Entertainment

The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First  

Greg Stopera
11.5k votes 974 voters 22.6k 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
Danny DeVito is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Taxi (1978-1983)
3
Woody Harrelson is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Cheers (1985-1993)
4
Bruce Willis is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Moonlighting (1985-1989)
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
Idris Elba is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
The Wire (2002–2004)
7
Helen Hunt is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Mad About You (1992-1999)
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
Sally Field is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Gidget (1965-1966), The Flying Nun (1967-1970)
10
Morgan Freeman is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
The Electric Company (1971-1977)
11
Robin Williams is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Mork & Mindy (1978-1982)
12
Will Smith is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
13
Bill Murray is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Saturday Night Live (1977-1980)
14
Jim Carrey is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
In Living Color (1990-1994)
15
Denzel Washington is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
St. Elsewhere (1982-1988)
16
Clint Eastwood is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Rawhide (1959-1966)
17
George Clooney is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
ER (1994-1999)
18
Burt Reynolds is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added Gunsmoke (1962–1965)
19
Ben Stiller is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added The Ben Stiller Show (1992–1993)
20
Meg Ryan is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added As the World Turns (1982-1984)
21
Teri Garr is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added Young Frankenstein, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dumb and Dumber
22
John Cleese is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Tom Islava added Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969–1974)
23
Pierce Brosnan is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Sazonana added Remington Steele (1982–1987)
24
Leslie Nielsen is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
Tom Islava added Airplane!, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, The Poseidon Adventure
25
Mary Tyler Moore is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Film Actors Who Got Famous on TV First
CraigAlarm added The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977)