Entertainment

The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First 

Greg Stopera
13.6k votes 1.3k voters 23.3k 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.

list ordered by
1
Tom Hanks is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Bosom Buddies (1980-1982)
2
Woody Harrelson is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Cheers (1985-1993)
3
Bruce Willis is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Moonlighting (1985-1989)
4
Danny DeVito is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Taxi (1978-1983)
5
Johnny Depp is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
21 Jump Street (1987-1991)
6
Helen Hunt is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Mad About You (1992-1999)
7
Idris Elba is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
The Wire (2002–2004)
8
Michael J. Fox is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Family Ties (1982-1989)
9
Will Smith is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
10
Jim Carrey is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
In Living Color (1990-1994)
11
Steve Carell is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
The Office (2005-2011)
12
Denzel Washington is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
St. Elsewhere (1982-1988)
13
Morgan Freeman is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
The Electric Company (1971-1977)
14
Tim Allen is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Home Improvement (1991-1999)
15
Sally Field is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Gidget (1965-1966), The Flying Nun (1967-1970)
16
Jennifer Aniston is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Friends (1994-2004)
17
Robin Williams is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Mork & Mindy (1978-1982)
18
Bill Murray is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Saturday Night Live (1977-1980)
19
Eddie Murphy is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Saturday Night Live (1980-1984)
20
Michael Douglas is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1976)
21
Alec Baldwin is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
The Doctors (1980–1982), Knots Landing (1984–1985)
22
Clint Eastwood is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Rawhide (1959-1966)
23
George Clooney is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
ER (1994-1999)
24
John Travolta is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-1979)
25
James Garner is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Maverick (1957-1962)