10 Supporting Actors Who Outshone The Film's Leads

OMG October 8, 2018 By Hugo

Being upstaged by a co-star doesn't happen often, but when it does, the acting tends to be of the highest order. Just take the films these supporting actors shone in. While they may not be to your liking, there's no doubting the sublime performances, some of which led to Oscar glory.

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In many cases, this occurs in tv shows as opposed to movies owing to the timeline of the story having more time to grow. However, this can also happen in films. Just take Melissa McCarthy's scene-stealing performance in Bridesmaids or Clint Eastwood's pathos-driven acting in the critically acclaimed boxing drama, Million Dollar Baby. While the performances of the leads were good, it wasn't to the level of the supporting cast.

So without further ado, here are 10 other great examples of co-stars outshining the leads in famous movies. 


1. J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

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Whiplash propelled the affable Miles Teller to A-list status and garnered serious Oscar buzz when it was released. Chronicling the story of a young drummer obsessed with attaining supreme virtuosity, it was the lead character's ruthless teacher, played by J.K. Simmons, that made the movie what it was.

While the teacher's methods were incredibly strict and at times, downright cruel, Teller's character was pushed to the limits and was actually spurred on by the unorthodox, corporal-like teaching.

Come the Oscars, Simmons was rightly awarded the Best Supporting Actor gong, while Teller left empty-handed. In this case, the Oscar Pannell got it right.


2. James Dean

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James Dean is a star who set the world alight in the 1950's. First appearing on Broadway and then breaking out to critical and commercial acclaim in a string of tv shows and movies, Deen's natural comfort in front of the camera and chiseled good looks made him one of Hollywood's first heartthrobs. While he is most known for his teenage angst in Rebel Without A Cause, the Golden Globe winner also performed well in the 1956 movie, Giant.

Starring alongside the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, Dean's supporting role was what truly made the film, and he was rightly nominated for an Oscar. Following Dean's untimely death from a motor accident at just 24, Giant has gone onto be known as Dean's last film more than anything else, which is a great shame as its a brilliant movie.


3. Brad Pitt- 12 Monkeys

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12 Monkeys was a 1995 action film starring Bruce Willis- at least that's what the film was billed on. However, years on from the cult flick, it is now considered a Brad Pitt film owing to his impressive performance as a mental patient. While the handsome star was already rising up the Hollywood ranks, it was his performance in the Tery Gilliam movie that got him the star roles he now commands.

Pitt's work in the movie yielded a first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor while Bruce Willis's performance went unnoticed- like most of his non-Die Hard movies.


4. Meryl Streep- The Devil Wears Prada

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The Devil Wears Prada is a great film with terrific acting, but despite Anne Hathaway being more than convincing in her role as a good girl turned bad by the shallow world of fashion, her performance was certainly boosted by the strong ensemble she had around her, which included the terrific Emily Blunt and legendary Meryl Streep.

Pretty much showing the younger and then up-and-coming actresses how it was done, Streep acted rings round them, and like most of her roles, she was awarded an Oscar nomination.


5.  Joe Pesci- Goodfellas

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Name a director and the first name that springs to mind is probably Martin Scorsese- one of the best directors Hollywood has ever seen. Over the years, his films have seen some tremendous actors work their magic, including Joe Pesci. Playing a loudmouthed criminal with ultra-violent tendencies in the classic mafia flick Goodfellas, Pesci's electrifying performance stole the show from the other actors, not because their performances weren't good, but simply because Pesci appeared to be the living embodiment of his character.

His most memorable scene sees him scare Ray Liotta's character by feigning offence when labeled funny, to which he replies. "Funny how? Like a clown?". The improvised scene is right up there with the movie's best scenes, and while the legendary Robert DeNiro also starred in the movie, it was Pesci who would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


6. Anne Hathaway- Les Miserables

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Adapted from the incredible Victory Hugo novel and immensely popular Broadway musical of the same name, Les Miserables saw powerhouse actors Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne and Hugh Jackman sing for their lives in a movie that went down a treat with both critics and moviegoers.

Hathaway was cast as Fantine, a role which she took incredibly seriously, shaving her hair and working on her beautiful singing voice. While Jackman was seen as the film's main draw, it ended up being Hathaway who would win the most plaudits, so much so that she took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. 


7. Robin Williams- Goodwill Hunting

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Good Will Hunting was the brainchild of college dorm buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but it came alive thanks to the brilliant acting chops of the late Robin Williams, whose pulsating performance as a wise, community college professor was nothing short of sublime. Deservedly, the movie received many Academy Awards including the Best Original Screenplay honor that went to Affleck and Damon, but the movie would probably never have had the same emotional punch had Williams not got on board.

After all, Damon and Affleck were relatively unknown actors at the time of the movie's release, while Robin Williams, was at the height of his fame. The improvisation in the film, much of which was coined by Williams, as well as the subtle but powerful acting, cemented Williams's legacy as a great character performer, and he was rightly awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.


8. Heath Ledger- The Dark Knight

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Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as The Joker in the box office smash The Dark Knight led many to label it as one of cinema’s greatest ever performances and cemented the late actor’s reputation as one of the greatest actors of his generation. Admittedly, many people paid more attention to his performance after the actor’s death, which coincided with the film’s release, but there was a reason: his performance was electric.

It was a masterful take on one of Marvel’s most colorful characters, and Ledger gave his role an authenticity and glamour his co-star and method actor Christian Bale- perhaps the only time in his career- fell short of.


9. Emma Watson- Harry Potter

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The Harry Potter franchise was always going to be a global success the moment producer Dan Hyman adapted the novels by J.K. Rowling to the big screen. However, rather than just making a star of its poster boy (Daniel Radcliff) the film also introduced us to Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, the latter of whom played the precocious Hermoine Grainer. In sum, Watson's character was an extension of herself, as Watson would go onto achieve academic success Grainger herself would be proud of. 

However, it wasn't just the role that would prove inspirational for a generation of girls; it was also Rowling's best character creation by some mile and Watson played it to a tee.

As she grew up in front of our very eyes, she embodied the part even more, and aside from the masterful acting of the late Alan Rickman, the best acting in the franchise came from Emma Watson, who has gone onto have the most prominent career in Hollywood out of the three leads.


10. Marylin Monroe- Some Like It Hot

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Sex symbol, icon and Hollywood superstar, Marilyn Monroe is one of the most recognizable faces of all time having intially found success as a model after being scouted in a weapons factory during World War II. Not long after her modeling career took off, she transitioned into the acting world, with her most notable film role coming alongside Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot. 

While Monroe was supposed to be the pretty supporting actress, her charm and talents stole the movie from Curtis, and it was that movie that she was- and still is- most remembered for before her untimely end at the age of just 36-years-old.


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