15 British Actors Who Completely Overshadow Their Famous Parents

With its rich tradition of dramatic acting, top-notch theater, and Shakespeare, Britain churns out some of the world’s most impressive actors. When many take their shot at Hollywood, it’s not only their accents that get peoples’ attention, however, but also their strong artistic talents. A good number of the A-list actors enjoyed by American audiences are, in fact, British.

As it turns out, many of these British stars have parents who were stars in one way or another themselves. There’s no doubt that it’s tough to break into any artistic industry.

When someone manages not only to make a living in the arts, but then to also become famous, it’s a huge accomplishment. It’s even more impressive when their kids become famous too.

Artistic parents often foster artistic children. Many try to follow in their parents’ footsteps, inspired by their success. Sometimes, the kids even manage to out-shine their parents-- and the British actors on this list have managed to do just that.

Some come from famous acting dynasties, while others have parents who rose to the top in other arts, from music, to photography, to creative writing. In any case, these British actors have risen to fame and found a place in the Hollywood spotlight, surpassing their own parents’ successes.

Here are the 15 British Actors Who Completely Overshadow Their Famous Parents.

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15 Kate Beckinsale

Kate Beckinsale is an impressively well-rounded actress with major roles in hit movies of all genres. While she started out her career in small British costume dramas, she quickly rose to fame with roles in films like Pearl Harbor, The Aviator, and the Underworld franchise.

It’s not too much of a surprise that Beckinsale went into acting, as both her parents Richard Beckinsale and Judy Loe had solid acting careers themselves.

Beckinsale was known best for his roles in the British sitcoms Porridge and Rising Damp, while Loe was in the original British cast of the famous musical Hair and enjoyed an array of roles on television.

Kate Beckinsale has said that she was inspired as a young girl to go into acting decided to chase her own acting dreams when she was in college. It’s a good thing she did, too, as she ended up a more successful actor than either of her parents.

14 Rosamund Pike

Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl

The first Bond girl with an Oxford education, Rosamund Pike’s big acting break was in her role as Miranda Frost in Die Another Day. Since then, she has graced American screens in a number of big roles in films such as Wrath of the Titans and Jack Reacher.

Though her parents weren’t actors, Pike was still exposed to the performance arts early. Her mother and father were both celebrated opera singers, which gave Pike a cultured upbringing living in various places around Europe.

Pike became a household name after her chilling performance as Amy Dunne in David Fincher’s 2014 thriller Gone Girl. The movie, and most particularly Pike’s performance, attracted a flood of high-profile attention and award nominations.

Pike herself was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, proving that she had officially made it big and surpassed the achievements of her own parents.

13 Naomi Watts

Naomi Watts Gypsy Netflix

Naomi Watts has worked hard to reach the point of A-list fame she enjoys today. Watts struggled to find success in the early years of her career, but after being discovered by David Lynch when he cast her in his Mulholland Drive in 2001, her name really took off.

After that, she starred in a number of significant films such as The Ring, King Kong, 21 Grams, and The Impossible. Now, she’s one of Hollywood’s most beloved actresses.

However, few people know the creative family Watts came from. Her father, Peter Watts, was actually the road manager and sound engineer of Pink Floyd. He left the band in 1974 and sadly died of a suspected overdose only two years later.

Now an Academy Award-nominated actress, Watts has surpassed the career of her father, but he still left his own impact on the entertainment industry in his own right.

12 Jerome Flynn

Jerome Flynn as Bronn on Game of Thrones

With his role as the snarky yet bold sell-sword Bronn in Game of Thrones, Jerome Flynn became popular virtually overnight.

Though he is best known for his role on the hit HBO series, Flynn also has notable roles in other television series such as Ripper Street and Black Mirror. He even had a successful run in the music industry working as one part of the duo Robson & Jerome.

However, he’s not the only one in the family to have found success in show business. His father was Eric Flynn, a television, film, and musical theater actor whose resumé includes work like Empire of the Sun, Doctor Who, Freewheelers, The Sound of Music, and My Fair Lady.

There’s no doubt that with his role in the huge Game of Thrones and the other impressive points in his career that Jerome has managed to overshadow his father’s past work.

11 Sally Hawkins

Like many British actors, Sally Hawkins began her career on the stage. It was her role in Mike Leigh’s film All or Nothing that really got people’s attentions, and she's only continued to rise in fame. This year, she starred in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which has taken the world by storm.

However, while Sally Hawkins might have caught the artistic bug from her parents, they didn’t necessarily inspire her to act. Hawkins’ parents are famous, but not because of any work they do in front of an audience.

Together, Jacqui and Colin Hawkins have written and illustrated over 100 children’s books. Their series following a character named Foxy the Fox was even adapted into a cartoon television series in the 1990s.

Despite their exhaustive list of publications, it’s fair to say that Sally Hawkins’ impressive roles have made her more recognizable than that of her parents’.

10 Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch has a swarm of loyal fans thanks to his roles in productions like Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Doctor Strange. However, what his fans might not know is that Cumberbatch is a member of an entire acting dynasty.

His father Timothy Carlton has appeared in a number of productions in both theater and television, and continues to work today as a well-established member of the British theater scene.

Cumberbatch’s mother, Wanda Ventham, met Carleton on set for the television series A Family at War and was in many other British series including UFO, The Lotus Eaters, and Doctor Who.

Even though his success overshadows their own hard work, Benedict Cumberbatch has said that his parents are immensely proud of their son’s hard work and successes. Even with his mass of fans, Benedict Cumberbatch’s biggest supporters of all are in his own family.

9 Rebecca Hall

Rebecca Hall as Robyn in 'The Gift'
Rebecca Hall as Robyn in 'The Gift'

When looking at Rebecca Hall’s upbringing, it’s clear why the British actress felt inspired to make a career in acting. Both her parents built impressive careers in the theater, and each have become important names in their respective industries.

Rebecca Hall’s father Peter Hall was an enormous influence on the course of British theater, having directed a wide number of opera and stage dramas as well as being credited with founding the famous Royal Shakespeare Company.

Maria Ewing, Rebecca Hall’s mother, was a famous opera singer celebrated for her roles in both British and American stage productions.

While Ewing and Peter Hall no doubt had impressive careers in their own right, Rebecca Hall quickly succeeded in surpassing her parents’ fame with notable roles in films like The Prestige, The Town, Christine, and The BFG, among many others.

8 Paul Bettany

Paul Bettany as Max Waters in Transcendence

Paul Bettany might be best known for voicing J.A.R.V.I.S. and playing Vision in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but he has an impressive career outside of these roles. His roles in dramas such as A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander show that Bettany is a well-rounded and a talented actor.

He’s not the only one in his family with such a varied career, though. After his father Thane Bettany served in the Royal Navy, he went after his dreams to become a ballet dancer. He went on to dance in a number of musicals and stage dramas before he moved on to acting in television.

With his roles in the Marvel films, Paul Bettany’s successes have overshadowed the accomplishments of his father, but it’s no doubt his father’s work ethic inspired Bettany to go off on his own artistic career.

7 Juno Temple

Juno Temple as Jamie Vine in Vinyl

Juno Temple’s career origins as a film actress are directly tied to the accomplishments of her father. Temple started out as a child actor, and one of her roles as a young actress was in a film called Pandaemonium, a movie directed by her very own father.

Julien Temple is a well-established film director best known for his documentaries. Much of his work follows musicians and bands, and he’s made films about The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and the Kinks.

Juno Temple has gone on to star in works like Atonement, The Dark Knight Rises, and Vinyl, becoming more famous than her dad in the process. Julien Temple continues to work in the industry on his own films, no doubt proud of where his daughter has ended up.

6 Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy as James Keziah Delaney in Taboo FX

Tom Hardy already had an impressive career before 2012 with powerful performances in movies like Inception, RocknRolla, and Warrior. However, after his role as Bane in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy’s career really took off. Since then, he’s been in huge blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, and Dunkirk, to name a few.

One of his most recent projects includes the FX television series Taboo, which he in fact co-created, co-wrote, and co-produced with his own father, Edward “Chips” Hardy.

This show wasn’t Chips’ first step into the creative arena, though: Hardy’s father had already built up an impressive career writing for television, film, plays, and novels.

Tom Hardy is the face of this creative duo, and his own professional accomplishments have overshadowed the work of his dad. Nevertheless, this father-son team creates some impressive work in its own right.

5 Tom Holland

Tom Holland Spider-Man

Tom Holland’s film career only started fairly recently, but he’s already one of the most famous young actors working right now thanks to his role as the newest Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s also starred in other big-budget films like In the Heart of the Sea and The Lost City of Z.

Tom Holland’s performance as Peter Parker is celebrated by many to be one of the most entertaining and endearing depictions of Spiderman. Holland might have his dad to thank for those skills.

Tom’s father Dominic Holland is a comedian, author, and radio broadcaster in Britain, enjoyed by many for his sharp humor. Still, despite all of Dominic Holland’s successes, playing Spiderman on the big screen is a tough act to follow.

At the young age of 21, Tom Holland’s already managed to overshadow his dad’s accomplishments.

4 Emma Thompson

Emma Thompson in Saving Mr Banks

The prolific Emma Thompson has starred in over 40 films and 20 television series and has won two Academy Awards, three BAFTAs, and one Emmy. Suffice to say, Thompson is one of the most successful British stars today.

However, Thompson stands in a well-established family tradition of acting. Emma’s sister Sophie is an actor too, and their mother Phyllida Law also has a successful and lengthy acting career that is still going today.

Law has starred in a variety of films and television series such as Anna Karenina, Midsomer Murders, and The Time Machine. She and Emma Thompson have starred together in the 1993 adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing and the 2005 Nanny McPhee.

Though Law’s career is expansive, Emma Thompson has managed to become the most famous of the family.

3 Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes as M

Acclaimed actor Ralph Fiennes comes from a very artistic family. Nearly all of his siblings have gone into artistic fields, and he has become one of today's most iconic British actors.

This can all be traced back to Ralph Fiennes’ parents. Both were highly successful in their areas and encouraged their children to chase their own artistic dreams.

Mark Fiennes was a successful photographer and illustrator, commissioned for projects by Britain’s National Gallery of Art and the Royal Collections. Ralph Fiennes’ mother Jennifer Lash was a novelist and painter whose work was displayed in a number of galleries.

Having acted in famous films like Schindler’s List, The English Patient, and the Harry Potter franchise, Ralph Fiennes has been in some of the most impactful films in recent memory.

Even though he comes from parents who enjoyed their own successes, Fiennes still wins out as the most successful of all.

2 Keira Knightley

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley was lucky enough to find a relatively quick success in the film industry. After her breakout role as Jules Paxton in Bend It Like Beckham, Knightley quickly ascended the Hollywood ranks by starring in films like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Love Actually, Pride and Prejudice, and Atonement.

Knightley was exposed to the entertainment industry early. Her mother, Sharman Macdonald, is an actress turned playwright/screenwriter responsible for works like The Brave, The Winter Guest, and After Juliet. Keira’s father, Will Knightley, has a long list of television roles including shows like EastEnders and The Hounds of Baskervilles.

While Keira Knightley’s parents proved to her that one could be successful with acting as a career, Keira has managed to take it a step further and bring their family name into the A-list circle.

1 Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread (photo Focus Features)

Legendary actor Daniel Day-Lewis is considered by many to be the best actor working today, and some claim he is even the best of all time.

Sadly, his career seems to be coming to an early end. This year, Day-Lewis announced that his upcoming film The Phantom Thread would be his last role ever.

Day-Lewis’ passion for his work comes through with each role he takes on. This passion for the arts might be attributed to his parents. While his mother Jill Balcon dabbled in acting, his father Cecil Day-Lewis was one of the most famous poets of 20th century Britain and was awarded the title of Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 1968.

Even in light of his father’s successes, Daniel Day-Lewis has built up an even more high-profile career thanks to his memorable roles, immense talent, and three Academy Award wins.


Did we miss any other British stars with famous families? Let us know in the comments!

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