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13 Teen Idols Who Successfully Transitioned Into Respected Actors

List RulesVote up the former teen idols who became legitimate actors.

The Hollywood landscape is littered with child actors who were never able to make the successful transition to adult actor. These teen actors who are still acting are the anomalies - the lucky ones.

For every Jennifer Connelly and Leonardo DiCaprio, there are a hundred Edward Furlongs and Corey Haims. There are a million reasons why young stars do not become successful adult actors. Perhaps, they fell into bad habits. Maybe they got hit with so much fame at such a young age that they didn’t know how to handle it. Perhaps, they simply just decided that acting and all the hoopla that goes along with being famous was not something they wanted to be a part of for the rest of their lives. 

These teen stars who became successful adults bucked the odds. Most made it a point to avoid roles that would further typecast them. Others simply had so much talent that they would not be denied a career that lasted past the age of 18. Vote up the most impressive transitions from teen fame to legitimate Hollywood staying power.

  • Photo: Warner Bros. / NBC

    Perhaps no Generation-X teen idol wooed more than Rob Lowe. Lowe, with his Cary Grant matinee idol looks and crystal blue eyes, became the signature heartthrob of the 1980s. His female fan base got their initial look at Lowe when he co-starred in the short-lived TV series A New Kind of Family. Then, his teen idol status grew in 1983 when he played Sodapop Curtis, among a cast of other teen idols, in Francis Ford Coppola's The Outsiders

    Lowe's early career defined him as a member of the "Brat Pack." The actor appeared regularly in magazines and the tabloids alongside other young Gen-X stars like Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, and Ally Sheedy. Lowe had a string of memorable '80s movies, including St. Elmo's Fire, Youngblood, and About Last Night.

    However, the actor revealed during a 2020 interview that he felt "objectified" in his teen idol days:

    You just happen to be the guy who is occupying a place in the zeitgeist at that moment for every hormonal teenage girl. And when they outgrow you or you outgrow it, there'll be somebody else... Donovan and Elvis and Bieber and Leo and it's going to go on and on and on. And you just happen to have a spot on the conveyor belt and half the time, they don't even know why they like you.

    In the '90s, when Lowe's career probably should have ended simply because he'd aged out of what made him so popular so fast, the actor found success in an unlikely place: comedy. Lowe landed several memorable roles in comedies like Wayne's World, Tommy Boy, and Austin Powers. Lowe typically worked as a villainous character.

    In 1999, the actor returned to his television roots - and what a return it turned out to be. Lowe played Deputy White House Communications Director Sam Seaborn on The West Wing. The critically acclaimed ensemble drama brought Lowe back into the homes of tens of millions of Americans and put himself back on the A-list. In 2010, the actor once again flexed his comedy muscles as Chris Traeger on Parks and Recreation.

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  • Zac Efron burst onto the tween scene thanks to his role as Troy Bolton in the High School Musical trilogy. Efron is perhaps the perfect 21st century teen idol. He's ridiculously handsome, he can sing and dance, and he became a key cog in the Disney idol-making machine. Troy Bolton is also the young man of every teen gal's dreams. The basketball captain is the most popular guy in school, who also happens to be super friendly and genuinely kind. 

    When the final film in the trilogy wrapped, Efron initially made more films with his teen fanbase in mind. In 2009, he starred in the PG-13 high school comedy 17 Again. The following year, he appeared in the PG-13 fantasy romance Charlie St. Cloud. But by the end of the decade, Efron seemed to make the decision to move more into adult roles to avoid being typecast forever. He explained why he turned down the opportunity to be in the 2011 musical remake Footloose

    I'm sure Footloose would have been a huge challenge, but the actors that I love and the actors that work really hard in this industry are always shaking things up, trying new genres, acquiring new skill sets. That's what’s always going to appeal to me: the unknown.

    In other words, he wanted to stop taking "high school" roles and transition to something more adult. Efron pumped up his physique and took a shot in the adult comedy department with 2014's raunchy, R-rated comedy Neighbors, opposite Seth Rogen. Efron's character, a frat guy with trouble on his mind, is a far cry from Troy Bolton.

    Neighbors helped audiences to see Efron as something more than a Disney child actor. Efron took his transition to adult roles a giant step further when he played real-life serial killer Ted Bundy in Netflix's Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.

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  • When Will Smith was 16 years old, he teamed up with Jeff Townes to form the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. The group made a concerted effort to keep their lyrics clean and family-friendly. In 1990, Smith successfully crossed over into acting, while bringing some elements of his own life into the narrative thread, for the hit sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The series stayed on the air for six seasons on the strength of Smith's charismatic personality, good looks, and natural talent.

    After the series wrapped in 1996, the teen idol could have easily been labeled as the "Fresh Prince" for life. However, the actor's transition to the big screen turned out to be just as successful as his transition from rapper to TV star.

    Smith quickly became the biggest movie star of the 1990s. The actor had a string of '90s blockbusters that cleaned up at the box office, including Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men in Black, and Enemy of the State. Both Bad Boys and Men in Black turned into lucrative franchises. 

    The actor proved he could also carry his weight in the drama department. He earned Academy Award nominations for his performance as Muhammad Ali in the biopic Ali and in the tear-jerker The Pursuit of Happyness. After inflation, Smith's films have grossed around $9 billion worldwide.

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  • Jennifer Connelly started modeling professionally with the Ford Agency at just 10 years old. She worked in television commercials, magazines, and newspapers. The fresh-faced Connelly regularly graced the cover of Seventeen magazine. 

    However, Connelly did not love modeling and wanted to try acting. She scored her first small part in Sergio Leone's 1984 epic Once Upon a Time in America when she was 12. It wasn't long before Connelly landed her first starring role. In 1986, she appeared as the teen heroine in Jim Henson's fantasy-adventure Labyrinth. The film disappointed at the box office but has gone on to become a cult classic. 

    She entered her 20s when young stars have the tough task of trying to transition to adult roles. The actress has admitted that her child acting days were difficult. She felt she didn't develop emotionally in her teen years because of her hectic work schedule. She added, "I didn't become a teenager until my twenties." 

    Connelly was known around the world as a teen idol and sex symbol. Finding adult roles proved to be difficult. Thankfully for Connelly, she eventually found rewarding work. Perhaps the grittiest role in her entire career came in Darren Arofonsky's 2000 drama Requiem for a Dream. Connelly plays an addict willing to sacrifice everything in order to score her next fix.

    In 2002, Connelly won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind. The actress has put together an impressive filmography of screen work with memorable performances in Little Children, Noah, and the TV series Snowpiercer.

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