Major TV Stars Who Made A Serious Comeback On The Big Screen

List Rules
Vote up the TV stars who nailed their big-screen comebacks.

Success is a double-edged sword for TV actors. Sometimes, those popular shows they appear on end up becoming an albatross around their necks, as they struggle to find juicier roles that match their talents. For a few actors, they accept they have peaked and move on at a snail's pace through the entertainment industry, while others seek career resurgences that merit their talent. Often, this second wind comes in the world of film.

There are fantastic comeback stories that have turned everything around for the actors, and that's exactly what we are about to explore here. From Patrick Stewart stepping out of the shadow of Jean-Luc Picard to pick up Cerebro as Professor Xavier to Zachary Levi ascending from Chuck Bartowski to superhero in Shazam!, let's take a look at the big TV stars who made a monumental comeback on the silver screen.


  • As Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Sir Patrick Stewart captured the hearts and minds of Trekkies around the world, as well as becoming a meme god. It was a solid gig, too, allowing him seven years of major stardom from 1987 to 1994. Stewart never disappeared off the face of the planet afterwards, though, as he reprised his role in the Star Trek movies and had bit parts in other films and shows. However, he could never quite shake off the shadow of Picard and the Enterprise until 2000.

    Appearing in X-Men as Professor Charles Xavier, Stewart reinvented himself as the telepathic mutant and leader of the superhero team. It's a role that endeared him to a new generation of fans, as well as being a part he has played for two decades afterwards.

    80 votes
  • The late Pat Morita might be better known to fans as the wise, kind, and butt-kicking Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid series; however, he had a successful career as a comedian before moving into action flicks. In the sitcom Happy Days, Morita played the role of Arnold - the owner of Arnold's Drive-In - who shows up in several seasons of the series. Around this same era in the '70s, Morita also starred as the lovable Ah Chew in another popular sitcom, Sanford and Son.

    1984's The Karate Kid afforded Morita the opportunity to write himself into pop culture lore as Mr. Miyagi - the mentor and friend everyone wishes they had in their lives. Undoubtedly, it's also the role he is best remembered for.

    65 votes
  • Most people dream of doing one singular thing that will leave an undeniable mark on the world. Actors do, too. However, there are times when the fame they achieve for one role could hamstring future opportunities. For Henry Winkler, his performance as the Fonz in Happy Days is fondly remembered and celebrated by TV audiences. Yet, it resulted in him being typecast and having to go into producing and directing after the acting roles dried up.

    Out of nowhere, the 1998 Adam Sandler comedy The Waterboy changed everything for Winkler, kickstarting a resurgence in his career and giving him a second chance at acting. In the film, the actor plays Coach Klein who encourages Bobby Boucher to go from waterboy to college football star. More importantly, it's a much different character than the Fonz, showcasing that Winkler's comedic range is vaster than expected.

    67 votes
  • When it comes to hopping between TV and film, is there anyone who has done it better than Neil Patrick Harris? His first foray from TV to movie star proves to be utterly hilarious purely because he portrays what he knows best: himself.

    After Harris achieved success on Doogie Howser, M.D., he needed something different to demonstrate he was more than a teen sitcom star. In 2004's Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Harris plays an exaggerated version of himself in the raunchy stoner comedy, showing he isn't afraid to get silly or make fun of himself for a role. Plus, it helped him wave goodbye to Doogie Howser once and for all.

    49 votes
  • For years, Evangeline Lilly was seen only as Kate Austen from the sci-fi series Lost. It's understandable since it's a major part, with Kate featuring in all the action and shocking twists. In fact, after Lost ended, it took Lilly five years to break free from the shackles of being seen as a one-show wonder. It wasn't The HobbitReal Steel, or even The Hurt Locker that freed her but the glorious shared universe beast known as the MCU.

    In 2015's Ant-Man, Lilly plays Hope van Dyne who becomes the stinging superhero known as the Wasp. It isn't a one-and-done deal, though, as the Wasp has gone on to become an integral part of the MCU and the Ant-Man franchise, which has allowed Lilly more opportunities to buzz around and reprise the part.

    42 votes
  • When it comes to sitcoms, there's arguably no bigger name than the late Mary Tyler Moore. She made a generation of viewers chuckle until their TV dinners hurt their stomachs on The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, racking up a litany of awards and changing the perception of women in TV throughout the '60s and '70s.

    Unsatisfied with only impacting two decades, she started off the '80s with a bang by bagging an Academy Award nomination for her stirring performance as Beth Jarrett in 1980's drama classic Ordinary People. More importantly, the movie demonstrates that Moore was more than a comedic actress and had the necessary dramatic chops as well.

    39 votes