15 TV Actors Who Became Movie Stars… Then Returned To Television

Movie stars are considered top rung in Hollywood. But these days, there’s been a shift: Some of the best content is coming from networks, cable, and streaming services. TV is better than ever, and actors are realizing that.

Despite leaving TV behind for life on the big screen, these actors have taken on projects in recent years that bring them back to where they first started out. Here are 15 of Hollywood’s highest-paid hotshots who are taking their talents back to the small screen.

15. Jennifer Aniston

As everyone knows, Jennifer Aniston got her start on the hit NBC sitcom Friends. She was arguably the breakout star of the series, and went on to star in films such as The Good Girl, Horrible Bosses, and Cake, the latter of which she received multiple nominations for her work.

Now that we’re in the golden age of television, Aniston is heading back to the small screen. Make that the very small screen: She and Reese Witherspoon are working on a project for Apple, which will be part of the tech company’s first foray into scripted programming. It’s already been picked up for two seasons.

14. Woody Harrelson

You might be most familiar with Woody Harrelson for his scene-stealing roles in films like Zombieland, The Hunger Games series, and the Oscar-nominated Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. But once upon a time, he was just a goofy bartender on Cheers.

Though he took a decade-long break from TV to build up his impressive list of film credits, Harrelson returned to the small screen to star alongside fellow movie star Matthew McConaughey in the first season of True Detective. He’s once again very busy on the big screen, but maybe he’ll find another project in the future that will draw him back to TV.

13. George Clooney

It’s hard to imagine George Clooney as anything other than a movie star these days; after all, he’s an Oscar-winning actor and producer for acclaimed films like Syriana and Argo. But his rise to fame began on a not-so-little TV drama known as ER.

Clooney has acted in many, many films since, but now, he’s returning to his roots. He’s executive producing, directing, and co-starring in an upcoming Hulu miniseries titled Catch-22, based, of course, on the infamous Joseph Heller novel.

12. Nicole Kidman

Australian actress Nicole Kidman rose to prominence in the U.S. after starring in major films such as Batman Forever and Moulin Rouge! But in her native Australia, she appeared on series such as Five Mile Creek way back in the ’80s.

Having cemented her leading lady status since then, Kidman began to work with HBO, appearing in two TV films and, most notably, the acclaimed series Big Little Lies. She has another television project, The Undoing in the works with the cable network as well.

11. Jim Carrey

Comedian Jim Carrey’s first big break came as a cast member on sketch comedy series In Living Color. It was at this time that he started to make films, beginning with the The Mask and other major comedies, before adding in a dramatic element with films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Carrey laid relatively low for a few years but has now returned to the spotlight on a smaller scale. He’s an executive producer for the Showtime series I’m Dying Up Here and is set to co-star in a series for the network titled Kidding. We can’t wait to see Jim back on the small screen!

10. Jamie Foxx

Another In Living Color alumnus is Jamie Foxx, who subsequently received his own sitcom, The Jamie Foxx Show back in 1996, which ran until 2001. Of course, we now know him best from his dramatic roles in Ray and Djanjo Unchained, as well as his comedic ones in flicks like Horrible Bosses.

Foxx is back on television, but not in the way you might expect. He is the host of the game show Beat Shazam, and executive produced a Showtime series about his own life, White Famous, which was canceled after one season.

9. Neve Campbell

Before Neve Campbell cemented her status as a Scream Queen with the Scream film series, she had a very different scary role: As one of five children on the hit Party of Five. While the drama series rose in prominence, she began her film career, and then left TV behind to pursue a film and stage career, save for the occasional guest arc.

Campbell’s first television role as a cast member since her Party of Five days was as LeeAnn Harvey on the Netflix drama House of Cards. She won’t be returning for the show’s final season, but it seems likely that she’ll come back for the right TV opportunity in the future.

8. Amanda Seyfried

Amanda Seyfried began her career like many other actors do: on soap operas. Her rise to prominence on both the big and small screens occurred at the same time — she starred in Mean Girls in 2004, the same year she recurred as Lily on Veronica Mars.

Seyfried stayed in TV for a while, starring on Big Love, but continued to build her film career. As she took on bigger and bigger movie roles, she’s stayed away from TV primarily. But in 2017, she came back to TV as a recurring character on the Twin Peaks revival.

7. Jared Leto

Long before he was scaring as us the Joker, Jared Leto was a bonafide teen heartthrob, appearing on the short-lived drama series My So-Called Life. He quickly began to land gradually more notable film roles, from Requiem for a Dream through Dallas Buyers Club, all while continuing to gain noteriety with his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars.

Thus far, Leto has returned to television for a documentary series called Into the Wild, based on his band, which he narrated in addition to directing and producing. His upcoming projects are, for now, a mystery, but we wouldn’t put it past him to carve out some time should anything particularly compelling come his way.

6. Hilary Swank

Acclaimed actress Hilary Swank acted in both film and TV at the beginning of her career, with an arc on Beverly Hills, 90210 being one of her last projects before her major break as a transgender teenager in Boys Don’t Cry.

From there, she gained notoriety, leaving television behind. But in 2018, she returned to star in the FX series Trust, which recounts the real-life J. Paul Getty kidnapping. The show is an anthology, so it’s unclear whether she’ll return for season two as another character (à la American Horror Story) or if they’ll start with a fresh new cast of actors.

5. Alec Baldwin

Coming from a family of actors must put on the pressure, but Alec Baldwin has always done fairly well for himself in Hollywood. He got his start on the soap operas The Doctors and Knots Landing prior to his breakout film role in The Hunt for Red October.

Aside from voice roles, TV movies, and the occasional guest role, Baldwin didn’t hold down a major television gig until he was cast as Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock. And while he’s not an official part of the Saturday Night Live cast, he’s been a mainstay on the program for the last couple of years due to his spot-on impression of Donald Trump.

4. Rob Lowe

Rob Lowe’s very first role was on a sitcom titled A New Kind of Family, which led him into his breakout film, The Outsiders. Lowe continued to make movies throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, but for some, it wasn’t until he returned to TV in The West Wing that he gained back his Brat Pack fanbase.

Lowe continued to stick with TV, starring on Brothers & Sisters and Parks and Recreation. Despite the failure that was The Grinder, Lowe has maintained his small screen success, starring in medical drama Code Black.

3. Idris Elba

He now has so many high-profile movie roles under his belt, but American audiences first came to love/hate him as Stringer Bell on The Wire. He continued to act on film and TV concurrently, starring on the BBC series Luther while landing roles in Thor and Prometheus.

Elba has been primarily focused on film for the last several years, aside from when he returns to Luther. Now, he’s turning his attention back to the small screen, with starring roles in the upcoming series In the Long Run (for which he’s also the creator) and Turn Up Charlie.

2. Jessica Biel

Athlete-turned-bad-girl Mary on 7th Heaven was the role that put Jessica Biel on the map. After leaving the show, she turned to film, landing parts in a variety of titles such as The Rules of Attraction, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Illusionist, making her a movie star.

However, after essentially a decade away, Biel has returned to TV with her critically-acclaimed drama series The Sinner on USA network.

1. Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley spent many years on TV before finally making it big on the silver screen. She was the first Kaitlyn Cooper on The O.C., and starred as a 15-year-old who unknowingly becomes pregnant on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which ran for several seasons on ABC Family.

Her breakout role in Oscar-winning film The Descendants and her turn as the lead in the Divergent series quickly cemented her place as a movie star, but she didn’t stay away from TV for too long. In 2017, she starred on Big Little Lies, which earned her an Emmy nomination.

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