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30 Supporting Roles That Were Better Than the Lead Actor

Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight

Let’s be honest: the Joker is a huge draw for anyone that goes to see a Batman movie. Few Jokers have been as great as Heath Ledger. Rather than comedic, Ledger went with a terrifying Joker that was incredibly unpredictable and dangerous.

Because of his portrayal, he stole the spotlight from Christian Bale, who played Batman. Now, that’s a tough role to overshadow.

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Joe Pesci – Goodfellas

Goodfellas is possibly one of the most underrated films of all time, and most of that is thanks to how lifelike the characters were portrayed. Among them, Joe Pesci was one of the best. He was the wildcard of the group that was prone to being brutally violent.

His temper sparked easily, and you were worried for everyone around him. His “Haha funny” speech had everyone on edge, and that’s the kind of respect you get when you steal the show.

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Christoph Waltz – Inglorious Basterds

Christoph Waltz seems to steal the show every time he’s in a movie. That’s exactly what he did in Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds.

We’re putting him on the list for the latter because he was just so horrifying. His villainous behavior made the movie as great as it was, and he easily performed better than Brad Pitt. 

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Val Kilmer – Tombstone

Tombstone was easily one of the best movies released in the early '90s, and there’s no denying that it’s one of Val Kilmer’s most memorable roles.

He stole the show any time he was on camera, and to this day his scenes are some of the most remembered from the entire film. “I’m your Huckleberry.”

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Harrison Ford – Star Wars

Star Wars is as much Han Solo as it is any other character, but he isn’t the main role. Insane, right? Some people watch the series just to see Han swagger his way through danger with his pistol and his suave words.

Harrison Ford owned the character – so much so that it was impossible to see anyone else performing as Solo. It makes you say, "Luke, who?"

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Angelina Jolie – Girl, Interrupted

Before acting in Girl Interrupted, Jolie wasn’t a big star. She did TV work and bit parts in films, but this movie was where she exploded as an actress. She took the supporting role and created a sociopath that we could all believe.

Chaos was her drug, and the audience was scared of what she was going to do at the end of the film.

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Chloe Moretz – Kick-Ass

Chloe Moretz was only 14 when she took the role of Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass. The film is incredibly underrated, but her character was undeniably the best one in the movie.

She was such a boss that you knew she was going to save the day in one way or another. Kick-Ass was a good character, but Hit-Girl was so much better.

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Judi Dench – Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love isn’t the best movie ever made, but it was pretty good in the late ‘90s. What gave the film legs was Judi Dench’s role as Queen Elizabeth. Any time she was on camera, she had a presence that made you think she might actually be a queen.

In fact, 10 years later, her role is the best one in the entire movie, but it is Judi Dench – there’s nothing she can’t do. 

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Tommy Lee Jones – The Fugitive

The Fugitive may have had Harrison Ford as the lead actor, but it wasn’t who starred in the film – so to speak.

To this day, his role in this film is the only Oscar he’s won, although we think he’s deserving of many more. Each time he walked into a room, we knew we were about to see something amazing.

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Octavia Spencer – The Help

The Help didn’t walk away with as many Oscars as it deserved, but it did win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. It had to because Octavia Spencer was one reason the film was as great as it turned out to be. She was hilarious, headstrong, and had one of the best parts of the movie.

She made a pie for one of the worst women in the film and told her to “eat my crap.” The woman asked, “Have you lost your mind?” Spencer’s character responded, “No, ma’am, but you’re about to because you just did.”

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Mark Wahlberg – The Departed

Mark Wahlberg has a list of movies that were mediocre at best, but that isn’t the way to describe his supporting actor role in The Departed. Considering the big names in this film, it’s surprising that Wahlberg was able to steal the spotlight, but he really outdid himself.

He grabbed everyone’s attention with his abrasive portrayal of the “stereotypical” cop. He was the only actor in the entire cast to get a nomination, but it was undoubtedly deserved.  

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Meryl Streep – The Devil Wears Prada

Some people consider Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly one of the worst villains ever written. Well, she’d certainly give Cruella de Vil a run for her money. No one could play the role better than this seasoned actress.

When she walked into a room, she had a gravitas that made us want to get out of the elevator so she could take it alone. She completely walked all over Anne Hathaway's character and role.

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Leonardo DiCaprio – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Before working on What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Leonardo DiCaprio was an unknown. Not many people knew his name, but following What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, everyone knew who he was. He played a developmentally challenged boy who adored his brother more than anything else in the world.

The movie was incredibly compelling thanks to his skill, and he played the role beautifully and respectably. Even as a teenager, DiCaprio knew how to command a scene.

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Sean Astin – Lord of the Rings

Samwise Gamgee may not seem like one of the most important parts of The Lord of the Rings, but he was. Some people consider Samwise to be the hero of the films considering he wasn’t affected by the ring, and he was there for Frodo no matter what came at them.

Sean Astin played the role so well that you teared up whenever he began a speech, and you hoped he made it through the adventure alive.

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Samuel L. Jackson – Django Unchained

It was tough trying to figure out who was better in Django Unchained as a supporting actor – Christoph Waltz or Samuel L. Jackson. At the end of the day, Samuel L. Jackson won because he owned each scene he was in, despite the fact he had little screen time compared to Waltz.

We found it hard to hate him considering it was Samuel L. Jackson, but the character wasn’t one you could like.

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Brad Pitt – 12 Monkeys

We now know Brad Pitt as the huge star he is, but he only had bit parts prior to 12 Monkeys. This film shot him to superstardom because we got to see his amazing skill. After all, it was tough to steal the show from the likes of Bruce Willis in his prime.

The unstable character kept us on edge, and we knew something bad was going to happen when he was on screen. The movie became signifigantly better when he was on camera.

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Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids

Melissa McCarthy is hilarious; we all know this. What we didn’t expect was for her to literally be the funniest person in a movie that was filled with female comedians.

Out of every scene, hers were easily the ones that had the crowds rolling. 

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Cuba Gooding Jr – Jerry Mcguire

Cuba Gooding Jr. may not be in many films recently, but we saw his talent in Jerry Mcguire. In fact, he stole the show from Tom Cruise. We saw that he was a budding star that was ready to take on huge roles in films where he could carry a screen presence on his own.

The phone conversation he had with Jerry Maguire where he yelled, “Show me the money!” was one of the most memorable parts of the film.

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R. Lee Ermey – Full Metal Jacket

Many of the actors in Full Metal Jacket were amazing, especially Vincent D’Onofrio as Private “Pyle.” That being said, most people remember R. Lee Ermey as the Gunnery Sergeant. HIs insults were hilarious, and he seemed so realistic.

Wonder why? He’s actually a retired Marine drill instructor! That made it easier for him to steal the show because this “acting” came naturally to him. Most of the lines were improvised or written by Ermey himself, which makes the scenes even better.

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Robin Williams – Good Will Hunting

Robin Williams was easily one of the best actors of his generation – of all generations, actually. That became clear when he performed in Good Will Hunting. Having been the lead role for several movies prior, his acting easily outshined Matt Damon, although Damon did do a great job on his own.

The emotions that are shown in the first therapy session between the two characters can be heartfelt, and it starts when Williams’s character Sean exposes the weakness that his wife died of cancer.

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Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men is possibly one of the best Coen brothers films. You may be surprised to learn that Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem, wasn’t actually the lead role. He was the supporting actor! HIs character was incredibly frightening – one of the scariest ever seen.

He decides whether he kills people based on a coin flip. He’s calculating and cold, and it’s no surprise that he won an Oscar for best performance by an actor in a supporting role.

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Gary Oldman – Leon: The Professional

So, Gary Oldman’s one of those actors that deserved an Oscar years before he actually got one. You could put nearly any of his movies where he performed in a supporting role. Between them all, we chose Leon: The Professional simply because he was so freaking amazing.

The guy played an incredibly crazy character that was mentally unhinged. In fact, one of the most memorable lines in the movie is delivered by Gary Oldman near the end. Who thought this movie was good? EVERYONE!!

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Christopher Walken – Deer Hunter

Christopher Walken is a cultural icon, and that’s partially thanks to his role in Deer Hunter. In this film, he showed the world what he could be. His performance of Nick Chevotarevich showed a vulnerable nick that was forced to really look at the consequences of combat.

Without giving too much away, his character gave audiences an insight into PTSD and the aftermath of war. After acting in this film, Walken received an Oscar for best supporting actor and we got to see him blast off as an actor.

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Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

Spotlight was an amazing movie that’s incredibly underrated. One reason it was so great was thanks to Mark Ruffalo. This film was easily one of the best performances Ruffalo has ever given audiences.

Out of all the characters, his showed the most passion and made audiences focus on him any time he was on screen. It seemed as though he was a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor, but it ultimately went to Mark Rylance. It’s alright Mark. We see your talent.

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Haley Joel Osment – The Sixth Sense

The 90s was a great time for Haley Joel Osment because he starred in The Sixth Sense. This film showed what a great actor the little kid could be. The main actor was Bruce Willis in his prime, so it is tough to steal the show, but audiences wanted to know more about the child.

We watched as Willis found out the kid’s story bit by bit until the ultimate twist threw us for a loop. Osment’s delivery and emotion really carried the movie.

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Samuel L. Jackson – Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction had John Travolta as the star, but audiences enjoyed Samuel L. Jackson’s screen time much more. His character was funny, scary, and loud – everything we like about Jackson.

Anyone who's seen the film will remember his parts above the others, like the restaurant scene and the “Royale with Cheese” part. Jackson was nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role but lost that year.

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Tessa Thompson – Thor: Ragnarok

Who wanted to know more about Valkyrie? Um, everyone. From the moment she appeared on screen, you knew something was up to her.

By the time we found out who she was, or rather what, we were hooked on her character.

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Catherine Zeta-Jones – Chicago

No offense toward Renee Zellweger, but she didn’t stand a chance against Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago. It was clear from the get-go that Velma Kelly was going to be a diva in every scene.

Screw Billy Flynn, we want to see more Velma. Her blasé attitude against allegedly killing her sister and husband was just too good to pass up.

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Whoopi Goldberg – Ghost

Ghost featured one of the best actresses of the '90s. No, we’re not talking about Demi Moore. We’re talking about Whoopi Goldberg.

Her sassy attitude lightened up her scenes while also getting the message across perfectly. We wanted more of her every moment she was off-screen.

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Tiffany Haddish – Girls Trip

Tiffany Haddish isn’t new to the comedy game, and Girls Trip showed off her talent. Considering the talent, we assumed it would be impossible to create such a massive shadow, but our sides were hurting after each of her scenes.

In all honesty, we could watch an entire film with just her.

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