Sitcom Stars Who Made It To Hollywood's Elite A-List

There are a million ways actors land their first showbiz break. Natalie Portman was spotted by a modeling agent while she was having pizza with her mom. Rosario Dawson was chilling on her New York City stoop when she caught a film director's attention. Charlie Hunnam was Christmas shopping when a TV production manager noticed him.

Along with chance discoveries, many actors share similar career beginnings. We've rounded up a famous group in which all the performers starred on TV sitcoms before making it big in Hollywood. In some cases, a TV series was a blip on their radar. Other times, a show may still be one of their career-defining moments. In any event, each of these A-listers charted their own unique path to Hollywood stardom. If you're a fan of "Friends," "The Office," "The Big Bang Theory," "That '70s Show," or "Parks and Recreation," we have the scoop on some of Tinseltown's greatest triumphs from those shows.

A few of these celebs never imagined they would be at the top of the heap. "Not in my wildest dreams," Steve Carell told Variety. "... I just wanted to be an actor, to be employed and make enough to support my family." Here is an inside look at some of your favorite sitcom actors and how they made it to Hollywood's elite A-list.

Jennifer Aniston is more than a rom-com queen

After starring in one of the most popular series in TV history, Jennifer Aniston, who played Rachel Green on "Friends," carved out an impressive career in film and TV. Aniston won an Emmy for her performance on the sitcom in 2002, the same year the show won for outstanding comedy series. Aniston doesn't take the influence of "Friends" lightly. "There are people who say that watching 'Friends' has saved them during cancer diagnosis, or so many people with just so much gratitude for a little show," Aniston told Allure.

Aniston starred in a series of big-screen comedies post-"Friends," including 2006's "The Break-Up," "We're the Millers" in 2013, and Adam Sandler's Netflix film, "Murder Mystery," the streamer's most popular original movie of 2019. Aniston won raves for her dramatic turn in 2014's "Cake," playing a woman coping with chronic pain. 

In an interview with TheWrap, Aniston acknowledged that some people may always see her as Rachel Green. "I was in people's living rooms every week for 10 years ... so I understand, that's a hard shift to make," she said. The actor, who continues her role as TV news anchor Alex Levy on Season 3 of Apple TV+'s "The Morning Show," likes having both serious and comedic roles and finds connections between the styles. "I think one accesses one part of my brain and the other accesses the other," Aniston told Wicked Local. "But any time I approach any character — comedy or drama — it's grounded in reality, coming from the truth."

Steve Carell shines in dramatic roles, too

Steve Carell rose to fame as Michael Scott, the politically incorrect manager of Dunder Mifflin in beloved workplace comedy "The Office," which ran for nine seasons on NBC beginning in 2005. That same year, the former correspondent on "The Daily Show" starred in a box office smash, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," which he also co-wrote. Of his famously painful (and real) chest-waxing scene with Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen, Carell told Radio Free, "I thought to see them laughing at me in pain would be probably the funniest part of the scene."

Carell received an Oscar nomination for his performance in 2014's "Foxcatcher," portraying convicted killer John du Pont. "I never saw him as a villain, and I didn't want to depict him in that way," the actor told The Guardian. "... He was someone who didn't possess the tools to achieve what he wanted out of life." The "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" alum starred alongside Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling in 2015's "The Good Short," playing hedge fund manager Mark Baum. Fans of all ages know and love Carell as the voice of Gru in the "Despicable Me" franchise.

Carell, who played accused sexual predator Mitch Kessler on "The Morning Show," earned praise for his work in Hulu's 2022 psychological thriller "The Patient." Newsday called it Carell's "best performance yet." He's set to star alongside Ryan Reynolds and John Krasinski in "Imaginary Friends," which Krasinski has written and directs. "This is the 'Office' reunion movie," Krasinski told Jimmy Fallon. In turn, Carell told Stephen Colbert, "He's such a great director." 

Mila Kunis doesn't want to act with Ashton Kutcher anymore

To land her breakout role as Jackie Burkhart in the popular sitcom "That '70s Show," Mila Kunis didn't tell the truth. "There's a rumor going around that I may or may not have lied about my age for 'That '70s Show.' I'd like to make it very clear now, I did lie," she told Vanity Fair in 2022. At 14, Kunis was the only cast member playing her real age. When she filmed her final scene, she recalled to MTV News, "I've got to tell you, everyone was bawling. People were just crying. It was like a graduation. It was very surreal."

Recalling her role as the free-spirited Rachel Jansen in the 2008 comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Kunis told Vanity Fair, "It ended up being hands-down one of the most incredible experiences anybody could ever ask for as a young actor." Kunis was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as Lily, Natalie Portman's rival ballerina in 2010's "Black Swan." 

In 2022, she produced and starred in the Netflix thriller, "Luckiest Girl Alive," giving a performance The Epoch Times described as "her career acting zenith." The actor, who reprises her role of Jackie Burkhart in the Netflix reboot "That '90s Show" alongside her husband Ashton Kutcher, prefers not to work with him anymore. "It was really hard for me to do. Like, acting with my husband and not being like 'why are you making that face?'" Kunis said at a film screening in New York City, per the New York Post.

Ashton Kutcher is one half of a Hollywood power couple

When Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis were asked to appear on "That '90s Show," they felt like they couldn't not do it. "We thought, 'Listen, we're only in the position that we're in because of that show, so let's just go back and do this,'" he told Variety. "We just went back and had fun for a week." Following Kutcher's stint as Michael Kelso on "That '70s Show," the host of MTV's "Punk'd" joined the cast of "Two and a Half Men" after Charlie Sheen was sacked.

Series producer Chuck Lorre told TV Guide about Kutcher, "Here was a guy with great comedy instincts, tons of experience, and who is totally fearless — taking the job proves that." Kutcher starred in the 2011 rom-com "No Strings Attached," a film he noted to E! News was "basically the same movie" as Kunis' flick "Friends With Benefits," starring Justin Timberlake. 

In 2013, Kutcher took on the role of Apple founder Steve Jobs in the biopic, "Jobs." The actor, who knew many of Jobs' colleagues, felt protective of the former CEO's big-screen legacy. "Even if I screw it up and totally bomb it, I love that guy. I'd rather have someone that cared about him screw it up than someone who didn't," Kutcher told The Verge. In February 2023, "The Ranch" alum returned to the romantic comedy genre, starring alongside "Sweet Home Alabama" star Reese Witherspoon in Netflix's "Your Place or Mine."

Will Smith is one of Hollywood's most bankable stars

Will Smith started out his career as rapper the Fresh Prince, with his friend "DJ Jazzy Jeff" Townes. It was his seven-season stint on the sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" that made him a star. Smith's first big-screen hit was 1996's "Independence Day," the highest-grossing movie at that time, and his 1997 film "Men in Black" was a summer blockbuster. Smith's successes continued into the 2000s, as the actor received an Oscar nomination for his performance as boxer Muhammad Ali in the 2002 biopic, "Ali."

"For four or five months at a time, I get to wear people's lives, so I got to wear Muhammad Ali's greatness," Smith said at a Sports Illustrated event when presenting an award in Ali's name in 2015. "I got to study and feel and embody the soul of the man." In 2022, the actor won an Academy award for his performance as Venus and Serena Williams' father in "King Richard."

Speaking to GQ, Smith explained that his dad and Richard Williams were alike. "So when I first read [the script], I understood what it's like to want your kids to succeed," he said. "... I understood what it was to try to mold a young mind, how it's different with sons than it is with daughters." "Emancipation," Smith's first film after his now-infamous Oscars slap, bombed at the box office. "Will knows it's a long road to redemption and a lot of folks won't forgive him," a Radar source supposedly said. "But this really rams it home."

Keri Russell is a bona fide action star

Keri Russell made her small-screen debut in "The All New Mickey Mouse Club." Her claim to fame may always be the titular role in The WB's "Felicity," which was created by "Lost" executive producer J.J. Abrams. Russell took a self-imposed break from acting in the early 2000s, post-"Felicity." 

In 2006, the actor joined Tom Cruise in Abrams' action spy flick, "Mission Impossible III." In an interview with The Tufts Daily, Russell revealed that she loved doing stunts with the action star, as daunting as some of the scenarios may be. In one scene, stunt coordinators prepped her with caution. "Okay, we're gonna harness you into Tom, and you're gonna jump out of the window, land on a van, and as soon as the van gets six inches away from this building, it's going to explode. Listen, if your hair catches on fire, don't let go of the van, because you will fall off," Russell recalled.

She later starred alongside her boyfriend Matthew Rhys as KGB operatives in the FX Cold War-era espionage thriller, "The Americans." "Even though it is this spy show, and even though there are these action sequences and car chases, it always goes back to this somehow relatable marriage story," Russell told The New York Times. "Those are the stories that always rise to the top." Russell is in the 2023 thriller movie "Cocaine Bear," and she was spotted filming Netflix's political series "The Diplomat" with co-star Ato Essandoh in fall 2022. 

George Clooney is a Hollywood power player

Long before he was a Hollywood heavyweight, George Clooney was a small-screen sex symbol, playing a hunky handyman on ABC's female-centric sitcom, "The Facts of Life." "Quite honestly, I was objectified," Clooney told The Washington Post in 2022. "I remember doing scenes on 'Roseanne' and I'd drop a clipboard and bend over, and they'd all slap me on the a**." Following his tenure as Dr. Doug Ross on "ER," he appeared in the Coen brothers' 2000 comedy, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" "The Coen brothers allowed me to just say, 'Okay, just be a full-out character actor,'" he said. 

In 2006, Clooney won an Oscar for his supporting role in the political thriller "Syriana," and he later received nods for "Michael Clayton," "The Descendants," and the 2010 comedy "Up in the Air." His character, Ryan Bingham, is a corporate hatchet man who delivers the news to employees that they are out of a job. "Clooney gives his most fully felt performance to date as a smooth hedonist who comes to realize that he may be drowning," wrote Entertainment Weekly.

Clooney also starred alongside Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, and Matt Damon in the hit heist film "Oceans 11" and its two sequels. Of his legacy, the Oscar winner told GQ, "I don't want to just be able at the end of my career to say how many films opened to number one. ... I wanted them to be films that would hold up longer than an opening weekend, and I've been lucky enough to have a few."

Kaley Cuoco's career soared after The Big Bang Theory

Kaley Cuoco first won fans in the early '00s family sitcom "8 Simple Rules," playing Bridget, the teenage daughter of Katey Sagal and the late John Ritter. "He treated me like his own daughter," Cuoco said of the actor, who died after collapsing on set in the show's second season. Speaking on ABC's "Superstar" docuseries (via USA Today), she continued, "He treated all of us kids like that. It was pretty incredible." Cuoco's signature role for 12 seasons was Penny the ditzy neighbor on the ratings juggernaut "The Big Bang Theory." 

"It was a feel-good silly show, and these guys really were the heart of it," Cuoco told Variety. "They made the nerd thing cool and popular and sexy and fun." She also recalled, "I thought, 'Maybe I'm, like, a sitcom girl forever.'" Clearly, the universe had more in store for the popular performer. Cuoco had appeared on the big screen in 1997's "Picture Perfect" and the 2005 rom-com "Lucky 13," but the actor struck gold after she optioned the book "The Flight Attendant."

Cuoco received two consecutive Emmy nominations for her performance as Cassie, the titular character caught up in a high-stakes web of international crime. In an interview with Collider, Cuoco was so happy that the HBO Max murder mystery resonated with fans, garnered positive reviews, and earned award nominations. "I would've bet millions that was not going to happen," she said.

Chris Pratt is a Hollywood blockbuster star

After appearing on "Everwood" and "The O.C.," Chris Pratt landed the role of Andy Dwyer, the goofy shoeshine guy on NBC's cult favorite, "Parks and Recreation." In an interview with Men's Health, the actor shared, "Andy on 'Parks and Rec' was my clown that I had honed my entire life, a guy who is affable, who's an intelligent person playing a dumb person."

Following the series' seven-season run, Pratt was already on his way to Hollywood stardom, with roles in 2011's "Moneyball" and the 2012 film "Zero Dark Thirty" alongside Jessica Chastain. In 2014, he joined the MCU, playing space avenger Peter "Star-Lord" Quill in "Guardians of the Galaxy," a character he has reprised throughout the franchise, with a third sequel set for 2023. 

In 2015, he starred as Owen Grady in "Jurassic World." The film earned over $1.6 billion worldwide and established Pratt's place in the franchise. "The first time I saw 'Jurassic Park,' I was 13 — I had no idea I was gonna ever be an actor ... and these folks were, like, cemented in my mind as icons," Pratt said on "Today." He also headlines Prime Video's "The Terminal List," playing a Navy Seal whose entire platoon is wiped out. "It was an opportunity for me to play a character who takes vengeance against the people who took his family," the actor told Men's Health, echoing a journalist's observation.

Jason Bateman wants to play 'average' characters

Jason Bateman was 12 when he made his small-screen debut in "Little House on the Prairie." Continuing his TV career, Bateman starred in "The Hogan Family" and directed a few episodes. His breakout role as Michael Bluth in the dysfunctional family comedy "Arrested Development" jump-started his career, but his agents warned him to steer clear of the show. Speaking to Vanity Fair, Bateman explained, "They said, yeah, you're not gonna want to read for that. That show's never gonna get on the air." The Emmy-winning series ran for a total of five seasons, earning Bateman a Golden Globe in 2003.

Bateman plays Jennifer Garner's husband in the 2007 fan-favorite drama "Juno," which was a best picture contender. In 2011, he teamed up with Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis to play a would-be killer in the black comedy "Horrible Bosses" and its sequel. Speaking to The Guardian, Bateman said of his British mother, "She established my sense of humor for me — that very dry, sarcastic, non-winking kind of wit. It's kind of become my style and my preference."

The actor received multiple Emmy nominations for his role as money launderer Marty Byrde in Netflix's hit series "Ozark," and he won for his directing in 2019. Bateman has weighed in on Marty's similarity to Michael Bluth. "I think they have similar blind spots," he told The Guardian in 2022. "Their arrogance and hubris leads to early decisions." Bateman admitted that he enjoys inhabiting roles that are in the neighborhood of "average." 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a long way from his child star days

Joseph Gordon-Levitt was already an established film actor when he won a role on NBC's award-winning series, "3rd Rock from the Sun." The actor has nothing but praise for the sitcom he practically grew up on. "I was on that show from age 13-19, so all my teenage years I spent with that family of people, and they're incredibly dear to me," he told The Hollywood Reporter.

One of Gordon-Levitt's most memorable roles was Cameron, a lovesick teenager in "10 Things I Hate About You," alongside Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger. Film critic Caitlin Quinlan dubbed the flick "the ultimate teen movie." Gordon-Levitt earned a Golden Globe nomination for the 2009 film "500 Days of Summer," playing Tom, a hopeless romantic pursuing the object of his affection, Zooey Deschanel. The actor then starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in 2010's "Inception," Christopher Nolan's acclaimed sci-fi thriller. 

In 2022, Gordon-Levitt took on the role of ousted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in the first installment of Showtime's anthology series, "Super Pumped." In an interview with Vanity Fair, the actor explained that the show was about more than the co-founder of the world's leading ride-sharing company. "It's about this drive to power, this drive to win, and this drive to make money at all costs," he said of the film. "If you put money above all, things are not gonna go well."

Tom Hanks is a beloved Hollywood star

It's been over four decades since Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari played two young professionals disguising themselves as women in ABC's "Bosom Buddies." Appearing on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," Hanks recalled of his late co-star, "He and I met, we picked up the scripts, and we started screwing around, and I actually thought, 'Oh, this is it. This is how this works. This is like a hand inside a glove.'" Since then, the actor has earned his place as one of Hollywood's most beloved stars.

He received his first Oscar nomination as Josh, a teenage boy who transforms into an adult in the 1988 hit fantasy comedy, "Big." Hanks' co-star Elizabeth Perkins told the New York Post, "[Josh] brings out this innocence in [my character] that's been shut down for a really long time. 'Big' was all about everybody regaining their innocence." In 1993, Hanks scored another hit, starring alongside Meg Ryan in the hugely successful rom-com "Sleepless in Seattle." They reteamed in 1998 for "You've Got Mail."

He won his first Academy award in '94 for "Philadelphia," playing a man living with HIV who was fired from his job. Hanks won a second Oscar for "Forrest Gump," a $678 million blockbuster film. Rolling Stone noted, "'Forrest Gump' is a movie heart-breaker of oddball wit and startling grace." Hanks' performances haven't always been lauded, as he's been the unfortunate nominee of a few Razzies and was met with unfavorable reviews for his portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker in "Elvis."

Leonardo DiCaprio's movie star mystique

After his brief stint as Luke Brower on "Growing Pains," Leonardo DiCaprio became a teen heartthrob, with leading roles in "Romeo + Juliet" and 1997's timeless classic, "Titanic," which earned over $1.8 billion worldwide at the box office. Speaking to GQ, director James Cameron explained that he almost didn't cast DiCaprio because the star didn't even want to read lines to get the part. "Every ounce of his entire being is just so negative — right up until I said, 'Action.' And then he turned into Jack," Cameron said. "And Kate [Winslet] just lit up ... Dark clouds had opened up, and a ray of sun came down and lit up Jack."

DiCaprio has received six Oscar nominations, including one for his breakout role in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and his performance in Martin Scorsese's 2013 award-winning film, "The Wolf Of Wall Street." The actor, who took home the statuette for his performance in "The Revenant," also won acclaim for his performance as an aging TV star in Quentin Tarantino's epic drama, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." "He is one of the most if not the most talented actor of his generation, and the most naturally gifted actor I've ever worked with," the director told Deadline

Despite all the accolades, DiCaprio may not perceive himself as a Hollywood A-lister. "I think I will always feel like an outsider," the Oscar winner told Time Out in 2016. "... I can remember getting rejected systematically by casting directors as a young kid. I felt like the biggest outsider there ever was; that I'd never belong in that club."

John Krasinski will always be known as Jim from The Office

"The Office" star Steve Carell once told his co-star John Krasinski, "They're always going to know us from 'The Office,'" Krasinski, who plays Jim Halpert on the series, recalled to Deadline in 2018. "But isn't that an honor?" the Emmy nominee had argued. He explained, "I really do believe that there's something about 'The Office' that is on the mantle in its own little box. It can never be touched; it can never be replicated, and I know I'll never have as lucky an experience as that."

In 2016, Krasinski made his directorial debut in the family drama "The Hollars," starring alongside Charlie Day and Anna Kendrick. In 2018, Krasinski and his wife Emily Blunt teamed up for their runaway hit, "A Quiet Place," playing a couple trying to protect their family from blind monsters with a superhuman sense of hearing. Krasinski, who also directed the film, made sure his marriage didn't overshadow the film's storyline.

"What we discovered, as an added bonus, was that it was actually really beneficial that we were married. I think that the idea of spouses having a secret language, it's the only language we could use," Krasinski explained to Deadline. Following "A Quiet Place II," the actor was cast as the titular CIA analyst in Amazon's "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan," a role previously played by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford. "You know you hope that someone like Jack Ryan's out there," Krasinski told Parade. "That there's someone with a moral compass fighting to do what's right."