17 Roles Where TV Stars Officially Became Movie Stars
Though we're in a golden age of TV now, with many movie stars returning to smaller series, the pipeline used to head the other way. For many decades, actors would toil away on the small screen for an indeterminate number of years until they got their big shot in a film, providing a chance to break out and rebrand themselves from "TV actor" to "movie star."
It's hard to imagine some of the names on this list not being stars, but they all started from the bottom before becoming headliners. Even with some notable TV roles under their belt, it took one high-quality film performance to get the world to take them seriously as big-screen actors. Here are the roles that made a splash on the silver screen and transformed TV stars into movie stars.
- 1155 VOTESPhoto: 20th Century Fox
Die Hard may be the first credit you think of when you think of Bruce Willis, but he first made his name as an actor on the ABC series Moonlighting in the '80s, where he played a sardonic private eye. Willis raised the stakes when he hit the big screen as John McClane, one of the most famous action heroes of all time.
His heroic performance saving Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard earned Willis the lead role in all five films of the franchise and many more starring gigs after that. It's all thanks to how he captured McClane's passionate determination, with a layer of jaded humor atop it all, including the delivery of his famous catchphrase, "Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker."
- Photo: Universal Pictures
Michael J. Fox is no stranger to TV since his career began on Family Ties from 1982-1989. In the middle of that show's run, however, Fox pocketed a movie role that would launch the rest of his career. Released in 1985, Back to the Future transformed the young actor into the star of a franchise. Marty McFly is arguably his most iconic role, despite a truly impressive list of credits since then.
Marty's adventures with Doc Brown - traveling to the past to make sure his young parents get together, then to the future to save his future children and family, then finally back to the 1800s to save Doc trapped in the past - turned Fox into a household name, and an A-list star. In his prime, he appeared in many movies and even returned to TV as the lead on Spin City, but it could not have happened without Back to the Future.
Early in his career, Chris Pratt was only known for playing messy-jerk-turned-lovable-idiot Andy Dwyer on Parks & Recreation. However, he went from the layabout who fantasized about being an agent (Burt Macklin, FBI) to a legitimate adventure hero as Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy.
He also made a physical transformation for the role, putting on large amounts of muscle to better embody an action hero. His ongoing role in the MCU proved he has the right blend of masculinity and charm to play leads in goofy, light-hearted fare like The Lego Movie or The Super Mario Bros. Movie, as well as action blockbusters like Jurassic World.
- Photo: Produzioni Europee Associate
Clint Eastwood is so acclaimed now that he practically defines a genre all on his own. His name is synonymous with Western films, but he first made his name on a Western television series, starring in Rawhide from 1959 to 1965. The success of that show led to him playing the "Man With No Name" in Sergio Leone's trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns.
Eastwood's character went by a different name in each film - "Joe" in A Fistful of Dollars, "Manco" in For a Few Dollars More - but by the final movie in the trilogy, where Eastwood was called “Blondie,” he'd cemented his status on big-screen Westerns forever. Eastwood's gravitas in playing the aloof, anti-heroic stranger codified this character into a trope for generations to come and earned Eastwood a long career both in acting and directing.
- Photo: Paramount Pictures
Though we think of him as a larger-than-life, scene-nabbing star now, John Travolta had humble small-screen beginnings. He starred as Vinnie Barbarino on the '70s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter long before he broke into movies with his role as Tony Manero. Although it was not Travolta's first film role (he played Billy Nolan in Carrie, for example), Saturday Night Fever was what cemented Travolta as a star who could draw audiences on his performance alone.
Travolta's disco performance showed his inherent charm and his wide range of performing talents made Travolta one of the youngest-ever nominees for an Academy Award for Lead Actor. The success of this dance film led to another musical movie, Grease, a year later in 1978, and Travolta continued to enjoy success in a wide variety of genres.
- Photo: Universal Pictures
Carell made his name playing Michael Scott on The Office, but another well-meaning but socially awkward character earned him his place as a film star. The 40-Year-Old Virgin came out around the same time as The Office and showed that Carell's talent could not be limited to the small screen.
As Andy Stitzer, Carell managed to portray a blend of shyness and social ineptitude that made audiences laugh and sympathize with him as he attempted to lose his virginity at 40. Whether trying to lie to his friends about having touched breasts before or earnestly entering into a romantic relationship, Carell managed a hilarious show of pathos. This hit film, combined with his success on The Office, led to his long career with both comedic and dramatic roles.