Being a child actor or a child star is not an easy life. Sure, you get to act in movies or TV and make more money than your friend’s parents (most likely), but it isn’t all peaches and cream. It is a lot for a child to handle. That is why there are many examples of child actors growing up to become addicts to stray from the industry, simply because of the stress it can cause.
Of course, there is also the other end of the spectrum. Plenty of child actors have gone on to have extremely successful acting careers in Hollywood and showed no ill effects from their time as a child actor. They used it as a learning experience to become better actors and ensure they have a long career in the business.
But this article is not about them, it is about 15 child stars who many people thought were destined to do great things, until they didn’t. While all of these former child stars didn’t become addicted to drugs or lead negative lives after Hollywood, some of them did. So without any further ado, let’s take a look at 15 former child stars who didn’t live up to their potential in Hollywood.
15. Steve Anthony Lawrence
If you watched Even Stevens, you know all about Steve Anthony Lawrence. He played a character named Beans, who was the annoying and silly next-door neighbor of the Stevens family, who would always come over and cause mischief. While he wasn’t going to win huge awards with this role, it showed what he was as an actor and what he could do well. He was a silly child who was pretty good at playing the annoying neighborly kid in the show, and that is a role that needs filling in most TV shows or movies. That is why it was kind of surprising to see him not have too many big roles after Even Stevens. While he obviously couldn’t be an annoying neighborly child for long (as aging is a thing that happens to all of us), we would have loved to have seen him in other similar roles. He has continued to work in Hollywood on a seemingly part-time basis as he has only appeared in a few different things in the past decade.
14. Mara Wilson
If you watched films in the 1990s, there is a good chance you remember Mara Wilson. When you watched her, she was playing the young lady in movies like Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire and more. She was praised for her roles and many thought she could have been one of the next big things in Hollywood. But as quickly as her career started, it had ended. While a lot of child actors and actresses simply fizzle out or lose the talent, that wasn’t the case with Wilson. She decided to retire from acting in 2000, despite the fact that she never even had to audition anymore as scripts were being sent her way all of the time. She retired in order to focus on her writing, which is admirable. Despite being retired, Wilson has appeared in a few different web shows and has also guest-starred in a few episodes of shows here and there. However, this is a far cry from what people thought she was going to do in the entertainment industry as an adult.
13. Ralph Macchio
Known best for his roles in The Karate Kid, The Outsider and My Cousin Vinny, Ralph Macchio was a very popular child star in the 1980s and 1990s. He got his start in the business doing commercials, and then he soon found himself on the big screen. After a few roles, many thought he could have been the next big action star in the future, but that never materialized for him. In fact, never captured the glory he found as a child ever again in his career. He has still been dabbling in the entertainment business with small roles in web shows, TV, and movies, but he did not turn into the superstar that a lot of people thought he would. It’s also nice that he was able to stay out of trouble and not get into huge problems with drugs, alcohol or any other vice.
12. Tahj Mowry
Tahj Mowry is without a doubt best known for his role on Smart Guy, where he played an intelligent little elementary school child. Even though he was barely 10 years old, he was quite the actor. He had great comedic timing and seemed to be on the path to superstardom, but that sadly never happened for him. He has had a steady role on the show Baby Daddy, but all he has to show for that is a few Teen Choice award nominations. His career definitely didn’t fall off a cliff like many of the people on this list, but I (and many others) felt that he was destined for more. Watching him do well in Smart Guy and his other roles as a child, many thought he would be a big movie star as an adult, which hasn’t happened quite yet. However, he is still relatively young and you never know, maybe his time will come.
11. Khleo Thomas
Khleo Thomas‘ claim to fame was his role in Holes as Zero. While he wasn’t the star of the movie by any means, he managed to steal the show and demand a lot of attention. While he didn’t do a whole lot of talking and such during the film, he still put on a great performance. Many thought that performance would propel him into bigger roles where he could continue to show off his skills and improve but unfortunately, he was often restricted to smaller or supporting roles, not really given a chance to shine. In recent years, Thomas has focused more on his music than his acting. He is currently working on his debut album and while it is great that he is doing what he loves in his life, we thought he would be a big time actor by this point, well over a decade after his role in Holes.
10. Alexa Vega
As you can see, Alexa Vega is not the same little girl that starred in Spy Kids anymore. Vega largely became noticed by the world after her role as Carmen Cortez in the Spy Kids franchise. She has continued to act since then, but she hasn’t been able to recapture the magic she found in the Spy Kids franchise. She was a worldwide star for a few years and the sky was the limit when it came to her potential. Unfortunately, she hasn’t lived up to that potential in the eyes of many people. She is far away from the entertainment industry, but it would be hard to say that she lived up to her potential. She showed a wide range of talent as a child actor, but never got the right roles to propel herself into the realm of superstardom. Of course, she will always have roles for the foreseeable future as she is a gorgeous woman, who is also incredibly talented.
9. Jonathan Lipnicki
Out of all the entries on this list, this one was one of the most surprising and sad. Not only did Jonathan Lipnicki have one successful movie as a child actor, he had several. As a child, he starred in the likes of Jerry Maguire, Stuart Little, Like Mike and more. These were all successful films that he had fairly large parts in, so many people knew who he was and saw what he could do. Among pre-teen audiences, he was huge, and even adult audiences could see the potential he had. However, since those few successful films he was in, Lipnicki hasn’t appeared in another widely-released successful film. He has worked on a lot of indie projects in the past decade-plus and has also taken up martial arts. In fact, he has even possibly entertained the idea of fighting professionally!
8. Jake Lloyd
This is one of the more sad and depressing entries on this list. Lloyd is known by most people for his role as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Being one of the main characters in a Star Wars film is like hitting the jackpot, and many thought this was just the beginning for Jake Lloyd. However, that was far from what actually happened. He retired from acting a few years after this huge role, in what was a surprise to many people. Unfortunately, he lost control of his life fairly soon after his acting stopped as he has been arrested and gets in consistent trouble with the law. It is a shame he couldn’t live up to the potential he had as a child, as being in a Star Wars film is a pretty big deal and should have catapulted his career to the next level.
7. Erik Per Sullivan
While Malcolm in the Middle helped to launch the long and successful career of Frankie Muniz, it wasn’t as helpful for Erik Per Sullivan. He played Dewey, the youngest of the brothers. The show ran for 6 years and he appeared in over 150 episodes. Despite him not being the star of the show, he put on many great performances and showed a lot of potential as an actor. While no one thought he was going to be the next Tom Cruise or anything like that, many thought he showed enough to get some bigger roles during his long tenure on Malcolm in the Middle. But low and behold, he would never act in something nearly that big again and many simply know him as “that kid from Malcolm in the Middle”, even though he is now 26 years old.
6. Ben Savage
If you grew up in the 1990s, you know Ben Savage as the lead role in Boy Meets World, Corey Matthews. He appeared in over 150 episodes over a 7-year span, becoming a huge star for teen and child audiences. He was great at a number of things on the screen for such a young actor. Once this show ended, many thought he would go on to become a superstar. Unfortunately, that was VERY far from the truth. Sure, he has continued to act in various small roles on the big and small screens, but nothing even close to as impactful or successful as Boy Meets World. Despite his attempts to become a star and act in a variety of different films and TV shows, he will always be Corey Matthews to millions and millions of people. With him also being nearly 40 years old, the chances of him meeting the potential he showed as a child actor just doesn’t seem logical.
5. Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Home Improvement was a staple on American television in the 1990s, and Thomas was one of the most important characters on the show. He started on the show when he was only 10 years old and continued on the show until he was 17 years old. The millions of people who watched the show got to see him grow up on camera and many fans thought big things were in store for Jonathan Taylor Thomas. While that was indeed the case, these “big things” happened off-screen and had nothing to do with acting. He hasn’t done much since the mid-2000s in terms of acting, but he has remained very busy in his life, including becoming a very scholarly man. In fact, he actually attended Harvard and Columbia University. While this is all well and good, we can’t help but wonder what he would have accomplished had he continued devoting all his time to acting.
4. Haley Joel Osment
Haley Joel Osment was introduced to the world on The Sixth Sense, but despite his best efforts, that is still what most people remember him from. Osment captivated audiences as an 11-year old and his performance in that film earned him a nomination for an Academy Award, which is incredible for someone that young. As a result of his success in that film, he was given several other big roles in huge films. And despite them also going relatively well, he seemingly stalled in a career that many thought would be MASSIVE. I guess once the novelty of his success as a child wore off, he just couldn’t parlay that into a successful career in Hollywood. Sure, he still appears in things from time to time, but if you get an Oscars nomination at 11, your potential is sky high and people have high hopes for you, high hopes that he wasn’t able to meet.
3. Peter Ostrum
This is a very unique case in which someone’s only movie role in their lives, is a huge one. Ostrum made his one and only appearance in a movie as Charlie Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This was obviously a very successful film and despite offers for more films in the future, Peter Ostrum decided to retire after one movie. He claimed that acting was a difficult profession and wanted to see what else was out there. Since retiring (and obviously growing up a little bit), Ostrum has become a veterinarian and a very successful one at that. He works in New York and mainly works with horses and cows, animals which he began to fall in love with soon after shooting his only movie. All in all, who knows how successful Ostrum could have been in show business if he would have stayed in Hollywood and continued to hone his craft.
2. Macaulay Culkin
When you clicked on this article, this is absolutely one guy you just knew you were going to see on this list, and I can’t blame you. When you have an entire series of movies based almost solely on you, and still never make it big, that seems like a waste of potential to me. Macaulay Culkin was the star of the Home Alone series (in the role of Kevin McCallister), which grossed hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. After these films, he was on top of the world and you would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t know about the Home Alone series. However, a few years later, he just seems like he fell off the face of the planet. In the last decade-plus, he has acted very sparingly and has found himself in some trouble with the law, relating to drug use and possession. Culkin had more potential than arguably anyone on this list, but simply couldn’t make something of it.
1. Henry Thomas
At 11 years old, this kid was one of the leading roles or arguably the best film of the 1980s. E.T. grossed nearly 800 million dollars, making it the highest grossing film of the 1980s. It was nominated for 9 Oscars and Henry Thomas was at the center of it all. He became an instant sensation and his potential was unlike almost any child actor in history (or since). However, for some reason, he could not turn that kind of an amazing start to a career into anything big at all. He has definitely had some solid performances as an adult (which many of the people on this list cannot say), but we can’t lie, we expected more from someone who came out of the gates as hot as he did. After the performance he put on during E.T. (even his audition was amazing, check it out if you haven’t), people were thinking he had the potential to be one of the biggest stars of his generation, which he was not.