I am legitimately worried about I Am Number Four star Alex Pettyfer.

Of course, he doesn’t need my concern – the 20-year-old star of director D.J. Caruso’s teen alien flick is on the rise, with two movies in the can (Beastly and Andrew Niccol’s Now) and a slew of others in the works. That’s how Hollywood operates: hone in on young talent, put them in a zillion movies and let it ride. The difficult part is the escape plan, transcending above “it” star to full-fledged “actor.” The pretty faces of Twilight are attempting to keep the ball rolling, while Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter may have already escaped the gravitational pull of teen star suckage – but it ain’t easy.

This is why I fear for Pettyfer. He has obvious talent, and I Am Number Four occasionally allows him to play with more than his Teen Beat-worthy pouty faces. But if Pettyfer intends to stick around and grow up into something substantial, he’s going to have to learn an important lesson from fallen heartthrobs and by looking to the past.

Ralph Macchio

Macchio hit it big, alongside a handful of now-famous faces like Tom Cruise and Matt Dillon, with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders. A good start, but it was the Karate Kid franchise that shot him into the stratosphere of stardom. Those multi-picture deals…they’re a bitch. Macchio segued his acting career from his legendary role to movies like My Cousin Vinny, but the “adult” Macchio couldn’t maintain the popularity. For most of the ’90s and ’00s, Macchio has made cameos (mostly playing himself) on random TV shows and, recently, starred in a Funny or Die sketch parodying his uneventful lifestyle and lack of work. Funny…but sadly, true.

Thora Birch

Birch started young, but hit her stride with a number of critically acclaimed roles, including Clear and Present Danger, the TV show Now and Again, the Best Picture winner American Beauty. She became the “real woman” actress: normal looking, successful and loads of talent. Then Dungeons and Dragons happened. Yeah, that wasn’t good – and not even the hipster opus Ghost World could save her. Perhaps it was a change of heart (apparently she wants to direct now?), but besides a few TV movies and straight-to-DVD horror flicks, we haven’t seen much of this former starlett.

MaCaulay Culkin

Never befriend a eccentric pop star whose best friend is a monkey. It only leads to trouble.

Thanks to the magic of John Hughes, Culkin was the youngest king of the world for a good chunk  of the late ’80s/’90s, with Home Alone being a tidal wave of box office success. The kid had a maturity to him – he frickin’ tried to throw his Mom off a cliff in The Good Son – and people saw a long career ahead. Unfortunately, it never happened. Maybe it was the exhaustion that comes from a pre-teen making nine movies over a five year stint, but post-Richie Rich, Culkin seemingly disappeared (advice from MJ?). He later returned for bit parts in Saved and the short-lived TV show Kings, but other than shacking up with Mila Kunis, he hasn’t seen much of the spotlight. Now that the two split…who knows, we may never see the wunderkind again.

James Van Der Beek

You know what’s not fair? Starring as the title character of a huge TV hit and being the only one without a decent follow-up career. Joshua Jackson has Fringe, Michelle Williams has been nominated for two Oscars and Katie Holmes…has Tom Cruise. But Van Der Beek had potential, and Hollywood tried their darndest to make him big, with Varsity Blues, Texas Rangers and Rules of Attraction, movies that never clicked with audiences. By Dawson’s Creek‘s conclusion, he was more or less on the outs. Like Macchio, he’s resorted to self-perpetuating viral stunts, like Vandermemes. Eep.

Molly Ringwald

Molly Ringwald was not a romantic teen lead in the ’80s. She was THE romantic teen lead in the ’80s. Continuing the on-going trend of young actors revered thanks to the works of John Hughes, Ringwald won hearts across the country in Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink. She even co-starred in a Godard film, King Lear. Life became so packed, she was turning down career-making roles like Pretty Woman and Ghost. Then, suddenly, she fled to France. Of course.

Popping up in theatrical productions and ABC Family after-school-special-quality Secret Life of American Teenager, Ringwald is doing a-OK, but nowhere near the Julia Roberts-level of success her early career indicated.

Haley Joel Osment

Thanks to his knock-out performance in The Sixth Sense and a letter of recommendation from Steven Spielberg, the young Haley Joel Osment became a household name and a fantasy casting staple. Spielberg wants to make Harry Potter? Has to be Haley Joel! But once puberty hit and Hollywood realized he wouldn’t forever be an adorable ten-year-old, Osment vanished from the big screen.

In the wake of The Country Bears (shudder) Osment stuck to voice-over work and college, dabbling in a little theater along the way. Recently he’s picked up some indie film work, but when his big name co-stars are Olympia Dukakis and Diedrich Bader, things aren’t looking as bright as they once did.

Devon Sawa

Between the years of 1994 and 2000, it felt like Devon Sawa was in every movie aimed to the tween/teen audience. Little Giants, Now and Then, Wild America, SLC Punk, Idle Hands, Final Destination – if a bus stop didn’t have a giant Devon Sawa face on it, you’d think there might be a national emergency. He made a career playing the “spaced out teen,” and heck, he was good at it! But when an established teen star goes “independent,” making no-budget Sundance hopefuls, you know something’s wrong. That’s what happened to Sawa in the new millennium – must have caught that Y2K bug.

Frankie Muniz

Muniz is a prime example of the new course of action for budding A-listers. Unlike the ’80s and ’90s that relied on “action stars,” the last decade as seen more and more rising talent being shoehorned into action/adventure movies in hopes that they’ll establish growing franchises or jump start their careers for future big budget flicks. Muniz came off Malcolm and the Middle hot property, diving head first into features like Big Fat Liar and the Agent Cody Banks series. Moderate successes, but he world of middle-road stardom must not have suited Muniz, who pulled back to focus on car racing. When he appeared as Buddy Holly in Walk Hard, most people had the same reaction: “where did that guy go?” Alex Pettyfer, this could be you.


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