While a lot of actors dabble in both TV and movies, the majority of them find more success in one medium. For example, Black Widow actor Scarlett Johansson is more of a movie star, while her husband, Saturday Night Live cast member Colin Jost, is more of a TV star.
Walking away from the kind of acting that made you famous is a risky career move. For some actors, it pays off big time — but not always.
Here are 15 actors who gambled a successful TV career to pursue film and how it worked out for them:
1. George Clooney left his starring role in ER after five seasons so that he could be free to pursue more work in feature films. His first post-series movie to premiere was 2000's The Perfect Storm, but the next year, he starred in Ocean's Eleven.
How his character was written off: Dr. Doug Ross resigned from his position at Cook County General Hospital after a scandal that resulted in the loss of a young patient's life and nearly cost Doug his medical career. He then moved away to Seattle.
How his career worked out: George went on to win many prestigious acting awards, including an Oscar, four SAG Awards, and four Golden Globes.
2. Topher Grace exited That '70s Show ahead of Season 8 in hopes of a film career. The first role he played after leaving the show was Venom in Spider-Man 3.
How his character was written off: Eric Forman accepted a teaching position in Africa, where he could earn a college scholarship by working for a year.
How his career worked out: He went on to have roles in a few notable movies, such as Spider-Man 3, Interstellar, and BlacKkKlansman, before returning to TV with Home Economics.
3. When Mischa Barton was on The O.C., she kept having to turn down offers for big movies. Her dream of being offered lead film roles partially contributed to her decision to leave the show after Season 3. She appeared in three movies the following year.
How her character was written off: In the season finale, Marissa Cooper was in a car accident and then died in the arms of her love interest, Ryan Atwood.
How her career worked out: Since then, she's been praised for her work in indie films like Starcrossed.
Her return to TV: She became a reality star, competing on Dancing with the Stars in 2016 then joining the cast of The Hills: New Beginnings in 2019.
4. After The Office ended in 2013, John Krasinski's TV career took a backseat to his burgeoning film career. He landed his first post-Jim Halpert live-action movie role in the 2015 rom-com, Aloha.
How his career worked out: John went on to write, direct, and star in the acclaimed horror films A Quiet Place and A Quiet Place II. He also joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an alternate universe version of Reed Richards / Mister Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
His return to TV: In 2018, he began starring as the titular character in Jack Ryan, political action thriller series on Amazon Prime Video.
5. When Bruce Willis first read the Die Hard script in 1987, he had to pass because of his commitment to the detective series, Moonlighting. However, when production paused for 11 weeks to accommodate his costar Cybill Shepherd's pregnancy, he had just enough time to film the movie.
How the show ended: Bruce returned to Moonlighting for its final season. However, the combination of his broken shoulder, a writers' strike, and various other scheduling challenges complicated production. The main characters, David Addison and Maddie Hayes, weren't onscreen together as much as they were in previous seasons, which ultimately doomed the show's "will they, won't they" tension.
How his career worked out: He starred in four additional Die Hard movies, cementing his status as an iconic action hero. Bruce went on to have a decades-long career in the action movie genre, and he only returned to TV for guest spots or voice acting roles.
6. Chris Pratt rose to fame on TV shows, like Everwood and Parks and Recreation. While he did a few small film roles, he wasn't a leading man until Guardians of the Galaxy. He got the role after author Aileen Erin urged her husband, Marvel producer Jeremy Latcham, to audition Chris because of how funny he was as Andy Dwyer.
How the show ended: After a trip to London at the opening of Parks and Rec Season 6, Andy stayed behind to do charity work. The storyline excused Chris's absence from the show while he was filming GOTG. The series ended the year after GOTG premiered, freeing him up to pursue more movie roles. However, it "never once occurred to [him]" to leave the show.
How his career worked out: The same year Parks and Rec ended, his next movie, Jurassic World, premiered. He went on to balance leading roles in two major franchises with roles in films like Passengers and The Tomorrow War.
His return to TV: In 2022, he executive produced and starred in the action thriller series The Terminal List for Prime Video.
7. In 2022, Pete Davidson ended his eight-year run on Saturday Night Live. He didn't give specific reasons for his departure, but he released five movies in the same year.
How his career worked out: In 2022, Pete starred in Bodies Bodies Bodies and Meet Cute. He also played key roles in I Want You Back and Good Mourning. Additionally, he voiced the titular character in the animated movie Marmaduke.
He's set to star in several upcoming movies as well, including the horror film The Home and the comedy-drama Dumb Money.
His return to TV: He's set to star in the upcoming Peacock series Bupkis.
8. Already famous as a hip-hop artist, Will Smith became a TV star thanks to his leading role on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. After the show ended in 1996, he starred in the film Independence Day — and never returned to a leading role on the small screen.
How his career worked out: In 1997, he starred in Men in Black, launching a successful franchise.
He received his first Oscar nomination only a few years later when, thanks to his leading role in Ali, he was up for Best Actor. However, he didn't take the award home until he was nominated for his work in King Richard in 2022. He also won a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, and a Critics' Choice Award for King Richard.
9. Benedict Cumberbatch rose to prominence by playing the titular character in the BBC series Sherlock. He filmed the MCU movie Doctor Strange ahead of Seasons 4 then starred in one last miniseries (Patrick Melrose) before metaphorically hanging up his TV actor hat.
How the shows ended: Benedict went straight from the Doctor Strange set to Sherlock, where he'd occasionally slip into Strange's accent while talking to American director Rachel Talalay. Season 4 aired in 2017, but the show has yet to resume production for another season. Patrick Melrose was a limited series that aired for five episodes in 2018.
How his career worked out: In 2017, he reprised his Marvel role in Thor: Ragnarok and has continued to portray the character across the MCU. He went on to star in other non-Marvel films, including 2022's The Power of the Dog, which earned him a second Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards.
10. Denzel Washington rose to prominence as a supporting character in the medical drama St. Elsewhere. The series ended in May 1988 — the same month that For Queen and Country, the first movie he played the lead in, premiered. He only returned to TV as a voice actor or narrator.
How his career turned out: Denzel went on to win a plethora of prestigious awards, including two Academy Awards, three Golden Globes, and a SAG Award.
11. David Caruso left NYPD Blue four episodes into Season 2 because, at 39 years old, he realized it was his dream to be a movie star.
How his character was written off: His character, John Kelly, resigned from the police force after being demoted to radio dispatch, a job he refused to do.
How his career turned out: The first post-NYPD Blue movie he booked was the erotic thriller, Jade, which earned him his second nomination for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst New Star. His last movie role was John Hawkins in 2001's Black Point.
His return to television: Three years after leaving his role as John Kelly, he returned to the small screen as the titular character in Michael Hayes. He again found success playing a police officer on TV as Lieutenant Horatio Caine from 2005–2012 on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, and CSI: NY.
12. Jessica Biel left 7th Heaven amid a real-life scandal in which producers disapproved of her decision to pose semi-nude for Gear magazine. The same year as her initial exit, she starred in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
How her character was written off the show: Mary Camden was sent to live with her grandparents to curb her rebellious phase in Season 5. She returned for a few episodes in Season 7 before leaving home once again to work as a flight attendant. She again returned briefly in Season 8 then one final time for the series finale.
How her career turned out: Jessica went on to release multiple movies a year for around a decade. Some of her most notable projects included Blade: Trinity, The A-Team, and Hitchcock.
Her return to TV: In 2018, she starred as Cora Tannetti in the USA Network series The Sinner. The following year, she starred as Lia Haddock in the Facebook Watch series Limetown, then in 2022, she executive produced and played the titular role in the Hulu series Candy.
13. In the early '90s, Leonardo DiCaprio charmed TV audiences with recurring roles on the series Parenthood and Growing Pains. However, after booking his first major movie role in 1993's This Boy's Life, he didn't return to television.
How his career turned out: Leonardo grew into a leading man with roles like Romeo Montague in Romeo + Juliet and Jack Dawson in Titanic. He went on to win many prestigious awards, including an Oscar, a BAFTA, two Critics' Choice Awards, and two Golden Globes.
14. Farrah Fawcett reportedly left Charlie's Angels after Season 1 due to a mixture of creative unfulfillment and encouragement from her then-husband, Lee Majors. The couple created their own production company, Fawcett-Majors Productions.
How her character was written off: Jill Munroe resigned from the Charles Townsend Detective Agency and was replaced by her younger sister Kris (played by Cheryl Ladd). However, Jill briefly returned as a guest star for six episodes later on in the series.
How her career turned out: After leaving the series, the first movie Farrah did was 1978's Somebody Killed Her Husband, which was such a flop that it was called "Somebody Killed Her Career." Throughout her film career, she received two Razzie Award nominations (one for Worst Actress and one for Worst Supporting Actress), but she also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. She went on to be nominated for several Emmys and more Golden Globes due to her work in made-for-TV movies.
Her return to TV: In 1991, she played Gayle Roberts on the short-lived CBS sitcom Good Sports. In 1995, she played Nora Maxwell on the Sidney Poitier-led mini-series, Children of the Dust.
15. And finally, Chris Hemsworth rose to prominence on the Australian soap opera Home and Away, but he felt he "wasn't considered an artist or actor." After his time on the series ended, he didn't book another role until he was cast in Star Trek two years later.
How his character was written off the show: Kim Hyde chose Kit Hunter, who was pregnant with his child, over his wife Rachel Armstrong, who formerly forgave him for cheating on her with Kit, then had an affair of her own. Kim ultimately decided to move to the city to be with Kit and their baby Archie.
How his career turned out: After Star Trek, Chris played a small role in A Perfect Getaway and a main role in Ca$h. In 2011, he booked the part that brought him to international stardom — the titular role in Thor.
However, his stint on the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars (which he competed in as a Home and Away star) nearly cost him the role of Thor because the higher-ups at Marvel thought fans would "eat [them] alive" if they saw his dancing videos.
He's continued to balance his role in the MCU along with other films such as Snow White and the Huntsman and Men in Black: International.