A breakthrough role, also known as a breakout role, 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. The similar term "big break" indicates the occurrence for the performer and 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. A breakthrough role is often a significant increase in importance in the actor's part in the film, such as moving up from a minor character to one of the main cast or a "high impact" role in a film which has mainstream success and results in the actor's widespread recognition and popularity. A breakthrough performance has also been defined as one which "attracts the attention of film critics, or receives rave reviews and is subsequently nominated for many major film awards".
Most notable performers throughout the film and television industry can pinpoint the role which marked the beginning of their commercial success. For example, the Dollars trilogy was the breakthrough role of Clint Eastwood, while Sean Connery's came with the James Bond film Dr. No, despite both actors having appeared in several films prior to this. Lord Rohan in The Man in Grey has been cited as James Mason's breakthrough performance. The television film adaptation of Gideon's Trumpet has been referenced as Lane Smith's breakthrough role, despite lacking a theatrical release. Similarly, the BBC series Pennies from Heaven has been highlighted as the breakthrough of Bob Hoskins. Brandon Lee's starring role in The Crow has been cited as his breakout, though it was also his final film as he died when a prop gun malfunctioned on the set of the film.
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