Top 23 Supporting Actors Who Totally Outshined The Main Cast

Many movies have left their mark in Hollywood history thanks to the brilliant performances of the lead actors or actresses, but some other times, the supporting characters steal the spotlight. Take The Dark Knight, for instance. The first thing that comes to mind when that movie comes up is Heath Ledger’s extraordinary acting, even though he appeared in less than 10% of the scenes. Here’s a list of 23 film and TV actors and actresses who totally outshined the lead cast. I’m sure you loved #10 and #5!

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#23. Angelina Jolie In Girl, Interrupted

Girl, Interrupted is a 1999 drama biopic based on the life of Susanna Kaysen, an American writer who spent one and a half years at a mental hospital. While Winona Ryder took on the role of Kaysen, Angelina Jolie stole the spotlight.

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Jolie played the role of a sociopath who Ryder’s character meets in the hospital. This role earned Jolie her first and only Academy Award as well as a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. In fact, many people don’t even remember that Ryder was in the film at all!

#22. Emma Watson In Harry Potter

It’s pretty obvious that when a film is named after a specific character, he or she is the one meant to steal the spotlight. However, this was never the case with the Harry Potter franchise!

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As we all know, the character of Hermione Granger turned Emma Watson into one of the most adored and highest-paid actresses in the world. She did a great job putting herself in the shoes of a young, witty, teenage nerd.

#21. Chloe Grace Moretz In Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass is an action-comedy film about Dave Lizewski, a high school student and comic fan who decides to become a superhero, despite lacking any real superpowers. Even though Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s portrayal of Dave was OK, Mindi Macready was by far the fan’s favorite character.

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Played by young and promising actress Chloe Grace Moretz, Mindi was a foul-mouthed badass who would fight even better than the rest of the boys. Her role was so critically acclaimed that she was given more minutes in the sequel, Kick-Ass 2.

#20. Leonardo DiCaprio In Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a newly freed slave who must rescue his wife from a ruthless landowner. However, the role of a villain suited Leonardo DiCaprio well, as his performance overshadowed Jamie Foxx’s.

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True, Christoph Waltz also nailed it, but DiCaprio was the one who truly stood out. In fact, he received many awards as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

#19. Jack Nicholson In A Few Good Men

The 1992 thriller film A Few Good Men stars Tom Cruise as Lieutenant Kaffee, a military lawyer who defends marines who’ve been accused of murder. But the problem of having Jack Nicholson as a co-star is that it’s likely he’ll be the one to steal the limelight.

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Nicholson, as always, played the bad guy, and his fulminating gestures – as you can see from the image above – are truly bone-chilling. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, which he lost to Gene Hackman.

#18. Javier Bardem In No Country For Old Men

The Coen Brothers’ crime-drama film No Country for Old Men features an amazing cast, starring Hollywood legends Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin. However, Spanish actor Javier Bardem was the one who truly nailed it.

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Rumor has it that late actor Heath Ledger was offered Tommy Lee Jones’ role, but his tragic death made the Cohens go with their plan B. Had he played the role of the ruthless hunter Ed Tom Bell, we’re sure he would have received all the attention! But hey, let’s give Bardem some credit, he even won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for his performance!

#17. J.K. Simmons In Whiplash

Whiplash is a drama film about a young boy who enrolls at a music conservatory in his pursuit of becoming a professional drummer. However, he finds his life as a student to be harder than planned, as he is mentored by a strict and authoritarian professor named Fletcher.

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J.K. Simmons took on the role of Fletcher, and let’s be honest, he’s the reason why the film is so great. His abusive nature is truly intimidating, and we knew all along that nobody else stood the chance of winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

#16. Tom Cruise In Tropic Thunder

Tom Cruise is one of the greatest Hollywood actors of the last decades and he’s mostly starred in action films or dramas. Therefore, everybody was surprised when he took on the role of Les Grossman in the comedy film Tropic Thunder and we didn’t quite know what to expect.

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Fortunately, Cruise proved us wrong, and even though he co-starred with three comedy legends like Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr., fans loved his character the most. He even received a Golden Globe nomination, despite having very few scenes in the movie.

#15. Brad Pitt In 12 Monkeys

The mystery-sci-fi film 12 Monkeys starred Hollywood legend Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. However, while Willis was already a huge action star at that time, Pitt was barely taking his first steps in his successful career.

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Pitt played the role of Jeffrey Jones, the mental son of a prominent virologist, and it’s safe to say this film was his first big break. In fact, it earned him his first Academy Award nomination.

#14. Marilyn Monroe In Some Like It Hot

Marilyn Monroe is possibly the most famous model in history, but did you know she also had a successful career in Hollywood? In 1959, she took on a role in the comedy film Some Like It Hot, which starred Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as lead characters.

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Curtis and Lemmon played two male artists who start dressing as women after they witness a mob crime. They eventually join an all-women band show, and that’s when Monroe’s character comes to light. Her natural charisma and charm conquered the audience and critics alike, as she went on to win a Golden Globe for her performance.

#13. Jennifer Hudson In Dreamgirls

Jennifer Hudson made a name of herself after reaching the finals of American Idol, but a couple of years later she delved into the film industry. She got her big break as an actress on the musical drama Dreamgirls, released in 2006.

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The film starred Beyoncé and Jamie Foxx as lead characters, but it’s she who stood out the most. In fact, she went on to win her first and only Academy Award and Golden Globe and that’s the least she deserved.

#12. Melissa McCarthy In Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids is a hilarious comedy film about a maid of honor and a bridesmaid who compete over who is the bride’s ultimate best friend. However, even though she played the least important character, Melissa McCarthy was the one who truly nailed it.

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McCarthy took on the role of Megan Price, the bride’s cousin. Her character, who is rather masculine, clumsy, and foul-mouthed woman, is sure to make you have a blast. What is more, McCarthy received an Academy Award nomination for her performance.

#11. James Dean In Giant

Despite his short-lived career, James Dean was once the greatest actor and heartthrob in Hollywood. He appeared both in Broadway, TV series, and films, and received both Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.

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However, his big break came in 1956 when he took on a secondary role in the famous blockbuster Giant. Even though the movie starred two of the greatest Hollywood icons of all time, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, Dean was not belittled, and he even received an Academy Award nomination for his work.

#10. Meryl Streep In Devil Wears Prada

What can we say about Meryl Streep that hasn’t been said already? With 21 Academy Award nominations and 537 nominations overall, she has broken every record you can think of. Given her prominent career, everyone was surprised when she accepted to take on a secondary role in the 2008 comedy film Devil Wears Prada.

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Even though this was Emily Blunt’s first major lead role, Streep was the key to the film’s success. Fans loved watching her in the role of an intimidating cold-blooded editor-in-chief. After all, having a boss like that is everyone’s worst nightmare! As always, Streep received an Academy Award nomination for her work.

#9. Judi Dench In Shakespeare In Love

Judi Dench is one of the most talented and multi-faceted actresses of all time, and her whopping 7 Academy Award nominations prove me right. Out of all those 7 nominations, she won only once: in 1998, for her role in the Oscar-winning period drama film Shakespeare in Love.

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Dench played the role of Queen Elizabeth I and she did a fantastic job. Even though she wasn’t the biggest celebrity among the cast – which included stars like Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, and Gwyneth Paltrow – her portrayal of the British Queen was praised by critics.

#8. Joe Pesci In Goodfellas

Without a doubt, Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas is one of the most thrilling crime dramas ever made. Besides, it starred Robert De Niro as the lead character, so what could ever go wrong?

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Well, to everyone’s surprise, the star of the movie was Joe Pesci, who played a ruthless criminal. So much so, that he received an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, the only Oscar the movie won.

#7. Leonardo DiCaprio In What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Most people believe that Leonardo DiCaprio‘s career began with Titanic, but guess what? He landed his first role in a major feature film at the age of 18, when he played Arnie Grape in the heart-wrenching drama film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

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DiCaprio played Johnny Depp’s handicapped younger brother, and his performance was so believable that many people thought he was like that in real life. He was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for his work.

#6. Robin Williams In Good Will Hunting

Of course, late actor Robin Williams had to be on our list. In 1997, he played a psychologist in the drama film Good Will Hunting, which was both starred and written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

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However, his touching performance overshadowed Damon’s and Affleck’s work. Here’s a fun fact you probably didn’t know: Williams was already a famous actor and comedian at that time, and director Gus Van Sant gave him the freedom of improvising his own lines in a few scenes.

#5. Christoph Waltz In Inglourious Basterds

In 2008, Quentin Tarantino directed one of his greatest masterpieces, the WWII movie Inglourious Basterds. While most of the actors are American, Tarantino set out to find a German actor that could impersonate an insensitive Nazi war criminal. Christopher Waltz was the man chosen for the job, and we can’t think of a more perfect choice.

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Waltz managed to convey the ruthlessness and relentlessness in Hans Landa’s character to perfection. So much so, that he received his first Academy Award for Best Actor. He also won a Golden Globe and a Cannes Film Festival Award.

#4. Anne Hathaway In Les Miserables

Starring Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, Les Miserables was one of the greatest and highest-grossing films of this decade. However, the one who stole the limelight was Anne Hathaway, who played a minor role, that of Fantine.

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Even though Hathaway was already a distinguished actress by that time, nobody knew she had such an amazing voice. She left us baffled with her interpretation of I Dreamed a Dream, and her touching performance earned her her first and only Academy Award.

#3. Robert DeNiro In The Godfather II

Robert DeNiro is one of the greatest actors to ever exist, but back in the early 70s, he was still taking his first steps towards stardom. In fact, everybody agrees that his breakthrough role was that of Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II.

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Just as Al Pacino was nominated for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in the first part of the franchise, Robert DeNiro received his first Academy Award for playing the same character in the second installment.

#2. Heath Ledger In The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger has become a sort of cult figure ever since his portrayal of The Joker in the 2008 drama film The Dark Knight. Crazily enough, fans were not convinced by director Christopher Nolan’s choice to cast Ledger for that role, but boy did he prove everybody wrong!

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Ledger delivered the performance of his lifetime and I assure you that his creepy expressions will send a few shivers down your spine. Sadly, he died before the film’s theatrical release, becoming the second actor to win an Academy Award posthumously.

#1. Anthony Hopkins In The Silence Of The Lambs

Hannibal Lecter is one of the most notable and terrifying serial killers in the history of cinema, so only a multi-talented actor like Anthony Hopkins could ever manage to portray him so brilliantly.

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Even though Hannibal Lecter was not meant to be the lead character of Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins stole the spotlight and his chilling performance left a mark in Hollywood history. Obviously, he received an Academy Award for his role.

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    Hernán Tamargo

    Teacher. Political Scientist. Writer. Feminist... and much more!

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