13 Celebrities Who Appeared In Fast Food Commercials Before We Knew Who They Were

It can be fun looking back at celebrities who appeared in vintage fast food commercials when they were unknowns. At the time, they appeared as nameless faces in television ads that only lasted a few seconds. Granted, you might have seen them over and over again for a few weeks until the next ad campaign got underway, but not many of us have been sitting in a movie theater and said, "Hey, isn't that the girl from that one Burger King commercial?" Still, we occasionally stumble upon a celebrity in an old fast food commercial, and it makes us wistful, knowing what we know now about their rise to stardom, which was only a glimmer of a dream for them at the time.

Burger King seems to have been extremely good at scouting out future talent, as six celebrities on our list made their commercial debut selling Whoppers. Five of the celebrities on our list acted in McDonald's commercials before they were famous. Taco Bell and Pizza Hut also seemed to luck upon some future stars with a claim to one celebrity each. A look at these vintage fast food commercials is often a glimpse into the very first paid acting job the actor had, so it's interesting to see how they've grown and changed over the years.

Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster is the celebrity on our list who appeared in the earliest fast food commercial before anyone recognized her as a star. Foster was 5 in 1968 when she started getting random parts in the "Mayberry R.F.D." television series. The next year, she started getting a part here and there in "Gunsmoke." Still trying to establish a name for herself, she acted in a McDonald's commercial featuring McDonaldland and The Evil Grimace (E. Grimace on his mailbox). We're guessing that the commercial aired in 1971 or 1972 since the four-armed evil version of Grimace got a redesign in 1973 into a two-armed, happy-go-lucky friend of Ronald.

Foster is barely recognizable except for her signature swagger. Her only line is to gloomily lament that there are "no shakes" in McDonaldland because Grimace had stolen them all. Luckily, Ronald has a plan. Pretending to be a mailman, he brings Grimace a letter inviting him to be a participant in a beauty contest. In utter excitement at his luck, Grimace hops up and abandons the milkshakes, and all is well in McDonaldland again. 

It would have been close to the time of her McDonaldland commercial when Foster got lucky with a six-episode run in "My Three Sons." By 1974, she would star in the "Paper Moon" TV series, and by 1976, she would have prominent roles in "Taxi Driver" and "Freaky Friday."

Corey Feldman

Long before Corey Feldman was following a pirate map through a booby-trapped underground cave in "The Goonies," he was making fast food commercials. In fact, his very first was in the 1970s McDonald's commercial when he was only three years old. However, he wouldn't appear in a television show until he was in an episode of "Eight is Enough" in 1978. 

In the commercial, an adorable, chubby-cheeked Feldman wakes up on Christmas Eve and rummages in a box for a McDonald's gift certificate. He then runs downstairs and leaves it for Santa along with the requisite milk and cookies. A narrator explains that each gift certificate is "worth $0.50 at McDonald's" and that "a book of ten only costs $5." In 1975, a McDonald's hamburger would have cost around $0.30, so it's still a small gift certificate, but not as worthless as it sounds. As the toddler Feldman runs away with a cookie he exchanged for the gift certificate, he hears Santa "ho-ho-hoing" in glee over the gift certificate and turns around in surprise.

Patrick Duffy

Many of us first remember meeting Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing, the do-good brother to the sleazy J.R. Ewing in the television show "Dallas" in 1978 (a part he last played in 2014). However, his first acting job was in a TV movie called "The Stranger Who Looks Like Me" in 1974. Still working to climb the acting and fame ladder, he landed a part in a Taco Bell commercial in 1976, only two years before he hit the big time with "Dallas." At the time of the Taco Bell commercial, Ewing was 27 years old. However, you could convincingly believe he was a high schooler working the Taco Bell window.

In the commercial, a smiling and starry-eyed Duffy has to explain the ingredients in every item the customer sees from his spot at a walkup window as the line keeps growing behind him. Taco Bell's menu looked a little different back then. Duffy patiently explains how Taco Bell makes a burrito supreme, a tostada, and an enchirito. Mexican menu items were unfamiliar in many locations in 1976, so the commercial served as a lesson on Mexican cuisine to potential customers watching.

Michael J. Fox

Michael J. Fox had small parts in several TV series and TV movies before he got a part in his first McDonald's commercials. His acting career started with a series called "The Magic Lie" in 1978, but it wasn't until he was 19 in 1980 that you may have seen him acting in a McDonald's commercial. The commercial is called "First Kiss," and it brings back all those memories of high school awkwardness and nervousness around someone you liked. Fox sits with a girl on her front steps, eating McDonald's together. The girl asks if he would like some of her fries. "Yeah. I kinda ate all of mine already," he answers. Then he pulls a stack of 20 napkins from inside his hoodie (sleeves rolled up to his elbows, of course), and asks if she'd like any. She doesn't. His voice cracks while telling her he had a good time. When he starts to make an awkward exit, she thrusts her fries at him, kisses him on the cheek, and goes inside.

Fox had parts in a few more series after his McDonald's commercial. However, it was two years later in 1982 that he became Alex P. Keaton in "Family Ties." Even at age 21, he could still pass for a high schooler, as he did in the McDonald's commercial. He was still playing the part of a teen three years later when he got iconic roles in "Back to the Future" and "Teen Wolf."

Meg Ryan

Meg Ryan's television acting career actually started before her commercial acting career since she appeared in 32 episodes of the soap opera "As the World Turns" between 1975 and 1984. Ryan continued to use acting as a way to make extra money while working on her journalism degree at the University of Connecticut and New York University until she quit to act full time. She showed up in tons of commercials throughout the 1980s. You can't help but smile at how bubbly she is about your chances of winning a Whopper, a Coke, or even a million dollars at Burger King in 1982. Of course, she says that the "most important reason to visit Burger King" is "the food."

Other commercials she appeared in during the 1980s include one for Aim Fluoride Toothpaste, a Campbell's soup commercial where she tells her nervous roommate that "you can always eat soup" even if you're feeling nervous, and also an MTV commercial. Through them all, you can see her growing as an actress and developing ever more sophisticated 1980s hairstyles. Beyond her soap opera and commercial gigs, she acted in lots of movies and TV series in those early years, starting with the movie "Rich and Famous" in 1981.

Jason Alexander

Between small parts in TV and movies, Jason Alexander managed to get the leading part in a McDonald's commercial for the McDLT in 1985. Alexander was doing a lot of acting before most of us knew who he was. His first role was on a TV series called "A Capitol Fourth" in 1980. That first television role happened nine years before we met him as Jerry Seinfeld's neurotic sidekick, George Costanza, on "Seinfeld."

We've never seen anyone get as excited about a new hamburger as Alexander. He takes to the streets in his white sports coat to talk to people about their burger problems. Alexander quizzes, "You say that, just for once, you'd like your hamburger hot and your lettuce and tomato cool and crisp, all at the same time?" Luckily, it turns out that McDonald's has a solution to this problem with its new double-sided, environment-killing Styrofoam container that keeps your burger hot while keeping your veggies cold until you're ready to put it together and eat it. Everyone is so excited about this new invention that they dance and sing through the streets along with the over-animated Alexander because this is just the sort of thing we all did in the 1980s (if commercials and movies are to be believed).

Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck's first acting role was in "The Dark End of the Street" in 1981, but most of us don't remember him until his 1997 roles in "Chasing Amy" and "Good Will Hunting." Before he made it in the acting world, he acted in numerous TV shows and movies, along with a 1989 Burger King commercial.

Back in 1989, DoorDash didn't exist yet, but an optimistic young lady still calls Burger King asking for the delivery of a chef's salad. She gets lucky because the person on the other end of her misdial is Ben Affleck. He has a car phone (fancy!) and a deep desire to meet the girl at the other end of the call. So, pretending to be Burger King, he delivers the burger himself. Unfortunately, he doesn't even get to talk to the young lady because he has to run back to the car to answer a phone call from his dad.

When Drew Barrymore interviewed Affleck on "Drew" and talked about this commercial, Affleck said, "If I had known that the commercial would get this kind of response, I would have been much more optimistic about my career." He said, "My director almost fired me, and now I can see why." He revealed that he was only 16 and new to driving when he filmed the commercial but assured the director and team of his driving prowess by saying, "Guys, I've driven like 500 or 1,000 miles." Such blind confidence!

Andrew McCarthy

No teen heartthrob of the 1980s could make you feel how in love they were with a deep, penetrating stare like Andrew McCarthy. That lovestruck stare features strongly in the 1983 Burger King commercial he stars in alongside another aspiring actress we recognize now Elisabeth Shue. McCarthy and Shue sit together on a front porch, occasionally staring deep into each other's eyes as they announce their new relationship to the world. McCarthy is wearing his Pepsi uniform, while Shue is wearing her Burger King uniform. However, the relationship they're announcing is Burger King's decision to partner with Pepsi. It turns out that the relationship only lasted for seven years before Burger King broke up with Pepsi to start an enduring relationship with Coke (like most fast food chains).

The same year McCarthy appeared in the Burger King commercial, his movie acting career took off with "Class." It wasn't long before he was moving on to classics like "St. Elmo's Fire" (1985) and "Pretty in Pink" (1986). Oddly enough, it was the last time McCarthy and Shue appeared in anything together. Although, he did invite her out for drinks after filming the commercial. McCarthy wrote in the New York Post that "Elisabeth, a bright light of youthful optimism, endured my jaded pronouncements — and the drunks surrounding us — as long as she could. Then [she] was gone. I never saw [her] again."

Elisabeth Shue

While Elisabeth Shue was still in high school and while attending Wellesley College, she started acting in a few commercials to make extra cash. Her 1983 appearance in a Burger King commercial alongside Andrew McCarthy wasn't her first or only commercial acting gig with Burger King. She was actually the face of Burger King for a while, appearing in at least seven separate commercials between 1982 and 1984. In those commercials, she appeared with two other aspiring actresses who eventually hit it big. In 1982, she was in a Christmas commercial with Sara Michelle Gellar and Lea Thompson. The three sat in a living room decorated for Christmas alongside two unknown actresses. Together, they sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" on behalf of Burger King.

Shue stopped appearing in Burger King commercials in 1984 after she landed the role of Ralph Macchio's girlfriend in the 1984 hit movie "The Karate Kid." While Shue never appeared in anything with Sara Michelle Gellar again, she appeared with Lea Thomson in "Back to the Future" II and III (in 1989 and 1990), as well as in a 2013 episode of "CSI."

Sara Michelle Gellar

Sara Michelle Gellar was another actress who appeared in more than just one Burger King commercial. After appearing in her first BK commercial in 1982 at age 5, McDonald's sued her (along with Burger King itself). Who sues an adorable little girl who can barely say the word "burger" in her advertisements? In the ad, Gellar said, "When I order a regular hamburger at McDonald's, they make it with 20% less meat than Burger King," and McDonald's wasn't used to getting called out on anything by anyone. While the lawsuit was ongoing, Gellar was banned from McDonald's. Gellar told the Sunday Express, "It was tough because, when you're a little kid, McDonald's is where all your friends have their birthday parties, so I missed out on a lot of apple pies."

Gellar was only 5 when she appeared in the 1982 Christmas Burger King commercial with 19-year-old Elisabeth Shue and 21-year-old Lea Thompson. As such, she's the only one singing around the fire and tree who is not wearing a Burger King uniform. Still, she holds her own. By 1983, she was acting in her first movie, "An Invasion of Privacy." However, it wasn't until 1997 that she landed roles we remember her in "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson appeared in an earlier Burger King commercial in 1982 before she sang Christmas carols around a tree with Elisabeth Shue and Sara Michelle Gellar. Not deterred by their lawsuit with McDonald's, Burger King took on both McDonald's and Wendy's in this ad. Thompson stands in a BK kitchen with a baseball and baseball glove and says, "We know you're watching the game, but you're waiting for something more exciting." What's more exciting than baseball? Surveys! Thompson reveals with feigned excitement that "Broiling beat frying by two to one in a coast-to-coast survey." The screen then pans to pictures of McDonald's and Wendy's hamburgers being fried rather than broiled like Burger King hamburgers were.

Thompson then appeared in two movies and a video game in 1983 before landing a big part in "Red Dawn" in 1984 and her iconic 1985 role as Marty McFly's mom in "Back to the Future." There were no more boring Burger King commercials for her after that.

Steve Carell

After moving to Chicago in 1984 and joining a comedy troupe, it was five years before Steven Carell started acting in local fast food commercials. You'll recognize his dry humor acting style immediately in his early commercials since it's the same one he uses playing everyone's favorite boss in "The Office" in 2005.

The first commercial Carell landed (in 1989) was for a Chicagoland restaurant called Brown's Chicken and shows him on a ladder putting up a sign for "cholesterol-free cooking." When the words "cholesterol" and "cooking" fly away in the wind, hordes of people descend on the humble restaurant for free food. Yet, Carell thinks they're there for the healthy chicken. Carell moved up in the acting world with his second commercial in 1990 another local one about a 3 for $3 deal at McDonald's. In this commercial, a mysterious third hand appears to help him display all three items and even help him wipe his mouth with napkins. It was only a year after his silly McDonald's commercial that he landed a part in the movie "Curly Sue."

James Franco

James Franco's first paid acting job was for a Pizza Hut commercial in 1997. The commercial is fairly nonsensical. Franco is propped up against a car, hanging out with his friends and being cool (which seems to be his default role) when a friend says, "I heard that Elvis (the king himself) has come back." Franco sarcastically says, "Right," while another friend jokes, "He's down at Pizza Hut doing the twist." Everyone cracks up. Meanwhile, down at Pizza Hut, a young Elvis really is doing the twist alongside adoring fans. A narrator then pipes up and says, "Seems like everyone is going to Pizza Hut for The Edge pizza." Unfortunately, digital necromancy wasn't that great at bringing dead characters to life in 1997, and we wish they would have just gone to Vegas and snagged a random Elvis impersonator for the part rather than relying on bad animation.

After the commercial, Franco's acting dance card got a little fuller as he landed a small part as Brian on the TV series "Pacific Blue." He has stayed busy ever since, landing a small part in "Never Been Kissed" in 1999 and going on from there.