Swank made her film debut in the 1992 comedy horror film Buffy the Vampire Slayer, playing a small role, after which she acted in the direct-to-video drama Quiet Days in Hollywood, where she co-starred with Chad Lowe, who would become her husband for a time. Her first leading film role was in the fourth installment of the Karate Kid series, The Next Karate Kid (1994), which utilized her gymnastics background and paired her with Pat Morita. In 1994, she also starred in the drama Cries Unheard: The Donna Yaklich Story, as the abused step-daughter who was protected by Donna (Jaclyn Smith). In 1995, she appeared with British actor Bruce Payne in Kounterfeit. In 1996, she starred in a TV movie, family drama Terror in the Family, as a troubled teenager. In September 1997, Swank played single mother Carly Reynolds in Beverly Hills, 90210 and was initially promised it would be a two-year role, but saw her character written out after 16 episodes in January 1998. Swank later stated that she was devastated at being cut from the show, thinking, "If I'm not good enough for 90210, I'm not good enough for anything. "