one of the many examples of this for Kevin Bacon, The Woodsman also had a terrific example in Mos Def. His monologue about the child who had been torn apart by a rapist is both chilling and a Tear Jerker.
  • Carrie-Anne Moss performance in Memento, as the film gave her a character slightly more acerbic and manipulative than Trinity. Moss acted her ass off in, of all things, Fido.

    N–R 
  • Anna Paquin in The Piano. She might have been only 11 at the time it was released, but she ended up displaying a complexity with her emotions in her performance that many actresses twice her age couldn't muster. She also earned the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film.
  • Robert Pattinson. Remember Me. Not that he was ever bad, per se, but holy cow. But he earned a Razzie nomination for it. This could be said for the majority of the Twilight cast up to and including the examples of Kristen Stewart and Jackson Rathbone below.
  • Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead's dramatic scenes. A comedy actor shouldn't be that good at crying. While the entire Cornetto Trilogy is stealthily full of this, Gary and Andy's final confrontation in the titular pub of The World's End is reaffirmation for Simon's dramatic talents, and puts Nick Frost squarely and firmly in this category as well. (Heck, the entire movie is arguably one long He Can Really Act for Frost.) Not to mention Benji's rant to Ethan in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
  • Tyler Perry:
    • Perry has always been very Love It or Hate It because of the Madea films he has directed and starred in, but his movie Good Deeds proved to be very surprising. With nary a Madea in sight, it was very low-key, sweet and disarming, with him turning a lot of his own film cliches over on their head. He proved that by playing a subdued, withdrawn sort of character that yes, He Really Can Act.
    • Perry was also praised for his acting-only turns in Gone Girl as attorney Tanner Bolt and Alex Cross as the titular investigator, which much like Good Deeds were low-key yet good. Much like people tend to say that Ben Affleck seems to be a better director than actor, some people have started to say the opposite about Perry.
  • Alex Pettyfer was known solely as a Pretty Boy in various YA adaptations that flopped. But Magic Mike saw him earning lots of praise for his work — proving that there was more to him than just being a Mr. Fanservice.
  • Ryan Phillippe became famous as a star of teen movies in the 90s — such as Cruel Intentions, I Know What You Did Last Summer etc. But in the 2000s he started winning critics over with Flags of Our Fathers and Crash. Even the director of Stop Loss was reluctant to cast him, but quickly warmed to him after a few meetings.
  • Chris Pine:
    • While he was hardly bad in Star Trek, he didn't exactly get a chance to show off his acting chops, and his prior work consisted mainly of romantic comedies. Then came a little play called Farragut North...
    • But then, anyone who saw Bottle Shock knew that he could act already...
    • Anybody saw Carriers, was spot on being a jerk, but with other implications... heartbreaking actually...
    • Then Star Trek Into Darkness came out and those who saw Kirk's death scene were moved to tears. Likewise to Zachary Quinto's work during that scene.
    • And then Hell or High Water was released. Any naysayers about his acting abilities were silenced for good.
    • To say nothing of his role as Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman (2017), with special mention going to his character's heart-breaking Heroic Sacrifice, which is conveyed without a single word, no less.. You will believe that Chris Pine is a phenomenal actor by the movie's end.
  • For Brad Pitt, 12 Monkeys was one of the first roles where his looks were seriously downplayed and he had to succeed on pure ability. And he aced it. Of course, anyone who had seen Pitt in Kalifornia had also known what he was worth long before he became a household name. Many people had this reaction to his performance in Fight Club, while others weren't converted until his performances in Babel, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In the second in particular, Pitt really proved his talent as the violent, psychotic, but self-loathing, and deeply remorseful Jesse, who has the live with the guilt of the bloodshed he has caused.
  • Dick Powell was a regular song-and-dance man in the forties used to doing lighthearted musicals, but his turn as a jaded and cynical private detective in Murder, My Sweet was spot-on.
  • Vincent Price:
    • He is normally thought of a quite a Large Ham, more campy than generally scary. Even in straight-up horror suspense pictures like House on Haunted Hill (1959), there's a fun quality to his character. Until you watch Witchfinder General (aka The Conquerer Worm), where he's utterly terrifying.
    • Or if you watch Dragonwyk where he deftly pulls off the charming leading man, capable of seducing Gene Tierney. It's a role Gregory Peck was originally supposed to play.
    • Anyone who still doubts Price's acting chops should see his role in The Song of Bernadette.
    • Or listen to some of his old radio acting, especially his appearances on Suspense.
  • Richard Pryor. Anyone who has only seen a small portion of his standup and his movies with Gene Wilder can be forgiven for assuming that he was not a particularly great actor. Funny yes, but not a great actor. And then in some of his performances, he pulled out the Mudbone character, or some other similar characters (junkies and such) that are both amazingly well performed and a serious bit of Mood Whiplash compared to his usual energetic comedic style. He also gave an excellent straight dramatic performance in Blue Collar. And listen to the fear in his voice in this scene in The Mack.
  • Sir Michael Redgrave became an international star with his debut film role as Gilbert Redman in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, but it was his extraordinary performance as deranged ventriloquist Maxwell Frere in Cavalcanti's horror film Dead of Night that convinced critics that he really could act as well in films as he could on the stage. Redgrave's subsequent portrayal of the frigid classics master Andrew Crocker-Harris in The Browning Version (1951) is counted as one of the greatest film performances of all time.
  • Nikki Reed previously had good performances in Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown but she's mostly known for her role as Rosalie Hale in the Twilight films. For the first two films the character is about as flat as a pancake. Then in the third we get to see Rosalie explain her past. And she delivers a shockingly powerful performance in the fourth with her line to Alice about Bella's unborn daughter.
    Rosalie Hale: Say the word, Alice. Say it! Baby! It's just a little baby!
  • Christopher Reeve:
    • Reeve was an unknown in 1978, although an unknown who'd gone to Julliard (where he was Robin Williams' classmate and friend). Rejected three times before he finally got the part, he came to define Superman for at least one generation, and on the strength of his acting, made us believe not only that a man could fly but that Clark Kenting was entirely possible.
    • And lest you think his talents are limited to filling out blue spandex or wearing glasses convincingly, go watch Deathtrap, where he plays an earnest young writer and murderous sociopath, or Somewhere in Time, but for the latter be prepared to cry. A lot.
  • Keanu Reeves:
  • John C. Reilly:
    • He went for a sort of meta example of this in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, since we already knew he was a good actor, but in character, he has a lot of Oscar Bait-style "deep acting moments", like pulling the sinks off the wall a la Walk the Line. Also stretching the idea of playing the character from the youngest age possible, in this case 14, to oldest, as late 70's.
    • His role in the movie Chicago. He can really sing and dance!
    • It was Boogie Nights (1997) that gave him the opportunity to serve notice on how versatile and intelligent a character actor he really was (as it also did for Philip Seymour Hoffman).
  • Burt Reynolds in Deliverance. Little more than beefcake at the time, he proved his chops in John Boorman's infamous adaptation of the weekend trip whose ecological anvil somehow got drowned out by "squeal like a piggy!". See also Boogie Nights.
  • Ryan Reynolds: In case you didn't catch him in Definitely, Maybe, you might want to check him out in Buried, which is just him in a box acting his butt off. Also in Smokin' Aces he manages to pull of some great emotion especially in the final scenes. He pulls off absolutely terrifying extremely well in The Amityville Horror remake.
  • Jack Reynor in What Richard Did, which made his performance in Transformers: Age of Extinction all the more dissapointing. He also gives good performances in A Royal Night Out and, as seen here, Glassland.
  • Emma Roberts: Going back to Scream 4, she turns in a downright frightening performance as a psychotic teen killer. Think about how girls her age can be and you'll see her performance is one of the most underrated of the past 5 years.
  • Genesis Rodriguez in Tusk Have a look.
  • After twenty years, Sam Rockwell became everyone's favourite quirky independent actor. He gave excellent serious performances in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Frost/Nixon but it was his complex, emotionally demanding role in Moon (which he carries all by himself) that proved how good he can be.
  • Seth Rogen's performance in Funny People was praised even in negative reviews of the film. While few critics consider him a bad actor, he was never much of a critical darling as a leading man.
  • Diana Ross brilliantly played the troubled music legend Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. She won a Golden Globe and a Acadamy Award nomination for the role. Given it was her first movie role, many people were impressed.
  • Eli Roth: In his review of Inglourious Basterds, Moviebob captioned the photo of Roth with the phrase "When did he learn to act?"

    S–Z 
  • Adam Sandler:
    • He has been getting due to more serious films like Reign Over Me and Funny People.
    • Sandler previously felt this effect from his role in Punch-Drunk Love; however, that time, his dramatic turn didn't quite stick, and he went right back to doing goofy slapstick movies.
    • Although when he wants to, which, by his own admission, is almost never. Most of the time he's just taking a vacation with his film crew. Click is one of the best examples, allowing him to mix a restrained form of his normal brand of humor with his dramatic side, leading to a level of Absurdity Ascendant. It's a rare film that can make a scene of a guy crying over a stuffed duck his dog would hump legitimately heartbreaking.
  • J. K. Simmons is likely best known to the public for his scene-stealing role as J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man, getting all the best lines. But anyone who saw him in Oz knew him as the depraved Nazi Vern Schillinger, a man who is in turns absolutely loathsome and at the same time filled with self-hatred and regret. It's a complex role and Simmons absolutely nails it, giving arguably the best performance in the whole series. And then he showed his phenomenally wide range when he played a completely likeable, sympathetic character in Juno. And now he's taken it to a new level with Whiplash, as a sadistic musical conductor intent on pushing his students to perfection. Numerous critics have made comparisons to R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, and they're warranted. Most have even gone as far as to call it the best role of his career, which, when you look at his resume, is very high praise indeed. It actually was enough for Simmons to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He also won praise for The Legend of Korra, where he gives a subtler and extremely well-done performance as Tenzin. His HRCA factor is upped considerably when you realize that he began as a song-and-dance man on Broadway. Among his roles was that of Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls. You would be hard-pressed to find a character less like his more well-known persona.
  • Frank Sinatra crooned and hoofed his way through Anchors Aweigh and On the Town, and then won an Oscar as Maggio in From Here to Eternity. In his acceptance speech, he admitted that he was just a "song-and-dance man." (One that would go on to play several more Oscar-worthy roles, such as The Man with the Golden Arm, and Suddenly, where he plays a stone-cold psychopath.) Not to mention his performance in The Manchurian Candidate.
  • Will Smith's rising career was down to a series of steps where he would set himself up with fans with his winning smiling, slightly goofy and fun personality and then use a dose of serious acting to establish his credibility and then open himself up to a bigger audience:
    • In the episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where his absentee father returns and yet again abandons him.
    • The 1993 film adaptation of the play Six Degrees of Separation, his first movie role, in which he had the very challenging role of a very sweet, complicated con artist and aced it.
    • In The Legend of Bagger Vance and Ali, in a mentor role and as the larger-than-life Muhammad Ali himself respectively , Smith brought himself much needed cred after the huge dud of Wild Wild West. If he didn't prove himself as an actor, it is likely that no one could have respected him after that. This was crystallized by his role in the utterly emotional The Pursuit of Happyness.
    • I Am Legend wasn't perfect, but this scene solidified it:
      Neville: I promised a friend I would say hello to you today. Hello.
      (starts to cry)
      Neville: Please say hello to me.
    • Smith's casting as Deadshot in Suicide Squad was met with skepticism, as many thought he would be unable to pull off a villainous, cynical anti-hero like Floyd Lawton. In the end, however, his performance was the most consistently praised element of the film.
  • Brenda Song does as well in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and the sequel series The Suite Life on Deck as anyone can be expected to do in a Disney Channel series. She'd played the same character in everything she'd done: dumb, spoiled rich girl with a penchant for snobbery. These series turned that Up to Eleven and she's gone with it. Everyone who has seen her act before is therefore in for a very pleasant surprise should they see The Social Network; Christy's a slutty, jealous, and sometimes downright scary bitch, and you will respect her for it.
  • Sylvester Stallone: Interestingly, Stallone was wildly praised for his performance in the original Rocky movie, with Roger Ebert comparing him to Marlon Brando. Same thing with First Blood, whose ending showed with raw clarity how much of a Shell-Shocked Veteran John Rambo was, should convince anyone that he can act, only for both franchises to turn into simpler, more stereotypical action movies. Same for Rocky Balboa, which, after a failed attempt to do so in Rocky V, went closer to the feel of the first film. And then there is Creed, a spin-off of the Rocky series, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, for his most famous role, no less. Call this He STILL Really Can Act.
  • Kristen Stewart:
    • Best known for playing Bella Swan in Twilight, got this reaction with her performance as Joan Jett in the biopic The Runaways.
    • She already had a good performance to her name with Catch That Kid.
    • From earlier on, Panic Room, especially the hypoglycemic fit while trapped with her mother in said room.
    • Speak is a great performance too.
    • Adventureland also counts, with a surprisingly realistic performance.
    • Camp X-Ray is also getting great reviews for her performance.
    • Perhaps her most admired performance so far is her role as a prostitute from Welcome to the Rileys.
    • In 2014, he appeared in the French film Clouds of Sils Maria and became the second American to win a César Award (France's equivalent of the Oscars).
    • Stewart seems to be a genuinely talented actress; she's simply best known for a role whose motivations and lines are incredibly hard to communicate convincingly.
    • Sadly, both she and Robert Pattinson seem to get this because of Twilight. Even though both have proven to be capable actors, reviews of their newer non-Twilight movies seem to have shades of this.
    • Her supporting role in Still Alice is very moving and heartbreaking.
  • Elizabeth Shue:
  • Ben Stiller:
    • Most see the man as a one dimensional comedy actor. Those people haven't seen Greenberg. In Greenberg Stiller's a 40 something who hasn't really figured out what he wants to do with his life and is completely fine with that. He arrives at a crossroads when he gets involved with his brother's much younger secretary. Stiller's character is probably the least flat character he has played by a long shot.
    • He also impressed in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Most of Stiller's characters have been arrogant, sarcastic and short-tempered. His performance here shows that he can not only play completely against type but he gives an astonishingly understated performance and makes the audience fall in love with a character who could easily have been portrayed as hopelessly dull or delusional in another actor's hands.
  • Channing Tatum:
    • Despite being mostly known for being reasonably hot and dancing in Step Up and after being a critical punching bag for some time (one nickname for him? "The Charming Potato"), actually pulled off a really powerful and tragic performance in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, even going so far as to have a Method moment and throwing a table through a window in an unscripted and highly emotional scene.
    • In a different vein, he showed in 21 Jump Street that he has some excellent comedic chops — some even claiming that he stole the movie from Jonah Hill.
    • Even Dear John. Watch the scene where he's reading the letter to his father who dies while he's reading it and try not to cry.
    • And later he received critical acclaim for playing the lead in the true-crime drama Foxcatcher.
  • Charlize Theron: Not a whole lot of people remember that she was at first dismissed as yet another vacuous pretty face who was to be regarded as nothing more than a flash-in-the-pan screen ingenue who would fade away when she turned 30. Then she transformed herself into serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster and jaws dropped across the land. Then she won an Academy Award and people knew to take her seriously.
  • Olivia Thirlby: The film Juno was known (rightfully) as the arrival of Ellen Page, but it was also audiences' first exposure to Thirlby. Five years later came Dredd, in which her character is The Heart, the New Meat who has to Take a Level in Badass, the Fair Cop and The Chick with Psychic Powers. The movie may be named after Judge Dredd, but it's Thirlby whose performance carries the film.
  • Justin Timberlake:
    • In Alpha Dog. This probably got him the cred he needed to get a key role in The Social Network.
    • Timberlake also really earned his bones as a comedy performer with the famous Saturday Night Live skit "Dick in a Box" and his series of commercials for Sony.
    • Timberlake's performance in The Social Network itself is also one of these, as both a comedic and dramatic actor.
    • Even his vocal performance as Boo-Boo in the Yogi Bear movie has gotten some praise for how well he did the voice.
    • His understated performance in Black Snake Moan is quite impressive.
    • Watch the video for Elton John's 'This Train Don't Stop There Anymore', especially the part where Elton's against the wall and sinking. Then notice where this entry is on the list, and that Sir Elton doesn't look like that these days ... and look at how accurate it was.
  • Karl Urban:
    • Just watch Doom or The Chronicles of Riddick, where he plays characters written to have the same exact expression for the entire film. Then watch him as "Bones" McCoy and be amazed (Leonard Nimoy certainly was). However, if you happen to recognize him as Éomer from The Lord of the Rings films, then it won't be much of a surprise to you.
    • He has also shown off some real chops, not to mention versatility, by selling the title character of Dredd solely by voice and body language—throughout the entire film the only bits of him visible are his mouth and chin.
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme playing a fictionalized version of himself in JCVD, particularly the scene where he gives a very long uncut and impassioned monologue to the camera/audience/God, talking about his life and career.
  • Mark Wahlberg:
  • Christopher Walken: Something of a retro example; he has never been regarded as a bad actor, but his persona is so famous that it can often overshadow his talent. He was brilliant in King of New York as the drug kingpin who knows that his dreams of redemption are futile and he cannot escape the burden of guilt and in The Funeral as a man who is fully aware that his bloodlust will only cause more destruction for everyone and who believes that he will go to Hell when he dies. And if you can get through Catch Me If You Can without shedding a tear, there's a fiver here with your name on it. If you need further convincing, check out this behind-the-scenes clip of Walken from Catch Me If You Can (at about the 2:20 mark). This guy's the real deal. And there's The Deer Hunter from earlier in his career, which earned him an Academy award.
  • Marlon Wayans in Requiem for a Dream. And again G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Ripcord, unlike his past comedic roles was actually a lot more subdued, making it all the more better of a role. Yet, he ended up earning a Razzie nomination for it.
  • John Wayne is an older example of this. After seeing Red River (directed by Ford's friend, Howard Hawks) John Ford famously said, "I didn't know the big lug could act." This led to Ford giving him deeper roles that really stretched his acting abilities in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. And then there's his final film, The Shootist.
  • Gene Wilder: Despite being often cast in suitably comical roles, he does have some impressive acting chops, especially the infamous "YOU GET NOTHING!" scene from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
  • Michelle Williams got lots of praise back in 2001 for her role in the British drama Me Without You — shockingly pulling off a great English accent and proving her chops outside Dawson's Creek.
  • Robin Williams:
    • In One Hour Photo gives a restrained and finely-nuanced performance as the photo store guy who's (probably) stalking a family with sinister intent. Who knew, eh?
    • He has had several other sedate, respectable roles before One Hour Photo, though (perhaps most notably in Good Will Hunting, which he got an Oscar for).
    • Dead Poets Society. Earlier than that, there was the TV-movie adaptation of Seize The Day (no relation to DPS), and The World According To Garp... but people weren't really paying attention to those when they came out. They wanted wacky Mork-Robin. How times change...
    • And Moscow on the Hudson, Awakenings, Being Human, etc...
    • To paraphrase a post-Oscar moment (which Williams received for Good Will Hunting), when an interviewer asks him how he felt about taking on such a serious role: "I went to Julliard!"
    • Another example is his terrifying performance on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as an amoral psychologist screwing with people in real-life versions of the Bavarian Fire Drill (at first) before escalating to the infamous Milgram Authority Experiment.
  • Bruce Willis? Eh, we'd already seen Pulp Fiction. The Sixth Sense proves just how much range he really has. Death Becomes Her. Who knew that he could be goofy too? (Well, anyone who remembered Moonlighting, but such films as Die Hard had overshadowed his earlier comedy career.) Anyone who thinks he can only play wisecracking action heroes is advised to see him as a disabled Vietnam vet in In Country. This has happened to Bruce a few times. He started off as a comedic actor in Moonlighting (winning an Emmy in the process) and when it came time for him to do action roles like Die Hard, people laughed and couldn't believe this comedian could ever be an action star. Once those movies took off, he was known as an action star and when it came time for him to do comedic roles again, they couldn't believe this action star could ever be a comedian. Once he dipped back and forth for a while, he started doing more dramatic roles and again... people didn't think this guy could pull it off. Also a movie no one remembers Willis did called The Kid (2000).
  • Reese Witherspoon:
    • A lot of people would've dismissed her after starring in light-hearted fares such as Legally Blonde and Just Like Heaven as only a vapid, romcom actress who is more known for looks than talent, even to the point when there was an outrage when it was announced that she was to play June Carter Cash in the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line. But when they saw the movie and her heartbreaking performance in it, particularly in the climatic proposal scene, she shut the doubters up and proved everyone that she's a brilliant actress (and singer, too) and even winning a plethora of awards for the performance, including a more-than-deserved Academy Award.
    • With Wild, she again proved to everyone that she's still a great actress after being in many critically panned films after her Oscar win, giving a tearful and subtle performance that garnered her a second Oscar nomination.
  • Shailene Woodley:
    • She is surprisingly good in Divergent. Special mention goes to the scene where Tris' mother is killed.
    • She also earned a much-deserved Golden Globe nomination for The Descendants.
  • Sam Worthington in The Debt came as a surprise to some critics, especially those who thought he couldn't escape his Australian accent.

Examples of multiple creators through one film:

     C 
  • Chicago
    • While we always knew Richard Gere could act, no-one thought he could sing. Or dance. Then came Chicago and he did both, and blew the world away, putting in a show-stopping performance as Amoral Attorney Billy Flynn.
    • The same could be said for Catherine Zeta-Jones, who did all her own singing and dancing. While she was a trained both singer and dancer, she had never really shown that on screen before. Oh, and she was three months pregnant at the time.

     D 
  • Dreamgirls:
    • Eddie Murphy's performance has been described like this. In fact, it's said that he could've won an Oscar for his performance had Norbit not been released before the Academy voted.
    • Beyoncé Knowles really shone. Just when it had been so easy to write her off, too... She received praise for her work in Cadillac Records as well.

     F 

     G 
  • Guardians of the Galaxy.
    • Dave Bautista as Drax. As a professional wrestler, Bautista had acted in some minor roles before (always in roles where they were looking for a wrestler), but nothing this big. His timing as the Comically Serious Literal-Minded Drax was hilarious, but he was also able to effectively portray his character's grief over the loss of his family and later the guilt he felt over alerting the villains to the Guardians' whereabouts. Most critics praised his performance. Even The New York Times critic referred to him in passing as "the terrific Dave Bautista".
    • Although he'd proven himself to many with his collaborations with David O. Russell such as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle that he would be something more than "the handsome and most sane guy from The Hangover," some were worried about the effectiveness that Bradley Cooper would have as Rocket, given his relative inexperience as a voice actor. However, he proved to be an Ensemble Darkhorse in the film, expertly delivering the Raccoon's snark and conveying his self-doubt and care for Groot very well.

     H 
  • Harry Potter:
    • Much of the young adult cast (the "Golden Trio", in particular) of the Harry Potter franchise have been receiving relieved sighs from critics, who recognize that, as they've grown, they've all truly grown into their characters. Daniel Radcliffe, who starred (nude, yes) in Equus in London's West End (and other places afterwards), also received positive reviews overall... And come to think of it, there are plenty of child actors that developed into, you know, actual actors. (Speaking of, according to Radcliffe the three of them were given various kinds of training once they were selected for the first film. One thing they didn't receive? Acting classes. Given that, one is even more minded to be forgiving of their earlier performances, and impressed at their maturing into skilled actors.)
    • Emma Watson's crying after Hermione's fight with Ron in Goblet Of Fire? Passable but seriously over the top. Her crying in Half Blood Prince when Harry is comforting her after seeing Ron kissing Lavender? Genuine Tear Jerker.
    • Alan Rickman. Considering he's best known for playing deliciously hammy bad guys like Hans Gruber and Judge Turpin, and his characterization of Severus Snape is mostly as a cruel, snarky Jerkass, if you stick with the series long enough to get to the final film, you see him take this previously Flat Character and give him so much depth, culminating in perhaps the biggest Tear Jerker in the entire film series. Seriously, have the tissues close at hand.
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army:
    • Seth MacFarlane definitely deserves this (with the rest of the fair amount of praise he's gotten) for his effort as Johann Krauss, considering how well he holds his own alongside big names like Ron Perlman and Selma Blair. He is undeniably a good VA, but this is a gamble that definitely paid off.
    • David Hyde Pierce said that Doug Jones could play both the voice and body of Abe Sapien, not just the body. Pierce even refused a credit for the character in the first film. The second film just uses straight Jones.
  • The Hobbit:
    • Luke Evans's performance as Bard impressed not only fans but also critics. He'd previously had roles in Clash of the Titans and Immortals both of which were thrashed by critics. Cue The Hobbit, where he not only proves he can act but he can hold his own against actors like Ian McKellen and Lee Pace.
    • Evangeline Lilly also impressed quite a lot of people as Tauriel, espically in the third film when she's grieving over Kíli's body. You will believe an Elf can make you cry.

     K 
  • Killer Joe:
    • Matthew McConaughey completely destroys his goofy rom-com image, buries it in a coffin ten feet deep and pours concrete on it. He absolutely owns every single scene he is in and manages to be both completely compelling and seductive and completely terrifying and unpredictable, able to switch from oily charm to explosive violence in an instant.
    • Juno Temple creates a very unique character that combines childlike wonder and mature sexuality mixed with deep mental instability.
    • Gina Gershon who is so good as Charlene you forget she was ever in Showgirls.

     L 
  • Logan:
    • When she was eleven years old, Dafne Keen played Laura in only her second role. She was praised as the best thing in an excellent movie. Not only was she acting opposite veterans Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, but she had no lines for the first half of the movie and had to act with her expressions alone.
    • In contrast to most models-turned-actors, Boyd Holbrook was praised for playing a genuinely threatening and charismatic villain, with many calling his performance superior to that of Richard E. Grant. Many viewers were actually disappointed when it turned out he wasn't the film's main antagonist.

     M 
  • The Muppets:
    • Muppet fans were unsure of how well Steve Whitmire would take over performing Kermit the Frog following Jim Henson's death, but his great performance in The Muppet Christmas Carol was a solid reassurance that Henson's legacy would live on (before he even died, Henson said that he was planning on having Whitmire take over for him - if even the man himself had faith in Whitmire's abilities, then nobody should've worried.)
    • Henson himself also deserves props for the scene where Kermit gives himself a pep talk under the stars in The Muppet Movie.
      Kermit: I guess I was wrong when I never promised anyone. I promised me.

     P 
  • The Planet of the Apes reboot has loads of these in both human and ape actors:
    • It goes without saying but Andy Serkis performance as Caesar is nothing short of brilliant though if you watched The Lord of the Rings, King Kong (2005) and The Prestige this isn't surprising. He manages to sell Caesar's character growth and conflict superbly. There's been more then a few pleas for him to get nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor or at the very least a Special Achievement Oscar. One fan even compared him to Daniel Day-Lewis. Wow.
    • Amiah Miller in War for the Planet of the Apes. The fact that she's able to hold her own against motion-captured apes is impressive enough but she has literally no dialogue for the entire movie. In her film debut no less!
    • If you ever felt Woody Harrelson was only good at playing the Cloudcuckoolander or The Stoner, his performance as the Colonel will come as a surprise.
    • Jason Clarke, typically a "Hey, It's That Guy!" in movies, proves he can hold his own against character actors like Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis. Zero Dark Thirty is another good showcase of his acting, along with some of his native Australian work.
    • Toby Kebbell as Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, full stop. Kebbell was mostly known as an indie actor from the UK who, like Harrelson, mostly played weirdos or comedic characters in movies like The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Rock N Rolla (and the less said about his In-Name-Only Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four (2015) the better). His performance as Koba on the other hand is downright terrifying and he was almost universally praised for his creepy performance. Another great performance of his was Durotan in WarCraft.
    • Every critic you could imagine had this reaction to Steve Zahn's performance as Bad Ape, where he managed to bring some geunine humor and heart in whats otherwise a very dark film.
    • All the ape actors in general, especially since they have to act with both expressions and sign language.

     R 
  • The Revenant (besides being "the one that finally gave Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar"):
    • Some critics were really impressed with Will Poulter's performance as Jim Bridger, especially considering some of the other films he's been in. Even Jeremy Jahns was impressed.
    • All of the Native American actors and actresses in the film. Not only did the film do the right thing in casting the correct ethnicity of the actors, but almost none of them had ever even acted in a film before. And they gave fantastic performances. Doubles as Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • The Royal Tenenbaums:
    • Owen Wilson as Eli Cash, the Tenenbaums' neighbor, and Richie Tenenbaum's best friend. It seems like one of his many dimes-a-dozen whimsical roles until it's revealed that he has an affair with Margot, with whom Richie is in love with, and later has a drug-fueled breakdown.
    • Typically sophomoric movie actor Ben Stiller convincingly plays a grieving, tightly-wound widower.
    • Lest we forget Gwyneth Paltrow's performance as Margot.

     S 
  • Small Apartments:
    • Matt Lucas is known on both sides of the Atlantic for his role on comedy series Little Britain and Bridesmaids. But he proved his dramatic talent in this film as a middle aged Manchild lacking in almost any survival skills and completely lost without the brother who once helped him get by. The scene where he finds out his brother has died of a brain tumor that he never told him about is utterly heartbreaking.
    • The film also has Jackass star Johnny Knoxville, best known for... erm... exploring new boundaries of pain endurance, do great work as a convenience store clerk desperate to convince himself that he isn't wasting his life. He is especially good in a scene where he tells a young stripper the bitter reality of life as a topless dancer in Las Vegas and how people will view her.
  • Star Trek:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/HeReallyCanAct/Film