9 Milestones in the Evolution of Joseph Gordon-Levitt

In this weekend's 50/50, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a public radio employee who, when diagnosed with cancer, struggles to survive the disease and the changed attitudes of those around him. So how did a teenager best known for playing a sitcom alien transform himself into one of our most versatile actors who is capable of playing anything from a troubled teen prostitute to a lovelorn greeting card writer?

You can always trace a direct line through a few important roles to illustrate what led to an actor's current success. As such, let's look at nine pivotal performances that track the evolution of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

A River Runs Through It (1992)

A few years after making his musical theater debut at the age of four -- as the Scarecrow in a production of The Wizard of Oz -- the Los Angeles-raised actor began getting small parts in TV movies and a few television series (Family Ties included). It wasn't until 1992, at the age of 11, that the actor -- who is the grandson of director Michael Gordon (Pillow Talk, Cyrano de Bergerac) made his film debut in Robert Redford's Academy Award-winning drama as the young version of Craig Sheffer's character Norman.

3rd Rock From the Sun (1996)

After a few other small roles in major Hollywood movies like Angels in the Outfield and The Juror, Gordon-Levitt was cast in the NBC sitcom 3rd Rock From the Sun, which would become his breakthrough role and familiarize him with mainstream audiences. As Tommy Solomon, an extra-terrestrial masquerading as a long-haired adolescent, Gordon-Levitt starred opposite John Lithgow and Jane Curtin. While the series lasted six seasons, Joseph Gordon-Levitt left 3rd Rock as a primary character after its fifth season.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Thanks in part to the popularity of his television series, Gordon-Levitt earned a part in Halloween H20 and a year later in the teen romantic comedy that lifted its plot from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You. As the sweet new student high school student Cameron James, Gordon-Levitt's character fostered a crush on the popular Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik). Upon discovering that he could only take Bianca to the prom if her sister (Julia Stiles) had a date, Cameron encourages Heath Ledger's outcast to woo the other Stratford sister.

Mysterious Skin (2004)

Perhaps wanting to prove that he had range beyond network sitcoms and rom-coms for the MTV set, the actor took the role of a troubled teen prostitute trying to escape his memories of sexual abuse in Gregg Araki's small town drama. Roger Ebert described the film as "at once the most harrowing and, strangely, the most touching film I have seen about child abuse." This is the film that gave Gordon-Levitt real dramatic credibility.

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  • Louis Virtel says:

    It is ALL about Mysterious Skin. Painful, warped, with an incredible ending. JGL is fab in it.

  • Morgan says:

    isn't inception his biggest studio credit? isnt that why he's so famous lately?

  • Andrew says:

    I liked Brick even more once I found out it was Cowboy Bebop and that JGL was playing a highschool version of Spike Speigel.

  • Sam R. says:

    Love me some Angels in the Outfield. JGL, Danny Glover, Christopher Lloyd, Matthew McConaughey, and even Adrien Brody. I can see their arms flapping now...

  • Kim says:

    "Angels in the Outfield" will make me cry. It's one of those movies I will sit and watch if it's on, stop everything I am doing, grap a kleenex, and watch.

  • TC says:

    JGL is the best young actor working today - a host of award-winning and nominated performances behind him and he's only 30. Doesn't matter what he does, he brings his all (even Cobra Commander, which he ROCKED at playing...heh heh heh) and you can't help but love him for it.

  • infamy_infamy (@infamy_infamy) says:

    Louis - so true. Have you read the book? It's amazing.

  • Chris says:

    Terrible article if the author refers to his role in Angels in the Outfield as "small" (he was the main character for goodness' sakes) and neglect to mention Inception entirely.

  • Christie says:

    You had me until you missed Angels in the Outfield and Inception, two of his most memorable roles.
    But then, it's hard to narrow it down. JGL is awesome and he makes a lot of great movies.

  • Leonardo says:

    Como on "The Lookout" was also great.