10 Child Stars Who Totally Won As Adults

Being a child star is notoriously bad for your health – as Hollywood is littered with stories of young kids who had too much too young, went off the rails and squandered fame and fortune. From Lindsay Lohan to Macaulay Culkin, child fame has often been a cruel business. Yet some child stars aren’t destroyed by the ravages of fame, and even though they lead lives very different to what one might call normality – they still manage to pull themselves together and make themselves winners when they reached adulthood.

1. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt found fame playing an alien pretending to be a kid in the hit sitcom 3rd Rock From The Sun, which he was cast in at the age of 14. Before then he also had a number of roles in sit-coms and TV movies. The Looper star quit acting to attend university in New York and it’s helped him be a winner in later life. After missing out the usual phase child stars have of starring in edgier teen films to put their past behind them, he’s starred in a number of critically acclaimed smaller films, winning acclaim as a serious actor before returning to blockbusters like The Dark Night Rises. Now directing movies as well, he’s a child star who certainly put his early success.


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2. Leonardo Di Caprio

Leo-mania may have really taken off with 1997’s Titanic, but it was as a child star in the 1980s in TV shows like Parenthood and Roseanne that he got his break. Most famously he played Johnny Depp’s younger brother in 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? By making great film choices, in particular working with Martin Scorsese extensively, Leo made the transition from child star, to bankable hunk and then to serious actor. He’s now one of Hollywood’s most powerful actors and has therefore won at adulthood.


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3. Drew Barrymore

The fact that Drew did all the usual nightmare child star things makes her career renaissance all the more remarkable. Having been famous from the age of seven after starring in E.T. Barrymore went off the rails and was in rehab by the time she was 14. Yet once she reached adulthood she’d blossomed into a likeable rom-com star who had hits such as The Wedding Singer and Never Been Kissed under her belt, becoming one of the stars of the 1990s. Having turned 40 this year and started a family she’s now one of Hollywood’s more respectable faces. She’s a rare example of a child star who both had issues and ended up as one of Tinseltown’s most respectable stars.


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4. Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris became the biggest child star on TV for a while with Doogie Howser M.D. With the young NPH playing a teenage physician in the popular show which ran from 1989 to 1993. After a career lull which saw him star in a number of television series, Harris was cast as womanising Barney Stinson in How I MEt Your Mother, becoming one of American television’s most popular comic actors. As a versatile entertainer and actor  with a mischievous streak, he’s now in demand in film, starring in dramatic hits like Gone Girl. He also showed his comic skills by hosting the 2015 Oscars.


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5. Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart’s start as a film star didn’t come in the Twilight films, despite them making her inescapable as every teenage girl’s favourite mopey vampire loving girl. No she was also a child star who came to prominence playing Jodie Foster’s daughter in the 2002 thriller Panic Room. Kristen has had some problems transitioning from teen star to adulthood – most notably the feeding frenzy which accompanied her break-up with Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, but as a multi-millionairess who’s one of Hollywood’s most in demand actresses, and who appears to have sorted her personal life, we think she’s winning at adulthood.


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6. Emma Watson

Being cast in the Harry Potter movies was every child born in the late 1980s and early 1990s dream job – you’d get to be famous and a wizard. But as the stars got older, it could’ve been more of a poisonous potion due to the inevitable trappings of fame. However Emma has not only studied English at Brown University and starred in a number of critically acclaimed films since the franchise came to its conclusion, she’s also become a prominent spokesperson for women’s rights. While most of us would never have wanted to leave Hogwarts, adulthood seems to have come easy to Emma.


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7.  Jodie Foster

Amazingly, Jodie Foster’s showbiz career started at the age of three when she was cast in a commercial for Coppertone Girl. It was in the movies Taxi Driver and Bugsy Malone in her teens however that rocketed her to superstardom. This came with extremely negative consequences – as an obsessed fan of Taxi Driver, John Hinckley Jr, tried to assassinate US President Ronald Reagan in order to impress Foster. Despite this, she didn’t let fame and the problems it brought destroy her and had perhaps her most famous role as Clarice Starling in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs. After ‘coming out’ as a lesbian in her 2013 Golden Globes speech, she won the hearts of the public again for her dignity and bravery in addressing both LGBT and privacy issues.


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8. Daniel Radcliffe

Like Emma Watson, Radcliffe is another Harry Potter alumni, having played the boy wizard himself. Like his castmate he doesn’t seem to have let early fame go to his head, despite a well publicised period when by his own admission he may have drunk a little too much. Now Daniel is an articulate man is his twenties who likes to talk about politics and film, and who moving away from the blockbusters which made him famous now often chooses smaller arty films to act in such as the Beat poet based movie Kill Your Darlings.


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9. Christian Bale

Christian Bale seems like the opposite of a child star these days, often playing characters so gruff and brooding that one imagines they emerged from the womb in their thirties with a world weary scowl and a grudge against the world. However in another lifetime, Bale was a child star, most notably starring in the 1992 Disney musical Newsies about newspaper boy strikes. By moving from child star to the go-to-man if a director wants a brooding anti-hero, Christian Bale has shown that he’s totally winning in adulthood.


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10. Natalie Portman

Fans of the film Leon (called The Professional in the USA) will remember Natalie Portman as a waif like girl who wandered around with a pot plant being chased by a murderous police officers. When the film was made she was just 12, but its unlikely success catapulted Portman to early stardom. As an adult she’s become a successful and sought after actress, most notably starring in the critically acclaimed ballet film Black Swan, a role which saw her explore her dark side. By also speaking up for a number of social and political causes, she also shows that despite being famous since before she could watch the movies she starred in, she’s not let it go to her head.


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Written by Mark W

Freelance journalist, who having also worked in film has dealt with screenplays and creative writing.

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