Kevin Hart

Comedian and actor Kevin Hart (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / January 4, 2014)

A year ago Kevin Hart surprised many film observers  when his stand-up movie "Let Me Explain" seemed to come out of nowhere and hold its own against "Despicable Me 2" and "The Lone Ranger" over the Fourth of July weekend. (It ultimately finished its theatrical run with a solid $32 million.)

Hart soon emerged as Hollywood's go-to provider of comic relief, appearing in four more movies and dropping the trailer for a fifth. You'd be forgiven for mistaking him for an overnight sensation, but Hart has actually been honing his boisterous screen persona for more than a decade.

Here's a look at five films you may have forgotten Hart was in (or never realized starred him in the first place).

"The Five-Year Engagement" (2012): Hart has tended to play either small roles in big movies or big roles in small movies; "Engagement" was an example of the former. In the Jason Segel-Emily Blunt rom-com, Hart portrayed one of Blunt's fellow psychology grad students, one obsessed with, ahem, autoerotic activities. The character is prickly, slightly perverse and definitely an oddball, which puts him pretty squarely in Hart's wheelhouse.

"Laugh at My Pain" (2011): Hart financed this film version of his stand-up show for $750,000, and it surprised Lionsgate executives and box-office pundits when it grossed $7.7 million while playing in fewer than 300 theaters. As the title indicates, Hart is quick to make fun of himself. His routine mines his personal life — including his divorce, his mother's death and his ex-addict father — for jokes.

"The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (2005): Another cameo for pal Judd Apatow, who produced "Five-Year Engagement" and first worked with Hart on the Fox sitcom "Undeclared." In this Steve Carell-starrer about a middle-aged electronics salesman, Hart makes a brief but memorable appearance as a deal-seeking customer who quickly turns aggressive and nearly comes to blows with Romany Malco, while Carell blanches on the sidelines.

"Soul Plane" (2004): Hart has made a name for himself as a comic sidekick or ensemble player in films like "Ride Along" and "Think Like a Man," but he toplined this MGM comedy a full decade ago. "Soul Plane" — about an airplane passenger (Hart) who has a horrific in-flight experience, scores a huge settlement and starts his own pimped-out airline — was a critical and commercial dud. Also, Spike Lee  blasted it as "coonery and buffoonery." But Hart may feel differently: In April 2012, the comedian  told Marc Maron's WTF podcast, "'Soul Plane' is what got me popular enough to start touring."

"Paper Soldiers" (2002): A deep cut, but a must for any Hart aficionado. Produced by Roc-A-Fella Records' film division, this straight-to-video rapsloitation flick touted Jay-Z and Stacey Dash as stars, though they appear only in blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos. Hart is the actual protagonist, an aimless young guy who starts burglarizing houses to supplement his paycheck from  a beeper store. Naturally, he gets in over his head. Check it out online if you want to see more Hart -- or just wait a few weeks for his next movie.

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