Hollywood is obsessed with youth. You don’t make it big there in your senior years – at least, not very often. And the few stars who do make it young probably shouldn’t expect success in Hollywood to be a long-term thing. Actors can expect their peak years to be no longer than that of a football or baseball star; one day you’re the fresh face on the block, the next you’re yesterday’s trivia question.
The march of time can be particularly difficult for those actors who make their mark on Hollywood before hitting adulthood. Tinseltown has produced a surprising number of prepubescent and teen millionaire superstars who hit it big at a time when most of us were still taking recess or getting our first pimple.
Of course, life after fame and fortune has proven difficult for a lot of Hollywood’s young elite – if not deadly. Adulthood is hard at the best of times. But for teens who have known nothing but success and praise all their life, it can prove nearly impossible. For some of the other incredibly young success stories, things panned out surprisingly well.
The following are the world’s youngest actors to find success, all before turning 20. Some survived and went on to become Hollywood icons well into adulthood. Some weren’t quite so lucky…
16. Shirley Temple
The biggest screen star from 1935 to 1938, Temple was the dimpled sensation of films like Bright Eyes, Heidi, and Curly Top, At the height of her career, her merchandise and endorsements alone earned her an extra $200,000 a year. And that’s Depression-era dollars.
But then came her awkward teen years. The studios didn’t know what to do with their growing star, so they buried her in B-movies that essentially killed her career. She officially ‘retired’ from acting In 1950 at the age of 22. But, truth be told, Hollywood had abandoned her a long time before. Her story has a happy ending though.
After serving as the biggest actress in the world, Temple moved on to a distinguished career as a politician and a diplomat. She never again came close to the fame and fortune she achieved as a young actress, but she had an illustrious and fulfilling career out of the limelight.
15. Brooke Shields
There was a time in the 1970s when this model/actress was one of the most recognizable faces in the world. As a teen model, she pulled in more than $10,000 a day. Her fame was partly based on controversy, with many objecting to the sexualised nature of her modelling, TV commercials (her 1981 Calvin Klein jeans ads drew a lot of criticism) and movies (she played a preteen prostitute in 1978’s Pretty Baby and did semi-nude scenes in Blue Lagoon). Many felt her teen work crossed the line into child exploitation.
As an adult, Shields moved out of the limelight for a time, studying at Princeton. She eventually got back into acting with a vengeance, starring in the sitcom Suddenly Susan (1996-2000) and appearing on everything from Friends to That 70s Show. More recently, she’s made a splash in the decidedly unglamorous role of the redneck neighbor on The Middle.
14. Macaulay Culkin
He was the 10-year-old scene-stealing kid from Home Alone and its sequel. He was a pint-sized star with a mammoth following among kids. His every move was scrutinized by the press, as was the bickering between his two controlling parents.
But, at the age of 14 following the release of the film Richie Rich, Macaulay Culkin ‘retired’. Some say it wasn’t by choice – he just wasn’t the cute kid anymore. But whatever the reason, Culkin has mostly stayed clear of the Hollywood limelight for the last 20 years. He’s done a few films and TV shows, but more often gets noticed when he gets arrested (for drug possession), or appears in unflattering tabloid photos. He now largely focuses on his music career.
13. Gary Coleman
Coleman is the poster boy for child stars who had trouble when they become adults. It didn’t help that he was only 4 foot 7 inches tall – often attributed to chronic kidney disease and the medication he took. His diminutive size worked well on his popular TV show Diff’rent Strokes (1978-1986) where he played a much younger character, but it didn’t translate to adult roles.
Despite working long hours as a kid while suffering through kidney treatments, Coleman didn’t end up rich like he should have. But he did end up suing his parents for back wages (he won) once he hit 20. His later years were marked by bitterness, assault charges, bankruptcy, and unemployment. He died at the age of 42 as a sad, cautionary tale about peaking young.
12. The Olsen Twins
These two sisters haven’t been working hard since hitting 20 in 2006, but things haven’t always been smooth sailing. Growing up literally on television – as Michelle on Full House – the pair quickly expanded their careers to including TV movies, videos and toys. They formed the company Dualstar at the age of six (!), which eventually included lines of clothing, purses, books, fragrances and CDs.
They became the official Dualstar CEOs on their 18th birthday. At 20, the pair were listed in Forbes as the 11th richest women in the entertainment business, with assets of over $100 million. Since then, the twentysomethings have mostly stayed out of the limelight (beyond the paparazzi snaps), satisfied to develop their fashion business in relative obscurity. They’re rich – just not as famous as they once were.
11. Dakota Fanning
At just seven years old, Dakota Fanning was firmly on the Hollywood radar thanks to a role in 2001’s I Am Sam, for which she won numerous awards including best supporting actress at the Screen Actors Guild awards.
Following a run of family-friendly roles, Dakota branched out into more controversial roles which established her as an emerging, mature talent and allowed for a successful transition from child star to serious actress. She secured her place as a Hollywood favourite as Jane Volturi in the wildly popular Twilight movie franchise.
10. Jodie Foster
Everyone worried about Jodie in Taxi Driver (1976). At 14, was it healthy that such a young girl would play a sex worker in such a disturbing film? Truth was, Foster was a veteran TV and film actress of nearly a decade when she took on that Oscar nominated part. She was one tough cookie.
Still, she had the usual trouble transitioning from child to adult actress. She went to Yale, drawing unwanted attention when obsessed fan John Hinkley used her as an excuse to shoot President Reagan.
But an Oscar win for The Accused (1989) turned her into an adult A-Lister, and she’s followed that up with acclaimed roles both in front and behind the camera.
9. Tatum O’Neal
In her first role, a 10-year-old O’Neal won an Oscar for her spunky, cigarette-smoking character in the Peter Bogdonavich drama Paper Moon opposite her father Ryan O’Neal. Talk about starting out on top. She was the toast of the town – a pint-sized revelation whose future was oh-so-bright.
But despite some continued success (The Bad News Bears/Little Darlings), O’Neal was pretty much out of the acting game by age 18. Her adult life has been marked by failed relationships (she was married to tennis player John McEnroe), drug arrests and some infrequent roles on TV. Lately, she’s been working on repairing her troubled relationship with her father.
8. Sophia Grace & Rosie
This diminutive duo from Essex, England became an overnight sensation in 2011 when – at the age of 8 (Sophie) and 5 (Grace) – they became viral hits with their cover of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Super Bass’. The video led to appearances on Ellen, including a regular celebrity interview segment called ‘Tea Time With Sophie and Grace’.
That success led to a five picture movie deal, the first of which was last year’s Sophia Grace and Rosie’s Royal Adventure. They reportedly earned $50,000 each for that direct-to-video release.
There were also several books, not to mention Sophie’s solo career (her new single is called “Best Friends”). Whew. Not bad for two girls who have yet to reach their teens.
7. Jaleel White
As Steve Urkel on Family Matters, he was the sensation of the 1990s with his high, suspendered pants, big glasses and ‘Did I Do That?’ attitude. He was a buffoon and a memorable caricature on a mediocre sitcom. White made a lot of money over his nine-year run ($100,000 an episode in Season Three alone). But playing a teen buffoon can get old when you’re 21 and still playing a teen. White later claimed he avoided the gym in those years just to maintain his nerdy Urkel body.
His post-Urkel days haven’t been easy, but White has continued to work sporadically, eschewing the trap of reality shows like The Surreal Life. He also saved his money, and learned how to embrace his Urkel past.
6. The Harry Potter Kids
“They never have to work again” is a familiar phrase associated with actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, the stars of the eight-film Harry Potter series. And they don’t. But they do.
Though figures vary wildly, Radcliffe is said to have made $40 million on the last two Potter films alone, while Grint and Watson pulled in $39 million during the series’ entire run. It was a lot for teens to spend – despite their best efforts.
Now in their 20s, all have continued to work despite their formidable nest egg. Radcliffe has starred in several features (The Woman In Black/Kill Your Darlings) and worked on Broadway. Grint has had supporting movie roles, a failed TV pilot, and recently made his debut on Broadway in It’s Only A Play. Emma Watson had fun spoofing herself in This Is The End, not to mention roles in My Weekend With Marilyn and The Perks of Being A Wallflower, all the while becoming a fashion icon and, more recently, a feminist icon.
5. Anna Paquin
There was a time in the late 1990s when everyone asked “Whatever happened to that cute kid from The Piano?”. Truth was, Paquin was busy growing up, turning down role after role despite her Oscar win at the age of 11 for The Piano in 1993.
Still in her teens, she burst back onto the acting scene in 2000 as Rogue in The X-Men, as a groupie in Almost Famous and as love interest in Finding Forrester. She’s been very busy since then, most notably as Sookie on the TV’s popular True Blood (2008-14) and in various Rogue revivals. She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama for her True Blood role in 2009.
4. Elijah Wood
Wood was already a Hollywood leading man at the age of eleven, starring in such films as Radio Flyer (1992), The Good Son (1993), and North (1994). Still, it wasn’t till his late teens that he hit the jackpot, as Frodo in the Lord of The Rings series (2001-03). Although salaries tend to be kept a secret, word is that Wood earned a ‘bonus’ of $500,000 on the project.
Since hitting adulthood, he’s moved between movies (The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind/Sin City/Happy Feet), and TV. He currently stars on the odd FX comedy Wilfred. He also pulled in mega-bucks for his recent cameo on The Hobbit series.
3. Angus T. Jones
It took the Two And A Half Men actor ten seasons before he realized his sitcom was filthy. By then, the show had made the teen star a millionaire many times over. In 2010, at the age of 17, he officially became the highest paid child actor in Hollywood with a contract that paid him $300,000 an episode.
But Jones took no joy from the money. Embracing his Christian faith, Jones was videotaped in 2012 calling himself a ‘paid hypocrite’ for appearing on a show that he described as ‘filth’.
That appears to have got him fired from the show, though no official announcement was made until last spring. Suddenly, Jones was 20 and unemployed for the first time in a decade.
2. The Modern Family Kids
There’s no telling what the future holds for the four young stars of the hugely popular hit sitcom. Only actress Sarah Hyland – who plays older sister Hayley – has even reached 20 years so far. Yet all four child actors – a list which also includes Rico Rodriguez, Ariel Winter, and Nolan Gould – have been pulling in a cool $75,000 an episode since negotiating a huge bump in salary more than two years ago. The performers were able to triple their salaries over night.
Life after the show is cancelled could turn out to be one, long, luxurious retirement for this crew of child stars, if they’re smart. Kid stars aren’t always that smart, unfortunately, so time will tell.
1. Quvenzhane Wallis
She was the sensation of the 2013 Oscars when, at just 9 years old, she was the youngest nominee ever for her work on the low budget Beasts of The Southern Wild. She didn’t win, but the showy, star-making role led to her casting in the updated of the musical Annie last year with Jamie Foxx. For that Christmas release, Quvenzhane earned a cool $750,000, with a bonus of another $750,000 if the film made over $150 million domestically.
It did not, but she’s got nothing to worry about career wise. Her next role is with Russell Crowe in Fathers and Daughters.