Drew Barrymore Turns 40! From Child Star to Hollywood Renaissance Woman

The Hollywood actress has come a mighty long way since the troubled past of her youth. We picked out eight of her films that have exemplified her professional evolution.
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The Hollywood actress has come a mighty long way since the troubled past of her youth. We picked out eight of her films that have exemplified her professional evolution.
Drew Barrymore Photo

Drew Barrymore's life has had as many twists and turns as the plots of her movies. She's gone from child star to troubled teen to award winning actress with her own production and cosmetics companies. On February 22nd she will she celebrate her 40th birthday. The former rebel has matured, going from flashing David Letterman during a 1995 appearance on The Late Show to reenacting the big number from Dirty Dancing on this year’s post-Superbowl episode of The Tonight Show.

In a recent interview, she embraced her age, saying, “I'm so relieved to be 40. I've already started saying I'm 40 and my husband's like, 'Honey, you're still 39. Why are you saying you're 40?'... I'm just so excited! It feels good. It feels right.” 

In celebration of her milestone birthday, we took a look at eight of Barrymore's movies in that chronicle the many different stages of her life.

THE NEWCOMER: E.T.: The Extraterrestrial – 1982

Where Are They Now: We all remember Drew Barrymore as the adorable little girl in E.T. (1982). At just seven years old, she became the youngest-ever host of Saturday Night Live.

Drew Barrymore hosted 'Saturday Night Live' at age 7. (Photo: Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images)

Drew Barrymore made her blockbuster film debut at the tender age of seven in Steven Spielberg’s classic sci fi film, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, playing Gertie, a little girl who is shocked to discover that her older brother has brought home an alien. A member of one of America’s most famous acting families, she was cast in her first commercial when she was just eleven months old. Spielberg decided she had enough imagination to play Gertie when she told him during her audition that she was in a punk band. 

During filming, he convinced her that E.T. was real, so that during the scene where the creature appears to die, she would be genuinely distraught. The movie broke box office records and Barrymore became an instant celebrity. She was invited to the White House and became the youngest host ever of Saturday Night Live, a show which films when most seven year olds are asleep.

THE CHILD STAR: Irreconcilable Differences – 1984

After the success of E.T., Barrymore moved on to leading roles, getting top billing in films with adult themes, including Firestarter, an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, and Irreconcilable Differences, about a girl who divorces her parents. This movie featured Ryan O’Neal and Shelley Long as neglectful parents who were more interested in making it in the film industry than spending time with their daughter. Barrymore received her first of three Golden Globe Award nominations for her performance. (She won in 2009 for her work in the HBO movie Grey Gardens.)

The film hit close to home for Barrymore. Her mother, who was also her manager, was more interested in using her daughter’s fame to get into A-list parties than in raising her. She brought the tween Barrymore to famous New York City nightclubs like Studio 54 and Limelight. Barrymore had already started smoking and drinking by the time Irreconcilable Differences was released. She soon began using cocaine. She ended up in rehab when she was just 13, an experience which she chronicled in her 1990 memoir Little Girl Lost

Barrymore was predisposed to addiction, considering her grandfather, the legendary actor John Barrymore and father John Drew Barrymore were both alcoholics. And like life imitating art, she successfully petitioned the court at the age of 15 to become emancipated from her parents, just like her character in Irreconcilable Differences.

THE SEXY TEEN: Poison Ivy – 1992

Barrymore spent most of her teenage years getting sober and healthy. In her late teens, she returned to acting. To prove herself, she had to take on lower profile projects, including an after school special entitled 15 And Getting Straight about teens in rehab which also starred another teen addict, Corey Feldman. The 1992 B-Movie Poison Ivy put Barrymore back on the Hollywood map. She played a manipulative teen who befriends the school outcast, played by Sara Gilbert. Barrymore’s character, Ivy, seduces her father and kills her mother. 

Though the movie did not fare well at the box office, Barrymore’s performance and sexy new image attracted enough industry attention to land her other Lolitaesque roles, including a teen killer in the independent film Guncrazy and a memorable turn as a real-life version of Ivy in the TV movie The Amy Fisher Story, chronicling the tawdry saga of a teen girl who embarks on an affair with a married man and shoots his wife. Barrymore had a rebellious image off-screen as well. She married bartender Jeremy Thomas when she was 19 then divorced him two months later. When she was 20, she posed for Playboy.

THE SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Scream – 1996

Scream Queens: Drew Barrymore in Scream (1996)

By the mid-1990s, Barrymore had reestablished herself as a film actress with leading roles in the minor hits Bad Girls and Boys on the Side and supporting roles in the blockbusters Wayne’s World 2 and Batman Forever. Another relatively small role would become iconic. Barrymore played Casey, the first victim in the tongue-in-cheek horror movie Scream. The film opened with Barrymore’s scary death scene, in which she and her boyfriend were murdered after she failed to correctly answer a mysterious caller’s trivia questions about horror movies. 

The low budget film grossed well over $150 million dollars, spawning a franchise. Barrymore established the series’ tradition of a well-known actor dying in the first scene. She was originally cast as the film’s lead, Sidney, but she opted to play Casey because she knew it would subvert audience expectations if the biggest name in the cast died in the opening scene. In order to make her terror and tears convincing, director Wes Craven told animal lover Barrymore horrible stories about the deaths of animals.

THE ROMANTIC COMEDY LEAD: The Wedding Singer – 1998

Drew Barrymore has played Adam Sandler’s love interest in three romantic comedies. It’s one of the odder cinematic couplings. She is beautiful with the timing of a screwball comedienne. He’s a goofy man child. Yet the two have an undeniable chemistry that makes their pairings plausible. They first worked together in 1998’s The Wedding Singer, a 1980s era story about a wedding singer who falls in love with a waitress. Like Scream, it was a low-budget film that became a big hit. The duo worked together again in the successful 50 First Dates and last year’s bomb Blended. The romantic comedy genre proved to be one of Barrymore’s strengths. She also starred in the rom coms Fever Pitch, Music and Lyrics, He’s Not That Into You and Going the Distance.

THE PRODUCER: Never Been Kissed – 1999

After establishing herself as a leading lady, Barrymore launched her own production company, Flower Films. While a lot of actor-led production companies are little more than vanity projects, Barrymore has become a successful producer, with numerous film and television credits. Never Been Kissed was the first movie that she produced. The comedy was the saga of a socially awkward aspiring journalist who goes undercover at a high school and gets a “do over” on her teenage years. 

Few producers would have picked the beautiful, cool Barrymore to play a nerd, but Barrymore was convincing as the geeky Josie. Filmed for $25 million dollars, the movie grossed $84 million in its theatrical run and became a DVD and cable hit. Her other producer credits include the cult classic indie Donnie Darko and the reality TV shows Tough Love and Knife Fight. Flower Films next movie will be the romantic comedy How to be Single which is scheduled to premiere on Valentine’s Day 2016.

THE HOLLYWOOD POWER PLAYER: Charlie’s Angels – 2000

Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz

Drew with BFF and co-star Cameron Diaz at the 'Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle' premiere.

Just one year after Never Been Kissed was released, Barrymore starred in and produced the big-budget studio franchise, Charlie’s Angels. A feminist reimagining of the 1970s TV show about sexy female detectives with lots of action sequences, the film was one of the year’s biggest hits, earning over $264 million dollars. Barrymore played bad-girl Dylan and did many of her own stunts. She cast her then-fiancé, oddball Canadian comedian Tom Green, as her character’s love interest. 

Fortunately, for Barrymore’s career, they split up in 2002 after a six-month marriage, and she never worked with him again. The film was so popular that it merited a sequel, 2003’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Since she co-owned the rights to Charlie’s Angels, Barrymore was also credited as a producer on the short-lived 2011 Charlie’s Angels television series, a reboot which had no connection to the films.

THE DIRECTOR: Whip It – 2009

Barrymore has continued to seek out new challenges, making her directorial debut with the 2009 roller derby film Whip It and also played a supporting role in the coming-of-age story. She also produced the film, helping writer Shauna Cross develop the screenplay based on her novel Derby Girls. The film received positive reviews, with many critics praising both Barrymore’s directing and its positive message of female empowerment. It had a strong cast including Ellen Page, Kristen Wiig, Marcia Gay Harden and Jimmy Fallon and a seemingly commercial premise. Unfortunately, it was a flop at the box office, barely making back its $15 million dollar production cost.

Fortunately, Drew’s new venture as a cosmetics executive has been far more successful. In 2013, she launched Flower Beauty, a make-up brand which aims to bring high-quality natural products to the mass market. The line’s first year sales were estimated at $50 million dollars.