17 Amazing Actors Who Abandoned Movies for TV (PHOTOS)

Laura Anastasia | Feb 20, 2016 Celebrities
17 Amazing Actors Who Abandoned Movies for TV (PHOTOS)

Is the big screen still a big draw? Not for some mega movie stars. Claire Danes, Matthew McConaughey, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Franco, and more popular actors are opting for small-screen roles over big-screen ones. The good news: There are plenty of roles to choose from, as Netflix, Amazon, and other platforms scramble to add more content. 

It looks like stigma over switching to TV may be a thing of the past. Just ask these 17 stars -- and don't forget to tune in! 


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  • Jada Pinkett Smith


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    Smith starred in TV's A Different World in the early '90s but shifted to the silver screen soon after, making movies including The Matrix Reloaded, Collateral, and Madagascar. She's gone back to her TV roots twice, for Hawthorne (from 2009 to 2011) and Gotham (since 2014).

  • James Franco


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    Franco grabbed our attention with TV's Freaks and Geeks in 1999, but he cemented his star status over the next decade with movies including the Spider-Man trilogy, Pineapple Express, and Milk. The Oscar-nominated actor joined TV's General Hospital from 2009 to 2012. He returns to the small screen with 2016 TV mini series 11/22/63, and will headline 2017 TV show The Deuce.

  • Don Cheadle


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    Cheadle started out on TV, but the Oscar-nominated actor is better known for the more than two dozen movies he made before 2012, when he signed on for TV drama House of Lies. The hit show -- and Cheadle's career -- are still going strong four years later. Cheadle even won a Golden Globe for his role in 2011.

  • Claire Danes


    Image via Michael Zito/ London Ent/Splash News/Corbis

    Danes got our attention on TV's My So-Called Life in 1994, then spent the next decade and a half making dozens of films, including hits Romeo + Juliet and Brokedown Palace. Danes returned to her small-screen roots in 2011, headlining the hit show Homeland. She's won two Golden Globes for the popular drama. 

    More from The Stir: What 10 'Dowdy' TV Actresses Look Like in Real Life (PHOTOS)

  • Matthew McConaughey


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    McConaughey has gone from Dazed and Confused in 1993 to Dallas Buyers Club two decades later, with just about every type of movie imaginable in between. In 2014, the Oscar winner embraced a smaller screen, partnering up with Woody Harrelson for TV's True Detective. 

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal

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    Gyllenhaal's movie credits include The Dark Knight, Donnie Darko, and Secretary -- not to mention an Oscar-nominated role in Crazy Heart. The actress was lured to TV for 2014 miniseries The Honourable Woman. She will also star in TV's The Deuce, due out in 2017.

  • Kevin Bacon


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    Bacon started on TV's Guiding Light, but the rest of his career has been focused on the big screen. He's made dozens of movies since the 1980s, including Footloose, Apollo 13, and Mystic River. Bacon gave the small screen a try in 2013, starring on The Following for two years.  

  • Anna Faris


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    Faris has been making us laugh on the big screen for more than a decade, with hits including The House Bunny and Scary Movie. The funny actress switched to TV comedy in 2013, taking the lead role on the hilarious show Mom. 

    More from The Stir: 10 Child TV Stars From the '90s: Where Are They Now? (PHOTOS)

  • Wesley Snipes


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    Snipes kicked some serious box-office booty with the Blade series, White Men Can't Jump, and Demolition Man, among other films. His nearly three decades of making movies prepped him for his small-screen switch in 2015, starring in TV action drama The Player.

  • Jessica Lange


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    Two-time Academy Award winner Lange spent 35 years almost exclusively making movies for the big screen, including hits Tootsie, Cape Fear, and Big Fish. In 2011, she headed to the small screen for American Horror Story. After a five-year AHS stint, she signed on for Louis C.K.'s new show Horace and Pete, out in 2016. 

  • Greg Kinnear


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    Kinnear's nearly three decades in showbiz have made him a big name on the big screen, especially thanks to hits Little Miss Sunshine, As Good as It Gets, and You've Got Mail. The Oscar-nominated actor tried his hand at TV in 2011 on the miniseries The Kennedys, and returned to headline Rake in 2014. 

  • Kevin Spacey


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    Spacey dominated Hollywood in the 1990s, with two Oscars and hit films including American Beauty, L.A. Confidential, and The Usual Suspects. His signing on for TV's House of Cards in 2013 gave his career a new life.

    More from The Stir: 10 Male TV Actors From the '90s Who Are Hotter Than Ever (PHOTOS)

  • Laura Linney


    Image via Tim Brakemeier/dpa/Corbis

    Linney's famous for her work in movies including The Savages, The Truman Show, and Mystic River, and has been nominated for three Academy Awards. The actress headed to TV in 2008 for miniseries John Adams and returned for hit show The Big C from 2010 to 2013. 

  • Woody Harrelson


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    We all knew Harrelson's name from his time on TV's Cheers from 1985 to 1993, but the actor spent the next 20 years making movies -- and scored two Oscar nominations in the process. Harrelson returned to TV in 2014 to team up with Matthew McConaughey for True Detective. 

  • Billy Crystal


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    Crystal spent the first decade of his career on TV, followed by nearly three decades of mainly big-screen fare, including When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers, and Monsters, Inc. The funny guy made headlines for his small-screen return in 2015, starring in the new series The Comedians. 

  • Jane Fonda


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    Fonda's been making movies since 1960, including 9 to 5, Barbarella, and Monster-in-Law. The two-time Academy Award winner guested on episodes of TV's The Newsroom from 2012 to 2014 and signed on for a more permanent TV role in 2015, playing a lead in the comedy Grace and Frankie.

    More from The Stir: 15 Highest Paid Women on TV

  • Paul Giamatti


    Image via Efren S. Landaos/Press Line Photos/Corbis

    Giamatti's been in more movies than we can remember in his 20-plus years of acting, including Sideways and American Splendor. The Oscar-nominated actor went presidential for the small screen, playing commander in chief in the TV mini series John Adams in 2008. Giamatti returns to television in 2016, starring in the drama Billions.

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