Star-Making Role

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
He was an accomplished stage actor in Australia before this. Because of this, you know who Hugh Jackman is.

"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'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).

Examples of Star-Making Role include:

Anime and Manga


Dub Voices


Film - Animation

Live Action TV


Many writers have early works mired in obscurity before they publish the story or collection of work that makes them a star.

  • Cervantes was regarded as a very mediocre playwright and author of a mildly successful pastoral romance before he published Don Quixote. The rest is history.
  • Stephen King sold many short stories to various magazines and periodicals before he found success with Carrie.
  • It wasn't really until the publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that J. K. Rowling's little wizard really became the international multi-media juggernaut it is known as today.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien was a very well-regarded English Literature professor at Oxford; however, had he not written the The Lord of the Rings trilogy he likely would have remained unknown outside of academia.

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 was a big time wrestling star before his legendary Wrestlemania 3 bout with Andre the Giant, but that match catapulted him, and pro wrestling in general, to international stardom.
    • Also from Wrestlemania 3: Ricky Steamboat and the late Randy Savage's Intercontinental 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 Moment of Awesome for all four men.
    • The Dudley Boyz became stars by making it a Melee a Trois with the above and adding tables as the first letter in TLC.
  • 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 WCW's Clash of the Champions IX. 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.
  • While John Morrison was always fairly popular, he wasn't really taken seriously as an actual contender in the Main Event until his match with Sheamus at TLC 2010.
  • 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 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.


Video Games (Voice Acting)

Western Animation

  1. (many believe she deserves an entry in the Live Action Film folder as well for Remember the Titans, but she's had more success to date in television than film)