Trying to predict what child stars are gong to last in show business might be one of the most difficult bets to make and succeed with. There are so many factors that come into play, from the drive and persistence of the actor, how they change over time, both in looks and acting ability, and how the fans react to them and this change. Most child stars, no matter how famous they were as children, fade away over time. We’ve talked about this before, but transitioning from a child star to an adult star is probably the most difficult transition in the industry. For that reason, it’s quite an amazing feat when someone goes the distance.
We like to celebrate actors who have remained famous throughout, the Leonardo DiCaprios, Jake Gyllenhaals and Natalie Portmans. We are protective of these stars because we’ve watched them grow up in front of us. They’re like family. But there is another group that we don’t often mention. They might even be a more impressive group. This is the group of former child stars who disappeared from the spotlight and came back, the actors whose stars fizzled and faded away only to reignite again as adults. The best part about the members on this list is that they are currently in the middle of their comeback. They went away for a while but they’ve now returned, the prodigal sons and daughters of show business reaping the rewards of nostalgic audiences. Here are 15 former child actors who are making a comeback.
15. Jussie Smollet
As a child, Jussie Smollet was best known for playing Terry Hall (Jessie’s little brother) in The Mighty Ducks and Adam in North. He was also in a few television shows, but he wasn’t necessarily a well-known star. After he completed his run on the TV show On Our Own in 1995, Smollet took a 17-year break from the industry. He came back in 2012 with a few smaller projects, but then, in 2015, he landed the part of Jamal Lyon in Empire. In regards to film, Smollett was just cast in the upcoming Alien: Covenant, set for release in 2017. Whatever it was that happened in that nearly two-decade hiatus worked for the one-time child actor.
14. Taylor Lautner
Taylor Lautner has been around for a while, but he never became well-known until he was a teenager with the Twilight films. Even though his acting abilities were often criticized, he was a massive sex symbol and was raking in the dough during that time. Since the Twilight franchise finished, Lautner has been a part of several flops and critical disasters on film. But then the tide turned. In 2014, he joined the cast of the TV show Cuckoo, a strange but somewhat well-liked TV show. It didn’t launch him back into superstardom, but it did help him land a part on a show that could. Earlier this year, Lautner got a role on the very popular show, Scream Queens and it might be just what the doctor ordered, assuming the doctor wanted Lautner to get his career back on track as an adult.
If you watched any children movies or television in the 1990s, you knew who Raven-Symoné was. She was in everything and was one of the most recognizable child stars of her time. From The Cosby Show to Hanging with Mr. Cooper to The Little Rascals and Dr. Dolittle, Raven was everywhere. In 2003, Raven got started on the popular kid’s show, That’s So Raven. When that show went off the air, Raven dabbled here and there in both her acting and her music, but nothing ever brought her back to the level of fame she had early on. Beginning last year with a recurring role on Empire, Raven started to ease her way back into the spotlight. Later in the year, she guest-hosted The View for a while and that eventually turned into a full-time gig; however, just recently, Raven has announced that she will be leaving The View to get started on reprising her role of Raven in a spin-off of That’s So Raven. While she may not be “back” just yet, she certainly is putting in a strong push to make it so.
12. Alisan Porter
Little Curly Sue is all grown up. If you’re a fan of reality television, you may have watched a woman named Alisan Porter come onto The Voice season 10 and destroy the competition. She was slated to win the show from the very first episode and she did, without even slipping once. It was startling to hear that this woman was once a child actress, known for playing the title role in Curly Sue with Jim Belushi. She was one of those child stars that disappeared after having a huge hit, a la the little boy from Jumanji. Well, Porter did some stage work on Broadway, got into music and battled some addiction. Now, in her 30s, she came back to the spotlight, won The Voice and will be releasing an album shortly. No one knows if she’s here to stay, but at least she came back in the first place.
11. Anna Chlumsky
There was My Girl, My Girl 2 and… well, that’s pretty much it for Anna Chlumsky’s childhood acting resume, but those were ginormous films. Anything that had Macauley Culkin in it turned to gold. Even though she had a 10-year period of nothing, Chlumsky stuck around in the industry, she just didn’t do anything we cared about until 2012 when she landed a part in Julia Louis-Dreyfus‘ Veep. With that part, not only did Chlumsky jump onboard a show that would become hugely popular, but she would acquire grand exposure and other roles, like the one she got for the TV series Hannibal. Chlumsky may not yet be back to as recognizable as she was when she was a child, but she’s making more money than she ever did, and that’s got to count for something.
10. Vanessa Hudgens
Vanessa Hudgens may still seem really young, but she’s almost 30 now, which is basically 50 in Hollywood. In the early 2000s, Hudgens got her start in show business and did well from the very beginning. In 2005, she landed the role of Gabriella in Disney’s High School Musical and she became somewhat of a young star. Then there was a small lull in her career, a lull that ended in 2011 with the films, Sucker Punch and Beastly. She kept up a decent run in 2012 with the popular film Spring Breakers. For the last four years, however, outside of being a massive social media nutcase, Hudgens has, once again, become an afterthought in the industry. That’s all set to change next year though. The former Disney star has been cast in a starring role in the upcoming TV show Powerless, a show that takes place within the complex and heavily populated DC universe. There’s no guarantee that this show is going to be successful, but let’s face it; people can’t seem to get enough superhero television these days.
9. Corey Feldman
This one was intended to be a joke, but we’ve reconsidered, and decided not to make fun of the legendary Corey Feldman. Feldman’s attempting to make a comeback currently in the music industry but, even though we can admit that his musical performances are a bit strange, we hope he does it. His odd wardrobe and his routines are awkward, which turns people off, but the music isn’t that bad. At least, it’s not much worse than the other stuff that is popular today. It’s easy to jump on and ridicule the former child star because he’s a bit unique, but when people try to dismantle what he’s done in his career up to this point, that’s where we have to draw the line. As a child, Feldman was the best there was. He was so far ahead, talent-wise, of other child actors in his time that there wasn’t even a comparable. We look at the child actors of today and wonder how they got so good compared to those of yesteryear. That’s all thanks to people like Feldman, one of the few who carved out a path and helped make the industry more welcoming and safer for those coming up.
8. Hilary Duff
Other than her music, a few episodes of Gossip Girl and some other little parts here and there, Hilary Duff hasn’t been in anything of value since about 2005 with Cheaper by the Dozen 2. For the actress who was massive in the early millennium, that’s quite a big shift. But ever since The Lizzie McGuire show ended, Duff has been focusing on her music mainly. That changed a bit in 2015 with the TV show Younger. If you haven’t seen it, you might be surprised to learn that it’s done well. It may not have the hugest audience, but critics have responded to it and are praising it. Duff’s also releasing a new album soon, so her name should be front and center for a while more at least.
7. Tahj Mowry
You may not be watching Baby Daddy, but it’s a show that stars former child actor Tahj Mowry, and it’s been the vehicle for his comeback. As a kid, Mowry was on Full House, Sister, Sister and his own show, The Smart Guy. Even if his name isn’t familiar, you would recognize him as a kid. He kind of looked weird. Well, now he doesn’t look weird and he’s been back on mainstream television for the past four years or so. After his show, The Smart Guy, ended in 1999, Mowry started working on his voice acting. He landed the role of Wade Load in Kim Possible in 2002 and kept that rolling until 2007. Then there was a period of nothing for the young man. He twiddled his thumbs for a few years until 2012 came knocking and gave him a job. As one of the stars of Baby Daddy, Mowry has shown himself capable of carrying an audience, so we fully expect him to continue this current run of success.
6. Ben Savage
In the 90s, Ben Savage was a rockstar. Boy Meets World was a hit and everyone everywhere was a fan. When that show ended in 2000, Savage went away for a few years, popping up in something small and terrible every so often. We always remembered him for his Cory Matthews character, but we figured he was a goner. Then came Girl Meets World, a spin-off of the show that made him a star and Savage was back on our TV screens. Even though the show has seen its audience get smaller each season, it’s done well enough to warrant us saying confidently Savage has made a comeback. He’s at least got a steady gig on a somewhat popular TV show, which is more than we can say about you, you judgmental jerk. He’s trying his hardest.
5. Emily Osment
Emily Osment might always be best known for being the little sister to Haley Joel Osment, but she’s done alright for herself. Her best work, or at least her most popular work, was on Hannah Montana as Miley’s best pal, Lilly. Hannah Montana ran until 2011, and since then, Osment has been wallowing in lesser films and TV shows. She’s been working, so we don’t want to make it seem like she’s just been sitting around, but she’s not done anything worth writing home about. In mid 2014, after three years of moving around, Osment found a home in the TV show Young & Hungry. Though the show was only supposed to run for four seasons, its popularity has led to it being picked up for another season in 2017. No, we don’t watch the show, but we’ve heard it’s good enough to say that Osment should be sticking around for a while longer yet.
4. Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Considering that Thomas Brodie-Sangster hasn’t aged a day since he was a child, it would be easy to say that he’s never left our sight, but that’s just an illusion. He has aged and he did go away for a while. As a child actor, Brodie-Sangster was in Love Actually and Nanny McPhee. After Nanny McPhee, there were a few cult films scattered in there, but the spotlight was no longer shining on the youngster. For about eight years, Brodie-Sangster took on smaller roles and smaller films, until 2013 when he was cast as Jojen Reed in Game of Thrones. This brought him back into the mainstream audience’s vision and has led to some much larger films. Soon after that, he found his way into The Maze Runner film franchise and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We’ll have to wait to see what happens after The Maze Runner franchise finishes to see if Brodie-Sangster sticks around, but all signs are pointing to yes, he’s back.
3. Mayim Bialik
Way back in the early 90s, Mayim Bialik was known as Blossom from the hit TV series Blossom. There was a time when she was one of the biggest stars on television, but that only lasted as long as the show, which ended in 1995. From 1995 until 2010, Bialik was gone from the spotlight, going to school and earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Then, in 2010, Bialik found her way onto television with a role on The Big Bang Theory. In what started as a recurring role, her character, Amy Farrah Fowler, has now became a full-time cast member. It’s still a bit weird to think that Bialik is once again on one of the most popular shows on television.
2. Cole Sprouse
One half of the twin pairing that did Big Daddy and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Cole Sprouse is now grown up and coming back to television. Having taken a hiatus from acting after the 2011 conclusion of The Suite Life on Deck TV series, Sprouse has returned and is starring as Jughead Jones in the Archie comics adaptation, Riverdale. The TV series is set to premiere in February of 2017, so we’re not sure how it is or how it will do yet. But, to be honest, even though the Sprouse brothers may not have been for everyone, having spent so much time on the Disney channel, they have always been talented actors. Considering that they’ve been acting since they were old enough to talk, they’ve got more practice and training then almost all young people their age. If we were into gambling, we would be betting that Cole does well, regardless of how well the show does.
1. Johnny Galecki
When it comes to Johnny Galecki, maybe “making” isn’t quite the right word; “made” would be more appropriate. We can pretend that Galecki was an important actor throughout his entire career because he found steady work, but he was invisible, reduced to bit parts in big movies or big parts in insignificant movies. That all changed in 2007 for the guy who became a star in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and the TV series Roseanne. It was in 2007 that Galecki landed a role as Leonard in The Big Bang Theory. While the first few years of the show’s run had its ups and downs, the last five seasons have seen the show become one of the most popular on television. Galecki now earns $1 million per episode and is better known for his current work than what he once was, a positive sign for any former child star.