1. Ethan Hawke

Hawke flirted with acting at age 14, when he scored a top-billed role in 1985’s Explorers alongside River Phoenix. The film was a box office disappointment, prompting the then-15-year-old to take a hiatus from showbiz. He came back with a bang five years later, breaking out in Dead Poets Society—a film he still credits as one of his favorites and most formative. Decades later, he’s shown his versatility by moving past a phase as the face of Gen X (thanks to 1994’s Reality Bites), creating a beloved indie franchise for himself starting with 1995’s Before Sunrise, scoring four Oscar nominations (Best Supporting Actor for 2001’s Training Day and 2014’s Boyhood, and Best Adapted Screenplay for 2004’s Before Sunset and 2013’s Before Midnight), and carving out an unexpected niche for himself as the headliner in low-budget, high-impact horror movies Sinister and The Purge. Hawke has appeared in recent projects like Robert EggersThe Northman and Marvel mini-series Moon Knight, and is set to appear in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery alongside the star-studded cast of Daniel Craig, Kathryn Hahn, Kate Hudson, and more. —Lanford Beard

2. Natalie Portman

Spotted in a Long Island pizza parlor at age 11 by a modeling rep, Natalie Portman landed the role of an assassin’s sad-eyed sidekick in 1994’s The Professional one year later. Unlike most of her Hollywood peers, Portman (who uses a stage name to protect her family from media attention) took a break from acting—to study psychology at Harvard. She says her parents keep her grounded. “I value my private life and security way more than getting parts by flashing my boobs on some magazine or being a sex symbol in films,” she told EW in 2000. Her commitment to craft paid off, earning the Academy Award for Best Actress for 2010’s Black Swan, and nominations for 2016’s Jackie (Best Actress) and 2004’s Closer (Best Supporting Actress). Portman has continued her indubitable success by leading movies such as 2018’s Annihilation and 2019’s Lucy in the Sky. Part of the MCU, she has played astrophysicist Jane Foster in several Thor films, the latest being 2022’s Thor: Love and Thunder. —Chris Nashawaty

3. Christian Bale

Christian Charles Philip Bale[1] was born on 30 January 1974 in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, to English parents—Jenny James, a circus performer, and David Bale, an entrepreneur and activist.[2][3][4] Bale has remarked, “I was born in Wales but I’m not Welsh—I’m English.”[5] He has two elder sisters, Sharon and Louise, and a half-sister from his father’s first marriage, Erin.[4] One of his grandfathers was a comedian while the other was a stand-in for John Wayne.[6] Bale and his family left Wales when he was two years old,[7] and after living in Portugal and Oxfordshire, England, they settled in Bournemouth.[8] As well as saying that the family had lived in 15 towns by the time he was 15, Bale described the frequent relocation as being driven by “necessity rather than choice” and acknowledged that it had a major influence on his career selection.[7][9][10] He attended Bournemouth School, later saying he left school at age 16.[11][12] Bale’s parents divorced in 1991, and at age 17, he moved with his sister Louise and their father to Los Angeles.[13]

Bale trained in ballet as a child.[14] His first acting role came at eight years old in a commercial for the fabric softener Lenor.[15] He also appeared in a Pac-Man cereal commercial.[16] After his sister was cast in a West End musical, Bale considered taking up acting professionally.[17] He said later he did not find acting appealing but pursued it at the request of those around him because he had no reason not to do so.[18] After participating in school plays, Bale performed opposite Rowan Atkinson in the play The Nerd in the West End in 1984.[12][15] He did not undergo any formal acting training.[12]

With a circus performer mother and a talent manager father, showbiz was in Christian Bale‘s blood. Since Steven Spielberg cast him 1987’s Empire of the Sun, Bale has done it all—starred in a movie musical, endured radical weight gain and loss for his roles, anchored the major Dark Knight franchise, survived a high-profile on-set meltdown, played Jesus, and won an Oscar, to name a few. —Lanford Beard

4.Scarlett Johansson

Even as a 10-year-old in the 1994 comedy North, Scarlett Johannson was showing signs of the husky voice and captivating presence that would make her famous. Spending her teens cultivating her acting talent in films like The Horse Whisperer, Ghost World, and Lost in Translation, Johansson eschewed the pitfalls of early exposure in favor of indie cred. After serving as Woody Allen’s muse for most of her 20s (Match Point, Scoop, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Johansson sealed her place among the pantheon of geek goddesses with a little arthouse film franchise—you may have heard of it—called The Avengers. Years later, she’d also lead her own superhero film, Black Widow, based on the Marvel Comics character. Johansson has gone on to star in other films unrelated to Marvel, including Lucy (2014), Rough Night (2017), Ghost in the Shell (2017), Jojo Rabbit (2019), and Marriage Story (2019). —Lanford Beard

5. Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio was barely 16 when he began popping up on TV, and before he’d even hit 20 there were clear signs of the nuanced work to come. In fact, in 1993, it was impossible not to notice the kid who held his own against a tyrannical Robert De Niro in This Boy’s Life as well as portraying an intellectually disabled boy in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Three years later, the post-modern Romeo + Juliet made DiCaprio a budding heartthrob, a job title he virtually redefined following the colossal success of Titanic in 1997. Though DiCaprio spent years avoiding celebrity, he also made inroads with influential directors including Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan—and recently Adam McKay with 2021’s Don’t Look Up—landing at the top of their leading-man shortlists. Nice work if you can get it. —Jeff Giles

6. Ryan Gosling

Hey girl. Gosling got his first big break at age 12 on TV’s The Mickey Mouse Club (along with castmates Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Keri Russell). “Those kids were prodigies,” Gosling said to EW in 2007, crediting the Disney show for surrounding him with other young performers he could relate to and instilling discipline. Now he is one of Hollywood’s best actors, beloved by both the mainstream and the indie establishment.

Witness: Two Oscar noms for 2006’s Half Nelson and 2016’s La La Land, and a handful of SAG and Golden Globe awards for projects since then (Crazy Stupid Love, Drive, Blue Valentine, and The Big Short, to name a few). —Chris Nashawaty

7.Emma Watson

Emma Watson grew up in a mega-franchise. After 10 years and eight Harry Potter films, the actress has stepped out of the wand-wielding shadow of precocious witch Hermione Granger to land roles in a diverse group of projects that have stoked passionate fanbases

(The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Beauty and the Beast), paired her with prestige directors (Sofia Coppola‘s The Bling Ring, Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah, and Greta Gerwig‘s Little Women), and defied expectations (a role in the Judd Apatow-ian apocalypse comedy This Is the End). —Lanford Beard

8.Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The script version of his life would have him checking into a reality TV show with other faded child sitcom stars. Gordon-Levitt, who’d popped up with guest turns on TV series from the time he was 7, really hit it big at the awkward age of 15 on the hit show 3rd Rock from the Sun. Grounded by his time at Columbia University, Gordon-Levitt has since proved himself not only a fierce actor but a nifty song-and-dance man in the utterly romantic (500) Days of Summer. While co-starring in blockbusters including Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Trial of Chicago 7, he’s also maintained his indie roots with his two-time Primetime-Emmy-winning, creative cooperative hitRECord and even made his feature film directorial debut with Don Jon, which earned an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. Gordon-Levitt continued his on-and-behind-screen skills with writing, directing, and starring in the 2021 Apple TV+ series Mr. Corman. —Karen Valby

9. Neil Patrick Harris

You could argue it began with his Golden Globe-nominated feature film debut in 1988’s Clara’s Heart, but we all knew Neil Patrick Harris as Doogie Howser, M.D.,

the 16-year-old doctor giving his appendicitis-suffering girlfriend Wanda a pelvic exam.

(It’s still traumatizing.) Today, he’s a Broadway vet and Tony winner (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), and an Emmy darling for his work on How I Met Your Mother, his guest role on Glee, and his turns hosting the Tony and Emmy Awards.

In other words, he’s still an overachiever. —Mandi Bierly

10.Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen

From toddlers to titans. The Olsen twins, who were cast for their joint debut as Full House‘s Michelle Tanner at just 6 months old, have shown that good business sense is the key to longevity.

Though Full House lasted an impressive eight seasons, Mary-Kate and Ashley‘s outside projects—including made-for-TV movies, a self-produced direct-to-video musical mystery series, and products sold in Kmart stores—made them millionaires by the time they entered double digits.

After establishing themselves as serious designers on both low- and high-end price points, the multihyphenates have mostly abandoned acting to focus on running their thriving empire. You got it, dudes. —Lanford Beard

11.Justin Timberlake

Justin Randall Timberlake was born on January 31, 1981, in Memphis, Tennessee,[1] the son of Janet Lynn (Bomar) Harless and Charles Randall Timberlake, a Baptist church choir director.[10][11][12][13] Timberlake has two half-brothers, Jonathan and Stephen, from Charles’ second marriage to Lisa Perry. His half-sister Laura Katherine died shortly after birth in 1997, and is mentioned in his acknowledgments in the album NSYNC as “My Angel in Heaven”.

His family circle includes several musicians;[14] his grandfather introduced him to music from country music artists like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.[15] Performing as a child, Timberlake sang country and gospel music: at the age of 11, he appeared on the television show Star Search, performing country songs as “Justin Randall”.[16] By that time, he began listening to rhythm and blues musicians from the 1960s and 70s, such as Al Green, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, and he had listening sessions with his father of studio albums by the Eagles and Bob Seger.[15]

In 1993 and 1994, he was a Mouseketeer on The All-New Mickey Mouse Club, where his castmates included future girlfriend and singer Britney Spears, future tourmate Christina Aguilera, future bandmate JC Chasez, and future movie actors Ryan Gosling and Keri Russell.[17] Timberlake then recruited Chasez to be in an all-male singing group, put together by Chris Kirkpatrick and financed by boy band manager Lou Pearlman, that eventually became NSYNC.[18]

By the time he reached international acclaim as a member of *NSYNC, Justin Timberlake was a seasoned pro. Timberlake, who got his big break at 12 as a cast member of a now-legendary All New Mickey Mouse Club, he has proven himself to be a jack of all trades, succeeding as a musician, actor, and comic. Dare we say it? Could there be an EGOT in store for the man who brought us “SexyBack”? —Lanford Beard

12.Ron Howard

Born into an acting family in Oklahoma, Howard was The Andy Griffith Show‘s freckle-faced Opie at 6. By 19, he was the star of Happy Days.

But Howard’s interest always lay behind the camera—he shadowed George Lucas on the set of 1973’s American Graffiti and soon thereafter enrolled at USC film school.

“I was disappointed by the scripts I was getting after Graffiti,” he told EW in 1999. “So I had a decision to make.”

Howard chose directing. With two Oscars (for directing and producing 2001’s A Beautiful Mind) on his mantle, and 2021’s Tick, Tick… Boom! earning him a Golden Globe nomination for producing, it’s clear he made the right call. —Chris Nashawaty

13. Johnny Galecki

TV has long been good to Johnny Galecki. Debuting in the small-screen movie Time Out for Dad at age 12, he made his mark with series regular gigs throughout the ’90s, most notably as troubled teen David Healy on Roseanne.

Though he’s been in films as wide-ranging as Prancer, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Vanilla Sky, and I Know What You Did Last Summer during his time in the biz, TV has always been Galecki’s home, and he’s been reaping major rewards (including an Emmy and Golden Globe nods) for his role as sweet-and-sour physicist Leonard Hofstadter on CBS’s The Big Bang Theory from 2007–2019. —Lanford Beard

14. Drew Barrymore

For a while there, it looked like Barrymore might end up as a child-actor cautionary tale. Heir to a legendary acting dynasty, she was cast in a Puppy Chow commercial at just 11 months old. At 7, the adorable moppet played Gertie in E.T. Her tweens were a soap opera of drugs, alcohol, and virtually no parental supervision—she had her first drink at 9 and was in rehab by 13. She got sober the next year. “I had to figure everything out for myself,” she told People in 2004. Barrymore established herself as one of the most bankable—and dependable—actresses in Hollywood with hits including Never Been Kissed and 50 First Dates. She’s also become a formidable force beyond the camera, producing movies through her company Flower Films, selling her children’s home decor line, authoring her memoir and cookbook, and developing her cruelty-free makeup line. However, the camera adores Barrymore so much that she now hosts a syndicated talk show titled The Drew Barrymore Show, which earned her six Daytime Emmy nods in 2022.

15. Elizabeth Taylor

Though Elizabeth Taylor‘s mother fought tooth-and-nail against her violet-eyed daughter’s inevitable rise to celebrity, li’l Liz found encouragement from friends like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and high-powered admirers like studio chief Louis B. Mayer.

Mayer introduced Taylor, 9, to the world with 1942’s There’s One Born Every Minute, but it was her starring role in National Velvet three years later that sealed her fate.

The next several decades were marked mostly by romantic tumult and tabloid drama. Still, two Oscar wins (of five nominations), several successful fragrances, and a commitment to activism ensured Taylor, who passed away in 2011, transcended sensation status and established herself as an icon.

16. Jason Bateman

Bateman made his debut at 12 on Little House on the Prairie.

His father was a TV director, and both he (Silver Spoons, The Hogan Family) and his sister, Justine (Family Ties), were household names before they could drive.

Bateman admits to some lost years in the ’90s, but his persistence paid off (Arrested Development, Horrible Bosses, Zootopia, Ozark).

“I want to be around for a long time,” he told EW in 2007. “Now that I’ve got another flash of relevancy, I don’t want to screw it up.”

17.Kenan Thompson

At 15, Kenan Thompson skated straight from school plays into the sequel of Disney’s ice hockey flick The Mighty Ducks.

He soon caught the eye of producers and was cast in Nickelodeon’s Saturday-night sketch show for teens, All That.

Good Burger (the movie spinoff of a popular skit) and Kenan & Kel, the show he shared with fellow All That breakout Kel Mitchell, made Thompson a cult favorite for ’90s nostalgics. Returning to the sketch-show genre, he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2003.

18. Anna Paquin

Anna Hélène Paquin is a New Zealandian actress. Born  born on 24 July 1982 at Winnipeg,Manitoba, in Canada and raised in Wellington,The young girl amazed film critics and viewers with her talent in the drama The Piano at the age of 10. Paquin made her acting debut portraying Flora McGrath in the romantic drama film The Piano (1993), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at age 11, making her the second-youngest winner in Oscar history. As a child actress, she received multiple Young Artist Award nominations for her roles in Fly Away Home (1996), The Member of the Wedding (1997), and A Walk on the Moon (1999), and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for appearing in Cameron Crowe’s comedy-drama film Almost Famous (2000). She also appeared in the films Jane Eyre (1996) and Amistad (1997).

At 11, Anna Paquin won the most prestigious Oscar Award. The actress has shown her skills not only on the screen but also on the theater stage, although she does not have special education. As a wide-eyed 11-year-old, Paquin became the second youngest Oscar winner in history, taking home Best Supporting Actress for her role 1993’s The Piano. Working steadily in arthouse films (Hurlyburly), blockbusters (the X-Men series), and TV, she’s now a Golden Globe winner for her performance as telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse on HBO’s True Blood and plays a leading character in Amazon Prime Video’s Flack.

19.Mayim Bialik

Mayim Bialik tap-danced her way into America’s hearts playing the younger version of Bette Midler’s character in 1988’s Beaches. But, after a few guest bookings on ’80s series Beauty and the Beast and The Facts of Life, Bialik became a household name at 15 when she scored the title role in the sitcom Blossom. After five seasons, she closed the door on a closet full of wacky hats to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience. With a steady stream of voicework and recurring roles (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Secret Life of the American Teenager), she was never really out of the spotlight. But it would be her portrayal of the sexually ravenous neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler that would bring Bialik back with a Big Bang. A case of art imitating life to brilliant effect, “Blossom” had officially grown up when she scored four Best Supporting Actress Emmy nods.

20. Peter Billingsley

Billingsley‘s baby blues helped him to his first gig, a Geritol commercial with Betty Buckley, at age 2. Ten years later, he got his big break by being warned he’d shoot one of those bright eyes out in the cult favorite A Christmas Story. Billingsley ultimately set his sights beyond the spotlight, teaming up with Hollywood buddies Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn to produce, direct, and sometimes costar in projects including Iron Man, The Break-Up, Couples Retreat, and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Two producing projects have brought Billingsley’s career full circle: In 2012, he brought a musical version of A Christmas Story to Broadway, and in 2022, it was announced that Billingsley will produce—and, of course, star in—A Christmas Story sequel following Ralphie in his adult years.

21. Elijah Wood

Between child modeling gigs, an adorable appearance in the David Fincher-directed music video for Paula Abdul‘s “Forever Your Girl,” and well-received supporting roles in several films, Elijah Wood had built a full-blown résumé while most of us were learning to tie our shoes.

Taking part in a mix of indie projects, music videos, and popcorn flicks during his adolescence, Wood was just 18 when he booked the role that would keep giving: Frodo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series.

With six epics under his belt, including The Hobbit trilogy, Wood never had to work again…but he sure did by starring in films like 2019’s Come to Daddy and 2021’s No Man of God, and we’re sure there’s more to come.

22. Jodie Foster

At 3, Foster was the Coppertone kid. By 6, she was a regular on TV. And by 14, she was nominated for an Oscar for Taxi Driver.

Foster left Tinseltown to attend Yale and later returned to acting feeling more centered. By age 29, she’d won Best Actress Oscars for The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs, and directed her first film, Little Man Tate.

“Everybody tells you as a child actor that by the time you’re 18, it’ll be over,” she told EW in 2007. “My mom got me…prepared for that…. My goal [was] to be in this for a really long time.” Foster has done just that, being named the recipient of the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2013 and winning her third Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2021’s The Mauritanian.

23. Fred Savage

The kid from The Princess Bride got into acting at 9 years old. Six seasons as Kevin Arnold on The Wonder Years landed Fred Savage Emmy and Golden Globe nods, not to mention cemented his status as a Hollywood insider.

In the years since then, he’s been getting by with a little help from his friends—not to mention plenty of behind-the-scenes skill—as an in-demand, DGA-nominated director for shows ranging from Modern Family to Wizards of Waverly Place, The Connersto The Wonder Years’ 2021 reboot, which he was unfortunately fired from due to “inappropriate conduct.”

24. Jeff Bridges

Nepotism isn’t always a bad thing. Jeff Bridges booked his first role at 4 months old, thanks to dad Lloyd Bridges‘ involvement in the 1950 film The Company She Keeps. He and old brother Beau both appeared throughout their childhood in their dad’s series Sea Hunt and The Lloyd Bridges Show.

The training led him to early success as he garnered a Best Supporting Actor nod for 1971’s The Last Picture Show. Consistently entertaining in films running the gamut from Tron to The Big Lebowski, and The Giver to Bad Times at the El Royale, Bridges has racked up a total of seven Oscar nominations in his expansive career, ultimately taking home the trophy in 2010 for Crazy Heart.

25.Christina Ricci

After making her big screen debut as Cher‘s daughter in Mermaids, Ricci became the adolescent It Girl through her roles in The Addams Family, Casper, and Now and Then. By her late teens, she successfully transitioned into more provocative material, earning a Golden Globe nomination for playing Dede in The Opposite of Sex. Steadily working, Ricci has continued to fend off typecasting in films and TV series including Monstrous and Yellowjackets. However,—cue the finger snaps!—Ricci is officially returning to Charles Addams’ grim universe and joining Netflix’s Tim Burton-directed series, Wednesday, in a new undisclosed role.