10 Actors Who Successfully Reinvented Their Film Careers

Hollywood can be a challenging place to work as the movie business is always changing. Movies often get the green light for production, only to be halted for various reasons just weeks later. Actors have to have the tenacity to roll with the ups and downs of movie production, and sometimes it doesn’t always turn out well. Some actors have to give different genres, directors, or co-stars a try before they find their niche and hit their stride.

With fame and fortune comes the pressure to perform and several actors have snapped under that pressure. They take breaks, try out new things, and shift their focus to rework their careers. From positive rehab stints to changes in delivery and style, these are the actors that have found a lot of success in the difficult movie business by reinventing themselves.

10 Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man
Paramount Pictures

Robert Downey Jr. has had a long and interesting career in the film industry. He started in the 1970s and 1980s by making a lot of cheeky comedies with campy characters. He was a comedy actor until his big breakthrough in 1992 when he played Charlie Chaplin in the biopic Chaplin. That role landed him a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards.

The 1990s, however, were rough for Downey Jr. He ran into some drug problems and ended up getting arrested multiple times. He was able to get help, and he went to rehab to deal with his drug addiction issues. Since then, Downey Jr. has starred in several successful MCU movies, including the lead role in Iron Man in 2008. The film hit a milestone in 2022 for being the first MCU film to be inducted into the Library of Congress’ Nation Film Registry. Downey Jr. has been the face of the character ever since and has become a worldwide phenomenon.

9 Jonah Hill

Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Paramount Pictures

Jonah Hill also started his career as a comedy actor, hitting it big with the 2007 Judd Apatow film Superbad. Hill played a teenager who was desperate to get alcohol to bring to a party so he could impress his crush (played by Emma Stone). The movie was so successful that Apatow has even floated some ideas around for a Superbad sequel. Hill then starred in more similar comedies, like Knocked Up, This Is The End, and 22 Jump Street.

Some fans thought that Hill had been pigeonholed into certain roles and that it would be hard to take him seriously as a dramatic actor. He proved them wrong, though, bringing his best game to 2016’s War Dogs and 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Hill showed his critics that he’s more dynamic than they thought and that he’s able to show his serious side when needed.

8 Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe in Weird- The Al Yankovic Story-1
The Roku Channel

Daniel Radcliffe is an English actor who made a name for himself as the title character in the Harry Potter franchise. Through eight movies, he took on the role of the world’s favorite boy wizard, and he did the book justice with his commitment to the films. It’s equally amazing that he’s been able to reinvent himself from a child actor to a successful leading man.

Radcliffe has appeared in some excellent movies since his Harry Potter days, like Guns Akimbo, The Jungle, and the hilarious semi-biographical film Weird: The Al Yankovich Story. Fans were surprised to see him take on such a humorous role, but he played the character of “Weird” Al Yankovich perfectly.

RELATED: Daniel Radcliffe’s Best Indie Movies, Ranked

7 Scarlett Johansson

Black Widow in Captain America Civil War
Marvel Studios

Scarlett Johansson is one of the most diverse actors in Hollywood. She started out doing lighthearted romantic comedy movies, like The Nanny, but she’s done so many diverse movies since then. Johansson played the role of Black Widow in several MCU movies, and finally got to step out on her own with the character in 2021’s Black Widow. Since 2019, some viewers have argued that she’s the best actor in Hollywood.

What many fans don’t know is that ScarJo started as a child actor. Her very first role was in a film called North in 1994 when she was only nine years old. She even had a minor role in Home Alone 3 in 1997 before hitting it big starring alongside Robert Redford in the 1998 drama The Horse Whisperer. Since then, Johansson has reinvented herself as a movie powerhouse who can take on roles in any genre, including drama, comedy, and action.

6 Jason Bateman

Jason Bateman in Arrested Development
20th Century Fox

Jason Bateman is mostly known as a TV actor, but he’s been in a lot of movies as well. Many viewers know him from his lead role as Michael Bluth on the sarcastic TV comedy Arrested Development. Bateman also has a leading role in the Netflix crime drama Ozark, which wrapped up after five seasons with a crazy ending in 2022.

But success didn’t come quickly for Bateman. In the 1990s and early 2000s, he took a series of roles in different raunchy comedies and didn’t establish himself as a leading actor. He caught a bit of a break when he appeared in bigger-budget comedy movies in 2004, like Starsky & Hutch and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. In the years since, Bateman has continued his movie success with funny films like Game Night, Zootopia, and Horrible Bosses.

5 Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore Scream 1200 x 630
Dimension Films

When you think of successful child actors, one name that immediately comes to mind is Drew Barrymore. She got her start way back in the early 1980s as a kid with a lead role in 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. In 1984, she played the lead role in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Firestarter. As an adult, she then starred in Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher classic Scream, which contained some of Barrymore’s greatest moments.

After starting her career in fairly serious roles, Drew Barrymore successfully reinvented herself as a comedy actress. She appeared in 1998’s The Wedding Singer, 1999’s Never Been Kissed, and 2004’s 50 First Dates. In 2022, her charm, wit, and humorous persona led to television, where, as of 2023, she hosts a daytime talk show called The Drew Barrymore Show.

4 Michael Caine

Alfred Pennyworth
Warner Bros. Pictures

Michael Caine is a British film icon. He’s done a variety of movies since entering the film industry in the early 1960s. Back then, he was a Hollywood heartthrob in his 30s who made a name for himself as an action star. He starred in movies like 1966’s The Italian Job and 1971’s Get Carter, which showed audiences that he had a knack for playing tough, crime-fighting characters. By the 1990s, Caine shifted to other genres, including drama and comedy.

In his later movies, Caine reinvented himself as a kind, gentlemanly character. He played Scrooge in 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol, then a doctor who runs an orphanage in Maine in The Cider House Rules. Comic book fans know Caine as Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. As of 2023, Caine is still starring in movies at age 90.

RELATED: Best Michael Caine Movies, Ranked

3 Henry Winkler

The Fonz

Life hasn’t been easy for Henry Winkler. He was born in New York City to German immigrant parents who moved to America to escape the stress of living under the Nazi regime. Henry Winkler struggled in school and lived with anxiety over not getting good grades, which was unacceptable to his parents. He got into acting in the early 1970s and soon had a hit, playing the character Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzerelli on the TV show Happy Days from 1974 to 1984.

While some fans found it hard to picture Winkler as anyone but “The Fonz”, he successfully reinvented himself and transitioned to film once the show was over. He starred in Ron Howard’s 1982 comedy Night Shift, then went on to direct the 1993 comedy Cop and a Half. Winkler has played both comedic and serious roles in movies over the last five decades. These days, fans know him from TV shows like HBO’s Barry, which Winkler says made him a better actor.

2 Steve Carell

last flag flying steve carell
Amazon Studios

There aren’t many actors out there who have the range of Steve Carell. He made a name for himself by playing a goofy boss named Michael Scott in the US version of The Office but has successfully reinvented himself as a movie actor in the years since. He left the show to pursue more film opportunities, and some fans argue that The Office suffered because of his absence.

Carell has appeared in several great movies, too. One of his most well-known roles is as the voice of Gru, the fun-loving villain in the Despicable Me franchise. But after he left The Office, Carell took on deeper roles and reinvented himself as a serious actor. His turns in Foxcatcher, The Big Short, and Welcome to Marwen were particularly memorable.

1 Emma Stone

Emma Stone in Easy A
Sony Pictures

Emma Stone is another actor who got her start in comedy movies but successfully moved into more dramatic roles. In 2007, she played a love interest named Jules in Superbad, and eventually landed leading roles in other comedies like Zombieland and Easy A. Stone reinvented herself for the 2011 film The Help, and hasn’t looked back since.

In the last decade, Stone has been a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. She’s been nominated for three Academy Awards. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 2015’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and 2019’s The Favourite. Her third nomination was for Best Actress for her turn alongside Ryan Gosling in La La Land. Stone still does comedy movies here and there, but she’s now proved that she can turn any dramatic role into Oscar gold.

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