With the TV industry booming more than ever in the first eight years of this decade, it’s time to head back to a simpler time on the box. Everyone remembers when being the lead of the network’s latest must-watch show could be a ticket to Tinseltown or a one way trip to a “Where are they now?” list and Hollywood A-Listers weren’t swapping movie blockbusters for the small screen.
The noughties was a big decade for TV shows. It was an era when fans could tune in for their weekly dose of island-based mysteries in Lost, gaze in wonder at Wentworth Miller's Prison Break tattoos, and practice their best New Jersey accent with The Sopranos. Before The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Westworld were ruling the ratings roost, the ‘00s has plenty of shows to keep everyone glued to their screens.
Audiences met Matthew Fox, Wentworth Miller, Christina Hendricks, and a whole host of other beautiful stars first taking their steps into the cutthroat world of stardom. While the ‘00s also made big names out of some of today’s biggest stars like Chris Pratt and Mila Kunis, what about the forgotten leads who failed to shed their small-screen skin and hit the red carpet?
As Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Thandie Newton, Tom Hardy, and Ewan McGregor all add notable TV appearances to their already stocked CVs, let's look back at the actors who dreamed of the big screen way back when.
Here are 10 ’00s TV Stars Who Became A-Listers (And 10 Who Faded).
20 Zac Efron - A-List
From singing circus songs under the big top to flexing his pecs alongside The Rock in Baywatch, there’s no escaping the continuing success of Zac Efron as a Hollywood A-lister.
Efron may have hit notoriety when dancing next to Vanessa Hudgens in the High School Musical franchise, but he actually started much earlier.
As just another reason Joss Whedon’s beloved Firefly is so great, Efron made his small-screen debut on the sci-fi spectacle back in 2002. Appearing in the memorable flashback episode "Safe", Efron played a young version of Sean Maher’s Simon Tam.
Grabbing the limelight further, Efron took a leading role in The WB’s Summerland and appeared alongside other child stars like Ryan Kwanten and Jesse McCartney. He has continued to dominate the box office ever since and managed to escape the child actor curse.
19 Gary Dourdan - Faded
Get out the forensics kit because it’s time to look at what went wrong with Gary Dourdan’s career. Although CSI’s impressive 15-season span included huge stars like Ted Danson and Laurence Fishburne, who really remembers Gary Dourdan? As mainstay character Warrick Brown, Dourdan was a huge part of CSI until his shock demise in the season 9 premiere.
Dourdan has struggled with fame since playing Brown and has even had real-life run-ins with the law for domestic violence and possession of illegal substances. After providing voice work in video games FlatOut 2 and FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage, Dourdan also appeared in short-lived soap opera Mistresses and the abysmal Weekend at Bernie's II.
Failing to live up to the hype of being CSI’s dreamiest act0r in 2008, Dourdan filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after reportedly owing $1.7 million.
18 Mila Kunis - A-List
At just 14, Kunis landed a long-running role as Jackie Burkhart on That ‘70s Show and appeared in all 200 episodes. Fans will notice Kunis’ distinct vocals as the downtrodden Meg on Family Guy. Kunis replaced Lacey Chabert for season 2 when Chabert became busy with Party of Five.
On the big screen, Kunis started to shine in the likes of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Max Payne, and Book of Eli.
Her big break was as Lily in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.
Kunis’ performance won her a slew of nominations and earned a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Now a firm favorite of comedy movies like Ted and the Bad Moms series, Kunis will star alongside Kate McKinnon in 2018’s The Spy Who Dumped Me. Thankfully, she’s managed to put the abysmal American Psycho II: All American Girl behind her.
17 Mischa Barton - Faded
With an unnerving cameo as deceased Kyra in The Sixth Sense, Mischa Barton’s career may have started long before her days on The O.C., but most remember her as Marissa Cooper. Cited as one of Glamour’s “Next Big Thing” stars, Barton has faded into the obscurity of the noughties.
Although The O.C. plummeted in ratings after Barton departed in season 3, the decision to axe Marissa was one that producers had to stick with. When Ben McKenzie’s Ryan flipped his SUV, Marissa had an emotional swansong and one of the best character exits of the decade.
After a DUI, stint on a psychiatric ward, and even suing her own mother, Barton hoped for a career revival by appearing on the 22nd season of Dancing with the Stars but spectacularly flopped into 11th place.
16 Chris Pratt - A-List
Starting out in the likes of The WB’s Everwood, Chris Pratt is better-known as slouching couch potato Andy Dwyer from Parks and Rec.
Undergoing a jaw-dropping body transformation, Pratt has become one of Hollywood’s leading men.
He turned a series of small roles into something big when he voiced Emmet Brickowski in The LEGO Movie. Pratt then suited up for superhero status and joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as fan favorite Star-Lord.
Since then, there has been no stopping Pratt thanks to parts in Her, Passengers, and The Magnificent Seven. As well as leading the new Jurassic World franchise, Pratt is set to continue dominating the MCU as Peter Quill leads the Guardians of the Galaxy in a third solo movie. Despite all of this, he still looks back fondly to his larger days playing Dwyer.
15 Topher Grace - Faded
Topher Grace should've been the next big thing after That ‘70s Show. He was so well-known, he even cameoed as himself in two of the Ocean’s movies.
Grace’s once-promising career didn’t go the way of co-star Kunis and that can be largely pinpointed to one particular moment.
While all the blame can’t be leveled at one bad performance, Grace’s fall from grace seems to be connected to playing Venom in Sam Raimi’s maligned Spider-Man 3. Although the movie gets some unfair criticism, there’s no denying that Grace’s snivelling Eddie Brock was a million miles away from what comic book fans expected.
Despite starring in Valentine’s Day, Predators, and Interstellar, Grace is sort of just there in the background. In 2009, he hit notoriety thanks to Videogum’s recurring column "What's Up With Topher Grace?" and is still waiting for that big comeback.
14 Bradley Cooper - A-List
Coming a long way from that badly-dyed hair as Will Tippin on Alias, Bradley Cooper is one of those who has grown into his looks and career. Playing Sydney Bristow’s BFF, the 43-year-old has since admitted that he nearly gave up on acting when J.J. Abrams reduced Tippin's role on the show to a mere recurring character and he asked to be written off.
Cooper thankfully stuck with his profession and became a Hollywood heartthrob thanks mainly to his role as Phil in 2009’s The Hangover. With his roles Silver Linings Playbook, Limitless, and American Hustle, the star hasn’t looked back since.
Alongside Chris Pratt as an MCU alumni, Cooper provides the voice of the spunky Rocket Racoon in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and was one of the few to survive THAT big moment from Avengers: Infinity War.
13 Jenna Fischer - Faded
Dunder Mifflin was the place of dreams when it came to comedy talent and making big names out of Hollywood’s current crop A-listers. With The Office (US) boasting stars like Rainn Wilson, Ellie Kemper, and Steve Carell, audiences have sometimes lost sight of Jenna Fischer since.
Despite getting a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and Fischer saying she would love the play downtrodden receptionist Pam forever, The Office came to an end in 2013.
Saying she was more interested in TV than movies, Fischer had high hopes for NBC comedy miniseries You, Me and the Apocalypse. Fischer produced and starred in the show, but it only made it to 10 episodes before cancelation. Thankfully, her role on ABC’s Splitting Up Together is set for a second season.
12 John Krasinski - A-List
Sticking with The Office, things are going from strength to strength for John Krasinski. Earning upwards of $100,000 once the show hit its stride in Season 3, The Office would arguably nothing without the loveable Jim at its side.
After starring in movies like Jarhead and Dreamgirls, Krasinski took a larger part in George Clooney’s Leatherheads. 2009 marked the star’s directorial debut when Krasinski got behind the camera for Sundance favorite Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
2018 has been a huge year for the 38-year-old thanks his starring alongside his wife Emily Blunt, co-writing, and directing the critically-acclaimed A Quiet Place. Krasinski also has the honor of being named one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2018 - he's definitely doing better than Jim Halpert.
11 Frankie Muniz - Faded
It looks like Malcolm in the Middle’s Frankie Muniz is stuck in the middle when it comes to taking his acting career further.
Despite learning martial arts and performing his own stunts for Agent Cody Banks and its 2004 sequel, Muniz wasn’t exactly Tom Cruise when it came to the spy thriller genre.
Muniz says he can’t remember Malcolm in the Middle due to memory loss from a series of mini-strokes.
Despite bit parts in Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 and Preacher and appearing on Season 25 of Dancing with the Stars, Muniz has largely turned his attention to being a profession race car driver.
10 Evangeline Lilly - A-List
With an ensemble as big as ABC’s Lost, there were always going to be winners and losers in the career stakes. Elizabeth Mitchell moved onto The Purge, Daniel Dae Kim is heading to Hellboy, and Matthew Fox - well, he’s done some things. Undoubtedly the big winner from Lost right now is Evangeline Lilly.
For six seasons Lilly sweatily traipsed through the Hawaiian jungle to become the de facto female lead of the show. Although her post-Lost career took a while to get going, she went on to appear in Real Steel and Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.
Lilly is now best-known as playing Hope van Dyne in the MCU, suiting up alongside Paul Rudd's Ant-Man.
Her A-list credentials are set to soar thanks to the upcoming release of Ant-Man and the Wasp and Lilly’s possible appearance in Avengers 4.
9 Nicollette Sheridan - Faded
Marc Cherry’s Desperate Housewives had as much drama behind the scenes as in the far-fetched script. As well as the leading ladies reportedly turning on Teri Hatcher, Cherry had an ongoing feud with Nicollette Sheridan. Arguably one of the best parts of the show, Sheridan played Edie Britt.
Famous for her role as Paige Matheson on daytime soap knots landing, Sheridan was perfect fodder for Desperate Housewives. However - just like Wisteria Lane itself - Sheridan’s time with the show wasn’t all roses and champagne.
After Edie was written off in 2009, Sheridan filed a lawsuit against Cherry and ABC amidst claims she was assaulted and wrongly terminated from her contract. Sheridan hasn’t acted much since she lost the cast, but she does play screen diva Alexis Carrington in The CW’s Dynasty reboot.
8 Bryan Cranston - A-List
Bryan Cranston rocked the TV scene landscape as the devious Walter White in Breaking Bad, and the endearing Hal Wilkerson in Malcolm in the Middle.
Starting with voice work on the first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Cranston has the honor of the blue ranger (Billy) being named after him. In 1998, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan wrote an episode of The X-Files that starred Cranston.
Today starring in movies like Total Recall, Godzilla, and playing Zordon in 2017’s Power Rangers, Cranston has come a long way from Malcolm in the Middle’s bumbling Hal.
7 Nate Richert - Faded
There was a time when everyone had a crush on Harvey Kinkle. As the long-term love interest of Sabrina Spellman, Nate Richert had heartthrob written all over him and was a major part of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
As the show waned in popularity and introduced a new crop of forgettable teenage faces, Harvey made way for new men in Sabrina’s life.
Although Harvey returned for the show’s last episode, Richert’s career never went much further. Landing small roles in Fantasy Island and Touched By An Angel, Richert focused on his music career and started rocking a hipster moustache.
In 2013, Melissa Joan Hart even tweeted Richert’s account to check whether it was really him or just another internet troll.
6 Kristen Wiig - A-List
The side-splitting Kristen Wiig has gone from Saturday Night Live comedian to A-Lister with a career that is only just getting started. While still fondly remembered for sketches like Judy Grimes and “Target Lady,” Wiig’s time on SNL set the stage for her career in movies.
Although not everyone is a fan of the all-female Ghostbusters reboot, Wiig has a huge hit thanks to Bridesmaids. She co-wrote the script for Bridesmaids and earned herself an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Showing a more serious side for The Martian and Mother!, Wiig is set to pull her claws out and play the villainous Cheetah in Patty Jenkins’ ‘80s-set Wonder Woman 1984. All fans need now is Bridesmaids 2. Although Wiig has said she will never do a sequel, who knows what the future holds?
5 Evan Marriott (Joe Millionaire) - Faded
Putting the reason someone is famous in brackets next to their name is probably a sign they aren’t that famous. Joe Millionaire bucked the dating show trend in 2003, but where is its star now?
Taking construction worker Evan Marriott and hoodwinking a group of women into thinking he had inherited millions of dollars, the show was a toe-curling look at how materialistic people can be. Since splitting a real check for $1 million with Joe Millionaire winner Zora Andrich, has Marriott shied away from TV.
Marriott moved to Orange County and now runs his own construction business.
Ironically, it was butler Paul Hogan who became more famous than Evan and even hosted the series Groomed. As for Joe Millionaire, Marriott is the kind of “reality star” audiences might see on a Hollywood Squares or The Celebrity Apprentice Season 35.
4 Michelle Williams - A-List
Rising to fame playing Jen on Dawson’s Creek, Michelle Williams set her sights on Hollywood.
Her breakthrough role came in Brokeback Mountain and soon catapulted Williams into the mainstream.
While her Dawson’s co-stars James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, and Joshua Jackson all seem to have been and gone from the A-List, Williams is on the up thanks to roles in Manchester by the Sea, Oz the Great and Powerful, and The Greatest Showman.
Let’s not forget that Williams is also set to have a huge role in Ruben Fleischer’s Venom alongside Tom Hardy. Williams' role as Eddie Brock’s ex-wife puts her in a prime position to play She-Venom in Sony’s Spider-Man villainverse.
3 Drea de Matteo - Faded
Making her big debut as Adriana on The Sopranos, Drea de Matteo was pretty much everywhere in the ‘00s.
She played Joey Tribbiani's sister on that dire Friends spinoff and recovering addict Wendy Case on Sons of Anarchy. De Matteo even landed a prestigious role alongside the glitterati of Desperate Housewives when she appeared as Angie Bolen in season 6.
While the 2000s were kind to De Matteo, fans are undoubtedly asking, where is she now? Nabbing single episodes of CSI: Miami, Law and Order: SUV, The Mindy Project, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., De Matteo has largely been reduced to “guest starring capacity.”
2 Evan Peters - A-List
Although Evan Peters is known for multiple roles on FX’s American Horror Story, let’s remember his more humble TV roots. Starting in ABC’s The Days, Peters also starred in the short-lived Body Snatchers ripoff Invasion and then moved to a recurring role as Jack Daniels in One Tree Hill.
Now a staple of Ryan Murphy’s horror anthology, Peters and co-star Sarah Paulson are the only two cast members to appear in every season of American Horror Story. Whether playing a teen psychopath or an evil hotelier, Peters has a knack for frightening fans of the show.
His big break came in the blink of an eye when he became speedster Quicksilver in Fox’s X-Men movies.
With the X-Men possibly joining the MCU and Disney's franchise having already killed off “their” Quicksilver, who knows what happens next for Evan?
1 David Schwimmer - Faded
All the Friends cast have had their career highs and lows, but David Schwimmer has faded into the background more than most.
Schwimmer appeared in Band of Brothers and voiced Melman the giraffe in the Madagascar series. That was it for a while, but he recently popped up as Robert Kardashian in American Crime Story.
Schwimmer is now known for directing and is even responsible for two episodes of Joey. Considering this, the critical panning of Run Fatboy Run, and the mixed response to his Off-Broadway debut with Fault Lines, maybe Schwimmer should stick to acting on the small screen?
Who are your most memorable '00s megastars and forgotten favorites? Sound off in the comments!
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