Ready, set, blastoff: the breakout performances of Sundance
Sundance is famous for revealing directorial sensations, but it’s also a place where many on-screen talents first catch the public eye. For these 23 household names, Sundance was the moment when the world sat up and took notice.
Peter Gallagher, 1989
His role as a lecherous lawyer in the revolutionary “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” was rewarded by roles in “The Player,” “While You Were Sleeping,” and “American Beauty.” Not to mention a Tony nomination and a four-year run on Fox’s “The O.C.”
Andie McDowell, 1989
After her star turn in “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” MacDowell shone in 1990’s “Green Card” and 1993’s “Groundhog Day.” In 2018, at the age of 60, she soared again in the critically acclaimed “Love After Love.”
Hugh Grant, 1994
Initially rejected by the film’s screenwriter because of his good looks, Grant charmed audiences at Sundance and throughout the universe as Charles in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” then went on to mega-fame with roles in “Mau- rice,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary, “Notting Hill,” and “Love Actually.”
Owen Wilson, 1994
Shown at Sundance as a short in 1994, Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket” featured brothers Luke and Owen Wilson — the latter of whom almost joined the Marines after the subsequent feature-length film’s box office failure. He went on to appear in “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Zoolander,” and “You, Me and Dupree.” Wow!
Edward Burns, 1995
Unknown when he wrangled a prize-winning Sundance screening for his film “The Brothers McMullen,” the writer-director-actor went on to co-star in “Saving Private Ryan” and “Sidewalks of New York,” as well as playing Bugsy Siegel in TV’s “Mob City.”
Parker Posey, 1995
The “Queen of the Indies” found fame in “Party Girl,” the Sundance sensation that was the first feature film to be broadcast online. Since that time she has appeared in some 30 movies, including “For Your Consideration,” “Best in Show,” and “A Mighty Wind.”
Michelle Rodriguez, 2000
She followed her role as a badass teenage boxer in Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner “Girlfight” with starring roles in the physically demanding “Blue Crush” and James Cameron’s “Avatar,” and has been a constant in the “Fast & Furious” franchise.
Vanessa Hudgens, 2003
“High School Musical” and its brethren notwithstanding, Hudgens made her film debut in the coming-of-age film “Thirteen,” which won her notice when it received national acclaim. She then found regular work in “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” before exploding into fame in the Disney franchise.
Nikki Reed, 2003
Not only did she co-write “Thirteen” with director Catherine Hardwicke, but Reed co-starred in the film. Subsequent work has included the part of Rosalie in the mega-grossing “Twilight” films.
Evan Rachel Wood, 2003
Wood earned a Golden Globe nomination for her role in “Thirteen,” which also garnered a Sundance directing prize for Catherine Hardwicke. Wood has appeared in indie fare such as “Running with Scissors,” cable dramas (“True Blood”), and currently stars as Dolores in HBO’s “West- world.”
Jon Heder, 2004
This Brigham Young University student had never acted when he was discovered by “Napoleon Dynamite” director (and fellow Cougar) Jared Hess; upon the film’s debut, he immediately became a Sundance legend. Other films include “Just Like Heaven,” “The Benchwarmers,” and “Blades of Glory.”
Amy Adams, 2005
Despite appearing in Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can,” it was the 2005 Sundance premiere of “Junebug” that gave Adams her boost to stardom. After her Academy Awards nomination for the film, she co-starred with Meryl Streep in “Doubt” and “Julie & Julia,” and has starred in “American Hustle,” Zack Snyder’s Superman films and “Sharp Objects.”
Abigail Breslin, 2006
Her role as Olive Hoover in Sundance breakout “Little Miss Sunshine” garnered an Academy Award nom for the six-year-old, who then went on to work in “No Reservations,” “Definitely, Maybe,” “Zombieland,” and “My Sister’s Keeper.”
Ryan Gosling, 2006
Gosling’s performance in the feature “Half Nelson” won him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. (The full-length film grew from the short “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” winner of a Grand Jury Prize in 2004.) Since that time, he has teamed with director Damien Chazelle on Oscar favorite “La La Land” and last year’s “First Man” and is one of the most bankable faces in Hollywood.
Melissa Leo, 2008
After a long career in films and television, it was Leo’s role as a desperate mother in “Frozen River” that finally brought her Hollywood’s approval—including an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. After, she appeared in the HBO series “Mildred Pierce,” the film “The Butler,” and “The Equalizer” movies.
Gabourey Sidibe, 2009
Sidibe’s portrayal of an abused 16-year- old in the Grand Jury prize-winning “Precious” won the former receptionist and gospel singer from Bed-Stuy nominations for Best Actress in both the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Starting in 2015, she has starred in the series “Empire” and “American Horror Story.”
Jennifer Lawrence, 2010
Before “The Hunger Games,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “Joy,” Jennifer Lawrence put Hollywood on alert with her rendition of a girl from the Ozarks in “Winter’s Bone.” It earned the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and netted Lawrence a nomination as Best Actress at the Academy Awards.
Elizabeth Olsen, 2011
There was nothing cult-like about the praise Olsen received for her performance in “Martha Mary May Marlene,” which premiered at Sundance and won a directing award for Best Drama. Subsequently she’s gone on to a collection of indie films, including Spike Lee’s remake of the South Korean thriller “Oldboy.”
Quevenzhane Wallis, 2012
Though she had to fib about her age in order to audition (she was five; the minimum was six), Wallis beat 4,000 other young actresses for the role of Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” eventually becoming the youngest person ever to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Since that time she has appeared in “12 Years a Slave,” “Annie,” and “Trolls.”
Michael B. Jordan, 2013
Audiences loved him in “Black Panther” and “Creed II” but Jordan says his favorite career moment was standing on the stage at Sundance with the rest of the cast of Grand Jury and Audience Award-winning “Fruitvale Station.” “It … kind of started this whole journey in a real way.”
Tinotheé Chalamet, 2017
It was a big year for the young actor, who won raves — and a best actor Oscar nomination — for his portrayal of Elio, a teenager who falls in love with an older guest at his parent’s home in Italy in “Call Me by Your Name.” That same year he also played a supporting role in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird”; 2018 saw him in the drama “Beautiful Boy.”
Kumail Nanjiani, 2017
Nanjiani was already a credible comic actor before he teamed with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, on the script for rom-com “The Big Sick,” a Sundance premiere that was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 90th Academy Awards. He has co-starred since 2014 in HBO’s comedy series “Silicon Valley” and lent his voice to “The Lego Ninjago Movie” in 2017.
Josh O’Connor, 2017
His role as a young Yorkshire farmer in “God’s Own Country,” which capped its directorial win at Sundance with 11 Brit- ish Independent Film nominations, finally cemented O’Connor as an actor worth following. He plays aspiring writer Lawrence Durrell in the ITV series “The Durrells in Corfu.”
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.