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No, she's not the iconic little girl with the black dog tugging at her bathing suit bottom — that ad was created more than a decade before Foster was born. But one of Foster's first national appearances was at age 3 in a Coppertone commercial.
APIC/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
In the 1960s and early '70s, fresh-faced Foster was a go-to child actor for sitcom guest spots, including The Doris Day Show, Nanny and the Professor, Mayberry R.F.D. and The Courtship of Eddie's Father (pictured).
American Broadcasting Companies, Inc./Getty Images
One year after Tatum O'Neal became the youngest Oscar winner of all time for the 1973 big-screen version of Paper Moon, 11-year-old Foster assumed the same role for a short-lived TV series (with Christopher Connelly). Good thing the show didn't last, or else she may have missed out on her breakthrough movie the following year.
The same year she starred in the Disney flick Freaky Friday, Foster earned her first Oscar nomination for her gritty portrayal of Iris, a 12-year-old prostitute who draws the attention of high-strung cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro). He wants to save her from the streets; she's not sure she wants to be rescued. One thing's for certain, we won't be seeing Foster on The Doris Day Show again any time soon.
Sarah Tobias suffers a brutal rape in a bar one night — and is determined to seek justice. In her Oscar-winning role as Sarah, Foster gives a performance of fierce intensity, sparring with her lawyer (Kelly McGillis) and taking on a culture that all but declares she "asked for it."
Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection
She's the young FBI agent trying to crack a kidnapping case; he's the psychopathic cannibal who also happens to be the only one who can help her. Foster earned her second Oscar for, if nothing else, holding her own opposite Anthony Hopkins in one of cinema's definitive portrayals of pure evil.
Orion/Courtesy Everett Collection
Foster's fourth Oscar nomination came for her portrayal of a young backwoods woman who has never encountered modern civilization. Brought to town by a doctor (Liam Neeson), she is at once awed and terrified. Should she be "rescued" from her backwards existence? And what does it mean to be civilized, anyway? Foster's Nell can barely speak English, yet she answers those questions and more in an unforgettably articulate performance.
20th Century-Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection
Foster is fine as Eleanor, a plucky scientist who stumbles upon the plans for an interstellar transport machine, but tucked toward the end of Contact is one of the most tearfully evocative scenes of her career: Eleanor's breathless, nearly speechless reaction to the sight of an alien galaxy up close. At that moment, Foster somehow captures the childlike sense of wonder that lies at the heart of all great scientific quests.
Foster has made other flat-out thrillers (Flightplan, Catchfire), but this one — about a mom and daughter holed up in a concrete-lined safe room while killer crooks lurk outside — ratchets up the claustrophobia quotient to an unbearable level. Even though the setting is cramped, Foster's heroine triumphs through boundless resourcefulness.
Columbia Pictures/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection
With her old friend Mel Gibson — they costarred in Maverick back when Mel was everybody's buddy — Foster made this heartfelt story of a man in serious danger of losing himself to depression. She costars and directs, and every frame lives as a testament to her undying loyalty and love for a fallen star who, she can only hope, will somehow right himself.
One of the hottest tickets at this year's Comic-Con scifi/fantasy convention in San Diego was a panel discussion of Foster's next film, Elysium. She plays a future U.S. government official whose main job is to keep ordinary lower-class earthlings from sneaking aboard an orbiting, luxurious space station where all the rich people have gone to live. It's the ultimate haves-and-have-nots scenario, just the kind of meaty stuff Foster's been biting off for 40 years. And just think, she may be barely halfway through her career.
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