Typically, an actor is seen as “successful” if they make the transition from small, independent films to big, blockbuster movies. Landing a role in a major franchise can help an actor get parts in more blockbusters, such as Chris Evans booking key roles in Knives Out and The Gray Man post-MCU.
However, some actors make a name for themselves in huge onscreen hits, then decide to pivot to independent film — even if it’s just for one movie.
Here are 14 actors who starred in franchise movies, got paid, then went to indie films:
Daniel Radcliffe grew up playing the titular lead in the Harry Potter movies.
After saying goodbye to his role as the boy who lived, he immediately shifted to indie movies like the rom-com The F Word and the Allen Ginsberg biopic Kill Your Darlings.
Emma Watson spent nearly a decade playing Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise.
After wrapping Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Emma Watson booked key roles in several independent films, including the Marilyn Monroe biopic My Week with Marilyn and the cult classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Regina Hall became a reigning scream queen with her role as Brenda Meeks in the Scary Movie franchise.
In recent years, she’s pivoted to more indie roles, including Support the Girls, a comedy about a sports bar manager, and Master, a psychological horror thriller about a cursed university with dark secrets.
Kristen Stewart rose to fame as Bella Swan in the Twilight franchise. She also played the titular lead in the Snow White and the Huntsman movies.
Afterward, she made a major career shift to indie flicks, starting with Camp X-Ray, a drama about the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. She went on to star in films like Still Alice, which is about a professor who’s diagnosed with familial Alzheimer’s disease, and Anesthesia, which is a twisty drama that follows the fallout after a professor is mugged.
Robert Pattinson had major roles in two big franchises — Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and Edward Cullen in Twilight.
In between Breaking Dawn Part 1 and Part 2, he starred in two indie dramas — Bel Ami, in which he played an impoverished former soldier, and Cosmopolis, in which he played a billionaire. He went on to build a prolific indie portfolio in films like High Life, a sci-fi drama about a single father in space, and The Lighthouse, which follows two lightkeepers on a remote island.
Ashley Greene’s first major film role was Alice Cullen in the Twilight franchise.
After Breaking Dawn Part 2, she got her next role in the independent production CBGB, a biographical drama about the iconic music venue in NY. She went on to star in indie flicks like Kristy, a horror movie about a college student who’s targeted by ritual killers while staying alone on campus, and more recently, Wrong Place, an action movie about a meth cook hunting down a former police chief.
In the ’00s, Hayden Christensen became well-known for playing Anakin Skywalker in Stars Wars.
Following Revenge of the Sith, his first post–Darth Vader role was Billy Quinn in Factory Girl, a biopic about Andy Warhol’s ’60s muse Edie Sedgwick.
Elijah Wood made the transition from child actor to major film star with the leading role of Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings.
His first post-franchise role was Patrick Wertz in the acclaimed indie sci-fi romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
After several smaller roles, Dakota Johnson rose to prominence as Anastasia Steele in the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise.
More recently, she starred in several acclaimed indie films, including The Lost Daughter, a psychological drama about the parallel struggles of two mothers, and Cha Cha Real Smooth, a comedy-drama about a party starter-for-hire.
Liam Neeson has had a range of franchise roles throughout his career, including Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars, Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, Henri Ducard/Ra’s al Ghul in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, and Bryan Mills in Taken.
However, in 2021, he played Jim Hanson in The Marksman, the highest-grossing indie film of the year.
Laura Dern played Dr. Ellie Sattler in the original Jurassic Park trilogy.
Her first post-franchise role was Gertrude Hart in Focus, an indie drama about antisemitism at the end of World War II.
Keira Knightley played Elizabeth Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
After her final appearance in Dead Men Tell No Tales, her next role was French author Gabrielle Colette in the indie biopic Colette.
Macaulay Culkin rose to child stardom through his role as Kevin McCallister in the Home Alone movies.
After returning to acting as an adult, he’s mostly focused on indie films, including Party Monster, a biopic about infamous NYC party promoter Michael Alig, and Saved!, a dark comedy that satirizes both religion and teen movies.
And finally, one of the most notable roles Brendan Fraser has played in his long career is Rick O’Connell in The Mummy franchise.
However, he recently earned acclaim for the indie drama The Whale, which is about an English teacher reconnecting with his estranged daughter. Many fans have hailed it as his comeback.