This is the very work that practically begins the career of a creator. This is the hit that gives the creator success in their medium. This is the Breakthrough Hit.
You can bet that any creator who you can name off the top of your head has his/her breakthrough hit. For some creators, it could be the very first work he/she created. For others, it comes only after a series of unsuccessful attempts, although these early attempts stand a chance of being Vindicated by History
. For many of these, creators are often subject to the curse of Tough Act to Follow
, as practically every subsequent work may be compared to the breakthrough.
Compare Killer App
(equivalent for game systems), Star-Making Role
(equivalent for actors), and Gateway Series
(equivalent for an entire genre or multimedia franchise). Compare and
Contrast Magnum Opus
, another landmark in a creator's career. There may be some overlap for a few creators, but Magnum Opus usually represents the pinnacle of the career while Breakthrough Hit represents the beginning. Contrast Creator Killer
and One-Hit Wonder
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Anime and Manga
NOTE: For many of these creators, they did not "create" the property, per se, but the rather first made their name for their work with said property.
Film - Animated
Film - Live Action
- The Terminator for James Cameron.
- Dollars Trilogy for Sergio Leone.
- American Graffiti and/or Star Wars as a director and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back as a producer for George Lucas.
- Jaws for Steven Spielberg. It was actually his second film; His first, The Sugarland Express, is long forgotten today.
- Alien for Ridley Scott. While his debut film The Duelists is critically well regarded, it's been largely forgotten by mainstream audiences.
- The Lord of the Rings put Peter Jackson on the world stage, though Heavenly Creatures is the film that brought him to Hollywood.
- Pulp Fiction for Quentin Tarantino. Reservoir Dogs became a retroactive cult classic off of the success of Pulp Fiction.
- The Godfather for Francis Ford Coppola. He won an Oscar for his screenwriting in 1970's Patton, but he was still considered an unknown quantity when he helmed The Godfather
- Taxi Driver for Martin Scorsese.
- Carrie for Brian De Palma. After a series of independent studio films, Carrie became his first hit.
- Clerks for Kevin Smith. It was an indie film, but it made his name and led to big-budget projects.
- Romancing the Stone for Robert Zemeckis. Back to the Future was a further breakthough afterwards.
- Halloween (1978) for John Carpenter. Many of his earlier films are now seen as cult classics, but Carpenter's first genuine hit came with the 1978 slasher.
- Rosemarys Baby for Roman Polanski.
- Animal House for John Landis.
- The Usual Suspects for Bryan Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie
- π for Darren Aronofsky. This indie film was lauded by critics and made his name in the industry.
- Memento for Christopher Nolan, although he didn't really become a household name until The Dark Knight Saga.
- El Mariachi and later Film/Desperado for Robert Rodriguez.
- Annie Hall for Woody Allen. He was more known as an actor and writer prior to "Annie Hall."
- Platoon for Oliver Stone. He was an established screenwriter at the time, known for his work in "Scarface" and "Conan the Barbarian." "Platoon" was his first hit as a director.
- Laura was the film that made Otto Preminger's career as a producer-director, though he had not only directed several previous films but produced one as well (In the Meantime, Darling).
- Boogie Nights for Paul Thomas Anderson. Hard Eight, his first feature film, never made it past a limited release.
- Fanboys for Kyle Newman.
- RoboCop for Paul Verhoeven internationally. He was well known in the Netherlands for years.
- Three Kings for David O Russell. He enjoyed an ever more successful period starting with The Fighter in 2010.
- Saturday Night Fever for John Badham. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars, his first film, went largely unnoticed.
- The Omen for Richard Donner.
- Splash for Ron Howard as a director. Night Shift was a moderate hit for him, but is today remembered for That's What Friends Are For, which became a future hit collaboration for Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight.
- Do the Right Thing for Spike Lee.
- Bad Boys for Michael Bay.
- Flashdance for Adrian Lyne.
- Predator for John Mc Tiernan.
- Top Gun for Tony Scott.
- Stripes for Ivan Reitman.
- Das Boot for Wolfgang Petersen.
- Drive made Nicolas Winding Refn's name in Hollywood, though he was already very popular in Denmark for Pusher
- sex, lies, and videotape for Steven Soderbergh.
- Sense and Sensibility for Ang Lee in Hollywood.
- 12 Angry Men for Sidney Lumet.
- Seven for David Fincher.
- ''Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for Mike Nichols.
- Godzilla (2014) for Gareth Edwards.
Live Action TV
Dance and Electronic
- Alabama: The Fort Payne, Alabama quartet did have some chart entries. The first song, "I Wanna Be With You Tonight" from 1977, was but a blip on the radar, but "I Wanna Come Over" from December 1979 got Randy, Teddy and Jeff into the top 40 for the first time. Despite CD availability, "I Wanna Come Over" rarely gets airplay these days, while "My Home's in Alabama" got to #17, and still remains a popular classic cut despite its low peak. However, it was 1980's "Tennessee River" that got them to the top for the first time, starting a string of hits that lasted into the late 90s.
- Rodney Atkins, "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)". Also a "first single from second album" type (he had a top 10 hit in 2003), although well before his first album, he had a single way back in 1997 that went nowhere.
- Garth Brooks: "If Tomorrow Never Comes" was his first number one hit, but it was "The Dance" that made him a superstar.
- Luke Bryan: Although his debut album was a modest success and spawned a pair of top 10 hits, the first single off his second album ("Do I") went to #2 and became his first Top 40 pop hit, thus helping to launch him into the mainstream for good.
- Glen Campbell: He had been the part an instrumental group (a post-"Tequila" Champs) and was a member of The Beach Boys during their many tours. In the mid 1960s, he began recording solo hits, and had his first top 15 country hit in February 1967 with "Burning Bridges." A well-done ballad written by Walter Scott, that song is largely forgotten today ... and ironically enough, the follow-up, a John Hartford folk song called "Gentle On My Mind" (released in July 1967) fared even worse on the charts – it barely even broke into the top 30, and in fact didn't even make the Hot 100's top 40. Yet, "Gentle on My Mind" (which has since become an iconic country music hit, and has been covered by dozens of country and pop/rock superstars) is the one that's remembered today as Campbell's breakthrough hit and sparked a career that's won him international acclaim.
- Kenny Chesney. Already one of many in the "hat act" boom of the mid-90s, Chesney had three albums under his belt by 1997, but none had produced any really big hits. Although "She's Got It All", the first single off his fourth album I Will Stand, was a three-week #1, he stumbled a bit after that, and finally locked himself in as a hitmaker with the six-week chart-topper "How Forever Feels" in 1999. The subsequent years would find him moving from mainstream country to a unique style more influenced by arena rock, Jimmy Buffett-esque island tunes, and introspective ballads.
- Eric Church had great commercial success with his first two albums, but neither produced a major hit — the second album had two songs barely sneak their way into Top 10. But his third album, Chief, got him into #1 territory for the first time with "Drink in My Hand" and "Springsteen". These songs were also crossover successes, getting him into Top 40 on the Hot 100 for the first time. "Springsteen" remains his best-selling single.
- Church's breakthrough also led to a breakthrough for his producer Jay Joyce, who was mainly a rock producer otherwise. After "Drink in My Hand", Joyce began producing for other country music singers, including Little Big Town, Randy Rogers Band, Thomas Rhett, and Gary Allan.
- John Conlee: "Rose Colored Glasses", his first single, hit #5 in 1977. He followed it up with the #1 "Lady Lay Down." He never stopped churning out hits throughout the 80s, despite a slight slump in the early 80's which he recovered from two years later.
- Earl Thomas Conley: He started his career in the 70's, releasing singles without his middle name that stalled in the bottom half of the country charts. 1980's "Silent Treatment" brought Conley to the Top 10 for the first time, and then, he finally topped the charts with "Fire and Smoke" later. The follow-ups didn't do as well, unfortunately. However, when he released his next album, after "Heavenly Bodies" scraped the lower end of the top 10, he returned to #1 with "Somewhere Between Right and Wrong" (which surprisingly flopped in Canada). After a re-recording of his first chart entry "I Have Loved You Girl" hit #2, he had a huge streak of #1 hits.
- Eli Young Band, a Texas country group, had been recording since 2002. They had minor chart action from their first major-label album Jet Black & Jealous, including the near-hit "Always the Love Songs". But the first hit off their second album, "Crazy Girl", became their first chart-topper and the biggest country hit of 2011. Since then, they've had two more #1 hits.
- Freddie Hart: He had released several singles during the late 1950s through mid 1960s, and although a fair number reached the top 30 (and a couple did sneak into the top 20), and he had one top 10 in Canada, Hart never did have that one key hit. Several record labels saw little to no hit-making potential in Hart. Then, in the summer of 1971, his ballad "Easy Loving" caught on like wildfire, and by that September, Hart had a No. 1 smash on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart (as well as Canada's country chart) ... and a top 20 pop hit to boot, a true breakthrough if there ever was one!
- Hunter Hayes: Hayes had been a touring musician since age four, playing accordion at various festivals and gigs in addition to releasing several mostly Cajun-themed albums. After writing a song for Rascal Flatts, he charted his first hit with "Storm Warning", which reached #14 on the country charts. But it was the country-pop crossover smash "Wanted" that introduced him to the mainstream.
- Lady Antebellum, "Need You Now". Technically, "Love Don't Live Here" was a major hit on the charts, and "I Run To You" hit #1 beforehand; it also hit the Hot 100's Top 40. However, "Need You Now" was their breakout on pop radio. In fact, many people are unaware that they had a full album out before that song...
- Miranda Lambert: She had already scored two platinum albums by late 2007, but the biggest hit off either was "Gunpowder & Lead" at a mere #7. Finally, Revolution brought Lambert her first Top 5 hit with "White Liar"note , and her first #1 with "The House That Built Me", which spent four weeks on top (likewise, it brought her to the pop Top 40 for the first time). Since then, her career has been nothing but high notes.
- Little Big Town: They first signed to Mercury in the late 90s, but achieved nothing more than a backing vocal credit on a Collin Raye album. They got a dark horse Top 10 hit in 2005 with "Boondocks", followed by three more hits (including the #4 "Bring It On Home") which helped boost their first Equity album to platinum status. However, the lead single from their next Equity album stalled out in the mid-30s, and the label closed soon afterward. Capitol Nashville then took control of that album, but failed to get a hit out of the two singles they chose. And just when it looked like the #6 hit "Little White Church" (the lead-off to their fourth album) might finally be their breakthrough, that album's next two singles fizzled out just shy of Top 40. In 2012, LBT finally got that breakthrough with "Pontoon" (the first single off their fifth album), which became their first #1 hit (and Top 40 pop hit) and netted them several awards.
- Loretta Lynn: Her breakthrough came in 1960, when the Butcher Holler, Kentucky native and "Coal Miner's Daughter" had her first major hit, "Honky-Tonk Girl." Success didn't become sustained until her second big hit, titled (incidentally enough) "Success," and thereafter came her iconic series of hits that pushed the boundaries of country music.
- Martina McBride, "My Baby Loves Me" in 1993. It was the first single from her second album, The Way That I Am. This album also included her Signature Song "Independence Day". Although the next album (Wild Angels) got Martina her first #1 with its title track and another Top 10, she kind of went quiet after that, only to experience a second breakthrough in late 1997 with "A Broken Wing". This song became her second #1, her first solo hit on the Hot 100, and pushed her into the country-pop crossover territory that made her a force to be reckoned with through 2003.
- Reba McEntire – In 1978, the pretty, red-headed 22-year-old native of Chockie, Oklahoma, was paired with a successful country artist of the time, Jacky Ward, for a song called "Three Sheets in the Wind." The song broke through and soon became a top 20 country hit for Ward and McEntire ... but the even more amazing thing is, the song would mark a turning point in both singers' careers. Ward would see his career fade less than two years later; McEntire, however, had her breakthrough solo hit in 1980 with "(You Lift Me) Up to Heaven," and she has never looked back. While Ward is largely forgotten, McEntire went on to a career that's included 24 No. 1 hits (amongst more than 50 top 10 singles) and gold albums.
- Tim McGraw – In 1992, McGraw – a handsome young Delhi, Louisiana, native and son of Philadelphia Phillies great Tug McGraw – signed a recording contract with Curb Records and released a self-titled album. From that came his first single, "Welcome to the Club," which (depending on the publication), may or may not have become a top 40 country hit in early 1993; two other singles failed. Curb Records, however, saw hit-making potential in McGraw, and in early 1994 released the album Not a Moment Too Soon. The release of the lead single, "Indian Outlaw," was indeed not a moment too soon: The song – which controversially paid homage to Native American culture – soared to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, and was even a top 20 pop hit, and since then McGraw has never looked back, scoring 23 No. 1 hits and nearly 50 top 10 singles, earning a high profile marriage to Faith Hill and a lucrative acting career to boot.
- Ronnie Milsap: Although he had two top 10 hits beforehand ("I Hate You" and "That Girl Who Waits on Tables," both 1973), those songs are largely forgotten today. His third top 10 hit – "Pure Love," which topped the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in June 1974 – is often considered his true "breakthrough" and is, as a result, the oldest Milsap song in many country music libraries.
- Anne Murray: One of country and pop music's first true divas, this native of Halifax, Nova Scotia had a few minor hits in her native Canada in the late 1960s and appeared as a regular on several TV shows in Canada. A little "Snowbird" in the summer of 1970 changed her future forever ... and Murray would go on to massive worldwide success, with the bulk coming in the United States and Canada during the 1970s through early 1990s.
- Jake Owen — He had two modestly-performing albums for RCA Nashville before "Barefoot Blue Jean Night", the title track and first single from his third album, became his first #1. He followed it up with three more.
- Buck Owens: Depending on one's definition of success and breakthrough, either one of two songs could be considered his breakthrough for the originator of the Bakersfield Sound: "Under Your Spell Again," his first top 5 hit from November 1959; or "Act Naturally," the Johnny Russell-penned song that became Owens' first No. 1 hit from the summer of 1963. Often lost are the early hits, where Owens and his band, the Buckaroos, were perfecting their new sound that would eventually result in 20 No. 1 hits from 1963-1972 and make Owens a household name, long before Hee Haw was a twinkle in that show's creator Sam Louvillo's eye.
- Ray Price – Many consider the Cherokee Cowboy's breakthrough was his double-A sided monster hit from 1954, "I'll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)" and "Release Me" (the latter famously covered by Engelbert Humperdink). However, Price had enjoyed consistent, if not spectacular success with lost gems like "Jealous Lies" (1950), "If You're Ever Lonely Darling" (1951), "Talk to Your Heart" (1952) and a cover of the Perry Como hit "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes" (1953), but most of those early songs are long forgotten and rarely played today ... even though they – like his later hits such as "Crazy Arms" (1956), "City Lights" (1958) and "Heartaches by the Number" (1959) – introduced to fans a critical part of his style: the 4/4 honky-tonk rhythm.
- In a way, too, his cover of Como's pop song would foreshadow Price's even later success in the Nashville style, most notably on 1970's "For the Good Times." Indeed, "For the Good Times" was Price's big pop breakthrough. A No. 1 country hit, the song gained mass Top 40 airplay and peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 10 on the Adult Contemporary Singles chart.
- Eddie Rabbitt: As with Milsap, his "breakthrough" hit came after he had already scored a number of moderately successful songs. For Rabbitt, the breakthrough was 1976's "Drinkin' My Baby (Off My Mind)," and that put two other top 15 hits – the ballads "I Should Have Married You" and "Forgive and Forget," both 1975 – off everybody's minds. The two earlier songs are available on iTunes, but they are all but forgotten otherwise.
- Some even consider his 1970s songs "forgotten," looking at his early 1980s crossover hits – first, with "Drivin' My Life Away" – as his true breakthrough.
- Eddy Raven: A rare Cajun country singer, he had been performing since the early 1970s and sporadically making the charts. Although he first hit Top 10 with "She's Playing Hard to Forget" in 1982, it wasn't until a change to RCA in 1984 that he first hit #1 with "I Got Mexico." That was the first of 17 Top 10 hits that he would have between then and 1990, despite being the first single off his sixth studio album.
- Charlie Rich: He had two top 40 pop hits in 1960's "Lonely Weekends" and 1965's "Mohair Sam," but otherwise, nothing major came out of him. That is, until 1972, when he scored a top 10 country hit with "I Take It On Home." That got the ball rolling, and a year later, things were busted wide open with two huge hits: "Behind Closed Doors" and "The Most Beautiful Girl," the latter one a No. 1 country and pop smash.
- Marty Robbins: This true cowboy, whose musical styles were vastly diverse and ranged from straight pop and rockabilly to western and Hawaiian and true traditional country, got his start on his own radio and later TV show in Phoenix, Arizona. After being discovered by fellow up-and-coming star "Little" Jimmy Dickens, he got his first big break and signed with Columbia Records and by becoming a favorite on the Grand Ole Opry. On the radio and at record stores, he was a hit right out of the gate, with his first song, "I'll Go On Alone," becoming a big No. 1 country hit in early 1953. And it didn't stop for three decades – even after his untimely death in 1982.
- Kenny Rogers: In 1968, he fronted a rock group called The First Edition, and recording mainly psychedelic rock Rogers broke through with a song called "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." But while most psychedelic rock-only artists stuck around the scene a brief time, those that considered Rogers a one-trick pony didn't know this guy very well, as he came through in 1969 with his folk-countryish "Ruby (Don't Take Your Love to Town)." After switching to his current country-pop style he later released a string of singles in the 70's; of all those, it was 1977's "Lucille" that finally earned Rogers his true country-pop breakthrough and began his longest run of sustained success, which would last through the early 1990s.
- Taylor Swift: "Our Song" (third single from first album) at country radio, as it was her first #1 hit. "Love Story" (first single from second album) elsewhere, as it was her first massive crossover.
- As with Eric Church and Jay Joyce above, Swift's breakthrough was also one for her producer, Nathan Chapman. He had almost no production experience before Taylor's first album, but has become a popular Nashville producer, working with Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, The Band Perry, and Shania Twain among others.
- Randy Travis: In a very odd example, Travis's breakthrough was a re-release of his first major-label single. That song, "On the Other Hand", only went to No. 67 its first time out. The label followed it up with "1982", which went to No. 6. Afterward, they made the extremely unorthodox move of re-releasing "On the Other Hand," which turned out to be the right move — it went all the way to No. 1 and started a very fruitful career. Travis was seen as one of the artists who moved the genre back to a more traditionalist bent following the Urban Cowboy-esque pop crossovers of the early-mid 80s, and he continued to have hits as late as 1999, with a momentary return in 2003.
- Josh Turner: "Your Man". Yet another example of the "first single from second album becomes first #1" variant. Although "Long Black Train" from the first album had an extremely long chart run that got it to No. 13, that song (which sounds more like a 1940s gospel song than anything in mainstream country) is mostly forgotten today.
- Shania Twain, "Any Man of Mine". Twain already had a solid, if unremarkable album for Mercury in 1993 which sounds like it could've been recorded by just about anybody. After getting "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" to #11 in 1995, she followed up with this #1 smash from her album The Woman in Me, thus paving the way for a country-pop career that made her one of the most famous Canadian country singers ever, not to mention one of the best-selling. Her next album, Come On Over, is the best-selling every by a female artist, and produced a staggering twelve singles.
- Conway Twitty: Harold Lloyd Jenkins, who according to legend took his stage name from the names of two towns on a map (Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas), has two to his name, each representing his start in a particular genre. When he was a teen heartthrob in the rock music world in the late 1950s, he first hit it big with "It's Only Make Believe." Amazingly, that 1958 No. 1 million seller stuck with him throughout his country music career ... and it was a 1968 top 5 hit called "The Image of Me" that was his first big country hit, after which followed his immortal hits such as "Hello Darlin'" (1970) and "You've Never Been This Far Before" (1973), five No. 1 duets with Loretta Lynn and 33 more solo No. 1 hits.
- Keith Urban: The New Zealand-born Australian cut an album in Australia in 1991, and spent the next several years finding some bit parts in Nashville. He founded a short-lived band called The Ranch, which scraped the bottom of the country charts with two cuts from their only studio album in 1997, and followed with his first American solo album for Capitol Records in 1999. The album was somewhat successful, getting him a Top 20 right away with "It's a Love Thing", followed by the top 5 hit "Your Everything", the #1 "But for the Grace of God" (which ended a nearly three-year spell in which no artist on Capitol's Nashville division topped the charts), and the #3 "Where the Blacktop Ends". After a nearly year-long hiatus, he returned in late 2002 with "Somebody Like You", a six-week #1 hit that started a streak of Top 10 country hits that remains unbroken more than a decade later. "Somebody Like You" was named by Billboard as the biggest country hit of the 2000-2010 decade, and everything before it has long since been forgotten.
- Hank Williams, Jr.: He originally scored with his autobiographical country-rocker "Family Tradition." In fact, he had had 11 top 10 hits, including two No. 1 singles (1970's "All for the Love of Sunshine" and 1972's "Eleven Roses," both soft ballads) prior to his landmark "Family Tradition."
- The Dukes of Hazzard's lead stars:
- John Schneider: In the early 1980s, right at the height of his fame as Bo Duke on The Dukes Of Hazzard, someone had the bright idea that he would make a great singer. They were right, and in 1981, his first single – a cover of Elvis Presley's "It's Now or Never" was a top 5 country and top 15 pop smash. Ah, but its success, that song is rarely heard today. What's considered his career breakthrough came three years later with "I've Been Around Enough to Know," the first in a string of No. 1 and top 5 country hits through 1987.
- Tom Wopat: Had a somewhat less successful career in the late 1980s, with his first top 20 hit being "True Love (Never Did Run Smooth)" in 1986.
- Daft Punk and their first album Homework as well as its leading single "Da Funk". Their album Random Access Memories and its lead single "Get Lucky," however, transformed them from a cult act to a mainstream pop act.
- Avicii: "Levels," to the point that he's been working hard to distance himself away from the hit (he expressed disgust at how overplayed it is at clubs) and it didn't appear on his first studio album True. He had a few minor hits such as "Seek Bromance," but "Levels" really established himself as a superstar. Outside of the club scene, and in a few countries where "Levels" flew under the radar (such as the U.S.), "Wake Me Up" broke him into the mainstream and has become a much bigger hit than "Levels" ever was.
- Skrillex: He broke through with the EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites as well as its title track released as a single. The single remains his best-selling single to date.
- Owl City: "Fireflies" was the first big hit for the electronic musician, but proved unable to score a successful follow-up.
- Ellie Goulding: "Starry Eyed", considered the first true showcase of her dreamy, ethereal style. In the U.S., this honor goes to "Lights".
- Eminem: "My Name Is". It was the first single from his first major record label effort The Slim Shady LP, and the music video would eventually reach the #1 spot on Total Request Live (a spot usually dominated at the time by the likes of the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC and Britney Spears), starting him on his path to stardom. "My Name Is" didn't really go very far on the Billboard Hot 100 ("The Real Slim Shady" was his first top 10 there), but since it is very well-remembered, it's a much more appropriate song to hold this title.
- Things Fall Apart for The Roots. It was their fourth studio album, and the first one to sell at least 500,000 copies, as well as the group's first Grammy award for the single "You Got Me"note .
- Jay-Z: This Brooklyn rapper initially charted at #3 on rap albums and #23 on pop albums with his debut album Reasonable Doubt, which is often considered to be his best record to this day. He eventually cemented himself as one of the most successful rappers of all time with his third album Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, and although it was criticized for being much more "poppy" than his earlier hardcore work, it became his first #1 on the pop album chart.
- Kanye West: Yeezy first established himself as one of rap's best producers with his mentor Jay-Z's album The Blueprint. He aspired to be a rapper himself, but many didn't believe in his ability to rap at first. Despite this, he eventually released The College Dropout, a massive critical and commercial success.
- Dr. Dre and Ice Cube: Following their acrimonious split from Eazy-E and the breakup of NWA, both Dre and Cube released solo albums that would later be considered classics of the Gangsta Rap sub-genre—The Chronic and AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, respectively.
- Snoop Dogg: Back when he was called "Snoop Doggy Dogg", he broke through with "Gin and Juice", the second single from his debut album Doggystyle.
R&B, Blues, and Soul
- Burt Bacharach and Hal David: The legendary songwriting team began working together in 1957, and almost immediately had their first breakthrough hit: "The Story of My Life," a No. 1 country and No. 15 pop hit by Marty Robbins. Dozens of hit singles followed, including those as diverse as Dionne Warwick, Herb Alpert, B.J. Thomas, The Carpenters, Bobby Vinton, the 5th Dimension, the duet pairing of Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald, the 1980s synth-pop duo Naked Eyes and many others.
- The Bee Gees: The three Gibb brothers – Barry, Robin and Maurice – are so closely identified with disco that their 1960s and early 1970s output is all but forgotten. But let's remember that as awesome and defining of a dance-based disco band that they were, they also had the pop/close harmony side in which they excelled, and it was their first top 20 hit, "New York Mining Disaster" from 1967, that gave fans their first taste of the brothers' Gibb. Their early top 20 hits are also proven breakthroughs: "To Love Somebody" and "Massachusetts," also from 1967, charted even higher and has been heavily played on oldies stations, and 1968's "I Gotta Get a Message to You" broke them into the top 10 for the first time. They had a hiatus in 1969 and most of 1970, but broke back through at the end of 1970 with "Lonely Days," their biggest hit yet, and topped the Hot 100 for the first time with "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" in the summer of 1971. And then, after a few of their follow-up releases charted progressively lower, they had another breakthrough – their disco-years breakthrough, and it was by doing a little "Jive Talkin'," a No. 1 smash in August 1975. The Bee Gees' music wasn't the same since then, and it is the Gibbs' third breakthrough that is generally regarded as the one that brought them the most lasting, sustained success.
- Justin Bieber: "One Time" was the song that first garnered him attention, but it was "Baby" that turned him into a superstar. It is now his Signature Song.
- Blondie: Prior to 1979 and the release of the group's album Parallel Lines, this new wave-punk band from New York City had a cult following but not a mainstream one. Then, Debbie Harry and her bandmates rang in 1979 with a daftly new sound: a mix of disco and a mix of new wave to serve as the perfect bridge between eras of prevailing styles, and it was a "Heart of Glass." The song, the band's breakthrough, quickly went to No. 1 and became one of its signature songs.
- Andy Gibb: Barry, Robin and Maurice's kid brother became a star in his own right. After a failed single release in late 1976, he recorded the smash hit "I Just Want To Be Your Everything," which became a No. 1 hit in 1977 and eventually became one of the biggest hits ever in pop music.
- Hall and Oates: This Philadelphia-based duo fused elements of pop, soul and rock music to create "rock and soul." In the fall of 1973, Daryl Hall and John Oates recorded and released "She's Gone" as a single but it went nowhere. In December 1975, they issued their next single, "Sara Smile" … and nearly 4 1/2 months later, in April 1976, it became a legitimate top 10 hit. "She's Gone" would then be reissued in August 1976, and it finally became a top 10 hit, paving the way for their first wave of success that also included the No. 1 hit "Rich Girl." After that, their success subsided, but then came a second breakthrough in the late fall of 1980 with their remake of the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." Although that was only a No. 12 hit, it provided more than enough momentum to make them one of the most successful acts of the 1980s, with five No. 1 hits – starting with 1981's "Kiss On My List" – and a bunch of top 10 hits to boot.
- Michael Jackson: The album Off the Wall and its lead single "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" codified much of what made the "King of Pop" famous, helping establish him as the definitive musician of The Eighties. He was already noted as the lead singer of the Jackson 5, and already had a solo career started even while he was with them (he had one #1 hit and two other top 10 hits at that point), but Off the Wall established what he would be known for for many years to come.
- Carly Rae Jepsen: After three years of mild success (but only in Canada), the Canadian Idol contestant skyrocketed to international fame after the release of "Call Me Maybe" thanks to the support of Justin Bieber. Most people aren't even aware the single came from an EP, or that she released a full album three years earlier.
- Lady Gaga: "Just Dance," after several years in the business and a shift from being a piano-pop-type singer/songwriter.
- Cyndi Lauper: In the late 1970s, this completely hot singer from Queens, New York released a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "You Make Loving Fun," which is forgotten today. In the early 1980s, she fronted a new wave-punk band called Blue Angel. Few remember her output from their one album, but it did show stylistic trends that would appear in her far-more famous music of the mid-to-late 1980s. Her breakthrough, from early 1984, proved more than just that "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" – it proved she was around to stay, with a famous career in professional wrestling and – recording ballads (most notably, "Time After Time" and the sugary sweet "True Colors") and uptempo songs alike – becoming an iconic figure of the 1980s to boot.
- Madonna: The girl who would practically challenge every censorship trope, particularly during the 1980s and early 1990s, had a good-sized dance hit in 1982 called "Everybody." But not everybody remembers that song … they remember her late 1983 breakthrough hit "Holiday," which despite reaching only No. 16 paved the way for massive success later in the 1980s – her first top 10 was "Lucky Star" in early 1984, and her No. 1 hit came in December 1984 with "Like a Virgin" – plus a career that's included acting, being a best-seller author (although several of her books have been banned), entrepreneur and philanthropist.
- Olivia Newton John: She had some success in the United Kingdom and her native Australia, but in the United States, her big break came with the 1971 single "If Not For You." On the pop side, the song just missed reaching the top 20, but it was a sign of things to come for the beautiful Australian. Although a follow-up hit eluded her for the next two years, she continued to have several hits worldwide ... and then in 1973, she really broke through with "Let Me Be There," her first huge country smash hit and a top 10 pop hit as well. She had arrived, reaching the pinnacle of multi-genre success in 1978 with her starring role in Grease and in 1981 with her huge hit "Physical."
- One Direction: "What Makes You Beautiful." While they were well known in the UK on the X-Factor, international audiences didn't discover them until this song became a massive worldwide hit. The band's popularity would begin to eclipse that of reigning teen phenomenon Justin Bieber at that point.
- Katy Perry: She first started recording music under her birth name, Katy Hudson, but after she adopted her mother's maiden name, she broke through with the album One of the Boys and its lead single "I Kissed a Girl", which rebelled against her fundamentalist Christian upbringing and establishing her as one of the decade's biggest pop women.
Rock and Metal
- Prince – Many consider his 1983 hit "Little Red Corvette" to be his breakthrough hit, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1983. Nobody, it seems, remembers his true breakthrough: "I Wanna Be Your Lover," which stopped just short of the top 10 in January 1980, some three years earlier. Additionally, his second bonafide hit, "1999," is considered to have come after "Little Red Corvette" (No. 12 in the summer of '83), forgetting that "1999" was climbing the charts in October 1982 (stopping at No. 44).
- Billy Ocean – The Trindad-born R&B singer had a moderate hit in 1976 in the United States with "Love Really Hurts Without You"; that, plus at least two other late 1970s songs, were huge hits in the United Kingdom. But his real U.S. breakthrough didn't come until 1984, when he scored with "Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)."
- Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul had a top 10 pop hit early in 1967 with "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," but that bluesy soul song is all but forgotten today. Aretha's follow up would gain far more "Respect," and forever be ingrained in American pop culture.
- Marvin Gaye: A key member of the Motown scene from the 1960s through his untimely death in 1984 (OK, by the early 1980s, he was recording on Columbia Records ... still), Gaye's souful sound took root in the early 1960s, with his first big hit coming in 1963 with "Pride and Joy," although many consider his real breakthrough to be the original version of "How Sweet it Is (to be Loved by You)" two years later.
- Gladys Knight & the Pips: In 1961, this family soul group from Atlanta Georgia (leader Gladys Knight, her brother Bubba, and cousins William Guest and Edward Patten) had their first national hit in 1961 with "Every Beat of My Heart." Credited just as Pips, the song was just a "pip" on the radar for the then 16-year-old Gladys and her mates, and even though it was a strong No. 6 hit it has long since been forgotten. Fast forward 6 1/2 years later, and a record deal with subsidary Motown label Soul Records, the group tried their luck again ... and finally had their true breakthrough with the original version of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." "Grapevine" (which became even better known by Marvin Gaye later in 1968) would set the stage for their 1970s hits, most notably "Midnight Train to Georgia."
- The Supremes: In the early 1960s, this Detroit-based girl group fronted by Diana Ross (with Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson joining in) struggled to find that breakthrough hit. No fewer than five singles had been released from 1960-1963, with only the fifth of them barely making a dent in the song "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes," which reached No. 29. That was the group's first top 30 hit, but the follow-up, "Run, Run, Run," fared far worse. Before Motown Records could run, run, run from Diana, Florence and Mary, the group released the latest sure dud single, "Where Did Our Love Go." But this was no dud ... but rather, the song that finally caught on. Less than two months after its release, instead of finding itself at the bottom of the discount bargain bin at record stores, "Where Did Our Love Go" went straight to No. 1 and in addition to being the breakthrough, led to the most successful girl group of the 1960s. (Florence later left, replaced by Cindy Birdsong.)
- As far as Diana Ross goes, after departing the Supremes in January 1970, as "Someday We'll Be Together" was at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, she had a very lucrative solo career (musically and acting, and many TV appearances). Her first solo hit, "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand" was a top 20 hit in the late spring of 1970 and has been closely tied to her career, but what really made her star was her dramatic redo of the Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrill smash "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
- Chris Brown: "Run It!".
- Ray Charles: "I Got a Woman." It introduced his revolutionary fusion of R&B with Gospel, which would later become the Soul genre, and was his first #1 on the R&B chart.
- Rick Springfield: Although he peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the folkish "Speak to the Sky" in 1972, the song sounds nothing like the song most regard as his true breakthrough hit – "Jessie's Girl," from 1981. In fact, given that most of Springfield's later hits had the power pop sound of "Jessie's Girl," fans generally are unaware that "Speak to the Sky" was ever associated with him (although he does still perform the song in concert, albeit in his trademark power-pop arrangement).
- Fleetwood Mac: Hardcore fans knew this Anglo-American band as a British blues-oriented rock group, featuring the two men whose names make up the band's name (Mick Fleetwood and John McVie). Formed in 1967, they had major success in Great Britain but, except for a few alternative stations, weren't really that well known in the United States. That is, until 1975 when the band — with newcomer members Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks having joined the fold (Christine McVie came on board in 1970) — the band released an album, titled, appropriately enough, Fleetwood Mac. This new album showcased their pop-oriented sound, and featured their U.S. Top 40 radio breakthrough songs, starting off with "Over My Head," "Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)" and "Say You Love Me." Christine McVie has since retired, but Fleetwood, John McVie, Buckingham and Nicks (along with other rotating members) has remained intact since.
- Elvis Presley: It really depends on what one defines as "breakthrough." In 1955, he was charting only on the country chart with songs like "Mystery Train" and "That's Alright, Mama," and at the end of the year was climbing the charts with his first No. 1 country hit, "I Forgot to Remember to Forget." All of those titles were for the Sun Records label – legendary performances to be sure from the King of Rock and Roll. But then in 1956, he signed with RCA, released a cover of a Mae Axton-penned tune called "Heartbreak Hotel" – and his career broke wide (and it really is wide) open.
- The Beatles: They got their start in the United Kingdom, and had several huge British hits prior to their little trip overseas to the American shores. Their first hit in their homeland was "Love Me Do," a top 20 hit on the UK chart in the fall of 1962. Their second hit, "Please Please Me" in the winter of 1963, reached No. 1 in the UK, but when released in the United States at about the same time, few people did more than shrug their shoulders. Then came January 1964, the release of "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and some exposure on The Ed Sullivan Show ... and an incredible musical legacy that had been sewn in England finally took root in North America, and popular music was changed forever. (By the way, "Please Please Me" was re-released in the U.S., and this time skyrocketed to No. 3, held out by "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You.")
- As solo artists, the breakthroughs for the Fab Four:
- John Lennon: "Give Peace a Chance" (1969) or "Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)" (1970); both were top 10 hits, but the latter is far-better remembered today.
- Paul McCartney: Either "Another Day" or "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," both 1971 and from his album Ram. Although "Another Day" was a top 5 hit in the spring of 1971, "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" — and not just because it was his first solo No. 1 — is far better known.
- George Harrison: "My Sweet Lord." Reaching No. 1 the day after Christmas 1970, he was the first Beatle to have a solo No. 1 hit. (Incidentally, 17 years later, he was the last to have a solo No. 1, with "Got My Mind Set on You.") As a member of the Beatles, the first song that really got him noticed was something called ... well ... "Something," the flip side of "Come Together."
- Ringo Starr: "It Don't Come Easy," from the spring of 1971. Although the song was not his first single release — that honor goes to "Beaucoups of Blues" a year earlier, shortly after the breakup of the Beatles — this was his first legitimate hit. Ringo, incidentally, was the last Beatle to taste individual success, but for a time in the 1970s, he was more consistently successful than Paul.
- Motörhead: Ace of Spades.
- Genesis: Although they had a top 25 hit with "Follow You, Follow Me" in 1978, there was no "Misunderstanding" this English band's true breakthrough came in 1980.
- Phil Collins: Collins, the most successful solo member of the group, broke through in 1981 with "In the Air Tonight."
- Slayer: Reign In Blood. Before that, they were just another thrash act. Afterwords, they were one of the thrash acts alongside Metallica, Megadeth,and Anthrax.
- The Kinks: "You Really Got Me". Prior to this, they had two unsuccessful singles.
- Elton John: Self-Titled Album and "Your Song" were his breakthroughs. His first album Empty Sky, which was released under his real name Reginald Dwight, was unsuccessful.
- Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run, though he never had a Top 10 hit until 1980's "Hungry Heart".
- Pink Floyd The album The Dark Side of the Moon. For a specific song, "Money" is probably the best fit. They did have a couple of UK hits in the late '60s, but they're mostly forgotten today.
- Billy Joel: "Piano Man." His first top 10 hit was 1977's "Just The Way You Are."
- The Moody Blues: Days of Future Passed.
- Jethro Tull: Aqualung.
- Korn: Follow the Leader.
- Linkin Park: Hybrid Theory.
- Limp Bizkit: Significant Other.
- Electric Wizard: Dopethrone.
- New Order: "Blue Monday", "True Faith" and Substance in the U.S.
- Pentagram: The compilation First Daze Here: The Vintage Collection is the closest they'll probably ever get to this trope.
- Supertramp: Their first two albums were commercial failures, and then Crime of the Century was released to commercial and critical acclaim, with "Dreamer" being a major hit.
- David Bowie: 1972's "Starman", a last-minute addition to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (because RCA wanted a song they could push as a single), finally established him as a topflight act after four previous albums and only one Top 5 hit — he'd been recording since 1964. Of course, that previous top 5 hit, "Space Oddity," is one of his best-known songs.
- Opeth: Blackwater Park.
- Black Sabbath: Paranoid.
- Led Zeppelin: "Whole Lotta Love".
- AC/DC: "Highway to Hell".
- Deep Purple: "Hush" was their first hit, but "Smoke on the Water" was the song that established their legacy.
- Yes: The Yes Album was their first album to have significant sales, and their only single from that album, "Your Move", was also their first song to make the top-40 in the US. It also established their symphonic-prog rock sound that they would become known for.
- The Red Hot Chili Peppers: They first started to chart in the US with Knock Me Down, worldwide with their cover of Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground, and became superstars after a label change and Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
- Nirvana: "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and its parent album Nevermind.
- Alice in Chains: Their sophomore album Dirt.
- Metallica: Their mainstream success begun with "One" (which was even their first music video).
- Green Day: "When I Come Around". Their first two albums didn't have much commercial traction, and while previous Dookie singles had had major rock radio airplay (particularly "Basket Case" and "Longview"), it was "When I Come Around" that broke them in a big way to general pop audiences. However, it was not until the success of American Idiot, specifically "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," that Green Day transitioned from a popular rock radio act to mainstream music icons. Fortunately, this hasn't created false perceptions that American Idiot is their debut album, since at the very least "Good Riddance" is as well-known among the greater public as their mid-'00s hits.
- The Offspring: Smash, and its lead single "Come Out and Play."
- Cannibal Corpse: Tomb of the Mutilated.
- Judas Priest: Screaming for Vengeance, specifically the single "You've Got Another Thing Comin'."
- Dragonforce: "Through the Fire and the Flames" and only after its appearance in Guitar Hero.
- R.E.M.: While their first albums had some popularity, particularly on college radio, they only broke into the mainstream with "The One I Love".
- 311: "Down," in 1995.
- Megadeth: Countdown to Extinction.
- Pantera: Vulgar Display of Power.
- Sepultura: Beneath the Remains for the metal community; Roots for the mainstream.
- Queen: Averted. While Bohemian Rhapsody was very successful and in hindsight seems to have caused the band's popularity, they'd actually had several lesser hits all along their earlier career and already had an audience.
- Nickelback: And how. "How You Remind Me", a song by an unlikely small-time Canadian hard rock band with no mainstream hits in any country, shot to US No. 1 and became the biggest-selling song of the year 2002, securing them a career for the rest of the decade. "Leader of Men" was a top 10 hit on rock radio, but received very little alternative radio play and did not chart on the Hot 100.
- Iron Maiden: The Number of the Beast. Specifically, the title track and "Run to the Hills".
- If AllMusic's "album pick" for an artist isn't a Greatest Hits Album, it's usually one of these.
- Journey: Originally this band was an experimental prog-rock band called "The Dead on Steroids". With the addition of the talented Steve Perry in 1977, they recorded the album Infinity, and its lead single "Wheel in the Sky" cemented them as an enduring sound of their time.
- Aerosmith: "Dream On." According to Steven Tyler, he was insecure about how his voice sounded on tape with all other songs on their debut Self-Titled Album, and he decided to use his "real" voice for this "Dream On." It paid off, and it's now one of their signature hits and a staple of classic rock radio. As mainstream acts, the album Toys in the Attic and "Walk This Way" broke through past core rock stations and into mainstream radio.
- U2: They started with a few low-charting singles, most notably "I Will Follow" from Boy, but the album that brought them into prominence was the politically-minded War, which had their first successful single internationally: "New Year's Day." However, the song didn't really catch on in the U.S., in where "Pride (In the Name of Love)" brought them to the top 40 and "With or Without You" to the top 10.
- Evanescence: After releasing a few demos, this gothic alt-metal band released the full studio album Fallen, and its single "Bring Me to Life" became on of the biggest hits of the Nu Metal era.
- Paramore: They first exploded onto the modern rock scene with "Misery Business", the lead single from their second album Riot!, and established themselves as a band with a bright future. Eventually, after a shift from their Emo/Pop Punk style to a pure Pop Rock/Power Pop style, their fourth album Paramore and its single "Still Into You" established them on the pop charts (also leading to inevitable cries of "sellout").
- Rammstein: "Du Hast" and its parent album, Sehnsucht.
- Kate Bush: "Wuthering Heights". Hounds of Love and "Running Up That Hill" were her American breakthrough.
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for Andrew Lloyd Webber.
- Tancredi for Gioachino Rossini.
- Nabucco for Giuseppe Verdi.
- Rodgers and Hart made their breakthrough with Garrick Gaieties, a 1925 revue that began as a benefit concert put on to furnish the Theater Guild's new home.
- Rienzi was Richard Wagner's third opera and the first to be produced to success. Wagner later disowned it, however.
- Le Cirque Réinventé for Cirque du Soleil. In hindsight, this show (the company's third) has a lot of Early-Installment Weirdness, being conceptually simple compared to what followed, but it was their first show to tour beyond Canada and served as an introduction to the contemporary circus genre for U.S. audiences who mostly knew only the (at the time) fairly stale traditional style performed by Ringling Bros. and the like.
- Cabaret for John Kander and Fred Ebb.
- Brigadoon for Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
- Jerome Kern's songs for the 1914 musical The Girl from Utah moved him into the top tier of Broadway songwriters. Ironically, he wasn't one of the principal songwriters, which he had been on two less successful previous musicals.
- Peter Grimes for Benjamin Britten.
- Agnes de Mille had her first major success on the ballet stage with Rodeo, and shortly thereafter made the breakthrough in musical theatre which had previously eluded her with Oklahoma!.
- Manon Lescaut for Giacomo Puccini.
- Beyond the Horizon for Eugene O'Neill.
- All My Sons for Arthur Miller.
- Oklahoma! for Rodgers and Hammerstein. The two writers were known independently beforehand for productions such as Show Boat (for Hammerstein) and A Connecticut Yankee (for Rodgers), then Oklahoma! ensured that the two creators would be inseparable in public knowledge from then on.
- West Side Story for Stephen Sondheim.
Sony Computer Entertainment
Microsoft Game Studios
Other Publishers and Developers
- Alex Kidd In Miracle World became the breakthrough hit for Sega in Europe, Australia and Brazil, where the Master System might even have outsold the NES. It is however the original Sonic the Hedgehog that made Sega popular in the US and was the title that was sold with the Genesis and even then it took Sega to make Virtua Fighter in order to have any sort of popularity in Japan since that particular game was the one that sold the Sega Saturn there.
- Sonic the Hedgehog made Sonic Team popular on an international scale excluding Japan. It was not until the release of NiGHTS into Dreams that it had any sort of popularity there.
- Half-Life for Valve Software.
- Final Fantasy I for Square. It was originally titled as such because it was thought the company would go under after making the game. As of this writing, the series is in its fourteenth edition, with many different branches and spin-off series.
- Final Fantasy VII was even more of a breakthrough, since that game took the Final Fantasy franchise from popular-but-cult to international JRPG phenomenon (it was the first installment released in Europe, as the series had been virtually unknown in that territory up until that point). FFVII was also the breakthrough of character designer Tetsuya Nomura.
- Dragon Quest I for Enix, the JRPG juggernaut's other half.
- Warcraft: Orcs and Humans for Blizzard Entertainment. You could make an argument for World of Warcraft, as well.
- Bejeweled for PopCap Games.
- Spyro the Dragon for Insomniac Games.
- Disgaea: Hour of Darkness for Nippon Ichi Software.
- Mega Man 2 for Capcom (and Keiji Inafune) on home consoles, and Street Fighter II in arcades.
- Mega Man Zero for Inti Creates, a studio created by former Capcom employees.
- Rayman for Ubisoft (and Michel Ancel).
- Batman: Arkham Asylum for Rocksteady Studios.
- Viewtiful Joe for Clover Studios.
- Bayonetta for Platinum Games, Clover's successor studio.
- Scribblenauts for 5th Cell.
- Worms for Team17.
- Ninja Gaiden (NES/Famicom game) for Tecmo.
- Nobunaga's Ambition for Koei.
- Space Invaders for Taito Corporation.
- Pac-Man for Namco.
- Borderlands for Gearbox Software.
- Lunar: The Silver Star for Working Designs.
- Grand Theft Auto III for Take-Two Interactive's Rockstar Games branch, less than two months ahead of Max Payne. They've had many modest hits prior to GTA 3 including its direct predecessor, but none of them have made a fraction of 3's cultural impact.
- BioShock for the 2K Games branch. Prior to that, they were more known for publishing other developer's games, notably The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This was their first self-developed hit.
- Command & Conquer for Westwood Studios.
- Baldur's Gate for Bioware.
- Persona for Atlus in Japan, Persona 3 worldwide.
- Contra for Konami on home consoles, its fame owed mainly to a certain cheat code in the NES version. Castlevania was a cult hit at the time, and the franchise never became super-popular until long after Contra.
- Gex for Crystal Dynamics.
- Tomb Raider for Eidos Interactive.
- Pitfall for Activision in the Atari 2600 era, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater in the PlayStation era. Call of Duty provided the company with yet another breakthrough.
- Dark Cloud for Level-5.
- R-Type for Irem.
- Harvest Moon for Natsume.
- The .hack Conglomerate for CyberConnect2.
- Guilty Gear X2 for Arc System Works.
- BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger for Aksys Gamesnote .
- Mortal Kombat (1992) for Midway Games. It was one of the most popular and best-selling games of the 1990s, and also one of the most controversial, directly leading to the creation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind for Bethesda Softworks. Oblivion and Skyrim took the franchise to even greater fame afterwards.
- Gunstar Heroes for Treasure.
- Shining Force for Camelot Software Planningnote .
- Odin Sphere for Vanillaware.
- The King of Fighters '94 for SNK. Its popularity surpassed the games it was spun off from (Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting) and quickly became a recognizable franchise of its own.
- Drakengard for Cavia.
- Dark Souls for From Software.
- Bomberman for Hudson Soft.
- Pong for Atari.
- IL-2 Sturmovik for 1C Company.
- The Zen Pinball/Pinball FX collection for Zen Studios.
- The Unreal series, specifically Unreal Tournament, for Epic Games.
- Wolfenstein 3D and Doom for id Software (and two of its producers, John Romero and John Carmack).
- Duke Nukem 3D for 3D Realms.
- The Madden NFL series eventually became this for Electronic Arts, as it wasn't until the 2000s that the series became synonymous with football in video games.
- Fate/stay night for Type-Moon.
- Maniac Mansion for LucasArts.
- Crysis for Crytek. Far Cry, the studio's previous game, was also a hit, but Crysis made Crytek well-known for pushing the boundaries of PC graphical hardware.
- FreQuency and Amplitude brought Harmonix into the gaming business, but it was their first entry in the Guitar Hero franchise that made them a household name in the Rhythm Game genre.
- King's Quest for Sierra.
- MapleStory for Nexon.
- Ragnarok Online for Gravity.
- DoDonPachi for Cave.
- Pokémon Red and Blue for Game Freak. The company produced a few games before Pokémon (and a few after), many of which have faded into obscurity.
- Operation Flashpointnote for Bohemia Interactive.
- The Sam & Max: Freelance Police episodic series proved to be very successful for Telltale Games, inspiring two additional "seasons." A few years later, their award-winning adaptation of The Walking Dead would give them even further fame.
- Lineage for NC Soft in its native South Korea, and City of Heroes and Guild Wars overseas.
- The Longest Journey for Funcom.
- Magicka for Paradox Interactive.
Western Animation (Excluding Film)
- Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies:
- Porky Pig, introduced in 1935's "I Haven't Got a Hat," was their breakthrough star. Incidentally, Porky wasn't the main star of this film: the twin dog duo of Ham and Ex (who sing the title theme), were earmarked as the future stars of Warner Bros. cartoons.
- Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd: "A Wild Hare," released in 1940. Earlier cartoons had templates of both characters, but this was the first film to feature official versions of the iconic cartoon stars.
- Daffy Duck: "Porky's Duck Hunt" from 1937, in which he was a supporting character who drove Porky Pig nuts.
- Sylvester the Cat: Although his first film was "Life With Feathers" (where a suicidal bird tries to get eaten but the cat refusing because he thinks he's poison), it was the puddy tat's pairing with a certain yellow, blue-eyed canary – the Tweety Bird, in "Tweetie Pie" – that made our hapless, lisping black-and-white cat a star.
- Foghorn Leghorn: The loud-mouthed rooster's breakthrough was "Walky Talky Hawky."
- Tex Avery: his first big hit was his 6th short "I Love to Singa" (1936).
- Bob Clampett: his first big hit was "Porky in Wackyland" (1938).
- Steamboat Willie for Walt Disney.
- Woody Woodpecker for the Walter Lantz cartoon studio.
- Rugrats for Klasky-Csupo studios and Nicktoons on Nickelodeon.
- Dexter's Laboratory for Genndy Tartakovsky and Cartoon Network as a whole, and Craig McCracken as a writer.
- The Powerpuff Girls for Craig McCracken as a producer, also giving a start to Lauren Faust as a writer and director.
- The Fairly OddParents for Nickelodeon animator Butch Hartman.
- Batman: The Animated Series for Alan Burnett, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.
- Gargoyles for Greg Weisman.
- John Kricfalusi had a long career before then, but The Ren & Stimpy Show is what made him truly famous.
- The Simpsons for Matt Groening and for the Fox network.
- South Park for Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
- Family Guy for Seth MacFarlane. It also gave a start for Dan Povenmire via its "Road To" episodes.
- Johnny Bravo for Van Partible. It also gave a start to the aforementioned Seth MacFarlane and Butch Hartman (as well as Steve Marmel) in the art of writing.
- Ben 10 for Man of Action.
- Gerald McBoing-Boing for UPA.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and/or Transformers Prime for The Hub network.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender for Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante Di Martino. It also gave a start for Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Giancarlo Volpe (Green Lantern: The Animated Series).
- Ducktales for Walt Disney Television Animation.
- 6teen for Fresh TV.
- Gravity Falls for Alex Hirsch.
- Inspector Gadget for DiC Entertainment.
- Doug for Jumbo Pictures.
- Recess for Paul Germain, Joe Ansolabehere, and One Saturday Morning.
- Wolverine and the X-Men for Christopher Yost.
- The Spectacular Spider-Man for Victor Cook and Andrew Robinson.
- Regular Show for JG Quintel.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold for James Tucker and Michael Jelenic.
- Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated for Mitch Watson.
- Green Lantern: The Animated Series for Jim Krieg.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars for Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, Katie Lucas, Matt Michnovetz and Brent Friedman.
- Adventure Time for Pendleton Ward.
- The Flintstones for Hanna-Barbera.