Hollywood has a tradition of families appearing in movies and on TV over generations. For example, within the Barrymore clan, cinema royalty that began with John and Ethel and reaches Drew.
Audiences have enjoyed watching Hollywood dynasties built on the silver screen. Families like the Arquettes, the Clooneys, and the Chaplins have created lasting memories and enduring legacies over their generations on screen.
Fans also can’t help but draw comparisons and make hierarchies. When three generations of actors exist, it is human nature to rank them by talent, popularity, and many other factors.
It’s nearly impossible to watch a Sophia Coppola film without remembering her upbringing among some of the greatest movies of all time made by her father, Francis Ford Coppola.
More often than not, a second-generation actor has a harder time finding true recognition and popularity outside the scope of their famous parent. For every Gwyneth Paltrow that stakes her own career free from her mother Blythe Danner, there are many more like Desi Arnaz, Jr., who could never escape the inevitable comparisons that came with the famous name.
This list breaks down some famousactors and weighs their skill, popularity, and overall body of work against that of their previously established actor fathers.
With that said, here are the 10 Second-Generation Actors Who Surpassed Their Fathers (And 10 Who Did NOT).
20 Did: Emma Roberts
Eric Roberts’ star-making turn in 1983’s Star 80 led to a very successful run of films for the decade. The Pope of Greenwich Village, The Coca-Cola Kid, and Runaway Train all arrived then, and he finished out the decade with the franchise-starter Best of the Best.
However, the 1990s and the new millennium led to numerous direct-to-video releases. For every high-end project like The Dark Knight or Inherent Vice, there were twenty titles like Stiletto Dance or Border Blues.
His daughter, Emma, broke through on the Nickelodeon series Unfabulous and in Nancy Drew. She made comedies like It’s Kind of a Funny Story and We’re the Millers before finding her niche in horror.
She appeared in Scream 4 and critical darling The Blackcoat’s Daughter, and her TV work on American Horror Story and Scream Queens gained her mass appeal.
19 Did Not: Jason Connery
By the time Jason Connery scored the lead role in BBC’s Robin Hood in 1986 and played James Bond’s creator in the movie The Secret Life of Ian Fleming in 1990, his father had completed his six entries as James Bond and already had the same role in Robin and Marian.
While Jason turned up in recurring roles on series like Smallville and General Hospital, Sean made himself a household name in franchises like Highlander and Indiana Jones. Sean’s caliber of action movie are films like The Hunt for Red October and The Rock, Jason was largely confined to TV movies like Bullet to Beijing.
Even their voice work shows the disparity-- Sean voiced the dragon in Dragonheart, while Jason voiced characters in cheap direct-to-video rip-offs of Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.
18 Did: Laura Dern
Bruce Dern is an American icon, from appearances in John Wayne westerns like The Cowboys to classic science fiction like Silent Running to a comedic turn in The ‘Burbs.
He was nominated for an Oscar for Nebraska and appeared in HBO’s prestige drama Big Love. He even worked with Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight.
He's a hard act to follow, but Laura Dern was ready for the challenge. She’s had a fruitful decades-long partnership with David Lynch, starting with Blue Velvet and now the recent Twin Peaks relaunch. She brought emotion to the roller coaster of Jurassic Park, and had her own prestige HBO drama with Enlightened.
She also had time to get an Oscar nomination for Wild and an Emmy nomination for Big Little Lies, and she’s now a Star Wars character.
17 Did Not: Domhnall Gleeson
Both Brendan and Domhnall have appeared in the Harry Potter franchise, but Domhnall is a staple of the new Star Wars series, so that could mean Domhnall has surpassed his father. He even had roles in the chilling sci-fi parable Ex Machina and the gritty awards darling The Revenant. What could Brendan possibly do to top that?
However, Brendan has cast a long shadow. He has appeared in Braveheart, The General, AI, and 28 Days Later, as well as epic period pieces like Cold Mountain and Kingdom of Heaven, crime films like Gangs of New York and In Bruges, and action films like Mission: Impossible II and Edge of Tomorrow.
He worked with directors like Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Martin McDonagh, Robert Zemeckis, M. Night Shyamalan, Steven Spielberg, John Boorman, and Neil Jordan. Also, he’s in Paddington 2.
16 Did: Angelina Jolie
Jon Voight leapt from television to the big screen with Midnight Cowboy, for which he was nominated for a best actor Oscar. His run of films in the 1970s was impressive-- Catch-22, Deliverance, and Coming Home are all classic films.
Though he would occasionally approach that greatness again with Heat and Mission: Impossible, he increasingly got lost in big, bad action movies like Anaconda, Enemy of the State, and Most Wanted. Most recently, he won a Golden Globe for his work on Ray Donovan.
Somehow, his daughter is even more famous. From her Oscar-winning performance in Girl, Interrupted, Jolie played roles in action movies (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Salt), thrillers (Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Wanted), and even secured another Oscar nomination for Changeling.
She also teamed with Disney for the huge success of Maleficent.
15 Did Not: Max Irons
Max Irons is an actor/model who started acting in 2004 in Being Julia. He appeared in big-budget YA films Red Riding Hood and The Host, and played the role of King Edward on the mini-series The White Queen. He also appeared alongside Helen Mirren in Woman in Gold and in the star-studded Agatha Christie mystery Crooked House.
However, Jeremy Irons worked in TV for years before making waves in the Oscar-nominated The French Lieutenant’s Woman. He later won an Oscar for Reversal of Fortune, and his presence in film became ubiquitous.
He also lent his voice to The Lion King, played a villain in Die Hard with a Vengeance, and appeared big budget remakes of The Man in the Iron Mask and The Time Machine. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his run on The Borgias and currently plays butler Alfred in the DCEU.
14 Did: Sean Astin
John Astin has an immediately recognizable face, based mostly on his performance as Gomez on The Addams Family. His only Oscar nomination strangely came from a short film he wrote and directed, but he is also remembered for roles in the Killer Tomatoes franchise, Eerie Indiana, and the Peter Jackson film The Frighteners.
Peter Jackson also worked with John’s son, Sean, on the wildly popular Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sean was already well known from The Goonies and Rudy, and he followed up the trilogy with a series appearance on 24.
He is more recently known for his voice work in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Justice League Action and his role on FX’s The Strain. He exploded back into popular consciousness as the unlikely hero Bob Newby in season two of Stranger Things.
13 Did Not: Peter Fonda
For many, Peter Fonda in Easy Rider defines a generation. He is synonymous with the character, and with the exception of the excellent, Oscar-nominated Ulee’s Gold, many of his roles play off people’s recognition of that character.
From his appearances in The Cannonball Run, Ghost Rider, and Wild Hogs to the 1960s love letter The Limey, all of them hold a reverence for the single role Fonda is remembered as.
Henry Fonda, however, has left audiences many memories from many characters. He plays the juror in 12 Angry Men, has played western heroes in How the West Was Won and The Ox-Bow Incident and political figures in Advise & Consent and Fail-Safe.
He also portrayed the rare villain in Once Upon a Time in the West. He ended his career with an Oscar win for his next to last film, On Golden Pond.
12 Did: Rob Reiner
Carl and Rob Reiner have more in common than blood and last name. They are both famous for being occasional actors that also work successfully behind the camera in many capacities.
Carl came to prominence as a performer on Caesar’s Hour, then as the creator and writer of The Dick Van Dyke Show. He is known for his direction of several Steve Martin films: The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, The Man with Two Brains, and All of Me.
Rob became a household name acting on All in the Family, and he also acted in his first feature film, This is Spinal Tap. His directing career flourished with Misery, the Oscar-nominated A Few Good Men, Stand by Me, and The Princess Bride, many of which are modern classics.
11 Did Not: Emilio Estevez
Emilio Estevez was a 1980s phenomenon. He started in The Outsiders and became iconic in The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire. Action films like Maximum Overdrive and Stakeout broadened his appeal, and he worked with brother Charlie Sheen in Young Guns and Men at Work.
Though he continued with franchises, making a Stakeout sequel and three Mighty Ducks films, his box office draw waned, and he turned to directing the excellent Bobby and The Way.
Martin Sheen exploded onto the screen in Terence Malick’s Badlands, then made an indelible impression in Apocalypse Now. He did the Steven King one-two punch of The Dead Zone and Firestarter, and he appeared alongside son Charlie in Wall Street.
Success continued into the new millennium with The Departed and The West Wing, which earned him a Golden Globe award.
10 Did: Kiefer Sutherland
Donald Sutherland has a distinctive look and a distinctive career. Unique early performances from The Dirty Dozen and M*A*S*H captured his unusual presence, and he continued that roll with a part in Don’t Look Now and his Golden Globe-nominated Ordinary People performance.
He has consistently worked through the years, from JFK to Space Cowboys to The Hunger Games.
His son, Kiefer, got attention in the back-to-back films Stand by Me and The Lost Boys. The Young Guns films and A Few Good Men gave him box office clout, and he broke the boundary between film and television when he starred in the massive hit series 24.
After a slight misstep with Touch, Sutherland returned to television with another hit series, Designated Survivor.
9 Did Not: Ron Howard
Ron Howard’s acting career began on The Andy Griffith Show but mostly ended a few years later with Happy Days.
While he still made cameo appearances in his own films and played himself in other people’s work (like Welcome to Hollywood and Arrested Development), he primarily became a successful director of films like Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and The Da Vinci Code.
Rance Howard, however, never stopped acting. He began working on Kraft Theatre in 1956, and was a staple on television for decades.
He appeared on his son’s shows, Gentle Ben, Bonanza, and The Waltons. He also had roles in many of his son’s movies, and acted up until he sadly passed away in November of 2017.
Appearing in Nebraska, Babylon 5, The X-Files, and ER, Rance appeared in so many roles that he might be more recognizable than his son.
8 Did: Ben Stiller
Jerry Stiller is excellent at a very specific type of comedy character. Loud, boorish, and humorously annoying, he has portrayed variations on that theme on Seinfeld and The King of Queens, and voice work on Teacher’s Pet, Fish Hooks, and The Lion King 1 ½. He even had a similar role as an agent in his son Ben’s film, Zoolander, and its sequel.
Ben, however, has a more versatile comedic presence, and he has exercised it to great effect. From the hit franchises Night at the Museum and Meet the Parents to Starsky & Hutch and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Ben disappears into his comedic characters.
He lampooned himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm, and he directed hits like Tropic Thunder and Zoolander. He even ventured into more serious territory with Greenberg and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).
7 Did Not: Alexander Skarsgaard
After a run of Swedish films and television, Alexander Skarsgaard came to American prominence with a string of HBO hits. First he was in Generation Kill from the creator of The Wire.
Then, he appeared in the horror phenomenon of True Blood, and most recently, he won an Emmy for his dark turn on Big Little Lies. In between those series, he made the sci-fi films Battleship and The Giver, as well as played the lead in the surprise blockbuster hit Tarzan.
However, father Stellan can’t be matched in sheer output. His franchises include: Exorcist, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Avengers, as well as musicals Dancer in the Dark and Mamma Mia!
In addition, he had roles in action extravaganzas, such as Ronin and Deep Blue Sea, and in Oscar contenders like Good Will Hunting, Breaking the Waves, and Amistad. He worked with arthouse auteur Lars von Trier and somehow also appeared on Entourage.
6 Did: Michael Douglas
Kirk Douglas was a classic Hollywood star, portraying rugged and imposing figures in Out of the Past and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He portrayed Van Gogh in Lust for Life and broke the Hollywood Blacklist with his film Spartacus.
His hardened charisma lasted him through to the 1980s in films like Tough Guys, but he was an odd fit for more modern sci-fi like Saturn 3 and The Final Countdown.
His son, Michael, stepped out of his shadow by embracing character roles that were flawed, weak, and complex. From his early work in Coma and The China Syndrome, Michael knew how to choose a winner.
The streak continued with Romancing the Stone, Fatal Attraction, Wall Street, and Basic Instinct. His partnership with director Steven Soderbergh, as well as his appearance in Ant Man, have kept him popular over the decades.
5 Did Not: Jared Harris
Richard Harris was a cinematic force of nature. From Gladiator to Unforgiven and Camelot to The Bible: In the Beginning, Richard burned his memory into so many memorable roles.
It was a tragedy when he passed away after playing Dumbledore in two Harry Potter films, and it still seems like he was around much longer in the series.
His son, Jared, has distinguished himself nicely, appearing in top-notch TV series like Fringe, Mad Men, and The Ascent. He was also a BAFTA nominee for his work in The Crown.
He has appeared in one-off remakes of The Man from UNCLE and Poltergeist, and played the titular role in I Shot Andy Warhol. He is a great actor, but has never overshadowed his father’s legacy.
4 Did: Jeff Bridges
Lloyd Bridges is a versatile actor. Audiences knew him early on as the lead of Sea Hunt and the center of the dramatic series The Lloyd Bridges Show.
His career took an interesting turn in later years, when he began embracing comedy in movies like Airplane and Hot Shots and even earning an Emmy nomination for his comedic performance on Seinfeld.
In between, he appeared in numerous beloved works like Blown Away, Mission: Impossible, Roots, and Battlestar Galactica.
His son, Jeff, first appeared on-screen in his dad’s series Sea Hunt, but it wasn’t long before his career blossomed. He was Oscar nominated for The Last Picture Show, ultimately being nominated for six more Oscars and winning one for Crazy Heart.
He has appeared in popular franchises like TRON, Iron Man, and Kingsman, and is forever remembered as The Dude in The Big Lebowski.
3 Did Not: Jake Busey
Sometimes, it seems like Jake Busey is working uphill. His unusual looks make him a character actor suited to eccentric roles like Tomcats and Christmas with the Kranks, criminal parts like Identity, or roles in the vampire series From Dusk Till Dawn. He pops up in mainstream work like Ray Donovan or The Closer, but usually appears in one-off roles.
The biggest thing that Jake works against is the memory of his father, Gary. As a force of nature early in his career, Gary wowed fans in Straight Time and earned an Oscar nomination for his role in The Buddy Holly Story.
He was an action mainstay in Lethal Weapon, Under Siege, and Point Break. A motorcycle accident and a battle with cancer left Gary functional but eccentric, and his public persona from Celebrity Apprentice and elsewhere casts a long shadow.
2 Did: Josh Brolin
For a while, it seemed like James Brolin was destined to be the most famous Brolin. When Josh first appeared on-screen in The Goonies, James had already been in Westworld, The Amityville Horror, and the hit series Marcus Welby, MD. Josh appeared in TV movies and single-season TV series, while James headlined the hit series Hotel.
However, the 1990s started shifting, as James was relegated mainly to TV movie appearances and Josh started to break out in film with Nightwatch and Mimic. The big shift hit for Josh in 2008 with Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men, which led to roles in W., American Gangster, and True Grit.
Now, James has a recurring role on the TV comedy Life in Pieces, and Josh appears in arthouse hits like Inherent Vice and franchises like Men in Black, Sin City, and The Avengers.
1 Did Not: Colin Hanks
When you look as much like your dad as Colin Hanks does, it’s tough to get out of that shadow. However, Colin has tried his best with TV roles in great shows (Mad Men, Dexter, and Fargo) and prominent theatrical releases, such as King Kong and Vacation. He currently appears as Greg on the TV comedy Life in Pieces.
The problem is, though, that his dad is Tom Hanks. He played Woody from Toy Story and had roles in Saving Private Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle, and Forrest Gump.
He’s David S. Pumpkins, and he made audiences cry at the loss of a volleyball named Wilson in Cast Away. There is no bigger star on the planet. He can play both historical figures (Apollo 13, Captain Phillips, Sully) as effortlessly as he can lead comedies (The ‘Burbs, Big).
There’s nothing that Tom Hanks can’t do.
Can you think of any other actors who surpassed (or weren't able to surpass) their famous fathers? Sound off in the comments!
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