10 Child Actors To Keep An Eye On

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The most interesting thing about child stars is their potential. If they’ve already made it in the entertainment industry as minors, what are they going to be capable of when they’re grown up? Because of how little acting experience they’ve had, these kid stars can be very hit or miss. Some are cute but forgettable set decoration, some are precocious but ultimately playing themselves, and some seem great at memorizing lines but can’t seem to bring any emotion to the roles they’re playing.

Then you’ve got a tiny, tiny percentage of child actors who really seem to get it – they don’t need to be told how to emote, or how to interact with the camera, or anything like that. With that in mind, these are the ten child stars of today that I think should weather the storm of puberty and make it through to the other side as legitimate adult actors.

10. Joey King

JoeyKingRamona 10 Child Actors To Keep An Eye On

Joey King definitely hasn’t become a household name yet, although she starred in the generally well-received Ramona and Beezus and did her time in generic kid parts in a handful of other movies. She comes off as cute, likeable, and fun-loving, but I put her on my list less because of the work she’s done, and more because of the work that I know she can do.

I will never forget seeing an audition she did about two years ago, for a film that I don’t think ever got off the ground. Normally when you get kids in front of the camera for an audition, you’re really just trying to get a sense of what kind of personality they have and if you might be able to coax a decent performance out of them. But this kid came in and made the director cry. That’s how good she was.  She made me think of a young Natalie Portman.  If that’s not high praise, I don’t know what is.

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9. Zachary Gordon

zachary gordon in diary of a wimpy kid dog days 10 Child Actors To Keep An Eye On

This might seem like a weird choice for this list. Zachary Gordon? What has he done to make it on here?  The Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies and a couple episodes of How I Met Your Mother? Well, yeah. But to be completely fair, he owns those Wimpy Kid movies. And I’m impressed by his skills at comedy. I think it’s rare that you find a child actor who is actually funny, and not just an outgoing ham. I feel like as he ages, he will be able to transition into teen films and then eventually adult roles, rather than just getting left behind like a lot of famous kids. He just seems like a charming guy with a good sense of humor, and hopefully that will take him a long way.

8. Thomas Horn

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Fun fact, when the casting team for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was looking for a pre-teen to play their Oskar, they found Thomas Horn on an episode of children’s Jeopardy. Where better to find someone to play a fiercely intelligent, socially awkward kid than the place where real life intelligent, awkward kids mingle? At the end of the day, I’m not sure exactly how much of his performance was acting and how much was just him being himself. But that doesn’t change the fact that he emotes incredibly well for an untrained actor and drums up sympathy for a character that does have the potential to be unlikeable. I think if he continues on in acting, he’ll do great things. That said, he’ll probably succeed at whatever he does – he seems like a hard-working, intellectual kid with a rich future ahead of him.

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7. Maisie Williams

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This is quite possibly the scariest, most intense little girl I’ve ever seen. For the past couple years, she has stood out in the large ensemble cast of Game of Thrones. A pretty substantial amount of people who watch the show would list Arya as one of their favorite characters, and that’s no doubt in part because of how good Maisie Williams is in the role. She’s level-headed, goes against the grain, and seems to have little to no issue with shanking a guy if he deserves it. Her dance lessons with Syrio Forel were the highlight of an already stellar season, and it’s exciting to know that there’s so much of her story left to tell.

6. Asa Butterfield

asa butterfield enders game 10 Child Actors To Keep An Eye On

I give a lot of credit to any kid who is asked to carry a film. It’s one thing to be a child actor milling around in one of the secondary roles, but it’s quite another to be front and center as the film’s lead. Asa Butterfield has turned in several vulnerable, complex performances over the past few years (Hugo, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas), and he’s slated to play the eponymous Ender of next year’s anxiously awaited Ender’s Game. He seems like a dependable and likeable young man with a good understanding of the craft.  I can see him finding continued acting success into adulthood. And come on, this kid is adorable.

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5. Elle Fanning

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I chose Elle over her older sister Dakota for two simple reasons. One, Dakota is eighteen now, so I don’t think she technically qualifies for this list anymore. But more importantly, I genuinely feel that Elle has picked more interesting and challenging projects in her short career.

The first time I noticed her as anything other than Dakota’s little sis was when she guest starred on Criminal Minds, and for a pretty standard role in a procedural drama, she was really good. Since then, I’ve been nothing but impressed by the choices she’s made.  She shined in a small but critical role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and was equally impressive in her more recent leading role in Super 8. I wish her and big sis all the best in their adult careers.

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4. Bill Milner

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What a great kid. He’s so good as the sheltered son in a conservative religious family in Son of Rambow that it’s hard to imagine the film without him. Milner creates this great character who you sympathize with because he’s incredibly full of life. It’s easy for the audience to respond well to him when he’s got such passion and vibrancy. He takes the relatable adolescent feeling of experiencing the world for the first time and amplifies it in such a way that is wonderful to watch on screen.

More recently, he played the young version of Magneto in X-Men: First Class, which is such a departure from his previous roles.  On some level, many child actors are successful because they’re ultimately being asked to play a version of themselves. But for Milner to be able to embody roles that are so different from one another, especially at his young age…that’s pretty remarkable.  And I think as he matures, he’ll find more and more choices open to him.

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3. Kiernan Shipka

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This year, Mad Men managed to scrape together six acting Emmy nominations, including, but not limited to, Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, Peggy Olsen, and Jared Harris. Kiernan Shipka is the 12 year old who steals the scenes from them. How was this not her year for a nomination?  This is the question we all need to be asking ourselves.

On the show, she plays Sally Draper, Don’s oh-so-troubled preteen daughter, and she plays the hell out of her. She’s been on the show since she was eight years old, and it’s been such a joy to see her grow up on the screen, becoming more and more of a presence as the years go by.  Shipka comes off as startlingly mature for her age, yet still such an innocent as she struggles to come to terms with her changing world.

She’s growing up in the turbulent 60s, her parents had an ugly divorce and then were both promptly remarried, she lives in a creepy Addams Family mansion, her mother is a terrifying ice queen who maybe should have stuck to playing with dolls instead of having actual children…the list goes on and on. My point is, the character of Sally is so complex and genuine, and it was going to take more than your run-of-the-mill precocious child actor to do her justice.  Which is why I’m so glad that Matthew Weiner managed to track down this pint-sized gem. I can’t wait to see what she does when *sob sob* Mad Men is over.

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2. Chloe Grace Moretz

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Obvious choice, right? Almost too easy? Occasionally quality trumps my desire to be fresh and original, and Chloe Grace Moretz really is that good. She’s one of those kids you see once or twice every decade, like Jodie Foster or River Phoenix. They don’t need to be taught how to act, it just comes naturally to them.

Chloe caught my attention for the first time as Hit-Girl in Kick Ass (12 year olds wielding handguns and muttering obscenities tend to have that effect on people). Since then, I have genuinely been excited for every new project she comes out with (possible exception: Dark Shadows). For me, she has a status that I don’t normally award people until they’re much older and more experienced. Whenever she chooses a project, I can pretty much be assured that it’s going to be a quality production. I trust her judgment, I trust the judgment of a fifteen year old child star. That doesn’t happen too often.

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hailee steinfeld in true grit movie 1680x1050 10 Child Actors To Keep An Eye On

1. Hailee Steinfeld

For me, this girl has turned in one of the best performances by a child in all of cinema. Her work in True Grit is what I would consider the benchmark against which you judge all other child actors. Am I exaggerating a little bit?  Possibly, but I don’t think so. What’s so impressive is how much she transformed herself to embody the role of a headstrong girl hell bent on revenge.  If you ever watch interviews with her, she could not be further from this character.

Everything about her performance – the rapid fire dialogue, the cadence of her voice, even her physicality – was a conscious acting choice. To have that kind of awareness at her age is remarkable. So much of the time when we judge the work of child actors, we make allowances for their age and relative inexperience. But what is so fantastic about Hailee Steinfield is that her performance isn’t just good “for a child actor”…it’s good, period. I think any adult actress would be proud to have turned in the work that she did in this film.

So there you have it, any choices we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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  • http://twitter.com/MinimeJer05 Jeremy Lebens

    Still really upset that Steinfeld didn’t win the Oscar! Such a remarkable performance. Has she done anything since?

    • http://twitter.com/audonamission Audrey

      She has a few projects in the works, including Ender’s Game and an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet with Douglas Booth. Very excited to see how they turn out!

    • ak

      She didn’t deserve the Oscar. Her performance was good but not Oscar-worhy.

  • taylor.butler

    Kodi Smit-McPhee should be on here.

    • lucascott

      I would agree that he should be on the list if it was ‘great child actors’ but frankly I think half the list could be dropped. It implies that these kids are under the radar and most of them are far from it. We know them very well. so there’s no ‘to keep’ with them because we already have an eye on them and have for a while

    • lucascott

      I would agree that he should be on the list if it was ‘great child actors’ but frankly I think half the list could be dropped. It implies that these kids are under the radar and most of them are far from it. We know them very well. so there’s no ‘to keep’ with them because we already have an eye on them and have for a while

  • Caitylee2003

    Willow Shields (Primrose) And Amandla Stenberg (Rue) From the Hunger Games. Both had me crying with their performances.. and As a fan of the books Thats quite an achievement.

    • lucascott

      I didn’t really feel that much from Willow but I totally agree about Amandla, she nailed it. Not so much her character as it and how she melded with Jennifer. They had great chemistry

    • lucascott

      I didn’t really feel that much from Willow but I totally agree about Amandla, she nailed it. Not so much her character as it and how she melded with Jennifer. They had great chemistry

    • lucascott

      I didn’t really feel that much from Willow but I totally agree about Amandla, she nailed it. Not so much her character as it and how she melded with Jennifer. They had great chemistry

  • http://twitter.com/ViktorDenStore Viktor Jansson

    Pierce Gagnong from Looper should definately be in this list…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1599649413 Arianta Zulhan

    I’ve always have my eyes on Chloe, she’s just so gorgeous & her acting is already so professional

  • ak

    Where is Isabelle Fuhrman on this list? Her performance in Orphan was remarkable, very few actors can accomplish what she has in her young career.

    • Motherfucker

      That was a long time ago

  • Aly

    Abigail Breslin

  • yvonne

    What about Bailee Madison?

    • http://www.facebook.com/mae.chandler.1 Mae Chandler

      Yeah she really nailed her guest starring role on “Once Upon a Time”. I know that she’s been in other things but she really did resemble a young Jennifer Goodwin.

  • Sana

    Willow Shields, Amandla Stenberg, Mckenzie Foy and Chandler Canterbury too!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/H15.M1N3.0UR5 Stephanie Renee

    for the record…I won’t look at any article on this page because you twitter/facebook box on the left side makes it annoing and difficult to read without constant scrolling.

    • http://twitter.com/nabilahothman Nabilah Othman

      n yet u r here. yay

  • Kurt

    Uhm, Saoirse Ronan?

  • Nina

    Nolan Gould from Modern Family? Actually all the kids on Modern Family.

  • Ashlie_lewis

    Ian Colletti from Phoebe in Wonderland

  • queens2nd2none

    Hailee Steinfeld is the first young actress to make me second guess Ivana “Ofeilia” Baquero in the young actress category. Her perfomance in Pans Labyrinth was nothing short of awe inspiring but yeah… Hailee… she moved me in her role in a way that only Ofelia has done before her. Both young ladies are extremely talented and I hope for many more roles for both of them for a long time to come.

  • http://www.facebook.com/led.martinez Led Martínez

    What about Lina Leandersson and Saoirse Ronan

  • Rubes

    Saoirse Ronan??

    • http://twitter.com/nabilahothman Nabilah Othman

      the author wants to specifically write kids… so technically under 18. shes 19 this year, but hey… she is freakin awesome :D

  • Alyson

    Jodelle Ferland(she JUST turned 18) is amazing! So is Isabelle Fuhrman.

  • Elaina Marie champagne

    Hey mommy

  • Elaina Marie champagne

    On tv at grammy’s there is a pretty horse

  • mister blank

    sami gayle , although shes almost 18 . shes prolly the next natalie portman

  • http://www.facebook.com/kim.andruk Kim Andruk

    Chandler Riggs!

  • anon

    Most of these aren’t even children, they’re teens, some only a few years off being an adult. Good actors they are but child actors they are not.

  • hunter

    jaden smith?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sam-Winterton/100001205490726 Sam Winterton

    What was that kids name from Looper? That kid was something else…. terrifying and heart-breaking

  • Roddie Hoyle

    I think you really missed— Quvenzhane Wallis to me was AMAZING in Beasts of the Southern Wild and was up for best actress at 9 years old! Where is she at?

  • Bob

    Elle Fanning should be at the top of this list. Chloe Grace Moretz is overrated. Sorry, but that’s my opinion.

  • Bob

    What about Quvenzhane Wallis? She earned a best actress nomination, and Elle Fanning is much more talented than anyone else on this list.

  • http://twitter.com/teedger Telmuun

    I liked that 2 youngsters played in Moonrise Kingdom

  • CJ

    and the little fella who plays Carl in Walking Dead?

  • http://www.facebook.com/vicky.sunderland.18 Vicky Sunderland

    Some good names here and i agree about Elle Fanning. However my favourites have to be Aria (ofc) and Chloe Grace Moretz for the stunning role in kick ass. Although her saying ‘cunts’ never felt right lol.

  • Trent

    Jodelle Ferland. Say what you will about Tideland, but I’ve NEVER seen a child actor pull off a better performance.

  • jas

    Jaden smith

  • Sinister Ginger

    Ezra Miller i can see how you could have over looked him seeing that he has only done a handful of films that most people has never heard of. i.e. City Island, Beware of Gonzo. Ezra Miller has a natural talent that i havent seen since River Pheonix.

  • Sinister Ginger

    Ezra Miller i can see how you could have over looked him seeing that he has only done a handful of films that most people has never heard of. i.e. City Island, Beware of Gonzo. Ezra Miller has a natural talent that i havent seen since River Pheonix.

    • Mel

      He is a great actor but he’s not on the list because he is 20 years old.

  • Moe

    i think who you r a racist i don’t see too many black actors or films unless it’s in a negative light in these articles what’s going on you got something against black cinema

  • Lance

    Anybody notice on the Mad Men girl he listed 3 actors, but listed Peggy Olsen who is Elisabeth Moss’ character on the show? Compliment to her I guess that he couldn’t distinguish the actess from the performance. Oh and it’s actually Peggy Olson as well.

  • TG

    Tom Holland- he played Lucas in the Impossible. This kid carried that film in the palm of his hand.

  • Molly’s Mum

    Chandler Riggs.

  • Misa

    What about Chandler Riggs?

  • fayanora

    Quevanzhané Wallis deserves to be on this list. Y’all should see her performance in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” I’m willing to bet she’s the black Dakota Fanning, maybe even better.

  • Ed Hampton

    A missing gem is Natasha Calis. This girl will be really big. At only 12 she is already a stud.

  • Adriana

    Chandler Riggs. The son of Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead

  • Spooney

    I can’t believe there are actually people who are suggesting Chandler Riggs. The kid is a terrible actor! Ivana Baquero would deserve a spot on this list… if she wasn’t 19.

  • Bailee

    Jared Gilmore. He’s an awesome actor, and knows how to work his cuteness, like in Once Upon a Time

  • Keith Ranson

    Chloe No.2??? What Crackhead Made This list?!

  • RGZ

    I’d like to see Maisie Williams in something I would actually want to watch.

  • Jordan Jeffrey Kaupa

    Tye Sheridan: That kid was amazing in Mud. I expect great things from him.

  • Ajwa1999

    and Dakota Goyo. Imean did you see him in real steel. He stole the spotlight away from hugh jackman. And those killer dance moves. He was awesome!

  • Vitor Menezes

    one who almost no 1 knows is liam james, awesome in 2012 and in his leading role the way way back, i wold like if he keeps in cameras

  • Frances Jasmine Calijan

    what about mason cook,davis cleveland,david mazouz,max charles,MattyB,bailee madison,jared s.gilmore?????????i can’t stop looking at them