Actors The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First  

Greg Stopera
9.3k votes 886 voters 22.1k views 78 items

List Rules Notable Actors Who Made It Big On TV Before Jumping To Movies

This is a list of famous film actors who got famous on TV first, as ranked by experts and fans alike. There are many routes an actor can take to make it big. Some actors start out on in theatre, while others start out in modeling. Many notable actors though start their careers in television.

Television, at one time, was the main gateway to film stardom. In some ways, it still is but now many film actors, like Steve Buscemi and Laura Dern have gone the other direction and found a very lucrative career on hit TV shows. Before the advent of cable -- and quality programming -- actors had to toil on low-rated sitcoms and mediocre dramas before finding that one movie script that could shoot them to superstardom. But sometimes, the actor finds superstardom on television. Massive, worldwide superstardom that easily parlays into film roles.

Many on this list can be considered the greatest actors who were famous on TV first. Actors like Tom Hanks, George Clooney, and Clint Eastwood. Latter generations of film and television fans will be surprised to find out a top-notch actor like Denzel Washington got his start as one of the cast members of "St. Elsewhere" or that Academy Award-winning actress Melissa Leo was one of the stars of "Homicide: Life On The Streets". Maybe this list will prompt them to Netflix a couple of those old episodes.

Please check out this list of top actors who had TV fame before becoming film stars and rank them. And if you don't see your favorite TV-turned-film actors here, feel free to add them so that others can vote for them.

1
487 48
Tom Hanks is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Tom Hanks Bosom Buddies (1980-1982)

2
146 58
Sally Field is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Sally Field Gidget (1965-1966), The Flying Nun (1967-1970)

3
130 56
Danny DeVito is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Danny DeVito Taxi (1978-1983)

4
222 134
Morgan Freeman is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Morgan Freeman The Electric Company (1971-1977)

5
122 64
Woody Harrelson is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Woody Harrelson Cheers (1985-1993)

6
106 55
Michael J. Fox is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Michael J. Fox Family Ties (1982-1989)

7
149 87
Bill Murray is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Bill Murray Saturday Night Live (1977-1980)

8
150 88
Bruce Willis is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Bruce Willis Moonlighting (1985-1989)

9
168 102
Robin Williams is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Robin Williams Mork & Mindy (1978-1982)

10
161 97
Denzel Washington is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Denzel Washington St. Elsewhere (1982-1988)

11
152 92
Clint Eastwood is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Clint Eastwood Rawhide (1959-1966)

12
88 44
Billy Crystal is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Billy Crystal Soap (1977-1981)

13
152 93
Will Smith is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Will Smith The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)

14
167 106
Johnny Depp is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Johnny Depp 21 Jump Street (1987-1991)

15
134 82
George Clooney is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
George Clooney ER (1994-1999)

16
87 46
James Garner is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
James Garner Maverick (1957-1962)

17
116 69
Eddie Murphy is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Eddie Murphy Saturday Night Live (1980-1984)

18
96 54
Jennifer Aniston is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Jennifer Aniston Friends (1994-2004)

19
88 49
Michael Douglas is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Michael Douglas The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1976)

20
90 51
Dan Aykroyd is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Dan Aykroyd Saturday Night Live (1975-1979)

21
104 64
John Travolta is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
John Travolta Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-1979)

22
103 67
Jamie Foxx is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Jamie Foxx In Living Color (1991-1994)

23
87 55
Marisa Tomei is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Marisa Tomei A Different World (1987)

24
81 50
Christopher Lloyd is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Christopher Lloyd Taxi (1978-1983)

25
100 66
Jim Carrey is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Jim Carrey In Living Color (1990-1994)

26
77 49
Steve Carell is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Steve Carell The Office (2005-2011)

27
68 42
Goldie Hawn is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Goldie Hawn Good Morning, World (1967-1968), Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1968-1970)

28
73 48
Ryan Reynolds is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Ryan Reynolds Two Guys and a Girl (1998–2001)

29
74 51
Tim Allen is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Tim Allen Home Improvement (1991-1999)

30
68 46
John Belushi is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
John Belushi Saturday Night Live (1975-1979)

31
61 41
Helen Hunt is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Helen Hunt Mad About You (1992-1999)

32
24 8
J.K. Simmons is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added J.K. Simmons Oz (1997–2003), Law & Order (1997–2010)

33
24 10
Robin Wright is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added Robin Wright Santa Barbara (1984–1988)

34
73 56
Alec Baldwin is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Alec Baldwin The Doctors (1980–1982), Knots Landing (1984–1985)

35
61 45
Greg Kinnear is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Greg Kinnear Talk Soup (1991–1995)

36
67 52
Queen Latifah is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Queen Latifah Living Single (1993–1998)

37
65 52
Idris Elba is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Idris Elba The Wire (2002–2004)

38
77 64
Will Ferrell is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Will Ferrell Saturday Night Live (1995–2002)

39
21 10
Ray Liotta is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added Ray Liotta Another World (1978-1981)

40
21 10
Mary Tyler Moore is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added Mary Tyler Moore The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977)

41
22 11
Chevy Chase is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added Chevy Chase Saturday Night Live (1975–1976)

42
60 50
Ryan Gosling is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Ryan Gosling The Mickey Mouse Club (1993–1995)

43
20 11
Ben Stiller is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added Ben Stiller The Ben Stiller Show (1992–1993)

44
21 13
Burt Reynolds is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added Burt Reynolds Gunsmoke (1962–1965)

45
18 10
Teri Garr is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added Teri Garr Young Frankenstein, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dumb and Dumber

46
69 62
Adam Sandler is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Adam Sandler Saturday Night Live (1990–1995)

47
19 12
Meg Ryan is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added Meg Ryan As the World Turns (1982-1984)

48
60 54
Cher is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Cher The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (1971–1974)

49
50 45
Pat Morita is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Pat Morita Happy Days (1975-1976, 1982-1983)

50
54 51
Chris Farley is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Chris Farley Saturday Night Live (1990–1995)