It’s safe to say that acting, more often than not, is a life-long career among many in the industry. So life-long that many spend 50 or more years doing it, having started as mere kids.
But it is those same kids playing more or less key roles in older movies that we often miss and then end up surprised to learn that our now-famous favorites have actually starred in films we watched, but didn’t register their roles in them?
This is that list. Bored Panda presents a handful of movies and series from the good old days where now-famous actors played important roles that you may have missed when watching because they were kids.
And while you’re checking the list out, why not leave upvotes and comments on the submissions you remember watching back in the day!
Note: the images are presented with the actor's role when they were kids on the top, and one of their more recent roles at the bottom for comparison.
Laurence Fishburne As Josh West Hall In One Life To Live (1974–1976)
Laurence Fishburne, or more commonly known as Morpheus, cause let’s face it, he is the face of the character, is best known for his role in the Matrix trilogy of sci-fi movies that gave many of us existential dread back in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.
But despite him being best known for the above, remember that he has been an actor nearly 50 years now, and was credited in over 120 films and series through that time. So, it will quite likely come as a surprise that he was a child actor too, having played the likes of Josh West Hall in One Life To Live (1974–1976) as well as Wilford Robinson in Cornbread, Earl and Me (1975).
Fun fact: One Life To Live, according to IMDB, has been on for quite a huge chunk of the average lifetime of a human being. The show started back in 1968 and is said to have lasted right until 2013 with Erika Slezak being credited in over 2,200 of the episodes. Fishburne is credited in 15 of them.
Jodie Foster As Becky Thatcher In Tom Sawyer (1973)
Across her 50+ year career, Jodie Foster has played a vast variety of roles, including Contact (1997), Taxi Driver (1976), and most notably The Silence Of The Lambs (1991). But one of the roles that you might have not noticed was as Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer, particularly the 1973 adaptation also starring Johnny Whitaker and Celeste Holm.
Jake Gyllenhaal As Danny Robbins In City Slickers (1991)
The western-themed comedy City Slickers from 1991 got together a number of great actors, like Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Phill Lewis, Jeffrey Tambor, Jack Palance and many more. Among the cast was also Jake Gyllenhaal, star of Brokeback Mountain, Nightcrawler, and Prisoners, who played Mitch Robbins’ son Danny.
Jerry O’Connell As Vern Tessio In Stand By Me (1986)
This is one of those situations where the actor as a kid looks nothing like the actor as an adult. And here we are talking about Jerry O’Connell, who was featured in movies such as Kangaroo Jack, Sliders, Mission to Mars, among many others in his 35-year-long career.
If you haven’t noticed, O’Connell also played Vern Tessio, one of the four boys in Stand By Me. In the movie, he and his 3 friends were searching for a missing dead body of a kid named Ray Browers in Castle Rock, Oregon.
Mila Kunis As Jill In Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves! (1997)
If you’re an ‘80s or even a ‘90s kid, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of either Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989) or Honey, I Blew Up The Kid (1992). Well, five years later, another installment in the franchise was released and that was Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves (1997), which starred Mila Kunis as Jill. While it wasn’t a big role, it was still a significant one, so it was possible to overlook that when watching it for the first time.
Christian Bale As Jim Hawkins In Treasure Island (1990)
While many remember Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (2000) or the Dark Knight himself in the Batman franchise (2005-2012), remember that he’s been in film ever since the mid ‘80s. And that means that most won’t have noticed that he was that kid in Treasure Island from 1990 (that kid being Jim Hawkins).
Sean Astin As Mikey In The Goonies (1985)
Believe it or not, Mikey from the Goonies was one of Sean Astin’s first ever roles in movies, before that being TV movies The Rules of Marriage (1982) and Please Don’t Hit Me, Mom (1981). And if you’re still scratching your head and wondering who he is, he’s Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003).
Kristen Stewart As Sarah Altman In Panic Room (2002)
Many of us had probably never heard of Kristen Stewart before her starring role as Bella Swan in the vampire-themed romance fantasy Twilight Saga (2008-2011). There was also Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), but I can already hear Twilight fans already reviving the Team Edward vs Team Jacob debate, so let’s leave it at that.
Anyway, the then 12-year-old Stewart played Sarah Altman—a diabetic daughter of a divorced woman, both of whom take refuge in the safe room of their newly purchased house when three men break in, searching for a missing fortune—in 2002’s Panic Room.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Oliver In The Juror (1996)
Did you know that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was actually one of the students seen in 1992’s Beethoven? Well, that’s a relatively minor role, but he was right there, front and center (almost), and the more you know!
However, one of the bigger roles that he played that you may have not noticed was Oliver, son of Annie Laird (played by Demi Moore) in the Juror (1996). Annie played the main role as a juror in a mob boss’ trial, making her son Oliver one of the key characters there too.
Brie Larson As One Of The Six Chicks In 13 Going On 30 (2004)
Before becoming the face of Captain Marvel in 2019’s movies Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, Brie starred in Room, Short Term 12, and a number of other feature films, including 13 Going On 30 (2004). In it, she was one of the cool kids clique called the Six Chicks. Besides bearing less resemblance to her current grown-up self (compared to, say, Elijah Wood), she was also credited as Six Chick #3, so having no name might have added to the fact that not many noticed her here.
Natalie Portman As Mathilda In Léon: The Professional (1994)
While people may debate whether it was the ‘80s or the ‘90s that were the “golden age” of action films, both decades boast their fair share of movies within the genre. Enter Léon: The Professional (1994), a crime-action drama about a 12-year-old girl whose family is murdered and she becomes a professional assassin. That 12-year-old is actually Natalie Portman. And she was actually around 13 at that point. And this was actually her first serious gig in film.
Scarlett Johansson As Katie Armstrong In Just Cause (1995)
You know Scarlett Johansson, right? The actress who played an artificially intelligent virtual assistant named Samantha in Her (2013) and Black Widow in the Avengers. Well, before (way before) this, she also did this one role of a little girl, Katie Armstrong, daughter of protagonist and lawyer Paul Armstrong (played by Sean Connery), in a movie you may have heard of—the 1995 mystery crime thriller Just Cause. Bonus fun fact—she was also Molly Pruitt in Home Alone 3.
Alyson Hannigan As Jessie Mills In My Stepmother Is An Alien (1988)
Before coming into some serious fame through her roles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), American Pie (1999), and How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014), Hannigan did a lot of TV series gigs with the exception of two feature films—Impure Thoughts (1986) and My Stepmother Is an Alien (1988), which were incidentally her first two in her acting career.
In the latter, she played the role of Jessie Mills, a daughter of Earth physicist Steven Mills who was being seduced by an alien disguised as Kim Basinger [cough]... I mean, Celeste Martin.
Ryan Gosling As Himself In The All New Mickey Mouse Club (1989-1995)
While Ryan Gosling has been in the acting scene for over 25 years now, many of us never really noticed him up until about ten years ago when he appeared in Blue Valentine (2010), and if not that, then Drive (2011), and if not that, then you definitely saw him in La La Land (2016).
But a little-known fact about Ryan is that he was one of the so-called Mouseketeers in the 1989 Mickey Mouse Club, appearing alongside Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Granted, he only appeared in 3 episodes (two in 1993 and one in 1995), but he was front and center there, and it’s something some of you may not have caught on to.
Kirsten Dunst As Campbell Mccoy In The Bonfire Of The Vanities (1990)
While many most likely remember her more from Spiderman, Melancholia or possibly even Little Women from 1994, Kirsten Dunst also made an appearance as Campbell McCoy in a couple of scenes in the Bonfire of the Vanities (1990). The movie also starred the likes of Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and Morgan Freeman.
Ethan Hawke As Ben Crandall In Explorers (1985)
Ethan Hawke is one of the busier actors in the industry, starring in at least 3 productions each year, with 2018 being one of his busiest. And this is besides doing some writing, producing and directing work along the way.
His very first star role in a feature film which you may not have noticed was in Explorers from 1985. There he played a boy named Ben who was a huge fan of science fiction movies and had a recurring dream about this one blueprint. He ended up redrawing it, gave it to his friend, and what happens next, well, you gotta watch the movie now.
Saoirse Ronan As Izzie In I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)
Yeah, this one’s from not that long ago, but did you actually catch Saoirse Ronan, Irish-American actress best known from her work in Hanna, Brooklyn, and the Lovely Bones, as Izzie in 2007’s I Could Never Be Your Woman starring Paul Rudd and Michelle Pfeiffer? She’s 27 as of this article, but back when she acted for the movie, she was 13.
Elijah Wood As Stu Simmons In The War (1994)
While Elijah Wood does look like someone who would look young no matter how many decades may pass, there was, in fact, a time when he was a kid, and a star at that. That was in the movie The War from 1994, where he played the son of Stephen Simmons (portrayed by Kevin Costner), a Vietnam vet who helps kids battle over a tree house all the while himself recovering from his war experience. Fun fact, it also starred a super young Lucas Black, who was also in The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006).
Seth Green As Egg In The Hotel New Hampshire (1984)
This one’s more of an honorable mention—Seth Green’s portrayal of 10-year-old Egg in the Hotel New Hampshire may not be a key-key character, but he does pop up in the spotlight on several occasions throughout the movie, making him very hard to miss.
This was also Green’s first real gig in the film industry, though he has spent much of his career afterwards in TV movies and series. In the over 40+ years that he’s been in acting, he is best known for his work in the Austin Powers franchise (1997-2002), the Italian Job (2003), Party Monster (2003), Robot Chicken (2005-2021), and Family Guy (1999-2021), among other productions.
Drew Barrymore As Gertie In E.t. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
When E.T. first came out back in 1982, it blew people’s minds with its cinematography and storyline, among other things. You know what else will blow your mind? The fact that Drew Barrymore played the role of Gertie there.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson As Charlie In Shanghai Knights (2003)
Not all movies in this list are from the past century—take, for example, Shanghai Knights, a light action-adventure comedy released in the early aughts. Besides the likes of the legendary Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson, you also had Aaron Taylor-Johnson (credited as just Aaron Johnson) playing the role of a young Charlie Chaplin. Since then, Aaron went on to bigger games like starring in Kick-Ass (2010-2013), Nocturnal Animals (2016), and Nowhere Boy (2009).
Elisabeth Moss As Lucky (Age 6) In Lucky Chances (1990)
Mini-series as a medium have been gaining popularity in the last several years, with masterpieces such as Chernobyl (2019) and the Queen’s Gambit (2020) being prime examples of it; it's not like the genre hasn’t existed before.
Back in 1990, we had a mini-series of just 3 episodes called Lucky Chances. It is based on romance novelist Jackie Collins’ books Chances (1981) and Lucky (1985) (see what they did there?). It revolves around one Gino Santangelo in the casino industry in Las Vegas. His daughter, Lucky, who is portrayed by then 8-year-old Elisabeth Moss, grows up to inherit his ‘gambling empire’ and the story follows her struggles with maintaining it.