10 TV Actors Who Became Popular Movie Stars

Movie stardom is the peak of success as an actor. The most beloved, most sought-after, and highest-paid actors in the world are movie stars who can command lead roles in feature films. Landing a role in a TV show is a great career move for any actor, but the hope is that it will lead to steady work on the big screen.

RELATED: 10 Movie Stars Who Switched To TV Roles

Occasionally, TV actors have gone on to rank among the most prolific movie stars in Hollywood. From George Clooney to Will Smith, some of the world’s biggest movie stars got their start in television.

10 George Clooney

ER Doug Ross The Storm Part 2 season 5 George Clooney

George Clooney got his start playing Dr. Doug Ross on ER, one of the most popular TV dramas of the 1990s. Within a few years, of course, he would become one of the biggest movie stars on the planet.

Over the years, Clooney has starred in both traditional blockbusters like the Ocean’s trilogy and smaller, quirkier movies like Three Kings and From Dusk Till Dawn. He’s a two-time Oscar winner and even a recipient of the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award.

9 Chris Pratt

parks and rec chris pratt gif

Chris Pratt’s first major acting role was that of Andy Dwyer, the Parks and Rec goofball who proved to be so hilarious and lovable that he graduated to the main cast early on.

Toward the end of Parks and Rec’s run, Pratt slimmed down and bulked up to play half-Celestial superhero Star-Lord in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s since become a prolific movie star, playing the lead roles in such films as The Lego Movie, Jurassic World, and The Tomorrow War.


8 Will Smith

Will strikes a pose in overalls for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air promo pic

Will Smith began his career as a hip-hop artist, but he transitioned into acting with the hit sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When Fresh Prince became one of the biggest TV hits of the ‘90s, Smith was called up to the big screen as an A-list movie star.

RELATED: 8 Roles Will Smith Missed Out On

A combination of charisma, spot-on comic timing, and engaging dramatic nuance made Smith the ultimate leading man. Over the years, he’s starred in such blockbusters as Independence Day, Disney’s live-action Aladdin remake, and the Bad Boys and Men in Black franchises.

7 Leonardo DiCaprio

Young Leonardo DiCaprio in an episode of Growing Pains

Leonardo DiCaprio is now the world-renowned star of such movies as Titanic, Shutter Island, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and the recent Netflix hit Don’t Look Up. But his first major acting roles were on ‘90s sitcoms like Parenthood and Growing Pains.

Before too long, DiCaprio would replace Robert De Niro as Martin Scorsese’s go-to leading man. He won an Oscar (finally) for his dedicated turn in the true-life survival thriller The Revenant.

6 Melissa McCarthy

Sookie St. James having a picnic with Jackson on Gilmore Girls

Melissa McCarthy first rose to prominence in the role of Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls. A few years later, she became a movie star overnight with her hysterical, scene-stealing, Oscar-nominated performance as Megan in Bridesmaids.

In the decade since then, McCarthy has proven herself as both a comedic lead in The Heat and Spy and a dramatic lead in St. Vincent and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, for which she received another Oscar nomination.

5 Clint Eastwood

Hollywood’s lasting symbol of masculinity, Clint Eastwood, got his big break as a cast member on Rawhide, a hit western series in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The actor became the face of the burgeoning spaghetti western subgenre with his groundbreaking role as the “Man with No Name” in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy.

Then, he came back to America and became one of the biggest stars of New Hollywood with his turn as the titular vigilante cop in Don Siegel’s gritty neo-noir Dirty Harry. In addition to his decades as an A-list movie star, Eastwood is also one of the most prominent and popular directors working today.

4 Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence in the kitchen in The Bill Engvall Show

Jennifer Lawrence got her first major acting role as a cast member on the sitcom The Bill Engvall Show. It wasn’t long before the big studios took notice and Lawrence was headlining both small-scale awards-baiting dramas and big-budget blockbusters.

She played major roles in franchises like X-Men and The Hunger Games, but Lawrence is also known for her (mostly) critically acclaimed collaborations with David O. Russell.

3 Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis started out starring opposite Cybill Shepherd on the TV dramedy Moonlighting. The actor’s career was changed forever when he landed the lead role of John McClane in Die Hard after every established star turned it down.

RELATED: Bruce Willis’ 10 Best Co-Stars, Ranked

Willis’ flawed everyman portrayal of McClane offered a refreshingly grounded counterpoint to invincible ‘80s action heroes like John Rambo – McClane is just a regular guy who cuts his feet on broken glass. This performance launched a decades-long A-list movie career with both ups and downs.

2 Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington in a doctor's uniform in a promo for St Elsewhere

Having won Oscars for both Glory and Training Day, Denzel Washington is one of the most celebrated actors in the world. But he wasn’t always a movie star. In the 1980s, he got his start with a role on the TV drama St. Elsewhere.

Washington is famed for his recurring collaborations with Spike Lee on socially significant dramas and Tony Scott on high-octane actioners.

1 Jennifer Aniston

Rachel confesses her love for Ross in Friends

Jennifer Aniston first caught viewers’ attention with her performance as Rachel Green in Friends, one of the biggest TV hits of all time. All six cast members from Friends became huge stars, but Aniston crossed over to the big screen and became a beloved box office draw.

Aniston has starred in hit movies like The Break-Up, Marley & Me, Just Go with It, and We’re the Millers. Admirably, Friends remained a true ensemble piece giving all six actors equal footing instead of capitalizing on Aniston’s newfound star power.

NEXT: 8 Major Movie & Television Role Jennifer Aniston Turned Down

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