Whether or not you recognize them by name, you definitely see these stars at least once a year, and they warm your heart with holiday cheer all over again. Here are some of our favorite child actors from some of the most iconic Christmas movies of all time, plus an update on what they’re currently up to.
1. Mara Wilson – Miracle on 34th Street
Child actress Mara Wilson was a staple of many heartwarming films in the 1990s. In addition to starring alongside Robin Williams in the classic comedy Mrs. Doubtfire, and taking the leading role as the intrepid Matilda in the feature film of the same name, she played Susan in the remake of one of the most classic Christmas movies ever, Miracle on 34th Street.
Wilson had a difficult time surpassing the level of fame that she earned as a young actress. After failing to secure a role that eventually went to Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap, Wilson gave up acting, but the move was only temporary. Most recently, she was featured as a voice actress in the popular cartoon series BoJack Horseman and Big Hero 6.
2. Corey Feldman – Gremlins
Even at a young age, Corey Feldman stole the screen throughout the 1980s. He played Peter in the Christmas movie horror flick Gremlins before starring in Steven Spielberg’s The Goonies one year later. Aside from his roles in film, he is also well-known for speaking out in defense of Michael Jackson amidst legal accusations against the late pop star.
Feldman continued to work in film and TV into the 2000s. He has also been involved in music, and in 2016 released his third solo album, Angelic 2 the Core. Additionally, Feldman is a dedicated husband and father. He has signed on to do a sequel to Spielberg’s The Goonies, which is set to begin filming in 2020.
3. Brett Kelly – Bad Santa
Canadian actor Brett Kelly is best remembered for his role as Thurman Merman in the Christmastime cult classic, Bad Santa. In the film, Thurman and his senile grandmother shelter a safe-cracking Billy Bob Thornton, who poses as a mall Santa in order to rob his place of employment.
Kelly has appeared on TV and in film since his 2003 portrayal of Thurman. Most notably, his credits include roles in 2006’s Unaccompanied Minors, as well as sequels of Bad Santa and The Sandlot. His last credit was in 2017, but he will continually be loved by adoring fans for his hysterical role in this twisted Christmas movie.
4. Zach Galligan – Gremlins
Zach Galligan’s character Billy received the cutest yet worst Christmas present of all time when his father brought home a mogwai. The mysterious creature, although adorable and fuzzy, spawned into small reptilian monsters after coming into contact with water, and subsequently went on to wreak havoc in the suburbs. It’s the job of Billy and his friends to stop the madness they started.
Galligan reprised his role as Billy for a 1990 Gremlins sequel. He appeared in several made for TV films through the early and mid-2000s. Although these works lacked the production budget of feature films, Galligan is highly regarded for his acting skills. According to his own admission, he still has fans who recognize him in the supermarket from this iconic role.
5. Phoebe Cates – Gremlins
Phoebe Cates, now Phoebe Cates Kline after marrying fellow actor Kevin Kline, started her career as a teenage dancer and model in New York City. Her parents, both Broadway and television producers, initially disapproved of her decision to switch to acting. She first starred in her legendary role in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, before being cast alongside Zach Galligan in Gremlins.
Cates Kline’s last on-screen credit was in 2001. Today, aside enjoying her family life, she owns and operates a boutique store on New York’s Upper East Side. The store, called The Blue Tree, sells jewelry, clothing, antiques, perfume, and more.
6. Peter Billingsley – A Christmas Story
Peter Billingsley was born in New York City into an acting family. His parents encouraged all five of their children to begin childhood acting careers. Two siblings had various minor roles in commercials, while the other two had parts both in commercials and on television.
Billingsley himself appeared in more than 100 commercials before being cast as the legendary Ralphie in 1983’s A Christmas Story. Since then, he has had several small roles in film and television. Most recently, he’s taken his talents behind the camera, producing Marvel’s 2008 hit Ironman, as well as the indie hit, Made, starring Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau.
7. Macaulay Culkin – Home Alone
Beginning his acting career at the tender age of four, Macaulay Culkin had already starred in several TV shows and movies by the time he was cast as Kevin McCallister for the iconic 1990 film, Home Alone. As one of the most famous Christmas movies of all time, the role earned him a multi-million dollar payday to reprise the character in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Culkin took a break from acting in 1994. His work after Home Alone simply didn’t result in success at the box office. He appeared sporadically on screen throughout the 2000s, but has reportedly been cast onto the latest iteration of the FX hit show, American Horror Story. Fans can anticipate seeing a resurgence of their favorite childhood star when the new season kicks off in late 2020.
8. Eric Lloyd – The Santa Clause
Eric Lloyd got his acting start at the age of just two years old on the hit show The Wonder Years. His role alongside Tim Allen, in The Santa Clause, would cement his childhood celebrity. In the film, Charlie loses his faith in Santa, while at the same time his own father (Allen) begins transforming into a real-life St. Nick.
Lloyd reprised his role as Charlie in a successful sequel, The Santa Clause 2, which brought back all the main actors from the original. Aside from the Christmas family favorite, he has notable credits in 1997’s Batman & Robin, as well as starring as Jesse on the NBC sitcom with the same name. He is now 29, and runs his own studio in Los Angeles.
9. Jake Lloyd – Jingle All The Way
Before going on to star as a young Anakin Skywalker in 1999’s Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace, this famous face was Jamie Livingston, the son of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in 1996’s Christmas movie Jingle All the Way. The film stars Schwarzenegger, a busy businessman trying to make time for his family on Christmas, while also securing that must-have gift, the Turboman action figure.
After his iconic, generation-defining appearance in Star Wars, Lloyd all but quit acting. He appeared in two more films and held minor television roles before disappearing from the limelight. He said that his childhood fame resulted in being bullied at school. Most recently, the former actor has been struggling with mental illness.
10. Drew Barrymore – Babes In Toyland
Barrymore was born into an acting dynasty running back several generations. Both of her parents, her paternal grandparents, and even her great-grandparents were actors. She was cast in commercials and most notably as Gertie in Steven Spielberg’s smash, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was the highest grossing film of the ’80s.
Barrymore’s schedule since her adorable role in the Christmas classic, Babes in Toyland, has been relentless. In total, her box office earnings have topped over $2 billion. Notable acting credits include leads in the Wedding Singer, Charlie’s Angels, and alongside Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates. In addition, she has also filled her time as a model and producer.
11. Juliette Lewis – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Already a film veteran by the time she was cast as Audrey Griswold in 1989’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Juliette Lewis has been a film icon for a generation. In the famously ridiculous Christmas film, Clark Griswold plans on spending a great holiday with his family in the countryside. In reality, drama ensues and disaster (albeit hilarious) strikes.
Since 1989, Lewis has appeared in such major, star-studded films as Cape Fear, Natural Born Killers, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and From Dusk Til ‘Dawn, just to name a few. More recently, she earned an Emmy nomination for her role in the TV show Hysterical Blindness. She continues to feature prominently on screen, as well as singing, having recently released an album in 2017.
12. Johnny Galecki – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Born in Belgium to an Air Force serviceman and a mortgage consultant, Galecki’s breakout was as Rusty Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Since starring in the Christmas movie made of mishaps, Galecki has made quite the Hollywood career for himself by featuring prominently in television.
Galecki starred throughout the ’90s in the hit sitcom Roseanne, before enjoying a massive resurgence in 2007 with the uber-successful TV series, The Big Bang Theory, which also earned him a slew of award nominations. Galecki continues to act, and has recently married and become a father to son Avery, who was born in December 2019.
13. Josh Hutcherson – The Polar Express
Born in Union, Kentucky, Josh Hutcherson had to practically beg his parents to allow him to start acting. By the age of eight, he had moved to Los Angeles with his mother at the advice of a talent agent. He was cast in commercials and a few minor TV roles before landing the voice of ‘the Boy’ in the animated Christmas movie The Polar Express.
Hutcherson is perhaps best known for his role as Peeta, alongside Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games. In the films, he is both her friend and her faux love interest. Hutcherson currently has several projects in production. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where in addition to his screen career, he is also involved in several philanthropic causes.
14. Thomas Brodie-Sangster – Love Actually
English actor Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s first acting role was at age 11. He held parts in several British television series before his unforgettable role as the little boy, Sam, in Love Actually. The film, which is a series of vignettes that ultimately all intertwine, features an all-star cast that includes Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, and Keira Knightley.
Notably, Brodie-Sangster learned to play drums for his role in Love Actually (not the first time he would need to learn an instrument for a part). In addition to acting, he also runs an independent production studio in London, and plays in the band Winnet with none other than his mother, sister, and father.
15. Olivia Olson – Love Actually
When Olivia Olson was cast alongside Thomas Brodie-Sanger for the seminal rom-com Christmas movie, she was also just eleven years old. In the film, she adorably covers Mariah Carey’s hit Christmas single, “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, and reportedly sang so well, that they had to make her voice sound more natural in post-production.
Since being cast in Love Actually, Olson has put those vocal talents to good use. She had a recurring role playing the voice of character Vanessa Doofenshmirtz in the Disney kids series Phineas and Ferb, which led to an additional voice acting role in Adventure Time. The show aired on Cartoon Network to much commercial and critical acclaim.
16. Taylor Momsen – How The Grinch Stole Christmas
Taylor Momsen got her breakout as Cindy Lou Who in the big screen interpretation of Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s novel. She was just seven years old when she got the part. In the story, innocent little Cindy believes that everyone in Whoville is not understanding the meaning of Christmas. She subsequently nominates the miserly, scheming Grinch to head the annual Christmas ceremony of Whoville.
Momsen had been acting and modeling since the age of two. As a toddler, her parents signed her up with Ford Models, which led to a childhood filled with work. She is also noticeable for her running stint on the CW’s Gossip Girl, and now focuses exclusively on music, serving as the front woman for the group The Pretty Reckless.
17. David Gallagher – Look Who’s Talking Now
In Look Who’s Talking Now, a young David Gallagher plays the character of Mikey. His father, played by John Travolta, decides that it’s finally time to get his son the Christmas gift that everyone dreams of: a dog. Lo and behold, the dogs can actually speak, voiced by none other than Danny DeVito and Diane Keaton, and we learn their inner thoughts and dialogues.
Gallagher’s most notable role came three years later, when he played Simon Camden on a ten-year run of the hit series 7th Heaven. He found a home in television, appearing in popular shows like Numb3rs, CSI: Miami, and a 2020 appearance in S.W.A.T. Outside of acting, he took his passion for the arts to academia, gaining a degree in film from USC.
18. Joseph Cross – Jack Frost
Joseph Cross had already acted in three full-length movies by the time he was cast as Charlie Frost in Jack Frost. In this bittersweet Christmas movie, Charlie’s father, played by Michael Keaton, is killed in a car crash before returning to life as a snowman.
After filming this classic, Joseph turned his talents towards television. He played Casey on the daytime soap opera, As the World Turns, from 1999-2004. Other notable appearances include roles in movies such as Running With Scissors, Milk, Clint Eastwood’s Flags Of Our Fathers, and the 2012 biopic Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis at the 16th American president.
19. Karolyn Grimes – It’s a Wonderful Life
Despite not doing well at the box office, the 1946 classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life went on to be nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It is now broadcast around the world routinely during the holiday season and is a bona fide classic. In the film, Karolyn Grimes plays the adorable Zuzu Bailey in the arms of Best Actor Oscar winner Jimmy Stewart.
After spending childhood growing up in and around Hollywood, Grimes’ life was made considerably more difficult by the illness and passing of her mother, followed by the sudden death of her father when she was just 14 and 15 years old, respectively. She stopped acting and moved back to her parents’ native Missouri, where she built a life for herself.
20. Daniel Tay – Elf
Daniel Tay got his debut starring in Elf alongside a seriously talented cast that includes Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, and Jon Favreau. The plot centers on Ferrell’s character, Buddy, an eccentric human being who was adopted and raised by Santa’s helpers at the North Pole.
Born in New York City in 1991, Tay’s acting career was short-lived. After debuting in Elf, he earned roles in just four more films, none of which garnered much success or critical acclaim. Leaving acting behind, Tay attended and graduated Yale University, and is now an SAT and ACT tutor in the New York City area.
21. Natalie Wood – Miracle on 34th Street
Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, this Hollywood Golden Age actress was the daughter to Russian parents who had recently immigrated to San Francisco. After being noticed by a film crew onsite in Santa Rosa, Natalie’s mother decided to move the family to Los Angeles so that Natalie could pursue an acting career. Her first major role was starring alongside Maureen O’Hara in 1948’s Miracle on 34th Street.
Wood went on to lead an impressive acting career in Hollywood. She had been nominated for three Oscars before age 25, one for co-starring with James Dean in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. Tragically, Woods passed away aged just 43 during an infamous boat outing on Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California. The circumstances of the death are still unverified.
22. Nicholas Hoult – About A Boy
Born in Wokingham, Berkshire, England, Hoult attended Sylvia Young Theatre School, which got him started in acting. His breakout role was next to Hugh Grant, starring as Marcus Brewer in About a Boy, where his character instructs the much older Grant how to behave as a grown up.
Hoult has had and continues to have a prolific acting career. He has reprised his role as Beast in three films for the popular X-Men series. In 2015, he starred in Mad Max: Fury Road after initially accepting the role some five years earlier. After much delay, the film was a phenomenal success, and nominated for Best Picture.
23. Miffy Englefield – The Holiday
Born Rebecca Englefield in Hampshire, England, this actress earned the nickname Miffy from her parents as a child because of her frequently messy hair. After her parents divorced at the age of two, Miffy and her siblings were briefly homeless, along with their father, who had won custody of the children. Luckily, she went on to play Jude Law’s daughter in The Holiday.
In 2019, Englefield gave an interview to the New York Times and updated the world on her life post-childhood fame. At the time, she was working as a barista while performing with a local punk band in her spare time. From her Instagram, it’s clear that her style has changed considerably since performing in this Christmas movie.
24. Zack Ward – A Christmas Story
Born in Toronto in 1970, Ward’s mother, also an actress, wanted her son to be ‘normal’ and first discouraged him from entering the profession. After she had finally relented, Ward earned some small roles before auditioning for A Christmas Story in 1983. Attending auditions in Cleveland, Ohio, he won the role of Scut Farkus out of a pool of more than 300 kids.
Notable appearances for Ward include Transformers and Almost Famous. He has also played in the horror films Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Freddy vs. Jason. Ward has recently married, and lives in Los Angeles where he writes, directs, and produces films in addition to acting.
25. Liliana Mumy – The Santa Clause 2
Appearing in the television series, Scrubs and That ’70s Show, Mumy made her major film debut in The Santa Clause 2 before appearing in its sequel, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, four years later. In addition to acting on screen, Mumy has lent her voice to several popular animated series.
After The Santa Clause, Mumy voiced the character of Mertle Edmonds on the Disney hit show spinoff of the film Lilo and Stitch, which ran for three years. As of 2018, she played the voice of Beth Tezuka in the Nickelodeon web series, Bravest Warriors. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and three dogs.
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