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20 Famous Film Actors Who Started in TV Series

April 23, 2017
14 min read

Acting is an art and for an honest actor it doesn’t matter what the medium or platform is. The same rule applies for the Hollywood stars too. Be it films, television, radio or the stage a fine performance always makes an impact in people’s minds. We often talk about actors making the shift from TV to films. In the list below you will find the names of actors who have achieved success both on TV and films and some of them even managed to have dual career simultaneously. A few names are missing from the list – such as Viola Davis, Brad Pitt, Julianne Moore, Bryan Cranston to name a few – but the list below represents the most noteworthy transitions from being a TV star to a movie star.

20. Jennifer Garner

She was a big shot TV star with her multiple award winning show ‘Alias’ before making inroads into movies via brief roles, most notably in Woody Allen’s ‘Deconstructing Harry’. She is yet to replicate the mega success of her TV career in movies as well but she has done quite well for herself as a popular star on the verge of something big. With a couple of box office winners and big studio movies to her credit she is living the life of a bona fide Hollywood movie star. Her most renowned role till date is that of an early teen miraculously transforming into a 30 year old woman in ’13 Going on 30’.

19. Melissa McCarthy

She is an undeniable force in Hollywood. She broke every prevalent rule of showbiz to emerge as the unlikely American sweetheart of the 21st century. She is goofy, body-confident and talented with a capital T. She first showed sparks of her brilliance with a recurring role in the high rated TV show ‘Gilmore Girls’. However it was after her honest turn as an overweight woman in the show ‘Mike & Molly’ that Hollywood saw the potential in her to become a new age movie icon. Movies came calling next and the way she worked her way to the top is inspiring to say the least. She played a huge role in selling female oriented big budget films to the skeptical audiences. Her films have grossed over hundreds of millions worldwide and today she is a legit bankable star.

18. Michelle Williams

She made her acting debut with an episode of Baywatch back in 1993. It was followed by a stint as a teenage movie actress in films like ‘Lassie’ and ‘Species’. As destiny would have it she again found her calling on TV in the role of sexually troubled teenager in ‘Dawson’s Creek’ – a role which made her a shining star of TV. Film offers started pouring in, in large numbers but it wasn’t until her role of a housewife caught in the turmoil of her husband’s sexuality that she finally breakthrough in Hollywood. The film was ‘Brokeback Mountain’ where she co-starred alongside Heath Ledger and went on to receive an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. Since then she has shared screen space with Leonardo DiCaprio and almost came close to winning an Oscar with her roles in films like ‘Blue Valentine’, ‘My Week with Marilyn’ and ‘Manchester by the Sea’.

17. Claire Danes

Today she enjoys global fame through her role as ‘Carrie Mathison’ in the hard hitting TV series ‘Homeland’. Long before she made her mark as a movie actress with films like ‘Romeo + Juliet’, ‘The Rainmaker’, ‘The Hours’ and ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’, she started her career as a TV actor with an episode in ‘Law & Order’. The role that changed the course of her career was that of Angela Chase in ‘My So-Called Life’. Although it ran for only one season, it fetched her Golden Globe award for best actress in a drama series and a much coveted Emmy nomination.

16. Jared Leto

He shot to fame along with his co-star Claire Danes with the award winning show ‘My So-Called Life’ after appearing in a couple of episodes for ‘Camp Wilder’ and ‘Almost Home’. He made his big screen debut with ‘How to Make an American Quilt’ but the critics finally noticed him for his portrayal of Steve Prefontaine in the biopic made on the life of the American long-distance runner. Since then he has been a part of cult American films like ‘Fight Club’, ‘Girl, Interrupted’, ‘American Psycho’, ‘Panic Room’, ‘Requiem for a Dream’ and ‘Suicide Squad’. He got the highest recognition a Hollywood actor can ask for when he won an Oscar for his groundbreaking transgender role in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. He is also a director, producer and musician.

15. John Travolta

He ruled people’s hearts with his disco moves when its craze was at its peak in the 70s with his role of Tony Manero in ‘Saturday Night Fever’. Prior to becoming a saleable movie star he started out on television with bit roles and finally graduating to one of the leads in ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’. In the movies he further carried forward his dancing star image with Grease for which he won a Golden Globe as the world film favourite actor. Films like ‘Pulp Fiction’,’ Get Shorty’ and ‘Face/Off’ only added to his luster as a matinee idol. He also played a prank loving high school student in the cult horror movie ‘Carrie’.

14. Shia LaBeouf

He is a unique star in the sense that he doesn’t conform to Hollywood’s measure of stardom. After appearing in iconic shows like ‘X-Files’ and ‘Freaks and Geeks’ he landed an Emmy winning role in Disney’s ‘Even Stevens’. His gradual conversion into film roles saw him playing an angry teenager in ‘Disturbia’ and he found his golden ticket in Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers’ series. People witnessed a sudden shift in his personality in the latter half of the 2000s and when he attended the red carpet of the Berlin International Film Festival wearing a paper bag which had ‘I’m Not Famous Anymore’ written on it. Even his choice of films like ‘Nymphomaniac’ and ‘American Honey’ reveals the deep dark side of his persona.

13. Bruce Willis

One of the most revered action stars of Hollywood, Bruce Willis had an eventful television career before heating up the movies; thanks to his role in the mega hit show ‘Moonlighting’. His success story in films is known far and wide. He has managed to strike a balance between doing commercial action flicks and performance oriented roles – if one side there is the ‘Die Hard’ series, on the other hand films like ‘The Sixth Sense’ established his credibility as an actor of merit.

12. Anne Hathaway

The best thing about being Anna Hathaway is that she looks like a million bucks no matter what kind of roles she plays. Her first venture into acting was in a TV show called ‘Get Real’ which got cancelled even before it finished airing the first season. However she didn’t have to wait long as she landed a dream debut as Mia Thermopolis in ‘The Princess Diaries’ and thus she became an international star with her first film itself. She went on to become the poster girl of teenage flicks and ‘girly girl’ movies in Hollywood. When she shifted gears to more adult oriented roles she not only met with critical success but also won multiple awards including an Oscar. She is fairly considered to be one of the most beautiful and most Googled movie stars of all time.

11. Benedict Cumberbatch

He was more than happy being a theatre actor in his native country UK until he decided to try his luck on television. After a few trials and errors he found himself in the shoes of Sherlock Holmes and his career took a 360 degree turn for the better. Suddenly he became a global sensation as ‘Sherlock’ became one of the most watched and talked about series across the globe. And the world got a new acting superstar who was not your regular guy next door; rather he is a willing anti social. Film producers made a beeline for his dates and within no time he was rubbing shoulders with the best of the talents Hollywood has to offer. After appearing in a couple of decorative roles he finally came into his own with ‘The Imitation Game’. And the rest as they say is history.

10. George Clooney

He is such a mammoth of a star that whether it is television or films he shines through even in the weakest of productions. Luckily for him sub standard qualities of works are only few and far between in his illustrious career. As the face of the show ‘ER’ he ruled both the airwaves and people’s heart simultaneously. In movies he had the luxury of working with the Coen brothers and Steven Soderbergh. Despite being one of the busiest celebrities in the world he also found time to lend his voice and power to various humanitarian projects. In 2015 he was honoured with the Cecil B. DeMille award.

9. Halle Berry

Many have tried before her but she is the one who managed to break the glass ceiling with sheer determination and her go getter attitude. She always had dreams of showbiz in her eyes. After finishing runners up in a couple of high profile beauty pageants she ventured into television where she found momentary fame with ‘Living Dolls’. Initially the going was tough for her in the movies but she strived on and finally hit the jackpot with films like the ‘X-Men’ series, ‘Swordfish’, ‘Monster Ball’, ‘Die Another Day’. She holds the record for being the only black woman to have won a Best Actress Academy Award.

8. Tom Hanks

He is one of the most versatile actors around. Even at the age of 60 his enthusiasm to act in movies of multiple genres haven’t died down. Every time we think we have already seen the best of him he reinvents himself with an unexpected and unforgettable performance. He has left his brand of acting – which is easy going and light hearted – in every kind of movies be it a feel good romantic comedy or biopic or movies dealing with darker side of human emotions. He was an invincible force in the 90s and we are pretty sure he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. He is such a natural fit for the movies that it’s almost easy to forget that he was once a part of the sitcom ‘Bosom Buddies’ from 1980 to 1982, a role which required him to dress up as a woman.

7. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

We know him as the resident cutie pie of Hollywood. He wears the crown of his stardom lightly and takes his roles seriously. Like a dozen other Hollywood stars he also started out on TV by appearing on some odd episodes of popular TV shows and TV movies. For instance he played an Alien on a show titled ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’. He has had a pretty amazing run at the movies – from the likeable ‘500 Days of Summer’ to the recent ‘Snowden’ – and is a self made and secure actor.

6. Hilary Swank

Although she took the predictable route from TV to films her career is anything but ordinary. After landing one of the lead roles in the ABC one season wonder ‘Camp Wilder’ she ventured into films with a small role in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and a well etched out one in ‘The Next Karate Kid’. With her Oscar worthy performances in ‘Boys Don’t Cry ‘and ‘Million Dollar Baby’, she emerged as one of the most sought after and well paid stars of Hollywood. ‘P.S. I Love You’ is one of her most watched movies.

5. Robin Williams

The mere mention of the name Robin Williams brings forth a certain image in front of our eyes – a loving, caring, funny man with a flair for comedic talent and the ability to melt our hearts. In the late 70s while he was struggling to get roles that match his talent, he was doing quite well in the television circuit in shows like ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Mork & Mindy’. After his breakout role in ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ there was no looking back. He is one of the few actors to win all the highest honours of Hollywood – an Oscar, a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a Grammy award. He is one of the pioneers of standup comedy on American television. When he said goodbye to the world in 2014 we truly lost the last of our gentlemanly actors.

4. Jim Carrey

He needs no introduction whatsoever. His movies are watched by millions of his fans worldwide either on TV or DVDs. Like any serious actor whose main forte is comedy he also honed his craft initially on TV; the most significant role being on ‘In Living Color’ in the early 90s. Although he will always be remembered as the guy who made us laugh through his onscreen antics, his performances in dramatic films are noteworthy too. For instance his mind boggling act in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ is one of the best of his career.

3. Ryan Gosling

He was a TV child actor who charmed the viewers with his innocent looks and witty demeanour in ‘Mickey Mouse Club’. He also played the lead in a show called ‘Young Hercules’. Even as a child actor he displayed such amazing range of expressions in front of the camera that it almost became certain that his future belongs in showbiz. He joined films to better himself as an actor and he got the perfect opportunity in the role of Jewish Neo Nazi in ‘The Believer’. The critics went gaga over his performance in the film and a star was born who has the talent to match his irresistible good looks. Today he is a worldwide phenomenon with films like ‘The Notebook’, ‘The Ides of March’, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ and ‘La La Land’ to his credit.

2. Johnny Depp

If the term ‘movie icon’ were to have a face then it would be that of Johnny Depp. He redefined the definition of larger than life with his boisterous roles coupled with eye catching costumes and eccentric make up. Any movie buff worth his salt would be able to recite his filmography in one go. His first tryst with fame came when he played an undercover police officer in the iconic TV show ’21 Jump Street’. He owes a lot to the popularity of the show which made him a household name quite early in his career. The film that snowballed his movie career was Tim Burton’s ‘Edward Scissorhands’ and since then he has made a fortune out of playing over the top yet likeable characters.

1. Leonardo DiCaprio

The Oscar winning movie legend is perhaps the best actor of this generation. He is also one of the most loved actors of all time. In his capacity as an actor he has done his best to experiment with roles of different shades and has succeeded in portraying them effortlessly on the screen more often than not. To think of it that he started his career as a homeless teenager in a show called ‘Growing Pains’ only makes us wonder that he has attained some kind of artistic salvation through his various roles that he played over the years. He very famously once said in an interview: ‘If you can do what you do best and be happy, you’re further along in life than most people.’ Who are we to disagree?

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