Every A-List star starts somewhere. They do bit parts and walk-on roles. They may be a lesser part of an Ensemble Cast who becomes an Ensemble Dark Horse. 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 interviewers, this is the role they point to and say "that's where it really started for me" — the rise from obscurity to main player. 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.
Sometimes an actor can have a star making role in one country (usually their homeland) and a different star making role on a more global basis. For example, Christoph Waltz was known for years in Germany and Austria before Inglorious Basterds made him a household name to international audiences. And Marion Cotillard became a star with the Taxi films and A Very Long Engagement in France before La Vie en Rose and her Oscar win made her a star abroad.
See also Retroactive Recognition for reactions to roles the actor or actress had before their SMR (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 Career Resurrection for when they were once a star, faded, and became big again. Compare Breakthrough Hit (equivalent for creators).
A No Recent Examples rule applies to this trope. To avoid any knee-jerk reactions, examples shouldn't be added until six months after the work's released or the character first appears (whichever is later).
Pages with their own sets of examples:
- Anime & Manga
- Animated Film
- Live-Action TV
- Professional Wrestling
- Video Games (voice acting)
- Western Animation (excluding animated films)
- Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar were obscure and unknown authors when they created the Ultimate Marvel line. By the time they were done, Bendis was Marvel's most important author, and Millar started his own imprint and turned many of his own comics into notable films.
- Writer Tom King got some early buzz in the early New '10s through indie work, and some fringe buzz with Grayson, Omega Men, and The Sheriff of Babylon, but it was The Vision (2015) that solidified his acclaim (and notoriety) as a writer rooted in psychologically deconstructing famous superheroes, launching his role in bigger material such as Batman (Tom King) and Mister Miracle (2017).
- Sesame Street and The Muppet Show for many of the first generation of Muppeteers, the former also launched the careers of several of the newer Muppeteers.
- Noel MacNeal, Peter Linz (coupled with Between the Lions), and Tyler Bunch in Bear in the Big Blue House.
- Karen Prell, Kathryn Mullen, and Steve Whitmire in Fraggle Rock.
- Lindsay Jones, Barbara Dunkelman (as an actress), Kara Eberle, Arryn Zech, Michael Jones (as an actor) and Jessica Nigri (as a voice actress) in RWBY.
- Emily Ratajkowski in the music video for Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines".
- Lia Marie Johnson in React.
- Ashley Clements, Mary Kate Wiles, Laura Spencer, Julia Cho, Jessica Jade Andres, Christopher Sean, Allison Paige, Briana Cuoco, and Daniel Vincent Gordh in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
- Felicia Day and Amy Okuda in The Guild.
- 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.
- Japanese voice actress Saki Fujita has had plenty of roles in popular anime, including YuruYuri and Attack on Titan, but what won her worldwide fame was lending her voice to the creation of the second Character Vocal Series software program - for some character called Miku Hatsune.
- Unknown P going viral after his appearance on "Fire In The Booth" (as of 2022 it has racked up over 13 million views) and becoming a meme was the catalyst for his creator Munya Chawawa's rise from a relatively unknown internet funnyman to a rising star in UK comedy, going on to win several major awards.
- Joe Buck at the 1996 World Series. At just 27 years of age, Buck became the youngest person to ever call all nine innings for a World Series television broadcast while being a full-time network employee. Buck would eventually call the World Series consecutively from 2000-2021 until his departure from Fox at the end of the 2021 season.
- Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football.
- Bob Costas on the Major League Baseball Game of the Week on NBC, in particular, the "Ryne Sandberg Game" between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals on June 23, 1984.
- Chris Cuthbert during the 1988 Stanley Cup playoff game between the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils on April 18. A power outage struck the Montreal area, which ended the telecast from that city, and CBC was forced to turn to Cuthbert in Washington, D.C. to provide the full broadcast – play-by-play, analyst, and host.
- Dick Enberg at the 1969 Houston-UCLA college basketball game dubbed the "Game of the Century". It marked the first time that a regular season NCAA basketball game was televised nationwide in prime time.
- Tim McCarver at the 1985 World Series, when he was tabbed by ABC to serve as a last minute replacement for Howard Cosell, who was on the outs with the network due to his controversial book I Never Played the Game.
- Jim McKay on Wide World of Sports.
- Sean McDonough on CBS' Major League Baseball coverage, when he was tabbed to replace Jack Buck as their lead play-by-play announcer beginning in 1992.
- Al Michaels with the "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.
- Jon Miller on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.
- Brent Musburger and Greg Gumbel on The NFL Today on CBS.
- Chris Schenkel at the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants, dubbed "The Greatest Game Ever Played".
- Vin Scully at the 1953 World Series. At just 25 years of age, Scully became the youngest person to ever broadcast a World Series game.
- Ken Squier at the 1979 Daytona 500, the first 500-mile race to be broadcast in its entirety live on national television in the United States.
- Dick Stockton at the 1975 World Series, where he was behind the mic on NBC when Carlton Fisk hit his now iconic home run in Game 6.
- John Motson started out on BBC radio before becoming a TV football commentator for Match Of The Day on a one-season contract at the start of the 1971-72 football season. His big break came in February 1972 when he was assigned to cover an FA Cup third-round replay between Newcastle United (then of the First Division) and non-league Hereford United. Newcastle were expected to win easily, but in the event Hereford caused one of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition. The game was therefore the first featured match, and led to Motson getting assigned more high-profile matches — ultimately becoming one of the best-regarded commentators in the game.