Most working actors appreciate the fluidity of the medium — they can be in a movie one year, and then choose to work on a play or television series the next. Television, especially lately, has become so much richer and substantive. The level of conflict between characters, and even the dimensions and rawness of each character, makes working on a show much more desirable than the sitcoms of the 90s. So, it’s no wonder why we see big movie stars in tv series all the time now. Here are a few top actors that have made the switch.

Big Movie Stars in TV Series

Actors moving to the small screen

But as television gets more popular with storylines as intricate as classic literature, it’s no wonder some of the most brilliant actors are making the switch to tv, at least temporarily. 

Meryl Streep

Meryl is actually coming back to TV. Nominated for 21 Oscars since her role in the 1978 tv series, Holocaust, she’s done quite a bit since then, and has definitely distinguished herself as a movie star.

Her latest: HBO’s hit, Big Little Lies, playing Mary Louise Wright, the mother of the abusive Perry Wright (played by fellow movie actor Alexander Skarsgard). 

Streep is no stranger to television either, even after her first real role in Holocaust, she’s since voiced parts for The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and appeared in TV movies like Angels in America. She was supposedly set to star in J.J. Abrams’ The Nix, based on Nathaniel Hill’s novel of the same name. All we can do is impatiently wait.

Orlando Bloom

Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings superstar, Orlando Bloom, also stars in Netflix’s anthology series, Easy. He also plays Rycroft Philostrate in Carnival Row, an American neo-noir fantasy series, alongside Cara Delevingne.

A fun ensemble cast including Bloom

Bill Hader

I mean I’m not sure if he really counts, because he started on SNL, but we’ll throw him in anyway. Usually playing side characters in comedy movies (aside from Trainwreck), Bill Hader now has an Emmy-winning show. And it’s hilarious. Barry has had two seasons, with a third on the way, I'm sure. 

William H. Macy

From Fargo and Wild Hogs, Macy struck more recent success with his portrayal of an alcoholic hate-to-love father on Showtime’s Shameless.

Geena Davis

The Thelma & Louise star took to TV when Fox brought The Exorcist to television, playing Angela Rance. Davis also has appeared in Grey’s Anatomy.

Cillian Murphy

We’ve seen Murphy in darker, bigger films like Batman Begins and 28 Days Later..., but he takes the lead in the British action drama, Peaky Blinders, playing the mob’s ruthless boss, Tommy Shelby.  

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin

Of course these two starred in a number of films and now they take on TV with the Netflix Original, Grace and Frankie.

Big movie stars in tv series: Grace and Frankie

Drew Barrymore

Since she was a little baby actor in E.T., Drew has starred in many movies. Most recently though, she’s taken a role as a zombie in the comedy series, Santa Clarita Diet.

Winona Ryder

This famous actress took on her first major television series role in 2016, playing Joyce Byers, in Stranger Things.

Zach Galifianakis

After his success with The Hangover movies, the actor moved over to a leading role in Baskets on FX.

John Travolta

John Travolta may have started on the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, but his status as a big-time movie star grew over the last 40 years. He comes back to television at its height to play Robert Shapiro in The People v. O.J. Simpson.

Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon

Before Meryl got on board with Big Little Lies, these two leading ladies of the silver screen, landed starring roles on the HBO hit series. 

Big movie stars in tv series: Big Little Lies

Anthony Hopkins

Known for being the terrifying Hannibal Lecter, Hopkins made the switch from movie to TV and landed a lead role in the HBO series, Westworld.

Helen Mirren

Iconic actress Helen Mirren is all set for the HBO television series release Catherine the Great, of course taking the lead. 

Julia Roberts

Major actress Julia Roberts may have guest starred on television shows (Friends comes to mind), but she landed her first real TV role in Amazon’s series, Homecoming.

Watch trailer for Homecoming

Jim Broadbent

From his Academy Award from Iris, to Harry Potter, and Bridget Jones’ Diary, Broadbent moved over when it came time for a role in Game of Thrones. And I don’t blame him. Playing alongside the character of Sam Tarley as  Archmaester Ebrose in Season 7.

Christina Ricci

My 90s fave — Christina Ricci stuck to films earlier in her career, but has appeared in quite a few television shows over the years. Most recently, Z: The Beginning of Everything, an Amazon series that ran for a season before being canceled in 2017. What’s next for Christina Ricci? Hopefully some good news because she deserves it. 

Scarlett Johansson

This one is in the works. She’s been on SNL several times, but she'll be executive producing and starring in The Custom of the Country. It’s a TV movie, but she’s slowly making the switch.

Laurence Fishburne

Many attribute Fishburne’s success to his roles in The Matrix, Apocalypse Now, or his Oscar-nominated performance in What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Fishburne has been an active television star for quite a bit. From Pee-wee’s Playhouse, to a more contemporary role as Raymond Langston on CSI, to even a recurring character, Pops, on Black-ish, Fishburne has become a fixture in both the silver and small screens. He also played Nelson Mandela in a BET three-part mini-series, Madiba.

Kevin Bacon

Bacon found a ton of success in the big screen, but in 2013 he played Ryan Hardy in a Fox series, The Following. It only ran for 3 seasons. He then starred in a Lifetime TV-movie, Story of a Girl, directed by his wife, Kyra Sedgwick. And more recently, he grabbed a role on I Love Dick

Naomi Watts

Getting her film career started with Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, she went on to star in The Ring, I Heart Huckabees, Fair Game, 21 Grams, and Birdman. While Naomi Watts may be comfortable on the silver screen, the last few years of her career have seen a shift in focus.

Reuniting with David Lynch, for the Twin Peaks reboot, and starring in Netflix’s Gypsy, she seems to be fairly comfortable on the small screen too. 2019 saw her as Gretchen Carlson in a 2019 TV mini-series, The Loudest Voice, and she’s apparently in pre-production for another TV series entitled Wolves and Villagers

Naomi Watts in The Loudest Voice

Christian Slater

Christian Slater made the switch to TV in a big way. Apart from some of his childhood acting, from 2002 onward, Slater has voiced characters in shows like Jimmy Neutron, Robot Chicken, Archer, and Rick and Morty. Most recently he’s starred in TV series such as The Lion Guard,  and Mr. Robot. In 2020, we’ll see him again playing Dan Broderick, in the true story of Betty Broderick, a.k.a. the 2nd season of the Dirty John series.

Don Cheadle

Don Cheadle is another one of those actors that seem to bounce back and forth between movies and television. And I’ll say it has worked out well for him. From Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, Iron Man, the Avengers movies, and way more, Cheadle was also a mainstay on Showtime’s House of Lies

Angela Bassett

When I think of Angela Bassett, I think of  biopics, and a mega movie star. But she’s had her fair share of tv roles too. American Horror Story was a favorite of Bassett’s so she reached out to Ryan Murphy to see if there was a part for her. And was there ever. In 2016, she was the first woman to direct an episode in the series. 

Kathy Bates

Speaking of AHS, Kathy Bates made the switch to TV in a rather horrifying way. The movie star takes us to another dimension with each performance on American Horror Story, and we get to see her insane range as an actor. 

Kathy Bates is terrifying

Jessica Lange & Susan Sarandon

Lange is also an American Horror Story staple. Another movie star turned TV star, or maybe she just loves working with Ryan Murphy.  His other show Feud  stars Lange and Susan Sarandon as they play Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, and it's amazing. 

Amy Adams

Amy Adams moved to TV for her first big role on the small screen in the eight episode mini-series, Sharp Objects. She plays Camille Preaker, who returns to her small hometown to investigate mysterious, unsolved crimes. With Gillian Flynn’s story and Marti Noxon as the showrunner, Sharp Objects, received tons of Emmy nominations. And it was a solid career move for Amy Adams, who gave a stellar performance as usual. 

Amy talks TV

Paul Giamatti

Iconic movie actor, Paul Giamatti has also tried his luck in the television sector, and has done quite well. A staple in Showtime’s Billions, alongside Damien Lewis, he somehow has enough time to play L. Marvin Metz in the Amazon series Lodge 49. He’s also an executive producer on the show. 

Kiefer Sutherland

He found a home in TV early on with the success of 24. It ran for eight seasons, and eventually Sutherland landed a role as the President of the United States in Designated Survivor.

Billy Bob Thornton

While Billy Bob Thornton may have started out on sitcoms many moons ago, everyone knows him as the movie star he is. But with one season of Fargo, Billy Bob now has his own show, Goliath on Amazon. 

Everyone on True Detective

This show seems to invite some incredibly talented movie actors, even if the seasons don’t always pan out like Season 1. Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Mahershala Ali, Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn, and Colin Farrell, among others, are all show alumni.

Up Next

Biggest Emmy Snubs of All Time

What’s a snub anyway? Majority of the time, if they’re in a place to be nominated, it’s not that big of a surprise when any one of them win! Hmm. What about your favorites who have never even been nominated, or those that were nominated for years but never got to take home that little gold guy.

Here are a few moments when yelling at your TV was justified.

Up Next: Biggest Emmy Snubs →
Solution Icon - Shot List and Storyboard

Showcase your vision with elegant shot lists and storyboards.

Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows.

Learn More ➜

  • Alyssa Maio is a screenwriter from New Jersey, now living in Los Angeles. She works as a copywriter here at StudioBinder.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Copy link