An industry that has millions of people vying to find success in it, competition to make it in the acting world is so fierce that many people who dream of that give up before ever really trying. As such, once you’ve done well enough for yourself that you’re not only making a living pretending to be other people but have managed to make a name for yourself, then you’ve beaten all the odds. It therefore seems unfathomable to many of us that someone who gets there would then opt to walk away from that vaunted place in society of their own accord. Nevertheless, there have been several stars that have taken it upon themselves to turn away the advances of an industry that only embraces a select few. Realizing that is what inspired us to put together this list of twenty famous actors that told Hollywood where to go.
In order for someone to be up for consideration for possible inclusion on this list, he/she first and foremost needs to have been someone that casting agents wanted to work with at one point. For the purposes of this list, it doesn’t matter if he/she found the lion’s share of fame from film or TV, as these days, actors can make the leap between those mediums easier than ever before. Next, he/she needs to have chosen to walk away from major roles for his/her own reasons, as far as we can tell. Finally, we also want to state that it isn’t mandatory that they stopped acting altogether, as long as they eschewed major projects, at least for a while.
20 Joe Pesci
If you were a film fan in the late eighties and early nineties, there was every reason to believe that Joe Pesci would continue to be at the vanguard of the business for years to come. Acclaimed for his work in movies like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, My Cousin Vinny, and several others, he had earned the respect of the business. On top of that, he also had experience being a part of movies that were huge financial hits like the Lethal Weapon and Home Alone film franchises.
However, since the release of 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4, he has been gone from the acting world aside from a very small cameo in The Good Shepherd and starring in a barely-seen film called Love Ranch. Instead of his previous career, he announced that he was going to go after a music career that utterly failed; otherwise, he was going to retire. That said, he has recently been working on a film called The Irishman which will see him reunite on film with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro for the first time in decades.
19 Grace Kelly
Over the years, Hollywood has seen a lot of lovely ladies come and go but it is pretty hard to argue against the idea that Grace Kelly is the most elegant among them all. Best known for movies like Dial M for Murder, Mogambo, To Catch a Thief, High Noon, and Rear Window, it is safe to say that she had a great eye for picking out fantastic films to be a part of.
Seeming like she had just received the keys to the castle and was in a position to demand a great deal from the film industry, when she met Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, her path in life changed. Opting to permanently stop acting at the age of twenty-six, she did this because she became the Princess of Monaco through marriage but, in doing so, proved that she wasn’t interested in Hollywood any longer.
18 Greta Garbo
From one golden age actor to another, this time around, we are looking at another legendary actor in the form of Greta Garbo. Named the fifth greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema by the American Film Institute, some modern fans may know her best from Mr. Burns mentioning her on The Simpsons but that is a shame. After all, she was marvelous in movies like Queen Christina, Camille, Anna Christie, and Ninotchka, among many others. And more than that, she helped define the way movies were made.
Another actor that retired young, in Greta's case, she stopped acting at thirty-six, and despite many film roles being offered to her, she never worked again. Many years later, a friend of hers revealed that when asked about what inspired her departure, she said, "Don’t ever ask me about the movies… especially why I left them."
17 Jonathan Taylor Thomas
One of three young boys that were a part of the main cast for the show Home Improvement, in that series, Jonathan Taylor Thomas played the middle son of the family at the core of that show. Continuing to play that part for several years, he would work with Tim Allen, who was a big star at the time, week after week. Slowly becoming the second most talked-about person on that show, millions of viewers had the hots for him which also helped him launch a movie career.
Then, as quickly as he came, JTT was gone out of nowhere in the mid-2000’s despite the fact that he was still at the top of his game. For the millions of people who were wondering at the time, it turned out that he had just had enough of it and opted to hang up his proverbial acting boots. Going on to attend Harvard, Columbia, and St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, he has publicly revealed that he loves his new life. Seems like we shouldn’t expect a return from him anytime soon either, as his only role since has been as part of the show Last Man Standing which he took because that show starred his former TV dad.
16 Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen
Two for the price of one. With this entry, we are giving you both of The Olsen Twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley. Turned into stars prior to even having the ability to speak, the two of them were cast in the show Full House when they were babies. Continuing to be a part of that show up until its demise, they also became their own cottage industry that made millions off the sale of merchandise, clothing, and videotapes.
Made wealthy by their business efforts, they now don’t have to take on gigs that they don’t enjoy, and it seems like that marks the end of their acting careers. Previously revealing that they are going to focus on their fashion business instead, Ashley even went so far as to say, “I don’t like to be the center of attention anymore.” If that isn’t a rejection of the lure of Hollywood, we don’t know what is.
15 Geena Davis
One of the best actors of her generation, Geena Davis’ history of being a stellar part of many fantastic films makes us see her as an absolute legend of the business. Best known for movies like Beetlejuice, The Fly, A League of Their Own, as well as Thelma & Louise and others, anyone that underestimates her contributions needs to reconsider their position. Then her career hit the skids almost entirely because she starred in the movie Cutthroat Island, which was such a failure at the box office that many blame it with ending Carolco Pictures.
However, despite that fact, she still continued to get parts but they weren’t up to her standards so she made the choice to place her focus elsewhere. First off, she created the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media which does their best to improve the way women are portrayed in film and television. Far from her only efforts to better society and the world, she also worked on behalf of female athletes and animals. On top of all that, she also took up archery and got so good at it that she just barely fell short of competing at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
14 Angus T. Jones
A show that has received its fair amount of detractors over the years, despite that fact, Two and a Half Men was an absolute juggernaut in television ratings during its run. Starring celebrities like Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer, and Ashton Kutcher over the years, the titular half-man was played by Angus T. Jones who was a kid when the series began.
Seeming like he’d found the golden goose, he was making a killing while playing the part. But then, out of nowhere, Angus would publicly decry the series that had made him a star. Revealing in an interview that appearing on the show wasn’t something he could do if he wanted to be “a true God-fearing person,” he was walking away and encouraging everyone else to do the same. Only returning for a cameo at the end of the series, which did seem hypocritical, he opted to focus on working with faith-based organizations over acting.
13 Bridget Fonda
A member of an acting dynasty that has gone through the ages, when Bridget Fonda became a star, she was joining the business that made stars out of her relatives Henry, Peter, and Jane. Not living in their shadow at all, however, her career included movies like The Godfather Part III, Single White Female, Singles, Point of No Return, and Jackie Brown. Going strong up until the dawn of the millennium, shortly after the dawn of 2000, Bridget completely disappeared from acting.
With the exact reason she made the ultimate decision to give up her chosen profession of so many years, it appears like she created a family and wanted to spend her time focused on that. She married talented musician Danny Elfman in 2003 and ever since they welcomed a child together, she has never taken a high-profile acting gig anymore.
12 Gene Wilder
Without a doubt one of the most legendary comedic actors of all time, Gene Wilder was the star of some of the most watched and influential films that genre has ever seen. Beloved by many because of his contributions to movies like The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, as well as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, his work will continue to matter for years. Also memorable for the times in which he worked with Richard Pryor, the two of them were a team in films like Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, and See No Evil, Hear No Evil.
Like others on this list, he would then step away from stardom after a certain time. In fact, after his show, Something Wilder, ended in 1995, he only worked on a trio of TV movies and guested on two episodes of Will & Grace. If you think those few small appearances should disqualify him from this list, then keep in mind that he didn’t work once in-between 2003 and his 2016 death despite seeming vibrant during interviews. Turns out that what inspired him to stop was a distaste for the movie scene at the time. Stating that he “didn’t want to do that kind of junk” in an interview from 2013, he also revealed that he didn’t like all the swearing. Finally, he didn’t care for modern pacing and he asked if characters could “stop and talk.” Clearly, he was not a fan of what Hollywood had become.
11 Kirk Cameron
When the show Growing Pains debuted in 1985, it starred Alan Thicke and Joana Kerns. But as he got older, it became clear to everyone that it was Kirk Cameron that really ruled the roost. The most popular part of the series by far, his character, Mike Seaver, was at the core of the show during its seven-year run, and producers of the series changed things up at his whim.
When looking at the history of Kirk’s stardom, the main difference maker was when he became a born-again Christian at the age of seventeen, which was a couple of years into his show’s run. Forcing producers to change the kind of stories he took part in on the show as a result of his beliefs, he is even said to have forced them to fire a co-star who’d posed for Playboy. After that show came to an end in 1992, he moved his focus to working on faith-based projects like a number of religion-focused films. Furthermore, when asked about how he feels about the way Hollywood and its stars see him, he made it clear that he does not care.
10 Macaulay Culkin
The biggest child star in the world during the height of his career, when Macaulay Culkin starred in the movie Home Alone, it not only made him a big deal but has also helped make the film a sensation. Going on to appear in the sequel to that film, as well as My Girl, The Good Son, The Pagemaster, and Richie Rich, prior to all of that, he’d also shown up in the fantastic film Uncle Buck. Once puberty landed on him and the returns on his projects got smaller, he seemed to fade away. Still, as a young adult, he had a short-lived comeback when he appeared in a couple of indie movies called Party Monster and Saved.
No longer at all interested in working with the powers that be in Hollywood, since 2007, he has been in a pair of little-seen micro-budget independent films and has a role in an upcoming film made by friends. When asked about his lack of acting output, he said that he has “essentially retired” and that he now focuses on painting, writing, and “whatevering.” Also revealing that he doesn’t like being recognized in public, he said that he goes out at 2 or 4 in the morning because there’s nobody on the streets.
9 Cary Grant
Without a doubt one of the biggest names in acting during the height of his career, Cary Grant’s reach was so strong and long-lasting that many people that don’t care about film today are still aware of him. Best known for movies like Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story, and many more, that is to say nothing about one of the most important relationships in his career. Someone who worked with famed director Alfred Hitchcock many times, he appeared in movies made by him like North by Northwest, Notorious, Suspicion, and To Catch a Thief.
Unlike most of today’s stars, however, despite his immense success, the birth of his daughter changed everything for him as he retired from acting to raise her at the age of sixty-two. Living another twenty years after that, he turned down every role that came his way and many major names tried very hard to bring him back.
8 Shirley Temple
If you weren’t around for the heyday of Shirley Temple’s acting career, then you may not realize it but at the time, she was one of the biggest stars in the world. An absolute sensation throughout her childhood, it seemed like pretty much everything she touched turned to gold to such a degree that the Oscars gave her a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1935. Best known for movies like The Little Colonel, Wee Willie Winkie, and Bright Eyes among many others, she was also included on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest female American screen legends.
Someone who did more in the acting world than many others, sadly, her story was like many child actors that have followed in her footsteps. Realizing that as she grew up, she was no longer happy with the quality of projects she received, despite encouragement to keep working abroad and then return, she instead opted to retire. Living another sixty-four years, she too was asked to work more but she was over working on movies.
7 Josh Hartnett
An actor who not, too long ago, seemed like he was set to be the next big thing, Josh Hartnett seemed to have the blessing of the Hollywood elite and audiences. Right from the start landing major roles, he was in The Faculty and The Virgin Suicides before he turned heads in Black Hawk Down, Sin City, Lucky Number Slevin, and more. Then, things seemed to take a downturn after films of his like Hollywood Homicide were far from beloved upon their release.
Evidently, in talks with studios to play some of the biggest characters in history, he passed on Superman Returns and was in talks to play both Batman and Spider-Man at various times. Not interested in taking on roles that involve being a part of projects of that scale, he parted ways with her agents and managers before moving back to his home state of Minnesota. Occasionally popping up in the years after that, most of his films flew entirely under the radar as they were not the type of productions that stars take part in often.
6 Jake Lloyd
A former child star that landed the part of a lifetime, when Jake Lloyd was tapped to play a young Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, he beat out some stiff competition. One of the most anticipated movies ever, it was the first time a new film in that franchise had been released in over sixteen years, and the world couldn’t wait. Unfortunately, the film wasn’t very good and the little kid that played one of the main characters could be pretty annoying. But in retrospect, that largely comes down to poor writing and directing.
Sadly, people aren’t always very mature, and according to Jake, a lot of vitriol was sent his way despite how young he was at the time. Evidently taunted often by his peers and constantly decried online, when Jake resurfaced in 2012 after walking away from acting, he revealed the impact the movie had on his life. Referring to his school life as a “living hell,” he was done with acting likely forever because he said, “[I] learned to hate it when the cameras are pointed at me.”
5 Daniel Day-Lewis
Roundly considered one of the most talented actors to ever live, Daniel Day-Lewis was a unique entity in the movie world as it was clear that riches and fame were not his focus. Someone who was highly sought after by the most powerful directors alive, it seems like he could have landed almost any role he wanted but he was so selective that he was only in five films during the nineties. Best known for his impressive work in films like My Left Foot, The Last of the Mohicans, Gangs of New York, and There Will Be Blood, most of his work was highly lauded for good reason.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, his spokeswoman announced that he was retiring from the business in June of 2017 and that a film he’d already worked on would be his last ever. Someone who was well-known for how much he committed himself to whatever role he took on, he usually wouldn't break character on set and spent months preparing for each of his roles. That seems to be why he has turned his back on Hollywood as he spoke of feeling so empty after completing his final film, since it had ruled over his life for so long, that it was the end of his career.
4 Rick Moranis
The kind of actor that is just so easy to love that it almost seems hard to believe, Rick Moranis had the instinctual ability to play characters that audiences would come to care deeply about. Also a truly hilarious person, when he played a character, there was a pretty good chance that it would stand the test of time. Starting out on the Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV, after hitting it big there, he would go on to star in films like Strange Brew, Ghostbusters, Spaceballs, Little Shop of Horrors, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
On fire up until the beginning of the nineties, his personal life would take a huge hit in 1991 when his wife passed away from breast cancer ten days after she turned thirty-five. Far too young for someone to lose their life, the fact that they had two kids made it all the worse and caused him to take a hiatus from acting. Returning to work for several years, his career never hit the same heights again, and we think that may have a lot to do with whether or not his heart was truly in it since he wanted to be with his kids. Either way, after the release of a 1997 movie, he has yet to appear in a live-action film and only provided his life to three animated films, the last of which was released in 2006.
3 Amanda Bynes
The final former child star to appear on this list, at one time, it seemed as though Nickelodeon was putting many of its eggs in the Amanda Bynes basket. The star of its shows, All That and The Amanda Show, for many years, she would also be a part of the network television show What I Like About You several years later. Also a film star at one time, she was integral to the success of movies like Big Fat Liar, What a Girl Wants, She's the Man, Hairspray, and Easy A to name a sampling.
Another star that announced her retirement when they seemed to be at the top of their game, with Amanda, she did so at only twenty-four because she was disillusioned with her life. Sadly, this would only be the beginning as she also attempted to break free from her family for an extended period, even going so far as to accuse her father of horrible things. Evidently undergoing a mental breakdown of sorts, her life was in great turmoil that resulted in legal and emotional issues so at least Hollywood wasn’t the only thing she wasn’t interested in any longer.
2 Dave Chappelle
Starting out his career in the public as a stand-up comedian, Dave Chappelle is one of the best in the world today but was not willing to rest on those laurels at all. Instead, over the following years, he created a career for himself as a movie actor in-between his parts in films like Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Con Air, Half Baked, and Undercover Brother. However, his profile was the biggest it has ever been when he seemed to be riding high on television as the star of the sketch comedy show Chappelle’s Show.
People were shocked when headlines spread that he had not only departed the show that he had co-created and was the driving force behind it, but he had also left the country and gone to South Africa. At first dogged by rumors that he had been in the midst of a mental breakdown, in the years after, he has revealed that it was the pressure of his newfound stardom and schedule that was at fault. Especially disliking reports of how much money he was set to make, he felt he lacked any semblance of a private life and couldn’t even do stand-up effectively any longer and that was his true passion.
1 Sean Connery
An actor that was near the top of that industry for several decades, the list of influential characters Sean Connery brought to life is extensive, to say the least. Someone who will likely always be best known for originating James Bond in the Eon Productions for years, he made the character such a hit that he has been around long enough for five more actors to play him. Also memorable in other films like Highlander, The Untouchables, The Hunt for Red October, The Rock, as well as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, his impact on film should not be understated.
Sadly, Sean would take the lead role in the 2003 film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and that decision would be the beginning of the end of his career. A movie that was directed by Stephen Norrington who’d previously made Blade, the arguments the two of them had on the set of the movie were said to be epic in nature. In fact, they were so bad and the film did so poorly that Sean walked away from the business and Stephen has yet to sit in the director’s chair for a movie since. Hating a representative of a business so much that you end your career is one heck of a way to tell Hollywood where to go.