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Top 10 Actors Who Broke Type-Casting

VO: Dan Paradis
Script written by Matthew Thomas. Sometimes, it’s time for a change. Join as we count down our picks for the top 10 actors who broke type-casting. For this list, we’re looking at the performances that changed the way we perceived an actor who had previously mostly been cast in certain types of roles. These actors proved us all wrong and changed our images of the types of movies these stars should be doing. Special thanks to our users KnowsFilms, identifymenot, Andrew A. Dennison and yotamam123 for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest.

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Script written by Matthew Thomas.

Top 10 Actors Who Broke Type Casting

Every so often, it’s time for a change. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 actors who broke typecasting.

For this list, we’re looking at the performances that changed the way we perceived an actor who had previously mostly been cast in certain types of roles.

#10: Adam Sandler
“Punch-Drunk Love” (2002)

During the nineties, after years on “SNL” and a bevy of popular funny films, Adam Sandler was one of the most renowned comedy figures in the world. For an oftentimes immature and hilarious actor, the announcement that he was going to give drama a shot seemed to come out of nowhere. But under the guidance of the immensely talented director, Paul Thomas Anderson, Sandler managed to anchor a film with a performance unlike anything he’d done before or since. He was even nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe for the role.

#9: Leslie Nielsen
“Airplane!” (1980)

For anyone below a certain age, it’s hard to imagine the late Mr. Nielsen as anything but an obvious choice for any comedy casting director - but that wasn’t always the case. For about 25 years between the 1950s and 1970s, Leslie was a steadily employed actor predominantly in dramatic roles or more serious films. However, with this one perfectly absurd performance, the perception of this talented actor was forever altered and a legacy of laughs was forever cemented.

#8: Henry Fonda
“Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968)

The patriarch of the highly respected Fonda acting dynasty, Henry originally built his career as the heroic everyman, always primed to fight for what is right in the world. That’s why it took so many people by surprise when he tackled this role, as a man tasked with simply intimidating another man off the only land with water, but instead opts to slaughter the landowner and his family. The image of the man who played the lone holdout, heroic juror from “12 Angry Men” killing three children forever altered the way he was seen by audiences everywhere.

#7: Jonah Hill
“Moneyball” (2011)

An actor who was more likely to be nominated for a Teen Choice or MTV Movie Award than an Oscar, before the 2010s, Jonah Hill was best known as the vulgar and funny Seth from “Superbad” – that is until he was tapped for this role in the 2011 biographical sports drama. Cast as an economics expert who changes the way that baseball teams are put together through his expertise and knowledge, “Moneyball” depended on Hill’s untested ability to be taken seriously. Pulling it off to such a degree that it earned him an Oscar nomination, he turned out to be worth the gamble.

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

The Joker is arguably one of the most recognizable and acclaimed villains in modern pop culture. Previously brought to the big screen by Hollywood heavyweight Jack Nicholson, anyone assigned the challenging role certainly had big shoes to fill. So when they cast the guy who sang in the bleachers in some ‘90s teen comedy, a lot of fans were shocked and appalled. Even though he’d given respected performances in films like “Lords of Dogtown” and “Brokeback Mountain” prior to “The Dark Knight,” few thought he’d be up to the task. Outperforming even the highest of expectations, Heath gave one of the most legendary performances in film history and earned a posthumous Oscar to boot.

#5: Jim Carrey
“The Number 23” (2007)

When Jim Carrey’s first famous leading film role involved a sequence where he literally talked out of his ass, it set a precedent for the types of roles he was offered and given thereafter. In the years since then, he’s attempted to fight that perception with more and more dramatic roles, including acclaimed performances in “The Truman Show,” “Man on the Moon” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Still the idea that he was that guy who starred in outrageous comedies that took advantage of his rubber-faced antics persisted. For many, it took him starring in a psychological thriller as a man struggling with dreams of murder to truly break the mold he’d created.

#4: Joe Pesci
“Home Alone” (1990)

In many of Joe Pesci’s most famous film roles, he is the most dangerous and feared person onscreen - despite his small stature. It takes an actor who is capable of tapping into a raw anger and rage that few of us can understand to be able to pull that off successfully. For the same actor to be able to make a fool of himself for the delight and laughter of families worldwide without missing a beat is truly impressive. In the year 1990, to give two performances, one playing into his previously constructed image and one totally against it to create two lasting pieces of art is nothing short of amazing.

#3: Robin Williams
“One Hour Photo” (2002)

A lot of actors who’ve been at their craft for a long time and have earned the respect of their peers spend the later years of their career coasting on the fame and taking on easy roles that line their wallets. Fortunately for ardent film fans, Robin Williams was not one of those people. Choosing to stretch his acting muscles in dark new ways, his performance as a photo clinic employee with a dangerous obsession was so organic and real we wish he’d given the genre a try much earlier.

#2: Tom Cruise
“Collateral” (2004)

Adored by some and reviled by others, Tom Cruise spent his most of his career carefully cultivating a resume of highly respected performances and a squeaky clean image that made many respect him. Cruise has played against that image at times, for example, as the villainous yet charming Lestat in “Interview with the Vampire” and the vulgar and over the top Les Grossman in “Tropic Thunder,” but it is as Vincent in this neo-noir crime thriller that he truly stands out. As a remorseless contract killer who makes no attempt to be likable, this role had critics raving and moviegoers seeing him in an all new light.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Matthew McConaughey
“Killer Joe” (2011)
- Robert De Niro
“Stardust” (2007)
- Elijah Wood
“Sin City” (2005)
- Bryan Cranston
“Breaking Bad” (2008-13)

#1: Tom Hanks
“Philadelphia” (1993)

If there is any actor in the history of cinema that is a stronger argument against typecasting than Mr. Hanks, we really can’t think of who that would be. Previously known as a leading man in several classic comedies, it was this dramatic role that decided his career path thereafter. The first time he earned an Oscar, his performance as a gay man afflicted with AIDS and the discrimination he felt as a result not only changed how he was seen, but how the disease that was ravaging the world was seen as well.

Do you agree with our list? Which role do you think most broke an actor out of type-casting? For more perception breaking Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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