Films that Launched the Dramatic Careers of Family Movie Stars


This week, we saw the trailer for The Woman in Black, the project that is to be Daniel Radcliffe’s first post-Potter film. Though we have faith in Radcliffe as an actor, we’re not sure that this film will be the one that launches him into dramatic films, per se — maybe it’s just us, but all we can see in this video is Harry Potter dressed up as a lawyer running from Voldemort — but you never know. Either way, the trailer got us thinking about films that have launched the dramatic careers of actors who previously primarily starred in family or kids’ films. This kind of list relies on largely subjective data, and therefore is definitely an arguable one, so let us know what you think of our picks in the comments.

Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon, 1999

Jim Carrey became a household name in the early nineties for the mildly horrible Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, a film that delighted potty-mouthed children and teenagers everywhere. Though he followed it with more respectable fare — The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Batman Forever — he remained largely a children’s hero and family movie star (we still count The Truman Show as a family movie, though we admit it’s debatable) until his portrayal of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, for which he won his second Golden Globe.

Macaulay Culkin in Saved!, 2004

Macaulay Culkin was a child star who will probably go down in history as the kid from Home Alone. However, he did star in numerous other family films until about 1994 when he filmed Richie Rich, and after which there was a nine year gap before Culkin’s next appearance in a film. However, he only hit on a winner in 2004, when he was one of the best parts of Saved!, the comedy/drama about a Christian high school. We hope to see more in this vein from Culkin, although his brothers are hot on his heels.

Christina Ricci in Buffalo ’66, 1998

Until 1997, we basically thought Christina Ricci was just Wednesday Adams. And who can blame us? She was perfect in the role (although we admit, we also liked her in Casper). In 1997, Ricci transitioned into a more grown up role in The Ice Storm, but it wasn’t until Buffalo ’66, in 1998 and then The Opposite of Sex that she really showed her chops as a dramatic actress. She’ll always be Wednesday Adams to us, though.

Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls, 2004

Sure, Mean Girls is largely a teen movie, but um, every adult we know really dug it, and it’s a far cry from Lohan’s previous work: Freaky Friday was only a year before and The Parent Trap was her claim to fame before that. More important is that the film marked Lohan as a budding talent, an actress whose future dramatic career people were excited about. But, um, we all know what happened to that.

Shia LaBeouf in Transformers, 2007

No matter how many parts he’s had since then, Shia LaBeouf was basically that kid from Even Stevens until we saw him play a leading man in an action film, toting Megan Fox on one arm. Sure, we had a few doubts because of the whole robot element, but then he appeared looking strangely rough-and-tumble attractive in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and our minds were a little bit blown. Hello and welcome to manhood.

Dakota Fanning in Man on Fire, 2004

Dakota Fanning is a little bit ahead of the pack, seeing as she switched from acting largely in family films to a great performance in the decidedly adult Man on Fire when she was only ten years old. You may argue that she’s just an adorable blonde prop, but since then, she’s done a mix of things in various genres, from War of the Worlds to Twilight to The Runaways, so we’re not sure what to think. Except that she’s pretty awesome and can probably do anything.

Mary Kate Olsen in The Wackness, 2008

Can you believe that the last movie Mary Kate was in before The Wackness was New York Minute? Okay, she had a cameo in Factory Girl, but we’re not really counting that. The Olsen twins are becoming adults in their own right without the help of more serious film roles, and only Mary Kate is continuing to pursue film. But given the charisma she brings to even small roles, and considering how excited we are to see her on screen (don’t tell anyone), we think she’ll be in the business for some time to come.

Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction, 2006

Will Ferrell made his name in film via family/teen movies like Old School, Elf, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Sure, some kinds of grown men love these movies too (and who can resist Elf?), but they’re widely acknowledged as silly fare. He appeared in more serious films like Melinda and Melinda and Winter Passing, but it wasn’t until Stranger than Fiction that he achieved wide recognition for a dramatic role. He’s still largely a comic actor, but with his recent critical success in Everything Must Go, we think he might be headed towards more drama and less drool.