It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when films were considered infinitely more prestigious than television.
There was almost no crossover between TV stars and movie stars. When a television actor “graduated” to feature films, it was a massive achievement. If all went well, as it did for Bruce Willis and George Clooney, they would never again appear on the small screen. If a film star did show up on television, it was either stunt casting for a popular show (i.e. when Julia Roberts did an episode of Friends) or else it spelled certain doom for their career.
But then television got good. Shows like The Sopranos and The Wire were so impactful and cinematic that the lines between mediums began to blur. In this brave new world of streaming, there’s almost no difference between TV and movies besides running time. And yet, there are still some TV actors who can’t seem to cross over to celluloid.
It’s difficult to say why this happens. Whatever the reason, it means they won’t be getting those big paychecks and sweet summer jobs. Most of the actors on this list are still doing fine, and will probably pop up on our televisions indefinitely. You just won’t see them at a theater near you any time soon.
Here are 18 TV Stars Who Couldn’t Make It In Movies
18 Melissa Joan Hart
Melissa Joan Hart was a sweetheart of the small screen in popular teen fare like Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. But she never could harness the magic of film acting. 1999’s teenage romantic comedy, Drive Me Crazy, also starring Entourage’s Adrian Grenier, should have propelled her to teen movie stardom, but despite being tied to a hit Britney Spears single, the film flopped.
Fortunately, Sabrina ran for another 3 seasons. Hart eventually landed another series, Melissa & Joey, and has since done several guest spots on other TV shows.
However, her filmography has remained sparse, logging the low-budget slasher film, Nine, and the Christian drama sequel, God’s Not Dead 2. The latter was moderately successful, but only because the initial budget was so low. And it certainly hasn’t gotten the attention of any big studios.
17 Matthew Perry
It seems no former Friend drew a shorter post-sitcom stardom straw than Matthew Perry. He made an earnest go of movie stardom in the late '90s and 2000s. He even found moderate success with romcoms like The Whole Nine Yards and 17 Again. But he was also tied to flops like Almost Heroes and Fools Rush In.
One could argue that it was his more popular co-stars, like Bruce Willis and Zac Efron, who were responsible for those films that hit.
Though Perry seems a permanent fixture on the television casting rolodex, most recently starring as Ted Kennedy in the mini series, The Kennedys: Decline and Fall, he’s been non-existent on the silver screen lately. Could he be any less of a movie star?
16 David Caruso
Kids today probably barely register David Caruso, unless they’ve been watching CSI: Miami with their grandmothers. But once upon a time, he fancied himself too big for his TV britches.
Caruso wrought havoc on the set of NYPD Blue, drawing cast and crew into overtime with his demands for retakes. During the second season, after demanding $70,000 per episode, Caruso left to pursue what he believed what his destiny as feature film star.
His first attempt was the aptly titled crime thriller Kiss of Death. But the biggest nail in the coffin was Jade, an erotic thriller from the sordid mind of Basic Instinct scribe Joe Eszterhas. Though the 2001 horror film Session 9 was moderately praised, Caruso was already a casting joke.
In 2002, he joined the CSI franchise and we all know the story from there.
15 Jensen Ackles
Jensen Ackles first turned heads as the most moral Salem citizen on Days of Our Lives. Then he found his niche in genre television like Dark Angel, and a recurring role as Jen’s sober boyfriend on Dawson’s Creek. He lost the lead in Smallville to Tom Welling but later returned as Lana’s boyfriend.
Ackles had already worn in Dean Winchester’s leather jacket when he landed the lead in the big-budget 3D remake My Bloody Valentine. Though it was a moderate success, and his performance was well received, he went back to saving people and hunting things with his TV brother.
Supernatural is currently in its 13th season, so Ackles doesn’t appear to be sweating it. But he has plans to try his luck again on the big screen. This time, he’s part of an ensemble cast in Josh Duhamel’s writing/directing debut comedy, The Buddy Games, which is currently in production.
14 Emily VanCamp
Everwood’s VanCamp managed to revamp her girl-next-door image when she took the lead on the ABC drama Revenge. For 4 seasons, audiences delighted in her turn as undercover vigilante Amanda Clarke. But try as she might, VanCamp never could convince Hollywood to let her shine on the big screen.
VanCamp dipped her toes in the Marvel waters as Sharon Carter in the Captain America franchise. But her performance apparently didn’t make enough of an impression to fully ingratiate her into the superhero movie genre. She also tried her hand at indie fare with Black Irish and the Indonesian horror flick, Carriers, but favorable critical reception did nothing to boost her film career.
Fortunately, she’ll be back on TV in 2018 in the upcoming Fox medical drama, The Resident.
13 Courteney Cox
While Courteney Cox can count herself as one of the more successful Friends alumni, she has never been able to reach Jennifer Aniston proportions when it comes to the big screen. Despite landing supporting roles in big hit films like Ace Ventura and the Scream series, Cox has never been able to convince the studios that she is movie star material.
Cox continued to thrive on television, taking the lead on TBS’s Cougar Town and then Dirt. But after a couple of failed TV pilots – Charity Case and Barely Famous, she took a break from acting altogether. It appears Cox has begun to shift her career behind the scenes, taking an executive producing role on Celebrity Game Night.
Besides, with all those sweet Friends residuals, she doesn’t exactly need to count on a movie career to pay her bills.
12 Alexis Bledel
While fast-talking her way through teenage-hood on Gilmore Girls, Bledel appeared in the ensemble casts of hit films like Sin City and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But her post-Rory Gilmore efforts, including a handful of romcoms and the action comedy Violet & Daisy, were embarrassing failures.
For a while, it seemed like Bledel was having difficulty distancing herself from her adorably awkward intellectual alter ego. Perhaps now that she’s proven her range and dramatic chops by winning an Emmy for Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Hollywood will start to see her as capable of more.
11 John Krasinski
John Krasinski played supporting roles in a whole bunch of movies before earning his claim to fame as Jim Halpert on The Office. He continued to pop up in big films like It’s Complicated and The Muppets. And things were looking up when he received critical acclaim for co-starring with Maya Rudolph in the Sam Mendes/Dave Eggers dramedy, Away We Go. Then he appeared in Gus Van Sant’s fracking polemic, Promised Land. But these titles failed to spark an indie career.
Krasinski switched gears and attempted to engage action star mode when he beefed up to play a CIA contractor in 13 Hours, but audiences failed to show up for his action debut. Still, he's set to play Jack Ryan in a new TV series.
Though he hasn't given up on films,he apparently decided to go D.I.Y. with his directorial debut, A Quiet Place. The plot of the film, also starring Emily Blunt, remains something of a mystery.
10 Andy Samberg
It’s not that Andy Samberg isn’t super busy, but it does appear that the former SNL star’s talents work better on the small screen. After he left the sketch comedy show, the expectation was that he was following in the footsteps of Adam Sandler and Will Farrell. It didn’t pan out that way, even after he starred alongside Sandler in That’s My Boy.
Samberg also tried his hand at romcoms, but he was never able to knock it out of the park like he could with The Lonely Island shorts - who also suffered a big screen flop with Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. He voiced the lead in the 2016 animated family film, Storks, but it wasn’t exactly the high profile gig he needed to elevate his stock as a movie star.
Samberg continues to kill it on the small screen as the haphazardly effective cop Jake Peralta on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Perhaps he’s wise to stick with what he does best.
9 Michael C. Hall
There’s no question that Michael C. Hall is an extremely versatile dramatic actor. The morally conflicted undertaker he played on Six Feet Under is a world away from the self-assured vigilante serial killer he played on Dexter. But despite numerous nominations from the Golden Globes, Emmys and the Screen Actors Guild, Hall hasn’t brought his skills to the big screen.
For a while, took a break from screens altogether, choosing to strut his stuff in live productions like Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the David Bowie musical Lazarus. He currently has a recurring voiceover role as Toffee on the animated comedy series Star vs. the Forces of Evil. He also appeared in a supporting capacity in Liam Neeson’s historical drama Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House. But with all that talent, it’s surprising that Hall still isn’t considered a bankable film star.
8 Chad Michael Murray
Chad Michael Murray was a WB darling, furrowing his brow on the likes of Gilmore Girls and Dawson’s Creek before landing his own series, One Tree Hill. That sort of ubiquity usually spells success for a handsome young lad. He even dipped his toes in Disney’s cinematic waters in Freaky Friday and A Cinderella Story, just as One Tree Hill got off the ground.
But the horror remake House of Wax didn’t go as well as he’d planned, and a rumored affair with Paris Hilton, resulting in the broken heart of his One Tree Hill co-star and real-life wife, Sophia Bush, further damaged his rep. He followed that up with The Haunting in Connecticut 2, and a small role in A Madea Christmas, which didn’t exactly get his post-CW career off on a good foot.
Murray will likely keep popping up on TV as he did in Agent Carter and Sun Records. But the upcoming paranormal horror film Camp Cold Brook doesn’t sound like it’s going to do him any favors in the matinee idol department.
7 Ben McKenzie
In 2003, McKenzie punched his way into our hearts on The O.C. as Ryan Atwood, the troubled but well-meaning kid from the other side of the tracks. The show gained a loyal following and made stars out of McKenzie and his co-stars.
During a 2005 O.C. hiatus, McKenzie garnered buzz when he co-starred with Amy Adams in the indie drama Junebug. The film was a critical success and many cited McKenzie’s performance as a highlight. On the gritty cop drama Southland, he showed tremendous range as his well-meaning character became slowly corrupted.
Since then McKenzie has appeared in several films you’ve never heard of, including 88 Minutes, Decoding Annie Parker, and Goodbye World. But he’s nowhere near the film actor trajectory for which he once seemed destined. Instead, he’s stuck in a TV cop loop, currently portraying Detective James Gordon on Gotham.
6 Katee Sackhoff
Katee Sackhoff flew onto our radar as the wild card fighter pilot, Starbuck, on the popular Battlestar Galactica reboot. At only 23, Sackhoff was clearly capable of some impressive dramatic work and the BSG set was practically cinematic in scale. It stood to reason that she would be able to translate that work to feature films, but it didn’t work out that way.
Though some of her films were critically acclaimed, they were commercial bombs. Riddick made money but was trashed by critics.
Meanwhile, Sackhoff thrived on television in roles on 24, Bionic Woman, and a recurring spot on Nip/Tuck. She guest starred as herself on The Big Bang Theory and The Cleveland Show. Longmire is in its final season.
Next, Sackhoff will give movies another go when she helms the upcoming sci-fi film, Origin Unknown. Perhaps playing to her strengths on the big screen will finally pay off.
5 Michael Chiklis
The Thing from the Fantastic Four films is certainly among Chiklis’ most recognizable roles, but most people can’t name another movie featuring the gruff cue ball actor. Besides, Ben Grimm is probably only the fourth lead of The Fantastic Four.
Chiklis is best known for his work on television crime dramas. For five seasons, he played Tony Scali on ABC’s The Commish. Then, he inhabited the corrupt cop Vic Mackey on The Shield for seven seasons. He won a Golden Globe for his work as Mackey. Chiklis most recently played another commish-turned-villain on Gotham.
He plans to give movies another go in 2018 with supporting roles in 2 films - the crime drama, Riptide and the straight-up drama 1985 - but there are still no plans to give Chiklis top billing on any marquees.
4 Timothy Olyphant
Though Tim Olyphant has shown a great deal of range, his wheelhouse is unquestionably his portrayals of grizzled law enforcement officers throughout time. Perhaps its because of his seamless inhabitations of Justified’s Raylen Givens and Deadwood’s Seth Bullock that casting directors can’t picture him in any other context. Not that he hasn’t tried.
Olyphant has repeatedly played charismatic villains in films like Go, The Girl Next Door, and A Perfect Getaway. But his shot at the big time fell flat in the tepid video game adaptation Hitman, and when he starred opposite Bruce Willis in Live Free Or Die Hard.
Olyphant also popped up in the background of the dramedies This Is Where I Leave You and Mother’s Day. With his talent and chiseled features, it’s baffling that he has yet to reach cinematic A-List status.
Check out his inspired comedic work on Netflix’s The Santa Clarita Diet, as a well-meaning husband supporting his wife’s unconventional eating habits.
3 Kyle Chandler
Kyle Chandler has proven that he can deliver the hell out of an inspirational monologue on a television drama. Despite having clear eyes and a full heart, he hasn’t done much winning at the movies.
His Emmy-worthy turn as coach Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights may have earned him supporting roles in acclaimed films like Argo, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Zero Dark Thirty, but it didn’t instill enough confidence in the Hollywood powers to let him take the lead on anything.
Chandler recently concluded three seasons on the Netflix drama Bloodline and he’s got a few more supporting gigs on the horizon, including Game Night, First Man, and Godzilla: King of Monsters. But those titles aren’t exactly threatening to bring him into leading man territory.
2 Tom Selleck
Tom Selleck is obviously a bonafide Hollywood legend, but it’s primarily his television roles that are responsible for his success. The mustachioed actor is best known for playing the iconic detective Magnum, P.I., Monica’s boyfriend on Friends, and most recently, New York Cop Frank Reagan on Blue Bloods.
Think way back to the 1980s and you might recall the time he, Ted Danson, and Steve Guttenberg came together to raise a baby (and later, a little lady).
Die-hard fans and grandmas know that he keeps pretty busy writing, producing, and starring in a series of TV movies chronicling the adventures of police chief Jesse Stone. To date, there are 9 Jesse Stone movies with another one on the way, so he clearly enjoys making them.
Selleck has already cemented his celebrity status so he maybe doesn’t need celluloid to feel accomplished.
1 Zach Braff
Granted, Garden State was the indie hit that launched 1000 Shins songs and copycat movies about 20-something white male ennui. But what has Zach Braff done for us lately? Even after his directorial debut, he was still best known for his goofy antics on the medical sitcom Scrubs.
It seems the only person he made an impression on in the movie biz was James Franco. He met Franco when he played a supporting role in Oz the Great and Powerful. Franco later cast Braff in In Dubious Battle and most recently, hired him to play himself in The Disaster Artist. There’s no telling how much, if any, Franco money went into Braff’s second autobiographical film, Wish I Was Here. But it couldn’t have been much, because Braff turned to Kickstarter to fund the film.
And there endeth Braff’s IMDb credits to date. Might be time to hit up those fans for money again.
Can you think of any other TV actors who couldn’t hack it on the big screen? Let us know in the comments!