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Famous Actors You Forgot Showed Up In Steven Spielberg Movies

Steven Spielberg is generally considered to be one of the most prolific directors of all time, and is responsible for some of pop culture's most enduring pieces of filmmaking such as "Indiana Jones," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," and "Jurassic Park," just to name a few. Following the release of his first blockbuster, 1975's "Jaws," Spielberg has gone on to enjoy a prosperous career of both critical acclaim and financial success. In addition to directing, Spielberg has also produced countless films under the banners of Amblin and DreamWorks that have proven to be equally as popular with audiences, such as "Back to the Future" and "Shrek." There is a lot to know about Steven Spielberg that may come as a surprise, but it's hard to deny he's had one of the most successful careers in Hollywood.

One of the hallmarks of Steven Spielberg's filmography is that he consistently sports an impressive cast of actors who are given big and small parts alike. While some actors are easily remembered for their roles, such as Tom Hanks, others are more often forgotten in the sweeping narratives of his films. Whether it was before they became a household name, or their cameo was small enough that you might have missed them, here are famous actors that you may have forgotten showed up in Steven Spielberg movies.

Ben Stiller in Empire of the Sun

Steven Speilberg's 1987 war film, "Empire of the Sun," was a massive adaptation of the J. G. Ballard novel detailing a British boy's experiences in Shanghai under Imperial Japanese occupation. The serious subject matter is matched only by the talent of its cast, with several acclaimed actors such as John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, and a young Christian Bale featured in prominent roles. What you may have forgotten, however, is that Ben Stiller also starred in this intense war drama as Dainty, an American G.I. prisoner stuck in the same internment camp as Christian Bale's character, Jim.

In one of his first acting roles, Stiller plays a hot-headed American soldier trying to survive within a Japanese internment camp in Suzhou. Dainty has one major scene in the film where he asks Jim if he wants a Hershey bar, which turned out to be very difficult for Stiller to properly say in an embarrassing moment he freely shares during interviews. Ben Stiller is known by many for being a comedic writer, actor, and director with films like "There's Something About Mary," "Zoolander," and "Dodgeball" being vehicles for his directing and acting ability. His short time on screen in "Empire of the Sun" was critical for Stiller's career since he admitted it gave him the idea to write what would become one of his most successful films, "Tropic Thunder."

Maggie Smith in Hook

Many fans will recognize Maggie Smith from her iconic role as Minerva McGonagall in the "Harry Potter" series, but it may come as a surprise to remember that she starred in Steven Spielberg's 1991 live-action sequel to the original Peter Pan story, "Hook." Smith plays the role of Granny Wendy, an older version of Wendy from the original story who long ago was whisked away by Peter Pan on an adventure to Neverland, but has since settled into a normal life in London. As Granny Wendy, Smith plays a critical role in the film's story by ensuring that Peter (played by the late Robin Williams) is sent to rescue her grandchildren from the fiendish Captain Hook (played by Dustin Hoffman).

Maggie Smith has had an extensive acting career both before and after "Hook," with two Academy Awards under her belt for Best Actress in 1969's "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and Best Supporting Actress in 1971's "California Suite." Additionally, Smith has been nominated for dozens of other awards throughout her long career and has received an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony (known as a Triple Crown of Acting). Her performance in "Hook" is one of the many that fills out her impressive filmography.

Zoe Saldaña in The Terminal

Before starring in blockbuster hits like "Star Trek," "Avatar," and "Guardians of the Galaxy," Zoe Saldaña played a supporting role in the Steven Spielberg-directed 2004 dramedy "The Terminal." The film starred Tom Hanks as Viktor Navorski, a man who begins squatting in John F. Kennedy International Airport after his country becomes unrecognized by the U.S. government following a coup. His story becomes intertwined with many others working at the airport as they come to form bonds with Viktor, which is where Zoe Saldaña's character of Officer Dolores Torres comes in.

In the film, Torres plays a minor role as a Customs and Border Patrol officer who develops a special relationship with Viktor and a romance with Enrique Cruz (played by Diego Luna). Saldaña's biggest scene revolves around being proposed to by Enrique while using Viktor as a proxy. After a prophetically nerdy "Star Trek" reference, Torres and Enrique ride away on an airport security cart after getting married. 

These days, Zoe Saldaña takes leading roles in some of the highest-grossing film franchises in history, as Uhura in "Star Trek" and Gamora in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It may come as a shock to viewers to look back on her in such a small appearance as Dolores Torres, but even this early in her career she managed to have significant screen time in a Steven Spielberg film.

Sarah Paulson in The Post

Award-winning actor Sarah Paulson has had starring roles in FX's "American Horror Story" and "American Crime Story," the latter of which earned her a Primetime Emmy. Paulson also boasts an extensive film career, with one highlight being her supporting role as Tony Bradlee in "The Post." Steven Spielberg's 2017 historical thriller tells the story of the Washington Post's hard-fought efforts in getting the notorious Pentagon Papers published against the wishes of the Nixon administration during the Vietnam War. The cast includes several acclaimed actors such as Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Carrie Coon, Bradley Whitford, Bob Odenkirk, and many more playing fictionalized versions of real journalists involved in the Pentagon Papers publication. As Tony Bradlee, Paulson plays the supportive wife of Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) as they navigate the personal stresses of her husband's work at the Post.

Paulson's acting career goes well beyond her appearance in "The Post," with several prominent roles in her filmography such as "Twelve Years A Slave," "Ocean's 8," and "Run" to name a few. The television role that won her a Primetime Emmy, however, was her portrayal of Marcia Clark in "The People vs. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story," a limited series that chronicled the entire O.J. Simpson murder trial from start to finish.

Adam Driver in Lincoln

Known and acclaimed by many "Star Wars" fans for his role as Kylo Ren in the sequel trilogy, Adam Driver had early career success being featured in "Lincoln," Steven Spielberg's historical biography of Abraham Lincoln. The film is centered around President Lincoln's struggles to pass the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery as an institution, all while dealing with the ongoing American Civil War.

Unsurprisingly, "Lincoln" features an impressive cast of actors such as Daniel Day-Lewis, Gloria Reuben, Sally Field, David Oyelowo, Tommy Lee Jones, and James Spader in realistic roles as various historical figures of the time. Adam Driver plays Samuel Beckwith, who served in the Union Army as President Lincoln's personal telegram operator, and shares several intimate moments with Lincoln throughout the film where the two discuss the ongoing national conflict. 

While not entirely historical, since Samuel Beckwith was actually General Ulysses S. Grant's telegram operator, the relationship between Beckwith and Lincoln provide some moments for Adam Driver to shine as an actor. In one particularly emotional scene, Lincoln asks Beckwith whether he believes that individuals "choose the times they are born," or "fit the times they are born into." Beckwith responds by saying he isn't sure but believes that Lincoln "may be" the latter.

Cate Blanchett in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

When fans think about Steven Spielberg's best movies, the odds are that one of them will be from the "Indiana Jones" series. With four films currently released and a fifth on the way, this franchise consistently makes big money at the box office. What you may not remember is that the villain of the most recent iteration, 2008's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," was none other than Cate Blanchett. The fourth film in the franchise takes Indiana Jones, played by 64-year-old Harrison Ford, on a race against the Soviet Union to find a psychically powered crystal skull and uncover the secrets of the lost city of Akator. 

Blanchett plays Irina Spalko, an ambitious KGB agent tasked with harnessing the power of the crystal skulls and obsessed with gathering that power for herself. As the main villain, Blanchett plays no small role in the story and manages to immerse herself perfectly into her character. It may be surprising for some to remember that the Russian-sounding, fencing, murderous Spalko is the same double Oscar winner from films such as the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "Thor: Ragnarok." These roles are only a sliver of her filmography, but it's clear that she threw herself wholeheartedly into the role of Irina Spalko since she apparently learned professional fencing for the part.

Letitia Wright in Ready Player One

Letitia Wright stars as King T'Challa's sister and Wakandan lead scientist Shuri in 2018's "Black Panther" and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Less known, however, is that she briefly appears in Steven Spielberg's sci-fi epic "Ready Player One," which came out the exact same year as "Black Panther." In a true "blink and you'll miss it" moment, Letitia is seen in a surprisingly short scene where she and other rebels in the real world are working to fight against the evil corporation, Innovative Online Industries (IOI).

She is credited in the film as "Reb," which is short for her profession as a rebel. In an interview with Yahoo Movies, Wright went on to explain just how small of a role she had in the film by telling Yahoo Movies, "You might not even see my face but I've got a credit!" In a film dedicated to pop culture, Spielberg managed to fit in countless references to other works of art within the virtual reality world of "Ready Player One" and, while her role was small, it seems fitting that the star of one of Marvel's biggest box office successes was featured.

Bryan Cranston in Saving Private Ryan

"Saving Private Ryan" is one of Steven Spielberg's most somber, intense, and dramatic films, and consistently ranked as one of the greatest films of all time. One of the things that makes it so memorable to audiences is the talented cast of actors including Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, and many more, some of which were already household names and others who would become that. The film is also known for featuring countless actors in smaller roles who are easy to forget despite their fame and notoriety. One of these examples is Bryan Cranston in the role of the War Department Colonel.

Bryan Cranston is best-known for his Emmy-winning role as Walter White in the AMC series, "Breaking Bad." In the show, he portrayed the downward spiral of a cancer-diagnosed chemistry teacher on his descent to becoming a meth-cooking drug kingpin. Prior to that, Cranston was also celebrated for his role as the lovable goofball Hal in the Fox comedy "Malcolm in the Middle." His appearance in "Saving Private Ryan" is brief but essential, as he is the officer who passes on the information to General George C. Marshall that gets Private Ryan recalled from the frontlines after it becomes clear that all of his brothers have been killed in action.

Paul Giamatti in Saving Private Ryan

One other actor who is easy to miss in the wartime chaos of "Saving Private Ryan" is Paul Giamatti, who appears briefly in the film as Sergeant Hill. In the story, Sergeant Hill attempts to aid Captain John H. Miller's (Tom Hanks) squad through a German-occupied town but inadvertently brings enemy attention upon them all. While only playing a small role, Giamatti is given enough screen time in his appearance to leave an impact on the story.

Paul Giamatti is appreciated by audiences for his roles in "American Splendor," "Sideways," "Cinderella Man," and "John Adams," just to name a few. Additionally, he has been nominated for an Academy Award, five Golden Globes, and four Emmys, winning both a Golden Globe and an Emmy for "John Adams." His work in films, television, theater, and voice-over has made Giamatti both a popular and critically acclaimed actor who garners accolades with each performance. An animated actor who always seems to bring intensity, dedication, and energy to his roles, Giamatti told Yahoo! in a 2016 interview (via Daily Actor) that he built his career on having a willingness to say "Okay, sure, I'll do that" in every performance.

Jennifer Garner in Catch Me if You Can

"Catch Me if You Can" stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the infamous con man Frank Abagnale, with Tom Hanks playing Carl Hanratty, a federal agent who is hot on his tail. What seems to be often forgotten about this film — for good reason — is Jennifer Garner's performance as a call girl and her relationship with Abagnale.

Jennifer Garner plays Cheryl Ann, a model by day and call girl by night. In the film, she offers to sleep with Frank for $1,000 and he happily agrees. The problem is that Frank is a duplicitous con man who has been throwing around phony checks and fake names for years to get away with crimes, which he continues to do here. The two characters end up having sex but unsurprisingly Frank leaves her with a totally fraudulent and worthless $1,400 check. This scene is one of the many things in "Catch Me if You Can" that doesn't age well upon a rewatch.

But this isn't Jennifer Garner's fault, considering she is an incredibly talented actress with numerous roles in movies and TV series that include "Pearl Harbor," "Dallas Buyers Club," and "Alias." Garner was nominated for four Emmys and four Golden Globes (winning one) for her work as Sydney Bristow on "Alias," leaving her problematic appearance in "Catch Me If You Can" firmly in the rearview mirror.

Tim Robbins in War of the Worlds

One of Steven Spielberg's most frightening movies is 2005's "War of the Worlds," a modern-day adaptation of H.G. Wells' original 1898 novel about an alien invasion of Earth. The film stars Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, and Justin Chatwin as an emotionally distant family struggling to travel from New York to Boston during the carnage of a devastating war between humans and invaders from space. The film also focuses on human conflict, which is seen in the often-forgotten character of Harlan Ogilvy, portrayed by Tim Robbins. In the film, Ogilvy welcomes Ray and Rachel (played by Cruise and Fanning respectively) into his basement bunker to hide from the slaughter happening outside. Over time it becomes clear to Ray that Ogilvy is out of his mind, and during a moment of desperation Ray is forced to kill him to avoid detection by a probing alien drone.

Tim Robbins is perhaps best-known for his role as Andy Dufresne in "The Shawshank Redemption" as well as films like "The Player," "Bull Durham," and "Mystic River," for which he won an Academy Award. His appearance in "War of the Worlds" as a paranoid lunatic seems to be one of the weaker parts of a film with mixed to positive reviews.

Anna Paquin in Amistad

Another historical drama from Steven Spielberg, "Amistad" focuses on the 19th century revolt on the Amistad, a Spanish slave ship. This film stars Djimon Hounsou, Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, and Matthew McConaughey in various roles (based on real-life figures) as former slaves, Americans, and Spaniards, all dealing with the immorality of the transcontinental slave trade as encapsulated by the fate of these freed mutineers. Among the impressive cast of "Amistad" is Anna Paquin in her role as Queen Isabella II of Spain.

Paquin was only a teenager when she played the sovereign ruler of Spain, and is shown playing with dolls while being seemingly unaware of the conflict going on in her kingdom. Prior to this, Paquin won an Academy Award at 11 years old for her performance in Jane Champion's "The Piano," which made her the second youngest person to win an Oscar. Following this early role in "Amistad," Paquin would go on to star in films and television shows such as 1996's "Almost Famous," "X-Men," "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," and "True Blood."