THEN & NOW: The cast of 'Elf'

Warner Bros‘Elf’ came out 15 years ago.
  • “Elf” continues to be one of the most popular Christmas movies.
  • The movie featured actors who were well established and actors who were just starting out.
  • It’s been 15 years since the movie first came out.

Since its release in 2003, “Elf” has remained one of the most popular Christmas movies of all time, coming in at #25 in Rotten Tomatoes’ list of best Christmas movies.

Starring a human raised by elves in the North Pole that heads to New York City in search of his birth-father, “Elf” has become a part of pop culture. Although the movie had all the potential to flop at the box office, “Elf” made over $US31 million during its opening weekend. Since then, the movie’s total gross has risen to over $US175 million.

With big name actors like Will Ferrell and James Caan lending their talents to the movie and then-newbies like Peter Dinklage and Zooey Deschanel making waves in the film’s debut, it’s fun to look back 15 years later and see where the cast of the Christmas film is today.


Will Ferrell starred in “Elf” the same year “Old School” premiered.

Warner Home VideoFerrell had just recently left SNL.

Only Will Ferrell could star in the R-rated comedy “Old School” and play a human that thinks he’s a Christmas elf in a kid-friendly film during the same year.

In 2003, Ferrell had ended his “SNL” career a year prior and was preparing to make a name for himself as a big-name movie actor. Upon taking the role as Buddy the elf, Ferrell requested that the film remain lighthearted and took cues from the Tom Hanks film “Big” in creating his character’s childlike persona.


Ferrell’s career has seen lots of success post-“Elf.”

Dimitrios Kambouris / GettyFerrell has a new movie coming out on Christmas Day.

Since bringing Buddy the Elf to life, Ferrell has gone on to act in over 20 full-length feature films, including “Anchorman,”“Kicking & Screaming,”“Step Brothers,” and “Get Hard,” among many others. His newest movie, “Holmes & Watson” will be released Christmas Day.


Zooey Deschanel wasn’t the first choice to play Jovie.

New Line CinemaDeschanel believes she got a chance for the role because of her singing ability.

“Elf” was the ninth feature-length film that Zooey Deschanel had appeared in since launching her acting career in 1998. Despite her lengthy acting credits at the time, “Elf” was a relatively new actress in Hollywood, having only made waves in the film “All the Real Girls” earlier that same year.

In an interview with Variety, Deschanel revealed that she was the second choice for the role and ultimately starred in the film as Jovie when the film’s first choice dropped out. In an interview with About.com, the actress said she believed it was her singing ability that aided her chances in landing the coveted “Elf” role.


Deschanel became the star of her own TV show a few years later.

Post-“Elf,” the actress starred in several major movies, including “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,”“500 Days of Summer,” and “Trolls.” In 2006, she formed a two-person indie band with M. Ward called She & Him, and in 2011, Deschanel landed her most famous role as Jessica Day in the show “New Girl.”

The show ended in 2018 after seven seasons on-air. Currently, there are no future projects listed on Deschanel’s IMDB.


James Caan was a seasoned actor before joining “Elf.”

New Line CinemaCaan had been in the business for a long time.

James Caan wasn’t a Hollywood newbie when he joined the “Elf” cast as Buddy’s father Walter. Having started acting in 1961, Caan had starred in films like “The Godfather” and “Funny Lady” before joining the cast of “Elf” in 2003.


Caan remembers “Elf” as one of his favourite comedies that he’s worked on.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty ImagesCaan has been involved in lots of different projects.

In the 15 years since “Elf” has been released, Caan remembers the film as one of his favourite comedy productions. Since then, he’s worked on several TV series, including “Las Vegas,” and he’s continued to star in popular movies, one of the more notable being “Undercover Grandpa.”

He’s also gone on to voice a character in “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and several “Godfather” video game characters.


Bob Newhart was a well-known actor when “Elf” was released.

Warner BrothersNewhart mastered camera tricks to appear three-feet-tall.

Having voiced Bernard in Disney’s “The Rescuers” and “The Rescuers: Down Under” and appearing in popular films like “In & Out” and “Legally Blonde 2,”Newhart was a well-known actor in the world of Hollywood. He even had his own TV series in the 1970s titled “The Bob Newhart Show,” which saw six years of success.

Starring as Papa Elf in the 2003 film, Newhart had to appear much shorter than his adoptive son, Buddy, which meant standing several feet away from Ferrell while acting. Nevertheless, the actor managed to successfully use cinema tricks to appear as a three-foot-tall elf and bring Christmas dreams to life year after year.


Newhart’s has since done lots of TV work.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty ImagesNewhart appeared in ‘Horrible Bosses’ after ‘Elf.’

Although he has continued his work as a TV star, Newhart has only appeared on one feature-length movie since the release of “Elf.” That movie was the 2011 film “Horrible Bosses” starring Jason Sudeikis and Jason Bateman, among many other famed celebrities. He did, however, appear in the TV movie series “The Librarian”, which saw a successful three-movie run.

Newhart also makes frequent appearances in the shows “The Librarians” and “The Big Bang Theory.” In 2017, he reprised his role as Papa Elf for a local TV commercial.


Mary Steenburgen was an Academy Award winner prior to “Elf.”

New Line CinemaSteenburgen had received an Academy Award before her role in ‘Elf.’

From “Back to the Future III” to “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” Steenburgen had made her mark on Hollywood long before the release of “Elf.” In fact, she won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 1981 for her performance as Lynda Dummar in “Melvin and Howard.” The Oscar-winning actress took her talents to the big screen once again when she appeared as Buddy’s step-mum Emily in the film “Elf.”


Steenburgen would star alongside Will Ferrell again in 2008.

Dominik Bindl/Getty ImagesSteenburg has been in lots of movies and TV shows since.

“Elf” wouldn’t be the last time Steenburgen would appear in a film with Ferrell. In 2008, the duo would reunite in the comedy “Step Brothers” with Steenburgen playing Ferrell’s mum once again.

Steenburgen also appeared in the TV series “Joan of Arcadia” and “Orange Is the New Black.” Steenburgen would also appear in the films “Four Christmases,”“The Proposal,”“The Help,” and “A Walk in the Woods” among many others.


“Elf” was Daniel Tay’s second movie.

New Line CinemasHe was just starting out.

Arguably, starring as Michael, Buddy’s half-brother in the film “Elf” was Daniel Tay‘s first major role. The only acting credit prior to the Christmas film was the 2003 film “American Splendor” in which Tay played a young Harvey. He was 12 years old when the movie was released, coincidentally the same age as his character in the film.


Tay hasn’t appeared in any films since 2007.

Kevin Kane/Getty Images for Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS FoundationTay went on to graduate from Yale.

Post-“Elf” success, the child actor voiced Doogal in the 2006 film of the same name. He also appeared in the 2006 film “Beer League” and the 2007 film “Brooklyn Rules”. His last project was providing the voice of Bill Blue in “Grand Theft Auto IV.” In the 15 years since “Ef” premiered, Tay graduated from Yale University and now tutors students preparing to take entrance exams, according to Mirror.


Peter Dinklage wasn’t well-known before “Elf.”

New Line CinemasDinklage was relatively unknown.

With the exception of “The Station Agent” in 2003, Peter Dinklage was a relatively unknown actor prior to his role in “Elf.” In the film, Dinklage appears as Miles Finch, the seemingly grumpy best-selling author who doesn’t take kindly to Buddy the Elf. Dinklage’s performance in the film is brief but memorable nonetheless.


Now, Dinklage stars in the hit HBO show “Game of Thrones.”

Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for IMDbDinklage is now super well know, most notably for ‘Game of Thrones.’

After appearing in “Elf,” Dinklage would go on to appear in several popular movies, including “Death at a Funeral,”“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” Most notably, Dinklage landed a coveted role in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” in which he plays the ever-controversial but never dull Tyrion Lannister. He also appeared in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and has at least four upcoming projects outside the “GoT” universe.


Ed Asner had an impressive career before “Elf.”

New Lines CinemasHe is a Hollywood legend.

Starring as Santa in “Elf” might not have been a defining moment for Edward Asner‘s career, but for a generation of kids, it’s his most memorable role. Asner’s acting career stretches back to 1957 when he appeared in the TV series “Studio One in Hollywood.” He starred in upwards of 50 projects before joining the “Elf” cast in 2003.


Now, 15 years later, Asner isn’t slowing down.

Getty ImagesAsner has been credited for 60 roles.

At 89 years old, Asner has kept his Hollywood career thriving. Since “Elf”‘s release, Asner has been credited with over 60 roles, including the TV movie “Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas.” He has 18 projects currently in the works, several of which are set to premiere in 2019.

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.