main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Star-Making Role
"Everyone said I was an overnight success, but it was ten years leading up to that."
Naomi Watts, in relation to her success with Mulholland Drive

Every A-List star starts somewhere. They do bit parts and walk-on roles, sometimes even becoming "that guy". They may be a lesser part of an Ensemble Cast who becomes an Ensemble Darkhorse. They may even wind up doing something they may not be proud of later. Either way, when their memoirs are written or they sit down with James Lipton, this will be the role that they point to and say "that's where it really started for me" — the rise from obscurity to getting first billing. The role may have been written for the specific purpose of making this specific person a star by showcasing their talents. More often than not, it's a case of taking the right part and running with it. This is the role they earn their name with.

This isn't always a star's first role. It's not even their first film or series to be a major success. It might even become completely overshadowed by the parts it helped give them in bigger-budget productions. It's the first role where they stop being "that guy" and become known by their name alone.

See also Retroactive Recognition for reactions to roles the actor had before his SMR (think Harrison Ford as a bellhop in Dead Heat On A Merry Go Round, here). Contrast Star-Derailing Role for when the star goes in the opposite direction. Compare Breakthrough Hit (equivalent for creators).


    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 

Japanese Voice Actors (Seiyuu)

English Voice Actors

     Film - Animation 

    Film - Live Action 

     Live Action TV  

     Professional Wrestling  
While many pro wrestlers find a successful character (if they're lucky) and play it for the duration of their career (if they're not Mick Foley) there is such a phenomenon as a star making match. A sub-trope, but probably not enough of one for its own page.
  • Hulk Hogan: He was already a big-time wrestling star for the Midwest-based American Wrestling Association, thanks to his prolific role in the movie Rocky III. But the match that catapulted him into superstardom was his legendary match January 23, 1984, at New York's Madison Square Garden, where he defeated hated Iranian wrestler The Iron Sheik to win the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. The match broadcast live on the USA Network, allowing the nation to witness the birth of Hulkamania and see an American capture a huge victory over someone from one of the United States' most hated enemies, Iran.
    • If that wasn't big, then his WrestleMania III bout with André the Giant would be the one that catapulted him, and pro wrestling in general, to international stardom.
    • Also from WrestleMania III: Ricky Steamboat and the late Randy Savage's WWE Intercontinental Heavyweight Title match was a landmark for showcasing that smaller wrestlers with tight work could steal the show and carry a crowd. It's frequently cited as one of the greatest matches of all time, and some aficionados say it's better than Hogan/Andre.
  • "Stone Cold" Steve Austin first got over with his King of the Ring win in 1996, but it was his submission match at WrestleMania 13 with Bret Hart that solidified his standing.
  • Mick Foley's Hell In A Cell match with The Undertaker at King of the Ring 1998, possibly for all the wrong reasons.
  • Shawn Michaels' Wrestlemania X effort in a Ladder Match against Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), who sadly could never quite capitalize on his own momentum, largely due to personal problems, or this might be a double-sided SMR.
  • Speaking of double-sided Star Making Matches and ladders, The Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian broke out over a series of Ladder Matches against one another, started by an outstanding effort at No Mercy 1999. The whole Hardyz/E&C feud is a Crowning Series of Awesome for all four men.
  • Though a regional and territorial star for years, Ric Flair's breakout match on the national stage was the legendary "I Quit" match against Terry Funk at NWA Clash of the Champions IX in November 1989. Because fans hadn't evolved to the "smark" stage yet and weren't entirely in on the choreographed nature of the sport, Funk didn't come out of this match looking as good as Flair did with the fans. However, it got him over with other wrestlers and many cite this as one of their favorite matches.
  • Jeff Hardy became more of a legitimate Single Eventer after his praised ladder match with The Undertaker. Later in 2008, his feud with Triple H cemented his new found Main Event Status.
  • Triple H escaped his past as Shawn Michaels' sidekick after his feud and retiring of Mick Foley.
  • CM Punk had been an indy darling for years but stagnated in WWE. Towards the end of a six year contract, facing an uncertain future, Punk grabbed a microphone and dropped a legendary worked shoot promo three weeks before Money in the Bank 2011. He went on to win the WWE Championship Title from John Cena at the event and solidified himself as a major star. (He probably would have left the company for real had he not cut that promo.) Nearly a year later, after several high-profile matches with some of WWE's top stars, a lengthy WWE title reign, a stellar program with the legendary Chris Jericho, and a WrestleMania main event match one could argue he is the biggest star in the business.
  • While Daniel Bryan has always been an internet favorite, the moment that helped his popularity skyrocket was his 18-second loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28.
  • Goldberg's career STARTED this way. After having worked some non-televised matches, he made his surprise TV debut on the September 22, 1997 episode of WCW Monday Nitro against Hugh Morrus, where he became the first wrestler to kick out of Morrus' Finishing Move No Laughing Matter en route to winning the match. EVERYBODY was talking about Goldberg after that.
  • John Cena had two: His TV debut on Smackdown against Kurt Angle and his Parking Lot Brawl against Eddie Guerrero.
  • The Undertaker had three: His debut at Survivor Series 1990, him defeating Hulk Hogan for the WWE title a year later or beating Jimmy Snuka at WrestleMania VII to start a historic streak.
  • For The Rock, it's either his Reality Subtext fueled Take That, Audience! promo right after his initial Face-Heel Turn or his "I Quit" match against Mankind in Royal Rumble 1999.
  • Brock Lesnar pretty much became a legend after defeating The Rock at SummerSlam 2002 to be the youngest WWE Champion in history.
  • For Kane, it's either his debut when he interfered in the match between Taker and HBK, his Inferno match with Taker, or winning the WWE title from Stone Cold at King of the Ring 1998.


     Video Games (Voice Acting)  

     Western Animation 

  • Playboy Magazine has a habit of turning its centerfolds into stars (albeit usually as sex symbols who have difficulty being taken seriously as actresses). Several of them have gone on to bigger and better things after posing nude for the infamous men's magazine; some become so famous that it's easy to forget they got their start as one of Hef's girls.
    • Marilyn Monroe, the magazine's first ever nude model, gracing the cover of the very first issue.
    • Jayne Mansfield
    • Betty Page
    • Shannon Tweed
    • Pamela Anderson
    • Anna Nicole Smith
    • Kelly Monaco
    • Kendra Wilkinson
    • Jenny McCarthy
    • Brande Roderick
    • Donna D’Errico
    • Sara Jean Underwood
    • Dorothy Stratten
    • Carmen Electra
    • Erika Eleniak

Sports PreemptionShow BusinessSweeps
Star-Derailing RoleTriviaStillborn Franchise

alternative title(s): Breakout Role
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy