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Let’s face it, child stardom always has an expiration date. Not every pre-adolescent thespian will gain the career longevity of a Jodie Foster or Anne Hathaway after puberty has passed them by. We can’t predict the future of our current favorite kid stars of film and television. We can, however, examine the ongoing careers of our favorite ones from the past. Here is a list of the whereabouts of 15 notable former child stars.
Joseph Mazzello first came to the attention of moviegoers as Tim Murphy in Jurassic Park (1993) and later, The River Wild (1994). Following the disappointment of Star Kid (1997) and Simon Birch (1998) the actor took a brief Hollywood hiatus. Recently he has returned to the spotlight after earning a starring role in the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks produced HBO miniseries The Pacific. With his star back on the rise, he can next be seen as Mouse in G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
Kel Mitchell was one of the breakout stars of Nickelodeon’s sketch comedy show All That (1994). He and co-star Kenan Thompson would prove so popular they would get their own Nick sitcom, Kenan and Kel (1996). A year later, the pair would adapt the All That characters from their Good Burger sketch into a feature film of the same name. The following summer Mitchell managed to grab a lead role alongside Ben Stiller and William H. Macy in Mystery Men (1999), but the film proved to be a box office flop. After reprising his partnership with Thompson for a small role in Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000, also a flop), Kel relegated his acting endeavors mostly to television guest spots and a handful of direct-to-video films. He’s currently a series regular on the Disney XD animated shows Motor City and Wild Grinder.
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After nabbing the lead on the hit Fox series Malcolm in the Middle (2000), Frankie Muniz became one of the biggest child stars in the world. He had a series of hits with the films Big Fat Liar (2002) and the Agent Cody Banks series (2003-2004). When Malcolm ended in 2006, Muniz attempted to stray from the world of family films, taking roles in the mostly forgotten horror film Stay Alive (2006) and the direct-to-video dumped Extreme Movie (2008). In 2007, Frankie left acting for a career as a race car driver. He’s also currently drumming for the indie rock band Kingsfoil.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ role as Randy Taylor on the popular sitcom Home Improvement (1991) cemented his status as a teen heartthrob throughout much of the 90s. He had a string of hit family films with The Lion King (1994) and Tom and Huck (1995), but experienced diminishing box office returns in the form of Wild America (1997), The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996) and I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1998). JTT stepped out of the spotlight after Home Improvement’s ending, taking small guest spots on several television series and cartoons. He’s been AWOL since 2006, instead pursuing his college education. He graduated from Columbia in 2010 and, in a 2011 Home Improvement reunion with EW, expressed plans to return to Hollywood in a behind-the-camera capacity.
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Wheaton brokeout as the lead in Stand By Me (1986) and ruffled the feathers of many a Trekkie as Wesley Crusher on four seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987). Unlike many entries on this list, Wheaton has diversified his career beyond acting as a writer, producer, television host, improv performer, political pundit, and competitive poker player. Wheaton continues to work as a prolific voice actor and has clocked in noteworthy guest spots on series as The Big Bang Theory (2007), where he plays an evil version of himself.
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Thanks to the huge popularity of the classic A Christmas Story (1983), Billingsley is best known to audiences as the Red Ryder BB gun obsessed Ralphie Parker. However, that film proved to be a sleeper hit that would only become a classic thanks to regular television play in years to come. Billingsley’s final role was the 1993 B horror film Arcade. Following that film, the actor opted to step behind the camera as a writer, producer and director. He directed Couples Retreat in 2009 and acted as an executive producer on Marvel’s Iron Man.
Blair, best known as the demon possessed Regan from the horror classic The Exorcist (1973), went from being a TV movie-of-the-week star in the 1970s to top lining a string of Grindhouse exploitation films as an adult from the 1980s. Blair continued her B movie pedigree into the 90s and capped off the millennium as a prolific voice actress. The actress currently puts most of her focus into running the nonprofit Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation, an animal rescue charity dedicated to finding stray dogs good homes.
Anna Chlumsky starred in the hit My Girl with Dan Akroyd in 1991. It would spawn one sequel and helped Chlumsky grab parts in the mostly forgotten Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain with Christina Ricci (1995) and Trading Mom with Sissy Spacek (1994). Like most of the actors on this list, Chlumsky fell into the trap of television guest spot work thereafter. However, she distinguishes herself by having recently scored a second-billed spot on the new HBO comedy series Veep, opposite Julia Louise Dreyfuss.
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Furlong’s first role also happened to be his most iconic—the previously unheard of kid took the role of John Connor in James Cameron’s mega blockbuster Terminator 2 (1991). While Furlong would never achieve the level of fame or critical acclaim he first managed from that film, he did maintain a decent batting average of critical hits (American Heart, American History X, Animal Factory, Pecker) and commercial misses (Pet Sematary 2, Brainscan, Detroit Rock City) from 1992 to 2000. Unfortunately, the talented actor’s ongoing legal problems and battles with substance abuse seem to have hindered his career outside of the independent horror movie circuit. He could last be seen on the big screen as a meth dealer in Green Hornet (2011).
Soleil Moon Frye
The star of Punky Brewster (1984) never quite broke out into feature films successfully. Starring in direct-to-video titles like Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994) probably didn’t help matters much. Though she hasn’t been star of a show since Brewster ended, the actress has worked consistently as a voice actress. She can be heard on the Jimmy Neutron spinoff Planet Sheen and, according to IMDB, will next be seen on the TV series For Better or For Worse with Janeane Garofalo and Jeffrey Tambor.
Danielle Harris may be best known to horror fans as the child star of Halloween 4 (1988) and Halloween 5 (1989). In those films she played Jamie Lloyd, the series’ pre-adolescent replacement for original star Jamie Lee Curtis. Wider audiences will remember her prominent roles in Free Willy (1993), The Last Boy Scout (1991), and Marked For Death (1993). TV fans may know her from regular appearances on Roseanne from 1992-93. Like many actors the list, an adult Harris found prolific work as a voice actor for children’s animated series, playing Debbie Thornberry on The Wild Thornberrys television show and movies. Unlike many of her contemporaries, however, Harris got the chance to return to the series that made her famous when she was cast as Annie in Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) remake and its follow-up (2009). Since then, the actress has embraced her fame as a “scream queen” and will see her directorial debut, Among Friends, distributed by Lions Gate next year.
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Jonathan Lipnicki became the posterchild for cute and precocious in such films as Jerry Maguire (1996), Stuart Little (1999) and Like Mike (2002). However, all cute kids must eventually become less cute adults. Lipnicki dipped into the world of television guest stars with an episode of Monk in 2009 and has worked sporadically in indie films ever since. He’ll co-star with Christopher-Mintz Plasse in the upcoming drama Tag and can soon be seen in the upcoming YOMYOMF series MotherLover.
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Sara Gilbert is best known TV fans as Darlene on Roseanne, which led to prominent roles in such hit films as Poison Ivy (1992) and Light It Up (1999). After Roseanne’s end, Gilbert would shirk her child actress stigma with small roles in High Fidelity (2000), Riding in Cars With Boys (2001) and a brief stint on E.R. She now serves as an executive producer and host on the CBS daytime show The Talk.
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David Faustino was thirteen when he was cast on Married… with Children (1987). The show lasted a solid ten years, seguing into Faustino’s early twenties. Keeping with the common thread that runs throughout most entries on this list, Faustino’s adult output has been divided between indie films and voice acting on animated television shows. Currently, Faustino can be heard on Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra.
Joey, Matthew, and Andy Lawrence
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The Brothers Lawrence (Joey, Matthew, and Andy, respectively) were a three way child acting force of nature during the 1990s. Joey, the oldest, is best known as Joey Russo from the sitcom Blosom (1991). Matthew, the middle Lawrence, you may remember from Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). Andrew, the youngest, was featured in Bean (1997) and voiced the lead on Disney’s hit animated show Recess (1997). To cap it off, all three of the brothers co-starred in the WB sitcom Brotherly Love from 1995 till 1997. So where are they now? Joey is the obvious answer– his sitcom with Melissa Joe Hart, Melissa and Joey, is going strong on ABC Family. Matthew has stuck to the indie and TV guest spot track typical to most stars, but did land a lead in The Comebacks in 2007. Andrew Lawrence has stayed off the radar this year but appeared in such shows as Bones and Castle last year. Finally, both Matthew and Andrew have appeared on Melissa and Joey in guest capacities within the last two years, which goes to show these child brothers are still showing some brotherly love onscreen.