Overcoming the Odds

by NoPantsBatman | created - 31 Aug 2018 | updated - 06 Sep 2018 | Public

Not all movie stars were born or raised with stardom and privileges at their doorstep; some of them had to struggle to achieve the "American Dream".

Which of these movie stars who beat the odds on the rise to fame is the public favorite?

Discuss this poll here

1. Charles Chaplin

Writer | The Great Dictator

Considered to be one of the most pivotal stars of the early days of Hollywood, Charlie Chaplin lived an interesting life both in his films and behind the camera. He is most recognized as an icon of the silent film era, often associated with his popular character, the Little Tramp; the man with the ...

Mostly lived with his mother, who couldn't earn enough money as an entertainer, making Chaplin's life fraught with poverty and hardship. Later had to deal with his mother's mental illness, caused by an infection of syphilis and malnutrition. (This is just a really brief summary of Chaplin's youth)

2. Oprah Winfrey

Producer | The Oprah Winfrey Show

Oprah Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi, USA as Orpah Gail Winfrey. She is a producer and actress, known for The Oprah Winfrey Show (1986), Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013) and A Wrinkle in Time (2018).

Grew up on a pig farm before moving to Milwaukee with her mother, who didn’t provide much love or support. Throughout her youth, there was always people who made her life difficult, and there was a constant lack of the things she needed, including money, food, and other amenities. Oprah was often dressed in potato sacks as a child. Winfrey has stated she was molested by her cousin, uncle, and a family friend, starting when she was nine years old. At 13, Winfrey ran away from home. When she was 14, she became pregnant, but her son was born prematurely and he died shortly after birth.

3. Leonardo DiCaprio

Actor | Inception

Few actors in the world have had a career quite as diverse as Leonardo DiCaprio's. DiCaprio has gone from relatively humble beginnings, as a supporting cast member of the sitcom Growing Pains (1985) and low budget horror movies, such as Critters 3 (1991), to a major teenage heartthrob in the 1990s,...

In his early years, his environment was packed full of drug addicts and other kind of criminals.

4. Halle Berry

Actress | Catwoman

Halle Maria Berry was born Maria Halle Berry on August 14, 1966 in Cleveland, Ohio to Judith Ann Hawkins, a psychiatric nurse & Jerome Jesse Berry, a hospital attendant. Halle has an older sister, Heidi Berry. Halle first came into the spotlight at seventeen years when she won the Miss Teen ...

Her physically abusive father abandoned her family when she was 5 years old, making it financially hard for her mother to raise her two children in a rough neighborhood. Moved to New York to try her chance as a model or actor, but before succeeding, had to live in homeless shelters.

5. Sylvester Stallone

Actor | Rocky

This athletically built, dark-haired American actor/screenwriter/director may never be mentioned by old-school film critics in the same breath as, say, Richard Burton or Alec Guinness; however, movie fans worldwide have been flocking to see Stallone's films for over 30 years, making "Sly" one of ...

In the beginning of his career, Stallone took a role in a soft-core porn in order to be able to survive, due to the fact that he was homeless for several days. He also took part in an erotic off-Broadway stage play.

6. Tom Cruise

Actor | Top Gun

In 1976, if you had told fourteen-year-old Franciscan seminary student Thomas Cruise Mapother IV that one day in the not too distant future he would be Tom Cruise, one of the top 100 movie stars of all time, he would have probably grinned and told you that his ambition was to join the priesthood. ...

Was the son of an abusive father. His family lived in poverty throughout his childhood.

7. Charlize Theron

Producer | Monster

Charlize Theron was born in Benoni, a city in the greater Johannesburg area, in South Africa, the only child of Gerda Theron (née Maritz) and Charles Theron. She was raised on a farm outside the city. Theron is of Afrikaner (Dutch, with some French Huguenot and German) descent, and Afrikaner ...

Had an alcoholic father who threatened her and her mother, often physically attacking her mother. Theron's mother then shot and killed him.

8. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Actor | Predator

With an almost unpronounceable surname and a thick Austrian accent, who would have ever believed that a brash, quick talking bodybuilder from a small European village would become one of Hollywood's biggest stars, marry into the prestigious Kennedy family, amass a fortune via shrewd investments and...

Son of an abusive ex-Nazi; grew up poor, making the purchase of a refrigerator a big deal.

9. Hilary Swank

Actress | Million Dollar Baby

Hilary was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, to Judith Kay (Clough), a secretary, and Stephen Michael Swank, who served in the National Guard and was also a traveling salesman. Her maternal grandmother, Frances Martha Dominguez, was of Mexican descent, and her other roots include German, English, and ...

Spent her early years growing up in a trailer park; dropped out of high school when her mother lost her job. When she was 15 years old, Hilary and her mother moved to Los Angeles, where they lived out of their car until Swank's mother saved enough money to rent an apartment.

10. Jim Carrey

Actor | Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Jim Carrey, Canadian-born and a U.S. citizen since 2004, is an actor and producer famous for his rubbery body movements and flexible facial expressions. The two-time Golden Globe-winner rose to fame as a cast member of the Fox sketch comedy In Living Color (1990) but leading roles in Ace Ventura: ...

Spent some time living with his family in a van; dropped out of high school at 15 years old to help with the money problems.

11. Demi Moore

Actress | G.I. Jane

Demi Moore was born 1962 in Roswell, New Mexico. Her father Charles Harmon left her mother Virginia King before Demi was born. Her stepfather Danny Guynes didn't add much stability to her life either. He frequently changed jobs and made the family move a total of 40 times. The parents kept on ...

Grew up in a trailer park, in a home that was filled with tension, disharmony, and abuse. Dropped out of high school to pursue her dream as a model.

12. Mark Wahlberg

Producer | The Fighter

American actor Mark Wahlberg is one of a handful of respected entertainers who successfully made the transition from teen pop idol to acclaimed actor. A Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for The Departed (2006) who went on to receive positive critical reviews for his performance in The Fighter (...

Dropped out of school at just 14 years old and took to a life of petty crime; served jail time for assault.

13. Chris Pratt

Actor | Guardians of the Galaxy

Christopher Michael Pratt is an American film and television actor. He came to prominence for his small-screen roles, including Bright Abbott in Everwood (2002), Ché in The O.C. (2003), and Andy Dwyer and Parks and Recreation (2009), and notable film roles in Moneyball (2011), The Five-Year ...

Dropped out of community college halfway through the first semester, ending up homeless, living in a van and a tent by the beach.

14. Joaquin Phoenix

Actor | Walk the Line

Joaquin Phoenix was born Joaquin Rafael Bottom in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Arlyn (Dunetz) and John Bottom, and is the middle child in a brood of five. His parents, from the continental United States, were then serving as Children of God missionaries. His mother is from a Jewish family from New ...

He was born into the Children of God cult, known for sanctioning sexual abuse of children. After his family left the cult, had to provide food and financial support for the family, performing on the streets and at various talent contests, singing and playing instruments. His four siblings (including River Phoenix) also performed on the streets with him. His older brother River suffered a drug overdose and died on the sidewalk outside the Viper Room. The call Phoenix made to 911 seeking help for his brother was repeatedly played on radio and television.

15. Mila Kunis

Actress | Black Swan

Mila Kunis was born Milena Markovna Kunis to a Jewish family in Chernivtsi, Ukraine, USSR (now independent Ukraine). Her mother, Elvira, is a physics teacher, her father, Mark Kunis, is a mechanical engineer, and she has an older brother named Michael. Her family moved to Los Angeles, California, ...

She and her family moved out from USSR to California with only $250. Having troubles with the language, she described her first year in the US as 'Imagine being blind and deaf at age seven.'.

16. Scarlett Johansson

Actress | Her

Scarlett Ingrid Johansson was born on November 22, 1984 in Manhattan, New York City, New York. Her mother, Melanie Sloan is from a Jewish family from the Bronx and her father, Karsten Johansson is a Danish-born architect from Copenhagen. She has a sister, Vanessa Johansson, who is also an actress, ...

Was raised with three siblings in a low-income household in Manhattan, living on welfare and food stamps.

17. Sarah Jessica Parker

Actress | Sex and the City

Sarah Jessica Parker was born March 25, 1965, in Nelsonville, Ohio, to Barbra Forste (née Keck), a teacher who ran a nursery school, and Stephen Parker, a journalist. Her parents divorced, and her mother later remarried to Paul Forste and had four more children, bringing the total to eight. Sarah ...

One of eight siblings, making it hard for her family to have enough money to live. Spent time without electricity and with bill collectors at the door.

18. Julie Andrews

Actress | The Sound of Music

Julia Elizabeth Wells was born on October 1, 1935, in England. Her mother, Barbara Ward (Morris), and stepfather, both vaudeville performers, discovered her freakish but undeniably lovely four-octave singing voice and immediately got her a singing career. She performed in music halls throughout her...

Was very poor and lived in a bad slum area of London; her stepfather was violent and an alcoholic, who, while drunk, tried twice to get into bed with her.

19. Cary Grant

Actor | Charade

Once told by an interviewer, "Everybody would like to be Cary Grant", Grant is said to have replied, "So would I."

Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach on January 18, 1904 in Horfield, Bristol, England, to Elsie Maria (Kingdon) and Elias James Leach, who worked in a factory. His early years...

Son of an alcoholic father and of a mother who suffered from clinical depression. His father placed his mother in a mental institute, but lied to him, making Cary Grant believe his mother was dead.

20. Tony Curtis

Actor | Some Like It Hot

Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz, the eldest of three children of Helen (Klein) and Emanuel Schwartz, Jewish immigrants from Hungary. Curtis himself admits that while he had almost no formal education, he was a student of the "school of hard knocks" and learned from a young age that the only ...

Son of a schizophrenic mother, who was very aggressive and antagonistic towards him. Spent one month in an orphanage because his parents couldn't feed him. Joined a neighborhood gang whose main crimes were playing hooky from school and minor pilfering at the local dime store.

21. Tyler Perry

Writer | Diary of a Mad Black Woman

Perry was born and raised in New Orleans, to Willie Maxine (Campbell) and Emmitt Perry, Sr. His mother was a church-goer and took Perry along with her once a week. His father was a carpenter and they had a very strained and abusive relationship, which led Perry to suffer from depression as a ...

Perry was physically abused by his father as a child, and once went as far as to attempt suicide in an effort to escape his father's beatings. When he was 10 years old, Perry was molested by one of his mother's friends; he was also molested by three men prior to this.

22. Ashley Judd

Actress | Double Jeopardy

American actress and political activist Ashley Judd was born Ashley Tyler Ciminella on April 19, 1968, in Granada Hills, California. She grew up in a family of successful performing artists as the daughter of country music singer Naomi Judd and the sister of Wynonna Judd. While she is best known ...

In her youth, Judd was a victim of incest, sexual abuse, neglect and exposure to drug use during her mother’s rise to fame as a country super star; she even contemplated suicide on multiple occasions.

23. Mo'Nique

Actress | Precious

Mo'Nique received a standing ovation when she stepped on stage for the first time in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, giving her confidence to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian. After numerous stand-up performances, she took a leap forward with one of the starring roles in The Parkers (...

Mo'Nique was sexually abused by her brother from ages 7–11.

24. Kelsey Grammer

Actor | Cheers

A six-time Emmy Award winner, Kelsey Grammer was born in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, to Sally (Cranmer), a singer, and Frank Allen Grammer, Jr., a musician and restaurateur. He was raised in New Jersey and Florida. Grammer was drawn to the works of William Shakespeare and spent two years at ...

Grammer was "cursed" with family death. After living for some years with his mother and grandparents, his grandfather died when Grammer was 12 years old. Two years later, his father was murdered. A few years later, his sister was abducted, raped and murdered by three men, leading Grammer to a path of alcoholism and drug addiction. His two half-brothers died in a scuba-diving accident.

25. Woody Harrelson

Actor | True Detective

Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning actor Woodrow Tracy Harrelson was born on July 23, 1961 in Midland, Texas, to Diane Lou (Oswald) and Charles Harrelson. He grew up in Lebanon, Ohio, where his mother was from. After receiving degrees in theater arts and English from Hanover College, he...

Harrelson was son of a convicted contract killer, who received a life sentence in 1979. His family was poor, living only of his mother's secretary wage.

26. Richard Pryor

Actor | Superman III

Highly influential, and always controversial, African-American actor/comedian who was equally well known for his colorful language during his live comedy shows, as for his fast paced life, multiple marriages and battles with drug addiction. He has been acknowledged by many modern comic artist's as ...

Pryor grew up in the brothel run by his grandmother, where his alcoholic mother was a prostitute. After his mother abandoned him when he was 10 years old, Pryor was raised primarily by his grandmother, a violent woman who would beat him for any of his eccentricities. He was sexually abused at age seven, and expelled from school at the age of fourteen.

27. Liev Schreiber

Actor | Spotlight

Liev (pronounced Lee-ev) Schreiber was born in San Francisco. His mother, Heather (Milgram), is a painter, and his father, Tell Schreiber (Tell Carroll Schreiber III), is a theatrical actor who had a small role in The Keeper (1976). His mother is from a working-class Jewish family from Poland and ...

At the beginning of Schreiber's parents' marriage, his mother had a bad experience with LSD; over the next four years, she was repeatedly admitted to hospitals and underwent therapy. After his father threatened to admit her to a mental institution, she left with her son. With his father in pursuit, Schreiber and his mother were trailed by private detectives in various states; when he was three, his father kidnapped him from an upstate New York commune. When Schreiber was five, his parents divorced; his mother won custody, and the two moved to a cold-water flat. Growing up, they frequently had no electricity, hot water, or even beds.

28. Danny Trejo

Actor | Machete

Danny Trejo was born Dan Trejo in Echo Park, Los Angeles, to Alice (Rivera) and Dan Trejo, a construction worker. A child drug addict and criminal, Trejo was in and out of jail for 11 years. While serving time in San Quentin, he won the lightweight and welterweight boxing titles. Imprisoned for ...

Throughout the 1960s, starting when Trejo was 14 years old, he was in and out of jail and prison (for 11 years), spending many years in San Quentin; his last prison term was five years. He also faced drug addiction and alcoholism.

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