Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
This weekend, Chloe Grace Moretz has a new film coming out called Shadow in the Cloud. It’s a period monster actioner that has an atrocious trailer. That said, Moretz is one of the better working young actors today. While she doesn’t make my list of five favorite former child actors working right now, I thought I’d take a look at my favorites anyway.
This list will cover actors who began working before the age of 18 and who’ve grown into some of the finest working actors of their generation. There are a lot of these actors from history that I could highlight, but my list will be more recent, child actors who were born in the last thirty years, as in young actors under the age of thirty.
This is only because trying to equate child actors who had lengthy Hollywood careers like Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland to the younger generation like Saoirse Ronan and Elle Fanning would be unfair considering we don’t have the full range of their careers to examine, only what they’ve done up to this point. This would also exclude the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale since both are only a few years away from their AARP cards right now (both will be 47 in 2021).
Before digging into the best, I thought I’d highlight a handful of names that I had considered for inclusion along with brief explanations of why they weren’t included. Actresses Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Keke Palmer, Amandla Stenberg, and Zendaya are all young actors with tremendous potential who I haven’t quite seen enough of to make a judgment, but who have delivered strong performances that might merit inclusion once they make it farther into their respective careers.
Then there are child actors who had promising starts (Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine and AnnaSophia Robb in Bridge to Terabithia) who’ve not found much success subsequently. While I did include one actor who’s done predominantly television work, other actors like Taissa Farmiga haven’t quite had the opportunity to show what they can do on the big screen, although they’ve been somewhat accessible.
Then there are young actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Nick Robinson, Kristen Stewart, Alex Wolff, and Shailene Woodley who got their big breaks on the cusp of 18 and who may have done work as children, but whose best work has been predominantly achieved well into adulthood. An actor who fit into this category, but who fell just outside my 1990 birth year cut-off, is Brie Larson and she’s just so immensely talented that I had to bring her up as part of this particular generation of actors.
One name that came into my head while writing up one of the actors below is Ezra Miller. He has shown a lot of promise even if his work as the Flash in the Justice League films has been unimpressive. His work in We Need to Talk About Kevin and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them shows just enough promise to put him in a close sixth place among my favorite young actors.
Now, it’s on to the final five.
Born in 1998, this now-22-year-old actress had her first big screen role in 2001 opposite Sean Penn and her older sister Dakota in the Oscar-nominated drama I Am Sam. Since then, she’s struck out on her own, leaving her sister’s shadow and has managed to cobble together a career to be proud of, one filled with a lot of independent work, but also a handful of big budget efforts to keep her saturated with money while she plies her craft.
With winning performances in films like Babel, Reservaton Road, and em>The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fanning has shown the uncanny ability to work alongside major Hollywood names and easily hold her own in spite of their significant differences in ages and experiences. Meanwhile, films like Super 8 and Maleficent and its sequel have shown her ability to stand tall in blockbusters. In all of this, it’s been her performances in Phoebe in Wonderland, Somewhere, and 20th Century Women I’ve appreciated the most.
Hutcherson was born in 1992. Most audiences may now recognize him for his work as Peeta Mellark in the blockbuster quadrilogy The Hunger Games. However, the now-28-year-old actor has been doing fantastic work for much longer, coming to the fore with his co-starring role with AnnaSophia Robb in Bridge to Terabithia. At 15 years of age, though seeming much younger, the gifted young actor displayed tremendous range opposite Robb who was equally impressive. A stunning film, it established my appreciation for Hutcherson as an actor, but it wouldn’t be his only superlative performance.
Alongside his work in the four Hunger Games films, his career has been filled with some impressive pictures including his big screen debut in American Splendor in 2003, The Kids Are All Right in 2010, and Detention in 2011. His best performances have been in the aforementioned Hunger Games films, Bridge to Terabithia, and The Kids Are All Right, but his ability to straddle the line between comedy and drama with great effect suggests a long career for this fine talent.
Although my first experience with Logan Lerman was in 2010’s Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief, I’ve since come to respect the talent of this 28-year-old actor. Having got his big screen break in Roland Emmerich’s Mel Gibson starrer The Patriot followed six months later opposite Gibson again in What Women Want, the then-12-year-old actor was featured in several prominent films over the next few years, even if some of them were flops, including Riding in Cars with Boys, The Butterfly Effect, The Number 23, and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Percy Jackson was the second film that was an attempt to make him a young box office star after 2009’s Gamer. While that latter film was an abject flop, the former did well enough to merit a sequel in 2013. Unfortunately, that film’s dismal box office performance led to the studio scrapping the series altogether.
Another failure came with his co-starring role as D’Artagnan in Paul W.S. Anderson’s ill-favored The Three Musketeers in 2011, the year after his Percy Jackson appearance, but 2012 would turn his misfortunes around, if only in one particular film. The Perks of Being a Wallflower showcased the young thespian’s tremendous range as the clinically depressed teen at the center of the film whose extroverted friends played by the upcoming Flash‘s Ezra Miller and Harry Potter’s Emma Watson. After that, Noah didn’t help his career too much, but the same year’s Fury put him on the map as one of the best young male actors working today. In Fury, he plays a young soldier who gets an eye-opening experience as a tank driver during World War II. The best actor in the entire film, Lerman more than laid claim to being one of my favorites working today as a result.
Of course, my absolute favorite on this list is Saoirse Ronan who came to prominence after her Oscar-nominated role in 2007’s Oscar heavyweight Atonement. Her performance earned her dozens of citations even if the Academy didn’t see fit to give her the Oscar then. Ronan is now 26 and already has four Academy Award nominations. Every film she appears in gives her an opportunity to showcase her once-in-a-generation talent, a talent that could be favorably compared to the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor.
Not every film Ronan does is great as pictures like City of Ember and The Lovely Bones can attest; however, even in bad or decent movies, she’s an outstanding presence, forcing everyone around her to step up their games. Hanna was her next great performance in 2011 and she’s done some of my favorite work in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Brooklyn, Lady Bird, and Little Women. Of those, Budapest is the only film she didn’t get an Oscar nomination for. She should have won for Brooklyn if nothing else, but her clear talent suggests that it’s only a matter of time before she gets an Oscar or four to put on her mantle.
Now that we’ve taken care of my favorite, let’s look at the best young actor currently working on television. Kiernan Shipka is the youngest name on the list. Having just turned 21 this year, she’s been at the center of two incredible television programs in her very short career. The list was stretched a bit to give room for Shipka as her big screen work has been negligible: a scant, forgettable 12 pictures. Yet, on the strength of Mad Men alone, she can lay claim to the title I’ve ascribed her.
After a string of five guest appearances in recognizable programs (Heroes, MADtv, and Monk among them), her big break came when she was cast in Matthew Weiner’s celebrated ad agency drama Mad Men, a role she began at the age of 8 years old. Over the course of the subsequent seven years, Shipka’s performances grew in estimation as the frustrated eldest daughter of Jon Hamm and January Jones’ Don and Betty Draper. Sally was a role that demanded a range of emotions that young Shipka was more than capable of exhibiting, earning some talk through the last few seasons of the show that she should have been nominated for an Emmy. Alas she was not. After a recurring stint on the miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan, Shipka was cast as the young teenage witch Sabrina in Netflix’s recently cancelled hit Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The show gave her full command of the proceedings and as the lead actress on the series, she did a bang-up job with some strong support from the likes of Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto among myriad others. While the show was short-lived, it showed us what Shipka could do with a leading role and it gives us hope that she’ll have a bright future whether on television or on the big screen should she make a more successful transition.