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Top 10 Child Actors Turned Successful Adult Actors

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Matthew Thomas. These are those rare child star success stories. Join as we count down our picks for the top 10 child actors who turned into successful adult actors. For this list, we’re looking at actors who impressed us as youngsters, and then impressed us again as successful adults. These actors proved us all wrong and became some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Special thanks to our users Maeve Kilcarr, TheDanielDayLewis, Caneathia Watkins, Nicole Calleja, Hector Daniel Lovera Bautista and Angie Jeremiason for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Matthew Thomas.

Top 10 Child Actors That Became Successful Adult Actors

These are those rare child star success stories. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 child actors who turned into successful adult actors.

For this list, we’re looking at actors who impressed us as youngsters, and then impressed us again as successful adults. However, we’re excluding young actors who have yet to have long and fruitful careers as adults, like Dakota Fanning or the Harry Potter trio, as well as actors who began in their teens, like Neil Patrick Harris and Leonardo DiCaprio.

#10: Elijah Wood

If any Hollywood actor knows the importance of initiative, it’s this guy. You may recognize him as Frodo Baggins from the massively popular “LOTR” trilogy. But he might never have been cast had it not been for the audition tape he took it upon himself to send in. His turn as Frodo made him an international star and helped the world to see him as a man instead of the boy from films like “North,” “The Good Son” and that one scene in “Back to the Future II.” Wood has since shown the world his abilities in breakthrough roles in “Sin City” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” proving he’ll be around for a while.

#9: Kurt Russell

A legendary Hollywood star who had his first film role beside Elvis Presley at the age of 11, Kurt Russell’s career has spanned five decades – and his success has remained relatively constant. An actor who, according to some sources, was Disney’s top star of the 1970s, Russell transitioned easily from more family-friendly fare to more mature or straight-up badass roles. An A-list actor who’s also become a cult film darling, Russell’s collaborations with John Carpenter ensured he’d remain relevant to a whole new generation of action flick fans.

#8: Drew Barrymore

When she first came to prominence as a child star in “E.T.,” to say that she was adorable seems like we’re woefully understating things. In one of the most successful movies of all time, Drew managed to shine even though her role easily could’ve been forgettable in the hands of most young actors. But, the pressure of stardom and being part of one of America’s most famous acting dynasties finally got to her, and it seemed as though she might end up like so many child stars who lives hit the skids. Fortunately, she began rebuilding in the late-‘90s, and has continued her reign as a very bankable star.

#7: Elizabeth Taylor

Inciting a bidding war in the era of movie studio contracts, Elizabeth Taylor had both Universal and MGM banging down her door due to their belief that she was a star in the making. To say they were right is an understatement. Appearing more serious and somehow older than many of her similarly aged counterparts, Elizabeth’s focus eventually became one of her most priceless strengths. A woman whose star power was so strong she remained a highly sought-after celebrity years after her acting career went mostly dormant, Taylor’s beauty and acting chops played as a child and as an adult.

#6: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

After starting his screen career as a tyke [Quantum Leap], Gordon-Levitt became one of the stars of the long running but underrated sitcom “3rd Rock from the Sun,” in a role that allowed him to show off his stellar comedic timing and know-how as an old man trapped in a youthful body. Once that show came to an end, he tried his hand at more dramatic roles and indie flicks, before shedding his boyish persona almost entirely and ultimately becoming a star in big-budget films.

#5: Anna Paquin

One of the youngest performers ever to win an Academy Award, Paquin’s early years in the film industry were marked by a playful spirit and an ability to tackle weighty subjects. When it came time to transition to onscreen adulthood, she never missed a beat with excellent appearances in respected films like the “X-Men” series, “25th Hour” and “Almost Famous.” Finally completely coming of age for most audiences thanks to her starring role in “True Blood,” Anna seems poised to have a lengthy and celebrated career in years to come.

#4: Mickey Rooney

Beginning acting at the ripe old age of 6, Mickey Rooney the rest of his 93 years on this planet making appearances in front of the cameras, and though his star may have passed away his legacy lives on. One of the last living silent film era stars, and a Hollywood heavyweight with one of the longest careers going, Mickey proved his skills with acclaimed roles including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at age 15 and an Academy Award nominated performance at almost 60 in “The Black Stallion.” Mickey Rooney won awards, receipts and hearts over the course of a multi-decade career with his humor, charm and genuine talent.

#3: Natalie Portman

Viewers were introduced to Ms. Portman when she was barely in her tweens, but even then her skills made her an acting heavyweight who was wise beyond her years and as mature as her co-stars Gary Oldman and Jean Reno in “Leon: The Professional.” Ironically, when she was finally awarded an Oscar for her work, it was for her role as a woman who in many ways was childlike and repressed, living under the thumb of her mother. Whatever her age or whichever emotion she’s evoking, Natalie Portman is a talented actress of the highest regard who’s transitioned from child star to adult star with grace.

#2: Christian Bale

When viewing the intense, often angry performances of Christian Bale’s recent years it’s difficult to believe he was once a cute child actor or a singing and dancing teen, but we have the movies to prove it. If you can get past his baby face and instead focus on the gravitas he brought to his characters at such an early age, his current trajectory makes perfect sense. You can see the kind of passion even then that could lead an actor to lose and gain weight for roles, even to the detriment of his health, and can catch glimpses of a thespian who could later lose himself entirely in his work.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

- Ryan Gosling

- Shia LaBeouf

- Sean Astin

- Christina Ricci

- Jason Bateman

#1: Jodie Foster

A massively talented and respected actress who first earned an Academy Award nomination at 15 after a long list of performances, and who took home the trophy twice over the following 15 years, Foster earned her place in Hollywood. After making her screen debut at the age of three, she’s finally transitioned to the director’s chair, and her peers hold her in such esteem that she seems to make whatever project she spearheads a reality, including a film about a man and his beaver puppet. There are few actors who’ve created as many well remembered characters as Ms. Foster.

Do you agree with our list? Which child actor do you think became a successful adult actor? For more acting Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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