Donnie Darko is a cult classic film from the early 2000s, and many people don’t realize the big-name actors that came out of the indie film.
The 2001 science fiction psychological thriller Donnie Darko was written and directed by Richard Kelly and starred Jake Gyllenhaal as the protagonist of the film. At the time, Gyllenhaal was already known for his breakthrough role in October Sky which had premiered the year before, but this film really put him on the map and helped skyrocket his career. He went on to star in many big-named films like Zodiac, Love & Other Drugs, Source Code, Enemy, Nightcrawler and Nocturnal Animals. He’s even gotten his chance to play a role in a recent Marvel movie as the antagonist in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Donnie Darko was considered to be a cult classic even though its initial release was impacted by the September 11 attacks. The film also had major backing from a few big players in the entertainment industry, including Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore and Jena Malone. Swayze played Jim Cunningham, who was one of the antagonists of the film. Donnie even goes as far as to call him “the fucking antichrist.” Swayze has played a villain in a few other roles, including his iconic role in Point Break. His talent really came through in this film as a dark, secret predator that Frank The Rabbit wanted to be exposed.
Barrymore played a supporting role to Donnie as the teacher Karen Pomeroy. She provided Donnie an open ear throughout the events, realizing he was a troubled but smart teenager who seemed to have emotional issues. Barrymore was already a well-established actor in the movie industry, and she helped Donnie Darko with the movie’s initial funding during production by convincing Flower Films to back the project. Malone had received critical acclaim before her role in the movie as well after landing her role in the television film Bastard Out of Carolina, and then she went on to land roles in Contact and Stepmom before being cast in Donnie Darko.
Donnie Darko was considered to be an indie film even though there were some major names attached to the movie. Besides these better-known actors at the time, there were other supporting roles who went on to be idols in their various fields. Seth Rogen played a minor role in Donnie Darko, only appearing in a few scenes where he played a bully, and then he went on to become a successful director, writer, producer and actor in his widely famous comedic films like Pineapple Express, This Is the End and The Interview.
Maggie Gyllenhaal played Donnie’s sister, and then she went on to land a variety of dramatic roles before playing Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight for which she received wider recognition. She also went on to marry Peter Sarsgaard who starred in Jarhead with Jake Gyllenhaal in 2005. Some other Easter eggs in the film include kid show stars Ashley Tisdale and Jerry Trainor. Tisdale starred in multiple projects on Disney Channel, including the popular sitcom The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. Trainor made most of his career as Spender Shay in Nickelodeon’s iconic show iCarly which was rebooted in 2021.
Although there were many obstacles for Donnie Darko to overcome in its production and release, the film received a positive reception from most critics with an 86 percent acceptance rate on Rotten Tomatoes. Donnie Darko was Richard Kelly’s debut feature film and is considered to be one of the greatest independent films of all time. The film won multiple awards which aided in its cult classic status and helped solidify a solid foundation for many of the actors to go on and star on many more iconic projects in the entertainment industry.
Madison Diaz has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication with a minor in writing. Now, she’s in grad school, pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing. Her overall goal in life is to be a writer and eventually publish romance novels. She enjoys reading, writing, and casual gaming. She has a cute senior dog and a cool husband who loves talking with her about comics and wrestling.