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Top 10 Career Defining Movies

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Craig Butler. Stars are born - careers are made. And one film usually leads the way. There are a few stars in Hollywood that, no matter how famous they get, we’ll always associate them with one role. In this video, counts down our picks for the top 10 career defining movies. For this list, we’ve chosen the ten biggest actors with whom we associate one breakthrough role more than any other. Special thanks to our users Mateus Murozaki, lortrotk and FireMadeFlesh II for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Craig Butler.

Top 10 Career Defining Movies

Stars are born – but careers are made. And one film usually leads the way. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 career defining movies.

For this list, we’ve chosen the ten biggest actors with whom we associate one breakthrough role more than any other.

#10: Anthony Hopkins
“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)

The phrase “I’m having an old friend for dinner” took on new meaning after “The Silence of the Lambs” – and Anthony Hopkins’ career went from distinguished to legendary. Hopkins’ deliciously nasty characterization made Hannibal the cannibal unforgettable and created a new standard for screen villainy. After “Lambs,” Hopkins devoured the screen in performances that were as tasty as, say, some liver with fava beans and a nice chianti.

#9: Sigourney Weaver
“Aliens” (1986)

1979’s “Alien” marked Sigourney Weaver as a major star, but it was the 1986 sequel that cemented her reputation. Winning an Oscar nomination for a science fiction film isn’t easy, but Weaver’s indelible portrayal of Ellen Ripley managed that neat trick. She’s as badass as any male action hero, but Weaver imbues this one-woman army with complexity, depth and a fierceness you won’t forget.

#8: Patrick Swayze
“Dirty Dancing” (1987)

Patrick Swayze was just another muscled up pretty boy before he lifted Jennifer Grey in “Dirty Dancing;” suddenly, he was a somebody. His acting wasn’t brilliant, but his smooth moves were. There was suddenly a soul behind the hunky façade, and the connection he made with women in the audience was electrifying. Nobody puts Swayze in a corner.

#7: Daniel Radcliffe
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone” (2001)

Getting cast in the film version of the era’s most popular book series would put pressure on any actor – let alone an 11-year-old. Radcliffe proved a natural screen presence in the first “Harry Potter” movie – and a natural fit for the role of the boy wizard. Although he grew significantly as an actor over the course of eight films, the determination, vulnerability, joy and underlying anger were there from the beginning – and audiences couldn’t get enough.

#6: Julia Roberts
“Pretty Woman” (1990)

The smile that launched a thousand films got its real start in 1990’s “Pretty Woman.” Julia Roberts was a somebody, but this film defined her persona as sexy and gorgeous but with a girl-next-door edge. Only Roberts could make a potentially smarmy flick about an escort and her John into an enchanting romp, and her reward was a crown as the era’s reigning box-office queen.

#5: Heath Ledger
“The Dark Knight” (2008)

Heath Ledger’s intoxicating turn as the Joker is the kind of performance that lives on for decades – and the star’s tragic death before the film’s release doubles the impact he makes here. Maniacally fearless, Ledger dominates the screen in every frame; yet, looking back, one sees how his earlier performances all contributed to this final burst of glory.

#4: Hugh Jackman
“X-Men” (2000)

Wolverine’s adamantium claws can rip into anything and 2000’s “X-Men” let Hugh Jackman rip into the top class of stardom. A star in his native Australia, it was his fierce, animalistic rage as Wolverine that solidified the star’s appeal. “X-Men” also demonstrated how best to use Jackman: as the first among equals in a strong package.

#3: Clint Eastwood
“Dirty Harry” (1971)

Eastwood’s famous “Dirty Harry” catchphrase actually appeared in a sequel to the 1971 film – but the original movie is the one that made Eastwood’s career. Sure, he was already well-known for his taciturn, deadpan characterizations – but the combination of pure attitude, dead-to-rights dialogue, captivating violence and sheer animal power that “Dirty Harry” produced in Eastwood brought everything together in one place for the first – but definitely not last – time.

#2: Arnold Schwarzenegger
“The Terminator” (1984)

“I’ll be back.” Three simple words that foretold the future. After 1984’s “The Terminator,” and especially after its 1991 sequel, Schwarzenegger was a muscle-bound box office machine. Featuring Arnie as classically tough, cool and unstoppable, “The Terminator” proved that even when playing a villain, the star’s charisma made him the main event.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Jim Carrey: “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” (1994)
- Johnny Depp: “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003)
- Leonardo DiCaprio: “Titanic” (1997)

#1: Bruce Willis
“Die Hard” (1988)

This movie catapulted Bruce Willis to genuine movie superstardom by confounding expectations: when other actions films featured superhuman tough guys, “Die Hard” focused on Willis’ “everyman” approach. Muscled? Yeah, but John McClane appeals to the masses because he could be any guy off the street. The film also let Willis’ wisecracking working-class persona shine through – and set the tone for a string of hits to come.

Do you agree with our list? Which movie do you think defined an actor’s career most? For more entertaining top 10s like this one published every day, be sure to subscribe to

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