15 Movie Stars Who Started Their Careers Doing Commercials

Commercials are the bread and butter of many active players, providing short-term opportunities between longer-term gigs. But unlike movies and TV shows, where the characters are the stars, the product is the real hero of an advertisement. Short and to the point, a good ad presents the most appealing features of a product or service in an engaging way. Often, it is the charisma of the actors that sells the most.

It’s not uncommon for an actor to start doing commercial work. Early in their careers, actors look for opportunities to gain experience, flesh out their demos, and maybe even score that coveted SAG card. In fact, many now-famous celebrities starred in commercials before making their big break in Hollywood. Some stars, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Kirsten Dunst, have starred in commercials since they were young. Others, like Brad Pitt, started out as young adults while doing groundwork on the side.

If you flipped through TV channels in the 80s and 90s, you might not have realized that on-screen actors were on their way to becoming world-famous actors. When Paul Rudd appeared in a Super Nintendo commercial, no one batted an eyelid. It’s crazy to think that some of today’s biggest stars were once anonymous commercial actors.

Take a look at these vintage ads that feature some seriously recognizable faces. Do you remember watching any of them when they first aired?

  • 1

    Drew Barrymore

    It’s no secret that Drew Barrymore was a child actress – after all, at age 7, she starred as Elliot’s sister, Gertie, in AND the extra-terrestrial. But even before that, when she was about 4 years old, Barrymore starred in this commercial for Pillsbury cookie dough. Walking inside in the pouring rain, Barrymore is cheered up by her mother’s homemade cookies. For a toddler, it’s a great gig – she got paid to eat delicious chocolate chip cookies on camera.

  • 2

    Leonardo DiCaprio

    From Titanic at the The wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio knows how to control a screen. Even as a child, his charisma was undeniable. In the 80s, DiCaprio was in a series of commercials, including this one for Bubble Yum. Somehow he takes something frivolous like chewing gum and makes it really cool. If you were a kid and it was on TV between the cartoon blocks, how could you not want to save your allowance for a pack of Bubble Yum?

  • 3

    Anne Hathaway

    According to a crew member, this Better Homes ad was Anne Hathaway’s first time on camera. The 14-year-old actress gives a captivating and surprisingly moving performance during the 30-second spot. Hathway sits on her steps with her neighbor, devastated that her family will soon be moving out. He reassures her that the house has to be sold first and that they will have the whole summer to spend together. That is, until a Better Homes “For Sale” sign was put up on his family’s lawn. Even from this short commercial, it was clear that Hathaway had the chops to be a professional actress.

  • 4

    Marc Hamil

    Before he was Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill played a goofy, charming Romeo standing under his girlfriend’s window in this 1970s Kodak commercial. The 30-second commercial definitely shows Hamill’s main man potential – it’s no surprise that he was chosen as the Jedi hope soon after. The most shocking part of this ad? A camera cost less than $36. Ah, simpler times.

  • 5

    Paul Rudd

    Some fans have jokingly called Paul Rudd an “ageless vampire” as the actor has retained his dashing good looks remarkably well over the decades. Those looking for proof need only look at this Super Nintendo commercial from 1991. Although the commercial was filmed just over 30 years ago, you can easily identify Rudd as the star player. His hair might be a bit longer (it was the 90s, after all), but overall he’s instantly recognizable.

  • 6

    Jennifer Lawrence

    Alright, so Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t Actually on the MTV reality show My super sweet 16. But she starred in a promo for the show, which earned her a SAG card. Despite the show’s title, Lawrence wasn’t 16 at the time — she was only 14. Lawrence enters her birthday party atop a lounge chair, carried by a crew of men who quickly drop her to the ground. We wonder if anyone on set felt that Lawrence would become the second-youngest Best Actress winner at the Oscars.

  • seven

    John Travolta

    For a brief period in the 1970s, it seemed like John Travolta made his living singing in the shower with a crew of dudes. Sometimes sporting a basketball uniform, sometimes seemingly naked, Travolta never lets go of his winning smile in this pair of ads for Band-Aid and Safeguard soap. Along with showing off his likable personality, Travolta was able to prove he could carry a tune. It’s also crazy to see Travolta’s parted hairstyle – it could use a bit Fat Where hair spray.

  • 8

    Kirsten Dunst

    Before Kirsten Dunst rolls the dice for her life as young Judy Shepherd in Jumanji, she played Trouble in this early ’90s commercial for the popular board game. Dunst looks like he’s having fun here, jumping out of his seat every time it’s his turn. At just 12 years old, Dunst would play the role of vampire child Claudia in Interview with the Vampirewhich earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

  • 9

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt

    According to the story, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was discovered playing the Scarecrow in his musical theater group’s production of The Wizard of Oz. He was only 4 years old. Soon after, Gordon-Levitt was cast in a series of commercials for Sunny Jim peanut butter, Cocoa Puffs and Pop-Tarts. This spot is particularly fun because it shows Gordon-Levitt speaking directly to the camera as he convinces his father (audience perspective) to heat up a Pop-Tart before heading off to work.

  • ten

    Matt LeBlanc

    While Joey from Friends could have starred in embarrassing commercials, Matt LeBlanc’s own resume is far less embarrassing. This ad for Cherry 7Up is actually pretty cool, in retro 1980s style. LeBlanc struts into a convenience store to pick up a pack of bright red cans, winking at the cashier behind the counter. She is quick to close up shop, joining LeBlanc for a late-night soft drink outside. LeBlanc doesn’t even have lines, but he still manages to make us swoon.

  • 11

    Mila Kunis

    Just two years before she won the role of Jackie Burkhart in That 70s show, Mila Kunis was a 12-year-old girl who taught young audiences the wonders of Lisa Frank. Decked out in tie-dye, denim and oversized sweaters, a lively Kunis and her friends excitedly tell the camera about their dream sleepovers, scandalous nights out and exclusive Club Lisa Frank memberships. While the doors to Lisa Frank’s factory in Tucson, Arizona have long been closed, this ad serves as a nostalgic time capsule.

  • 12

    Ben Affleck

    One of Ben Affleck’s first acting gigs was this commercial for Burger King, which sees him frantically grabbing a salad at the fast food joint after a sultry voice mistook his number for the restaurant’s. He drops off the salad at the girl’s, only to be called home by a phone call from her father. Dressed in his letter jacket, Affleck looks a lot like his Fred O’Bannion character in Dazed and confused – which he would play four years later.

  • 13

    brad pitt

    Even at the start of his career, Brad Pitt was already noted for his beautiful Californian looks. In this 1989 ad for Pringles, 26-year-old Pitt cruises around in a convertible, flirts with a blond, beachy model and nibbles on the famous potato crisps. Around the same time, Pitt was working as an extra in an attempt to earn his SAG card – you can spot him as a party animal in less than zero and a server in No Man’s Land.

  • 14

    Steve Carell

    Steve Carell is a pro at direct-to-camera – he does it on almost every episode of Office. In 1989, he broke the fourth wall in this ad for Brown’s Chicken. Carell is a friendly Brown’s Chicken employee who tells us about the cholesterol-free oil and batter used to fry the flavorful chicken. Oddly enough, the Carell employee has the same nervous energy as Michael Scott – and it works perfectly. And now we crave fried chicken.

  • 15

    Amy Adams

    We all know Amy Adams can sing and act. Of his star turn Delighted to his impressive dramatic work in american hustle and Arrival, she has an undeniable talent. It’s unfortunate, however, that she ended up in this cringe-worthy ad for the Commercial Federal Bank. Filmed in Omaha, Nebraska, the 30-second spot was Adams’ first television commercial. She stars as Sandy’s equivalent in a parodied version of “Summer Nights” by Fat. Jumping up with a nerdy smile plastered on his face, Adams sings about his free checking account, outdoor camera and TV receiver. It’s something you have to see for yourself.

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