These once unknown actors had breakout roles that made them famous

Omar Sharif and Barbra Streisand star in “Funny Girl.” It was Streisand’s first movie role and she won an Oscar for best actress.
Omar Sharif and Barbra Streisand star in “Funny Girl.” It was Streisand’s first movie role and she won an Oscar for best actress. Courtesy photo

Haven’t heard of Richie Merritt?

That’s OK. The 15-year-old was plucked from obscurity in an exhaustive casting search to play the lead role in “White Boy Rick,” opening in theaters this weekend. But you’ve probably heard of Merritt’s co-star, Matthew McConaughey, Oscar winner and all right guy. They star in the true-life story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr. (played by Merritt), who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s and became a drug kingpin before he was even 18. Hey, it’s good to have goals.

It’s a high-profile role for Merritt, and if the film does well, this could launch his career to stardom.

But he’s not the first-time nubie to carry a film their first time out. Here are some stars’ breakout roles and the films that launched their careers.

Jennifer Hudson as Effie White in “Dreamgirls” (2006) — The “American Idol” alumnus beat out more than 700 other actresses for the role and completely owned it, earning an Oscar for best supporting actress, most certainly for her show-stopping rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Purely breathtaking.

Warren Beatty as Bud Stamper in “Splendor in the Grass” (1961) — Shirley MacLaine’s baby brother burst onto the screen as Natalie Woods’ boyfriend and suddenly a Hollywood playboy was born.

Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in “Die Hard” (9188) — Yippie kye-aye! The British import donned an American accent to play one of the great action movie villains of all time. The late actor’s career would go on to include roles in the “Harry Potter” franchise and my personal favorite, “Galaxy Quest.”

Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle in “On the Waterfront” (1954) — She won an Oscar for best supporting actress her first time out in this American classic that also won seven more Oscars, including best picture, director (Elia Kazan) and actor (Marlon Brando).

Tatum O’Neal as Addie in Paper Moon” (1973) — Her first time out and she’s still the youngest person to ever win an Oscar (she won best supporting actress) starring opposite her real-life father Ryan O’Neal, who plays a con man who becomes a reluctant father figure to the orphan girl.

Anna Paquin as Flora McGrath in “The Piano” (1993) — Another first-timer to win a best supporting actress Oscar (at the ripe age of 11), playing the daughter to a mute woman (Holly Hunter) on the shores of 19th century New Zealand.

Edward Norton as Aaron Stampler in “Primal Fear” (1996) — His first-time out earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor as an altar boy with a split-personality disorder. An absolutely calculated, chilling performance.

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in “Mary Poppins” (1964) — Rumor has it that she was turned down for the role of Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” but no matter. She then landed the role of the singing, dancing, magical English nanny and scored an Oscar for best actress, one of the very few to ever do so with their first movie. Truly supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” (1968) — It’ still her most iconic role to date, and she scored an Oscar best actress with her film as the Ziegfield folly girl who rose to stardom.

Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane in “Citizen Kane” (1941) — Not only was it his first film role, but he also wrote, produced and directed at the ripe age of 24 what many believe is the greatest film of all time, the story of a publishing tycoon.

Whoopi Goldberg as Celie in “The Color Purple” (1985) — She said herself that she will never be as good and she may be quite right, but that’s saying something about how very good she was, as a black Southern woman who struggles to find her identity after suffering abuse from her father and others over four decades. Up until then she had just been known as a comedian, but her Oscar-nominated performance changed all that.

Paul Hogan as Mick “Crocodile” Dundee in “Crocodile Dundee” (1986) — Hogan is best known for this role (did he really ever play anything else?) in the smash hit film that spawned two sequels, about an American reporter who goes to the Australian outback to meet an eccentric crocodile poacher. Hogan was pure charm in a role tailor-made for him.

Frances McDormand as Abby Marty in “Blood Simple” (1984) — This was also the Coen Brothers’ breakout film, a Sundance hit that starred then-unknown McDormand as a woman having an affair with the bartender who works for her husband, who knew about them all along and arranges to have them killed. Got all that?

Glenn Close as Jenny Fields in “The World According to Garp” — It was her first role and her first Oscar nomination of six, as the feminist mother of Robin Williams’ T.S. Garp.