18 Child Stars Who Became Successful Actors Into Adulthood

Child stars get a bad rap for going off the deep end of drug addiction and alcoholism ruining their careers. Of course, it totally happens — there is sadly a huge problem in Hollywood when adults start treating kids like grownups, and the pressure and access form self-destructive behaviors. Becoming famous at a young age must be extremely hard to deal with, and in Tinseltown temptation is everywhere. Look at all the problems Lindsay Lohan has endured. But for every Lindsay Lohan, there’s a Claire Danes. There’s even a Drew Barrymore, who struggled with drug addiciton after her child star years but picked herself back up to reach adult success.

A lot of child actors are able to continue their careers successfully into adulthood. It’s true that some, like Drew, may have a few bumps in the road but who doesn’t? The following celebrities started out their careers as kids but have now found mainstream success as an adult. It isn’t an easy feat but with some stability and talent, it can be done.

18. Christina Ricci

Christina Ricci started acting in commercials and scored her first feature film role in 1990 in a flick called Mermaids alongside Cher and Winona Ryder. From there, she infilitrated Hollywood starring in film after film aimed toward the younger crowd including The Addams Family, Now and Then, and Casper.
She’s been working steadily since with numerous TV roles and movies. Her seamless transition from child to adult actress has been unmarked by scandal and overexposure which is pretty rare these days!

17. Mayim Bialik

In the early 90s, there was no one cooler than Blossom and her sunflower hat. Mayim Bialik played the title character in a teen show that dealt with alcohol abuse, pregnancy scares, and dating older men. Blossom got real. Mayim was nominated for four Young Artist Awards between 1988 and 1993, one of which she won for her role in the movie Beaches. After Blossom ended, Mayim did cartoon voice work before returning to live-action TV.
She now stars on The Big Bang Theory, had a recurring role in The Secret Life of An American Teenager and won the 2016 Critics’ Choice Television Awards for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.

16. Elijah Wood

Elijah Wood‘s first role was a small part in Back to the Future Part II in 1989. Then he starred in the movie North, followed by The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn. After growing up as a child actor, he starred in the epic Lord of the Rings triology and starred in the FX show, Wilfred. He’ll always be Frodo to us, though.

15. Anna Paquin

Anna Paquin has the honor of being the youngest Best Supporting Actress winner ever! She was only 11 years old when she took home the golden statue for the romantic drama The Piano in 1993. She followed that up with the adorable movie about raising baby ducks called Fly Away Home. She went on to score the role of Rogue in the X-Men franchise and of course, was Sookie Stackhouse on the risque HBO series True Blood. Her acting transition was very seamless from childhood to adulthood. Very impressive.

14. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been a cutie his whole life. He was the adorable kid in Angels in the Outfield and starred on the hilarious ’90s sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. As a teenager he did 10 Things I Hate About You before taking a short break from acting to go to college.
These days, he’s starred in some big Hollywood movies including Inception, Looper, 500 Days of Summer and made his directorial debut with the film Don Jon. There is no doubt that he is very talented and will be a major name in Hollywood for a while.

13. Abigail Breslin

She followed in big brother Spencer Breslin‘s acting footsteps and made her own career — even eclipsing his fame. We first saw Abigail Breslin in Signs at age five as she avoided aliens. Then we saw her in a role that actually gained her an Academy Award nomination — Little Miss Sunshine. Her role transition into adulthood came fairly recently with Fox’s campy hit, Scream Queens. She also played Baby in the not-so-great TV adaptation of Dirty Dancing. Even so, she’s proven she won’t be lost in the mix.

12. Sean Astin

The ’80s wouldn’t have been the same without Sean Astin. The son of Hollywood legend Patty Duke starred in the classic child adventure film The Goonies and later played the title role in the college football movie Rudy. He disappeared for bit of time before landing a lead role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy — cementing his place in cinematic history. Sean Astin is still going strong today! He played the sweet, yet doomed, Bob Newby in season two of Stranger Things and we loved him in the role. #justiceforbob

11. Zac Efron

Zac Efron began acting at age four but as we all know, the world wasn’t introduced to that human perfection until 2004 when he was on The WB series Summerland. In 2006, he won his breakthrough role as Troy Bolton aka the school hottie in Disney channel’s High School Musical movies.
When that franchise ended, he started scoring lead theatrical movie roles starting with Hairpray and 17 Again. Despite a stint in rehab for alcoholism and substance abuse, he rebounded quick and has been keeping it 100 ever since. He most recently starred in this past summer’s Baywatch and can be seen in the musical The Greatest Showman co-starring Zendaya. We’re looking forward to seeing him play Ted Bundy in a new biopic — the guy is nothing if not versatile!

10. Hilary Duff

Hilary Duff is another Disney child star that made the succesful jump from child actress to adult star. Obviosuly she was in Lizzie McGuire, our fave, and also starred in the Disney Channel Original Movie, Cadet Kelly. Once she decided to leave Disney, she starred in a few of movies including A Cinderella Story and Cheaper by the Dozen and infamously dated Aaron Carter. She also had a successful music career in between all of that… Remember “So Yesterday” and “Come Clean?” Great songs.
Anyway, she’s been starring on the TV Land hit show Younger since 2014. She really has her stuff together and is pretty much the only Disney star who didn’t go through that publicly rebellious period like MiCy or Demi Lovato.

9. Christian Bale

Christian Bale is a pretty big actor known for his strict commitment to his film roles. He had acted beforehand but first recieved mainstream recognition at age 13 after starring in Empire of the Sun as a British boy who ends up in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. He then danced for us in Newsies and charmed us as Laurie in the 1994 adpatation of Little Women. Then came one hell of an adult role.
In 1999, he was serial killer Patrick Bateman in American Pshyco and he was officially an ~real adult actor~. Besides being a little intense sometimes, Christin Bale has had a very successful career. Let’s never forget he was Batman in The Dark Knight trilogy as well. He’s definitely made his mark on pop culture.

8. Sara Gilbert

Sara Gilbert was the sarcastic middle daughter on the favorite ’90s hit sitcom, Roseanne. Since the show ended, she has had guest roles and recurring roles on shows like ER and The Big Bang Theory. Just to be clear, she’s still playing sarcastic charcters. Shhe does it perfectly, so why not? She’s been a co-host of daytime talk show The Talk since 2010 and had a fairly low-key career while remaining relevant. She’s returning for the Roseanne revival set to air in early 2018. Can’t wait!

7. Emma Watson

Without any prior acting experience besides a school play, Emma Watson was super lucky to score the role of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter film franchise. Of course, this brought her worldwide fame and we’ve been pretty much obsessed with her ever since. Post-Harry Potter, Emma did the whole college thing and went to Brown University (NBD). She graduated with a degree in English in May 2014, she’s a UN Goodwill Ambassador for gender equality and she’s been a good role model for girls everywhere. She most recently charmed us all in the Disney remake of Beauty and the Beast, but could also be spotted in a naughtier role prior in The Bling Ring. We loved her in Perks of being a Wallflower. Basically, the girl can do no wrong.

6. Anna Chlumsky

Was anyone out there not devastated by the end of My Girl? It was such a sad, moving, and even realistic film because crappy things do happen to good people, even children. Most of that emotion was because of Ann Chlumsky‘s acting skills, even though she was just an 11-year-old! She also did the My Girl sequel and few other films while in her younger years.
Shortly after that, Anna took a hiatus from acting to go to college and stay out of the spotlight — something that was probably necessary for her sanity. She even scored a “real” job working as a fact checker and an editorial assistant before heading back to Hollywood. After realizing she was unsatisfied in the real world, she returned to acting. Now, she’s been on the super successful political comedy Veep and walking red carpets.

5. Neil Patrick Harris

What would How I Met Your Mother be without womanizer Barney Stinson? Played by openly gay Neil Patrick Harris, it wasn’t his first sitcom. He first played a child genius on Doogie Howser M.D.. His character had completed college at age 10 and then proceeded to med school and started working as a doctor at age 14. While I’m pretty sure this could never happen in real life, it was a good show. After an acting hiatus, he returned on Broadway showing off his awesome voice and finally made a big comeback with HIMYM.

4. Kirsten Dunst

This girl was in seemingly every movie you loved as a child. At age 12, she scored a lead role in Interview with a Vampire, where she had to kiss Brad Pitt. Looking back now, that’s kind of gross. Either way, her next role was as Amy in Little Women. As a teenager, she starred in the iconic cheerleader film Bring It On, and other teen hits including The Virgin Suicides, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and Get Over It. Oh yeah… and she was also Mary-Jane in those Spider-Man movies with Tobey Maguire. So, pretty damn successful. Besides a stay in a treatment center for depression, Dunst hasn’t been in any trouble or had trouble finding work.

3. Drew Barrymore

Not only was Drew Barrymore a child star, she’s a Hollywood legacy. All of her grandparents were actors, her godfather is Steven Spielberg and her godmother is Sophia Loren. She’s a pretty big deal. At the age of six, she was cast in E.T. the Extra Terresitial. After, followed more movies, and an infamous downward spiral.
As a child, Drew began drinking, smoking, going to clubs, and doing drugs by age 13. At 14, she went to rehab, and chhecked out before going back a second time. Since then, she beat the odds and has a pretty hot career. Never Been Kissed anyone? 50 First Dates? And how about Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet? Drew has definitely made the difficult transition.

2. Claire Danes

When she was 15, Claire Danes landed the lead role in beloved teen drama My So-Called Life. Unfortunately, it was canceled way too soon after just one season and has become something of a cult classic show ever since.
As a teenager, she also played Beth in Little Women and Juliet in the highy stylized Romeo + Juliet film co-starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Claire decided to go off to college before deciding that wasn’t her thing and started acting again. These days, she plays the lead role on the Showtime series Homeland which has won a sh*t ton of awards. Not too shabby, eh?

1. Reese Witherspoon

Reese has made such a name for herself as a successful actress that many seem to forget she got into the acting business when she was just 14 years old! Her first role, The Man and the Moon premiered in 1991 and was considered a bit “risky” for a girl of her age. The same year, she was on the television show, Wilflower. Since then, we’ve seen her star in movies like Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama, as well as more serious flicks like Walk the Line, for which she even won an Academy Award! Nowadays, we’re obsessing over her character in Big Little Lies and begging for a season two.

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