Picture this — ten years old, homeschooled, living out your dream (or your parents, however you want to look at it) as a child actor. The experience is amazing, the big lights, the studio audience, the cool places you get to see. You learn your lines, make your catchphrases your own, and worm your way into the hearts of millions as that cutie on that show every Thursday night.
It’s not uncommon for some of today’s most famous celebrities to get their start just like that, as a child star, and it’s all about breaking out of that role that made them famous. You cannot gain credibility as an actor if you can’t shake that role that made you a household name — it’s as simple as that. No matter how hard they may try, some celebs can’t seem to shake that character they brought to life, and as a result, it can really impact their careers.
When you’re a celebrity, it’s a goal to make yourself a household name, and it’s hard to do that when you’re constantly referred to a role you played decades ago, even if you’ve done other projects. Much like growing up, maturing, and becoming your own person — something everyone goes through, famous or not — these child stars have double the work, shaping themselves as well as their careers. Some prevail and come out on top, while others aren’t as lucky. These 15 child stars didn’t quite make the cut, and failed to break out of that role.
15 Alexa PenaVega
Alexa Vega — more recently PenaVega after marrying Carlos Pena of Big Time Rush in 2014 — first found her fame when she starred in the kid-favorite movie, Spy Kids. The blockbuster franchise went on to produce four movies total, with PenaVega starring as Carmen Cortez through all four movies.
Although she went on to earn a few more acting roles, none were as successful as Spy Kids. She appeared in Repo! The Genetic Opera, Sleepover, and From Prada To Nada, to name a few. Trying to break away from her childhood role that made her famous, PenaVega played the sexy KillJoy in 2013’s Machete Kills.
In 2015 PenaVega also appeared on the 21st season of Dancing With The Stars, competing against her husband Carlos. In 2016 PenaVega and her husband welcomed their son, Ocean King PenaVega.
Unfortunately for PenaVega, she can go on to take as many roles as she wants, but she will always be Carmen Cortez in our hearts.
14 Jamie Lynn Spears
With a last name like hers, it's impossible not to know who's in her family tree. In case you've been sleeping under a rock for literally decades, Jamie Lynn Spears is the younger sister of none other than Britney Spears. The younger sibling is famous in her own right, starring in her own Nickelodeon show Zoey 101. The show ran from 2005 to 2008 for four seasons.
Following in her sister’s footsteps, she made headlines in 2007, announcing she was pregnant at the age of 16. She welcomed her daughter Maddie, in June of 2008. Since then, she's kept out of the spotlight. She tried her hand in music, releasing an EP in 2014, but her success was not even close to that of Zoey 101.
Although we're happy for Jamie and the happiness she's found, we still can't help but feel a little upset that we never found out what was supposed to happen on Zoey 101, leaving us hanging and wanting more.
13 Nate Richert
If you saw Nate Richert on the street, you probably wouldn't recognize him at all. These days, he’s missing his trademark luscious locks. Richert is best known for his role as Harvey Kinkle, the handsome love interest of Sabrina Spellman on the hit TV show, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Richert appeared on the show for four years, and isn't known for much else.
In 2006 he tried to further his acting career, and starred in a short film titled H.E.N.R.Y. Once that project wrapped, Richert’s acting career did too. He hasn't been in any notable acting projects since. Instead, Richert decided to turn to music in 2010. He's released several albums since then.
He might not look like the ditzy and handsome Harvey that we all had a crush on back in the day, but he will definitely always be Harvey to those who loved the show.
12 Kel Mitchell
“Aw, here it goes!” One half of your favorite '90s Nickelodeon duo, Kenan and Kel, Kel Mitchell, didn’t find the same success as his co-star once the hit show, Kenan & Kel came to an end in 2000. Today we get to see Kenan Thompson Saturday nights on Saturday Night Live. As for Kel? It seemed like he disappeared off the face of the Earth.
A few years after the show ended, Mitchell was the victim of a death hoax spread around on the internet, leading many people to believe that their favorite funny man had actually died. Although it’s clear that he isn’t dead, Mitchell has failed to step back into the spotlight. He made a few appearances on a few TV shows, but also dabbled in voice acting, and did so for Clifford The Big Red Dog. For now, we’re just really excited that he’s still alive, and still wonder — does he still love orange soda?
11 Kim Fields
Kim Fields got her first breakout role playing the adorable Tootie on The Facts of Life from 1979 to 1988. She captured the hearts of millions, rolling around on her roller skates and proclaiming, “we're in troooooubleeeeee” throughout the show’s nine seasons.
Once the show came to an end, Fields was determined to live a somewhat normal life. She attended Pepperdine University where she studied film and media, trying to shake off the perky persona of Tootie that America fell in love with. After graduating, Fields tried her hand at acting again, starring alongside Queen Latifah in the sitcom Living Single. The show was eventually canceled.
Fields also went on to participate in season 22 of Dancing With The Stars, as well as appearing in season 8 of Real Housewives of Atlanta. Although Fields accomplished a lot in her career, the role of Tootie stuck to her like glue, and America loves her for it.
10 Taran Noah Smith
Getting his start at the young age of seven on '90s favorite sitcom, Home Improvement, Taran Noah Smith starred as Mark Taylor alongside TV dad Tim Allen. The show was one of the most watched sitcoms, and ran for eight seasons.
The world watched him grow up through television screens, and once the show came to a close, he eventually spiralled downward like many other child stars before him. When he was just 17 he married Heidi van Pelt, who was sixteen years older than him in order to gain control of his earnings from Home Improvement. Smith believed that his parents were squandering his money and used the marriage as a retaliation. The couple divorced in 2007. He was also arrested in 2012 for DUI and drug possession.
Despite his legal troubles and failed marriage, he will forever live in our hearts as the tiniest Taylor.
9 Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
The Olsen twins are arguably the most famous twins in Hollywood. Born in 1986, the two began their career just nine months after they were born as Michelle Tanner in Full House. The smallest Tanner child captured the hearts of millions with just a wink and a, “You got it, dude!”
Even though the show ended in 1995, the duo went on to create their own empire — starring in their own movies and TV shows such as New York Minute and So Little Time. The Olsens eventually made the decision to retire from acting, and haven’t done so since 2012.
The twins showed a huge interest in fashion for most of their career, but they were finally able to concentrate on it fully once they were done with acting.
Nowadays when we see the Olsens, we see two much older girls, now a shadow of their former spunky selves. Haggard and drawn, they’re now known for their “homeless chic” look. No longer in the spotlight as much as they used to be, they’ll still be loved as Michelle Tanner.
8 Melissa Joan Hart
Getting her first real start on Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All, Melissa Joan Hart is most known for her role as Sabrina Spellman on Sabrina The Teenage Witch. The series ran for seven seasons from 1996 to 2003, where with a simple spell, she became our favorite TV witch.
Notably, Hart appeared in the music video for Britney Spears’ hit song “(You Drive Me) Crazy.” In support of her movie alongside Adrian Grenier, Drive Me Crazy. Hart’s biggest acting role since Sabrina came to an end in 2003 was Melissa & Joey, a sitcom that ran for four seasons from 2010 to 2015. Although it was a successful run for Hart, it would never compare to America’s favorite witch family. Hart also competed on Season 9 of Dancing With The Stars and was eliminated seventh.
It would take a difficult spell to rid us of our love for Sabrina Spellman.
7 Jaleel White
Jaleel White, better known as Steve Urkel from the hit TV show Family Matters owes his career to the nerdy kid with the suspenders. White starred as the quirky neighbor throughout all nine seasons from 1989 to 1998. He quickly became a household name as families all over America fell in love with the boy with the annoying squeaky voice.
Once the series ended, White struggled in the acting department, unable to break away from the role that made him famous. He did manage to book a few roles, such as appearances on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Psych, and CSI. However, most gigs were an episode or two, nothing as serious as his nine seasons on Family Matters. White appeared on season 14 of Dancing With The Stars and was eliminated sixth.
Try as he might, but White will never be able to get rid of the suspender-wearing, wide-brimmed glasses boy yelling, “Did I do that?!”
6 Mitchel Musso
Mitchel Musso, best known as Oliver Oken on Disney’s hit TV show Hannah Montana, was once one of Disney’s finest. Starring alongside Miley Cyrus for four seasons from 2006 to 2011, Musso made his way into our hearts with that Smoken’ Oken charm of his. He also lent his voice to the character Jeremy Johnson on Disney’s animated series Phineas and Ferb.
During his Hannah Montana years, Musso also dabbled a bit in the music scene, releasing his first and only studio album in 2009. Besides the release of an EP in 2010, he eventually ended his music career, not releasing anything else.
Like many other child stars, Musso found himself in some legal trouble, and in 2011 he was charged with DUI suspicion. We wish he would have listened to some words of wisdom from Oliver Smoken’ Oken because his career fizzled out not long after. These days Musso has been flying under the radar.
5 Karyn Parsons
Karyn Parsons is better known for playing our favorite rich cousin Hilary Banks, on the hit TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show that made a name for Will Smith, ran for six seasons from 1990, and coming to a close in 1996.
While the show was still on the air, Parsons landed a few movie roles, but once The Fresh Prince ended, the offers stopped coming in. She did, however, co-found, produce, and star in a sitcom called Lush Life. The show proved not to be successful and was eventually canceled after only four episodes.
Parsons hasn't had much luck in Hollywood since her pretentious, spoiled brat of a role as Hilary Banks. She might not have been your favorite character on the show, but you'll always remember the crazy things she said and expensive outfits she wore, definitely making herself one of the most memorable characters on the show.
4 Drake Bell
Drake Bell got his big break on Nickelodeon’s The Amanda Show, but is most known for starring in fan-favorite Drake & Josh. Known to be the cool and laid-back “ladies man” on the show, Bell became a household name. He even dabbled in playing music, performing the theme song for the show, and playing his music on a number of episodes throughout the years. Drake & Josh came to a close after four seasons in 2007.
Like many other child stars, Bell picked up a few other acting gigs, including doing some voice acting for animated shows. In 2009 he was arrested for DUI and in 2015 was arrested yet again on the suspicion of DUI. He also filed for bankruptcy in 2014 and his house was taken from him. With all of the trouble he’s been getting into, we still can’t help but think about one half of the duo we’ve come to know and love.
3 Angus T. Jones
Many know Angus T. Jones as the quirky and not-so-bright “half” man in the hit comedy Two and a Half Men, playing Jake Harper. The sitcom ran for twelve seasons, with Jones starring in the first ten, and only appearing in a few episodes of the final season. America literally watched Jones grow up as he played the role of Jake Harper, with Jon Cryer as his father, and Charlie Sheen as his uncle. During his time on the show, Jones became the highest paid child star at 17.
As the show progressed and Jones grew older, he came to resent his role on the show, making comments to the press that people should stop watching it. This resulted in his departure in the tenth season, the writers making up a new storyline saying he joined the military. That seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, as Jones never returned to acting after that.
Although he may no longer be a half of a man, Jones is trying to become his own man. No matter what, though, Jones will most likely always be the troublemaker Jake Harper.
2 Maureen McCormick
Marcia Marcia Marcia! Our favorite oldest female Brady of the hit TV show, The Brady Bunch will always have a special place in our hearts. Maureen McCormick starred as Marcia Brady for all five seasons the series aired, as well as a number of spinoffs and movies based around one of America’s favorite families.
Once The Brady Bunch era ended, McCormick continued her acting career, making a number of appearances in TV shows, and starring in made-for-TV movies — none of them taking off like her role of Marcia. On top of that, McCormick struggled heavily with addiction and an eating disorder, which really made an impact on her acting career. McCormick also made an appearance on Season 23 of Dancing With The Stars and was eliminated sixth.
Regardless of her success after The Brady Bunch, she will always be known as “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!”
1 Macaulay Culkin
When you think of a child actor, a lot of the time we picture the hot messes — and Macaulay Culkin is one of them. Culkin, most known for playing the mischievous and adorable Kevin McCallister, has seen better days. He rose to fame after starring in both Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. Following the success of the two movies, Culkin also starred in a few other films such as My Girl and The Good Son, but neither film saw the success of Home Alone and its sequel, leaving Culkin stuck in the role that made him a household name.
As Culkin got older, he began to get into legal trouble, and was arrested in 2004. He also sparked controversy when it came to his relationship with Michael Jackson. Culkin spent a lot of time with the King of Pop as a child, and as he grew up, which led people to question the nature of the relationship. He assured that there was nothing inappropriate about the friendship between the two.
These days, Culkin has been keeping out of the public eye, but no matter what, we'll always remember him with his hands on his cheeks in his trademark pose as the little boy that made us laugh.