Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger
There may be no greater example of the phenomenon we’re talking about here than the fourth film in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, which starred two future A-list actors and is demonstrative of the shrewd and cynical strategies of Hollywood. In 1994, relative unknowns Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger had already been in Dazed and Confused together as well as the romantic horror comedy My Boyfriend’s Back, though Zellweger’s scenes were cut from that one. A fourth entry in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise was made for just $600,000 by writer/director Kim Henkel, who had co-written the original film with Tobe Hooper. The movie was filmed in rural areas outside of Austin, Texas, with three of the original film’s stars making cameo appearances. It was briefly screened as The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre but shelved, with no plans for a real release. But then came Jerry Maguire and A Time to Kill! Two years after it was made, The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was reedited and released as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Nevertheless, it was a critical and box-office bomb.
Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger weren’t the first future A-listers to get covered in corn syrup in a Texas Chainsaw movie. Viggo Mortensen was part of the cast for 1990’s Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, playing Edie “Tex” Sawyer, one of the bad guys dispatched by the film’s heroine. This movie was originally Rated X by the MPAA, till the studio made cuts to bring it down to an R. It was the last non-porno to get slapped with an X, prior to the creation of the NC-17 rating.
South African star Charlize Theron was just 20 years old when she joined a long in the tooth horror franchise, in an uncredited role in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest. Imagine what Furiosa could have done against that corn stalk monster.
But wait! Children of the Corn wasn’t finished with future twice Oscar nominated blond beauties with cool accents from other countries! Yes, Charlize actually won one of her two Oscars, but Naomi Watts got to star in her ’90s horror movie. Watts played the hero in Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering. She even saves the day.
The buff and charming Australian certainly could have used his Asgardian character’s magical hammer in Cabin in the Woods, where his poor character of Curt Vaughn was the third hapless attractive young person to die. Bummer, Chris.
A year before the debut of the television show that would earn her an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award, Jennifer Aniston was cast in her first motion picture, as the female lead opposite a veteran of the Star Wars franchise. The year was 1993 and the film was Leprechaun, starring Warwick Davis in the title role of an evil gold obsessed magically malicious killer. Believe it or not it was conceived as a straight-up slasher type film, but Davis helped inject a comedic tone, spawning a horror/comedy mash-up that so far has given us Leprechaun 2, Leprechaun 3, Leprechaun 4: In Space, Leprechaun in the Hood, Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood, and the 2014 reboot, Leprechaun: Origins. As we often say, it took Jason ten movies to get to space. The Leprechaun did it in four!
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michelle Williams
It was a big deal when Jamie Lee Curtis returned to the Halloween franchise and dispatched Michael Myers once and for all in 1998’s Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later. Of course, both of these unique facts were rendered obsolete by Myers inevitable return and more recent news of Jamie Lee coming back yet again. But H2O still has a place in movie history: its cast included future A-List stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michelle Williams (and almost A-list star Josh Hartnett). Three years prior, Paul Rudd “killed” the iconic slasher in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, released the same year he played ex-step-brother turned boyfriend Josh in Clueless.
We saved the best for last! Before Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, and Hollywood Vampires, Johnny Depp made his feature film debut in one of the greatest horror movies of all time, A Nightmare on Elm Street, directed by the late Wes Craven. Depp played Nancy’s half-shirt wearing boyfriend Glen who just couldn’t stay asleep. In fact, his waterbed was so cozy, Freddy used it to kill him. Deep was kind enough to reward the franchise after Platoon, 21 Jump Street, Cry-Baby, and Edward Scissorhands with a small cameo in the purported last installment, 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Of course, The Final Nightmare was followed by Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Freddy vs. Jason, and that terrible A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot we don’t like to talk about. Speaking of that disaster, future Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Rooney Mara was in that, about five years after she made her film debut in Urban Legends: Bloody Mary.