Happy birthday to Kirsten Dunst, who’s been a working actor in Hollywood ever since she was six years old! You maybe didn’t realize this, but Kristen began her career as a child star, taking a role in a Woody Allen short film anthology called Oedipus Wrecks, another as Tom Hanks‘ daughter in Bonfire Of The Vanities, and an appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation, all while she was under ten years of age.
Her real breakthrough came when she was twelve, however, in the movie Interview With A Vampire. The movie itself wasn’t especially popular with the critics, but everyone was blown away by Kirsten’s portrayal of the vampire Claudia, particularly with her ability to convey great age and maturity as a young girl. She received a Golden Globe nomination for her acting…and from that moment on, we all decided she was a really great actor.
And we never really reevaluated that decision! Even through the crappy movies she’s made since, the very public meltdown that she experienced in early adulthood, and the inane things she insists on saying to this day, we’re like sure! Kirsten Dunst is great! Even though with every year that passes, she’s getting further and further away from her greatest critical success. She’s spoken about not really enjoying acting all that much, but it’s like she doesn’t know how to quit.
Which got me to thinking about other child actors who had their first and greatest success early…and there are kind of a lot of them! People who knocked it out of the park on the first try and probably should’ve left it at that, while they were ahead. But instead, they keep coming up to bat until finally we’re just waving them on base so we don’t have to watch them wiff it anymore.
So not that celebrities ever take my advice anyway, but if they do, I’d suggest that these twelve former child actors should first go make a time machine, and then go back in time and quit while they’re ahead.
1. Kirsten Dunst
Like I said, Kirsten has had some really great gems in her great career, but with every additional crappy movie she does, she makes it harder to find them in the wreckage. For every Little Women or Jumanji, you also have an Elizabethtown. Every cheesily amazing Bring It On is cancelled out by a surprisingly unlikable Bachelorette. And on and on and on into history.
2. Macaulay Culkin
Oh girl. Let the Culkin family be a lesson to all you future parents out there. I feel like your kid can do one movie as a child star and not get sucked into a downward spiral, but not ten. If Macaulay had only gotten out of the business after Home Alone and My Girl, he might have been able to transition into adulthood without that whole married at eighteen with multiple drug arrests thing.
But instead, he waited until age fourteen to retire from acting, leaving him with a very scary face in paparazzi photos and a credit on his resume from as recently as 2011. Yikes.
3. Abigail Breslin
Life would be perfect if only we could go back to a time when all we knew of Abigail Breslin was her amazing, endearing work in Little Miss Sunshine. But instead, I now know what she looks like with platinum blond hair and her boobs sticking out at a premiere, so that’s just great.
4. Britney Spears
Know how I know I’m a better Britney fan than the rest of you guys? Because I would give up the entire second half of her catalog if I could trade it in for her being happy and healthy. It’s like the girl had one hit one time and you haven’t let her sit down and take a nap ever since.
5. Haley Joel Osment
Poor Haley Joel. It really seemed like he’d wised up on this whole situation and gotten out of the industry with only paying it forward and the tag line ‘I see dead people’ as baggage…but then he returned, round face and all, to help us forget his child star legacy piece by piece.
6. Emma Watson
I’ve said this so many times now that you guys could probably make my points for me. Emma was the perfect Hermione, and no one can ever deny that. So I want to live out my days with Emma rejoicing in that perfection, not being distracted by her woefully bad American accent in every role she’s done since. Just let me love you!
7. Leonardo DiCaprio
Bring on the hate mail guys, but I’m pretty sure the only role Leo did that was actually worth an Oscar was the first one he was nominated for – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? And whether we’re willing to accept it or not, it’s just been a long slow slide into a pit full of sympathy models ever since then.
8. Lindsay Lohan
Do I seriously need to argue this point with anyone? There can’t really be a person on Earth who thinks that LiLo is yet to do her best work. Get out while the getting’s good, girl. And since you already missed that window, get out while the getting’s…not at rock bottom yet? Or have you hit rock bottom? I hate that I don’t even know.
9. Shia LaBeouf
When you show up at a film premiere wearing a literal paper bag over your head, that’s a pretty good indicator that things have gone too far. But Shia was so great in Even Stevens! Why couldn’t we just leave it at that instead of dragging ourselves through an escalating series of dares that Shia seems to have set with himself in regards to how weird he can possibly be on any given day.
10. Selena Gomez
Selena seemed for a long time like she was gonna make it out of the Disney unscathed, but then 2014 happened, and it was a whole ‘nother story. Can you imagine if Selena had just done her time on Barney and dropped a couple albums and then peaced out on the whole fame scene? She would’ve saved herself a lot of time and trouble and reconfiguration of her Instagram account, plus, left us remembering her as a perky, well-spoken Disney lady instead of a rumored hot mess who canceled her tour. Such dreams!
11. Frankie Muniz
Frankie unraveled impressively quickly after Malcolm In The Middle, publicly criticizing members of the Obama administration and being accused of holding a gun to his head and threatening his life after punching his girlfriend in the back of the head…but he still has Hot Bath An’ A Stiff Drink 2 on the docket for this year, so it sounds like he’s doing great.
12. Amanda Bynes
So far, Amanda is the only happy ending to come out of this, having stepped away from fame and the limelight after a very public social media meltdown last year. For a while it seemed like she’d be sucked into the same famehole as the other people on this list, forcing us to remember that before we remembered her great works as a child star. But now she’s gotten help for her mental condition, whatever it is, and appears to be doing well. So hurray for her.
But boo for everybody else, because they’ve all but missed their opportunities to be a one hit wonder.