I've been extremely candid and outspoken about my affinity for Vince Gilligan's drama masterpiece, Breaking Bad. The series illustrated an unbelievable tale of transformation, one that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. At its center was the unknown supporting star, Aaron Paul, who used the role of "Jesse Pinkman" as a catapult for his career. With Paul's major jump to blockbuster cinema in full swing after this weekend's successful release of the video game adapted Need for Speed, I've decided to devote March's Movie List of the Month (click here for February) to Hollywood's finest actors whose big break came from a role on a television series. Luckily for Aaron Paul, many huge stars have traveled this very same road.
Note: I deemed anyone coming from sketch comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live or In Living Color as ineligible. Also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Angels in the Outfield) and Johnny Depp (A Nightmare on Elm Street) both held major roles in films before their starts on 3rd Rock from the Sun and 21 Jump Street, therefore, they were also ruled ineligible.
Honorable Mention: For starters, Will Smith was a difficult one to leave off the list but, as you can see, the Top 5 is awfully crowded (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Michelle Williams (Dawson's Creek), Bruce Willis (Moonlighting) and Michael J. Fox (Family Ties).
#5. Woody Harrelson (Cheers)
The Harrelson/Will Smith debate was a difficult one, but I ended up rooting in favor of Woody. While Will Smith dominated the 90s with a plethora of leading roles, Harrelson has been a lengthy source of consistency all the way to present day. After premiering on the hit television sitcom Cheers in 1985 (and who doesn't love that theme song?), Woody turned the humble role into quite the acting career. Having been nominated for a pair of Academy Awards over the years, we can all agree that Harrelson has given us many more unforgettable performances in films like Zombieland, No Country for Old Men, Kingpin and White Men Can't Jump.
#4. George Clooney (ER)
Academy Award Winner George Clooney got his first break break as a regular on the hit medical series ER in 1994. After starring for years as Dr. Doug Ross, Clooney effortlessly bridged the gap from television to film on his way to an Oscar win for Syriana as well as nominations for Michael Clayton, Up in the Air and The Descendants. But acting success clearly wasn't enough for him, Clooney has turned his adoration for filmmaking into a successful career as an Oscar-Winning producer (Argo) and an Academy Award Nominated writer/director (Good Night, and Good Luck) as well.
#3. Robin Williams (Mork & Mindy)
One of the wackiest, but most talented, actors I've ever witnessed is Robin Williams. With a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his magnificent work in Good Will Hunting, it's important to remember that Williams found his humble beginnings on the television sitcom Mork & Mindy. In expected fashion, Williams starred as an alien (Mork from Ork) who actually first appeared on the hit series Happy Days. The dream-sequenced episode was such a success that it spawned a spin-off which ultimately propelled Williams' career to where it stands today. Williams will always be remembered for brilliant performances is films such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poet's Society and The Birdcage.
#2. Denzel Washington (St. Elsewhere)
Much like George Clooney, legendary actor Denzel Washington also got his start on a medical drama series. While many will remember the show St. Elsewhere for its polarizing snow-globe final scene, I'll remember it as the root of Denzel's exquisite career. Since his debut on the show all the way back in 1982, Washington has managed to capture a pair of Academy Awards for Glory and Training Day. But those are hardly the full definition of his success, Denzel has also captured the attention of audiences with mesmerizing turns in Flight, Malcolm X, Philadelphia and one of my personal favorites, Remember the Titans. It's been a long, storied career for this fine tv star turned film actor.
#1. Tom Hanks (Bosom Buddies)
In an attempt to be as forthright and respectful as possible, without hesitation, I am reserving the number one spot on this list for one of the greatest actors in the history of film. A bold statement, sure, but Tom Hanks has reached the pinnacle of success with back-to-back Oscar Wins in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. While a pair of Academy Award victories hardly places you among the greatest ever, this one-time star of the sitcom Bosom Buddies also delivered meaningful roles in classics such as Big, Saving Private Ryan, A League of Their Own, Apollo 13, Catch Me If You Can and the list goes on and on. No one could have predicted that a tiny role back in 1980 as an advertiser forced to parade around as a woman in order to live in an affordable female-only apartment would have spawned such a towering and unparalleled career, but thankfully for us, it did.