It’s no secret that having a famous last name can get you through the door, especially in a place like Hollywood. It can even earn you a few extra chances when your film flops, and the critics and audiences are howling for your blood. And boy, will they howl, because one thing a recognizable surname can’t buy is popularity or box office appeal. In fact, such well-born may have to work that much harder to prove that they do possess talent, not just solid connections.
But given enough time, a certain surname actually becomes something critics and audiences sit up and notice. These are names belonging to stage-and-screen dynasties, and rather than earn disdain – “Oh, she only got the job because she’s a [x]!” – they become someone we’re excited to see. There’s something about seeing a talented bloodline continue onward, suggesting that talent isn’t just in a name, it’s in the very genes of certain individuals, and they pursue it not for fortune and glory, but because they must. It’s practically mystical. Of course, there’s still a bit of grumbling – “How nice to be born one of them!” – but when each one manages to win their own acclaim and awards, it feels a bit petty to pick on them. After all, you can’t pick your family, good or bad!
In the interests of Hollywood history, we’ve compiled the biggest and most illustrious Hollywood dynasties that are still alive and thriving today. (For the sake of brevity, we’ve kept it to families who spawned three generations or more. Sorry, Sheens and Sutherlands!) Since these clans appear to be good luck charms, let’s hope they keep going and working until there’s no such thing as movies.
1. The Hustons
If there was a Hollywood name that automatically inspires awe, envy, and interest, it’s Huston. They began with Walter Huston, who began acting on Broadway in 1924, and jumped into film in 1929. He became successful and distinguished on both fronts, eventually becoming nominated for four Academy Awards and one Golden Globe.
Walter was married three times, but produced only one child: John Huston, the legendary writer/director/actor/producer/booming voice who tore a rebellious and inimitable path through Hollywood. If Hollywood had an Ernest Hemingway, it was John Huston. Father and son even worked together on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” which netted Walter his one and only Oscar win for acting, and Huston his first (though not last) Oscar for Best Director. They remain the only father-son pair to win Oscars for the same film.
John Huston’s love life was as wild as every other aspect of his career. He had three biological children: Angelica, Danny, and Tony, and adopted Allegra and Pablo Huston.
Angelica and Danny Huston are famous faces in their own right. Angelica is a brilliant actress, and has directed three films of her own. She made her screen debut in her father’s film, “A Walk With Love and Death” and worked with him three more times. Her performance in “Prizzi’s Honor” netted her a Best Actress Oscar, making Walter, John, and Angelica the first family to win three generations of Oscars.
Danny Huston initially followed in his father’s directorial footsteps with “Mr. North,” which was produced by his father and starred sisters Angelica and Allegra. He switched to acting full time in 1995, and hasn’t looked back, becoming ubiquitous as a heavy that scowls at Wolverine and Zeus.
Allegra and Tony have enjoyed success producing and writing for screen and bookshelf.
The family shows no signs of stopping their talented march, either. The up-and-coming Huston mantle is held by Jack Huston, son of Tony, who is currently owning the small screen “Boardwalk Empire,” has an impressive list of movie credits both big and small, and seems to be on every action and superhero casting shortlist in town. Handsome, talented, and possessing the magical Huston name, he seems destined for major, major success…and to produce a few new Hustons.
2. The Coppolas
In comparison to the Hustons, the Coppolas are newcomers. Francis Ford Coppola was the first to make his way into Hollywood, but what a splash he made! Coppola was one of the New Hollywood gang who owned the 1970s, reinventing film with “Apocalypse Now,” “The Godfather” and “The Conversation.” He’s won 5 Academy Awards, and been nominated for 7 more. He also owns and operates a fantastic winery, so he has that to fall back on if this moviemaking thing flops.
In an intriguing bit of reverse nepotism, Coppola brought his father, Carmine, to Hollywood (it usually works the other way round) to score his films. This netted the Coppola name another Oscar, as Carmine won Best Original Score for his “The Godfather: Part II” soundtrack.
Francis’ siblings also joined in the filmmaking fun. His sister, Talia Shire, became a successful actress who won the heart of Rocky and survived the Corleones. His brother, August, has preferred to work behind the scenes as an executive at Zoetrope, and the chairman and champion of various film festivals and organizations.
Francis’ wife, Eleanor, is a writer and documentarian. She’s taken it upon herself to document the family’s filmmaking exploits, perhaps most famously in “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.”
But, it’s possible that the second generation of Coppolas has earned even more attention than the first. Francis’ daughter Sofia is a successful director/screenwriter/producer. While her films are often bitterly debated among critics, she’s nevertheless proved she has the family knack for filmmaking. She’s the third woman to be nominated for Best Director, and when she won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, cementing the Coppolas as the second family to have three generations of Oscar winners. (Remember, Grandpa Coppola has one, even if he won after his son did!)
Francis’ son, Roman, is also a director, and has usually worked second unit on his father’s films. However, he’s earned more renown as a screenwriter. He’s a frequent collaborator with Wes Anderson and sister Sofia, with credits on “The Darjeeling Limited,” “The Virgin Suicides,” “Marie Antoinette” and “Moonrise Kingdom.” The latter has netted him his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Talia’s sons are none other than Jason Schwartzman, who is a successful actor and hipster icon, and musician/actor Robert Schwartzman. Because family sticks together, Jason dropped into Sofia’s “Maria Antoinette” to play the hapless King Louis XVI and Robert obliged by appearing in “The Virgin Suicides.” They are also very handsome boys.
August Coppola’s sons are director Christopher Coppola, actor/DJ Marc Coppola, and the acting legend/personality/behemoth that is Nicolas Cage. Famously, Cage didn’t want his name weighing him down, so he took his surname from Marvel hero Luke Cage. He’s been in nearly every film ever made in the 21st century, ranging from the sublime (“Leaving Las Vegas,” “Adaptation”) to the ridiculous. (“The Wicker Man,” “The Season of the Witch”) But with his Best Actor Oscar win, he joins Sofia as cementing the Coppolas as having produced three generations of Oscar winners.
Nicolas’ oldest son, Weston Coppola Cage, is a musician and comic book writer, and has dabbled in acting alongside his father. His youngest, Kal-El Cage, has a lot to live up to with that name, so one has to imagine he’ll join the entertainment game in some capacity.
Given just how many Coppolas there are, and that they continue to proliferate, there may come a time when the world is divided into two camps – those who are Coppolas, and those who are not.
3. The Barrymores
All the families – even the Hustons – are young whippersnappers compared to the Barrymores. They begin in 1849 with the birth of Herbert Arthur Chamberlyne Blythe, who changed his name to Maurice Barrymore to spare his family the shame of his becoming a “dissolute” stage actor. (He took his name from 19th century actor William Barrymore, but there’s no relation.) Maurice married actress Georgiana Drew (whose family had its own dynasty of actors), and they had three children: Lionel, John, and Ethel.
Lionel Barrymore became an actor/director/writer/producer/composer. His career spanned stage, screen, and radio and while he played a variety of parts, he became typecast as a grouchy old man. His most famous old crank? Mr. Potter of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Ethel Barrymore was content just perfecting her acting craft, and stuck to stage and screen. She was as popular as she was talented, and even had her own catchphrase when enthusiastic audiences demanded encores: “That’s all there is, there isn’t anymore!” It became a running joke of the 20s and 30s, and was even referenced in Laurel and Hardy. Of course, as is common in these dynasties, she often appeared in the silent films directed by her brother, Lionel.
But the most prominent of the siblings was arguably John Barrymore. Handsome and dashing, he moved easily between comedy and drama, stage and screen, appearing in many classic films of the 20s and 30s, usually opposite the most glamorous screen goddesses of the era.
Despite the starry successes of the Barrymore trio, their children had less luck treading the boards. Only two of John Barrymore’s children entered the family profession: Diana Barrymore, and John Drew Barrymore. Neither had the kind of recognition or work their father had, and both led rather troubled lives.
John Drew Barrymore produced two actors: John Blyth Barrymore, and Drew Barrymore. John Blyth Barrymore has retired into the world of civilian life, but Drew is still going strong as an actress/producer/director and all around lovely lady. Now that she has a daughter of her own, perhaps we’re in for a fifth round of Barrymore magic.
4. The Redgraves
There’s an acting dynasty … and then there’s entertainment royalty. Or, in other words, there’s the Redgraves. They have family tree that’s breathlessly documented. Books have been written about their lineage. It is vast, impressive, and ongoing.
The first recorded Redgrave is George Ellsworthy Redgrave (Roy to his friends and fans). He was acting onstage by 1894, possibly earlier, and started working in silent films in 1911. He racked up a resume of 10 films, finishing his career in 1920. His death actually remained a mystery until Lynn Redgrave (his granddaughter, but we’ll get to that) tracked him down, and discovered he had died in 1922 and was buried in an unmarked Australian grave.
Before he vanished, George “Roy” Redgrave fathered Michael Redgrave, who became a legend on the British stage, and was eventually knighted for his contribution to the arts. While the stage was what he was known for, he did appear in films, and was nominated for Best Actor in 1947 for “Mourning Becomes Electra.” His performance in “The Browning Version” is still a gold standard of acting. Despite a busy career, he produced three children: Vanessa, Corin, and Lynn. All three went into acting, which isn’t a surprise. It would have been weirder if they became accountants or doctors.
Vanessa is, perhaps, the most illustrious. She’s been called “the greatest actor of her generation” by no less than Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. She’s made over 80 films (more if you count her documentaries and television films), been in 35 plays. In addition to winning every other acting award that exists, she’s been nominated six times for a Best Actress Oscar, and won once. If she had never found time to produce another batch of Redgraves, it would have been understandable, but she managed to produce two additional actresses: the late Natasha Richardson, Joely Richardson, and a writer/director, Carlo Gabriel Nero.
Corin Redgrave’s career pales compares to his eldest sister, but is still something any actor envies. He enjoyed a long career on the stage and screen. Many of his films are classics, and he even managed to appear next to his sister, Vanessa, in “A Man For all Seasons.” Of his five children, only one has chosen to join the family trade: Jemma Redgrave.
Lynn Redgrave’s film and stage career rivals her sister’s, and while she didn’t rack up as many awards, she still managed two Oscar nominations, and scored her own OBE. None of her children have pursued acting.
While the Redgrave name is technically resting – Vanessa’s grandchildren are Neesons, Sparaneros, and a Brevan, Lynn’s are Clarks – it’s only a matter of time before another Redgrave makes a sixth generation official. Even without the name, there’s some awfully awesome genes floating around that family.
5. The Fondas
The Fondas may not have the sprawling lineage of the Redgraves, or span the pond like the Barrymores, but they’re an awfully impressive family nonetheless. They begin relatively recently in Hollywood history, with the legendary actor Henry Fonda. Name a classic, incredible, never-to-be-missed film. Chances are, Fonda is in it. He was nominated for three Oscars (one of which is because he was a producer on “12 Angry Men”), won once, and made off with a Lifetime Achievement for good measure.
Fonda had two children: Peter and Jane. Both became actors, and they’re both iconic, arguably becoming the faces to represent the counterculture generation. Jane has won two Best Actress Oscars, become a pop culture icon as Barbarella, become legendary for her political activism, and produced a physical fitness empire that rivals Richard Simmons. Her children have both gone into entertainment. Her daughter, Vanessa Vadim, is a producer and cinematographer. Her son, Troy Garity, is an actor.
Peter Fonda became a hippy icon thanks to “Easy Rider,” but he too has a long and enviable acting resume that spans the genres. He’s been nominated for Best Original Screenplay for “Easy Rider” and Best Actor for “Ulee’s Gold,” but he has never won. But hey, he’s an American icon thanks to “Rider,” and sometimes that’s better.
Peter Fonda’s daughter, Bridget, is an incredibly successful actress in her own right. She’s married to composer Danny Elfman, and the combination of those genes means we probably have an amazing hybrid of Elfman-Fonda power just waiting to weave cinematic magic in generations to come.
6. The Carradines
For being such a prolific dynastic family, the Carradines don’t get nearly as much press as other multi-generational clans. But there’s a ton of them, and so many that if they ever marry into the Coppolas, the Hollywood gene pool will get awfully small.
They begin with John Carradine, who enjoyed a long career as a character actor. Much of his work was in horror and Western – he replaced Bela Lugosi in “Dracula” sequels – but he had the occasional classic like “The Grapes of Wrath” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” to his credit. It’s certainly not a career to be sniffed at!
Carradine had five sons: Chris, David, Keith, Robert, and Bruce (adopted). They all went into film. Chris works for Walt Disney Imagineering. David became master of kung-fu and Western movies, and the titular Bill of “Kill Bill.” Keith has been in posh dramas, pulpy Westerns, gritty action, and numerous television shows. Robert has an impressive career as a character actor, but went down into pop culture iconography as Lewis Skolnick in “Revenge of the Nerds.” Bruce has generally kept his acting a family affair, working with David in his directorial efforts.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. David Carradine is the father of actress Calista Carradine. Robert is the father of actress Ever Carradine.
But the flashiest offspring might be that of Keith, who is the father of actor Cade Carradine, and actress Martha Plimpton, who was one of the teenage movie faces of the 1980s. Unlike many of her fellow teen idols, she went on to have a successful and impressive career on Broadway, and has recently returned to pop culture prominence on television, thanks to “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” “The Good Wife,” and “Raising Hope.” We’re willing to bet you didn’t realize she was a Carradine, and niece to the guy Uma Thurman so gloriously dispatched.
7. The Howards
Some Hollywood dynasties sneak up on you. One of them is the Howards. They begin with Rance Howard, who has acted in over 100 film and roughly 40 tv shows. He’s not a massive name, just one of those faces you might recognize – “Hey, that guy. I saw him on “Babylon 5” once – and certainly a hardworking, successful fellow.
But he might be best known for the famous sons he produced: Ron Howard, the actor/director/producer, and actor Clint Howard.
Ron Howard has acted in as many (perhaps more) films as he’s directed. He’s won Best Director and Best Picture for “A Beautiful Mind,” and been nominated for two more. He also has an asteroid named after him, which not even a Redgrave can claim.
Howard’s daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, is the third generation to join the business. She’s become a successful and recognizable actress, and is following in her father’s footsteps by taking up writing and directing. She may just become the second generation to snag a Best Director Oscar. You never know.