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Flashback Five – Leonardo DiCaprio’s Early Years

Leonardo DiCaprio may have starred in some of the biggest movies of all time, but before Titanic, before Gangs of New York, and way before Shutter Island, he was a young lad, working on building an impressive body of work. Let’s take a look at his early years.

1. Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Would it be fair to say that Baz Luhrmann’s modern, surreal reworking of Shakespeare’s classic was what first ignited Leo fever? Casting the young actor as the most romantic lead of all time in a youth-oriented flick certainly didn’t hurt him. It also didn’t hurt that he was as comfortable spitting the bard’s words as he was holding a gun.

2. Marvin’s Room (1996)
Starring beside Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, and Robert De Niro ain’t too shabby for a young actor. Based on a play by Scott McPherson, the movie stars DiCaprio as Hank, Streep’s disturbed son who starts off by burning down a house and ends up bringing his family together.

3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
Oh, actors: in order to be taken seriously, you just have to play someone with mental disabilities, right? To be fair, DiCaprio’s portrayal of Johnny Depp’s handicapped little brother was more textured and lived-in than most Oscar-baiting performances. The Academy took note, giving him his first nomination.

4. This Boy’s Life (1993)
It’s hard to remember now, but, before this movie, DiCaprio was best known for playing a homeless boy on Growing Pains. Afterward, Leo was known as a rising star, having channeled the terror of an abused young boy railing against his stepfather.

5. The Basketball Diaries (1995)
DiCaprio takes on author Jim Carroll’s real-life struggle with drug addiction. Though the movie was roundly panned, DiCaprio once again creates a fully realized character, one who is almost too painful to watch.

Honorable Mentions:

1. The Quick and the Dead (1995) – An underrated Sam Raimi Westerner, in which DiCaprio plays gunslinger the Kid.

2. Total Eclipse (1995) – This movie was overshadowed by the death of prospective co-star River Phoenix. DiCaprio brings passion and intensity to the homosexual relationship between two nineteenth-century poets.

3. The Foot Shooting Party (1994) – Part of Touchstone’s short-lived experimental-movie program. DiCaprio gives a great performance as a musician trying to avoid the draft.

4. Poison Ivy (1992) – Remember his turn as Guy, in this soft-core classic? We’re guessing he doesn’t want to, either.

5. Critters 3 (1991) – Leo plays the stepson of an evil landlord with searing intensity, bringing a level of… No, just kidding, it was a Critters flick! But it was Leo’s first ever, so it’s worth checking out, maybe.


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