Chris Nashawaty
September 27, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Before he tasted the platinum success of gangsta rap, Tupac Shakur had made his name known to moviegoers. At 20, Shakur launched his acting career with a bang — literally — as the gun-waving Bishop in Ernest Dickerson’s urban drama Juice (1992). ”I knew from the beginning that he was an actor to be reckoned with,” says Dickerson. Next, Shakur starred in John Singleton’s Poetic Justice (with Janet Jackson) and then in 1994’s hoop drama Above the Rim. ”Pac was overlooked as an actor,” says Omar Epps, his Juice costar. ”He was destined to do great things.” A look at his still-evolving Hollywood legacy:

Bullet Shot in 1994, Julien Temple’s gritty drama about a violent vendetta between two street rivals (Mickey Rourke and Shakur) was dropped by New Line Cinema before it ever saw a single multiplex. It will go straight to video in early ’97. ”I think it may have been too hardcore,” says producer John Flock.

Gridlock Gramercy Pictures will release this dark buddy comedy starring Shakur and Tim Roth in February ’97. The pair play heroin addicts who decide to kick the habit. Producers Damian Jones and Erica Huggins say Shakur recorded several songs for the flick’s Death Row soundtrack. ”Tupac loved the script and was flattered that it wasn’t another hood movie,” says Huggins. ”This role’s definitely against type.”

Gang Related Shakur finished this Orion cop movie only a week before he was shot. (He and Jim Belushi play bad-apple police detectives.) Since the film just wrapped, there are questions about what will happen if writer-director Jim Kouf needs to reshoot scenes. No release date has been set. ”His acting was effortless,” says costar Lela Rochon. ”He was a natural, and the camera just loved him.”

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