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Some of our favorite child stars fade into oblivion after the peak as kiddos in a smash hit TV show or movie. Others stick around and may-or-may-not get totally messed up by Hollywood. We got to watch quite a few go through their awkward tween years, messy twenties, and more. But no matter which of the above categories they fall into, it's always interesting to see the way they change. Some look just like they did while they were kids — others you can tell glow'd up in a big way.
Check out 50 child stars then and now and choose for yourself.
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It has been over a decade since the world was introduced to Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine. Abigail had been acting since the age of three when she did her first commercial and has been appearing in films since age five, but she found widespread recognition at only age nine. Now in her twenties, Abigail is no longer the adorable little girl trying her best to win a pageant no one thought she could even enter. They grow up so fast!
Speaking of growing up fast, Britney Spears's little sister Jaime Lynn Spears made a name for herself on Nickelodeon's television series Zoey 101 in 2005, although she had already been appearing on All That since 1994. Jaime Lynn was thirteen years old when the series began, but the show ended after she turned sixteen because she had gotten pregnant. Although rumors swirled that it was by one of the show's producers, it was really her then-boyfriend, Casey Aldridge.
She had the best of both worlds, and TBH, she still does. Since the end of her breakout Disney Channel hit Hannah Montana in 2011, Miley Cyrus has gone through a public "bad girl" phase, gotten engaged to Liam Hemsworth *twice* (and thank God, now they're happily married), and rediscovered her country roots. Now a grown woman in her 20s, Miley visually looks pretty similar to the Miley we met in 2006 when she was only thirteen, which is wild.
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Another Disney Channel star, Selena Gomez actually first came on the scene when she was a regular on Barney & Friends from 2002 to 2004. Nine-year-old Selena was so little and adorable. By age fourteen, she was the star of Wizards Of Waverly Place, and she was still adorable. Today, she's a bonafide pop star, fashion icon, one of the most followed people on Instagram, and still killing the acting game.
Demi Lovato has really been through it since her Disney days. The star of Camp Rock and Sonny With A Chance launched a successful music career through Disney's Hollywood Records, but she was ultimately the most scandalous of her Disney peers. Demi's problems first came to light when she punched a back-up dancer during one of her tours, and it's been a roller coaster since. She was six years sober before relapsing in 2018 and now seems to be doing well again. We've loved Demi since she was on Barney & Friends with Selena and hopes she keeps getting better and better.
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It's crazy that the little tween in the "Year 3000" music video would grow up to have biceps bigger than most human heads and marry the biggest Bollywood star of all time, Priyanka Chopra (who, BTW, was also Miss World in 2000). Nick Jonas was discovered at age six in a barber shop, but the world didn't get to know him as the youngest of the Jonas Brothers until their first single with Disney came out in 2006.
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Ryan Gosling, unlike basically everyone else we know and love from The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, never tried to have a singing career. He went straight from being Justin Timberlake's BFF and Canadian roomie at age twelve to an Academy Award-nominated actor and Golden Globe winner. He's appeared in big-name films like The Notebook and La La Land and has left his child star past in the past.
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The other half of the OG dream team, Justin Timberlake, appeared on Star Search before finding his people on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. He would go on to date co-star Britney Spears, tour with Christina Aguilera, and join N*SYNC with JC Chasez, so it's safe to say his life was changed during his late tweens. Since leaving N*SYNC to go solo, Justin has become a pop icon in his own right and a movie star, NBD.
What is there to say about Britney Spears that hasn't already been said? She was on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse at age twelve, got a major record deal at age sixteen, and had a major meltdown at 25. She staged a major comeback through a Vegas residency and some killer albums, not unlike Cher did at that age, and now she remains a touring superstar with the entire world ahead of her. She also judged The X Factor.
The final Mickey Mouse Clubhouse member on this list (because you're getting sick of hearing about it and I'm getting sick of typing it) is Christina Aguilera. It is legitimately unfair that a tween could be that pretty. What happened to having an awkward phase? She had a ~scandalous~ period of her own, but not to the same extent that Britney did. Christina mostly just went out in public barely wearing clothes a lot a people freaked out. She's still doing well and has been a judge on The Voice since 2011.
Sure, Dylan and Cole Sprouse are two separate people with very separate lives (kind of), but if we did two side by sides of the twins, we might as well just copy and paste the same photo twice. So, here they are together. The twins appeared on The Suite Life Of Zack And Cody and its spin-off, Suite Life On Deck, from age thirteen to age nineteen, but they've been acting since they were toddlers in the Adam Sandler film Big Daddy, Friends, and other legit roles. They both took some time off to attend NYU, but Cole returned to acting in Riverdale, which you for sure know if you've ever read this website. Dylan owns a meadery in Williamsburg.
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Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are also two separate people, but it's possible they've never done anything separately. The pair made their acting debuts together as infants on Full House, then had a string of straight-to-video films produced by their own company, Dualstar, as children that remain classics to this day. They quit acting, together, in 2004 and now are highly successful fashion designers. They own The Row and Elizabeth & James, and they've won Womenswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America twice.
Jennette McCurdy started acting in 2000 when she was eight years old on MADtv and continued to have bit parts on television series until booking Nickelodeon's iCarly at age fourteen. iCarly and its spin-off Sam & Cat are still her best known roles, but after her time on Nick, she's done a truly ridiculous amount of web shorts that she also directs and produce.
The other half of Sam & Cat needs no introduction. At age fourteen, she got her career start in 13 on Broadway because she has the range. A year later, she was cast alongside her 13 co-star Elizabeth Gilles in Victorious. Although she's one of the older "before" entries on this list, her glow-up has been so dramatic that we feel like it counts anyway.
Shia LaBeouf might have had the biggest mental breakdown of any Disney Channel star from his generation, but no one made it as big of a deal about Demi or Miley's rough patches because he's a dude. Just sayin'. The Even Stevens star got his start with Disney at thirteen, and he actually won an Emmy Award for his work on the show in 2003. He then became an action star in the Transformers franchise briefly before becoming a performance artist and generally acting two crayons short of a box.
Say it with me, everyone: Mayim Bialik is a doctor of neuroscience. I know you know. You know I know you know. Let's just move past it. Before becoming a scientist playing a scientist on television for The Big Bang Theory, Mayim was better known as Blossom. At fourteen, she was the poster child for teen angst in the year 1990 on Blossom, but she had steadily been acting since age eleven because some people just aren't bad at things.
When one door closes, another door opens. Claire Danes became the new face of teen angst right before Blossom's cancelation in My So-Called Life, the best series to ever bless our television screens. Claire was fourteen during filming, but sadly, My So-Called Life was actually canceled at the same time as Blossom because we can't have nice things. So, I guess when one door closes, another door actually also closes.
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Emma Watson is only 28 years old, and she's already the poster child for aging gracefully. Imagine how spectacular she'll be when she's 80. We don't need to tell you that Emma got her start as Hermione in the Harry Potter film franchise. We practically grew up with the girl! She was only eleven when the first movie was released, and she continued with the franchise until she was 21. Now, Emma is a Brown University graduate, a UN Goodwill ambassador, a model, and an official Disney princess.
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Daniel Radcliff has not aged quite as well as Emma, but aside from the brief alcoholism and that Broadway play where he got a little too comfortable around horses, he's done pretty well considering he was given the title role of the most beloved children's franchise of all time at eleven years old. Although, TBH, the alcoholism kind of makes his stint on Broadway make more sense because you'd have to be drunk to agree to be the naked dude in Equus.
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The final actor rounding out our favorite trio of child stars is Rupert Grint, who was also eleven when he began filming the Harry Potter series. Like Emma, he had only done school plays and local theatre before being cast in Harry Potter, but he's been working steadily since. You know these kids a passion for acting because that film franchise must have given them more money than the Queen.
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It's difficult to not still think of Dakota Fanning as a child actress, possibly because she's been in the industry for so long and possibly because she didn't start looking like a grown up until roughly a year ago. That girl has been twelve for like a decade. Dakota has graced our screens, big and small, since she was six. Now, she's in her mid-twenties and is doing adult things like starring in Quentin Tarantino movies and filing taxes.
Raven-Symoné is known by some as the tiny child on The Cosby Show, which was a better deal a few years ago but now is just a little uncomfortable. Others remember her as Raven on That's So Raven. She had so many iconic roles before age sixteen, it's amazing she hasn't just decided to go retire at thirty and buy a private island with her piles and piles of money. She currently is reprising her role as Raven Baxter on the That's So Raven reboot.
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It was touch and go there with Lindsay Lohan for a while. The child star who brought us The Parent Trap, Mean Girls, and Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen starting partying pretty hard, went to rehab a bunch of times, and then almost converted to Islam and started speaking with a vaguely Eastern European accent. Luckily, she's back now and is successfully running her Grecian night club empire on a ridiculously entertaining MTV reality show.
Fred Savage has continued acting since his wildly successful time as a child actor, but nothing he's done has managed to live up to how iconic The Wonder Years and The Princess Bride were. Maybe that's why his Wikipedia picture is of Fred as a thirteen-year-old. He's also dabbled in directing and producing, and he attended Stanford University in the late 1990s.
Ben Savage is really just a slightly smaller Fred Savage, visually and also as an actor. Ben also attended Stanford, starred on a hyper-famous sitcom (for Ben, it was Boy Meets World, where he played the titular boy), and recently Ben reprised his role as Cory Matthews on the Disney Channel reboot Girl Meets World. Ben has also not really replicated the success of his youth in his older years, but Boy Meets World is the gift that keeps on giving.
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Alyson Hannigan had a pretty standard life for a kid growing up in the valley. She went to North Hollywood High School, then CSUN, and did a bunch of commercials. Where her life differs is that she actually secured gigs in a movie, My Stepmother Is An Alien, and a television series, Free Spirit on ABC. Funnily enough, she also babysat for her future How I Met Your Mother costar Bob Saget around that time.
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Another Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World star that's all grown up is Danielle Fishel who plays Topanga Lawrence. She's hosted various talk shows since including The Dish, The Fuse 20, and Say What? Karaoke and was in a handful of National Lampoon movies. She grew up to be as much of a total sweetheart as her on-screen persona.
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Rounding out our "Where Are They Now?" of Boy Meets World stars, Rider Strong is *also* best known for his role, Shawn Hunter, on Girl Meets World and Boy Meets World. Was that show cursed or something? He's been in more projects than his fellow co-stars, including appearances in Kim Possible and Star vs. the Forces of Evil, and he graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University.
Christina Ricci is underrated. She's had amazing roles in Penelope, Pan Am, and Speed Racer (which BTW are all underrated as well), been in big name films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Sleepy Hollow, and every time she changes her hairstyle she looks like an entirely different person. Her long career began in 1990 with Mermaids and 1991 as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family films.
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Alyssa Milano has become a well-intentioned but occasionally controversial activist, and she's remembered for a ton of leading roles on beloved television shows including Melrose Place, Charmed, and Who's The Boss?. Her starring role on Who's The Boss> came to her when she was only twelve, and she had already been a working actress for four years at that point. This is the poster child for child actresses with staying power.
Drew Barrymore is a genre-spanning icon with a three-plus decade career, and she's only in her forties. Like horror? Try Scream or Santa Clarita Diet. Like rom-coms? 50 First Dates, Never Been Kissed, or Ever After might be right for you. Spies? Charlie's Angels. Drama? Riding In Cars With Boys. The list goes on. She had an iconic start, too, as a child actress in E.T..
Hilary Duff's iconic Disney Channel show Lizzie McGuire was a victim of Disney's 65 episode rule, in which all shows had to be canceled after 65 episodes. That rule ended in the early '00s with Kim Possible, but it's so sad to think of how long Lizzie McGuire could have continued, even after its feature-length film ending. The tween icon is still killing the game and has more than a handful of iconic roles under her belt.
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Does Macaulay Culkin still act? No, seriously. What is he up to? Last I heard, the Home Alone star had broken up with Mila Kunis, started a pizza-themed comedy rock band, and turned down a leading role in The Big Bang Theory
Mark-Paul Gosselaar is still hot. He was hot when he was 15 and we were like seven during Saved By The Bell, and he's hot now as a forty-something. He decided to pursue acting full-time during the Saved By The Bell primetime follow-up series, and after a short dry spell, his starring role on NYPD Blue jump-started his adult career, and he's had steady work in television ever since.
The Reigning Queen of California reclaimed her throne when she decided to join the reboot of The Hills in 2018, but Mischa Barton is more than just Marissa Cooper. She got her start at age nine, and she appeared in the acclaimed film The Sixth Sense only four years later. Even when she's been going through it personally, she's continued to act in high-profile roles... and Dancing With The Stars.
Neil Patrick Harris has been on Broadway, has the most envy-inducing family in America, and was the first openly gay man to host the Oscars. Before portraying Barney Stinson or Count Olaf, Neil was the title character in Doogie Howser, MD, a show about a boy-genius doctor. The series ran for almost one hundred episodes on primetime, and it's super impressive that a fifteen-year-old (who would end the show as a twenty-year-old) could be the face of such a massive series without totally burning out.
The most amazing thing about Seth Green's days as a child actor is that he also appeared in the 1988 film My Stepmother Is An Alien alongside his future Buffy The Vampire Slayer love interest, Alyson Hannigan. He started acting four years before at age ten and has had a fruitful career as a voice actor and comedic actor. Notable roles include the Scooby Doo franchise, Family Guy, and Guardians Of The Galaxy.
No one really thinks of Leonardo DiCaprio as a child actor. Honestly, it seems like most people think of him as that guy who finally won an Academy Award, but a child actor he was. He was fired from his first job at the age of five for being disruptive, which is fair because he was five. By fourteen, he had gotten it together and was appearing on The New Lassie. And yes, that was about Lassie the dog.
Kyle Massey rode the That's So Raven train for a long time. From age twelve until age seventeen he played Corey Baxter on Raven and it's Kyle-centric spin-off Corey In The House, but has not returned for the original series' reboot Raven's Home. He was a main voice role on Fish Hooks for the Disney channel from 2010 to 2014, but he hasn't done much since exempting a brief stint on DWTS.
Nicholas Hoult was a troubled teen heartthrob on Skins UK, but before that, he was a twelve-year-old kid acting alongside a troubled heartthrob (Hugh Grant) in About A Boy. His career has yet to faulter, with an appearence as recently as 2018 in an Oscar-nominated film, The Fvaourite. The Brit has also portrayed J. D. Salinger and Nikola Tesla since becoming a full-fledged adult.
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Has any child actor been in more critically-acclaimed movies than Haley Joel Osment? He recieved an Academy Award nomination for The Sixth Sense at eleven years old, and he had a major role in Forrest Gump. These days, he lends his voice to characters in the Kingdom Hearts video game series and has appeared in live-action adult roles for Kevin Smith and alongside Zac Efron.
Alexa Vega now goes by Alexa PenaVega, which isn't the only thing that has changed since her Spy Kids days. She's also appeared on Dancing With The Stars (honestly, we're shocked there have only been three DWTS contestants so far), had a baby with another on the way, and has been in a lot of mediocre action films. Nothing can live up to the majesty of Spy Kids and the Thumb Thumbs.
Remember when Sabrina The Teenage Witch didn't look like it was meant to be an A21 horror film? Those were the good ol' days. Although to be fair, we also love the gothic, creepy Sabrina. The clean-cut '90s Sabrina starred none other than Melissa Joan Hart, who got her start as Clarissa in Clarissa Explains It All when she was fifteen. She also used to run a candy shop in the valley called SweetHarts.
Michelle Trachtenberg was fifteen when she first appeared on Buffy as the least necessary character ever Dawn Summers, but she already looked weirdly old for her age. By the time she appeared on Gossip Girl as Georgina Sparks, I would have believed she was a super glamorous 30-year-old. Before she mastered the art of the smoky eye, she was a lil 11-year-old in the charming Harriet the Spy movie.
The Karate Kid wasn't really a kid when Ralph Maccio portrayed the title role at age 23, but Ralph did get his start as a child actor in Up the Academy at age fourteen. He's been in awesome films like My Cousin Vinny and Crossroads but most people still can't hear his name without thinking, "Wax on, wax off." He's still portaying Daniel LaRusso, but now it's in a web television series that is continuing the original Karate Kid story.
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Freddie Highmore was the smallest child to ever exist, full stop. Look at his giant eyes! His tiny head! His floppy ears! Never has a child looked more like a child than Freddie playing Charlie in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory when he was twelve-years-old. I would believe he was seven. The British actor went full creepy as Norman Bates in the acclaimed series Bates Motel and plays an autistic doctor on The Good Doctor.
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Alyson Stoner never got her time as a *star* on Disney Channel, and we're still pressed about it. It's up there on the list of Disney injustices along with never giving Drew Seeley his own musical and allowing Bizzardvaark to become a thing. In 2003, a ten-year-old Alyson had her first big movie role in Cheaper By The Dozen, and the actress has also had a thriving career as a backup dancer.
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If you thought Dakota Fanning was a tiny child, you should see Elle Fanning act alongside her in her first movie role as a younger version of Dakota's character in I Am Sam. Elle was only three years old, making her the youngest debut on this list. She's had a great career in indie films, including multiple movies directed by Sofia Coppola, and Elle is a darling in the fashion world.
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Best known for her role as Alex Dunphy in Modern Family, Ariel Winter has had an interesting foray into adulthood. She hasn't done anything that *bad* per se, but she's had some, um, interesting outfit choices since her glow up. That's all I'm gonna say. She made her film debut in 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starring Robert Downey Jr. when she was only seven years old.
Zendaya was fourteen when she began her starring role on Shake It Up alongside Bella Thorne, and even then it was clear she was destined for greatness. She starred in K.C. Undercover for Disney *and* served as a producer on the series before leaving Disney Channel to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe as its new Mary Jane. She's best known for being the most amazing person to have ever been born.