Leonardo DiCaprio, Christina Ricci, Toby Maguire, Scarlett Johansson — they all started out as child actors. And while, sometimes, an early beginning in the biz can morph into an adult-size career, often being a child star can be the kiss of death. Time will tell what will become of the Dakota Fannings and Haley Joel Osments of the world. Perhaps they can learn something from the fates of these actors.
10. Anna Chlumsky, My Girl
A whole generation cried its eyes out at the romantic tragedy occasioned by a mere bee sting. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Just watch the movie: My Girl is a tween Crying Game.) Chlumsky turned in a lovely performance as a tomboy in this bittersweet coming-of-age story but getting roles in later years has proven difficult for her. Although she recently landed a part on 30 Rock — as Tina Fey’s doppelgänger, Liz Lemler — for us she’ll always be My Girl.
9. Austin O’Brien, Last Action Hero
If you remember this movie at all, you probably know it as the first bomb to blemish Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career. (That is, before he became governor.) One of the more distracting elements of the picture is the child-tagalong role played by Austin O’Brien. Last Action Hero wasn’t the young actor’s last movie job, but it might just as well have been. His next starring role was in the equally forgettable My Girl 2.
8. Jonathan Ke Quan, The Goonies
Having starred first as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and then the gadget-obsessed Data in The Goonies, Ke Quan owes his career to Steven Spielberg — and Spielberg probably owes him an apology. Racial stereotyping aside, Ke Quan projected a genuinely precocious energy as a boy. But while fellow Goonies Sean Astin and Josh Brolin went on to big-screen successes, he never found his own Lord of the Rings or No Country for Old Men. Too bad.
7. Jonathan Lipnicki, Jerry Maguire
One thing I can’t stand is when kids are used as props in movies. Cherubic little dolls ready to extort sympathy. Where — pray tell — are the obnoxious little brats I see in real life every day? Nowhere in Jerry McGuire. Lipnicki’s debut — as an adorable, bespectacled toddler in need of a father figure — will either melt your little heart or harden your anger at the whole world. Still, playing the perfect cute-child role in a hit movie doesn’t mean you’ll flourish as an adult actor.
6. Jake Lloyd, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Mark Hamill didn’t exactly have an extraordinary career after playing Luke Skywalker, but things could have been worse: he could have been Jake Lloyd, playing Anakin Skywalker, in The Phantom Menace. Lloyd’s performance has all the charm of watching a kid play a video game for two hours. George Lucas’s turgid script and lackluster directing are mostly to blame for that: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and even Samuel L. Jackson come off as stagnant, too.
5. Michael Oliver, Problem Child
Oliver’s role as a redheaded hell-raiser in Problem Child should have made him the preteen Malcolm McDowell. Like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, Oliver’s Junior was the ultimate trickster, and his was the ultimate anti-child-actor performance — obnoxious, grating, and deliciously evil. Oliver continued the mayhem in Problem Child 2 — an unaccountably great sequel, despite lackluster box-office returns — but it was the last audiences were to hear of Oliver’s maniacal laugh.
4. Fred Savage, The Princess Bride
Savage was a pleasure to watch in The Princess Bride, his face a transparent instrument communicating everything without ever saying a word. But his film roles never matched his memorable performance as Kevin Arnold on TV’s Wonder Years. Savage’s problem is that, even as an adult, he looks like a 12-year-old. After starring in the short-lived sitcom Working, Savage moved on to directing episodes of Party Down and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
3. Ralph Macchio, The Karate Kid
Let’s get this out of the way: I like Macchio. Whether it’s as Johnny in The Outsiders, Daniel in The Karate Kid, or even supporting Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny, he’s a distinctive actor who’s a joy to watch onscreen. But he probably overdid a good thing — yes, I’m talking about The Karate Kid‘s multiple sequels, which all but ensured that Macchio would remain in moviegoers’ minds forever the shy kid from New Jersey who crane kicked his way to a sense of self-worth.
2. Macaulay Culkin, Home Alone
Hollywood’s pint-size answer to J.D. Salinger, Culkin wasn’t able to build on his early stardom. After the blockbuster Home Alone and a darker role in The Good Son, it appeared as though he were in the biz for the long haul. But Culkin threw it all away. Likely overwhelmed by stardom, he pulled a disappearing act after 1994’s Ri¢hie Ri¢h. Although he’s resurfaced in recent years in low-key roles (Saved!, Party Monster), it’s unlikely he’ll return to the heights of yore.
1. Shirley Temple, Curly Top
Yes, we’re taking it old-school with this one. Temple was one of the biggest stars of the thirties — and one of the youngest. Starting at the age of 3, she delighted Depression-era audiences with her dancing, singing, and winsome personality. But so ingrained was the image of Temple as a living doll that the actress found it difficult to play even teen roles. Despite being an icon for her age, Temple earns our top spot. Baby, take a bow.