14 '90s Movie Stars Who 'Retired' To TV Stability

List Rules
Vote up the actors whose TV work lives up to their movie careers.

There is nothing as fickle as film stardom. This is why the ever-growing list of movie stars who've made the transition to television makes more and more sense as time passes. Why struggle to find the next major motion picture when you can get steady work on one of the many long-running shows that the various networks, channels, and streaming services are always on the lookout for? Television stability is nothing to turn your nose up at.

Look at how everyone from Chris O'Donnell and James Spader to Jennifer Beals and Christian Slater has found considerable success on the small screen after Hollywood seemed to turn its back on them. It's not like everyone can get a big-time gig playing a superhero, after all. So, let's reflect on the careers of some of the biggest stars of the '90s and how they ended up finding a second home on television.


  • 1
    408 VOTES

    The one-two-three late-'80s punch of The UntouchablesBull Durham, and Field of Dreams saw Kevin Costner become a Hollywood A-lister in a shockingly small amount of time. Then, in 1990, Costner directed and starred in Dances with Wolves and he became, basically, the biggest star on the planet as a result. That is what happens when the most important movie of your career wins seven Academy Awards and rakes in over $400 million. Though Costner still shows up in films from time to time, his big-name power isn't what it once was.

    Of course, he is also the face of one of the biggest shows on television at the current moment: Yellowstone. Starring as John Dutton has reaffirmed Costner's status as one of the most prominent actors of his generation and being the face of a television show of Yellowstone's scale certainly won't hurt his legacy. Seriously, the show has three spin-off projects in various stages of production! That's insane!

    408 votes
  • 2
    377 VOTES

    Michael J. Fox made the leap from the sitcom star of Family Ties to a genuine box-office draw on the back of a little movie you might've heard of: Back to the Future. Though he would never again reach the lofty heights that the Back to the Future franchise would afford him, Fox was still a big name in the '90s. Doc Hollywood, Homeward Bound: The Incredible JourneyThe American President, and a little hit called Stuart Little made sure of that.

    Still, Fox found himself returning to television a mere seven years after Family Ties ended to play Mike Flaherty on over a hundred episodes of Spin City. It's hard to say what his career would've turned into after this had his debilitating Parkinson's disease not thrown a wrench into everything. After all, there are more important things than acting, and Fox has managed to live a fantastic life with his wife and four kids despite everything Parkinson's has thrown at him. He's also managed to make a season-long return to television with The Michael J. Fox Show in 2013, as well as numerous guest-starring roles over the years.

    377 votes
  • 3
    393 VOTES

    After playing small roles on film and television throughout the 1970s, Danny DeVito came to national prominence thanks to the oft-forgotten sitcom hit, Taxi. Once Taxi went off the air, DeVito made the jump from the small screen to the big screen seem easy. Terms of EndearmentRomancing the StoneTwins, and The War of the Roses are just a few of the '80s projects he starred in. The '90s were just as nice to DeVito, with Batman BeginsGet ShortyHercules, and The Rainmaker keeping him in the public eye.

    And though DeVito continues to get steady work in Hollywood films, there is one gig from the past few decades that has come to define his entire career: Frank Reynolds on the seemingly never-ending cringe sitcom, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It doesn't matter if his latest film flops at the multiplex... It's Always Sunny is simply waiting in the wings for DeVito to return.

    393 votes
  • 4
    319 VOTES

    The numerous eras of James Spader's career are something to behold. The Boston-born thespian first hit the scene as a member of the '80s Brat Pack, starring in movies like Pretty in PinkMannequinLess Than Zero, and Wall Street. 1989's Sex, Lies, and Videotape introduced him as an actor who wasn't afraid of outside-of-the-box roles and parts in movies like StoryvilleStargate, Crash, and Secretary followed. After that, Spader became a major television star as he played Alan Shore on The Practice and Boston Legal from 2003 to 2008. This role not only made him a prime-time TV mainstay, but also netted Spader three Emmy awards.

    Beginning in 2013, Spader entered yet another phase of his illustrious career as he began portraying Raymond "Red" Reddington on The Blacklist. The NBC crime drama was picked up, yet again, for a 10th season, meaning Spader won't be finished as Red anytime soon. Since returning to a regular television role, Spader has only appeared in two films - 2014's The Homesman and 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron - but he clearly isn't hurting for money or work.

    319 votes
  • By way of being the son of famous actor Donald Sutherland and starring in '80s classics like Stand by MeThe Lost Boys, and Young Guns, Kiefer Sutherland became an actor on the rise by his mid-20s. The young Sutherland would continue working at a blistering pace throughout the 1990s, showing up in varied projects including FlatlinersA Few Good Men, A Time to Kill, and Dark City, just to name a few.

    In 2001, Sutherland began the role that would end up defining his entire career: 24's Jack Bauer. In the streaming era of television, it's somewhat difficult to convey just how big a hit 24 was. In a time where everything on television (outside of HBO) was basically all the same, 24 came along with a hook of playing out in real-time and shook everything up. It was violent. It was a critical darling. And, most importantly, it was a hit for Fox. Nowadays, Sunderland remains a television draw, with Designated Survivor, The Fugitive, and The First Lady continuing to prove his small-screen bonafides.

    283 votes
  • 6
    320 VOTES

    Kathy Bates broke free of the traditional restraints that the term "character actor" generally put on a career thanks to her star-making turn in 1990's Misery. The rest of the decade would continue to be one full of major highs for Bates. Fried Green TomatoesDolores ClaiborneTitanicPrimary Colors, and The Waterboy are just part of the filmography that saw her become a genuine Hollywood player.

    Though she continues to appear in movies like Richard Jewell and The Highwaymen, Bates has become a constant force on television, as well. You don't get nominated for 14 Emmy awards by accident. She was the main character on the short-lived critics' favorite Harry's Law, has starred in numerous seasons of American Horror Story, and has shown up in everything from The Office and American Dad! to Feud: Bette and Joan and Six Feet Under.

    320 votes