Before they become famous, most actors take up acting gigs in commercials to try and get their foot in the door. And not all these campaigns are glamorous – far from it. You’ve got to start somewhere – whether that means selling potato chips, hemorrhoid cream, insurance, or detergent. This list of some of our favorite celebrities in ads before they became entertainment royalty might make you see them in a whole new light!
If you’re an 80s child, chances are you’ve watched Drew Barrymore virtually grow up on screen. Barrymore was only seven when she played the cherubic Gertie (Elliot’s sister) in “ET. The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982). But did you know her acting career began much before the world first fell in love with her in the iconic film? A four-year-old Barrymore starred in an ad for Pillsbury cookie dough, where she was as adorable as they come.
She comes home from the pouring rain, soaked and feeling out of sorts. Her mother cheers her up with the one thing sure to lift anyone’s spirits – a fresh batch of homemade cookies. Barrymore’s face lights up on seeing the cookies with her signature smile that hasn’t changed over decades!
What we wouldn’t give to possess even a smidge of Leonardo DiCaprio’s charisma! The actor owns any screen, whether he’s playing a dangerously unhinged broker on Wall Street or a man hopelessly in love on a doomed ship. He was flooring audiences with his talent even as a child. DiCaprio appeared in several commercials during the 1980s.
In this commercial for Bubble Yum, he’s amazingly self-assured while selling the idea of bubble gum. It’s what the cool kids do. And there’s no denying this kid is cool! DiCaprio is effortless in this commercial, brilliant for someone so young. Some people are just born with it, and the DiCaprio charm is proof of that.
Remember when the world went through a serious Anne Hathaway craze? "The Princess Diaries." "The Devil Wears Prada." Catwoman. The golden days! It does seem like she’s been around for a while, and that’s because she has. Hathaway also started her entertainment career in commercials, where the world first saw her acting chops. She was 14 when she first appeared in a commercial for Better Homes.
Hathaway is devastated to learn that her neighbor and his family are moving. He tries to make her feel better, saying that they need to still sell the house. They would easily have the whole summer together. Suddenly, a Better Homes sign comes up on the lawn that says “For Sale.” A sobbing Hathaway hugs her neighbor goodbye. It was her first-ever stint in front of a camera, but would anyone believe that?
Mark Hamill will forever be Luke Skywalker in the world’s eyes. It’s kind of hard visualizing him as anyone else, right? But before his Jedi days, Hamill graced the screen as an endearing boy next door for a Kodak ad in the 1970s. Hamill stands under his girlfriend's window. He’s excited to show her what this new Kodak camera can do. She doesn’t need to come downstairs for a picture. He can do it from where he’s standing.
His girlfriend’s mother pops by to see what the two are up to, and Hamill gets her to join in the fun, too. The ad is all of 30 seconds, but Hamill’s charm is undeniable – 100% lead actor potential is already on display here!
Paul Rudd has a superpower, alright. The man doesn’t age, and if naysayers need proof, this 1991 Super Nintendo commercial should do it. We can’t tell the difference. Not surprising why fans everywhere are convinced he’s a vampire. Or perhaps he has a self-portrait that’s festering and stashed away in a hidden closet somewhere. The ever-talented Rudd shines in this commercial as the star gamer and force for Super Nintendo.
He has the same energy and star presence. To the passing eye, this could be Paul Rudd in “F.R.I.E.N.D.S” or “Ant-Man.” The only sign that he might be from a different time is the hair – longer, wavier, typically ‘90s.
Jennifer Lawrence appeared in a promotional video for the MTV Reality show “My Super Sweet 16” even though she wasn’t part of the show. But this appearance paved the way for her in Hollywood. It helped her earn the coveted SAG card for actors. Lawrence wasn't even 16 when the video was shot, despite the show’s title.
She was all 14 years old. In the video, she makes a grand entrance to a birthday party while being carried on a chair by a group of guys. They accidentally drop her. Although the video was scripted, it was almost a sign of the quirky and sometimes controversial Lawrence legacy to come!
We know John Travolta can carry a tune, and then some! "Grease" and "Hairspray" established him as a musical theater force. But Travolta was singing for a living as early as the 1970s, only in a slightly quirkier and unexpected avatar. The actor appeared in commercials for Safeguard soap and Band-Aid. And in each one, he would sing in the shower with a group of guys.
Travolta is all smiles, sometimes in a basketball uniform and other times seemingly wearing nothing at all. If you’re going to sing in the shower, you might as well do it with friends. Travolta makes it look fun where other actors might have ventured into awkward territory. He really does seem to be enjoying himself and comes off as immensely likable!
Kirsten Dunst caught everyone’s attention as Judy Shepherd in the now-iconic “Jumanji.” But before being thrown into the chaos of a supernatural board game, Dunst first rolled the dice in another game. She appeared in a commercial for Pop-O-Matic Trouble in the early ‘90s, where every “pop” gets you out of trouble and hopefully makes you the winner of the game.
Dunst plays the game and looks like she’s having the best time popping out of her seat when it’s her turn. She would go on to play Claudia in “Interview with the Vampire” and received a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Dunst was only 12.
Joseph Gordon Levitt
The inimitable Joseph Gordon Levitt took to musical theater as early as age four. The story goes that he was discovered at his theater group’s production of "The Wizard of Oz," where he played the Scarecrow. Levitt soon appeared in several commercials for Cocoa Puffs, Sunny Jim peanut butter, and Pop Tarts.
He’s brilliant in this one as a precocious child reversing parental roles with his dad. Dad seems to be rushing for work without breakfast and that just won’t do. Levitt flips the script effortlessly, making sure his dad gets a quick but delicious breakfast - easy to do with Pop-Tarts.
Matt Le Blanc
As Joey from “F.R.I.E.N.D.S.,” Matt Le Blanc had a few commercials to his name. Joey played the guy who can’t open a carton of milk. He also rocked purple lipstick in a Japanese ad. Le Blanc’s own experience doing commercials is mercifully far more impressive than Joey’s. This one for Cherry 7Up features a young LeBlanc strutting into a store to pick up a few cans when he notices a pretty cashier behind the counter.
The ad gives off a cool 1980s movie vibe, with LeBlanc as the devastatingly handsome young lead. She eventually closes the shop and steps outside, where they share a can of Cherry 7Up. LeBlanc doesn’t have any lines but still makes an impact. We’d follow him outside without needing much convincing, too!
To everyone, Mila Kunis might be the beautiful, self-involved, and slightly ditzy Jackie in “That 70’s Show.” But just two years before she landed the iconic role, Kunis featured in a commercial for Lisa Frank. She dresses the part in a colorful denim, sweater, and tie-dye ensemble – almost as vibrant and colorful as the Lisa Frank stickers she and her friends love so much.
The excited girls tell viewers about all the fun you can get up to with the stickers. You can use them at parties and sleepovers. There are exclusive memberships, too. While the company is now defunct, the commercial in itself is an immersive time capsule with Mila Kunis as the quintessential flower child.
Ben Affleck got his first acting gig in a Burger King commercial. The ad opens with Affleck in a car. He receives a phone call from a lady with a sultry voice and is immediately intrigued! She thinks she’s called Burger King and orders a salad. Affleck’s character decides to go along with it, of course. He rushes to a Burger King outlet to buy her order and drops it off at the girls’ doorstep.
Just when it seemed like a sweet romance might kick off, his father calls, and plans were unexpectedly foiled by a parent as if they knew something was up. Affleck is all kinds of cool and charming in this commercial. Four years later, the actor would play a very similar character in “Dazed and Confused.”
Brad Pitt – with his sunny California vibes and good looks – owned the small screen much before Hollywood beckoned. Pitt appeared in a 1989 Pringles commercial at age 26. He cruises around in a convertible with his friends when they realize they’re out of Pringles.
He convinces viewers that you can’t really have a good time without snacking on it. Pitt is ever charming, winning over a beautiful girl and her attentions along the way. The actor was also working as an extra around this time so he could earn his SAG Card. He played a waiter in “No Man’s Land” and a party guest in “Less Than Zero.”
Few people can master the art of directly addressing the camera like Steve Carell. As Michael Scott in “The Office,” Carell saw to it that the mockumentary format would never be the same; he had elevated it. Turns out that he had been doing this much before as well. Carell shines, as is his style, in this 1989 commercial for Brown’s Chicken.
He plays an employee waxing eloquently about the company’s cholesterol-free batter and oil, differentiating it from other fried chicken brands. It’s uncanny, but Carell’s part in the ad seems like a preview of Michael Scott. He’s got the same style and shifty energy, clearly using humor as a defense mechanism.
Amy Adams has made a name for herself as a serious actor. She was captivating and delightful in “Enchanted.” She was gritty and real in “American Hustle” and “Arrival.” But her career break in ads was slightly disappointing. The actor started in a 30-second cringe ad for Commercial Federal Bank, a parody of “Summer Night” in Grease.
You read right and have to see it to believe that this was Amy Adams’s very first commercial. She is seen singing about her free checking account while dancing around the camera with others, seemingly as excited about it as she is.
Before Courteney Cox would embody Monica Geller like a second skin, her claim to fame was remarkably different. Nine years before, in 1985, Cox was the first person to boldly use the word "period" on American television in a tampon advert. Decades later, in 2022, the actor appeared in a new take on her famous tampon commercial. The new lens? The joys (AKA horrors) of menopause.
Cox is now world-weary and sarcastic as she talks about hot flashes, dry skin, and other defining phases of misery in menopause. The ad simultaneously recreates and parodies the original commercial. It’s also a humorous nod to her younger self and how she never saw what was coming.
Some actors were born to play a role. And for Bryan Cranston, we’re sure it was Walter White in “Breaking Bad.” Not because he won three Emmys for the role but because everything in his life seemed to have led him to it. White was an active member of his high school chemistry club.
And then there was this ad for the Preparation H commercial in the ’80s. Cranston plays a confident salesperson endorsing Preparation H, which accelerates pure oxygen to relieve hemorrhoids. He walks out of what appears to be a research and development center, having found the best way to get the purest version of the cure. We can’t think of anyone else better suited to play the role!
Geena Davis is as versatile as they make them. We know her for stellar performances in films such as "Thelma & Louise," "Beetlejuice," and "A League of Their Own." She’s as comfortable in dramatic roles as she is in comedic performances. But long before any of these prolific films, Davis was the face and voice for rock music radio station Wmet in the ‘80s.
And she looked the part, too, with her rocker chick hair and overall rebel-with-a-clue vibes in this commercial. The station promises to deliver more rock and less talk. It is safe to say that the station largely achieved what it set out to, thanks to Davis.
So, how does someone become a movie icon, win every conceivable acting award, and basically become equated with “God” in Hollywood? You might want to land a few national commercials in this lifetime. That’s how things went down for Morgan Freeman. “Gravitas” might be his middle name today, but Freeman started his career in commercials during the 1970s.
He appeared in several, where he was the face of Listerine mouthwash and Polaroid. Like everything Freeman touches, the ads did exceedingly well. He would go on to become a national treasure, giving the world unforgettable performances in “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Shawshank Redemption” among several others.
Sarah Michelle Gellar
By now, the world knows not to go by Sarah Michelle Gellar’s petite frame. She slays vampires with ease, that’s for sure. But much before her Buffy days, Gellar already owned the screen as an up-and-rising star in a Burger King commercial. In the campaign, a young Gellar speaks passionately about why Burger King is the superior brand compared to McDonald's.
It has 20 percent less meat, the advert claimed. She unwittingly became the first to diss a competitor brand by name on national television. The result? McDonald's sued Burger King and Gellar, who were all five years old then!
Diet sodas exploded in popularity during the 1980s. Everyone wanted to book a soda commercial, including a young Demi Moore. Moore appeared in an action-packed advert for Diet Coke in 1988. She looks beautiful and seductive, like a femme fatale in a film.
She trips over her cat and loses balance while still holding a can of Diet Coke in her hand. The actor then proceeds to tumble over the balcony onto the ledge of a building. It appears as if she might’ve fallen to her death. Does she survive? Or does she and the can of Diet Coke miraculously cheat death?
Keanu Reeves goes by several names these days. Some people know him as “The Chosen One,” while many others fondly refer to him as “The Internet’s Boyfriend.” He truly is a universal favorite across age groups and geographies. It’s not surprising that Reeves’s start in acting began in commercials. In this endearing 1987 commercial for Kellogg’s, the actor is as loveable as ever.
He plays a waiter serving boxes of cereal at several long tables in a hotel because – as the jingle goes – one wants the best in one bowl. Who needs fine dining when Keanu Reeves is serving up boxes of cereal, especially for you, while dancing?
Sharon Stone shocked and knocked people’s socks off in “Casino” and “Basic Instinct.” Before she left the world divided, Stone was the face of Finesse Shampoo. And with her lustrous and big ’80s hairstyle, the brand couldn’t have asked for a more perfect brand ambassador. What’s funny is that Finesse products have made a resurgence of sorts today.
Millennials and Gen Z are only now discovering what Gen X has known all along. Kim Kardashian might have something to do with the brand’s popularity today since the reality star swears by it. But Sharon Stone will always be the OG brand ambassador for the shampoo brand.
The Seagram’s Golden Wine Cooler campaign started in the mid-'80s and featured none other than Bruce Willis, way before he became a big-screen icon as John McLane in “Die Hard.” Willis’s talent in the commercial is undeniable. Anyone who can make wine coolers seem like a cool men’s drink deserves recognition, don't you think?
Given how gender norms were even more conventional and stringent at the time, Willis achieves the impossible with this bold ad campaign. His on-screen presence and the catchy jingle made Seagram’s wine coolers one of the most popular drinks during the mid to late '80s.
Selena Gomez might be best known these days for Instagram feuds, an infamous relationship, as Tay Tay’s bestie, or as the enchanting Alex Russo in “Wizards of Waverly Place.” But did you know she got her acting start thanks to scrumptious shrimp?
Gomez was 12 years old when she appeared in a commercial for Joe’s Crab Shack. From scampi and seared to flame-grilled and golden-fried – this ad was all about shrimp and the many ways you can enjoy it. The camera zooms in on Gomez, who is all smiles as she takes a big bite of some “shrimply irresistible” seafood.
Kristen Stewart seemed destined for Hollywood and the big screen. She comes from an acting family, after all. Her father is Fox producer John Stewart, and her mother, Jules Mann-Stewart, works as a director and script supervisor. Kristen Stewart always envisioned a career behind the camera, but life worked out a little differently. She got some of her first acting breaks when she was very young.
One of them was a TV commercial for Porsche. Stewart is seen walking up to her dad to say she missed the bus to school. But did she? Her father’s saying, “Really?” suggests that Stewart just wanted a ride to school in the Porsche because who doesn’t?
Ryan Reynolds is a delight as Deadpool and the charismatic Van Wilder. The actor has been lighting up the screen since he was a teenager. He appeared in “Fifteen” as Billy Simpson. Reynolds was a regular fixture in the fantasy series “The Odyssey.” He also appeared in a string of TV commercials during the early ‘90s, including this fun ad for Push Pop.
Can you tell that is Reynolds? And what was Push Pop anyway? Like the ad says, you either know what to do with it or not! The ad doesn’t spell it out. For the unversed, Push Pops were lollipops that looked nothing like lollipops. The candy came in a cylindrical container and could snap back into place like lipstick.
Heath Ledger began his acting career in Australia before moving to America to make a name for himself in Hollywood. And of course, he succeeded! But long before his big screen success, Ledger appeared in a commercial for Australian fast food chain Chicken Treat. It was one of his first roles.
Ledger seems hypnotized by the sight of a chicken cooking slowly in the back of a restaurant. In usual Ledger fashion, he makes even staring at chicken into art, and so early on in his career, too! Years later, the world would fall in love with him in “10 Things I Hate About You.”
Hilary Duff is no stranger to the entertainment world. Both she and her older sister, Haylie, got into the business early. The sisters moved with their mom to California in the early ‘90s and started landing commercials early on. Duff spent most of her childhood appearing in several commercials such as this one for Subway in 1999.
She plays a kid anchor, talking about the many news updates from the sandwich chain, especially the fun Kid Pack. Duff, always bubbly and radiating girl next door charm, would get her big break a couple of years later as Lizzie McGuire. Life would never be the same after.
Jodie Foster’s star rose early on in her career. She’s since made a name for herself in films such as “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Taxi Driver.” And while we haven’t seen much of Foster around Hollywood these days, a break is warranted because she’s been acting since age three! Her acting talents came naturally and early.
One of Foster’s first acting gigs was in a commercial for Crest toothpaste in 1968. Young Jodie confidently steps up to the tee in this ad, visibly happy she doesn’t have any cavities, unlike her friend. Before the Crest commercial, Foster had already acted in a Copperstone commercial and several Disney projects too.
Elijah Wood got his start in the entertainment world as a brilliant child actor. Some of you might remember his debut in the music video for “Forever Your Girl” by ace singer and choreographer Paula Abdul. His talents soon caught the attention of companies that signed him to be the adorable face for their commercials. Among them was this ad for the National Dairy Board. He has a grand total of two words to say in the entire ad, but still makes an impression.
Wood then appeared in “Back to the Future Part II” and other Hollywood hits. The world would know his name soon enough as the one and only Frodo in “The Lord of the Rings.”
We can’t remember a time when Zendaya wasn’t winning us over with her effortless charm. She’s been acting since she was 14 when she first portrayed the role of Rocky Blue in “Shake It Up” on the Disney Channel. Before bagging the lead role of a lifetime, Zendaya worked in commercials, as a model, and as a backup dancer for numerous companies.
One of her biggest commercials was for “iCarly,” Nickelodeon’s hit series, where she is seen playing with toys created after the protagonists of the series. She also starred in campaigns for brands like Sears and Old Navy.
Think Amanda Bynes, and you’re immediately reminded of the Nickelodeon show “All That.” Her excellent impersonation skit skills eventually led to her own spin-off of “The Amanda Show.” The great success of these shows might make you believe Bynes’ career began as a successful child actor. While she was all of that, Bynes began acting much before her days on television.
She performed in several stage productions and TV commercials. Her first professional acting gig was, in fact, an ad for Buncha Crunch. Bynes would later star in films aimed primarily at younger audiences, such as “She’s the Man.”
Channing Tatum’s origin story has been a subject of much discussion ever since “Magic Mike” came out. The iconic film was loosely based on Tatum’s stint as a stripper when he was first trying to find a footing in the entertainment industry. But the aspiring actor worked several other jobs back then. He was a model for Abercrombie and Fitch and also booked spots on numerous national TV commercials.
One of his most memorable ads was for Pepsi, where Tatum plays a DJ who uses his beats to control events and time at a party. He can pause and rewind at certain moments, especially while eyeing a bottle of Pepsi making its way through the dance floor on a waitress’s tray.
Lindsay Lohan has been keeping busy since she was three when she was first signed by the Ford Modeling Agency. Her star quality was undeniable, and she featured in several national ad campaigns from a very young age. Among them was a fun 30-second clip for Jell-o. Lohan and a bunch of other kids “go ape” for Jell-o grape, dancing and singing along while eating it.
Only a few years later, she would star in “The Parent Trap” at 12 years old and steal the limelight from her already established co-stars and adults, Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid. Additionally, she would go on to become a pop culture phenomenon in "Mean Girls."
Are you surprised to find Britney Spears on this list? That’s perfectly understandable. Most of the world knows her as the 17-year-old who burst onto the scene with “Baby One More Time,” forever transforming the landscape of pop music in the ‘90s. If there was one takeaway from the music video that everyone agreed on, it was that Spears was a born performer, and she knew it.
She had longed for a big break in entertainment ever since she was a child singing in church choir and acing gymnastics in school. Spears caught the eye of a talent agent early on who booked her for acting gigs in several commercials, such as this one for Maull’s barbeque sauce.
Tina Fey going through an awkward phase is hard to imagine. There’s nobody quite as articulate and funny as the actor on the planet today! But it seems she had a bit of a rough start in her career. She signed up to act in a 1995 commercial for Mutual Savings Bank, which already had Liz Lemon's nervous energy written all over it.
The ad needed someone to fumble and stumble their way through. Fey was a natural! Her odd hair and frumpy clothes only add to the overall appeal. Her comedic timing was on point, and one can already see glimpses of her unbeatable 1-900-OK-FACE commercial in “30-Rock.”
Before Mark Ruffalo's Hulk smashed his way through concrete and beat up villains into a pulp, he had acne. Or at least he acted like he did in a 1989 commercial for Clearasil. The stakes aren’t as high as Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but acne can be debilitating for anyone who suffers from breakouts.
The clip might only be 30 seconds long, but Ruffalo showcases the same emotional intensity that would make him a star in the coming years. Jimmy Fallon resurrected the ad on an episode of The Tonight Show, a clip which Ruffalo said he “vaguely remembered.”
Jeremy Renner in an epic Kodak ad in the mid-'90s is clear proof that everyone has to pay their dues before making it big. Forget fighting Chitauri in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Long before his Hawkeye legacy, Renner is seen battling an alien invasion while sporting long hair to boot!
The ad ends with Renner taking a photograph with a UFO in the distance, quite clearly a nod to “The X-Files” which was a hugely popular series then. Renner also appeared in a bunch of other commercials during this time for companies like 7-Eleven, Bud Light, Duracell, Coors Light, and Aquafina.
It’s a little surreal to see a young Tobey Maguire when we’ve only ever known him as a superhero and the love of Mary Jane’s life. But Maguire was among several stars who got their career break in commercials at a young age. In this slightly weird 1991 Twister Juice commercial, he makes a one-second appearance, which was enough to display his signature charisma and sass.
The short but impactful clip started getting him the right kind of attention. Years later, Maguire appeared in films like “Pleasantville” and “The Cider House Rules.” He would soon make history after taking on the superhero role in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy.
It turns out that Bryan Cranston isn’t the only "Breaking Bad" star who got his start in commercials. Aaron Paul kickstarted his career the same way. His first acting gig was for a Corn Pops commercial in 1999. Paul plays the part of a teen who’s in trouble with his folks.
They’re trying to have a talk with him at breakfast when all he wants is to eat his pops. Look closely, and you’ll notice some striking parallels to Jesse Pinkman in “Breaking Bad.” Paul appeared in a few other commercials during this time. He was in a Vanilla Coke campaign and also shared in interviews how he was able to pay his bills for years thanks to a Juicy Fruit commercial he did.
Salma Hayek’s first big TV appearance was for a Burger Boy commercial in Mexico. And it’s every bit as fantastic as you expect it to be. Hayek channels superwoman meets aerobics instructor vibes in the ‘80s, complete with a cape. The entire video also has a Little Red Riding Hood feel.
She picks up her abuelita for a car ride. A big bad wolf in a suit makes a sudden appearance out of nowhere. But he seems harmless and only in it for the burger. You don’t need to speak Spanish to know there’s a lot going on in the commercial. Everyone seems to be having the time of their lives at a Burgey Boy outlet.
You might know Stanley Tucci as an impeccable actor, producer, and writer. It’s high time we add “dreamy heartthrob” to that list! A young Tucci once appeared in a 1980s Levis 501 commercial. The commercial shows us a different side to Tucci, who the world is so used to seeing in more serious and mature roles. Fans can never get enough of how incredible he looks in just jeans and a tank.
Tucci is both handsome and endearing in the ad. Plus, the acapella song is upbeat and has a super catchy tune! It’s wild to imagine this is the same actor from films the likes of “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Spotlight,” “and Julie and Julia.”
If you wanted to make it big in entertainment during the ‘80s, starring in a Levis ad meant you had arrived! Take the case of Wesley Snipes in this Levi’s 501 commercial. Before the world came to know him as Blade from the "Blade" trilogy, the actor owned the screen in a much more chilled-out avatar.
Just like Stanley Tucci, Snipes appears in a fun advert for the company. The mood is easy and cheery, reflected in Snipes’s ensemble – jeans, a sweater, and a hat. He’s smiling and grooving to yet another catchy song – Levis was on point with the music in their ads, that’s for sure.
Elisabeth Moss has excelled in some pretty intense roles over the years – from her lead role in “The Handmaid’s Tale” to the unrelenting and ambitious Peggy Olson in “Mad Men.” But you can’t accuse her of never being chilled out. She brings ultimate calm and serenity in this commercial for Excedrin in 2005.
Those who suffer from migraines know how debilitating they can be. Every sound and sight can trigger intense pain and nausea. Moss looks ethereal almost and speaks in a soft and soothing voice that might actually work wonders to relieve a migraine. Her delivery is well-executed and thoughtful – the equivalent of ASMR today.
Jason Bateman is many things to different people. Depending on which generation you grew up in, you either know him from “Ozark” and “Arrested Development” or as Jason Bateman in “Silver Spoons.” Gen X will definitely recognize him as the latter and as a child actor in the 1980 commercial for Golden Grahams.
He comes across as both precocious and innocent in the advert. Bateman plays your true-blue boy next door who seems to genuinely love that honey graham flavor and spending time with his friends and family. Very few child actors can pull that off, and we’re certain the company had no trouble with sales after!
You’ve got to begin somewhere, anywhere, before making it big, and a Nerf gun commercial seems like a good place to start. Ask Seth Green. One of his first acting gigs was for Nerf Gun, where he plays a teenage boy who has a vendetta against (you guessed it) teenage girls. One look at the ad, and you know it’s gold. We don’t know where to start the unpacking.
Green’s hair is incredibly 90s, and that hair swoop deserves a 30-second spot of its own! Even the Nerf gun seems stuck in the development stage still. The ad is a perfect capsule for the brilliant ‘90s, where perfection wasn’t a thing and odd things ruled supreme.
We first met Milo Ventimiglia as the brooding Jess in “Gilmore Girls.” But he also did some stints with commercials around the same time. Before making it big as the incredible Jack Pearson on “This Is Us,” Ventimiglia was still winning hearts as the most annoying person one could sit next to on an airplane.
He stars in a 2001 Apple ad as someone specifically requesting the middle seat on a plane. His character then proceeds to spread out his equipment across the window and aisle seat tables. Why? So that he can edit a movie featuring his girlfriend and her dog on his new iBook. How audacious and adorable!
Like many other actors before her, Farrah Fawcett’s big break arrived when a publicist saw her photo in a magazine and suggested she move to Los Angeles. Fawcett took the advice to heart and moved bag and baggage, but it would be years until she would receive the casting call that would change her life.
That role was for Aaron Spelling’s “Charlie’s Angels.” Until then, Fawcett could only find work acting in commercials. She appeared in several ads back-to-back, including this one for Noxzema shaving cream alongside Joe Namath. The star also appeared in an advert for Ultra Brite toothpaste.
Dakota Fanning is a force, and she’s had an early start being that way. Fanning has been around the Hollywood scene since she was 15, at least. Before that, she had already discovered a love for acting while growing up in her hometown, Georgia. She regularly performed in plays with the other kids in the community.
During one such performance, her performance really stood out, and her parents were advised to try taking their daughter to auditions in Los Angeles. The family moved soon after, and within weeks of their arrival, Fanning had already landed a commercial for Tide. She was only five years old and beat out many other children for the role.
The actor we love as the incomparable “Magnum P.I.” was no stranger to hustling. Tom Selleck always comes across as the most self-assured man there is. Yet, he went through his share of hits and misses. The actor starred in at least six failed pilots before hitting it big on the television series.
A few unsuccessful stints on “The Dating Game” later, Selleck knew he needed to bring in more money if he wanted to continue paying the bills and acting. And so, he turned to commercials in the late ‘60s. He appeared in several adverts during this time, including one for Close Up Toothpaste and Pepsi.
Stephen Colbert is arguably one of the most prolific names in television. He shot to fame after hosting "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central, playing the role of a conservative political commentator. Years before he became synonymous with witty satire, Colbert also dabbled in acting gigs for adverts. He appeared in this commercial for First Tier Bank, dressed in a suit clearly two sizes too big!
But he has no trouble pulling off the role of a confident banker in Nebraska. Although you see glimpses of wit behind those glasses, it's almost inconceivable how the same man would become among the most incisive television hosts in the country!
Megan Mullally was undeniable as the vodka-drenched and scathing Karen Walker in “Will & Grace.” Along with the titular characters, Mullally was the heart of the beloved show that ran for a staggering eight seasons. Before landing the role of a lifetime, the actor starred in a few commercials, as many beginners in the industry do.
Among them was a 1983 spot for Egg McMuffins. She sells the snack as confidently as she sashays in hours late for her secretary job in “Will & Grace.” Look closely, and you’ll also notice an appearance by John Goodman in this commercial.
Jane Lynch has taken on several roles in her career, but none as enduring as Sue Sylvester in “Glee.” It’s hard to remember a time when she wasn’t stalking the halls and making life for Mr. Shue a living nightmare. And much like her character on the show, Lynch in real life is full of surprises.
Before making it big in Hollywood, the actor appeared in a commercial for Frosted Flakes in 1998. She was 27 then and somehow looks the same as she does now! Fun fact about the commercial: it was directed by Christopher Guest, who met Lynch six months later and asked her to come in for a reading for “Best in Show,” The rest is history.
Clearly, a lot of celebs got their start in fast food commercials, including the darling of ‘90s rom-coms, Meg Ryan. Ryan was the star of a Burger King commercial in 1982. She was at the helm of advertising “Aren’t You Hungry for a Whopper?” - a game promoted by the restaurant to give customers a chance to win what they called a Whopper - a Coke, $1,000, $5,000, or $1 million.
Ryan flashes her signature winning smile, ever the bubbly and charming one. It’s easy to see why she would dominate the big screen and become everyone’s sweetheart in the following decade.
We’re not surprised that Leighton Meester once starred in commercials for Clearasil because she’s been the subject of skin envy ever since “Gossip Girl.” The ad was years before she ruled the Upper East Side as Blair Waldorf or became the future Mrs. Adam Brody. But unlike other actors starting out in Hollywood, she wasn’t in dire straits resorting to ads to pay the bills.
Meester was in it to make acne wash look trendy and cool. She’s charming and effortless in the commercial. Meester was stylish even at such a young age, and one can see why nobody else could’ve played the iconic Blair Waldorf years later.
Sofia Vergara’s association with Diet Pepsi is well-known, especially after her mega-successful run with “Modern Family.” But her ties with the brand go way back. Her first job ever was acting for a ‘90s Pepsi commercial in her home country, Colombia. A young Vergara had just started her modeling and acting career when she was offered the chance to be the lead star for the soda company.
She is seen trying to get to the soda stand on the beach, but the sand is too hot. She improvises by taking her clothes off to place on the sand, finally making it to the soda stand, stripped down to her bikini. And, of course, she became a household name in Latin America soon after!
Rachael Leigh Cook
To most of the world, Rachael Leigh Cook will always be the girl who stole hearts in “She’s All That” opposite Freddie Prinze Jr. Others might also know the actor from other films such as “The Baby-Sitters Club.” But only the most dedicated fans will recognize Cook from the 1987 PSA “This Is Your Brain On Drugs.”
In the memorable spot, Cook bashes an egg against a frying pan to show the devastating impact of drugs on a person. She then proceeds to destroy the entire kitchen in a bid to represent how loved ones of addicts go through as much hell.
We’re so accustomed to seeing Denise Richards as Carmen Ibanez from “Starship Troopers” that any other avatar before that seems surreal. Like many other fledgling actors, Richards relied on acting gigs in commercials to get by before she made a splash on the big screen. Before fighting pointless wars in film, Richards chose the battle against boy odor in this commercial for Secret antiperspirant.
She would have been around 22 years old when the spot came out. Four years later, the actor would end up landing the role that she has since become most famous for in “Starship Troopers.”
David Tennant is often considered a Scottish institution in himself. He became a global sensation and sex symbol as the tenth reincarnation of “Doctor Who.” Even after leaving the series in 2010, Tennant’s star has continued to rise across film, series, and OTT. But people rarely see glimpses of his life before becoming the legendary “Doctor Who.” It turns out that he starred in several Christmas ads for Boots, the chemist brand.
In this commercial, he plays a clueless and aloof boyfriend, bumbling his way through gifting during the holidays. He also appeared in an anti-smoking PSA as a teenager.
Cheryl Cole (Tweedy) was destined to become a famous singer. Or so it seemed that way. Everything in her life led her to the moment when she was picked as the first member of the all-girl band “Girls Aloud.” Prior to becoming a global superstar, Tweedy took part in modeling competitions as a child. She also landed acting gigs in commercials for years before wanting to make her mark as a singer and subsequently auditioning for “Popstars: The Rivals.”
Tweedy was only seven years old when she and her brother Garry appeared together in an ad for British Gas. The siblings made quite the adorable pair.
Olivia Colman is the legit queen of entertainment, and we mean that quite literally. She is unquestionably most famous for portraying several queens in history – from Queen Elizabeth II in “The Crown” to Queen Anne in “The Favorite.” Colman’s become such a treasure that it’s difficult to believe that her career hadn’t taken off in earnest until the 2000’s! Her journey to fame began with the now-iconic AA ‘Bev-Kev’ advert in 2004.
Colman is seen alongside Mark Burdis, who pulls up in a swanky car. Next to them are their former selves. They stare at each other, shouting “Bev” and “Kev,” and their past selves cannot believe how they can now afford such a fine vehicle (thanks to AA insurance, of course).
James Corden is best known in the United Kingdom as the star and co-writer of the acclaimed sitcom “Gavin & Stacey” on BBC. In America, most people know him from the CBS talk show “The Late Late Show with James Corden.” But Corden went down in infamy for something quite different in the past.
He appeared in a 1998 Orange Tango commercial, which was banned after two weeks after complaints of it encouraging bullying. You have to watch it to believe it. The advert gets increasingly bizarre and stressful the more you get into it. It’s easy to see why so many people found the visuals and message extremely disturbing.
Dua Lipa’s phenomenal success is a story for the ages. She moved from Kosovo to London alone as a teen and waited tables before becoming a global pop music sensation. Lipa began recording covers and catchy originals on YouTube. It seems poetically fitting that one of her first commercials for "The X Factor" mirrored her own gritty beginnings. She had just turned 18 when she received an audition call to star in a teaser clip for "The X Factor."
Lipa is seen singing her heart out while putting out clothes to dry. Her sensational singing brings the entire neighborhood around for a listen. Years later, Lipa would be topping the UK charts without any help from a singing contest!
Holly Willoughby is a British TV presenter who’s famous for her impeccable style and wardrobe. Before she became the face of morning TV, Willoughby was a model, and her TV gigs were rather different from what she does today. She got her start at age 18 in a commercial for underwear brand Pretty Polly – her debut as a model.
In this racy 1998 campaign, she and other models are seen wearing underwear while suggestively delivering their lines. Before one could blink, her next job was a presenter for children’s TV, which understandably took people some time to get used to.
Irish actor Chris O’Dowd is best known in America for playing the lovable officer Rhodes in “Bridesmaids.” But O’Dowd has been a star in Britain long before he made a name for himself across the pond. For fans in the UK, Chris O’Dowd will always be the socially awkward Roy Trenneman in “The IT Crowd,” which, thanks to Netflix, fans of British comedy everywhere can now enjoy.
Yet, most people miss spotting him in other acting gigs before this time, such as this Daz washing detergent commercial in 2002. O’Dowd was the star of the brand’s first few ad campaigns before making it big in his now-iconic role as Roy.
There’s no disputing that Octavia Spencer is a force. The Oscar winner stole the show as a fiery, no-nonsense maid in “The Help.” She’s also taken on the role of the first self-made black millionaire in Netflix’s “Self Made: Inspired By The Life Of Madam C.J. Walker.”
But there’s still so much about Spencer the world doesn’t know. Her first show business job was as an intern on the sets of “The Long Walk Home.” She also starred in this 2003 commercial for Subway. Even as the disinterested “lunch lady” in the advert, Spencer brings life to an otherwise dull day in the school cafeteria.
Jordan Peele loves telling stories with layered social dilemmas. His groundbreaking film “Get Out” wasn’t just a brilliant horror movie; it was deeply rooted in race relations and what it means to be black in America. And it seems his passion for complex storytelling and social causes began early.
In the 90s, Peele appeared in an anti-tobacco PSA, raising awareness about the harmful effects of cigarettes on children and young people. He was only 16 years old then. But you can tell from the ad that this teenager means business. Peele has an air of gravitas about him that makes anyone sit up and pay attention.
Kate Winslet is undeniably talented. When we say that, it goes beyond her most famous role in “Titanic.” Winslet has shone in diverse roles and genres over the years - from “Sense and Sensibility” to “Iris.” She's had a lot of practice, too. The star has been flexing her acting chops most of her life.
She was only 11 when she landed her first commercial for Sugar Puffs in 1986. A young Winslet is seen in action at what seems like a fun day at the fair. All is well until she plays a game and suddenly turns into the Honey Monster.
Fans of British television know and love Ross Kemp as Grant Mitchell in “EastEnders.” He’s also an author, TV presenter, and an award-winning documentary reporter. But Kemp in a quirky Kellogg commercial is a whole different vibe since we’re accustomed to seeing him in a highly specific light so far!
Would you believe this is the same person? Kemp drives a golf cart carrying a ton of cereal boxes while fitted out in golfing gear from top to bottom. The sugar on the cereal? Kemp also sings/raps a musical number in the advert. Who knew he had it in him?
Danny Dyer has long been associated with “hard men” roles, a typecast the actor has had no trouble settling into. His filmography speaks for itself: from his breakout role as Moff in “Human Traffic,” Billy in “Mean Machine” and Mick Carter in “EastEnders.” So, it’s refreshing to see a younger Dyer outside of the bad boy persona.
He appeared in a 1994 commercial for Coca-Cola as just another teenage boy hanging out with his friend, both of whom are obsessed with the soda. There’s a bottle lying in the fridge that looks and sounds like Coca-Cola, except it tastes nothing like it!
English actor Gillian Taylforth shot to fame as Kathy Beale on the enormously popular BBC soap opera “EastEnders.” She also appeared as Jackie Pascoe in “Footballers' Wives” and as Nikki Wright in “The Bill,” both of which aired on ITV. But Taylforth before “EastEnders” is quite the revelation for fans who’ve never seen her outside the show. In this commercial for Rennie, we see an ultra-glamorous Taylforth.
She plays a woman on holiday, where she meets a handsome stranger. Sparks fly! But acidity, heartburn, and indigestion threaten to spoil her holiday romance. She pops some Rennie so she can enjoy her last night in the city.
Fans know that Rory McCann has been in the entertainment world for a while now. But most people otherwise recognize him as the terrifying Hound from “Game Of Thrones.” Yes, the same one who could strike fear and inspire endearment with equal ease on the show. You can imagine the shock when fans unearthed a commercial from the late 1990s featuring McCann before he became famous.
He’s clean-shaven and bare-chested, far from his grizzly character on “Game of Thrones.” And he’s selling Scott’s Porridge Oats! The actor is as well-built and hunky as ever, though. It goes to show that starring in cringe ads seems to be a rite of passage for many actors.
At the age of 15, Brooke Shields had already achieved fame as a rising actor and model during the 1980s. However, her notoriety soared when fashion designer Calvin Klein featured Shields in a set of highly provocative print and television ads. The teen appeared in several ads for his collection of incredibly form-fitting jeans.
She became infamous for delivering the flirtatious phrase: "Do you realize what separates me from my Calvins? Absolutely nothing." American viewers were scandalized! Shields came across as much more mature than her actual age of 15, which, to them, was far from "nothing." The advertisements triggered a public outcry but played a big part in launching Shields's career.
Before Eugene Levy's rise to fame on the television show "Schitt's Creek," he made an appearance in a Diet Tab commercial in 1977. Even decades ago, at the age of 30, his trademark eyebrows were already a distinguishing feature. You might not be familiar with his body of work, but the eyebrows will always inspire instant recall!
Years later, the actor would play Noah Levenstein in the “American Pie” series, dabble in voice acting, and become a prominent figure in Canadian comedy before landing the role of a lifetime in “Schitt’s Creek. There’s been no looking back for the actor since.
The story goes that a young Ted Danson once asked his college crush out for coffee. When she had to leave for a play audition, he tagged along just to extend the date. To stay close to her, he improvised an audition and got a minor role. This sparked his passion for acting.
He pursued various roles, even starting with TV commercials, and eventually became known as "The Aramis Man" after starring in an Aramis cologne ad. Acting was all he could think about, a singular focus that would land him the role he became most famous for in 1982 - the inimitable Sam Malone in the television series “Cheers.”
Dr. Pepper seemed to have traveled to the future in this 1985 television commercial. But the real star of the ad was the stunning Caroline Munro. Like most of her films, she doesn't have much acting to do in the ad. Her role was eye candy, and that was painfully evident since she always had little to no clothes on for her roles. Still, Munro had an impressive legion of fans who followed her work in horror and fantasy films of the '70s.
The actor reached epic cult status in "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" and "The Abominable Dr. Phibes." Deliberate objectification aside, you couldn't deny the lady's charisma! She enjoyed a modest film career, even making a memorable appearance in the Bond film, "The Spy Who Loved Me."
William Shatner will always be Captain James T. Kirk, the one and only captain of the Starship Enterprise. But there’s more to him than meets the eye. For one, the man is a trained Shakespearean. He's also somewhat of a musician, but we use the term loosely. And much like other future stars, Shatner also appeared in a few commercials to break into the industry. Take a look at this one for the Commodore VIC – -20 way back in 1982.
We can’t get enough of Shatner rocking a half afro while still dressed in modest clothes. It's kind of sad how his career virtually tanked after the "Star Trek" TV series. But he revived his career by playing himself, no less! The actor played a wrestler named Shatman in "Free Enterprise," for which he won an Emmy.
Erin Gray became famous through her portrayals of Colonel Wilma Deering in "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" and Kate Summers in the universally beloved "Silver Spoons." She was honing in those stellar acting skills much before, however. She starred in a 1980 Ford Thunderbird commercial, among others.
At the time, Ford wanted to boost sales and improve fuel efficiency by reducing the size of the Thunderbird. Essentially, they transformed it into a luxurious two-door Fairmont with some elaborate styling. The new version didn’t resonate with buyers, and sales dropped. But Erin Gray had been put on the map.
Fans will always know Jason Alexander as George Costanza in “Seinfeld.” It’s hard to imagine him as anyone other than Seinfeld’s sidekick and best friend. But Alexander has been on television screens since the early 1980s, He’s been enticing audiences to buy several food products.
You probably didn’t realize it was him! He was in a Hershey’s Kisses commercial and another one for Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. Alexander was also the fast-talking guy in the 1986 Delta Gold potato chips commercial. He can’t stop talking about the chips and how good they taste. Better still, Alexander can’t seem to stop eating them.