Breakthrough role

A breakthrough role, also known as breakout role,[1] is a term in the film industry to describe the performance of an actor or actress in a performance which contributed significantly to the development of their career and beginning of critical recognition. A similar term, big break, indicates the occurrence for the performer, not the role itself. Such a moment in an actor's career may often occur some time after they begin acting as their roles become more substantial. Often a breakthrough role is a significant increase in importance in the actor's part in the film moving up from a minor character or extra to one of the leading cast, or a "high impact" role in a film which has mainstream success and results in the widespread recognition or popularity of the actor.[2] Martin Shingler defines a breakthrough performance as one which "attracts the attention of film critics, or receives rave reviews and is subsequently nominated for many major film awards."[3]

Most of the top actors and actresses in Hollywood or in the world film industry can pinpoint such a landmark which marked the beginning of commercial success. For example, the Dollars trilogy marked the breakthrough role of Clint Eastwood and Dr. No in 1962 marked the moment in Sean Connery's career, despite both actors having appeared in several films prior to this. James Mason's breakthrough performance has been cited as that of the "sadistic Lord Rohan" in The Man in Grey (1943).[4] Gideon's Trumpet has been referenced as Lane Smith's breakthrough role, despite only being a television film, in which he played Henry Fonda's attorney.[5] Similarly, the BBC series Pennies from Heaven (1978) has been highlighted as the breakthrough of Bob Hoskins.[6] Brandon Lee's final film The Crow (1994) has been cited as his breakout role.[7][8]


Hollywood Life, the Teen Choice Awards, and several others give awards for best "Movie Breakout" for both an actress and actor.


  1. Smith, Michael. "Breakout role revisited". Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  2. Squire, Jason E. (1 May 2006). The Movie Business Book. McGraw-Hill Education (UK). p. 226. ISBN 978-0-335-22002-1.
  3. Porter, Lynnette (3 June 2013). Benedict Cumberbatch, In Transition: An Unauthorised Performance Biography. Andrews UK Limited. p. 170. ISBN 978-1-78092-437-3.
  4. Mayer, Geoff; McDonnell, Brian (1 January 2007). Encyclopedia of Film Noir. ABC-CLIO. pp. 280–. ISBN 978-0-313-33306-4.
  5. Scivally, Bruce (3 October 2007). Superman on Film, Television, Radio and Broadway. McFarland. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-7864-3166-3.
  6. Welsh, James Michael; Whaley, Donald M. (2013). The Oliver Stone Encyclopedia. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-8108-8352-9.
  7. Lott, M. Ray (1 January 2004). The American Martial Arts Film. McFarland. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-7864-1836-7.
  8. Cettl, Robert (12 October 2014). American Film Tales. p. 51. ISBN 978-1-312-56680-4.
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