Child Stars Who Grew Up to Look Totally Different

From now-household names to child actors who left the industry entirely.

child stars Ke Huy Quan
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Child stardom and adult stardom are two very different paths—and it's difficult to move from one to the other. As many former child stars have noted, audiences come to expect a certain look and performance from you that no longer exists after puberty. "Making it" as an adult actor takes time, the right projects, and a whole lot of luck—plus, in some cases, a healthy amount of nostalgia for the roles that made them famous. And yet, a number of grown-up actors have been able to bring their adult selves to acting projects successfully.

This list will probably take you back to some of some of your favorite shows—not to mention, serve as a shocking reminder of how much time has passed since we first fell in love with them—but it'll also be a cool realization when an adult actor you enjoyed in a recent project turns out to be the child actor you remember from so long ago.

Adam Lamberg

child stars Adam Lamberg

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Gordo from Lizzie McGuire is a fully grown-up adult person (wow, we feel old). The sweet curly-haired kid we knew and loved got a more adult 'do as he got older—but, judging by photos from the ill-fated revival, he got a grown-up Gordo cut to potentially revive the character.

Christina Ricci

child actor christina ricci

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The erstwhile Wednesday Addams—that precocious, deeply goth, incredibly snarky youth from The Addams Family—grew up to be a pretty impressive actor. Christina Ricci often returns to the dark hair and blunt haircut that made her famous, but her adult version is far superior (in my opinion).

Moisés Arias

child stars Moisés Arias

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If you are a fan of Fallout or really liked Ender's Game, you might not realize you're actually watching the actor who played Rico on Hannah Montana. Yes, that's right, after playing the scheming kiddo, Arias continued to work and ultimately made the transition to adult actor.

Alexa PenaVega

child stars Alexa PenaVega

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In an ongoing reminder of how much I loved the first Spy Kids, Alexa PenaVega (who played Carmen Cortez) grew up to be a full adult—and she still acts! In 2024, she noted the first film's 23rd(!) anniversary, which must be as wild to her as it us to us fans.

Mara Wilson

child stars Mara wilson

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Mara Wilson has noted how tough it was to hit puberty in Hollywood and how difficult the transition from child actor to adult was. But frankly, she's hitting her stride; she's a writer and memoirist who also speaks openly about her OCD and body dysmorphia. She's got a sharp, smart voice, with a lot to say about her experience.

Abigail Breslin

child stars Abigail breslin

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It's wild to believe that Abigail Breslin was only 10 when she starred in Little Miss Sunshine. But she's continued to act in impressive roles into adulthood, with roles in both Zombieland movies as well as films like Stillwater, which helped audiences see her in more grown-up roles.

Daryl Sabara

child stars Daryl Sabara

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If you know Daryl Sabara in a modern context, it might be as Meghan Trainor's husband (the pair have children together and their social media accounts deserve a follow). But long-time fans will know Sabara as Juni Cortez in the Spy Kids films; he has continued to act, if you're curious.

Jonathan Lipnicki

child stars Jonathan lipnicki

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Wow, I feel really old: the precocious kid from Jerry Maguire is in his 30s. He was only 6 years old when that film was released; he has continued to act (including on Worst Cooks in America!) and has also worked as a producer. He also has regularly referenced his origins as the cutest kid on earth.

Jacob Tremblay

child stars Jacob Tremblay

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It is wild that the brilliant kid from Room (who actually started his acting career even earlier than that) is turning into an equally cool young adult actor. His recent acting work has been impressive (voicing Flounder in The Little Mermaid and Luca in Luca), and he was the most terrifying part of Doctor Sleep.

Taylor Momsen

child stars Taylor Momsen

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Taylor Momsen has been honest about literally growing up on the set of Gossip Girl as Jenny Humphrey. She started acting at age 3 and retired after Gossip Girl to pursue singing—which she's parlayed into an impressive music career. Watching her on stage: you wouldn't even recognize her as Jenny, in a really great way.

Steven Anthony Lawrence

child star Steven Anthony Lawrence

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Beans from Even Stevens is now in his 30s. He still is referred to as Beans or Beansy by cast members, and he's said he still gets recognized as the character—but that people are often shocked by how different he looks (and how old the show now is).

The Sprouse Brothers

child stars sprouse brothers

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The cute little blonde kids from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody grew up to be two very cool-looking guys! In fact, if you liked and watched the TV show Riverdale, you may not have even known you were watching Cole Sprouse (as Jughead Jones) all grown up.

Drew Barrymore

child star Drew barrymore

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It's wild to think how long we've all collectively known Drew Barrymore for: we literally watched her grow up on the set of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. As far as child actors go, Barrymore has been able to parlay that early success into impressive acting longevity (and a talk show!).

Nicholas Hoult

child stars Nicholas Hoult

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It might surprise you to remember that prolific and impressive actor Nicholas Hoult was actually the cute, bowl haircut-ed boy in About a Boy. Actually, it probably helps that he looks and sounds so different now, because it would be hard to take him seriously with that haircut as an adult.

Priah Ferguson

child stars Priah Ferguson

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My absolutely favorite Stranger Things character—Erica—is being played by a cool young adult actor! Priah Ferguson began acting before the age of 10, and her career is impressive given how young she still is. But she has literally grown up on screen.

Haley Joel Osment

child stars Haley joel osment

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(Makes obligatory "I see dead people" joke) Haley Joel Osment was the child actor in the '90s and early '00s. But he's grown up into a jovial, funny adult, who still continues to act. If you're a fan of What We Do in the Shadows, he has a delightful cameo.

Miley Cyrus

child stars Miley cyrus

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If this photo is proof of anything—complete with Dolly Parton-inspired hair—it's how much Miley Cyrus was able to (and is still able to) change up her look and persona as she grew up. It would be challenging to shake a character as iconic as Hannah Montana, but Cyrus has done it.

Macaulay Culkin

child stars Macaulay culkin

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Macaulay Culkin has opened up about the difficulties of being a child actor, and even retired at one point. But in adulthood, Culkin has written a memoir, formed a band, gotten back into film and TV, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen

child stars olsen twins

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The Olsen twins were everywhere in the '90s—particularly if you were a kiddo about the same age, as I was—but the wealthy entertainers took a step back from acting and became just as notable as the founders of The Row. And now they're casually fashion icons.

Mayim Bialik

child stars Mayim bialik

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The titular Blossom on Blossom (as well as Amy on The Big Bang Theory) started her career in the 1980s. She has continued to act and also has been honest about her experience as a child actor (and the culture at the time) as part of her work as a YouTuber.

Jaleel White

child stars Jaleel white

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Jaleel White (Steve Urkel on Family Matters) was one of those child actors whom we watched grow up on our televisions. He's now in his 40s(!) and has acted in adulthood and been on shows like Dancing With the Stars; in 2024 he announced his upcoming memoir, Growing Up Urkel.

Jodie Foster

child stars jodie foster

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By now, we're very familiar with Jodie Foster as a serious adult actor. So it's easy to forget that she started acting at 3 (in a Coppertone commercial!) and was thrust into adult roles quite early in Taxi Driver as a literal teen (and nominated for an Oscar).

Freddie Highmore

child stars freddy highmore

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The very cute kid from films like Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory turned into the decidedly less cute Norman Bates in Bates Motel. Seriously, watch clips from that show and realize how impressive an actor Freddie Highmore really is.

Asa Butterfield

child stars Asa butterfield

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Like others on this list, Asa Butterfield was able to transition from child star (in Butterfield's case, that included roles in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Ender's Game) to adult actor by taking on a sexually charged and very different role (the lead in Sex Education).

Brie Larson

child stars brie larson

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Considering Brie Larson's impressive success as an adult actor, it always surprises me to remember she was a child actor who appeared as a regular on Raising Dad when she was literally a teen. Serious roles came to her early, which helped propel her into adult acting roles.

Matthew Lewis

child stars Matthew lewis

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If you know a little bit about the Harry Potter films, you'll know that there will be a few actors from the franchise on this list—they started acting in those films very, very young. Matthew Lewis, who plays the sweet and sensitive Neville, made it into the news for his "glow-up" in adulthood. He's continued to act!

Ariana Grande

child stars ariana grande

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Given everything Ariana Grande has accomplished into adulthood, it's easy to forget that she started her mainstream career as the auburn-haired Cat in Victorious and Sam & Cat. Massive musical success would follow, and Grande has also continued to act, including in Wicked.

Harry Melling

child stars Harry melling

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The former Dudley Dursley (Harry Melling, starting at age 10) turned into a cool character actor who's a reliably interesting on-screen presence. If you happened to watch The Queen's Gambit or The Old Guard—and you should—he's brilliant in both projects.

Rupert Grint

child stars rupert grint

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Ron, is that you?? I imagine it would be difficult to shake the early influence of playing so iconic a Harry Potter character—literally the lead's best friend—but Rupert Grint has continued to act and chosen interesting projects like Knock at the Cabin.

Daniel Radcliffe

child stars daniel radcliffe

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Speaking of Harry Potter! What I love about so many of the actors who participated in Harry Potter is that they've taken on cool projects in adulthood—even though they probably could have retired. Daniel Radcliffe's filmography and theater work is a joy to see.

Quvenzhané Wallis

child stars Quvenzhané Wallis

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It's frankly amazing to me that Quvenzhané Wallis, who played Hushpuppy so brilliantly in Beasts of the Southern Wild, grew up to be so cool. She's continued to act, including on Black-ish and as a voice actor in Trolls, but she's also written a bunch of children's books!

Ke Huy Quan

child stars ke huy quan

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This probably isn't a surprise to anyone who saw Everything Everywhere All at Once, but it's still a heck of a narrative: the child actor from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Goonies didn't act for a very long time due to the industry, then got a second chance (and a freaking Oscar!) as an adult.

Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.