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Top 10 Times Actors Completely Reinvented Themselves

Top 10 Times Actors Completely Reinvented Themselves
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
Hey, they don't call them "actors" for nothing! For this list, we'll be going over the occasions when actors began taking on roles or jobs drastically different from those they had previously been associated with. Our countdown includes Christian Bale, Tom Hanks, Emma Stone, and more!

Top 10 Times Actors Brilliantly Reinvented Themselves


Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Times Actors Brilliantly Reinvented Themselves.

For this list, we’ll be going over the occasions when actors began taking on roles or jobs drastically different from those they had previously been associated with, maybe even several times.

#10: Christian Bale

This British actor has had quite the storied career and gone through a number of reinventions over the decades. As a kid, Christian Bale appeared in musicals, such as “Newsies,” but also in prestige dramas like “Empire of the Sun.” His breakout success came after immersing himself in dramatic roles, such as the superficial psychopath Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho.” That mainstream success reached new heights after starring as Batman in “The Dark Knight” trilogy and several other action films. The 2010s saw Bale return to more dramatic roles, receiving an Academy Award and several nominations throughout the decade. The coming years will also see him return to the action genre by joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ohhhh, gooooood for him! Seriously. [imitate the Terminator: Salvation audio, but not sarcastic]

#9: Emma Stone

At the beginning of Emma Stone’s career, she got her start appearing in comedy and rom-com films, such as “Superbad” and “Easy A.” She also branched out to other comedy genres, with action comedies, like “Zombieland,” but she was still primarily considered a comedic actress. However, Stone began flexing her dramatic muscles in the 2010s, appearing in dramas like “The Help,” as well as the musical “La La Land,” which earned her an Academy Award. Stone may have gotten famous by making us laugh, which she’s proven she can still do, she also managed to reinvent herself to be more of an all-rounder.

#8: Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock has had an odd place in the public eye. She’s always been relatively famous, as her early roles in blockbusters like “Speed” ensured that everyone knew who she was. Then her middle period saw her take on a slew of romantic comedies. But, despite being a household name, no one really took her seriously as an actress. In the last decade or so, that’s definitely changed. Thanks to starring in critically acclaimed roles in films like “Gravity” and “The Blind Side,” Bullock has illustrated to everyone that she’s not just a famous actress, but also a great one.

#7: Hugh Laurie

It might be hard for those who know him as Dr. Gregory House on “House,” but Hugh Laurie is not only English, but he also began his acting career as a primarily comedic actor. Okay, maybe it is pretty believable – House is pretty hilarious. But still, Laurie went from appearing in British comedies like “Blackadder” and “A Bit of Fry & Laurie,” to playing the cynical and tortured maverick doctor on this side of the pond. Since “House” concluded, he’s also returned to his comedic roots with some more funny roles. Oh, and did you know he’s also a blues musician?

#6: Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton has reinvented himself many times. He’s another actor whose roots tended towards the comedic, becoming famous for ‘80s comedies like “Mr. Mom” and “Beetlejuice.” But all that changed when he donned the cape of Batman. This marked a shift for the actor, as he illustrated he could be a leading man to inspire, as well as one to make you laugh. He took on a hodgepodge of roles for the next few decades, but it was only in the 2010s that Keaton reached true critical acclaim for his parts in films like “Spotlight” and “Birdman.” He’s also returned to his superhero roots, but this time as a surprisingly effective villain in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Guy can do it all!

#5: Bryan Cranston

Before he broke big and broke bad, it can be hard to remember that Bryan Cranston was primarily known for being a comedic actor. His most well-known roles were as Tim Whatley on “Seinfeld” and as Hal on “Malcolm in the Middle.” Still, as funny and talented as he is, his dramatic chops drew everyone’s eye with his masterful performance as Walter White on “Breaking Bad,” which earned him multiple Emmy wins. Since then, while Cranston has appeared in a few comedies, he’s now thought of as a serious, dramatic actor.

#4: Matthew McConaughey

If you’d have told us that the stoner bro from “Dazed and Confused” would not only have a movie career, but also that he’d reinvent himself multiple times, we might not have believed you. “It’d be a lot cooler if you did!” Matthew McConaughey bucked his “dudebro” beginnings to become one of the go-to romantic comedy leads in the 2000s. More recently, though, McConaughey has switched gears yet again; taking on dramatic roles on both the big and small screens. The actor has turned heads with his dramatic performances in films like “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Interstellar,” as well as prestige TV like “True Detective.” Sounds pretty alright to us. “Alright alright alright!”

#3: Robert Downey Jr.

RDJ has had a rocky career. He got his start as a teen star in the ‘80s, before achieving critical acclaim for films like “Chaplin.” He then transitioned to TV, starring on “Ally McBeal,” although several drug charges led to his departure from that show, derailed his public image, and threatened to kill his prospects entirely. But Downey rebounded with some hit films in the 2000s, such as “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” before achieving his greatest success in a role he was born to play – Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. Downey’s charismatic performance helped lead the massive franchise for over a decade and led to him becoming one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood.

#2: Joaquin Phoenix

Most of the actors on our list are fairly easy to pin down, as they tend to get cast in a certain type of role for a period of time. But Joaquin Phoenix has basically spent his whole career constantly reinventing himself. The guy is a chameleon! Sure, he generally skews more towards drama, but he’s also done oddball romances, like “Her,” and even music biopics like “Walk the Line.” Then there was that time he took a year off to pretend to become a rapper for a mockumentary! Yeah, you didn’t just dream that! Like his recent Oscar-winning turn as the Joker, you’re never quite sure what Phoenix is going to do next, but it’s sure to be spectacular.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

Chris Hemsworth
Sure, We Knew He’s a Great Lead, But Who Knew He Had Such Great Comedic Timing?

Robert Pattinson
From Teen Heartthrob to Serious Dramatic Star

Jason Bateman
This Actor’s Talents Aren’t “Arrested” in Just Comedy

Leslie Nielsen
Surely You Knew That Nielsen Was Actually a Serious Actor, Once Upon a Time

#1: Tom Hanks

Given that he’s one of the most famous actors in the world, Tom Hanks’ beginnings appearing in primarily comedies tend to surprise some people. Sure, he hit it big with “Big,” but it wasn’t until movies like “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump” that he really became one of Hollywood’s most prominent actors. And while being the quintessential everyman is arguably Hanks’ type, the actor isn’t afraid to take a backseat in more ensemble pieces or voice a cartoon toy cowboy. I guess you could say that like a certain Halloween themed role of his, Hanks is… his own thing.
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