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12 TV Shows With Established Movie Legends In The Lead Role

In the past, there was usually a pretty clear line between television stars and movie stars. Small screen icons lived in their own little isolated boob tube world, and if a big-screen star popped in for a TV guest spot, it was usually a pretty big deal. But the lines have become increasingly blurred in recent years. 

It started in the late '90s when a pair of veteran movie stars appeared in their own TV series, with Kiefer Sutherland leading the crime thriller, "24," and Martin Sheen starring in "The West Wing." In the decades since, television has been able to lure bigger names to the small screen, with high-profile prestige dramas bringing in A-List movie legends. Now, with the rise of streaming in the last decade, bigger budgets have allowed cinematic stars to front critically acclaimed award-winning serialized dramas.

As more and more established legends of the silver screen come into our homes, it seems like there's a new one every week. So from network procedurals to streaming originals, we've drawn up a list of some of our favorite shows that are led by established movie legends.

Tulsa King

Rising to fame off the back of "Rocky," Sylvester Stallone has gone on to star in multiple film franchises. In addition to numerous "Rocky" sequels, he starred in the "Rambo" series, and later in his career, "The Expendables." So it was something of a surprise when Stallone went from the big screen to the small one in 2022, taking the title role in Taylor Sheridan's crime drama comedy, "Tulsa King," his first time leading a TV series.

Stallone plays Dwight "The General" Manfredi, a former mafioso from New York who's released after a decades-long prison term. But his mafia family won't accept him back into the fold, instead shipping him off to Tulsa, Oklahoma where he's tasked with starting up a new outfit. Embittered, Dwight enlists an eclectic new crew, including young driver Tyrone (Jay Will), former rival Armand (Max Casella), and sketchy bar owner Mitch (Garrett Hedlund). Before long though, Dwight becomes the target of not just the DEA agents stationed in the region, but a deadly biker gang. Meanwhile, his old outfit is losing patience and wants him taken out of the picture for good.

Though the show's debut met with some rocky reviews, even its critics heaped praise on Stallone, with Variety noting that "when the show works, it works precisely because of Stallone's charming, if characteristically mannered, performance." Since then, the first season has rebounded to stronger reviews and looks set to be another big hit for the Italian Stallion.

Big Little Lies

While "Tulsa King" features just one iconic movie star, "Big Little Lies" boasts a few Hollywood legends. If you've not been familiar with the HBO series, get this: the sprawling ensemble cast includes Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, and Tinseltown queen, Meryl Streep. That doesn't even touch on younger stars like Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz. Suffice it to say, the show is wall-to-wall movie stars, with Academy Award-winners wherever you look.

Running for two seasons beginning in 2017, "Big Little Lies" is based on a novel by Liane Moriarty and spearheaded by renowned TV creator, David E. Kelley ("Ally McBeal," "The Practice"). Set in an idyllic coastal region, the series centers on a group of women caught up in a murder that rocks the town of Monterey, California. As the rumor mill spins out of control, the once-quiet and tight-knit community is shattered as scandal turns neighbor against neighbor. Kidman stars as former lawyer Celeste who is hiding a dark secret about her marriage from the world, while Witherspoon plays her best friend Madeline, a wealthy socialite whose obsession with her ex-husband's new life causes problems for her own.

Nominated for 16 Primetime Emmys, winning eight, the series was met with rave reviews. Shining a light on once-taboo topics like domestic violence, misogyny, and mental health, the series exposes a number of serious issues with an uncompromising directness that The Guardian called "a beautiful show about ugly secrets."

The Following

Kevin Bacon might still be best known for his role as dancing darling Ren McCormack in the '80s classic "Footloose," but that might be owed to the movie's numerous references in Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" (he even played himself in the "Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special"). But he's become an established megastar for much more than just that role. With a career that spans just about every genre and parts of six decades, he's starred in too many classics to name.

While Bacon has shown up on television in a few guest appearances over the years, he came to network TV in 2013 to lead the crime drama, "The Following." The show comes courtesy of "Scream" creator Kevin Williamson and puts Bacon in the role of FBI agent Ryan Hardy, whose moral ambiguity sits at the heart of the series as he chases down a brutal killer through the show's first season. In Season 2, Hardy takes on a new case and gets an unexpected ally in a manhunt for one of the FBI's most high-profile targets.

Brutal and uncompromising, "The Following" pushes the limits of acceptable violence and gore on television. A captivating two-season murder mystery, it might be otherwise ordinary if not for the towering presence of its movie star lead who delivers a tour de force performance as the unscrupulous lawman Hardy, Bacon's first regular TV role.

Moon Knight

If you heard a major Hollywood superstar had signed up to play a Marvel superhero, you probably wouldn't be surprised considering all the huge names already in the sprawling cinematic universe. But when it was announced that Oscar Isaac had been cast to play Moon Knight for a TV series, it got people's attention, and more ears perked up when "Training Day" actor Ethan Hawke signed on to play the series' villain. While other MCU shows have brought over actors from the movies, casting a pair of renowned big-screen stars to debut their roles on the small screen told fans that the Disney+ shows would spare no expense on recruiting high-profile casts.

In the series, Isaac plays Marc Spector, a highly trained killer who serves the Egyptian deity known as Konshu. Aiding Konshu's cause, Spector has been gifted supernatural powers to become his Earthy avatar known as the Moon Knight. But his war against cult leader Arthur Harrow — who aims to resurrect Konshu's greatest enemy — is complicated by the fact that he is plagued by a second personality deep within his psyche: a bookish, awkward history buff named Steven Grant who wants no part of their mission.

But "Moon Knight" is more than just an epic superhero adventure (though it's that too), it's also a deep dissection of mental health and childhood trauma. The story explores the depths of Spector and Grant, and how they must transcend their haunted past to defeat the ultimate evil.

Peaky Blinders

One of the biggest British crime dramas of the past decade is "Peaky Blinders," a period piece that takes place during the 1910s and '20s. Out of the gate, the series impresses with a pair of Hollywood vets leading the way in "Jurassic Park" star Sam Neill and "28 Days Later" lead Cillian Murphy who play a British inspector and a dangerous leader of a criminal underworld outfit, respectively. But that's not where the A-Listers end, as later seasons introduced the likes of Tom Hardy and Adrien Brody to the series' main cast.

Set in Birmingham, England, the BBC series begins during a time of economic turmoil in the wake of World War I. Murphy stars as returning veteran Tommy Shelby, who leads a criminal syndicate called the Peaky Blinders. His group of criminal misfits are no big city mafia, but a collection of lowly thugs who comprise the leading gang on the streets, and are the target of Chief Inspector Major Chester Campbell (Neill). As the series progresses, events push into the 1920s and '30s, with the gang feuding with the New York mafia, and must ultimately contend with the growing fascist movements and the rise of the Nazi Party not far away.

A critical darling, "Peaky Blinders" has been hailed as "'Godfather-esque" as its popularity swept across the globe. Thanks in no small part to its impressive cast, it will long be remembered as one of the best gangster dramas TV ever produced.


Taylor Sheridan has been crafting some of today's biggest hits, beginning with the neo-Western, "Yellowstone." The series proved to be such a sensation that the network wanted more, so Sheridan released a prequel, "1883," and now an interquel, "1923." Not content to cast just any big name, Sheridan got two of the biggest stars in cinema, with the whip-wielding relic hunter himself, Harrison Ford, in his first foray into television.

The series also stars former Queen Elizabeth and Academy Award-winner Helen Mirren as Ford's on-screen wife, Cara, as well as former "James Bond" actor, Timothy Dalton, and "Terminator 2" villain, Robert Patrick. Taking place in the titular year, the series chronicles the life of the Dutton family during the days of Prohibition as they fight to keep their ranch amidst famine, plague, and a boiling range war with neighboring Scottish ranchers. As enemies close in from all directions, the family patriarch, Jacob Dutton (Ford), comes under fire and Cara must call on estranged nephew, Spencer (Brandon Sklenar), to help defend their legacy.

"1923" sets up the pieces and players that will one day lead to the events on the parent series, "Yellowstone." This includes a side story detailing the tragic horrors faced by the dwindling Native American population on the nearby reservation, centered on a young girl whose descendant will one day lead her people. Led by a pair of iconic Hollywood greats, "1923" was called "wonderfully cinematic and romantically entertaining" by The Australian.


While "1923" is firmly set on the frontiers of the American North, HBO's "Westworld" is a different kind of Western. A reimagining of the classic Michael Crichton-penned 1973 film of the same name, the series is a brilliant science fiction drama that serves as a reintroduction to the Western genre. But while J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan bring the star power behind the camera, Academy Award-winner and big screen legend Anthony Hopkins brings it in front.

But Hopkins isn't the only cinematic star, with its cast also featuring Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Thandiwe Newton, and Tessa Thompson. Together, they fill out a world set in the not-too-distant future where artificial intelligence has led technology tycoon Dr. Robert Ford (Hopkins) to develop revolutionary lifelike human duplicates called Hosts. While he's claimed to have used these synthetic people to populate a Wild West theme park for wealthy guests to indulge in their basest desires, questions quickly emerge about whether the Hosts could actually be alive. These fears come to life when a longtime guest of the park (Harris) inadvertently sparks an android uprising.

Full of thought-provoking stories on identity and the nature of the self, "Westworld" mixes impressive performances with top-notch writing and breathtaking cinematography that dazzles audiences of both Western and sci-fi genres. It was one of the most talked-about new series when it debuted in 2016, and over its four-year run was nominated for an astonishing 54 Prime Time Emmys, winning nine in total.


Created by showrunner Noah Hawley — who would go on to craft the acclaimed "Legion" a few years later – the crime drama "Fargo" was spun out of the Oscar-winning 1996 film of the same name. And yet despite its theatrical origins, the series did not bring back any of its big-screen original stars, instead drafting a totally new roster of Hollywood legends to join the series that includes Billy Bob Thornton in Season 1, Kirsten Dunst in Season 2, and Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead a year later. 

But that's not all, as the series filled out its cast with even more big names, including the likes of Chris Rock, Martin Freeman, Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, and Jason Schwartzman, while Jon Hamm and Jennifer Jason Leigh are due to join for Season 5, making its ensemble roster one of the finest on television.

Set in a small Minnesota town some 20 years after the events of the film, we meet Lorne Malvo (Thornton), a remorseless serial killer terrorizing the community and getting help from a down-on-his-luck insurance salesman (Freeman). Later stories flash back to events in 1979, where a triple murder causes problems for a state trooper (Wilson); to 2010 where a probation officer (McGregor) gets involved in a get-rich-quick scheme with his girlfriend (Winstead) that goes sideways; and all the way back to the 1950s where a fragile peace between two rival crime families threatens to come undone.

True Detective

"True Detective," may be the series that launched the trend of Hollywood megastars fronting prestige TV shows. It has been so packed with Hollywood megastars you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a film series. Debuting in 2014, "True Detective" is an anthology where each season comprises a single story with its own cast, with its first year debuting with Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, and Michelle Monaghan in the lead roles. 

For Season 2, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, and Vince Vaughn were subbed in, while the show's junior year brought Mahershala Ali, Carmen Ejogo, Steven Dorff, and Ray Fisher. A brilliantly written and stunningly shot series that mixes neo-noir, mystery, and thriller elements, it flips the detective drama genre on its head and goes to places few crime dramas dare tread. Dripping with atmosphere and symbolism, the stories on offer include a pair of troubled detectives opening up a cold case thanks to a fresh murder investigation, a twisted child murder, and a billion-dollar mystery that reveals a sinister occult conspiracy.

More than a typical crime drama, "True Detective" is a powerhouse of storytelling, with multiple narratives interwoven into a rich tapestry that begs to be rewatched, dissected, and analyzed. From its jaw-dropping and horrific crimes to its soulful and rich characters, it's no doubt one of the best crime shows of all time. An upcoming fourth season is due in 2023, this time starring two-time Oscar-winner Jodie Foster, her first on-screen television role since 1975.

Godfather of Harlem

Crime dramas seem to have a singular ability to attract Hollywood superstars, from "Peaky Blinders" and "Tulsa King" to "True Detective." In 2019, Epix debuted "Godfather of Harlem," the story of a famed New York City mobster, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, and it too managed to snag a veteran of the big screen. While the character of Bumpy Johnson had been portrayed in films by such greats as Laurence Fishburne (in the film "Hoodlum") and Clarence Williams III ("American Gangster"), "Godfather of Harlem" was able to match its theatrical counterparts by casting Forest Whitaker.

It's the 1960s and Harlem has seen a takeover the past decade by the Italian mafia who moved in after kingpin Bumpy Johnson was in prison, convicted on drug charges. When he gets out, he wants to restore his once-thriving community to its former glory and sets out to assemble a new crew. He also finds himself working alongside Muslim revolutionary Malcolm X (Nigél Thatch) while contending with New York congressman Adam Clayton Powell (Giancarlo Esposito). Its cast also includes Vincent D'onofrio with recurring roles for Whoopi Goldberg, Luis Guzman, Paul Sorvino, and Annabella Sciorra.

Inspired by real events and populated by historical figures, "Godfather of Harlem" is a fascinating illumination of a lesser-explored part of New York mafia history. Met with universal critical acclaim, it's not just one of the best series on this list, but one of the most under-appreciated too, not receiving nearly as much attention as it deserves.


When it comes to big-screen gangsters, few are bigger than Al Pacino, who made his name in classics from iconic directors like Francis Ford ("The Godfather"), Brian De Palma ("Scarface"), and Martin Scorsese ("The Irishman"). But oddly enough, it's not a mob story that finally brought Pacino to television in 2020. Instead, the series that drew him to the small screen is the Amazon original, "Hunters," which also stars fellow movie man, Logan Lerman ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower").

The series takes place in 1977 in New York City and is led by Meyer Offerman (Pacino), an aging businessman and Holocaust survivor. With his wealth and status, Offerman gathers a group of like-minded individuals — including young maths prodigy Jonah Heidelbaum (Lerman) — in tracking down Nazis who've escaped justice. At the same time, he is horrified to learn that the U.S. government has been involved in a secret program to bring the Third Reich's most brilliant scientific minds to American shores, while the Nazis he's hunting are plotting a deadly new scheme in his own backyard.

Though heavily fictionalized, "Hunters" is loosely based on a group of real-life Nazi hunters (per Esquire). A powerful story of how the conclusion of one of the worst atrocities in history wasn't truly the end of the story, its cast also includes Lena Olin, Carol Kane, Josh Radnor, and Saul Rubinek (who once played a Nazi hunter in an episode of "The Outer Limits"). A second season is due in 2023.


The 2018 Amazon original series, "Homecoming," is actually based on a scripted podcast of the same name. But rather than enlist the big screen stars that lent their voices to the original audio drama — which included Catherine Keener and Oscar Isaac — the live-action adaptation brought in a new cast to fill the roles. Leading the series in place of Keener is Hollywood icon Julia Roberts as social worker Heidi Bergman, with Academy Award-winner Sissy Spacek playing her mother, Ellen.

Like the story on which it's based, Bergman works for the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, run by a specialized wellness group that claims to be able to cure post-traumatic stress disorder. Their services help soldiers returning from war, with a mission to help them reintegrate into civilian life. But flash forward and we find that Bergman is a waitress sometime later, and has almost no memory of her time at the Homecoming Center. When she realizes that something is wrong, she uncovers a sinister conspiracy centering on Homecoming, whose motives may not be as benevolent as they claim.

A gripping mystery that benefits from the talents of its superstar lead Julia Roberts in her TV debut, its broader cast is no less impressive, with the likes of Janelle Monáe, Shea Wigham, Stephan James, and Bobby Cannavale turning in sterling performances. A conspiracy thriller with a message, "Homecoming" is full of twists, turns, and a stinging critique of American imperialism.