You would think most actors become famous by creating a portfolio of work filled with diverse film and television roles that showcase how expansive their acting can be, but, for some actors, this is not the case. There are many celebrities in Hollywood who’ve been able to make careers based on one role, amassing millions of dollars and fan recognition.
Although this type of fame can lead to success within the realm of high baller paychecks, this method to stardom isn’t the best for actors who are trying to be considered as seasoned veterans. This method is known for stunting growth and has even been the reason why many actors haven’t been able to land roles outside of the characters that made them famous.
While a deal of a lifetime may seem like one’s best bet, it can also be one’s biggest haunting-- though it really is up to the actor to decide.
Here are the 15 Actors Who Are Only Famous Because Of One Role.
15 Macaulay Culkin (Kevin McCallister)
Macaulay Culkin began his career as an actor at the age of four when he first appeared in a stage performance of Bach Babies, but his rise to fame truly came from his American Comedy Award-winning performance as Kevin McCallister in Home Alone.
After its release, the movie grossed more than $285 million in the U.S. alone, becoming one of the highest grossing movies during the time. This success led to Culkin becoming one of the biggest child stars in the film industry.
Despite the fact he was considered as the most successful child actor since Shirley Temple, his acting career didn’t take flight. The young star’s other movies were considered commercial and critical flops that didn’t garner the same recognition his Home Alone character. The question is, did Culkin peak after filming the Home Alone movies?
14 Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy)
Sarah Michelle Gellar delivered what could be considered one of television’s best cult classic performances as Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, creating a revival in genre television. Her role as the butt-kicking, vampire-and-demon slaying teenaged female icon paved a path to success for this actress.
Not only was Gellar able to play Buffy Summers in the series Angel after Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s television debut, but she was also able to milk Joss Whedon’s series for seven seasons.
Unfortunately for her, she hasn’t been able to land any roles that could differentiate herself from the vampire-whooping character. Since the conclusion of the show, Gellar’s been sticking to various voice acting jobs for shows like American Dad, The Simpsons, and Star Wars: Rebels, but she hasn’t really made any memorable onscreen appearances.
Maybe this is a sign saying that she was just born to slay for a comeback season.
13 Jennifer Grey (Baby Housemen)
We all had the time of our lives with Jennifer Grey when we watched her performance that made her career as Baby Housemen in Dirty Dancing, but since her dancing days, she hasn’t been able to land many roles in the television or movie industry.
Despite earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture for her Dirty Dancing performance, Grey hasn’t been cast in many movies or tv series that could differentiate herself from her character as Baby.
However, she taken up many voice-acting parts for movies such as Mrs. Kurokawa in The Wind Rises and Louisa Patel, Mrs. Pierpoint, and several other voices in Phineas and Ferb, but, unfortunately, one can’t rely on voice acting for recognition.
12 Matt LeBlanc (Joey Tribbiani)
Matt LeBlanc’s performance as Joey Tribbiani in Friends-- one of the greatest sitcoms-- was the role that skyrocketed his acting career. Oftentimes, LeBlanc stole the show with his brilliant smile, foolish sense of humor, and well-known catchphrase “How you doin’?”
Although he was a fan favorite on the show, he was unable to rise to fame like his former castmates Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox. Instead of moving on from Friends, LeBlanc refused to look for other acting jobs and reprised his role of Joey in a spin-off series titled after his character’s name.
Unfortunately, the show was canceled during its second season due to awful ratings. Because of his failure to find roles outside of Friends, LeBlanc went on an acting hiatus for a while. He later went back to acting, but nothing helped him move on from Joey, as he was still playing very similar roles.
11 Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man)
Tobey Maguire has starred in many movies, playing the roles of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, Red Pollard in Seabiscuit, and J.T. in Joyride. However, to his fans, he will forever be known as the OG Spider-Man.
In 2002, Maguire took on the red mask and became Peter Parker in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. His action-packed performance was one that paved the path for Spider-Man movies to come.
Maguire’s pivotal role as the web-slinging superhero was so iconic that he was able to milk three films from the Marvel franchise. Although the sequels didn’t get the same recognition as the original movie, Maguire was able to keep his fame intact.
However, he hasn’t been able to get away from the Marvel character. Maybe with Tom Holland’s take on Peter Parker in Spider-Man Homecoming, Maguire will be able to finally create a name for himself outside of the Spidey-verse.
10 Ralph Macchio (Daniel LaRusso)
In 1984, Ralph Macchio wooed the world with his boy next door act as Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid, and it’s safe to say that his career was made from that role. If it weren’t for his final Crane Kick, his name probably wouldn’t be one to remember.
Despite taking small roles in shows such as Psych, Happily Divorced, and The Outer Limits, Macchio hasn’t been able to secure any high caliber silver screen roles since his high-flying days as LaRusso. This may be because he can’t shake off the name.
Due to the popularity of The Karate Kid, he made a reprisal role in the Karate Kid Part II and Part III, and he has even played Daniel LaRusso in the stop-motion comedy sketch series Robot Chicken.
9 Sandra Oh (Cristina Yang)
Sandra Oh has been acting onscreen since 1989, with her first role as Gwen in the television series Denim Blues, but the character that made her career as an actress was Cristina Yang in the popular TV drama Grey’s Anatomy.
Her gripping performance as the humorous and aggressive surgeon has won her a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television and has gotten her five Primetime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
Since the finale of Grey’s Anatomy, Oh has starred as Abby Tanaka in American Crime and Kathy in Shitty Boyfriends, but these roles haven’t garnered the level of prestige that her role as Cristina Yang received.
8 Zach Galifianakis (Alan Garner)
In 2009, Zach Galifianakis stole the show as the most outlandish and funniest character Alan Garner in The Hangover. This film is one that amassed a large following and has been called one of the best adult comedy films in modern cinema. It’s no wonder that Galifianakis’s career was built from this franchise.
Regardless of his success within the film and television industry, he hasn’t been able to land many roles outside of the stereotypical Alan Garner character. From his voice acting endeavors as Felix in Bob’s Burgers to his more serious role as Bobby in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Galifianakis has been type casted as a goofy, clumsy oaf.
Maybe this is the only role he’s meant to play or maybe we just haven’t seen him at his full potential. Time will tell.
7 Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton Banks)
Alfonso Ribeiro, the actor of Carlton Banks, hasn’t taken on many character roles outside of his renowned part in the '90s series Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. His famed role playing the childish, privileged, and sometimes ignorant cousin to Will Smith created his career as an actor.
Although he has made small appearances in shows like Shake It Up!, Are We There Yet?, Big Time Rush, and has played the reoccurring role of Darren in Things We Do for Love, Ribeiro hasn’t been able to shake off Carlton from his name.
However, with his appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2015, he may not be trying to disassociate himself from the name. It would be difficult to see Ribeiro as a character other than Carlton Banks.
6 Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil)
Linda Blair may have worked on several projects such as Silent Assassins, Witchery, and Monster Makers, but her career as an actress was made by her role as Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist.
At six-years-old, Blair started her career as an actor, and at thirteen she was able to spook the world with her performance as a young child possessed by a demon. Her haunting performance was so horrific that she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
Her acting career may have taken flight after her rise to stardom, but her role as MacNeil was the peak of her career. In fact, Blair took on a reprisal role as Regan MacNeil in the sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic. Unfortunately, this film didn’t get the same recognition that The Exorcist obtained, and was considered a flop in comparison. At least she will always have the first movie to keep her fame intact.
5 Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper)
Many fans know him as his character Sheldon Cooper from Chuck Lore and Bill Brady’s sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, and that’s because Jim Parsons was made for the part. Whether you enjoy watching the neurotic scientist character or not, Parsons does an amazing job in making the audience both love and hate Sheldon.
Despite gaining huge success from this role, Parson’s hasn’t had many roles outside of The Big Bang Theory and hasn’t been able to step away from his sitcom character, signing on to take part in the spin-off series called Young Sheldon.
Even though he was able to make it onto the silver screen, taking on roles in films such as Hidden Figures, Home, and The Big Year, Parsons has been pigeonholed into scientific, calculated, Sheldon roles.
4 Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean)
Rowan Atkinson may have received recognition as an actor after voicing the character Zazu in Disney’s animated film The Lion King, but the character he played that garnered the most attention from fans across the world was none other than the silent, teddy bear loving Mr. Bean.
This comedic Charlie Chaplain-esque role is one that Atkinson brings to life. From giving bowl cuts to children in “Hair by Mr. Bean of London” to going on a trip to Cannes in Mr. Bean’s Holiday, Atkinson is able to play the funny character that audiences can empathize with, without uttering a single word.
Atkinson may play other roles such as his reprisal as Johnny English, but his take on Mr. Bean will always be the performance that kickstarted his acting career.
3 Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins)
Although he started his career as a film actor back in 1989 as the Video Game Boy in Back to the Future II, Elijah Wood’s career really took flight when he was cast as the leading character, Frodo Baggins in Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Rings.
Due to his iconic role as Frodo, Wood became an iconic face in pop culture. He may not be considered a heartthrob like his costar Orlando Bloom, but the adventuring Hobbit is a reoccurring character for many “It’s Over” internet memes.
Since the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Wood has kept a low-profile and hasn’t had any large onscreen roles. He’s taken on many voice acting gigs and has taken up DJing on the side, but he hasn’t really done anything big enough to disassociate himself from the role of Frodo Baggins... which might not even be his goal.
2 Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker)
There’s no doubt that Mark Hamill is a talented performer, but we all know he made his career as an actor by his leading role as Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy. From joining the Rebel Alliance to learning about the identity of his father, Hamill has graced his fans with a timeless performance filled with both action and drama.
Despite taking on the roles as the villainous Joker, the conniving Trickster, and several other voice acting gigs, Hamill will always be known as the last of the Jedi, especially with his reprisal role in the future Star Wars films.
That being said, Hamill is in touch with his inner Luke Skywalker-- no matter how old is or how many acting roles he takes on, Hamill will remain a Jedi for life.
1 Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)
If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past sixteen years, then you should know of the Boy Who Lived. Daniel Radcliffe, otherwise known as Harry Potter, played the title role in the screen adaptations of J. K Rowling’s famed series from the time he was eleven years old up until he turned twenty-two.
However, since then, the Chosen One hasn’t been able to shake off his wizarding name. Whether he is a young solicitor discovering a vengeful ghost of a woman in the British horror film The Woman In Black, a charming dog walker in a romantic movie Trainwreck, or the undercover neo-Nazi in Imperium, Radcliffe will always be known as Harry Potter. He is forever the boy with the lightning scar.
He may take on new roles in several other movies and grow as an actor outside of this franchise, but to Potterheads, he will always be the Boy Who Lived.
Can you think of any other actors who made their careers with only one role? Let us know in the comments!
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