Christian Bale returned to the big screen after a three-year absence with Thor: Love and Thunder, wowing audiences with his performance as Gorr the God Butcher. With massive successes like his role as Batman behind him, it’s incredible to consider the fact that Bale started out as a child actor.
There have been many other well-known stars who were very popular as young performers and have successfully become A-listers as adults. These range from TV child stars like Zendaya to big screen favorites like Christina Ricci, and more. It’s interesting to see what roles made them popular as youngsters and which films and shows have kept them famous to this day.
His turn in Empire of the Sun remains the favorite Christian Bale performance for many fans, with the film being the second theatrical release for the actor. Mio in the Land of Faraway was Bale’s big screen debut, which he’d filmed with Empire of the Sun before he turned 13.
Bale’s first onscreen credit was in 1986’s Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna at the age of 12, and the actor has come a long way since. His first prominent role as an adult was in Little Women at the age of 20, with the actor now known for huge hits like The Dark Knight. Bale also went on to win the Oscar award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Fighter.
Kenan Thompson’s claim to fame was the sketch comedy series All That, which was known for starring youngsters in a SNL-like show aimed at a teen audience. Thompson was about 15 years old when he was cast in the series, while his first acting credit was in D2: The Mighty Ducks at the same age.
While technically an adult when he starred in Kenan & Kel as an 18-year-old, Thompson was still quite young when he tasted further success. Of course, his most mainstream credit has been as the longest-running cast member of Saturday Night Live, which he’s been part of since 2003. The actor and comedian has also starred in other successful films like Fat Albert and the self-titled sitcom Kenan.
There are more than several well-received Scarlett Johansson movies by now, with the actress becoming a major A-list commercial and critical success. Before she was starring in Oscar-nominated films like Jojo Rabbit and Marriage Story, along with box office golds like The Avengers, Johansson was a prolific child actress.
She made her debut as a 9-year-old in North and a skit on TV in Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Johansson followed that up with parts in Home Alone 3 and several other films like If Lucy Fell and Just Cause. She’s now primarily known for older roles in features such as Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Don Jon, remarkably bettering her child actor career by a long way.
The Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in The Power of the Dog has led to an interest in Kirsten Dunst’s best movies, which also feature her work as a child star. Dunst earned her first role as a 6-year-old in the anthology film New York Stories before Interview with a Vampire served as her breakthrough.
The actress was only a 12-year-old when she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for Interview with a Vampire. However, its parts in blockbusters like Spider-Man and critically acclaimed features, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that have made her a mainstream star. Dunst has also been a successful TV star with roles in Fargo and On Becoming a God in Central Florida.
There have been many acclaimed movies starring Zendaya, with the actress firmly landing more mature parts in dramas like Euphoria. Even Zendaya’s turn as MJ in MCU’s Spider-Man:Homecoming was her playing a teenager while being in her 20s.
However, Zendaya was a successful child star before her days in starring in films like Dune, having been a Disney sensation. The sitcom Shake It Up was responsible for Zendaya’s popularity, which she starred in as a 13-year-old. Zendaya’s young career continued in a number of appearances in Disney Channel shows, but she has since moved on from her Disney days due to her big-time success now with blockbusters like The Greatest Showman.
Anna Paquin set a ridiculously high bar for herself and child actors worldwide by winning the Oscar award for Best Supporting Actress at the age of 11 in her debut film, The Piano. Her child acting success continued with acclaimed performances in Fly Away Home and other works.
Still, fans today know her primarily for her turn in the X-Men film series and the adult-oriented monster show True Blood. Paquin has additionally garnered nominations for her work in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler to leave her child acting career firmly behind.
Christina Ricci might be one of the most well-known child actors of all time thanks to her role as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family. She made her film debut even earlier as a 9-year-old in Mermaids and also starred in the successful children’s horror comedy Casper.
Ricci has shed that image for a while now with adult roles in Monster, Penelope, and Yellowjackets. The actress is known these days for playing dark characters with an edge thanks to TV shows like The Lizzie Borden Chronicles and Z: The Beginning of Everything. Interestingly, she will be taking a trip back to her child acting days with the Wednesday series set in The Addams Family universe.
Drew Barrymore achieved fame as a child actress with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was the highest-grossing film at the time. Her debut came earlier with Altered States as a 5-year-old two years earlier. While her filmography was massive even before turning 18, the actress still became better-known as an adult.
Barrymore’s range was first seen in Scream where even her small role captured attention. She then turned into a comedic actress with parts in Charlie’s Angels, 50 First Dates, and Music and Lyrics, among others. Her switch to TV has been equally successful with Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet and hosting her talks show The Drew Barrymore Show since 2020.
Michael B. Jordan’s work as a child actor is unique since he never really appeared in movies and shows aimed at young audiences. His first mainstream movie was the sports-comedy Hardball, appearing as a teenager on a baseball team.
Jordan’s role as Wallace in The Wire took him to the big leagues, having been 15 years old at the time he played a troubled drug dealer. Jordan has since become an A-list star with blockbusters like Creed and Black Panther. He first gained attention in the critically acclaimed Fruitvale Station as a film star while his TV success as an adult began with Friday Night Lights.
Jodie Foster has been acting since the age of 5, starting with the sitcom Mayberry R.F.D. Foster’s prolific run extended to the big screen with Napoleon and Samantha at 9 years of age. It was Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver that propelled her to stardom, with Foster still only 13 at the time.
Still, the actress became a big-time star as an adult with successes like The Silence of the Lambs and The Accused, both of which won her the Oscar award for Best Actress. Foster also transitioned into directing with Little Man Tate and continued in the role with Home for the Holidays, Money Monster, and more.
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