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19 People Who Won Oscars For Their First Movie

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MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

For any aspiring filmmaker—be it an actor, writer, director, or beyond—getting one's first big break is the key to finding success in Hollywood. For a very select few, that first gig has led to critical acclaim, and an Oscar. Here are 19 of the lucky ones.

1. Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong'o wasn't a total film novice when she landed the role of Patsey in Steve McQueen's Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave (2013). In 2009, she produced, directed, edited, and handled all the publicity for the documentary In My Genes. But 12 Years a Slave marked her debut in front of the camera, and what a debut it was. In addition to the Academy Award, Nyong'o won more than 50 awards for the role from critics and film festivals around the world. Unlike other actors who've fallen victim to the "Oscar Curse," Nyong'o has chosen her follow-up roles carefully, with key roles in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mira Nair's upcoming The Queen of Katwe, and Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book.

2. Anna Paquin

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Long before True Blood, nine-year-old Anna Paquin got her first big break in The Piano. She beat 5000 other girls, including her sister, for the role. Her only acting experience: a small role as a skunk in the school play. Paquin was 11 when she won Best Supporting Actress in 1994. Holly Hunter won Best Actress for playing her character's mother.

3. Gale Sondergaard

Gale Sondergaard won Best Supporting Actress in 1937 for the costume drama Anthony Adverse. It was the only Academy Award of her career. Years later, she dropped out of playing the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, reportedly because she didn't want to wear disfiguring makeup. That's how people win Oscars nowadays!

4. Katina Paxinou

Oscars, Youtube

Greek actress Katina Paxinou also peaked early. She honed her acting skills on stage, even when her parents disowned her. When Paxinou finally got in front of a movie camera in the 1943 film For Whom the Bell Tolls, she won Best Supporting Actress.

5. Harold Russell

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In 2014, Barkhad Abdi was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in his first film role. Before playing a Somali pirate leader in Captain Phillips, he worked as a chauffeur. Almost all first-role Oscar winners are women; only two men have accomplished the same feat. The first was Harold Russell, a World War II veteran who lost both hands in the war. He's the only person to win two Academy Awards for the same performance, the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives. The first was Best Supporting Actor; the second was an honorary Oscar for bringing hope and courage to fellow veterans. In 1992, he controversially sold his Best Supporting Actor statuette to pay for his wife's medical expenses. Since 1950, Oscar winners have had to sign an agreement that prohibits selling their awards without first offering to sell it back to the Academy for $1.

6. Mercedes McCambridge

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Orson Welles called her "the world's greatest living radio actress," but Mercedes McCambridge was also impressive enough on camera to win Best Supporting Actress for All the King's Men in 1950. She was nominated for the same award again for Giant in 1957, but didn't take home the golden statuette. One of her strangest later roles: The voice of Pazuzu the demon in The Exorcist.

7. Shirley Booth

Oscars, YouTube

Sometimes a rookie carries an entire film. Shirley Booth's first role in 1952's Come Back, Little Sheba won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. There was a reason Booth was trusted with a big part: She won her second Tony two years earlier playing the same role.

8. Barbra Streisand

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It's hard enough to win an Oscar. But Barbra Streisand is among the few performers to have won at least one Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award. Just four years after being nominated for a Tony for Funny Girl and losing, Streisand won Best Actress for the same role in the 1968 film. Then she was honored with a Special Tony for career achievement in 1970. It was non-competitive, but we're still impressed.

9. Eva Marie Saint

Oscars, Youtube

Before she played the femme fatale in the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, Eva Marie Saint's breakout role was in 1954's On the Waterfront. She won Best Supporting Actress. She had some prior TV and stage experience, but it was still her film debut.

10. Jo Van Fleet

Oscars,YouTube 

A year after Saint's win, another upstart—stage actress Jo Van Fleet—took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Both actresses won Oscars under the direction of Elia Kazan, but their careers took very different turns: After playing Kate in East of Eden, Fleet was typecast as an old woman, often much older than she actually was. Ouch.

11. Julie Andrews

Oscars, YouTube

Julie Andrews initially turned down the title role in Mary Poppins, because she didn't want to film her first movie while pregnant. So Disney decided to wait until Andrews had the baby—they thought she was that perfect for the role. So did the Academy: Andrews won the Best Actress Oscar in 1965. One year later, she was nominated for The Sound of Music, but didn't win.

12. Tatum O'Neal

Oscars, YouTube

Best Supporting Actress tends to be awarded to up-and-coming stars. At 10 years old, Tatum O'Neal was the youngest winner in history, beating out her 31-year-old co-star Madeline Kahn. She was nine when she starred alongside her father Ryan O'Neal in 1973's Paper Moon.

13. Marlee Matlin

Oscars, YouTube

Marlee Matlin's Best Actress Award for the 1986 film Children of a Lesser God broke even more records. At 21, Matlin is the youngest performer to win Best Actress and still the only deaf performer to win an Academy Award.

14. Haing S. Ngor

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The only other actor to win an Oscar for his first role was Haing S. Ngor for the 1984 film The Killing Fields about the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia. The Cambodian-American physician-turned-actor is still the only Asian actor to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Eleven years after his Oscar win, Ngor was tragically murdered during a robbery outside his home in Los Angeles. 

15. Michael Arndt

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Winning debuts aren't limited to actors. It only took three days for Michael Arndt to write Little Miss Sunshine. (Well, three days and then a year of revisions.) The screenplay sold in 2001 and then spent a few more years in pre-production. The completed film was a surprise hit, winning Best Original Screenplay in 2007 (it also won a Best Supporting Actor statuette for Alan Arkin, and nods for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Abigail Breslin). Arndt's second script, for Toy Story 3, was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2011. Most recently, he co-wrote the script for Star Wars: The Force Awakens with J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan.

16. Diablo Cody

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Screenwriter Diablo Cody wrote her first film in just a few months at a Minnesota Starbucks. (And not just any Starbucks—a Starbucks inside a Target.) Juno won Best Original Screenplay in 2008.

17. Jennifer Hudson

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When singers get voted off American Idol, we don't usually hear much from them again. But when Hudson got the boot in 2004, she was just getting started. She was cast as Effie White in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls even before she had a record deal. Hudson had big shoes to fill—Jennifer Holliday won a Tony and Grammy for the role in 1982 and 1983, respectively. Hudson stole the show from Beyoncé and sent a message to everyone when she sang "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." The singer won Best Supporting Actress in 2007, the third African American woman to ever do so. A year later, she took home her first Grammy.

18. Geoffrey Fletcher

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Most screenwriters start their careers with an original screenplay. Geoffrey Fletcher made his name with a heart-wrenching adaptation of the Sapphire novel Push. Precious won Best Adapted Screenplay in 2010, making Fletcher the first African American to win an Academy Award for writing. In 2014, John Ridley won the same award for 12 Years a Slave.

19. Mark Boal

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Before turning to film, Mark Boal honed his writing and research skills as a journalist. That came in handy as he wrote and produced The Hurt Locker, which won both Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture in 2010. That year, the film's director Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win Best Director. They teamed up again for Boal's second film, Zero Dark Thirty, in 2012. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture again, but didn't win either award.

An earlier version of this post appeared in 2014.

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11 Screenwriters Who Hated Their Own Movies
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John Phillips, Getty Images

Even the most successful screenwriters don’t always get what they want after a film is completed. Here are 11 scribes who didn't hold back when it came to reviewing their own films.

1. QUENTIN TARANTINO // NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994)

During the early 1990s, Quentin Tarantino sold his screenplay for Natural Born Killers to Oliver Stone and used the money to fund his debut film, Reservoir Dogs, which was released in 1992. Two years later, Stone released the film with Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in starring roles.

While it was a box office hit, Tarantino despised the production because of the changes and alterations to much of his original content. "I hate that f*cking movie," Tarantino told The Telegraph in 2013. "If you like my stuff, don't watch that movie."

Years after its release, the producers of Natural Born Killers sued Tarantino when he tried to publish the original screenplay as a book, as he had done with his original script for True Romance. The producers believed that Tarantino forfeited his rights when he sold it to them, but a judge ruled in Tarantino's favor.

2. PAUL RUDNICK // SISTER ACT (1992)

During the late 1980s, playwright and novelist Paul Rudnick tried his hand at screenwriting between stage productions. He pitched Sister Act to Touchstone Pictures, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, with Bette Midler in mind for the lead role. Though Midler passed on it, Whoopi Goldberg signed on to play the lovable lounge singer pretending to be a nun.

After months of rewrites and tedious studio notes, Rudnick was not happy with the final screenplay because it was nothing like what he originally wrote or intended the film to be. In fact, he was so unhappy with the movie that he asked Disney to remove his name and use the pseudonym “Joseph Howard” instead.

“Good or bad, it was no longer my work, so I asked to have my name removed from the credits,” Rudnick wrote in The New Yorker in 2009. “The studio was unhappy with that, and I got a series of urgent calls offering me a videocassette of the final cut and asking me to watch it and reconsider. I refused, because, even if the movie was terrific, it wasn’t my script ... Disney agreed that I could use a pseudonym, pending its approval.” He continued, “I can’t vouch for the original film, for one reason. Sister Act may very well be just fine, but I’ve never been able to watch it."

3. KURT SUTTER // PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2008)

Before Marvel’s The Punisher made a comeback as a TV series on Netflix in 2017, Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter was hired to write a sequel to The Punisher starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta. In 2007, Sutter started writing a new script and wanted to ground the antihero in a grittier reality and move the character from Florida to New York City.

However, after Jane dropped out of the project, Marvel Studios wanted to start over with a new sequel that felt more like the comic book version of Frank Castle instead of the more realistic idea that Sutter envisioned. The end result was so far removed from what Sutter had written that he asked for his name to be removed from what would turn into Punisher: War Zone.

“I threw away the first draft written by Nick Santora and did a page one rewrite,” Sutter wrote of the project in 2008. “I changed the locations, the characters, the story. I dropped Frank in a real New York City with real villains, real cops, real relationships. To me, the Punisher deserved more than the usual comic book redress. It shouldn’t just follow the feature superhero formula. Apparently, I was the only one who shared that vision.”

4. AND 5. LANA AND LILLY WACHOWSKI // ASSASSINS (1995)

During the mid-1990s, Lana and Lilly Wachowski sold the screenplays for Assassins and The Matrix to producer Joel Silver for $1 million per film. Assassins was the first to go into production, and Richard Donner signed on to direct with Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas attached to co-star.

Although Assassins was one of the hottest unproduced screenplays at the time (you can read the Wachowskis' original version here), Donner didn’t like the darker tone and artsy symbolism, so he hired screenwriter Brian Helgeland to do a page-one rewrite to make it into a standard action thriller instead. The Wachowskis were not happy with the decision to tone down their screenplay, so the siblings wanted their names to be taken off the project, but the Writers Guild of America denied their request.

“The film was not really based on the screenplay,” Lana said in a 2003 interview. “The one thing that sort of bothered us is that people would blame us for the screenplay and it’s like Richard Donner is one of the few directors in Hollywood that can make whatever movie he wants exactly the way he wants it. No one will stop him and that’s essentially what happened. He brought in Brian Helgeland and they totally rewrote the script. We tried to take our names off of it but the WGA doesn’t let you. So our names are forever there.”

If there’s a silver lining to this story it’s that the experience with Assassins led the Wachowskis to want more control over their work—so they decided to become directors; they made their directorial debut with Bound in 1996.

6. BRET EASTON ELLIS // THE INFORMERS (2008)

Although Bret Easton Ellis co-wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation for The Informers, from his own novel, the final cut was not exactly how he envisioned it. Ellis was upset that the tone of the story went from dark humor to something more melodramatic. He blamed Australian director Gregor Jordan for The Informers's missteps.

“You need [a director] who grew up around here,” Ellis said. “You also need someone with an Altman-esque sense of humor, because the script is really funny. The movie is not funny at all, and there are scenes in the movie that should be funny that we wrote as funny, and they’re played as we wrote them, but they’re directed in a way that they're not funny. It was very distressing to see the cuts of this movie and realize that all the laughs were gone. I think Gregor was looking at it as something else. I think we had this miscommunication during pre-production that it’s not supposed to be played like an Australian soap opera.”

In 2010, Ellis again commented on the woes of The Informers during a Q&A at the Savannah College of Art and Design, saying: “That movie doesn't work for a lot of reasons but I don't think any of those reasons are my fault."

7. KELLY MARCEL // FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (2015)

In early 2013, Universal Pictures acquired the film rights to E.L. James's bestselling novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. The studio envisioned a new film franchise and hired Saving Mr. Banks screenwriter Kelly Marcel to adapt the book. While the movie studio promised Marcel creative freedom to explore the book’s characters and themes, the author had the final approval over the screenplay, director, and cast. James was unhappy with Marcel’s work and wanted the movie to be more like her novel.

“I very much wanted to do something different with the screenplay, and when I spoke to the studio and the producers and made that quite clear, they were very enthusiastic about that and kind of loved the things I wanted to do,” she explained on the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast in 2015. “I wanted to remove a lot of the dialogue. I felt it could be a really sexy film if there wasn’t so much talking in it.”

Marcel didn’t return to write the film's sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, and never even bothered to watch the original. “My heart really was broken by that process, I really mean it,” Marcel said. “I just don’t feel like I can watch it without feeling some pain about how different it is to what I initially wrote.”

8. JOE ESZTERHAS // JADE (1995)

During the 1990s, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas was the toast of Hollywood after Basic Instinct became a smash hit. His screenplays would sell for upwards of $4 million apiece, with Paramount Pictures acquiring the film rights to Jade for $1.5 million after Eszterhas turned in a mere two-page outline. However, after William Friedkin signed on to direct, the screenplay was completely changed with Friedkin doing an uncredited rewrite. Eszterhas was not happy that his work was butchered.

"I stared in disbelief," Eszterhas wrote in his autobiography, Hollywood Animal, about watching Jade for the first time. "I watched entire plot points and scenes and red herrings that weren't in my script. I heard dialogue that not only wasn't mine but was terrible to boot."

9. GORE VIDAL // CALIGULA (1979)

Although he was paid $200,000 for the screenplay for Caligula in 1979, novelist and screenwriter Gore Vidal was not happy with Penthouse Magazine founder and film producer Bob Guccione after he changed the film from a political satire to a $17 million piece of mainstream porn. Vidal was also very unhappy with the film’s director, Tinto Brass, with whom he had several clashes during production. Guccione sided with Brass and kicked Vidal off the set, while Vidal requested that his name be taken off the project altogether.

Eventually, Brass also walked off Caligula after butting heads with Guccione; Brass, too, asked for his name to be taken off the movie. The end result was Brass receiving a bizarre “Principal Photographer” credit, while Vidal got an even stranger “Based on an Original Screenplay by Gore Vidal” attribution.

“When I asked to see the first rushes, I was told by the Italian producer, ‘But, darling, you will hate them!,'" Vidal told Rolling Stone in 1980. "To which I said, ‘If Gore Vidal hates Gore Vidal's Caligula, who will like it?’ This was never answered. I quit the picture. Meanwhile, the director told the press that nothing of my script was left, except my name in the title.” Vidal later continued, “I threatened legal proceedings to remove the name. Finally, it was agreed that I would get no credit beyond a note that the screenplay was based upon a subject by Gore Vidal. But a fair amount of damage has been done.”

10. GUINEVERE TURNER // BLOODRAYNE (2005)

Screenwriter Guinevere Turner is mostly known for her thoughtful, character-driven movies like American Psycho, Go Fish, and The Notorious Bettie Page. She was even a staff writer and story editor on the hit Showtime TV series The L Word during the mid-2000s. With such an impressive resume, it was a little surprising that German director Uwe Boll, who is known as one of the worst directors of all time and the “schlock maestro” of movies like Alone in the Dark and Postal, commissioned Turner to write the film adaptation of the video game BloodRayne in 2005.

Turner wrote the screenplay in a few weeks and turned in a first draft to Boll, who was really excited about her work and decided to film it right away. However, he only ended up filming about 20 percent of the script and let the actors "take a crack at it" with improv and ad-lib work.

To no one’s surprise, BloodRayne turned out to be terrible, while Turner later said she was the only one “laughing out loud” during its premiere at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. “It’s like a $25 million movie, and it blows! I mean, it’s like the worst movie ever made,” she admitted in the Tales From The Script documentary.

BloodRayne was later nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Director and Worst Picture.

11. J.D. SHAPIRO // BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000)

In 1997, John Travolta commissioned screenwriter J.D. Shapiro to adapt Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s 1982 novel Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 for the big screen. Shapiro wrote a darker version of the novel, which resulted in him getting fired from the project altogether for refusing to change its tone.

However, much of what he wrote ended up in the final movie, so Shapiro ended up with a writer’s credit, much to his dismay. Battlefield Earth was released in the year 2000 and went on to be known as the worst movie of the decade. Shapiro even penned an open letter to apologize for his involvement.

"Let me start by apologizing to anyone who went to see Battlefield Earth,” he wrote in the New York Post in 2010. “It wasn’t as I intended—promise. No one sets out to make a train wreck. Actually, comparing it to a train wreck isn’t really fair to train wrecks, because people actually want to watch those."

Although Shapiro hated Battlefield Earth, he was a good sport about its failure. He even showed up to accept a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screenplay in 2001.

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David Lynch's Amazon T-Shirt Shop is as Surreal as His Movies
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images

David Lynch, the celebrated director behind baffling-but-brilliant films like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks, is now selling his equally surreal T-shirts on Amazon.

As IndieWire reports, each shirt bears an image of one of Lynch’s paintings or photographs with an accompanying title. Some of his designs are more straightforward (the shirts labeled “House” and “Whale” feature, respectively, drawings of a house and a whale), while others are obscure (the shirt called “Chicken Head Tears” features a disturbing sculpture of a semi-human face).

This isn’t the first time Lynch has ventured into pursuits outside of filmmaking. Previously, he has sold coffee, designed furniture, produced music, hosted daily weather reports, and published a book about his experience with transcendental meditation. Art, in fact, falls a little closer to Lynch’s roots; the filmmaker trained for years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before making his mark in Hollywood.

Lynch’s Amazon store currently sells 57 T-shirts, ranging in size from small to triple XL, all for $26 each. As for our own feelings on the collection, we think they’re best reflected by this T-shirt named “Honestly, I’m Sort of Confused.”

Check out some of our favorites below:

T-shirt that says "Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"
"Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a sleeping bird on it
"Sleeping Bird"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt that says Peace on Earth over and over again. The caption is pretty on the nose.
"Peace on Earth"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a screaming face made out of turkey with ants in its mouth
"Turkey Cheese Head"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an odd sculpted clay face asking if you know who it is. You get the idea.
"I Was Wondering If You Know Who I Am?"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a sculpted head that is not a chicken. It is blue, though.
"Chicken Head Blue"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a lobster on it. Below the drawing, the lobster is labeled with the word lobster. Shocking, I know.
"Lobster"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an abstract drawing of what is by David Lynch's account, at least, a cowboy
"Cowboy"

Buy it on Amazon

[h/t IndieWire]

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