Anyone who thinks that soap opera stars are second-rate performers clearly isn't aware of how many of America's most revered and popular actors and actresses started their careers on daytime television.

Soap operas have been around even longer than television and, although they have been struggling for ratings in recent years, their core audiences remain loyal fans five days a week.

The laughter, the tears, the betrayals, the secrets, the affairs, the romance ... all these features keep soap viewers coming back to their favorite shows week after week and year after year. But these compelling storylines just wouldn't work if not for the highly talented actors playing the parts.

So next time you hear someone say that soap stars can't act, make sure you let them know that dozens of highly acclaimed actors got their start on daytime TV. The list goes on and on, but we've collected the cream of the crop.

Laurence Fishburne on One Live to Live

No. 5: Laurence Fishburne - "One Life to Live"

Who would have guessed that Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actor Laurence Fishburne started out his career by playing street kid Joshua Hall on ABC's "One Life to Live"?

A young, talented Fishburne played the role of the "adolescent with an attitude" between 1973 and 1976. It was only a few years later that he got the opportunity to play Tyrone "Clean" Miller in the renowned war movie "Apocalypse Now."

Since then, he has gone on to star in a string of action flicks including "Red Heat," "Boyz n the Hood," "The Matrix" trilogy and "Mission Impossible III." He now has a regular role back on the small screen as Dr. Raymond Langston on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

Fishburne is living proof that soap operas have discovered some incredible actors and launched some amazing careers -- including one of the most famous actresses of our time ...

Meg Ryan on As the World Turns

No. 4: Meg Ryan - "As the World Turns"

Meg Ryan may have been only one of 10 actresses to play the role of Betsy Stewart on CBS's "As the World Turns," but her two years playing this role left an indelible stamp on the character.

Between 1982 and 1984, Ryan started building her first major fan base with her mesmerizing portrayal of the troubled young Betsy. Now the undeniable queen of the late-20th-century "rom-com," Ryan's movie career is the stuff young starlet's dreams are made of.

In fact, her restaurant scene in "When Harry Met Sally" is one of the most iconic movie scenes of all time.

Ryan has also explored more serious acting roles such as a war-torn soldier in "Courage Under Fire" and a self-destructive alcoholic in "When a Man Loves a Woman." She undoubtedly picked up some of those dramatic skills from her soap opera years, and she has definitely put them to good use.

And so has our next star ...

Sarah Michelle Gellar on All My Children

No. 3: Sarah Michelle Gellar - "All My Children"

Before she was slaying vampires, Sarah Michelle Gellar was wowing audiences with her portrayal of the selfish, mean-spirited daughter of Erica Kane on ABC's "All My Children."