Popular Celebrities Who Were Child Stars

Popular Celebrities Who Were Child Stars

Dec 10, 2020Ugo

Rising to the top of Hollywood often comes slowly, especially as a child. Sometimes, careers stall after appearing in movies as a kid. As a result, most child movie sensations usually fade into obscurity or change career paths. But some of these wunderkinder grow up to become A-list celebrities in different areas of entertainment. Bet you didn’t know Ryan Gosling and JT were on The Mickey Mouse Club. Here are the celebrities you didn’t realize were child stars. It will blow your mind to find out the roles they played as kids...and how cute they were.

Natalie Portman

Remember that charismatic young lady that accompanied Leon during his killing spree? Yes, that was Natalie Portman. She made her debut in Leon: The Professional in 1994. Since then, it has been a meteoric rise to the top. Natalie Portman also directed A Tale of Love and Darkness.

Helen Hunt

Helen was introduced to the Hollywood audience as Jamie Buchanan in Mad About You. Her performance in The Sessions earned her an Academy Award Nominations. In 2007, Helen Hunt made her directorial debut in Then She Found Me.

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore has been a TV darling since she was seven, appearing on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. She has also played major roles in movies like Scream, Going the Distance, and Grey Gardens. Today, her star lies on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Jason Bateman

Before getting tricked into becoming a baron in Ozark, Jason Bateman was a Hollywood darling. He played James Cooper on Little House on the Prairie at the age of twelve. He later appeared in other comedy films and shows, like Zootopia and Arrested Development.

Scarlett Johansson

Everyone’s favorite movie star made her acting debut as a 12-year old in Manny & Lo. She has maintained constant appearances in different movies since then, including Ghost World. But her marquee performance as an adult was in Lost in Translation. Nowadays, she is famous as the Black Widow for her portrayal of the character in Iron Man 2. Scarlett has a Tony Award under her belt for her appearance in A View From the Bridge

Katherine Heigl

Katherine started her career as a model before turning her attention to acting. Since then, she has not looked back. Her most famous role as a youngster was on My Father the Hero alongside the French acting legend, Gérard Depardieu. Some of her notable films include Knocked Up, The Ugly Truth, Life As We Know It, New Year's Eve, and Unforgettable.

Alyson Hannigan

Alyson enjoyed a stint on the short-lived series Free Spirit. Her major debut came in 1997 when she played Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Alyson also appeared in the American Pie series as Michelle. Currently, she is the voice of Claire Clancy in Fancy Nancy.

Elisabeth Moss

Elisabeth gained international recognition for the first time, following her role in The West Wing. Eventually, she became a regular in Mad Men. But she didn’t stop there. Elisabeth Moss played Detective Griffin in Top of the Lake, which earned her a Golden Globe. Nowadays, she is famous for her role in The Handmaids’ Tale.

Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake’s start in Hollywood was of no surprise to anyone since his father, Stephen Gyllenhaal, was a Hollywood director. However, he paved his own way, starting from his role in City Slickers. Later on, he received an Academy Award nomination for his remarkable performance in Brokeback Mountain. Jake has also starred in Source Code, Prisoners, Enemy, Southpaw, and Nightcrawler.

Mila Kunis

Before her rise to stardom, Mila played roles in commercials. However, her lucky break came with her debut in Days of Our Lives. Mila Kunis became a household name following her appearance on That ‘70s Show. But when she is not Justin Timberlake’s ‘friend with benefits,’ Mila is making waves internationally. Mila Kunis was named the sexiest woman alive in 2012.

Joaquin Phoenix

Nowadays, Joaquin is beloved for his incredible performance as the ‘Joker’ in the movie of the same name. But before that, he starred in the film Her, which earned him a nomination for the Golden Globe. And even before that, he delivered an acting masterclass as Emperor Commodus in Gladiator. But all this started with his debut on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the age of 8.

Mayim Bialik

You probably recognize her as Sheldon’s neuroscientist wife, Amy Farrah Fowler. But Mayim did not become a celebrity overnight. In fact, Her television debut was as far back as 1988 in Beaches. It will surprise you to know that she is an actual neuroscientist.  

Leonardo DiCaprio

If you fell in love with Leo from Titanic, then you are not alone. This movie is by far his most significant role to date. But this Hollywood heartthrob’s debut started as early as the age of 5. He won his first Oscar nomination at 19 for his supporting role in What's Eating Gilbert Grape. DiCaprio’s illustrious filmography includes blockbusters like The Great Gatsby and Inception.

Reese Witherspoon

Reese made her on-screen debut at 15 in The Man in the Moon. However, it was not until 1999 that her stock rose in Hollywood, following her performance in Cruel Intentions. Reese also won an Academy Award for her role in Walk the Line. Her most recent works include Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere.

Miley Cyrus

Miley has long been everyone’s favorite celebrity to hate since her ill-advised x-rated performance at the VMAs. But before she became an award-winning songstress, Miley was Hannah Montana on the Disney TV series. What a remarkable transformation! We love both versions of Miley Cyrus.

Selena Gomez

Before dating Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez had a different sweetheart, Barney. She later appeared on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Palace. Nowadays, Selena is more famous for her incredible vocals, with hot singles all over Billboard.

Demi Lovato

Demi is another of the Disney kids who made it to superstardom as adults. She appeared on Barney & Friends alongside Selena Gomez. Demi Lovato later landed minor roles on TV. But her push to stardom came when she released her debut album, Be Like a Pop Star, in 2008. Demi Lovato doesn’t look like she is stopping anytime soon.

The Olsen Twins

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen started their careers as infants on Full House before their first birthday! But when Full House ended, the twins decided to transition to films. During the span of their career, the Olsen twins appeared in Two of a Kind, Passport to Paris, Winning London, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, and New York Minute. These ladies have been around for a minute. Nowadays, they are more concerned with fashion than acting.

Jessica Alba 

You probably know her from her performance in the Fantastic Four movie and sequel. Or you fell in love with her in Good Luck Chuck. But Jessica Alba’s Hollywood debut dates way back to Camp Nowhere in 1994. Jessica Alba has been on top of the list of the world's most beautiful women.

Jaleel White

Jaleel is most famous for his character, Steve Urkel, in Family Matters. His quirky attitude and lively on-screen presence helped propel the show to stardom. He has since then appeared in minor roles on House and Dancing with the Stars.

Marques Houston 

His first Hollywood appearance was in Bebe’s Kids in 1992. Since then, Houston has switched his passion from acting to singing. Today Marques Houston has recorded six studio albums in the R&B genre.

Ethan Hawke 

Ethan is one of those childhood prospects whose stars dimmed for a while. After his first role in Explorers, he fell off the radar. Eventually, his big comeback came with his role in Dead Poets Society, starring Robin Williams and Robert Sean Leonard. 

Amanda Seyfried

Amanda landed her first acting gig on a soap opera, As the World Turns. She played Lucy, a recurring character, on the soap. However, her rise to prominence came in the comedy flick Mean Girls. Since then, Amanda has appeared in other Hollywood movies, including the musical Les Misérables

Regina King 

Although she is famous for her work in movies like Poetic Justice and Boyz in the Hood, Regina King has had a long-spanning career in front of the cameras. She made her TV debut on the show 227 as Brenda Jenkins. Today, she has even appeared on sitcoms and has also voiced over Riley and Huey Freeman’s characters in Boondocks.


Before becoming a successful singer… Before performing a weird rendition of the US National anthem at the NBA All-Star Game… Fergie was a childhood sensation. She appeared on Disney’s Kids Incorporated under her real name Stacy Ferguson.

Ryan Gosling

Ryan is one of the illustrious alumni of The Mickey Mouse Club. He featured on the show alongside other future A-listers, like Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. Ryan’s stellar performance on the show laid down the marker for his Hollywood career. And his role in The Notebook cemented him as everyone’s favorite sweetheart.

Justin Timberlake

Similar to Gosling, Timberlake featured on The Mickey Mouse Club. His remarkable curly hair and happy-go-lucky demeanor endeared him to various worldwide audiences. Later on, Justin would join NSYNC before leaving to focus on his solo music career. He also played roles in The Social Network and Friends with Benefits.

Ryan Reynolds

Our other favorite, Ryan, was born in Canada. He rose to fame in the Canadian soap opera Hillside. Ryan Reynolds eventually featured in Blade: Trinity. His comedic personality made him a massive draw for feel-good movies and shows like Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. But his massive break would come with his performance in The Proposal. Today, he is best known for his masterclass in Deadpool.

Nick Cannon

What hasn’t Nick done in Hollywood? From dissing Eminem to featuring in a movie about a fictional soccer player. The former host of Wild’n’Out has done it all. But his fame all started back in 2005 on the Nickelodeon show All That. He was even married to the great Mariah Carey for eight years.

Lil Bow Wow (Shad Moss)

He started as a young rapper around in the early 90s. In 1993, he received an all-important cosign from the rap legend, Snoop Dogg. Bow Wow later signed to ‘So So Def Recordings,’ releasing his debut album in 2000, aged 13. A few years later, he switched to acting, featuring in All About The Benjamin. But Bow Wow’s climb to stardom peaked when after his performance in Like Mike.

Shia LaBeouf

Shia Lebouf is an extraordinary character — he sees what he wants, and just… does it! Shia’s first movie role came in the 1998 movie, The Christmas Path. He appeared in Transformers and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Shia Lebouf also landed a role in Nymphomaniac and played John McEnroe in Borg vs. McEnroe. Shia’s awe-inspiring performance in the Elastic Heart music video encapsulates his genius. And he is still famous...

Dakota Fanning

Dakota’s star rose after she appeared in I Am Sam. She is the youngest nominee for the Screen Actors Guild Award at 8 years old. As an adult, Dakota has appeared in The Twilight Saga, The Runaways, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. She is also one of the leading characters on the TV show, The Alienist.

Michael J. Fox

‘Marty McFly’ actually became a celebrity as a child, following his appearance in Back to the Future. But he has had a bustling career featuring appearances in video games, songs, and TV shows. He has taken a clean break from acting to focus on his deteriorating health. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s disease now helps people with Parkinson’s cope with daily life.

Ron Howard

His acting debut came in the original Twilight Zone. But his breakout role was Opie Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show. That was back in 1960 when he was only 6. Ron is best known as a director today. Some of his most notable works include A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man.

Emma Watson

Okay, this one is relative depending on when you met her. But Hermoine came to prominence for her outstanding performance in the Harry Potter film series. She would struggle to shake off that ‘Hermoine’ tag. Since her success with Harry Potter, Hermoine has featured in other movies like The Bling Ring and the critically acclaimed The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Daniel Radcliffe

The man we know as ‘Harry Potter’ will probably never land a greater role than this. But surprisingly, Harry Potter was not Daniel’s acting debut. He featured in David Copperfield in 1999. He has also taken other roles outside the wizardry world in movies like Kill Your Darlings and Now You See Me 2.

Keira Knightley

Keira was introduced to the Hollywood audience through her performances in Pirates of the Caribbean and Atonement. She featured in a few shows on British TV. But her debut was in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. She also played a major role in Bend it Like Beckham.

Neil Patrick Harris

Before he turned in the ‘jolly-old fella’ from How I Met Your Mother, Neil was already a Golden Globe Nominee for Clara’s Heart. Neil made his acting debut on Doogie Howser, M.D. Nowadays, Neil is best known as a host for award shows, lighting up the room with his infectious personality.

Will Smith

Will Smith is as high as being A-list goes. Born and raised in West Philadelphia, Will Smith spent most of his days on the playground, being up to no good. But his life turned around after he traveled from the hood to Hollywood, where he became The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But before all that, Will Smith was a rapper. He has won four Grammy Awards and received Oscar nominations for his performances in several movies.

Christian Bale

Christian made his debut on Empire of the Sun, which was directed by Spielberg, the god-king himself.  When he is not putting his body through hell for a movie role, Christian Bale is mostly out of the spotlight. He is famous for his roles in American Psycho, The Fighter, and The Big Short. But Bale’s main acting highlight was his performance as Batman in the Dark Knight series.

Laurence Fishburne

Mostly famous for giving Neo the ‘red pill’ in The Matrix, Laurence has enjoyed a long and fruitful career in Hollywood. His first acting role was Joshua Hall in One Life to Live. He also appeared in Cornbread, Earl and Me as well as in The Color Purple. He has also appeared in several genres over the years. Currently, he combines his acting responsibilities with his work for UNICEF.

Jodie Foster

Before her battle of wits and guts with Hannibal Lecter, Jodi Foster already had a history in Hollywood. Her first acting role was in Mayberry R.F.D. She later appeared in The Doris Day Show. Jodi also played minor roles in Taxi Driver and Freaky Friday. But her crowning moment came from her performance in the spine-tingling The Silence of the Lambs.

Elijah Wood

Froddo Baggins has been through one heck of a ride. And for some reason, he still never seems to change. The ring must have something to do with it. But before The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit, Elijah Wood had already featured in other movies. His professional acting debut was in Back to the Future II. This guy has definitely got some aging secrets.

Chloe Grace Moretz

Younger audiences might have encountered Chloe during her teenage years. But before the fame, she was a child actor. Her first acting role was in The Amityville Horror. Recently, Chloe has appeared in The Equalizer, If I Stay, and 500 days of Summer.

Johnny Galecki

Before he decided to pursue a career in Physics and move in with Sheldon Cooper, Leonard (or Johnny) was a child star. He appeared in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Johnny Galecki also played a role in Roseanne. But his most remarkable acting achievement came as Leonard Hofstadter in The Big Bang Theory.

Rising to stardom at a young age is always a two-way street: either you go ahead to do great things, or your career goes downhill. But these famous celebs are still at the top of the game after all these years. Some of them have overcome various obstacles to get to where they are today. We look forward to many more years of being inspired by them. Which of these celebrities’ acting past surprised you?

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