The screen test is one of the first chances an actor has to make a strong impression on camera. We’ve explored classic Hollywood screen tests before, and after seeing several new videos pop up online — Kate Winslet’s Titanic and Audrey Tautou’s international smash Amélie amongst them — we wanted to explore the origins of our favorite films that broke box office records and stretched the limits of epic moviemaking experiences. We feature Winslet’s video and a variety of other screen tests for blockbuster movies past the break. It’s a chance to see popular stars, who always appear so glamorously surefooted, build the framework for the movies that made them famous in a smaller, bare-bones setting. Click through for a peek at the casts of Star Wars, The Karate Kid, and other blockbuster greats as they flaunt their stuff in these early test footage tapes.
Ralph Macchio was 23 years old when the martial arts underdog story The Karate Kid hit theaters in 1984, but in this screen test he looks about 12. The actor tried out for the part of high school senior Daniel LaRusso, and although auditions lasted for several weeks, he made a big impression almost immediately. This screen test has been intercut with that of Pat Morita, who played the part of Daniel’s karate coach and surrogate father, Mr. Miyagi. They rehearse the scene when Daniel is tormented by his classmates, and the humble handyman swoops in to intervene. The studio was initially hesitant to hire Morita for the part due to his previous comedic role on Happy Days, but he delivers his lines pitch perfect. The actor went on to win an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting star. Charlie Sheen was one of the big names that turned down the part of Daniel, but Macchio’s test proves why he was the best actor for the part.
Grab a tissue, because this emotional screen test from 11-year-old Henry Thomas in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. is a real tearjerker. Hundreds of boys auditioned for the part of the lonely adolescent who befriends an extraterrestrial, and Thomas was amongst the initial wave of talent walking through the doors. His first time trying out didn’t cut it, however. Apparently the young star wore an Indiana Jones costume to impress the director, but his formal test lacked depth. Later, he returned for an improvised screen test that left everyone in tears, including Spielberg. Thomas’ inspiration for the sad scene was a memory about his deceased dog. Spielberg hired him on the spot, which you can hear at the end of the two-minute clip.
The film is terrifying, but there’s something truly eerie about this minimal-set Exorcist screen test, featuring a young Linda Blair (before she becomes possessed by the devil and spews pea soup) and Ellen Burstyn. The first part of the short clip is silent, set against a black background and shows the two actresses playing out the basement scene when Burstyn first realizes that her daughter has been communicating with a supernatural entity named Captain Howdy. Several starlets turned down Blair’s role, and the actress was never able to recover her career after the physically and emotionally traumatic part.
We just saw the completion of the Harry Potter film franchise after last year’s Deathly Hallows waved goodbye to the wizarding world and its magical shenanigans. Let’s revisit the start of the series by watching this screen test that shows the trio’s main protagonists, played by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson — and oh my, they’re so tiny and adorable in this clip. Grint’s red hair caught the casting team’s attention — along with a video of the young actor rapping about how badly he wanted the part of Ron Weasley in the J. K. Rowling adaptation. Watson’s self-confident style helped her stand out from the other would-be Hermione Grangers, and Radcliffe’s role as the titular Harry Potter almost never happened. His protective parents felt uneasy about the media attention, but a persistent Chris Columbus pursued the gifted Radcliffe, having loved him since his performance in BBC’s David Copperfield. He’s a magnetic little guy, as the second video shows.
Milla Jovovich is channeling DC’s Harley Quinn in this audition for her future husband Luc Besson, who directed the model-turned-actress in 1997’s The Fifth Element. She played Leeloo — a humanoid woman that teams up with Bruce Willis’ taxicab driver to save all of humanity with the help of a few mystical stones. We get a glimpse of the actress’ emotional range required for the part of the mysterious being, which oscillates between intense fearlessness and childlike wonder. Jovovich helped director Besson create the alien language heard throughout the film, but this silent clip focuses purely on the star’s screen presence.
Try to ignore the terrible music obscuring this screen test of Dustin Hoffman in drag as Dorothy Michaels. She’s the invention of Hoffman’s struggling actor Michael who can’t seem to get a gig, so he creates a secret female alter ego to land a lead role in fictional soap opera, Southwest General. The 1981 video from the Hal Ashby Collection at the Academy Film Archive also features a wardrobe test, with a black-clad Hoffman looking sophisticated — at least the 1982 version of sophisticated. Hoffman was coached by transgendered actress and Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn who helped the actor get in touch with his feminine side.
Neve Campbell talks to Scream’s Ghostface for the first time on the phone and turns down her boyfriend’s sexual advances in this mid-nineties screen test that shows the actress roleplaying scenes for the self-aware horror film satire. Campbell’s Sidney is the Scream series’ final girl who was introduced to fans in 1996. She struggles with memories of her mother’s murder, always seems to have the weight of the world on her shoulders, and is the only character smart enough to evade a gory death. Director Wes Craven was a fan of the actress from her Party of Five days and wanted her to portray the innocent, but tough young woman from the get-go. Campbell wasn’t sure she wanted to star in another horror flick after appearing in The Craft, but accepted the part since she fell in love with Sidney’s strong character. It’s hard to imagine the slasher favorite without her.
There’s some pretty terrible dialogue in these Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher screen test videos, but the natural talent of the Star Wars crew shines through regardless. Fisher’s Leia is a breathier, soft-spoken version of the women we know from the 1977 movie. Ford is his usual humble self and apparently intimidated the living daylights out of Mark Hamill — who tried out for the part after friend and fellow actor Robert Englund encouraged him to give it a whirl. We’ve also included a screen test from Kurt Russell, who could have easily played the rogue Rebel Alliance figure, Han Solo. We’d want him to wear the Snake Plissken eye patch, though.
James Cameron’s Titanic has a knack for subtle creepiness — as is the case with these multiple fan videos we’re still recovering from. Many have shed a tear over the tragic romance between Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio’s much-loved couple, but would they have felt the same had a dark and twitchy Jeremy Sisto played the part of the penniless Jack? Suddently Titanic takes on a sinister tone with Sisto stepping in for the part. Winslet, however, pulls it off like a natural. According to Cameron in the above video, the English actress was only 19 years old at the time.
William Wyler’s 1959 epic historical drama was an early model for the blockbuster film. Stephen Boyd and Charlton Heston deliver career performances in Ben-Hur as bitter enemies, but Boyd’s Messala — Ben-Hur’s childhood friend that vindictively turns against him — was a role that almost went to… Leslie Nielsen. The comedic actor was captured in this screen test that shows a bronzed Nielsen giving it his all as the villainous charioteer — which Wyler directed Boyd to play as a spurned gay lover, unbeknownst to the rifle-wielding Heston.