For actors, it used to be that participating in a horror movie was almost akin to taking a part in a porno (either as a performer or non-sex extra): It was merely a means to an end, a quick paycheck to be quickly cashed and forgotten about. Because serious actors didn’t bother with such frivolous nonsense, and if they did they would later chalk it up to a youthful indiscretion necessitated by a basic need to pay the rent, that is if they acknowledged their horror film experience at all. Whether or not the actors themselves legitimately regretted their experience didn’t matter. The industry’s collective opinion of the horror genre was so low that to tip your toes in those waters was a risk you’d want to quickly wash off in order to retain your reputation. You didn’t want to turn out like poor Bela Legosi or Donald Pleasance, stuck slumming it for the rest of your career on the B horror movie circuit.
Of course, attitudes have changed. There are now seemingly as many as horror movie conventions as there are sci-fi movie conventions, and analysts now marvel at the fiscal success of horror’s low risk, high reward business model. Kevin Bacon has gone from being the guy who wouldn’t talk about Friday to the 13th to being all too happy to star in Stir of Echoes and two seasons of The Following. The horror genre which used to be limited to grindhouse and roadside theaters is now all over TV, in the form of shows like The Exorcist, Dead of Summer, Ash Vs. The Evil Dead, Scream, Scream Queens, American Horror Story, Slasher and the Presidential Debates (which aren’t really horror movie-themed but sure are terrifying – zing, look at me working in a political joke for no real reason, although Trump lurking behind Clinton throughout the most recent debate was kind of slasher villain-esque).
As such, an actor can get their start in horror these day without shame. Maika Monroe went from It Follows to Independence Day: Resurgence. Just imagine what lies ahead for The Witch‘s Anya Taylor-Joy. But there was a time, mostly in the 80s and 90s, when lots of actors got their first big break in a horror movie, and then proceeded to mostly pretend like it never happened. Of course, for every Kevin Bacon there was a George Clooney, who would happily make light of his early days in films like Return to Horror High and Return of the Killer Tomatoes. But there was also a Jennifer Aniston, whose early days on Friends were met with the unwelcome reminder that she’d once starred in a Leprechaun movie back when still had her original nose. Or a Matthew McCaughey and Renee Zelwegger, whose simultaneous mid-90s breakthoughs were sidelined for a hot second when everyone discovered they’d once starred together in a really, really bad Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie.
But did you also know that Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Connelly also took horror movie paycheck gigs in their starving waiter days? Ditto for … actually, why don’t you just look at this infographic from HalloweenCostumes.com to see the rest. Before you do, though, please note they left out Paul Rudd, whose first film role was in Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Meyers (although Clueless came out first). This is clearly an unforgivable omission. Also, they didn’t play completely fair with the “Next Big Role” thing (e.g., Clooney’s next big role after Return to Horror High wasn’t E.R.; it was either Return of the Killer Tomatoes or Roseanne). Still, it’s a pretty rad infographic. Sidenote: Yes, I just used the word “rad.” We both heard it. Let us never speak of it again.