11 Child Actors Who Quit, And 10 Who Became Bigger Stars

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Child actors have long been a controversial subject in Hollywood and beyond, and while some decide to leave the industry after they’ve grown up, others keep acting well into adulthood.

Here are some child actors who retired early and some who stuck with acting:

1.

Retired early: Jennette McCurdy.

Jennette, who started acting at 8 years old, starred in two Nickelodeon sitcoms before she decided to step away from acting.

She talked about the decision to stop acting in 2021 on her podcast, Empty Inside, saying, “I quit a few years ago because I initially didn’t want to do it.”

These days, she’s mostly pivoted to writing. In her new memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, she details the abuse she was dealt as a child actor and how she was only able to step away and heal after her mom’s death.

2.

Stuck with acting: Brie Larson.

Brie started acting in 1998, when she was just 9 years old. Her first role was in a sketch for The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.

2000s girls will also remember her playing mean girls in 13 Going On 30 and Sleepover when she was about 15.

As an adult, she’s gone on to win an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Room and an Emmy for The Messy Truth VR Experience. And there’s no sign of her stopping.

3.

Retired early: Shirley Temple.

Shirley is probably the most famous child actor of all time. She started working as an actor at just 4 years old and built an incredible catalog throughout her childhood.

At 22, she decided to retire from acting, and she ended up working in politics for most of her life, even serving as an ambassador to Ghana and then Czechoslovakia before her death in 2014.

4.

Stuck with acting: Jodie Foster.

Other than commercials, Jodie’s first acting role was when she was just 5 years old on the TV show Mayberry R.F.D. She continued doing mostly TV work as a kid.

When she was just 14, she earned her first Oscar nomination for playing a child sex worker in the movie Taxi Driver.

Now she has two Oscars (for The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs), and her most recent movie, The Mauritanian, earned her a third Golden Globe.

5.

Retired early: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

Okay, this is actually two child actors, but they worked together for most of their careers before pivoting away to focus on other career ventures, like their fashion lines the Row and Elizabeth & James.

Ashley quit first, with her last major role being New York Minute in 2004, and Mary-Kate followed after her last role in Beastly in 2011.

Mary-Kate said in 2012, “If I ever get back in[to Hollywood], it’s not going to be as an actress.”

6.

Stuck with acting: Scarlett Johansson.

Scarlett made her feature film debut at just 9 years old in the film North, but even before then, she’d already made her stage debut off-Broadway alongside Ethan Hawke at age 8.

She’s worked consistently ever since, winning a Tony Award for the play A View From the Bridge in 2010 and getting two Academy Award nominations for Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit. She was also named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2021.

7.

Retired early: Peter Ostrum.

Peter has exactly one acting role under his belt, and it’s the starring role of Charlie in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

After filming wrapped, he considered an acting career but quickly fell in love with veterinary medicine instead and decided to pursue that.

He said in 2000, “Acting was fine, but I wanted something more steady, and the key is to find something that you love doing, and that’s what my profession has given to me.”

8.

Stuck with acting: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Joseph was scouted by a manager while performing in a preschool play, and he made his TV film debut by age 6. But perhaps his best-known childhood role was in the TV show 3rd Rock From the Sun, which premiered when he was 14.

He now also directs, produces, and runs an online media platform called HitRecord on top of acting. He even won two nonacting Emmys for his work on HitRecord.

9.

Retired early: Mara Wilson.

Mara started to lose interest in film acting around the same time that she started to age out of the child roles she’d famously played.

She said in 2013, “Hollywood didn’t really want me at that point, and I was kind of over it too. So, after a while, it feels like a mutual breakup.”

While she still does some acting, she does a lot of writing these days. She even wrote a memoir about her experiences as a child actor, called Where Am I Now?

10.

Stuck with acting: Kat Dennings.

Kat begged her parents to let her act as a kid and finally got her way when she was 9 years old.

She landed her first TV role on Sex and the City when she was 13, and she later briefly starred alongside Brie Larson on the sitcom Raising Dad. Her first film was the 2002 DCOM The Scream Team, but she didn’t get her first feature film, Raise Your Voice, until she was 17.

Most recently, you’ve probably seen her as Jules on Dollface or reprising her role of Darcy from Thor in WandaVision and Thor: Love and Thunder.

11.

Retired early: Eva Amurri.

The daughter of actor Susan Sarandon and director Franco Amurri, Eva started acting in movies and TV shows as a kid, sometimes alongside her mother.

She stopped acting in 2016, shortly after starting her lifestyle blog Happily Eva After. That being said, she might come out of retirement soon, because she recently acted in her first project in seven years, the TV show Monarch.

She posted a two-part TikTok explanation for why she stopped acting, including the way women are treated in the industry and the lack of financial security.

12.

Stuck with acting: Kristen Stewart.

Kristen was scouted by an agent when she was performing in a Christmas show at 8 years old. Within a year, she got a nonspeaking role in the DCOM The Thirteenth Year.

She played Jodie Foster’s daughter in Panic Room when she was 11 and then continued to snag starring roles in Speak, Catch That Kid, and Zathura.

Twilight premiered when she was 18, which is when she exploded into fame. She mostly focused on indie films after finishing the Twilight movies, though she’s taken on some blockbusters lately. She earned an Oscar nomination for Spencer.

13.

Retired early: Amanda Bynes.

Amanda was a comedic powerhouse as a kid, and her career only grew as she got older.

However, after filming wrapped on Easy A in 2010, she announced her retirement by tweeting, “I don’t love acting anymore so I’ve stopped doing it.”

Amanda has also struggled with mental health and legal problems that culminated in a conservatorship, which recently ended. During that time, she got a degree at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

14.

Stuck with acting: Christian Bale.

Christian’s first role was in the TV film Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna when he was 10 years old, but his big break came when he got the lead role in Empire of the Sun when he was 13.

His other notable child acting performances include Newsies and the 1994 adaptation of Little Women.

He’s still obviously a household name these days, even winning an Oscar for his performance in The Fighter.

15.

Retired early: Omri Katz.

After a successful acting career that started when he was 7 years old and lasted into his teens, Omri played his last role in a short film in 2002.

Despite his retirement from acting, he did participate in the virtual Hocus Pocus reunion in 2020, In Search of the Sanderson Sisters, and he has a Cameo, if you want a shoutout.

These days, he runs a cannabis-culture online clothing company called the Mary Danksters.

16.

Stuck with acting: Jake Gyllenhaal.

Jake’s first role was in the movie City Slickers when he was 10 years old. However, his parents wouldn’t let him go away for two months to be in The Mighty Ducks the next year, and they encouraged him to take a break from acting to go to college.

He dropped out of Columbia University after only two years, though, and he’s been acting consistently ever since. He won a BAFTA for Brokeback Mountain and has been nominated for an Oscar for the same role, an acting Tony for Sea Wall/A Life, and two Best Play Tonys for producing.

17.

Retired early: Kay Panabaker.

Despite her successful Disney career, which started when she was 11, Kay’s last acting project was a voice role in Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta! in 2012.

She’s since become a zookeeper. In response to questions about why she quit, she tweeted in 2016 that she “just lost the love for acting” and she does love her current job.

18.

Stuck with acting: Ethan Hawke.

Ethan got his professional start a little late in comparison with the other actors on this list. He went to his first audition at 14 and landed a role in Explorers, which was also the debut film of River Phoenix.

After the movie underperformed at the box office, the disappointment caused him to step away from acting; he later said, “I would never recommend that a kid act.” But he came back with Dead Poets Society.

He’s had a long and steady career since then and been nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes, and one Tony.

19.

Retired early: Lisa Bonet.

Lisa became a household name as Denise Huxtable, but she cut back on acting in the early 2000s to focus on family. She has three kids, including, of course, Zoë Kravitz.

She’s taken on occasional roles over the years — often guest appearances on TV shows — but nothing in the last five years.

20.

Stuck with acting: Kaley Cuoco.

Kaley was in her first movie, Virtuosity, at age 9. After that, she did some smaller roles until landing a lead role in the sitcom 8 Simple Rules.

She has kept acting and has received two Emmy nominations for her performance in the TV series The Flight Attendant.

21.

Finally, retired early: Taylor Momsen.

Taylor booked her first national commercial at age 3, and a string of iconic roles followed all the way through her teen years.

However, her passion was always music. She said in 2021, “When I got to an age where I could make my own decisions, I quit all my other jobs to just focus on music.”

She’s been the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of rock band the Pretty Reckless since 2009.

Did we miss your favorite child actor? Comment below!



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