5 Cameron Diaz
With her blonde surfer girl look and all-American appeal, Cameron Diaz left home as a teenager in 1988 to follow a modeling career that spanned the globe. When the California girl returned home at the age of 21, her modeling agency snagged her an acting audition that resulted in Diaz’s film debut opposite Jim Carrey in 1994’s “The Mask.” The movie turned her into an overnight acting sensation. Despite a lack of acting experience, Diaz went on to work in such varied films as “Feeling Minnesota” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Her turn as the title character Mary in the 1998 film “There’s Something About Mary” sealed her superstardom status. Honestly, who can forget the “hair gel” scene?
4 Milla Jovovich
As a teenager, Milla Jovovich had already secured success as a model. She was photographed by Richard Avedon and appeared on the covers of “Vogue” and “Cosmopolitan.” In 2004, she was the highest-paid model in the world—but she craved success in the film industry, having studied acting since childhood. She picked up some guest spots on television series and a few supporting roles in films, but it wasn’t until she starred in “The Fifth Element” opposite Bruce Willis that her film career really took off. Taking on diverse roles—as the zombie-slaying Alice in “Resident Evil” and a critically acclaimed portrayal of Joan of Arc—led to Jovovich’s recognition as an actress who has eclipsed her supermodel stardom.
3 Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron won a 1991 modeling contest in her native South Africa and pursued a promising career as a teenager. As she modeled in Europe and New York, she was more drawn to ballet and acting, two childhood passions. When a knee injury ended her dancing aspirations, she headed to L.A. in 1994 and never looked back. Although Theron continually graces global lists of beautiful people, it was her performance in the 2003 film “Monster”—for which she gained 30 pounds and appeared in minimal makeup—that earned her an Oscar for best actress.
2 Tilda Swinton
Her height and unique look made her a hit as a high fashion and runway model— Dutch designers Viktor and Rolf even released an entire collection inspired by her iconic style—but Tilda Swinton didn’t stop there. Her lifelong experience being mistaken for a man fueled her interest in gender identity. She gained critical acclaim and mainstream success from gender-bending roles in films like 1992’s “Orlando” and the 2005 fantasy “Constantine,” in which she played the androgynous angel Gabriel alongside Keanu Reeves. Swinton won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her performance in 2007’s “Michael Clayton,” starring George Clooney.
1 Halle Berry
Halle Berry’s success in beauty pageants paved the way for a modeling career and her first acting role in the 1989 TV series “Living Dolls.” Soon after that she displayed her acting chops in a chilling performance as a crack addict in Spike Lee’s 1991 film “Jungle Fever.” Berry’s big screen success enabled her to leave behind the world of modeling. She later became the first African-American woman to win the Academy Award for best actress—for her performance in 2001’s “Monster’s Ball”—and the highest paid African-American actress in Hollywood.