The Top 20 Child Actors (Then and Now)

The Top 20 Child Actors (Then and Now)

The movie industry is a challenging field to thrive in, given its precarious nature. Actors spend years to hone their...

The movie industry is a challenging field to thrive in, given its precarious nature. Actors spend years to hone their...

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The movie industry is a challenging field to thrive in, given its precarious nature. Actors spend years to hone their craft and yet at times end up receiving no acclaim or fame in return. 

Some struggle year after year before receiving some hard-earned recognition. While plenty of actors receives recognition over time, young actors are not entirely immune from becoming stars at a young age.

Many established actors and prominent names in the industry have started their careers from a young age. 

As long as a child appears talented enough, there’s opportunity galore for parents to raise them to become famous in the field.

But becoming a child actor is easier said than done. Even after becoming one, a child actor has to go through a lot. 

The issues of time management, perseverance, hard work, etc., are some of the challenges that come with being in the public eye.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that many actors who achieve stardom at a young age end up mishandling their fame and name. That said, here’s a list of 20 child actors who achieved quite a lot before turning 18 and continue to do so even after.

20 Child Actors:

1. Lindsay Lohan

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Lohan became a prominent name in the industry on some modeling assignments when she was only 3. 

Having modeled for big brands such as Calvin Klein Kids, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s, she had major roles in soap operas and Disney by 12.

This led to a successful career transition as an adult. Lohan then featured as a leader in successful movies such as Freaky Friday (2003), Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004), and Mean Girls (2004). 

Lohan, however, has received media scrutiny over the years for legal issues and her dependency problems. Despite her troubles, Lohan continues to remain in the limelight.

2. Haley Joel Osment

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Osment was a prodigious child actor who received an Academy Award nomination when he was only 11. 

His role as Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense (1999) earned him worldwide recognition and made him a much sought-after child actor.

This was soon followed by other successful projects like Pay It Forward (2000) and A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). These roles made him one of the most promising actors of his time.

However, when he was seemingly at the peak of his fame, Osment appeared to turn his back on the industry. Whether on purpose or because of a shortage of opportunity, Osment took a hiatus and focused on his study.

However, as things stand, he has made tentative comebacks with recent appearances in The Devil Has A Name (2019) and Bad Therapy (2020).

3. Chloë Grace Moretz

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Moretz began as a child actor by appearing in minor roles in The Guardian and the film Molly in the heart of The Beholder (2005). She received further plaudits for her role in the remake of The Amityville Horror in the same year.

Moretz had a prominent role in the cult classic 500 Days of Summer (2009) before giving a breakthrough performance in 2010 as Hit-Girl in the film Kick-Ass.

Aside from acting, Moretz has also graced the covers of magazines. These include Vogue, Jalouse, Interview, Elle, etc. 

Moretz was also involved in a high-profile, highly published relationship with Brooklyn Beckham. They have parted ways since 2018.

4. Christina Ricci

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Ricci is one of the few prominent child actors to have made a successful transition in Hollywood as an adult. 

Ricci made her acting debut at the age of nine, appearing alongside Cher and Winona Ryder in Mermaids (1990). 

Since then, she has built her film career on the back of some quirky characters. Her most notable roles include “Kat” Harvey in Casper and Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family.

Her mature roles include The Opposite Of Sex (1997), for which she was even nominated for a Golden Globe Award. The 41-year old actor has since forayed into both films and T.V. 

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She also has an Emmy nomination under her belt for her appearance as a guest on Grey’s Anatomy.

5. Brooke Shields

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Shields is an eminent name in both the fashion and film industries. On the back of modeling assignments and some minor roles, an 11-year old Shields was cast in the movie Pretty Baby (1978).

Though the movie garnered acclaim, Shield’s portrayal of a child prostitute caused controversy. It also earned her more recognition.

Roles then followed this in contentious movies like “The Blue Lagoon” (1980) and “Endless Love” (1981). These movies had nude scenes between the teen protagonists, earning Shields wider notoriety.

By the age of 14, Shields was perhaps the youngest model to ever have appeared on the cover of Vogue. 

After taking a brief hiatus to study, Shields returned to the entertainment industry. She continues to make odd appearances in movies and shows. 

6. Kirsten Dunst

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Dunst is one of Hollywood’s noted A-listers who began her career as a child actor. She earned a Golden Globe nomination at the age of 13 for her role in the movie Interview With The Vampire (1994).

On the back of that performance, Dunst became a much sought-after child actor. She appeared in popular movies like Jumanji (1995) and Small Soldiers (1998).

Further acclaim came when she essayed the role of Mary Jane in Spider-Man (2002), catapulting her into a renowned star worldwide. Dunst was also involved in a high-profile public relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal.

She continues to feature in major movies, a recent one being The Power Of The Dog (2021), for which she earned her fourth Golden Globe nomination.

7. Anna Paquin

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At the age of 11, Paquin won an Academy Award for her role in the movie The Piano (1994), making her the second-youngest person to do so. The performance brought her critical acclaim and fame in the industry, leading to many more roles as a child actor.

Despite not having long-term goals about becoming an actress, Paquin went on to star in movies like She’s All That and Almost Famous.

Her first role as an adult was while portraying Rogue in the X-Men franchise, and her latest was in Irishman (2019). 

Paquin is selective about her work. She’s been featured only in a limited number of movies and shows despite having started her career in the early 90s.

8. Elijah Wood

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Many might think Elijah Wood’s career started with the Lord Of The Rings franchise. But even before his portrayal of a hobbit in the fantasy series, Elijah was already a celebrated child actor.

Major files under his belt as a child actor include Avalon (1990), Radio Flyer (1992), Forever Young (1992), and The Good Son (1993).

Elijah continues to star in both movies and T.V. shows, besides doing voiceover work for video games. 

Elijah founded a film production company called SpectreVision. He’s now married and has a child with Danish film producer Mette-Marie Kongsved. 

9. Molly Ringwald

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Part of the famous “Brat Pack,” Ringwald gained worldwide recognition after featuring in a series of teen-oriented movies back in the 80s. But even before that, Ringwald was an upcoming child actor.

Ringwald had a recurring role in NBC’s The Facts Of Life and made her film debut in Tempest (1982), for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination when she was 15. 

After years of success as a teen idol, Ringwald transitioned into adult roles as well. But she never found the same level of success despite featuring in some well-received movies.

She continues to do movies and T.V. work and can be currently seen on the T.V. series “Riverdale.”

10. Macaulay Culkin

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No list of child actors will ever be complete without Culkin featuring in it. He is one of the most successful child actors in the 90s.

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After appearing in the Home Alone franchise, Macaulay Culkin was already considered an acting veteran.

His portrayal of Kevin McCallister in the series earned him a Golden Globe nomination at the age of 11. More prominent roles followed before Culkin took a sabbatical from acting in the subsequent years.

Although he has made a comeback since he hasn’t featured in that many major roles, he co-founded a now-defunct rock band and also currently runs a satirical website. 

Culkin is currently in a relationship with actor Brenda Song with whom he recently had a son. 

11. Freddie Highmore

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Highmore was a noted English child actor who made his screen debut at age seven while appearing in Women Talking Dirty (1999). 

On the back of his performance, Highmore won roles in big movies alongside Johnny Depp in “Finding Neverland” and then in “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.”

He has since successfully transitioned into adult roles. He has achieved wider acclaim for his portrayal of Norman Bates in the series Bates Motel (2013–2017). 

Highmore is a private person and very rarely talks about his personal life in public. He has no social media presence either.

12. Drew Barrymore

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Belonging to the Barrymore family of actors, Drew technically began her career as a toddler when she was featured in a commercial. Following a string of commercials, she was cast as Gertie in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), earning her worldwide acclaim.

She remained in the limelight as a promising child actor and endured a troubled childhood marked by substance abuse as a result. 

At only 16, Barrymore published her autobiography “Little Girl Lost” and proceeded to turn her life upside down for good. 

Not only did she successfully revive her acting career, but she has gone on to direct and produce movies as well.

She is also a successful businesswoman and appears in shows and movies while also hosting her syndicated talk show.

13. Daniel Radcliffe

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Even before Radcliffe had essayed the iconic role of Harry Potter, he had a few roles to his credit as a young actor. He made his screen debut aged 10 in the television film David Copperfield (1999).

The Harry Potter franchise capitulated Radcliffe to worldwide fame and acclaim. And though he has gone on to establish himself as a successful actor since then, he remains most noted for his role as the boy wizard.

His discography remains limited because he is selective about his work. Besides, he also does selective T.V. shows and even a bit of theater.

Radcliffe is quite private about his personal life and likes to keep a low profile in the media.

14. Dakota Fanning

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Fanning achieved acclaim for her role in I Am Sam (2001), receiving a Screen Guild Award nomination only at the age of 8. Such was the brilliance of her performance that Steven Spielberg selected her for the lead child role in the series Taken (2002).

As a child actor and teen, Fanning appeared in several major pictures alongside Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds (2005) and Kurt Russell in Dreamer (2005).

Mature roles quickly followed a notable career as a child actor as Fanning continued to remain in demand as an adult. Fanning’s more recent roles include appearances in the series the Alienist, where she’s the main lead.

15. Jodie Foster

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Foster is perhaps the most renowned name on the list to have successfully transitioned from child actor to mature role.

Although she began her professional career as far back as the 60s, Foster made her breakthrough with a role of a child prostitute in Taxi Driver (1976).

She earned an Oscar nomination for the role, which led to many more roles as a teenager throughout the 70s. After finishing her studies, Foster forayed back into the industry but found it hard to make the transition to mature roles.

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It was not until the role in The Accused (1988), which won her the Oscar for Best Actress, that she made the transition successfully. She won another Oscar for the film The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

Since then, Foster has gone on to become one of the most successful actors of her generation. She has remained active to date.

16. Mara Wilson

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Wilson is best remembered for essaying the titular role of Matilda (1996) when she was only nine years. But even before that, she already had prominent roles in films like Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and Miracle on 34th Street (1994).

Following a brief but successful career as a child artist, Wilson took a break from acting. She focused on her writing and went on to author a book. 

The former child actor returned to acting in 2012 and transitioned to mature roles. She has since mainly appeared in web series in minor roles.

17. Jonathan Lipnicki

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Lipnicki became a household name after appearing as Ray Boyd, the adorable kid in Jerry Maguire (1996). He earned further recognition as a child actor after essaying the role of George Little in the Stuart Little franchise.

Despite becoming a popular name, Lipnicki was never a part of a big banner movie as an adult. Instead, he has featured in a slew of independent movies. 

The actor continues to make minor appearances in various indie films and shows, sometimes appearing as himself.

Lipinski has mostly remained away from the spotlight since his childhood acting days.

18. Danica McKellar

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McKeller became a renowned name as a teen after playing Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years series for six years. 

There’s no doubt that her portrayal wooed many young teen boys who continue to see McKellar as a young Winnie. 

Despite achieving stardom at such a young age, Mckellar found it hard to transition from being a child actress. McKeller has made several guest appearances in T.V. shows and movies since then but was never seen in big projects as a lead.

Mckellar is also a noted mathematics writer and has authored several books on the subject. 

19. Abigail Breslin

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Breslin began her acting career by featuring in commercials as early as when she was three years old. This was soon followed by a feature film debut at age 5 in the horror film Signs (2002).

She went on to feature in a couple of more movies before gaining prominence after her role in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). She received an Academy nomination for the role.

Since then, Breslin has played more mature roles, recently starring Matt Damon in the film Stillwater (2021).

20. Raven-Symoné

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Symoné was a child actress who began her professional career on The Cosby Show (1989–1992). Later, she also made appearances as Nicole Lee on Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper (1993–1997).

These were followed by a breakthrough role on Disney’s That’s So Raven (2003–2007). She won numerous accolades for the show and became a household name in the process.

Although she did make feature film appearances, Symoné has predominantly appeared in T.V. shows. Symoné is also an accomplished singer, having released her debut album at the age of seven. 


As must be obvious by now, achieving so much at a young age doesn’t guarantee continued success. The hurdles that come with being in the limelight are plenty. 

Some child actors fail to withstand the fame and withdraw from the industry. In comparison, others manage to steer clear of pitfalls and end up becoming successful stars when older. 

That said, our list of noted child actors feature all sorts of personalities. Some have made it large in Hollywood, while others have done the same elsewhere.


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