Top 10 Actors Who Quit Acting During Their Peak

Top 10 Actors Who Quit Acting During Their Peak
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Mimi Kenny
These actors hit their peak and decided to call it quits. For this list, we'll be looking at actors who quit acting at or near the height of their careers. Our countdown includes Rick Moranis, Cameron Diaz, Gene Hackman, and more!

Top 10 Actors Who Stopped Acting During Their Peak

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Actors Who Stopped Acting During Their Peak.

For this list, we’ll be looking at actors who arguably quit acting at or near the height of their careers. Some of these actors returned later, but they all left during what’s often considered at or near their peak.

Which of these actors do you wish would return? Let us know in the comments!

#10: Rick Moranis

Rick Moranis starred in some of the most beloved comedies of the ‘80s, including “Ghostbusters,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” He also worked steadily in the ‘90s. However, after starring in “Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves,” Moranis took a long hiatus from live-action roles. Moranis' wife, costume designer Ann Belsky had passed away in 1991. According to Moranis, he decided to step away from acting to focus on raising his children. His career since has mostly been voiceover work. However, Moranis is set to reprise his role as Wayne Szalinski in "Shrunk" for Disney+. It’ll be good to see him again, even if he’s shrunk down.

#9: Frankie Muniz

It’s not every actor who could star in a TV show before they’re able to drive, but Frankie Muniz pulled it off. As the lead character on “Malcolm in the Middle,” Muniz demonstrated his acting skills and grew up before millions of viewers. During his run on the show, he also starred in successful comedies like “Big Fat Liar” and “Agent Cody Banks.” But when “Malcolm” ended, it seems Muniz’s interest in acting did as well. While he's had a few roles in films and TV, Muniz has focused his attention largely on car racing as well as various business ventures like purchasing a store in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife. Muniz might not be completely gone from acting, but he’s definitely less prolific.

#8: Shirley Temple

It’s rare you hear of actors retiring at age 22. But not many child stars have careers as eventful as Shirley Temple. For a period in the 30s, Temple was arguably the biggest star in Hollywood, child or otherwise. During the Great Depression, audiences flocked to see heartwarming films starring Temple, such as “Baby Take a Bow” and “Curly Top.” But as Temple grew up, her popularity declined. Unable to shake off her child star associations, Temple left acting in 1950. She didn't leave the public eye, however. Temple turned her attention to politics, running for Congress and serving as a United States Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Just think, we could’ve had “President Shirley Temple.”

#7: Kal Penn

Kal Penn is another actor who entered the world of politics, but that’s pretty much where the similarities between him and Shirley Temple end. Some of Penn’s most notable roles include raunchy comedies like the “Harold & Kumar” films and “Van Wilder” and medical drama “House.” In 2009, Penn became Principal Associate Editor for the Office of Public Engagement for President Barack Obama's White House. He was also a key part of Obama's bid for re-election. Penn has since returned to acting, but he's still passionate about politics. Maybe "Harold & Kumar Go to Congress" could be next?

#6: Mara Wilson

In the 90s, it seemed like Mara Wilson was everywhere. While she only made a few movies, the ones she was in left a big impression, especially on younger viewers. Wilson shone in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” and in the titular role in “Matilda,” showing wisdom beyond her age. After the 90s, Wilson stepped away from film work and focused on theatrical productions. She also graduated from New York University and became a writer. Wilson has since appeared onscreen as an adult, appearing on shows like "Broad City'' and "Bojack Horseman," as well as various web series. But her days of acting in movies seem to be over for good.

#5: Debra Winger

Debra Winger lit up the screen in the ‘80s, receiving back-to-back Best Actress nominations for “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Terms of Endearment.” But in 1995, Winger opted to step away from acting in films for a while. She went six years without making a movie, returning in 2001 for a film directed by her husband, Arliss Howard. Since then, Winger has starred on series like "The Ranch" and "Patriot" and appeared in movies like "Rachel Getting Married." Explaining her break from acting in a 2002 interview, Winger said she “wanted out for years.” We’re glad she put herself first, and that she returned to both the big and small screen.

#4: Gene Hackman

Gene Hackman’s acting career had spanned decades and earned him two Oscars when he decided to retire, but he still had plenty of onscreen power. The actor made five movies in 2001 alone, including an acclaimed role as a patriarch in “The Royal Tenenbaums.” But his last on-screen role was in the critically panned comedy "Welcome to Mooseport." In 2008, Hackman said he was done with acting for good. Since then, Hackman has narrated a couple of documentaries and published multiple novels. We would still love to see him on-screen at least one last time.

#3: Cameron Diaz

Wanna talk about lucky breaks? Cameron Diaz’s very first film role was in the comedy smash “The Mask,” and many more hits followed. Diaz’s girl-next-door charisma and willingness to embarrass herself help boost comedies like “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “There’s Something About Mary,” and “Charlie’s Angels.” She’s also made successful ventures into dramatic films, such as “Being John Malkovich,” “Gangs of New York,” and “Vanilla Sky.” After playing Miss Hannigan in the 2014 version of "Annie," Diaz went on an acting hiatus, which eventually became permanent. Diaz has since stayed busy, publishing multiple books on health and starting an organic wine brand. Acting or not, Cameron Diaz keeps challenging herself.

#2: Daniel Day-Lewis

For a while, whenever Daniel Day-Lewis released a movie, it was like an event. The three-time Best Actor winning is famous for his unwavering commitment to his roles, which includes staying in character throughout shooting. In films like "My Left Foot," "There Will Be Blood," and "Lincoln," he makes you forget there's anyone but his character on the screen. He's also notoriously selective, going years without releasing any films. After finishing filming fashion drama “Phantom Thread” in 2017, Day-Lewis announced he was done with acting for good. Of course, he had previously retired in the 90s before returning. Here’s hoping he eventually comes back.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Ariana Richards
The “Jurassic Park” Actress Became a Painter

Phoebe Cates
The “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” Actress Left Acting to Focus on Her Family

Jennette McCurdy
The “iCarly” Actress Recently Launched a Podcast

Leelee Sobieski
The “Eyes Wide Shut” Actress Has Switched Her Focus to Art

Doris Day
The Classic Hollywood Actress Stepped Away From Most Acting After the ‘70s

#1: Grace Kelly

Meghan Markle wasn’t the first actress to leave the entertainment industry for the royal life. Grace Kelly had a short but fruitful acting career in the ‘50s. Among her achievements were starring in three Alfred Hitchcock thrillers and winning the Academy Award for Best Actress. Upon marrying Rainier III, Prince of Monaco in 1956, Kelly stopped acting and became Princess of Monaco at age 26. As Princess, she supported and initiated many noble causes, including ones aimed at helping children around the world. She didn't stray completely from her entertainment roots, as she served on the board at 20th Century Fox. Kelly sadly died in a driving accident when she was 52, but she'll forever be remembered as an icon of poise, beauty, and grace.
Why would actors quit acting during their peak?