• Wed, Apr 30 - 2:42 pm ET

12 Former Child Actors Who Should’ve Quit While They Were Ahead

Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette GIF(via)

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.

Kirsten Dunst GIF

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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

Kirsten Dunst Wink

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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

Macaulay Culkin screaming GIF(via)

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

Abigail Breslin dyed blond hair GIF(via)

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

Britney Spears cringing X Factor GIF

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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

Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense GIF I don't like people looking at me like that(via)

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

Emma Watson GIF

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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

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill in Wolf Of Wall Street GIF(via)

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

Lindsay Lohan saying no in Mean Girls GIF(via)

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

Shia LaBeouf I just want to matter GIF(via)

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 Gomez Shocked

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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 Muniz on Malcolm in the Middle on the phone GIF(via)

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

Amanda Bynes Smile(via)

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.

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  • capoupascap

    Really Leonardo DiCaprio?! http://media2.giphy.com/media/Fml0fgAxVx1eM/giphy.gif

    but cue the click bait on that addition I guess. I’m in the minority but I loved Bachelorette, Melancholia, and I really want to see The 2 Faces of January (which I’ve mostly heard only positive things about) so I don’t think Kirsten Dunst deserves to be on this list either. Most actors have a few clunkers on there IMDB page, NBD

    • Nancy

      Yeah, and I liked Marie Antoinette, Mona Lisa Smile, Spiderman, Dick, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Virgin Suicides! And hellooo, Titanic! I also loved Shutter Island, the Departed, Catch Me If You Can. I agree with everyone else in this article though. But I’ve loved Kirsten Dunst since Jumanji lol

    • capoupascap

      Haha yes the Departed is def my fave DiCaprio movie, and Marie Antoinette is my fave Dunst movie. I still have never seen Virgin Suicides (I know) but I really need though. So glad somebody understands my Kirsten love.

    • Kaitlin Reilly

      You should definitely watch The Virgin Suicides.

    • brebay

      One of my faves!

  • Olivia Wilson

    Yeah but now Macaulay sings about pizza all day long, so is he actually losing at all?

    Also, this list is so true. I think I want to personally delivier it to each of them.

    • Alexis Rhiannon

      Pizza delivery person to the STAHS!

    • Olivia Wilson

      Precisely.

  • Kaitlin Reilly

    I think you should put Shia on here again.

  • Guest

    I think Kirsten Dunst is a pretty good actress!
    She was really underrated in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. She added even more emotional depth to an already brilliant film.

    I can’t even fathom that you put Leonardo DiCaprio on the list. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a wonderful gem of a movie and he showcased his talents incredibly in the film. However, what about The Aviator, Shutter Island, Catch Me If You Can and Inception? There is no way he should stop making movies. He’s one of the best actors of our generation.

  • Vera

    I can agree with you on ~almost~ everything you wrote. The “almost” being Leo Dicaprio (I see him as a consistently good actor and, often-times, a great one) and Abigail Breslin (I’m curious to see how she’s gonna mature professionally).
    I even liked Kirsten Dunst but… her latest statements on women’s roles and sexual assault responsibility got me thinking she’s a douchebag.

    • Alexis Rhiannon

      Yeah her commentary is so gross now.

    • happy1ga

      You also chose as your reasons for listing Dunst “increasingly inane things she says everyday.” How is that judged, other than by you, or matter in your reasons that she shouldn’t be acting now? Her inane things are not any more inane than any other actress or celeb. They just bothered you. Same for Lebeouf, you posted as an example of proof of his rapid unraveling, “criticizing the Obama Admin publicly.” LOL. So? Again, just because we may not like or agree with everything he, she or someone else on this list says, neither thing affects their acting career, or are signs of mental instability or failure.

  • Jenny

    Film Hermione was horrible. She was given all of Hermione’s good characteristics, as well as a lot of Ginny’s qualities and many of Ron’s intelligent remarks, and many of her not-so-perfect traits were overlooked. Film Hermione was, unlike canon Hermione, annoyingly perfect. But I guess that’s not Emma’s fault as much as a poorly written script, although I can’t say I think she’s a very good actress.

    Can’t say I agree with you on Leo though – what about Catch me if you can?

  • Butt Trophy Recipient

    Only if Leo did quit… then we wouldn’t have Titanic

    • Jenni

      And I wouldn’t lose three hours of my life every month when it’s on. Every time I tell myself I’ll just watch it for a few minutes and then end up watching the whole thing. Spoiler alert: Kate’s selfish about that board in the water every single time.

    • Butt Trophy Recipient

      No way. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt that Leo weight would have caused the board to sink completely.

      (well, except the fact that Leo hangs on to the side without tipping it over… THAT BITCH!!!!!!!)

    • Lady Pool

      Myth Busters did a thing on it and they had to tie their life jackets to the board but the both could have used it.

    • Butt Trophy Recipient

      I dunno, too many variables;

      Different wood have different buoyancy.

      Obviously actors + clothes + whatever else have to weigh the same and also have the same buoyancy.

      Salinity and water temps matter. Water off of SF and waters in the middle of the Atlantic can’t be the same.

      Were these addressed by those two nerds?

    • Jenni

      But if she had just stayed in the original lifeboat, Jack could’ve had the floating board completely to himself.

    • Alexis Rhiannon

      He was still a kid for Titanic!

    • MCR

      Yet another good reason he should have dropped out before it was too late. Thanks.

  • Shanna

    I in no way think that Kirsten Dunst should be on this list…even if Melancholia was her only performance I’d ever seen I’d say that…and Leo? Have you seen The Departed? Gangs of New York? I agree that he hasn’t necessarily given an Oscar-worthy performance since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, but he’s had other spectacular performances.
    I also think Emma is hugely talented and she’s only a few years departed from the childhood role that made her famous, so maybe give her a bit more time to prove herself?
    The rest I pretty much agree with.

    • StephanieTruth

      Agree re Melancholia, agree re Leo, agree re Emma, agree re the rest. Thanks for saving me the time :)

    • MCR

      I agree with you about Melancholia. Kirsten Dunst’s main problem IMO is her choice of movies, not her acting.

    • brebay

      I started watching Melancholia, but got dizzy.

  • loser_sneeze

    If Culkin had quit too early we wouldn’t have his great performance in Saved! and I really loved him in that one.

    • Alexis Rhiannon

      Ooh good call.

  • CW

    How did Anna Paquin not make this list? Take Leo off and put Anna on!

    • Alexis Rhiannon

      Ooh that’s an interesting one! Good call.

  • mike

    Do you ever reread anything you write?

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    eh Abigail Breslin is growing up, surely she’s allowed to wear what she wants and dye her hair, no?

    I thought this article was going to be about acting ability, not how OMG AN ACTOR I THOUGHT SHOULD STAY A KID ACTUALLY GREW BOOBS, THE HORRORRRRR!!!

    • brebay

      That’s what I thought. “boobs sticking out?” um, where are they supposed to go?

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      Plus like as far as idols go, I’d rather the girls looked up to her than Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez.
      Yeah her boobs are a little exposed but they’re big!
      What’s she meant to do, strap them down “Boys Don’t Cry” style?

      I think she looks beautiful, grown up and mature and her dress sense is still a lot more modest than most celebrity girls her age!

  • MCR

    I’m surprised to see Emma Watson on the list. She went to college after her child actor gig where she did well, avoided serious substance abuse and public meltdowns, and moved on into some decent films. Her acting seems fine to me, and as for her American accent, I find it no more awful than any actual, real American accent.

  • brebay

    It was NOT an American accent, it was an Alexis Neiers accent, and it was perfect!

  • anonnnn

    Agree with all except LEO! I will love him forever. Even with his little pot belly he’s been sporting recently.

  • Carson

    I would have to chose to agree to disagree with you on most of these actors. Leonardo has many movies after Gilbert Grape that are phenomenal. Titanic, Shutter Island, Gatsby, just to name a few. He is no where near any of these other actors… not to be rude to any of the others it’s just he’s not really comparable.
    As for Emma Watson, I loved her in HP but she’s been in some other great movies since then and pretty much has a new movie coming out every 6 months. Definitely a talented actress.
    And Abigail Breslin, I understand that some people don’t like the whole “boobs out in the open thing” and I don’t really know if you personally have large boobs but I do… and let me tell you it is not fun to try to find something to wear without them popping out or having other people criticize you for picking a really cute dress, that someone with a small chest could easily wear, but you have more cleavage so it makes it more “sexual.” It’s hard being big chested, unfortunately.
    But I do agree with you on Kirsten Dunst, Lindsay Lohan, and Selena Gomez. I have never been a fan of Selena to be quite honest :/

  • LordTrikke

    The author of this article failed to provide a proper example of a child star that in his / her opinion made it as an actor. For example if he / she were to pick Miley Cyrus then how could anyone take the author or the article seriously.

  • JOJO

    NO! NO! NO! this list is all wrong!

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