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 James Lipton, 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).
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, who were obscure and unknown authors at the time, 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.
- 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.
- Jessica Rose in lonelygirl15.
- 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 Yuru-Yuri 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.