Top 10 Actors You Forgot Were Once Comedy Stars



Top 10 Actors You Forgot Were Once Comedy Stars

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Written by Derick McDuff

These actors and actresses are famous for brining drama to the big screen, but you may have forgotten that once upon a time they were fantastic comedians. WatchMojo presents the top 10 actors who were once comedy legends but have since become known for their dramatic roles! But who will take the top spot on our list? Michael Keaton, Tom Hanks, or Robert Downey Jr.? Watch to find out!

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Oh yeah, we forgot they were that funny. Welcome to, today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Actors You Forgot Were Once Comedy Stars.

For this list, we’re taking a look at actors and actresses that were initially associated with comedic roles, but have since become better known for their dramatic chops. While their very first role doesn’t have to be a comedic one, they should have had some fairly notable early roles in the genre to qualify.

#10: Woody Harrelson

Harrelson is prolific as a character actor and has even appeared in blockbuster franchises like “The Hunger Games.” However, Harrelson first came to fame as the dimwitted, but warmhearted, bartender on the massively popular sitcom, “Cheers.” After proving his comedic chops on TV, Harrelson transitioned to film with early successes, including “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Kingpin,” and the black comedy, “Natural Born Killers.” His rising stock as a film star landed him the leading role in “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” which earned him his first Academy Award nomination, cementing him as an incredibly dynamic actor and leading to more varied roles.

#9: Emma Thompson

This prolific and respected British actress is arguably most famous for appearing in dramatic films adapted from the works of history’s most iconic writers, including Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, and even J.K. Rowling. Thompson also holds the impressive distinction of being the only person to win an Oscar for both writing and acting. It may surprise quite a few to learn that her first real break into performing came in college, where she participated in a troop specializing in sketch comedy and rather crass stand-up. With her fellow troupe members Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, Thompson appeared in a variety of comedic shows on the BBC long before making her way into film.

#8: Chris Evans

Famous around the world for playing Captain America, Evan has also played various other comic characters. He appeared as the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, as well as one of Ramona’s evil exes in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and even Casey Jones. Before he was a superhero, Evans came to the public eye in the satirical “Not Another Teen Movie.” Playing a high school jock, Evans spoofed numerous teen films from the ‘80s and ‘90s, including everything from “American Pie” to “10 Things I Hate About You.” Now that you remember it, you’re going to have a hard time getting the picture of Evans with a banana up his butt out of your head.

#7: Amy Adams

One of the most respected actresses in Hollywood, Adams has been nominated for an Academy Award five times, and is famous for playing a variety of different types of roles. Early on in her career, the roles she portrayed were less diverse, and she was often cast as bubbly and upbeat characters in a comedic tone. Some early characters included a former cheerleader on “The Office” and perky nurse in “Catch Me If You Can.” Gaining fame and critical respect from comedic roles in films like “Junebug” and “Enchanted” afforded her the chance to break typecasting and attempt roles vastly different than the ones she had played before, and went on to make her into the movie star she is today.

#6: Bob Odenkirk

Fans of “Breaking Bad,” as well the spinoff, “Better Call Saul,” are quite familiar with Odenkirk as the morally ambiguous lawyer Saul Goodman. Just like Jimmy McGill’s metamorphosis into Saul Goodman, Odenkirk’s rise has been a long, interesting one. He actually began writing sketches for popular shows, including “Saturday Night Live” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” before creating “Mr. Show” with David Cross. After that success, he made his way to comedic films, appearing in a handful in the 2000s, as well as appearing on a guest star in multiple sitcoms. In the same manner, he appeared in a recurring role on “Breaking Bad” before becoming one of the show’s breakout stars.

#5: Jamie Foxx

Getting his start in standup comedy, Eric Bishop took the stage name Jamie Foxx after learning that female comedians typically perform first, and as a tribute to standup legend Redd Foxx. Foxx parlayed his standup success into becoming a cast member on the massively successful sketch comedy show, “In Living Color.” From there, he received his own sitcom, “The Jamie Foxx Show,” and partway through the show’s run Foxx was given his first chance at a dramatic role drawing on his own experience as a football player in “Any Given Sunday,” following up with the thriller “Collateral.” Eventually, Foxx cemented himself as a dramatic star, appearing in films like Oscar-winning “Ray” and “Django Unchained.”

#4: Bryan Cranston

Sometimes it’s difficult to believe that the dorky Hal from “Malcolm in the Middle” and drug kingpin Walter White from “Breaking Bad” were played by the same person. Of course Bryan Cranston was the man behind these radically different roles, both of which earned him multiple Emmy nominations. After a humble start as a voice actor, Cranston became best known for guest starring in various sitcoms, including “Seinfeld.” Since becoming better known for his dramatic abilities, Cranston has gone on to play an incredibly diverse set of roles, notably in “Drive,” “Godzilla,” and his Oscar-nominated portrayal of the title character in “Trumbo.”

#3: Robert Downey Jr.

Before he was Iron Man, Downey's career famously stalled in the late ‘90s and 2000s as the actor struggled with substance abuse and legal trouble. Of course before all of that, Downey was one of the most talented rising stars in Hollywood, thanks in large part to his wit and comedic sensibilities. During the ‘80s, he became largely associated with coming of age comedies like “Weird Science,” as well as a brief (and less than amazing) stint as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” After reemerging from his career slump, RDJ became notable for appearing in serious films and summer blockbusters, especially by kicking off the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

#2: Michael Keaton

Keaton will forever be linked to his most iconic role, Batman. He earned praise from critics and fans for playing him as a dark loner, and is still considered by some to be the best to play the part. However, when he was originally cast, he was met with fan outrage, with people thinking the actor who played the off-the-wall Beetlejuice was inappropriate for the part. In fact, Keaton had spent much of the ‘80s building a reputation as a strong comedic actor in films like “Mr. Mom.” Of course Keaton quickly proved his detractors wrong and he continues to shine in outstanding dramatic performances today.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions;

John Lithgow

Eric Bana

#1: Tom Hanks

It’s hard to recall a time when Tom Hanks wasn’t considered one of the most versatile (and bankable) dramatic stars on the planet. Of course early in his career, Hanks appeared in beloved, but relatively simple, comedies like “Splash” and “Turner and Hooch.” Eventually, Hanks starred in comedies with more dramatic weight, like the fantastic “Big,” before moving to a purely dramatic role in “Philadelphia,” which he followed up with “Forrest Gump” and “Apollo 13,” as well as numerous collaborations with Stephen Spielberg. Unlike many other huge comedic stars who ventured into drama, Hanks completely redefined himself with his almost nonstop stream of films loved by both audiences and critics alike.