Whether they were an overnight success or paid their dues for years before making it big, every celebrity was once a newbie on the red carpet. We’ve rounded up our favourite debuts from Hollywood’s biggest stars, but brace yourself: some of these are pretty cringe-worthy.
Elizabeth Taylor (1948) Elizabeth Taylor shot to stardom as a child actor in films like Lassie Come Home and National Velvet. However, since these films were released during World War II, there were no premieres. Taylor’s first big red carpet premiere was for A Date With Judy in 1948
Audrey Hepburn (1953) Audrey Hepburn received her breakout role in Roman Holiday in 1953—and here she is posing for cameras at the premiere. The actress went on the star in several more iconic films, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sabrina.
Morgan Freeman (1978) Morgan Freeman decided to pursue a career in acting later in life, after first working as a mechanic in the Air Force. The actor’s big break was in 1978, when he landed the leading role in The Mighty Gents on Broadway. Here he at the opening night premiere with his then-wife, Jeanette.
Meryl Streep (1979) Before Meryl Streep was one of the most respected names in film, the actress appeared in the 1979 film The Seduction of Joe Tynan. Here she is at the premiere with costar Alan Alda. A year later, the actress landed the lead role in Kramer vs. Kramer and the rest is history…
Tom Cruise (1981) Tom Cruise attended the premiere of Taps (his debut in a feature film) with then-girlfriend Heather Locklear in 1981. Shortly after, the actor’s celebrity status was set when he became a member of Hollywood’s Brat Pack alongside teen actors Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez.
Meg Ryan (1981) Meg Ryan became a household name after starring in some of the most popular romantic comedies from the ’80s and ’90s, including When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. But back in 1981, the actress was just getting started when she made her red carpet debut for her first film Rich and Famous.
Drew Barrymore (1982) Born into Hollywood royalty (her father was actor John Barrymore), Drew Barrymore melted hearts across the country when she appeared on the red cart at age 7 for the premiere of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, in which she starred.
Julia Roberts (1985) Julia Roberts attended the premiere of Runaway Train and posed next to Jon Voight on the red carpet. Back in the day, the Academy-award winning actress sported a drastically different hairstyle than the curly ringlets she became known for in films like Mystic Pizza and Pretty Woman.
Dakota Johnson (1986) Before her days of walking the red carpet solo as a movie star, Dakota Johnson joined her famous dad, Don Johnson (left), for the premiere of Tin at the age of seven.
Robert Downey Jr. (1985) The rising star, who was on the cusp of starring on Saturday Night Live at this point, attended the premiere of the CBS Television Movie Going for the Gold: The Bill Johnson Story with his then-girlfriend Sarah Jessica Parker.
Tom Hanks (1986) Before starring in his breakout role in Big, Tom Hanks attended the premiere of another one of his early films: Nothing in Common. What a tie, right?
Christian Bale (1987) Long before his days as Batman, Christian Bale banked some serious hours on the red carpet as a child actor. The actor served up his now-signature smile when he attended the premiere for his film Empire of the Sun in 1987.
George Clooney (1988) George Clooney was still an up-and-coming actor (he hadn’t landed his role on ER yet) when he attended the premiere of Twins with then-girlfriend Kelly Preston.
Will Smith (1988) Before Will Smith journeyed to California for a little show called The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the actor attended the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards with DJ Jazzy Jeff.
Brad Pitt (1988) Despite appearing on TV shows like Growing Pains in the late ’80s, Brad Pitt didn’t land his first major film role until he appeared in Thelma and Louise in 1991. But he did make it onto the red carpet before then, as seen here at the premiere of Red Heat.
Frances McDormand (1989) Frances McDormand rose to stardom with her role in Mississippi Burning. Shortly after it debuted, the actress attended the D.W. Griffith Awards, and here she is on the red carpet.
JEFF KRAVITZGETTY IMAGES Leonardo DiCaprio (1989) Leonardo DiCaprio started his career in TV before transitioning to film in the early ’90s. Here he is attending a TJ Martell Music event a few years before his Growing Pains days.
Halle Berry (1989) Halle Berry was a long way from her Oscar-winning night in 2011 circa this late ’80s red carpet. But we’d say posing with Danny Wood from New Kids on the Block was a pretty solid start for her.
BARRY KINGGETTY IMAGES Jennifer Aniston (1990) Before she sky-rocketed to fame on Friends, Jennifer Aniston was on NBC’s TV show, Ferris Bueller. Here, the rising star attends a network party for the show, which ended up paving the way for her role as Rachel Green.
Reese Witherspoon (1991) A 15-year-old Reese Witherspoon rocked a daisy tank top and black cowboy boots for the red carpet at the premiere of her first film, The Man in the Moon.
RON GALELLA, LTD.GETTY IMAGES Gwyneth Paltrow (1991) Just as Gwyneth Paltrow started to pursue an acting career (she starred as young Wendy in Hook later in 1991), she attended the premiere of The Prince of Tides with, which her mother, Blythe Danner, starred in.
Julianne Moore (1991) Four years before her breakout role in Nine Months, Julianne Moore walked the red carpet for her TV movie, Cast a Deadly Spell.
Kristen Dunst (1994) Kirsten Dunst rocked a head of ringlet curls when she walked her first red carpet at the age of 11 for Interview with a Vampire. The actress propelled into the spotlight afterward with roles in films like Bring It On and Spiderman.
Natalie Portman (1994) Natalie Portman made her acting debut at the age of 12 in León the Professional, and she arrived on the red carpet in true ’90s fashion.
JIM SMEALGETTY IMAGES Salma Hayek (1995) Salma Hayek proved her star power when she arrived at the premiere of one of her first films, Desperado, dripping of Hollywood glamour.
Kate Winslet (1996) The British actress arrived at the premiere of her first major film, Sense and Sensibility, in a daringly sheer lace jumpsuit. She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role.
RON GALELLAGETTY IMAGES Ben Affleck (1997) Ben Affleck decided to take his career into his own hands when he co-wrote and starred in his first major film Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon. Here he is at the big premiere.
Amy Adams (1999) Amy Adams seems like she enjoyed her big red carpet debut when she attended the premiere of her first film, Drop Dead Gorgeous.
RON GALELLA GETTY IMAGES Jake Gyllenhaal (1999) The up-and-coming actor dropped by the red carpet at the premiere of Cruel Intentions back in 1999. Two years later, he would star in the cult classic film Donnie Darko.
Sofía Vergara (1999) Even though she was 10 years away from landing her breakthrough role in Modern Family, Sofía Vergara was already working her way up to the star status she has now in the late ’90s, after moving to the U.S. from her native country of Colombia in 1998.
RON GALELLA GETTY IMAGES Jennifer Garner (1999) Jennifer Garner and her then-boyfriend (who she’d later marry and divorce) Scott Foley attended the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards following meeting on the set of the TV show Felicity.
Anne Hathaway (1999) Future-Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway looks cool, calm, and collected on her first red carpet at a FOX TV up front party at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Viola Davis (2001) Before her successful career in film, Viola Davis was a star on Broadway. In 2001, the actress attended the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall, where she won an award for her role in King Hedley II.
Emma Watson (2001) Emma Watson was polished and poised when she attended her first red carpet premiere at age 11 for her film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
RON GALELLA, LTD. GETTY IMAGES Melissa McCarthy (2001) Melissa McCarthy’s career took off into the stratosphere in 2011 for her role in Bridesmaids, but the actress had been working in the industry for a decade prior—most notably on the Warner Bros. series Gilmore Girls. Here, McCarthy attends a network event for the show back in 2001.
JIM SPELLMAN GETTY IMAGES Bradley Cooper (2001) Bradley Cooper’s big breakout was in The Hangover, but before that the actor was on TV in Alias. Here he is on the red carpet for an ABC up front party.
Dakota Fanning (2001) In 2001, the 7-year-old starlet walked her first red carpet at the premiere of I am Sam. She’d go on to star in some of the biggest movies of the decade, including War of the Worlds and Man on Fire.
Jennifer Lawrence (2007) Jennifer Lawrence looked like a natural at the 15th Annual Movieguide Faith and Values Awards. The actress quickly became a red carpet regular, thanks in part to her Best Actress Oscar win in 2012.