In the first two decades of television, many a star from Hollywood’s Golden Age found both a warm reception and a welcome paycheck on the small screen as their movie careers were waning.


This happens almost as frequently today with paid cable series enjoying immense popularity. However, it’s been even more common for actors who’ve initially broken through on television to go on to movie fame.


Here are some examples of players who’ve made the leap in at least one direction, and the film we consider their signature achievement.



From Movies to TV


Barbara Stanwyck

Signature Movie: The Lady Eve

TV Show: The Big Valley



Robert Young

Signature Movie: Crossfire

TV Show: Father Knows Best



Loretta Young

Signature Movie: The Stranger

TV Show: The Loretta Young Show



Dick Powell

Signature Movie: Murder, My Sweet

TV Show: Four Star Playhouse



Donna Reed

Signature Movie: From Here to Eternity

TV Show: The Donna Reed Show



Fred MacMurray

Signature Movie: Double Indemnity

TV Show: My Three Sons



Doris Day

Signature Movie: Pillow Talk

TV Show: The Doris Day Show



Martin Sheen

Signature Movie: Apocalypse Now

TV Show: The West Wing



Kevin Spacey

Signature Movie: American Beauty

TV Show: House of Cards



Steve Buscemi

Signature Movie: Fargo

TV Show: Boardwalk Empire



From TV to Movies



James Garner


TV Show: Maverick

Signature Movie: The Great Escape



Sally Field

TV Show: Gidget

Signature Movie: Norma Rae



Clint Eastwood

TV Show: Rawhide

Signature Movie: Unforgiven



Steve McQueen

TV Show: Wanted: Dead or Alive

Signature Movie: Bullitt



Michael Douglas

TV Show: The Streets of San Francisco

Signature Movie: Fatal Attraction



John Travolta

TV Show: Welcome Back Kotter

Signature Movie: Pulp Fiction



Bruce Willis

TV Show: Moonlighting

Signature Movie: Die Hard



Meg Ryan

TV Show: As the World Turns

Signature Movie: When Harry Met Sally



Tom Hanks

TV Show: Bosom Buddies

Signature Movie: Saving Private Ryan



Robin Williams


TV Show: Mork and Mindy

Signature Movie: Dead Poets Society



Johnny Depp

TV Show: 21 Jump Street

Signature Movie: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?



Helen Hunt

TV Show: Mad About You

Signature Movie: As Good as It Gets



George Clooney

TV Show: ER

Signature Movie: The Descendants



Denzel Washington


TV Show: St. Elsewhere

Signature Movie: American Gangster



Michelle Williams

TV Show: Dawson’s Creek

Signature Movie: My Week with Marilyn




More:  Ultimate Role Models — 7 Successful Transitions from Model to Actor