With the release of Charlie St. Cloud this weekend, Zac Efron takes another shot at being a "serious" actor, instead of tween eye candy who dances and sings his way through Disney TV-movies and remakes. In honor of this "event," let's take a look at the top five most successful former child stars, where they got their childhood exposure, and their best film since.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="145" caption="Elizabeth Taylor in "National Velvet" courtesy of nameberry.com"][/caption]
First Exposure: National Velvet (1944)
She eventually became the biggest star, quite possibly in the world, but Taylor first became a major star in her turn as equestrian trainee Velvet Brown. Starring alongside another former child star (Mickey Rooney), she lights up the screen and paves the way for a substantial career "in the pictures."
Best "Grown Up" Film: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
After years of mediocre big budget films and failed marriages, she finally stepped into a winning role with a winning director. Mike Nichols directed Taylor in her most engaging role as Martha, an unbalanced alcoholic who, with her bickering husband, looks to ruin the entire evening of friends and newcomers. She's a complete mess and was never better.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="164" caption="Ron Howard on TV's "The Andy Griffith Show" courtesy of thecoast.ca"][/caption]
First Exposure: TV's "The Andy Griffith Show"
As Sheriff Andy's son "Opie" in Mayberry, North Carolina, Howard stole the hearts of America as an adorable, mischievous little scamp who couldn't possibly be the bad boy.
Best "Grown Up" Film: Apollo 13 (1995)
He made major headway as a teenager in American Graffiti and on TV's "Happy Days," but he hit his stride as a director in the early to mid 1990's. Starring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon, Apollo 13 may be one of the most inspirational movies ever produced on American soil. A lot of it is due to the direction of Ron Howard, who brilliantly captured the fear and eventual excitement America felt during the failed 1970 moon mission.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="155" caption="Jodie Foster in "Taxi Driver" courtesy of boston.com"][/caption]
First Exposure: Taxi Driver (1976)
She was the baby getting her diaper pulled off in the Coppertone ads, but her first major break came in Martin Scorcese's 1976 drama about urban paranoia. Starring opposite Robert De Niro as a teenage prostitute, Foster shows her chops right away by holding her own against one of the best ever.
Best "Grown Up" Film: Silence of the Lambs (1991)
She won an Oscar for this portrayal of Clarice Starling, a wet-behind-the-ears southern private investigator looking for serial murderer and rapist Buffalo Bill. Proving her mettle throughout the film, she goes toe-to-toe with perhaps one of the greatest film characters ever put on screen in Hannibal Lecter, as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="186" caption="Drew Barrymore in "E.T" courtesy of casefree.com"][/caption]
First Exposure: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
The offspring of a Hollywood family, Barrymore broke through in Steven Spielberg's beautiful tale of what it truly feels like to be an outsider. She adds her own childish charm to the film, though she serves mostly as the adorable "scene stealer."
Best "Grown Up" Film: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
She produced and starred in the brilliant cult film Donnie Darko a year before, but her true critical triumph so far is as Penny, the girlfriend of TV host and supposed international spy Chuck Barris, perfectly portrayed by Sam Rockwell. This George Clooney directed "biopic" is schizophrenic, exciting, and fascinating, thanks in part to the twisted chemistry between Barrymore and Rockwell.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="190" caption="Christian Bale in "Empire of the Sun" courtesy of videogum.com"][/caption]
First Exposure: Empire of the Sun (1987)
Bale gives a brave performance in this Steven Spielberg film as a British child who finds himself torn between respect for his surroundings and memories of his past in World War II Japan.
Best "Grown Up" Film: The Dark Knight (2008)
His best performance is actually in 2000's American Psycho, but his best film is this Christopher Nolan comic book masterpiece. A thrilling trip through Gotham City, Bale has infused excitement (not to mention talent) into the Batman film franchise, with the help of Nolan's genius and an absolutely harrowing performance by the late Heath Ledger.
See? Not every child star is an alcoholic, drug addict, or dead. Some have gone on to very successful, very reputable careers. These are just a few.