Not only were Disney Channel Originals iconic; these nostalgic films also helped jump-start the acting careers of many big-name celebrities who have gone on to become major Hollywood stars. Celebrities like Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, and Zac Efron all starred in Disney Channel Originals back in the day. But did you know that Justin Timberlake, Kristen Stewart, and even Britney Spears also started there? Check out this list of major stars who got their start in Disney Channel’s beloved films and shows.
Major Actors Who Got Their Start in Disney Channel Originals
Perhaps the most obvious star on the list, Hilary Duff is well remembered for Lizzie McGuire and The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Toward the end of Lizzie McGuire‘s run, she made that jump with a feature film based on the show, a co-starring role in Agent Cody Banks, and a role in Cheaper By the Dozen.
The Twilight actress had her very first role in The Thirteenth Year in 1999. She played an uncredited part, being a disgruntled girl in a white turtleneck by the small water fountain. Stewart has had a varied career in the two decades since this TV movie aired.
One of the biggest names on this list is Justin Timberlake. But before Timberlake was a household name, he was a Disney Star, particularly a Mouseketeer in The Mickey Mouse Club, a long-running variety show that started in 1955. The Grammy-award winner and actor also starred in Model Behavior back in 2000, donning his famous NSYNC curls.
The Man Down actor not only starred as Louis Stevens on the unforgettable show Even Stevens; he also played Stanley Yelnats IV in the 2003 comedy-drama film Holes; Ronny van Dussel in Hounded; Edward “Eddie” Walker in Tru Confessions; Francis Ouimet in The Greatest Game Ever Played; and Johnny McBride in the The Proud Family episode “I Love You Penny Proud.”
Vanessa Hudgens became everyone’s childhood icon after starring in the High School Musical movies. Before High School Musical, she had a few small guest-star roles on various TV series like Still Standing and Drake & Josh. Although she hasn’t had quite the ride her beloved male co-star has enjoyed, she’s still had a pretty solid run with movies like Beastly, Machete Kills, and Sucker Punch, and recently had a solid role in Netflix’s Polar.
Demi Lovato technically got her start as a child actor on Barney, but she stepped away from acting until her turn in 2008’s Camp Rock opposite the Jonas Brothers. That role put her on the map as a bonafide Disney star and helped launch both her singing and acting careers. She went on to play the role of Princess Rosalinda Montoya on Princess Protection Program and Sonny Munroe on Sonny with a Chance from 2009 to 2011.
Before things really took off for her in Hollywood, Zendaya was Rocky Blue on the Disney Channel series Shake It Up. Zendaya would later be pushed forward as a face for the Disney Channel as she’d star in original movies like Zapped! and Frenemies and get another series of her own, K.C. Undercover.
Alongside Vanessa Hudgens, Zac Efron played the lead role of Troy Bolton in the High School Musical movies where he showed off his impressive vocal range. Since then, his career took off with steady roles in major films like 17 Again, Charlie St. Cloud, The Greatest Showman, and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
Although he was only a part of the channel from 1993 to 1994, Ryan Gosling is a big reason the Disney Channel run of The Mickey Mouse Club is so notable. In 1993, Gosling attended an open audition in Montreal when he was just 12 years old. He was accepted and offered a two-year contract that required him to move to Orlando to fulfill. The rest is history. It took a while for Ryan Gosling to find a big movie role in Hollywood after Mickey Mouse Club, but ironically, he found the next in another Disney classic: Remember the Titans.
Long before he landed the role of Jughead Jones, Cole Sprouse and his twin, Dylan, were the stars of the Disney Channel Original series the Suite Life of Zack & Cody, which ran from 2005 to 2008, and later its spin-off, The Suite Life on Deck, which first aired from 2008 and ended in 2011. Sprouse has also appeared on several popular Disney Channel shows including Hannah Montana and So Random!.
The Hannah Montana star was a force of nature on the Disney Channel, and she was Hollywood’s next big actress after her role in The Last Song. These days, Miley Cyrus is definitely more of a music star than actress, but since then, she’s had some original roles in films like LOL, The Night Before, and Black Mirror.
The number one Instagram star got her big break thanks to her roles on Disney Channel Originals. Gomez appeared in several popular Disney Channel Originals including Hannah Montana, Sonny with a Chance, Princess Protection Program, and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, but the role that really catapulted her into stardom was when she played the feisty character Alex Russo on Wizards of Waverly Place.
We mentioned Ryan Gosling earlier on this list and how he got his start as one of the Mouseketeers in The Mickey Mouse Club, but so did Britney Spears when she was twelve. She appeared alongside Justin Timberlake, whom she dated from 1998 until 2002, on the show together with various other well-known stars. She later signed with Jive records in 1997, and the rest is history.