Hundreds of Hollywood actors have appeared on soap operas with little fanfare, but only a few transformed their soap beginnings into longtime career success. In celebration of the 2020 Daytime Emmy Awards, which honor daytime television's best, on June 26, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at the most successful soap stars of all time, starting with Kelly Ripa. She got her big break in 1990 when she was cast as Hayley Vaughan on "All My Children." Kelly left the show in 2002 and went on to become the beloved host of the daytime talk show "Live With Kelly and Ryan" — a role she's held (alongside a few different co-hosts) for almost two decades. Kelly can credit "All My Children" for success in her personal life as well: She met her husband, Mark Consuelos, on the show and married him in 1996! Keep reading to see which other former soap stars have achieved major success…
Leonardo DiCaprio is one of Hollywood's biggest stars, but he was once a child actor on NBC's "Santa Barbara." Leo was cast as a young Mason Capwell in 1990 when he was just 15. Fast-forward a few decades and Leo is an Oscar-winning international superstar with iconic roles in films such as "The Aviator," "The Departed," "Titanic" and "The Revenant" on his resume.
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Two-time Academy Award nominee Margot Robbie starred on the Australian soap "Neighbours" as Donna Brown from 2008 to 2011. Today, Margot is one of the biggest names in Tinseltown, and in 2019, she was recognized as one of the world's highest paid actresses. Following her soap run, Margot starred in movies including "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Suicide Squad," "Mary Queen of Scots," "Bombshell" and "I, Tonya" — and earned Oscar nods for those last two.
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Super-talented, super-hot Brad Pitt began his career with a small guest role on an NBC soap. In 1987, he was cast as a guy named Chris on "Another World" — a role that only lasted two episodes. More than three decades later, Brad is at the top of the top of the A-list with two Oscars to his name.
Renée Elise Goldsberry has a list of Hollywood and Broadway credits on her resume now, but she got her start on the ABC soap opera "One Life to Live." She played lawyer Evangeline Williamson for nearly a decade from 1999 to 2007. She's since appeared on shows like "The Good Wife," "Fast & Furious Spy Racers," "Altered Carbon" and "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist." In 2019, she starred alongside Sterling K. Brown in the family drama "Waves." She also originated the role of Angelica Schuyler in the Broadway musical "Hamilton."
Before starring in films like "Isn't It Romantic" and "The Hunger Games" series, Liam Hemsworth was cast as Josh Taylor on the popular Australian soap "Neighbours" from 2007 to 2008. Two years later, he starred alongside future-ex-wife Miley Cyrus in the 2010 romance film "The Last Song." In 2020, more than a decade after making his soap opera debut, Liam starred in the Quibi original series "Most Dangerous Game" and appeared in the film "Arkansas."
Before she was known as Amy Santiago on the NBC sitcom "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," Melissa Fumero was known for her work on the soap opera "One Life to Live." From 1998 to 2011, the New Jersey native played Adriana Cramer. The series not only kick-started her career but introduced her to her future husband: Melissa (née Gallo) met David Fumero on the show and married him in 2007.
While he'll always be Uncle Jesse from "Full House" to us, John Stamos starred on a soap opera first! From 1982 to 1992, he played Blackie Parrish on "General Hospital." Nearly four decades later, John has appeared on numerous television series from "ER" and "Glee" to "Scream Queens" and "You." From 2016 to 2020, he reprised his iconic role as Jesse Katsopolis on the revival series "Fuller House."
Believe it or not, Julianne Moore was once a soap opera actress. Back in 1985, she was cast to play long-lost twins Frannie and Sabrina Hughes on "As the World Turns." Three years later, Julianne left the show — and went on to become the A-list Academy Award winner we know and love today. Some of her most notable movies include "The Hours," "Still Alice" and "Boogie Nights."
Who knew Christian Slater was once a soap opera star? In 1984, he appeared on an episode of "All My Children" as a character named Scott Riley. One year later in 1985, he landed a recurring role on the soap "Ryan's Hope" as D.J. LaSalle for 20 episodes. Christian has since gone on to craft an impressive, enduring career in Hollywood. From 2015 to 2019, he starred as the titular character on Sam Esmail's crime-thriller series "Mr. Robot," a performance that earned him a best supporting actor Golden Globe in 2016. Since 2020, he's starred as Dan Broderick on the series "Dirty John."
Marisa Tomei scored her big break at 20 when she was cast as Marcy Thompson on "As the World Turns." She played the role from 1984 to 1985. A few years later in 1993, she won an Oscar for her performance in "My Cousin Vinny." and earned two more Oscar nods in 2002 and 2009. In 2017 and 2019, she played May Parker in the blockbusters "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Spider-Man: Far from Home," respectively. More recently, in 2020 she starred alongside Pete Davidson in the Judd Apatow film "The King of Staten Island."
Although Marcia Cross is perhaps best known as Bree Van De Kamp on "Desperate Housewives" or Dr. Kimberly Shaw on "Melrose Place," she was once a well-known soap opera star. In 1984, she played Liz Correll on "The Edge of the Night" for 20 episodes. She also starred as Kate Sanders on "One Life to Live" and Victoria Boyard on "Knots Landing." Marcia has since appeared on many shows including "Boy Meets World," "Everwood" and, more recently, on the ABC series "Quantico" form 2015 to 2017.
Nathalie Emmanuel got her start on the British soap opera "Hollyoaks." She played Sasha Valentine from 2007 to 2010 before breaking into Hollywood. Fast-forward a decade and the British actress has appeared in films like "Furious 7," "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" and "The Fate of the Furious." She's also found success on the small screen: She was Missandei on HBO's "Game of Thrones" from 2013 to 2019. In 2019, she also starred on "Four Weddings and a Funeral," the Hulu original series co-created by Mindy Kaling that was based on the 1994 film of the same name.
Long before Tommy Lee Jones was an Oscar-winning movie legend, he was an up-and-coming actor on "One Life to Live." He played Dr. Mark Toland from 1971 until the character's death in 1975. Tommy would go on to deliver critically acclaimed performances in "The Fugitive," "No Country for Old Men," "Lincoln" and more.
Before she starred as adorable identical twins Hallie and Annie in Disney's 1998 film "The Parent Trap," Lindsay Lohan was on "Another World." She played Alli Fowler for four episodes from 1996 to 1997. She then starred in "Freaky Friday," "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen," "Just My Luck," "Mean Girls" and more.
Demi Moore got her big break in 1981 when she was cast to play investigative reporter Jackie Templeton on "General Hospital." She moved on to films in 1984 and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, the Brat Pack actress is a certified movie star with films like "St. Elmo's Fire," "Ghost," "About Last Night…" and "A Few Good Men" to her name.
Back in 1970, Susan Sarandon was a young, struggling actress with no on-screen acting credits to her name. All that changed after she was cast as Patrice Kahlman on "A World Apart" and as Sarah Fairbanks on "Search for Tomorrow." She propelled her soap opera experience into a full-fledged movie career and now has six Emmy nominations, nine Golden Globe nominations and one Academy Award win to her name.
Today, James Earl Jones is a Golden Globe, Tony, Emmy and Academy Award winner but once upon a time, he was a struggling theater actor trying to break into TV and film. In 1966, he was cast to play Dr. Jerry Turner on "As the World Turns" and Dr. Jim Frazier on "Guiding Light." His soap performances caught the eye of casting directors and now, more than five decades later, James is a legend with a resume that includes films ranging from "Star Wars" to "The Lion King."
Kevin Bacon is so successful in Hollywood that he has a game based on his popularity (Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, anyone?). Once upon a time four decades ago, he was small-time actor on two soap operas, "Search for Tomorrow" and "Guiding Light." After starring on the daytime dramas, Kevin shot to superstar status with roles in "Footloose," "Apollo 13," "The Woodsman" and "Mystic River."
Audiences were first made aware of Robin Wright when she was cast as Kelly Capwell on NBC's "Santa Barbara" in 1984. After four years on the show, Robin left to pursue a movie career and today she's a certified A-lister. Some of her most noteworthy projects include "The Princess Bride," "Forrest Gump," "Moneyball" and "House of Cards."
Before Meg Ryan charmed audiences with her classic rom-coms, she was bringing all the drama on soap operas. From 1981 to 1984, Meg played Betsy Stewart on "As the World Turns." Her character was so popular that an audience of 20 million tuned in to watch her marry on-screen love Steve Andropoulos. Today, Meg is best known for her roles in super-successful films like "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail."
Alec Baldwin snagged his very first on-screen role in 1980 when he was cast to play Billy Allison Aldrich on ABC's "The Doctors." Alec left the show in 1982 and has since become an Academy Award nominee and an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning Hollywood star. Some of his most successful shows and films include "30 Rock," "The Departed," "Beetlejuice," "The Aviator" and "Saturday Night Live."
William H. Macy is well-known for his role as Frank Gallagher on "Shameless," but back in the day, he played another Frank entirely. In 1982, Bill was cast as Frank Fisk on NBC's "Another World." He went on to win an Emmy, several Screen Actors Guild Awards (plus Oscar and Golden Globe nominations) and star in high-profile projects like "Fargo," "The Cooler" and "Room."
Morgan Freeman appeared on not one but three soap operas before catapulting to superstardom. The Academy Award winner starred as Detective Michaels on "Texas" in 1981, Cicero Murphy on "Ryan's Hope" in 1981 and Dr. Roy Bingham on "Another World" in 1983. From there, he made the jump to movie star and has since appeared in "Million Dollar Baby," "Street Smart," "Driving Miss Daisy," "The Shawshank Redemption," "Invictus" and more.
Who knew Oscar winner Kathy Bates was once a soap star? The actress played Phyllis on "The Doctors" in 1977, prison inmate Belle Bodelle on "All My Children" from 1984 to 1985 and Evelyn Maddox on "One Life to Live" in 1984. After perfecting her acting chops on daytime dramas, Kathy went to dominate the acting world with appearances in "Misery," "Primary Colors," "About Schmidt," "Titanic" and "American Horror Story."
Ted Danson owes his big break to soap operas. The actor was cast as Tom Conway on "Somerset" in 1970 and later played Mitch Pierson on "The Doctors" from 1977 to 1982. After wrapping up the show, he landed the role of Sam Malone on "Cheers" and the rest is history. Ted is now a TV icon who's starred on super-successful shows like "Becker," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Fargo" and "The Good Place."
Before Eva Longoria was a desperate housewife, she was a soap star. The Golden Globe nominee landed her big break in 2001 when she was cast to play Isabella Braña on CBS's "The Young and the Restless." Eva left the show after two years and went on to become a household name on ABC's "Desperate Housewives." Though she's still acting, she's also launched a successful career as a producer with shows including "Telenovela," "Devious Maids" and "Grand Hotel" under her belt.
Mark Hamill has been saving galaxies far, far away for decades, but once upon a time, he was a small-time soap star. The actor had a recurring role as Kent Murray on "General Hospital" from 1972 to 1973. Four years later, he landed the role of Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars" and became a pop culture icon and, later, an in-demand voice actor.
When Laurence Fishburne was just 12, he originated the role of Josh West on "One Life to Live" in 1973. After three years on the show, casting directors took notice and Laurence was cast in the iconic 1979 film "Apocalypse Now." Today, he's a Hollywood success story who's played everything from Morpheus in the "The Matrix" film trilogy to Pops on "Black-ish."
You might not recognize Hayden Panettiere from her soap opera days since she was only 5 years old at the time! The former child star was cast as Sarah Victoria "Flash" Roberts on "One Life to Live" in 1994. She left the show in 1997 and starred as Lizzie Spaulding on "Guiding Light" from 1996 to 2000. Her soap experience helped her land the role of Sheryl Yoast in "Remember the Titans" and today, she's a Hollywood success with memorable starring roles on primetime shows like "Heroes" and "Nashville."
Sarah Michelle Gellar broke into Hollywood playing bad girl Kendall Hart on "All My Children" from 1993 to 1995. Two years later, she was cast as Buffy Summers on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and went on to become an It girl of the late '90s and early aughts with roles in "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "Scream 2," "Cruel Intentions" and "Scooby-Doo."
Long before he was Superman, Christopher Reeve was known as devious bad boy Ben Harper on CBS's "Love of Life." After his 1974 stint on the show, Chris became a certified star playing the Man of Steel in "Superman," "Superman II," "Superman III" and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace." After he was paralyzed in a horse riding accident in 1995, he became an advocate for stem cell research and those with spinal cord injuries before his death in 2004.