20 Supporting Actresses Who Stole the Movie Spotlight (PHOTOS)

There are actresses who fade into a movie's background. You know them — they're the ones whose name you can never remember. Then there are the supporting actresses who are so good they make you forget the film is about another character, and they become breakout stars in their own right.

Here are 20 supporting actresses who stole the movie spotlight, making them A-list stars, earning them awards, and leaving moviegoers with a new favorite celeb obsession.


Image via Fox Searchlight

  • Jennifer Hudson in 'Dreamgirls'


    Bey-who? Aki-huh? Golden-voiced singer Jennifer Hudson, a natural on camera, easily outshone both pop queen Beyonce and Broadway star Anika Noni Rose in Dreamgirls. Her powerful portrayal of Effie, a singer ousted from a girl group who makes a career comeback after spiraling into poverty, won Hudson an Oscar, and made her a superstar in her own right.

  • Meryl Streep in 'The Devil Wears Prada'


    The very best villains always steal the movie, and that's doubly so when the viillain is being played by the incomparable Meryl Streep. As Miranda Priestly, the Anna Wintour-like editor of a top fashion magazine, Streep is perfectly coiffed, perfectly dressed, and can kill with one word or look. Brrr. 

  • Whoopi Goldberg in 'Ghost'


    She plays a fake psychic who becomes a real psychic who channels a murdered man who wants to warn the lover he left behind that she's in danger. In Ghost, Whoopi Goldberg has her hands full, and she rises to the occasion, making an otherwise schmaltzy movie watchable.  

  • Helena Bonham Carter 'Fight Club'


    Peruse British actress Helen Bonham Carter's filmography and it becomes obvious that she's never turned in a bad performance, whether she's playing Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series or Queen Elizabeth in The King's Speech. But her turn as Marla Singer in Fight Club displays her at her rawest, a woman hell bent to find rock bottom. She's more than a match for Ed Norton and Brad Pitt.  

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  • Chloe Grace Moretz in 'Kick-Ass'


    Who says little girls can't put down bad guys? Chloe Grace Moretz came out of nowhere to play potty-mouthed superhero sidekick Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass. It was the kind of performance that made you want to google her in the middle of the movie and rightfully so: moviegoers were watching a young bright star being born. 


  • Melissa McCarthy in 'Bridesmaids'


    "It's coming out of me like hot lava!" With those words, said during Bridesmaids' infamous food poisoning scene, Melissa McCarthy officially became the breakout star of the movie. Audiences may have liked Kristen Wiig as the single-and-depressed Annie, but McCarthy's Megan, dressed in dude clothes and ridiculously confident, is the one everybody quotes.

  • Sandra Bullock in 'Speed'


    Moviegoers see this kind of role all the time: The actress cast in an action film solely as the love interest for the dude who will save the day. Well, Sandra Bullock wasn't having that. As the fast-talking, neurotic Annie in Speed, a virtually unknown Bullock showcased her comic timing cool-chick-next door appeal, and was the most vibrant character in the movie.

  • Octavia Spencer in 'The Help'


    She played a maid who wouldn't take crap from her vicious employer—not a good look in the pre-Civil-Rights-era South—and got gloriously gross revenge on her later. As the undeflatable Minny, Octavia Spencer brought brightness to The Help, serving as a counterpoint to the dignified Aibileen, and she has an Oscar to prove it.

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  • Zhang Ziyi in 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'


    Film veterans Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat may have gotten top billing for the martial arts drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but Zhang Ziyi is the one we can't look away from. Not just because she clearly worked on her kung fu skills, but because as a noblewoman coming of age in a strict social environment, she exudes rage, restlessness and real passion underneath her restrictive clothes that still feels immediate.

  • Abigail Breslin in 'Little Miss Sunshine'


    Surrounded by actors whose experience can be counted in decades, Abigael Breslin held her own playing an adorable little girl bent on winning a beauty contest in Little Miss Sunshine. Among a cadre of jaded characters, hers lived up to the movie's title. 

  • Grace Jones in 'Conan the Destroyer'


    Unique in Hollywood history, Grace Jones can steal scenes just by being  on camera. But in Conan the Destroyer, she gets a role that's tailor-made for her: a bandit warrior. The movie, made before Arnold Schwarzenegger found his acting footing, was never going to get an Oscar. But watching Jones impale a dude and become chief of palace guard was tremendous fun.   

  • Penelope Cruz in 'Vicki Cristina Barcelona'


    Penelope Cruz's character appears halfway through Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona like a breath of sultry air after the relatively sedate charms of Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson's characters. As Maria Elena, the tumultuous ex-wife of a man wooing the two American women, she's a Sophia-Loren-ish sex bomb, but also unpredictable and blunt.  

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  • Susan Sarandon in 'Bull Durham'


    If Bull Durham had been made recently and not in the late 80s, Susan Sarandon would be slut-shamed, no doubt: She plays a minor league baseball groupie who has an affair with one player every season in her hometown. Consistently rated as the best sports movie of all time, Bull Durham succeeds in large part because of Sarandon's liberated, unabashedly sexual—and sexy—performance.

  • Angelina Jolie in 'Girl, Interrupted'


    Winona Ryder produced the mental institution flick Girl, Interrupted as a starring vehicle for herself. Then along came a virtually unknown Angelina Jolie and stole it right from under her, playing a sociopathic patient in a balls-out performance. Jolie got an Oscar for the role and became a household name.

  • Rebel Wilson in 'Pitch Perfect'


    Australian funny lady Rebel Wilson had the best lines in the Pitch Perfect movies as Fat Amy, and became the musical's breakout star. She's even got famous fans: basketball superstar LeBron James tweeted about ROTFL after seeing Wilson in sequel Pitch Perfect 2.

  • Scarlett Johansson in ''Her'


    Although she never steps in front of the camera in Her, Scarlett Johansson dominates the film, as a computer operating system personified by a female voice calling itself Samantha. Not only is Johansson's trademark smoky contralto immensely appealing but she sells her character's story arc—a machine that develops a consciousness that is distinctly human.

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  • Judy Dench in 'Shakespeare in Love'


    Onscreen for just a few minutes total, Judy Dench made enough of an impression to earn a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love. Her monarch is imperious, sharp, quick-witted—a cameo to end all cameos. But then again, she deserved an Oscar just for having to rock black teeth.

  • Anna Paquin in 'The Piano'


    Long before she read minds and noshed on necks in True Blood, Anna Paquin stole moviegoers' hearts as Flora, the daughter of a mute piano player who acts as a buffer and go-between between her mother and the world, spinning tall tales in an amazing Scottish accent. Paquin became the second youngest actor to earn an Oscar for her role.

  • Marisa Tomei in 'My Cousin Vinny'


    To snicker at the fact that Marisa Tomei won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for My Cousin Vinny -- as some critics did -- is to underrate her comedic talents. As the big-haired, big-mouthed, baby-hungry Mona Lisa, she may not exactly be subtle, but she's a lot of fun. And she steals every scene she's in.


  • Uma Thurman in 'Pulp Fiction'


    When Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman make a movie together, magic happens. It's true of the Kill Bill movies, where she's the lead acrtess, and it's true of Pulp Fiction, where she plays a small but memorable role as the junkie wife of a crime boss who ODs on heroin and gets an adrenaline shot in the chest. When her coquettish character Mia Wallace wraps Vince Vega around her finger during a night out, she also seduces the audience.  

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