Once upon a time, you practically had to drag movie stars by the ear in order to appear on TV. According to their agents, being on TV was the nail in the coffin. But somewhere down the line, headlining a television show became a hot trend among many movie stars. Even big names such as Matthew McConaughey, got in on the act by appearing on the first season of True Detective. Luckily for the Dallas Buyer’s Club star and Oscar winner, his movie career was still going strong, but others haven’t been so lucky. Some stars had once vibrant careers that stalled, while others worked steadily in movies, but somehow just couldn’t break through. That is, until they moved to TV and finally ended up becoming household names. Here is a look at the top ten celebrities who revived their careers by deciding to make the move to TV.
10. Jennifer Lopez
People seem to forget that Jennifer Lopez does have talent. But they are simply too caught up in the hype machine that she created to remember that the Selena star was once a rising star who critics really liked. But then something strange happened; the critics became vicious, and no matter what J-Lo did, she couldn’t seem to win them back. But despite the critics, Lopez is a career-savvy artist that knows how to keep her star from fading. One of the best decisions was taking a judging role on the aging but still strong American Idol, during Season 10, which helped keep her name in the papers and her music front and center. After leaving for a season, Lopez returned in Season 13 and will be part of the season long good-bye when the show returns for its final bow.
9. Kerry Washington
Kerry Washington was already an actress of considerable talent who landed roles in such notable movies as Ray, The Last King of Scotland and Mother and Child. Though people probably would recognize her if they saw her on the street, she wasn’t exactly a household name. Then came Scandal, the delicious guilty pleasure on ABC that shot her into A-list stardom. Scandal also made Washington the second African American woman to be the sole lead on a network drama, the first being the late Teresa Graves when she starred on Get Christie Love, in 1974.
8. Zooey Deschanel
Like a few others on this list, you probably knew the funny and quirky Zooey Deschanel’s face from her roles in such films as Elf, 500 Days of Summer, Yes Man and The Happening. Unlike the others, you might have remembered her name due to it not having a common look. But even though she has worked very steadily alongside some pretty big names, Deschanel really didn’t get recognized until 2011 when she became the lead actress on Fox’s New Girl. Putting her quirky persona to good use, Deschanel won the hearts of critics and helped make the show a modest hit for Fox.
7. Terrence Howard
Hip Hop helped put Terrence Howard on the map, so it was only natural for Hip Hop to help him make a spectacular return. The acclaimed actor received an Academy Award nomination for his work in Hustle and Flow, where he played a pimp taking his one last grab at music fame. From then on, Howard made movies both big and small, but the former Iron Man actor never seemed to make the same type of impression. That is, until Precious director Lee Daniels brought Empire to the world last season. The soapy drama was an instant hit, and has continued to keep its mega-ratings well into its second season. While no one can deny that Taraji P. Henson is the standout, Howard’s commanding presence is the backbone that helps keep it all from going off the rails.
6. Viola Davis
Viola Davis found herself in a similar position as many of the actors on this list. She started out with small roles in various projects, then made a splash when no one saw it coming. That splash was the movie Doubt, and while Davis only had ten minutes on screen, she burned it up so much that it was hard for people not to take notice. She received her first Oscar nomination, then followed it up by another acclaimed performance and nomination for The Help. Davis lost both times (once to Doubt co-star Meryl Streep) and then made the surprising decision to star in ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. The risk payed off. Not only was Murder an instant hit, it also helped Davis make history when she took home the Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Drama series. We’re guessing she doesn’t have any regrets about this at all.
5. Kevin Spacey
Of all the people on this list, it was Kevin Spacey who took the biggest risk. After all, how many Oscar winners would jump at the chance to be one of the first original television programs to be offered by streaming giant, Netflix? Would people actually accept the idea of a show that could be watched all at once, with a long wait time before the next season started? Well, whatever doubt anyone had quickly faded once House of Cards came out of the gate with guns blazing. The political pot-boiler was cheered on by both critics and viewers, mostly due to Spacey’s turn as the conniving Frank Underwood. It would be hard to image the show being as good as it is with someone else in the role.
4. Anna Faris
You have to hand it to Ana Faris; it takes someone of great comedic talent to keep audiences coming back for a franchise like Scary Movie. If it wasn’t for her dopey, totally clueless Cindy Campbell, there wouldn’t be any other reason to watch. While she found some notoriety headlining some minor cult hits (The House Bunny, Smiley Face) and a string of romantic comedies, no one ever truly used Faris the way the comedy gods truly intended. That is why it is great to finally have the talented actress in a vehicle that not only shows off her comic strengths, but her dramatic chops as well. Mom may not have been a breakout hit along the lines of The Big Bang Theory, but it has grown steadily during its time on the air, giving Faris a new home and audience.
3. Charlie Sheen
Sometimes an actor goes through a bit of a rough patch (to say the least) and needs a bit of career rehabilitation in order to get back in the good graces of the public. Charlie Sheen is one such actor. No stranger to scandals, Sheen first tried to charm audiences back in 2000 when he took over the lead of Spin City after Michael J. Fox had to leave. Sheen was charming enough, however the show was later cancelled in 2002. Luckily, Sheen would later attach his name to Two and Half a Half Men, a lowbrow CBS comedy that managed to be shockingly funny (well, early on). The show grew into a monster hit for the network and garnered rave reviews for Sheen, but it couldn’t keep him from going through another career meltdown, which we won’t get into here since the details can pretty much be found almost anywhere. Still, no one can argue that Men lost a bit of its spark was Sheen was gone.
2. Martin Sheen
Martin Sheen already had a long, successful career as an actor before moving to TV, so some might see this as an insult to put him on a list such as this one. But when a talented actor is able to showcase their talent to a whole new generation, then that is something worth mentioning. The West Wing was a critical darling for many years. The West Wing gave Sheen a chance to shine as President Josiah Bartlet as it followed the daily life of the President and his staff. This was a career defining role for Sheen, and one that audiences quickly embraced.
1. Sarah Jessica Parker
So who made it to the number one spot? Why, it’s Sarah Jessica Parker, star of the successful and iconic HBO comedy Sex and the City. Now, to be fair, Parker did get her start in TV, appearing in such show as 3-2-1 Contact and Square Pegs. However, she was better known for her film career, which included both critical darlings (Ed Wood), little known gems (Miami Rhapsody) and some headscratchers (Striking Distance). Then came along the HBO comedy Sex and the City, and suddenly almost every woman in the world wanted to travel to New York, drink Cosmopolitans and find their very own Mr. Big. Carrie Bradshaw became such an icon that her laptop actually sits inside of the Smithsonian. While the movies may not have the same spark, it really doesn’t matter. Parker and her character have become a big part of TV history, and also helped establish cable TV as a big awards contender.