21 Celebrities You Didn't Realize Were Child Stars

·7 min read

1.Brie Larson

close up of Brie
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Brie showed up on Hollywood's radar with her role in Short Term 12, but she had been acting long before that. One of her first roles was at age eight, in a sketch on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno where she played a girl in a fake commercial for a "Roadkill Easy Bake Oven." Of course, Brie is super famous now that she's playing Captain Marvel in the MCU.

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2.Scarlett Johansson

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Scarlett started acting at an early age, with one of her first big credits being the Elijah Wood movie, North (1994). She was only nine years old when the movie was filming. She rocketed to stardom a little less than 10 years later when she starred in Lost in Translation at age 17.

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3.Reese Witherspoon

close up of Reese
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Reese's first major credit was the film The Man in the Moon (1991) when she was 14 years old. It wasn't until 1998–99 when she hit it big with Pleasantville, Election, and Cruel Intentions. Since then, of course, she's had massive success both as an actor and a producer.

close up of young Reese
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4.Jake Gyllenhaal

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It might not be super surprising that Jake was a child star, considering that he was pretty young when he starred in Donnie Darko. But his first credit is in City Slickers (1991), ten years before Donnie Darko and Bubble Boy.

close up of young Jake
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5.Ryan Reynolds

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Canadians would know better than Americans, but Ryan got his start on a teen drama called Fifteen (1990) when he was — you guessed it — 15 years old.

young Ryan looking up at someone

(By the way, I swear it's not intentional that four out of the five actors on this list thus far have played Marvel characters. I think that's just how Hollywood is now.)

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6.Regina King

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Before she was the Oscar-winning star of If Beale Street Could Talk and Watchmen, Regina got her start on a sitcom by the name of 227. She was 14 when she started on the show in 1985 and stayed on until the show ended in 1990.

young Regina
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7.Ben Affleck

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Ben's been around a long time, as an actor, producer, writer, and director. Most people know that Good Will Hunting was what made him and Matt Damon stars, but he got his acting start as a kid, all the way back in 1981 in The Dark End of the Street. Here he is on the 1984 PBS educational program Voyage of the Mimi, when he was just 12 years old:

close up of young Ben
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8.Jason Bateman

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Jason — who is now famous for his roles on Arrested Development and Ozark, to name a couple — got his start on Little House on the Prairie all the way back in 1981. He was about 12 years old when he first joined the show!

young Jason's character looking at another character crying
NBC

9.Laurence Fishburne

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Laurence is probably most famous for his roles in The Matrix and, more recently, Black-ish. The real ones will remember him from Pee-Wee's Playhouse as Cowboy Curtis. But his acting career goes wayyyy earlier than that since his first credited role was back in 1972 in the TV movie If You Give a Dance, You Gotta Pay the Band. Here he is in his second-ever role in the movie Cornbread, Earl, and Me in 1975, when he was only 14 years old.

close up of young Laurence
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10.Ana de Armas

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While American audiences probably didn't notice Ana until her roles in Blade Runner 2049 or Knives Out, she's been acting for years in Cuba and Spain. Her first feature film was Una Rosa de Francia (2006), when she was 16 years old.

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11.Michael B. Jordan

close up of Michael smiling
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Hey look, another MCU actor! Of course we all know Michael now from his roles in Black Panther and as the face of the Creed franchise, but his credits go back even further than his breakout Fruitvale Station performance. He got his start all the way back in 1999 in an episode of Cosby when he was just 12 years old!

young Michael
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12.Keira Knightley

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Keira was famously quite young when she broke out: She was 17 when Bend It Like Beckham hit theaters, and was 18 in Love Actually. But she had been acting for nearly a decade before that: Her first role was in Screen One in 1993. Here she is in her second credited role in The Bill (1995), at 10 years old:

close up of ten year old Keira
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13.Kurt Russell

Kurt Russel on the red carpet
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Kurt's had a loooong career, including roles in movies like Escape from New York, The Hateful Eight, and — you guessed it — a Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Since he was such a big star in the '80s and '90s especially, many people don't realize that he was a child actor back in the '60s first. His first credited role was in the Dennis the Menace TV series when he was 11 years old, but here he is in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in 1964, at 13:

young Kurt with a dog
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14.Felicity Jones

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Felicity has a heck of a resume, including Star Wars: Rogue One, the indie darling Like Crazy, and The Theory of Everything, for which she earned an Oscar nom. She's been acting since 1996, though! Here she is in her second credited role, in The Worst Witch when she was 14–15 years old:

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15.Katherine Heigl

close up of Katherine
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Katherine's big break was, of course, her Emmy-winning role as Izzie in Grey's Anatomy. But her Hollywood career started more than a decade before that with her first role, as Kathryn (natch) in That Night. The movie came out in 1992, when Katherine was just 11 years old.

young Katherine looking out a window with other girls
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16.Eliza Dushku

close up of Eliza
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Did you recognize the girl in the middle, next to Katherine Heigl? Yep, that's Eliza Dushku, star of Dollhouse and Bring It On, who landed a starring role in That Night when she was 12 years old...her first major credit!

arrows now pointing to Eliza at the window sill
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17.Tom Holland

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Tom may have been playing a teenage Peter Parker when he was cast in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming, but he was already 20 years old. His career started six years before that, though, with his first on-screen role in The Impossible (2012). The movie hit theaters when Tom was 16, but he was just 14 years old during filming.

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Warner Bros.

18.Jurnee Smollett

close up of Jurnee
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Jurnee had a string of big roles in her twenties — on Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, and True Blood, to name a few — and more recently she earned an Emmy nomination for her performance in Lovecraft Country. But she's been working steadily since she was just 6 years old! Here she is in one of her earliest roles, as Denise in Full House back in 1992:

young Jurnee talking to Michelle on Full House
ABC

19.Elizabeth Taylor

close up of Elizabeth in a gown and fur
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Since Elizabeth Taylor was so successful and iconic in her later career — in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Butterfield 8, to name a couple — it's easy to forget that she was a teen star. Her first role was in There's One Born Every Minute (1942), when she was only 10 years old.

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20.Emma Stone

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Although Emma was 19 when she starred in Superbad, she had been working in Hollywood for a few years before that. Her first credited role is from 2004 in The New Partridge Family, when she was 16 years old (and going by Emily Stone!).

Emma in the opening credits reading Emily Stone
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21.Robert Downey Jr.

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Just onnnne more MCU actor: Robert Downey Jr. has had an incredible career, but you might not know just how early he got started. His first credited role was in Pound (1970), at just five years old! Also, he was credited as "Bob Downey." I don't know if I've ever met a 5-year-old who goes by Bob.

close up of young robert
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