Half Of These Child Stars Quit Hollywood And Half Became Even Bigger Stars As Adults

·13 min read

Child actors have long been a controversial subject in Hollywood and beyond, and while some decide to leave the industry after they've grown up, others keep acting well into adulthood.

ABC

Here are some child actors who retired early and some who stuck with acting:

1.Retired early: Jennette McCurdy.

Jennette McCurdy

You may know her from iCarly and Sam & Cat.

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Jennette, who started acting at 8 years old, starred in two Nickelodeon sitcoms before she decided to step away from acting.

Jennette McCurdy as a child
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She talked about the decision to stop acting in 2021 on her podcast, Empty Inside, saying, “I quit a few years ago because I initially didn’t want to do it."

Jennette with Ariana Grande
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These days, she's mostly pivoted to writing. In her new memoir, I'm Glad My Mom Died, she details the abuse she was dealt as a child actor and how she was only able to step away and heal after her mom's death.

Jennette on a city street with a crowd behind her
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2.Stuck with acting: Brie Larson.

Brie Larson

You may know her from Room and Captain Marvel.

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Brie started acting in 1998, when she was just 9 years old. Her first role was in a sketch for The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.

Brie Larson on Jay Leno
NBC, Sebastian Artz / Getty Images

2000s girls will also remember her playing mean girls in 13 Going On 30 and Sleepover when she was about 15.

Brie Larson in Sleepover
MGM

As an adult, she's gone on to win an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Room and an Emmy for The Messy Truth VR Experience. And there's no sign of her stopping.

3.Retired early: Shirley Temple.

Headshot of a smiling Shirley as a young woman

You may know her from The Little Colonel, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, or those "Animal Crackers in My Soup" infomercials that used to play late at night.

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Shirley is probably the most famous child actor of all time. She started working as an actor at just 4 years old and built an incredible catalog throughout her childhood.

Shirley Temple
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At 22, she decided to retire from acting, and she ended up working in politics for most of her life, even serving as an ambassador to Ghana and then Czechoslovakia before her death in 2014.

Shirley Temple as an adult on the red carpet
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4.Stuck with acting: Jodie Foster.

Jodie Foster

You may know her from The Silence of the Lambs and Contact.

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Other than commercials, Jodie's first acting role was when she was just 5 years old on the TV show Mayberry R.F.D. She continued doing mostly TV work as a kid.

Jodie Foster as a child
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When she was just 14, she earned her first Oscar nomination for playing a child sex worker in the movie Taxi Driver.

Jodie Foster as a child
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Now she has two Oscars (for The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs), and her most recent movie, The Mauritanian, earned her a third Golden Globe.

Jodie Foster
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5.Retired early: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

Mary-Kate Olsen

You may know them from Full House and New York Minute and just for being the Olsen twins.

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Okay, this is actually two child actors, but they worked together for most of their careers before pivoting away to focus on other career ventures, like their fashion lines the Row and Elizabeth & James.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as children
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Ashley quit first, with her last major role being New York Minute in 2004, and Mary-Kate followed after her last role in Beastly in 2011.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen smiling
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Mary-Kate said in 2012, "If I ever get back in[to Hollywood], it's not going to be as an actress."

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen holding an award
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6.Stuck with acting: Scarlett Johansson.

Scarlett Johansson

You may know her from The Avengers and Lost in Translation.

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Scarlett made her feature film debut at just 9 years old in the film North, but even before then, she'd already made her stage debut off-Broadway alongside Ethan Hawke at age 8.

Scarlett Johansson as a child
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She's worked consistently ever since, winning a Tony Award for the play A View From the Bridge in 2010 and getting two Academy Award nominations for Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit. She was also named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2021.

Scarlett Johansson
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7.Retired early: Peter Ostrum.

Peter Ostrum

You may know him from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

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Peter has exactly one acting role under his belt, and it's the starring role of Charlie in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and Peter Ostrum as a child
Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

After filming wrapped, he considered an acting career but quickly fell in love with veterinary medicine instead and decided to pursue that.

Peter Ostrum
Dmiphoto / FilmMagic

He said in 2000, "Acting was fine, but I wanted something more steady, and the key is to find something that you love doing, and that's what my profession has given to me."

Peter Ostrum and the cast of Willy Wonka at a reunion
Shirlaine Forrest / Getty Images

8.Stuck with acting: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

You may know him from Inception and 500 Days of Summer.

David Livingston / Getty Images

Joseph was scouted by a manager while performing in a preschool play, and he made his TV film debut by age 6. But perhaps his best-known childhood role was in the TV show 3rd Rock From the Sun, which premiered when he was 14.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a child
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He now also directs, produces, and runs an online media platform called HitRecord on top of acting. He even won two nonacting Emmys for his work on HitRecord.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
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9.Retired early: Mara Wilson.

Mara Wilson

You may know her from Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire.

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Mara started to lose interest in film acting around the same time that she started to age out of the child roles she'd famously played.

Mara Wilson as a child
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She said in 2013, "Hollywood didn't really want me at that point, and I was kind of over it too. So, after a while, it feels like a mutual breakup."

Mara Wilson as a child waving on the red carpet
Barry King / Getty Images

While she still does some acting, she does a lot of writing these days. She even wrote a memoir about her experiences as a child actor, called Where Am I Now?

10.Stuck with acting: Kat Dennings.

Kat Dennings on the red carpet

You may know her from Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and Two Broke Girls.

Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Disney

Kat begged her parents to let her act as a kid and finally got her way when she was 9 years old.

Kat Dennings in "The Scream Team"
Disney

She landed her first TV role on Sex and the City when she was 13, and she later briefly starred alongside Brie Larson on the sitcom Raising Dad. Her first film was the 2002 DCOM The Scream Team, but she didn't get her first feature film, Raise Your Voice, until she was 17.

Kat Dennings
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Most recently, you've probably seen her as Jules on Dollface or reprising her role of Darcy from Thor in WandaVision and Thor: Love and Thunder.

11.Retired early: Eva Amurri.

You may know her from Saved! and That's My Boy.

You may know her from Saved! and That's My Boy.

Evan Agostini / Getty Images

The daughter of actor Susan Sarandon and director Franco Amurri, Eva started acting in movies and TV shows as a kid, sometimes alongside her mother.

Susan Sarandon and Eva Amurri
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She stopped acting in 2016, shortly after starting her lifestyle blog Happily Eva After. That being said, she might come out of retirement soon, because she recently acted in her first project in seven years, the TV show Monarch.

She posted a two-part TikTok explanation for why she stopped acting, including the way women are treated in the industry and the lack of financial security.

@thehappilyeva

Spilling the ☕️ on why I stopped acting 7 years ago! #actress #bts #behindthescenes #actorslife #foryou

♬ original sound - Eva Amurri

12.Stuck with acting: Kristen Stewart.

Kristen Stewart

You may know her from Twilight and Spencer.

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Kristen was scouted by an agent when she was performing in a Christmas show at 8 years old. Within a year, she got a nonspeaking role in the DCOM The Thirteenth Year.

Kristen Stewart in "The Thirteenth Year"
Disney

She played Jodie Foster's daughter in Panic Room when she was 11 and then continued to snag starring roles in Speak, Catch That Kid, and Zathura.

Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart
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Twilight premiered when she was 18, which is when she exploded into fame. She mostly focused on indie films after finishing the Twilight movies, though she's taken on some blockbusters lately. She earned an Oscar nomination for Spencer.

Kristen Stewart
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13.Retired early: Amanda Bynes.

Amanda Bynes

You may know her from The Amanda Show, Hairspray, and every 2000s teen comedy.

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Amanda was a comedic powerhouse as a kid, and her career only grew as she got older.

Amanda Bynes
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However, after filming wrapped on Easy A in 2010, she announced her retirement by tweeting, "I don't love acting anymore so I've stopped doing it."

Amanda Bynes
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Amanda has also struggled with mental health and legal problems that culminated in a conservatorship, which recently ended. During that time, she got a degree at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Amanda Bynes
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14.Stuck with acting: Christian Bale.

Christian Bale

You probably know him from The Dark Knight and American Psycho.

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Christian's first role was in the TV film Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna when he was 10 years old, but his big break came when he got the lead role in Empire of the Sun when he was 13.

Christian Bale in Anastasia
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His other notable child acting performances include Newsies and the 1994 adaptation of Little Women.

Christian Bale in Newsies
Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

He's still obviously a household name these days, even winning an Oscar for his performance in The Fighter.

Christian Bale holding an Oscar
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15.Retired early: Omri Katz.

Omri Katz

You may know him from Hocus Pocus and Dallas.

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After a successful acting career that started when he was 7 years old and lasted into his teens, Omri played his last role in a short film in 2002.

Omri Katz as a child holding cotton candy
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Despite his retirement from acting, he did participate in the virtual Hocus Pocus reunion in 2020, In Search of the Sanderson Sisters, and he has a Cameo, if you want a shoutout.

These days, he runs a cannabis-culture online clothing company called the Mary Danksters.

16.Stuck with acting: Jake Gyllenhaal.

Jake Gyllenhaal

You may know him from Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain.

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Jake's first role was in the movie City Slickers when he was 10 years old. However, his parents wouldn't let him go away for two months to be in The Mighty Ducks the next year, and they encouraged him to take a break from acting to go to college.

Jake Gyllenhaal in City Slickers
Columbia Pictures

He dropped out of Columbia University after only two years, though, and he's been acting consistently ever since. He won a BAFTA for Brokeback Mountain and has been nominated for an Oscar for the same role, an acting Tony for Sea Wall/A Life, and two Best Play Tonys for producing.

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jake Gyllenhaal
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17.Retired early: Kay Panabaker.

Kay Panabaker

You may know her from Read It and Weep and the 2009 remake of Fame.

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Despite her successful Disney career, which started when she was 11, Kay's last acting project was a voice role in Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta! in 2012.

Kay Panabaker as a child
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She's since become a zookeeper. In response to questions about why she quit, she tweeted in 2016 that she "just lost the love for acting" and she does love her current job.

18.Stuck with acting: Ethan Hawke.

Ethan Hawke

You may know him from Training Day and Before Sunrise.

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Ethan got his professional start a little late in comparison with the other actors on this list. He went to his first audition at 14 and landed a role in Explorers, which was also the debut film of River Phoenix.

Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix in Explorers
Paramount / Courtesy Everett Collection

After the movie underperformed at the box office, the disappointment caused him to step away from acting; he later said, "I would never recommend that a kid act." But he came back with Dead Poets Society.

Ethan Hawke
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He's had a long and steady career since then and been nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes, and one Tony.

Ethan Hawke
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19.Retired early: Lisa Bonet.

Lisa Bonet

You may know her from The Cosby Show and the movie High Fidelity.

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Lisa became a household name as Denise Huxtable, but she cut back on acting in the early 2000s to focus on family. She has three kids, including, of course, Zoë Kravitz.

Lisa Bonet as a young woman
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She's taken on occasional roles over the years — often guest appearances on TV shows — but nothing in the last five years.

Zoë Kravitz and Lisa Bonet
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20.Stuck with acting: Kaley Cuoco.

Kaley Cuoco

You may know her from The Big Bang Theory and The Flight Attendant.

David Livingston / Getty Images

Kaley was in her first movie, Virtuosity, at age 9. After that, she did some smaller roles until landing a lead role in the sitcom 8 Simple Rules.

Kaley Cuoco in Virtuosity
Paramount Pictures

She has kept acting and has received two Emmy nominations for her performance in the TV series The Flight Attendant.

Kaley Cuoco
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21.Finally, retired early: Taylor Momsen.

Taylor Momsen

You may know her from How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Gossip Girl.

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Taylor booked her first national commercial at age 3, and a string of iconic roles followed all the way through her teen years.

Taylor Momsen as a child
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However, her passion was always music. She said in 2021, "When I got to an age where I could make my own decisions, I quit all my other jobs to just focus on music."

Taylor Momsen
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She's been the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of rock band the Pretty Reckless since 2009.

Taylor Momsen
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Did we miss your favorite child actor? Comment below!