We’ve always had a tendency to follow in our parent’s footsteps. It makes sense. Being brought into a world that your parents are immersed in. Sometimes we participated willingly, wanting to be like mom or dad, sometimes we were dragged kicking and screaming. Parents want to teach and guide, and what better way to do that than by having your child take up your own profession. Best case scenario, you live vicariously through them, casting your regrets, failures and missed opportunities on them, like any good parent should. When this generational baton passing takes place, it is common for the child to surpass the parent. This, too, makes perfect sense. The child is afforded more opportunity, imparted more wisdom and more encouragement. Acting is no different than anywhere else.
It is difficult to judge two different generations of actors, especially if the older generation no longer acts, but we’re going to do it anyways. Styles have changed, roles have changed, the whole of movies has changed. The way we watch and critique has changed, as we now expect bigger and better. There’s more spotlight and more pressure but also more audience understanding and more options for actors to find their niche. This is really a long-winded way of saying that suggesting one actor performed better than another, from another time, holds no weight because it’s all a matter of preference. It’s silly to get caught up in one particular role, so I will focus on the careers overall.
All of the actors on this list have surpassed their parent’s career with their own, whether we like them as actors or not. It can be harsh, well, I can be harsh, but I’m not about to start feeling too bad. You know what you call parent and child who are both actors? A filthy rich family. That’s what. Here they are 15 Kids Who Are Better Actors Than Their Parents, and by kids, I mean offspring because we’re all adults here.
15. Gwyneth Paltrow and Blythe Danner
I am not the biggest fan of Gwyneth Paltrow as a person or an actress, but it’s impossible to ignore the success she’s had in her career. Her mother Blythe Danner, is probably best known by modern audiences for her role in the Meet the Parents franchise, playing Ben Stiller’s mother-in-law. Often ranking quite high on the “most hated celebrities” lists, Paltrow has put together quite a strong career. In fact, her success is a large part of the reason why people dislike her so much, feeling that the fact her parents were successful film industry stars (her father is filmmaker Bruce Paltrow). Though she says that her parents never gave her anything, except for of course her very first acting role and the introduction to family friend Steven Spielberg, who cast her as Wendy in Hook, catapulting her into stardom, but outside of those two things there was nothing else, except for a private education at one of the finer girls’ schools in New York City, but nothing else, they gave her nothing else.
14. Tatum O’Neal and Ryan O’Neal
Daughter of actor Ryan O’Neal, Tatum was/is the little girl who became the youngest ever to win an Academy Award (age 10) in Paper Moon, a movie that her father also starred in. This little competition between father and daughter is especially spicy because Tatum went on to write an autobiography which roasted her father and made him look horrible, claims that he denied wholeheartedly. Neither actor really went on to do great things in their careers, but when Tatum brings her Academy Award to the dinner table and forces her dad to make a plate up for Oscar as well, I’m sure any discussions of who had the better career are put to bed right then and there.
13. Angelina Jolie and Jon Voight
This one will probably raise some eyebrows, but here me out before getting out the pitchforks. Yes, on the one hand, Jon Voigt was great in Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance and Coming Home (for which he won an Oscar), among others. Angelina Jolie, on the other hand, is one of the highest paid actresses in the business, she too has an Oscar, and she’s more current. I hate to use current as an excuse here, but it’s easier to judge current actors because of the wealth of competition. I actually don’t even love Jolie’s work, but her monumental success is there, whether I accept it or not. Jolie’s personal life has seemed to dwarf her professional life recently, but I won’t let that soap opera sway me. She is very talented, as is her father, but I think current-day success is what puts Jolie over the top here.
12. Bryce Dallas Howard and Ron Howard
We’re talking strictly acting here, so don’t start naming off movies that the mega-director Ron Howard has made. I also need to be honest here, full disclosure, Bryce Dallas Howard is one of the loves of my life. Everything she does I love, yes, even Lady in the Water. Outside of the fact that I believe she is one of the most beautiful creatures to ever walk the face of the earth, I think she’s insanely undervalued and under-appreciated for her acting ability. If you hid the name M. Night Shyamalan from the credits of The Village, the movie would have done much better, but because everyone has their hate on for the twist-centric director, the ratings, and Bryce Dallas Howard, went down with the ship. But what about Happy Days? I can feel you asking. Well, yeah, cool show. But not as cool as Bryce Dallas Howard. Don’t you even dare.
11. Michael Douglas and Kirk Douglas
Another tough one to actually say one is better than the other. Kirk Douglas was Spartacus for heaven’s sake. But Michael Douglas has put together a stellar career. Not only has Michael acted in some excellent movies, but he’s produced some of the best movies, attaching his name to movie history. He also married Catherine Zeta-Jones, when he was in his 50s and she was in her 20s, a personal move that deserves a round of applause on its own. Though Michael’s health issues have slowed down his career as of late, it is still safe to say that his success has surpassed his father’s. To say one is a better actor than the other is much more difficult, but the father son combo deserves to be mentioned here nevertheless.
10. Emma Roberts and Eric Roberts
A lot has been made of the connection that Emma Roberts has to her aunt Julia Roberts, but Emma’s father is also an actor, Eric Roberts. I don’t know if Eric always plays the bad guy, but it sure seems like it. Eric also had a long run on the Soap Opera, Another World, but he has never really been the star. His daughter, Emma, meanwhile, is crafting quite the career as a young “it-girl” in Hollywood. She’s had starring roles in Nancy Drew, Scream 4 and We’re the Millers. It might still be early, but I have no doubt that Emma Roberts will be around for a long time and will far outgrow her father’s career. Who knows, maybe even Julia’s career, too… Actually nevermind. Julia Roberts had a run there for a while that we might never see again in Hollywood now that it’s grown so large.
9. Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds
Carrie Fisher is Leia Organa Solo, so she’s going to be more famous than just about anyone in the acting game. But her mother, Debbie Reynolds ain’t so bad herself. From Singin’ in the Rain to Halloweentown as Aggie Cromwell (seriously such a good movie), Reynolds has put together a truly magnificent career. Despite what you think about Fisher’s acting chops, she’s Hollywood royalty, an integral piece to the biggest film franchise of all time. No matter what you think about her acting chops, she wins the mother daughter competition. Outside of Star Wars, Fisher hasn’t been all that successful, but that doesn’t diminish what she’s done.
8. Jason Schwartzman and Talia Shire
“Adrian!” Remember that from Rocky? Well Adrian is played by Talia Shire and Talia Shire is Jason Schwartzman’s mother. Schwartzman is best known for his collaborations with Wes Anderson, films like Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. This strange little comedian seems to have struck gold with Wes Anderson as the two are a match made in heaven and pretty much everything they have done has been considered amazing. Now Talia Shire is talented as well. Plus, her last name is a home to Hobbits, so that’s worth a few marks in my book, but still, the apple fell pretty far from the tree here as Schwartzman’s career has been much better, and really it’s not even close.
7. Laura Dern and Bruce Dern
Purists can tell me I’m wrong here all they want. Bruce Dern’s been doing his thing for a long time. He’s even in a little career renaissance right now with films like Nebraska and The Hateful Eight, but Laura Dern, his daughter, is just amazing. Probably best known for her work on Jurassic Park, Laura was unbelievable in Wild at Heart, Inland Empire and The Master. Actually, Laura Dern has been unbelievable in everything she’s touched. Her collaborations with the great David Lynch has made her a cult classic on her own, but even with a small, seemingly throwaway part, like that in The Fault in Our Stars, she absolutely crushes it. Her dad is a legend, no doubt about it, but Laura is in a class of her own.
6. Josh Brolin and James Brolin
Even though James Brolin was in the great horror film Amityville Horror, his son, Josh Brolin is the far better actor when you really break it down. Milk, The Goonies, True Grit, No Country for Old Men, Josh has been in some incredible films in his career. If you take Jonah Hex out back, shoot it, burn it and never speak of it again, Brolin never misses. Even when he does miss, his sheer will and ability can carry a film through to respectability. Though it’s unlikely that he will ever be recognized as such, Josh has become one of the best actors in the business and that’s something that could never have been said about his father. Though again, James’ role in Amityville Horror is really something to behold.
5. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Vic Morrow
This is an interesting one which is not talked about very often. Jennifer Jason Leigh, most recently nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, is the daughter of Vic Morrow. Morrow was a famous television actor who was involved in a very tragic and very recognizable incident. While filming a scene for Twilight Zone: The Movie, Morrow was killed by a falling stunt helicopter. This sad accident happened in 1982, the same year that Leigh burst onto the acting scene with Fast Times and Ridgemont High. Leigh would go on to make herself into a household name and, personally, one of my favorite actors. So now you know a little bit of movie trivia and a little bit about me.
4. Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh
Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother, will always have a place in my heart for her role as Marion Crane in Psycho, but Jamie Lee Curtis is an acting legend, especially in the world of horror. Curtis owes a lot to her mother (and her father Tony Curtis, too, I’m sure) because if it wasn’t for Leigh’s performance in Psycho, Curtis would not have got the role of Laurie Strode in her debut film Halloween. Director John Carpenter cast Curtis as a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho, one of the films credited with birthing the modern slasher film. Curtis would go on to far outgrow the shadow of her parents, becoming the “scream queen” and horror icon, not to mention her other massive hits in different genres. With all respect to Leigh, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Curtis was able to substantially build on her parents’ talents.
3. Jeff Bridges and Lloyd Bridges
I love Lloyd Bridges in Airplane! Lloyd was a member of Hollywood for almost 60 years before his death in 1998. His wife, Dorothy Bridges, was also an actress, and two of their boys became actors as well, Beau and Jeff. Out of all in the famous family, Jeff is by far the most talented member. A multi-award nominee and Oscar winner, Jeff is one of the more recognizable and likable stars in Hollywood. Even though he won the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart, it is probably his portrayal as ‘The Dude’ in The Big Lebowski that is his most popular. Jeff has starred in so many great movies through the year, from Tron to The Fisher King to True Grit, and his laid back approach and style has endeared him to audiences everywhere.
2. Patricia Arquette and Lewis Arquette
Lewis Arquette is an actor probably best known for being part of The Waltons TV show. But you’ve heard the last name for other reasons, I’m sure. Lewis’ kids, particularly Patricia and David, have become quite well known in the acting world. David, though he was awesome in the Scream franchise, might be best known for marrying Courtney Cox (Friends), but his sister, Patricia is an acting phenom. Starting with Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors, Patricia went on to perform magic on True Romance, Lost Highway and Boyhood (she won Best Supporting Actress). There’s a bit of bias here, I’ll admit that. I’ve said in print numerous times that Patricia is one of the most underrated actresses in Hollywood, so I felt personally responsible for her Oscar win. I’m still waiting to hear from her, but she’s been busy, so I understand.
1. Ben Stiller and Jerry Stiller
Ben and Jerry Stiller. Both hilarious men that have carved out great careers. While Jerry Stiller is probably most famous for his role as George Costanza’s father on Seinfeld, Ben Stiller has become one of the most recognizable comedians on the planet. Early on, Stiller was better known for his writing and directing (Reality Bites and Cable Guy) than his acting, though he put together some nice roles along the way, including the Disney film Heavyweights, which both his parents were in as well. It was really There’s Something About Mary that launched Stiller into A-List territory, and from that point, he was definitely the more popular, and probably more talented, Stiller. Today, saying the name Stiller will likely bring only one image to mind, Ben’s goofy Blue Steel pose, or maybe Magnum, though those two poses are nothing alike.