Awkward Childhood Stars Who Turned Insanely Hot
Most people can look back to a point in their youth when they were a little awkward. Hopefully it happened in elementary or middle school, and not later in high school, as it did for me. (Jeez, those were some rough years.) Lucky for you, though, you’re not famous (or are you?) and half your life isn’t spent in front of a camera. Why, you ask? Well, with the riches comes the overexposure. Thanks, paparazzi! While your awkward phase lives on only in some private memories and photos, young celebrities have their worst looks immortalized forever. Of course, then they get older, shed that youthful demeanor, and put all of that awkwardness behind. Like us, these awkward childhood stars can now look back fondly on their former selves and marvel at what they have become. (What, you don’t marvel at what you’ve become? Just us? OK…)
Take a look at these incredible transformations that have happened before our eyes. Do you remember all of these child celebrities? Take a trip down memory lane as we reveal the most beautiful caterpillars-turned-butterflies who are now Hollywood A-listers, and others who have struggled to find fame since their prepubescent days.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March 2016. It has been updated throughout.
Kylie Jenner doesn’t really need an introduction these days. The Keeping Up with the Kardashians star is ubiquitous thanks to the popular Bravo show and her legions of social media followers. But despite Jenner’s now-universally emulated fashion style, she was once just a little awkward kid growing up in relative obscurity. She has big sister Kim Kardashian to thank for her stardom.
She was the crush of many young boys on The Wonder Years. Danica McKellar shied away from the spotlight after the show, effectively breaking away from Hollywood for much of the early 21st century. But in recent years, she’s steadily acted and provided voiceover work.
The three most memorable things about Jerry Maguire were Tom Cruise saying “Show me the money,” Renée Zellweger’s “You had me at hello,” and Jonathan Lipnicki as the endlessly adorable Ray Boyd. Lipnicki used the film’s success to land several other roles as a young actor, including in Stuart Little, but his resume as an adult hasn’t been impressive. He’s still young, though, so things might turn out better soon enough.
We knew her as the older kid spy in Spy Kids, but PenaVega’s looks are no clandestine venture anymore. She’s maintained a constant presence with mostly TV work, as well as some films. PenaVega has also had a somewhat public personal life after she married actor and singer Carlos Pena Jr., just a year after divorcing her first husband. The couple hosts a popular YouTube video series.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has become a darling of independent cinema over the last few years, but it was a popular 1990s sitcom that helped propel the young actor to fame. Gordon-Levitt played an anxious teenage alien resembling a human in the NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, opposite actor Jon Lithgow. Gordon-Levitt fell off the radar for some time, making few appearances in films or on TV, but it was a couple of indie roles, in Brick and 500 Days of Summer, that made people pay attention again. He’s appeared in some big-budget films as well, most notably as Detective Blake in the trilogy-ending Batman film The Dark Knight Rises.
We adored her freckles in The Parent Trap, but it didn’t take long for Lindsay Lohan to show that there’s more to her than freckles and red hair. She became a huge star with Freaky Friday, then in 2004 shot to star status with Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and Mean Girls. To say Lohan has fallen off in recent years would be an understatement, but we’ll always be able to fondly remember those good old days.
Tatyana Ali is certified fresh since her Fresh Prince of Bel Air days, and the child star has continued to pop up in both film and TV. After Fresh Prince and a recurring role on Sesame Street, she eventually landed a role on The Young and the Restless, then Love That Girl!, and most recently the TV series Fly.
If it seems like you’ve known Daniel Radcliffe for his entire life, that’s because you’re mostly right. Radcliffe shot to stardom as the “Boy who lived” in the beloved Harry Potter film series and stuck it all the way through the seven subsequent films. (Warner Bros. split Book 7 into two films.) Radcliffe has maintained steady work in film, TV, and even theater since finally putting down the magic wand.
If hit TV show Party of Five‘s going off-air forced you into a deep, dark hole with little left to live for, then you might be forgiven for not knowing that little Claudia Salinger blossomed into a beautiful young woman. Lacey Chabert never really went away after Party of Five; she just shifted focus into voice acting before hitting the big screen in Mean Girls, where literally every guy in the theater was like, “Wait, that’s who now?I” We, for one, are very happy that Chabert didn’t decide to leave acting for good.
Do you remember that adorable, pigtailed dancer from the “Work It” Missy Elliott music video? Well, this is her today … You’re welcome. Stoner has over 100 acting and voice-acting credits to her name and still dances her heart out. Speaking of hearts, ours is now taken.
The ultimate human example of a caterpillar transforming into a beautiful, beautiful butterfly is Matthew Lewis. The youngster played the awkward, bumbling Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter film series (He, of course, ended up being one of the main heroes in the end.) It wasn’t long after Lewis left the Potter spotlight that he reemerged and conjured up all sorts of weird feelings for women the world over. The Sorting Hat would definitely put him into House Hotness today.
Anna Chlumsky became an overnight child sensation after her heartbreaking role in My Girl. She grabbed a few more roles, but pretty much disappeared in 1998. In 2007, however, she reappeared in a few TV shows and films and everybody was like, “Why do I know this actress?” Chlumsky grabbed a recurring role on Law & Order, then the acclaimed Hannibal series, and then the highly acclaimed HBO comedy Veep. Chlumsky has been nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress at the Emmys five times for her work on the show.
He was a staple of ABC’s Friday night “TGIF” comedy lineup and spawned the cultural tagline, “Did I do that?” Jaleel White played Steve Urkel — the brainy, scrawny kid next door — on Family Matters. White became internationally famous, but unfortunately could do little to separate the character from his true self. White continues to act, but lands roles that never amount to much thanks to his nerdy typecasting.
Claire Danes was the quintessential awkward teen in the beloved My So-Called Life, and as you can see, that awkwardness extended into real life. (Sorry, but we just had to share this image.) Danes got the last laugh, though; she’s stealing hearts in the heartland, and all over, with her Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning role on Homeland.
When an actor has a short resume, that usually means trouble in Tinseltown. Not in Nicola Peltz’s case, though; her short resume is anything but troubling. She made her debut in the family Christmas comedy Deck the Halls, which helped her land a role as Katara in The Last Airbender. She then snagged a huge break with a part in Transformers: Age of Extinction, along with the lead role of Bradley Martin in the acclaimed Bates Motel TV series. It seems that we haven’t seen the last of Peltz, and that’s A-OK with us.
To remember a young Jerry O’Connell on the big screen, you’ll have to go all the way back to 1986’s Rob Reiner film, Stand By Me. O’Connell played the chunky and lovable Vern, but the decades were most certainly kind to O’Connell, as he’s continued a steady Hollywood career in film and television.
It’s not hard to argue that Abigail Breslin had some awkward years growing up. She starred in a movie, Little Miss Sunshine, that was about a young awkward girl who wants nothing more than to compete in beauty pageants. The star-making role even landed young Breslin an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Breslin used that fame to propel her career into the stratosphere, where she now gets top billing in major films and TV projects.
If you’re not a fan of Harry Potter and haven’t seen the movies, then you may not know Afshan Azad. The young actress was just 17 years old when she landed the role of Padma Patil, a girl of house Ravenclaw, in The Goblet of Fire. Fans saw the Bangladeshi-born actress come of age with her roles in the next four films. Unfortunately, if you want to see more of Azad, you’ll need to watch the movies, as they are the only American films she’s starred in.
Did you ever wonder what happened to that boy in About a Boy? No, just us? OK. Anyway, Nicholas Hoult played the adorable Marcus Brewer in the critically acclaimed film and would later explode onto the Hollywood scene with numerous starring roles in big-budget films like X-Men: First Class and Mad Max: Fury Road.
There are probably few 90s kids who could forget the Robin Williams-Dustin Hoffman live-action version of Hook. The film was a smash success at the box office despite lukewarm reviews from critics. For big fans of the film, you probably remember young Amber Scott, who played Maggie Banning. Scott was just 7 years old at the time of filming. So where is she today? That’s up for debate. She never appeared in another live film. (Her only other role is a voiceover credit.) A headshot (pictured right) surfaced years ago of the grownup Scott, but few details of its origin or where she is now are known.
She was the high school dream of millions of boys. Now, Danielle Fishel’s Topanga days are over, but it’s likely that many guys haven’t been able to get over her thanks to those looks. Fishel reprised her role for Girl Meets World, but hasn’t pursued many projects in the spotlight of Hollywood.
Zac Efron started his career hitting all the high notes as a dorky tween on Disney’s High School Musical, but since then has grown into a major Hollywood A-lister. Efron has been as busy as they come in recent years, landing starring roles in Neighbors and its sequel, the film version of Baywatch, and The Greatest Showman. And he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Neil Patrick Harris
Being a child star is probably never easy, but Neil Patrick Harris seems to have kept his head cool, not let the fame get to him, and maintain a lucrative show business career all the while. Harris burst onto the scene as the titular boy genius on Doogie Howser, M.D. when he was just 16 years old. Harris kept acting, but didn’t land many notable roles. That all changed when the actor seemed to completely transform himself as the heterosexual playboy friend Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. The smash hit completely revitalized Harris’ career, and the performance was exceptional considering Harris is an out, gay man with an adorable family. (Seriously, their Instagram feed is too cute for words.)
Soleil Moon Frye
She had spunk in Punky Brewster, and now Soleil Moon Frye has a whole lot more to behold. Frye’s resume is loaded, mostly with voice-acting roles in shows like The Proud Family, Bratz, and Planet Sheen. Her most notable recurring role in the flesh was in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.
He never stopped believing in Santa in the 1994 holiday classic The Santa Clause, but Eric Lloyd’s Hollywood career didn’t have quite the same magic. The young actor returned for the sequels and landed numerous small roles in TV and film, but never really found that breakout role. He also dabbles in music as the lead singer and a guitar player for the band Radiomason.
There’s just something about these Harry Potter kids … It’s not really surprising. They were introduced to the world as young actors, and we watched them all grow up. Emma Watson has not only become a style icon in Hollywood, but also one of the most socially conscious individuals fighting for a better planet. She continues to land leading roles in Hollywood, has become an outspoken activist for equal rights, graduated from Brown University, and was named a UN Women’s goodwill ambassador.
If you equate the word “crazy” with Shia LeBeouf these days, we can’t blame you. The actor has seemed to take a detour into crazy town. He’s gotten into physical altercations with everyday people and has taken some questionable film roles in recent years. It’s hard to believe that just a couple of years ago, many considered LeBeouf one of the next big stars in cinema. His promising childhood roles blossomed into A-list billing in a new Indiana Jones movie that nobody liked, and then some Michael Bay Transformers movies that nobody liked … Wait, maybe LeBeouf has always accepted crappy roles.
Do you remember Harriet the Spy? If so, you likely recall a surreptitious nerdy brunette. But Trachtenberg has shed that demure look, and that’s helped her score tons of high-profile roles in shows through the years, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 17 Again, Mercy, and Gossip Girl.
Daniel Curtis Lee
After getting his big break in Nickelodeon’s Ned’s Declassified and receiving a couple Young Artist Award nominations for his work, Daniel Curtis Lee looked set for stardom. But despite entering the world of Hollywood hotties, Lee hasn’t made it big (yet). A recurring role on Fox’s Glee has been his biggest hit to date.
Hey Alyssa Milano, who’s the boss?! She’s been the boss of many sets since coming out of her childhood shell. Milano grew up before our eyes on Who’s the Boss? and then Charmed us to “crushville” on the hit WB show. Most people don’t remember that Milano was also the young girl from the hit Arnold Schwarzenegger film Commando.
Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may have missed the mark with critics, but at least Freddie Highmore can say it helped launch his career. Highmore played the lead child role of Charlie Bucket alongside Johnny Depp. Since then, Highmore has received high acclaim on a number of projects, including Bates Motel, and he landed a Golden Globe nomination for the ABC sitcom The Good Doctor.
Fortunately, thanks to the Twilight series, we’ve been blessed to watch Kristen Stewart grow up. Unfortunately, Twilight is forever etched into posterity. Still, we’ll take more of K-Stew when we can get it. Not many people realize that Stewart had her major breakout role as Jodie Foster’s daughter in director David Fincher’s critically acclaimed Panic Room. The actress has been in a slew of popular movies and has become an outspoken advocate of gay rights.
Did you ever think that pale nihilist Wednesday Addams would grow up to be the adorable blonde Christina Ricci that we know today? (If you did, can you give us some lottery tips?) The interesting thing about Ricci is that she continues to take on off-beat roles in both film and TV, and that hasn’t hurt her career in the slightest. Like little Wednesday, Ricci continues to march to the beat of her own drum.
It’s safe to say that Elijah Wood didn’t have a normal childhood. Since he was 8 years old, Wood has been acting consistently and has landed major leading roles through the years. Gone now are the chubby, childhood cheeks, replaced by the chiseled cheekbones and stubble of adulthood. Throw in his quirky, eccentric roles onscreen, and he’s almost too much to resist.
Like Selena Gomez, her Barney and Friends castmate, Demi Lovato has been in the spotlight for more years than not. A few years after Barney, Lovato was cast alongside the Jonas Brothers in the TV movie Camp Rock, and she hasn’t looked back since. Lovato has become an international superstar with numerous musical nominations and accolades.
Candice Cameron Bure
The eldest Tanner daughter shed her youthful demeanor after Full House and used her star status to land a number of small roles in film and TV. Candice Cameron Bure now plays the lead in the Hallmark Channel’s Aurora Teagarden murder-mystery movies, and came back to the Tanner home in Netflix’s Fuller House.
Alex D. Linz
Another 90s child actor who never quite hit it big, Alex D. Linz melted hearts alongside George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day. He then made us laugh in Home Alone 3 and Max Keeble’s Big Move, but never could seem to move away from the pigeonhole of child stardom. It appears that Linz left his acting career behind in 2007.
In 2016, viewers of The Voice were shocked when they discovered that one of their favorite contestants was a former child actress. When Alisan Porter revealed that she was Curly Sue from the titular 1991 family comedy, people couldn’t believe that her namesake brown curls had gone to the wayside. But while Porter didn’t pursue a Hollywood career, per se, she’s been very active in the music scene, winning season 10 of The Voice and landing a lead role in The Ten Commandments: The Musical.
Like her other Harry Potter costars, Evanna Lynch was just that perfect blend of geeky and cute for her role of Luna Lovegood. Lynch, these days, has shed her wizarding robe for more down-to-earth roles in film and TV. She’s failed to capture any leading spots, but the young actress seems to be just getting started in her career.
If you’ve made it this far in our list, you may have noticed a common theme when it comes to the stars of the Harry Potter film franchise: Many of the child actors grew into super hotties. Ginny Weasley, known in real life as Bonnie Wright, is certainly no exception. The redheaded actress kept busy from 2001 to 2011 with the eight Potter films and continues to work on one to two projects every year. Wright looks to have a stellar career in front of her.
If you loved Malcolm in the Middle (which you should since it’s a damn good show), then you likely remember the three main brothers. Only Frankie Muniz really shot to fame of the three brothers, but Reece, the second eldest (don’t forget Francis!), certainly didn’t suffer. He’s made more moves behind the camera in recent years, serving as a producer on several projects. He also does a lot of work for charities in his spare time.
Chanel West Coast
Chanel West Coast, born Chelsea Chanel Dudley, is no stranger to celebrity. She grew up in both Hollywood and New York City, where her DJ father would take her to popular nightclubs. It was through these connections that Dudley landed roles on several MTV series before she began recording music. It seems like the music industry is where her passion lies, as Dudley doesn’t step in front of the camera much these days. Here’s hoping she blesses us with a nice summer jam one of these years.
Many remember Josh Peck as the chubby, funny brother from Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh, but you might not recognize him anymore. Peck has certainly lost all his baby fat and looks fit as a fiddle these days. He still acts, but much of his resume is filled with voiceover roles, including as Eddie in the popular Ice Age cartoon franchise.