The Breakout Performances Of 2013

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2013 has been a great year for entertainment. We’ve seen a surplus of phenomenal, Academy-bait films in the past few months, from big-budgeted blockbusters like Gravity to character-driven indies like Nebraska, that will make the upcoming Oscar race one of the most crowded in years.

TV is also arguably as powerful as it has ever been – this past year saw the epic conclusion of AMC’s Breaking Bad, the arrival of Netflix as a force to be reckoned with, the introduction of SHOWTIME’s Masters of Sex and brilliant, smaller shows on a wide range of networks. Even FOX got in on the action with Sleepy Hollow, the guilty pleasure show to end all guilty pleasure shows.

2013 has also seen a wide variety of actors and actresses emerge, some of them seemingly out of thin air, to deliver a diverse range of powerhouse performances across cinema and television.

Join us as we take a look back at the breakout stars of 2013 and see what they’re up to next.



Michael B. Jordan - Fruitvale Station

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Why: Portraying Oscar Grant, a young man shot and killed by a transit officer in 2009 Oakland, Michael B. Jordan triumphs by painting a full picture, presenting Grant with all of his strengths and weaknesses. In watching Fruitvale Station, we feel the tragedy of his death but also the beauty of his life, and that’s in large part thanks to Jordan’s graceful screen presence. Oscar was a family man, a criminal, a kind soul and a man on the threshold of taking control of his life, and through Jordan’s fantastic performance, he’s also wonderfully, heartbreakingly human (as evidenced in the clip below).

What’s NextThat Awkward Moment, a comedy with Zac Efron and Miles Teller. Jordan is also rumored to have roles in John Hillcoat’s heist drama Triple Nine, sports drama Creed and Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot.

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Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips

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Why: This Somali actor came out of absolutely nowhere (Abdi was working as a chauffeur before he responded to a Minneapolis casting call) to steal hijacking thriller Captain Phillips out from under Tom Hanks – no easy task, considering Hanks is currently tipped to receive a Best Actor nomination for his role as the titular captain. Abdi inflected his performance as Abduwali Muse, the leader of the hijackers who commandeer Phillips’ ship, with electrifying menace and conflicted humanity. An immediate contender for Best Supporting Actor this year, Abdi turned in a powerhouse performance while never demonizing the real, desperate men who have been forced to turn to piracy in Somalia today.

What’s Next: Abdi is currently directing a film called Ciyaalka Xaafada, which explores the lives and struggles of the first generation of Somali-Americans living in Minneapolis.

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Asa Butterfield - Ender’s Game

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Why: Martin Scorsese’s Hugo put Butterfield on the map, but with Ender’s Game, the 16 year-old Brit established himself as one of the most talented, capable young actors working today. As Ender, Butterfield masterfully balanced the complex, morally ambiguous nature of the character, showcasing Ender’s adolescence, uncertainty, fear and ultimate brilliance while holding his own against Harrison Ford’s Colonel Graff. Though the film had a few problems, Butterfield’s gripping performance was certainly not one of them.

What’s Next: Butterfield will play another child prodigy in the comedic drama X Plus Y, then re-team with his Hugo co-star Chloe Moretz in the dark fairytale The White Circus, which will be executive-produced by Terry Gilliam.

Henry Cavill - Man of Steel

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Why: Unlike my fellow critic Jonathan Lack, I had problems with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, but star Henry Cavill was far and away not one of them. While I found the film to be deafening and underwhelming from a storytelling perspective, the British actor provided a grounded, gritty take on Superman that cut to the core of his loneliness and uncertainty more effectively than any previous interpretation of the character has.

No actor this year was put in a more intimidating position than Cavill – after graduating from Showtime’s The Tudors, he turned in bland performances in forgettable films like Immortals and The Cold Light of Day, only to land on the receiving end of DC Comics’ demands for a dramatic, intelligent and innovative take on a legendary character. Luckily for Cavill, his performance was nothing short of super.  

What’s Next: Cavill will jump-start another franchise with next year’s spy adaptation The Man for U.N.C.L.E., then he’ll reteam with Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer for a 2015 Man of Steel sequel that also stars Ben Affleck as Batman.

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Miles Teller – The Spectacular Now

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Why: Teller was previously known for wild teen comedies like Project X and 21 & Over, but in coming-of-age drama The Spectacular Now, he expertly dissected the falsity behind those same, carefree party animals. As Sutter Keeley, a popular goofball completely committed to the fantasy of living in the moment, Teller showcased a dramatic depth and charisma only hinted at in his previous roles.

Starring alongside the luminescent Shailene Woodley, Teller provided a thoughtful and affecting portrayal of the typical American teenager, exploring Sutter’s imperfections while also maintaining a fascinating, finely-drawn façade of larger-than-life magnetism. Teller’s was an astute, hopeful and star-making performance.

What’s Next: In 2014, the actor will appear in two romantic comedies, That Awkward Moment and Two Night Stand, and reteam with Woodley for YA property Divergent. Also in the pipeline: a musical drama called Whiplash.

Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years A Slave

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Why: Though Ejiofor has been on the Hollywood scene since 2002′s Dirty Pretty Things, he’s never received the respect he so thoroughly deserves. His stunning turn as freed-man-turned-slave Solomon Northup in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is guaranteed to change that – filling every glance and movement with unspeakable pain, Ejiofor anchored the most deeply upsetting and staggeringly powerful film about American slavery in cinematic history.

All of the Best Actor buzz is justified – in every scene, the actor was unabashedly brilliant, communicating the brutal reality of a slave’s life with dramatic pathos, soulful stoicism and remarkable strength of character. We’ll be hearing about his performance for years to come.

What’s Next: After picking up a well-earned Best Actor statuette at next year’s Oscar ceremony (no doubt in my mind), Ejiofor will appear in Nigerian drama Half of a Yellow Sun and then star with Amanda Seyfried and Chris Pine in the post-apocalyptic Z for Zachariah, adapted from Robert C. O’Brien’s sci-fi classic.

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Charlie Hunnam - Pacific Rim

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Why: FX viewers have been enjoying Hunnam’s strong performance as conflicted SAMCRO President Jax Teller on biker drama Sons of Anarchy since 2008, but the actor finally broke into the big time this year with a starring role in Guillermo del Toro’s monsters-versus-robots extravaganza Pacific Rim.

Lending protagonist Raleigh Becket a surprisingly relatable humanity in spite of Pacific Rim‘s hard sci-fi center, Hunnam commanded the big screen and gave del Toro’s blockbuster a huge, pulsating heart to rival its massive battle sequences.

What’s Next: Hunnam dropped out of the high-profile erotica adaptation Fifty Shades of Grey in order to remain committed to Sons of Anarchy, but he’ll next be seen on the silver screen in another del Toro production: 2015 horror film Crimson PeakThe actor is also set to star in John Hillcoat’s upcoming thriller, Triple Nine, about a group of corrupt cops who plot a bank heist.

Sam Claflin - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Why: The British actor, previously known for minor roles in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Snow White & the Huntsman, stole adoring fans from stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth when he joined The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as charming, deadly tribute Finnick Odair. Wielding a trident and a dazzling smile, Claflin broke out in a big way, winning over his many critics with an involving, appealing take on the fan favorite character. He’s currently enjoying his newfound status as Hollywood heartthrob.

What’s NextThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Parts 1 & 2, of course! Claflin has also been racking up leading roles in smaller films. In 2014, he’ll appear in romantic comedy Love, Rosie, horror film The Quiet Ones and dramatic thriller Posh, acting alongside actors such as Lily Collins, Jared Harris, Natalie Dormer, Douglas Booth and Max Irons.

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Chadwick Boseman - 42

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Why: In his first major leading role, Boseman hit a real home run, turning in a powerhouse performance as baseball legend Jackie Robinson in 42. Portraying the icon with obvious respect, depth and charisma, Boseman succeeded in creating the first truly great Robinson biopic.

Even as Robinson combats racism and hatred with heroic grace and love of the game, Boseman’s expressive features communicate the many layers of pain and discomfort that lie beneath. The actor’s accurate and engaging take on the sports legend was the portrayal that his many fans always wanted but never actually expected to get.

What’s Next: Boseman recently played the supporting part of Vontae Mack in Ivan Reitman’s upcoming football drama Draft Day, about a fictional manager of the Cleveland Browns (Kevin Costner) attempting to build the perfect team. Next up, another biopic – Boseman has signed on to play music legend James Brown in Tate Taylor’s Get On Up, against Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis and Dan Aykroyd.

Tom Mison - Sleepy Hollow (FOX)

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Why: How do you accurately play a resurrected Revolutionary War soldier suddenly thrust into the 21st century? Ask Tom Mison, who’s turning in a layered, vastly enjoyable performance week after week as Ichabod Crane on FOX’s surprising fall hit Sleepy Hollow. It’s shocking that Crane, with his bizarre appearance and background, doesn’t come off as a total joke, and that’s entirely thanks to Mison. As Crane, the actor is funny, dramatic, charismatic and never less than compulsively watchable.

What’s Next: Mison will be committed to Sleepy Hollow for some time, now that the show has been picked up by FOX for a second season.

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Lizzy Caplan – Masters of Sex (Showtime)

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Why: Anyone who says that the success of Showtime’s sexy period drama Masters of Sex can be attributed solely to lead actor Michael Sheen is lying to themselves. As sexual pioneer Virginia Johnson, Caplan’s thrilling portrayal is only getting better with each episode.

Fearless, charismatic and stunningly emotive, Caplan deserves every ounce of the praise she’s received for the role. Masters of Sex could have been a simple Mad Men rip-off (see also: The Playboy Club), but Caplan’s powerhouse performance has quickly succeeded in elevating the show to a level of quality currently unmatched on any other network.

What’s Next: A second season of Masters of Sex, as well as an upcoming James Franco comedy called The Interview, about a TV show host (Franco) and his producer (Caplan) who inadvertently stumble across an assassination plot.

Adele Exarchopoulos - Blue is the Warmest Color

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Why: It takes a particular type of acting brilliance to make shockingly explicit sex scenes feel natural, beautiful and intimate. As the innocent Adele, who enters into a passionate relationship with the independent, blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux), Exarchopoulos turns in a supremely forceful and believable performance.

The film courted controversy at the time of its release, but even Blue is the Warmest Color‘s detractors couldn’t take umbrage the actress’s star-making performance. Seydoux doesn’t make this list because of her prior status as a French film star, but the chemistry between both actresses is so potent that Blue is the Warmest Color excels as one of the sweetest love stories of the year, despite its dare-you-to-look-away nature.

What’s Next: Exarchopoulos will appear in two French films next year: Qui vive and Voyage vers la mère.

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Lupita Nyong’o - 12 Years A Slave

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Why: As abused slave Patsey, Nyong’o turned in a truly luminescent performance that captured the pain and torment of Patsey’s daily existence, exploring the physical, mental and emotional toll that slavery took on her during her time as a slave of the sadistic Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Expect Nyong’o to be the name on everybody’s lips at this year’s Oscar ceremony. The actress came out of nowhere (12 Years A Slave was her first film after graduating from the Yale School of Drama) to turn in the most gut-wrenching and deeply human performance of the year.

What’s Next: Nyong’o has a supporting role in the upcoming Liam Neeson thriller Non-Stop, about an air marshal attempting to prevent someone from murdering passengers on board an international flight.

Taylor Schilling - Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

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Why: After starring in sleepy melodrama The Lucky One, Schilling needed something huge to break away from the pretty-face mold. Luckily for her (and for us), she found Netflix’s excellent prison dramedy Orange is the New Black. As the upper middle-class homemaker Piper Chapman, who’s sentenced to 15 months in a women’s federal prison for transporting drug money during her rebellious college years, Schilling is sympathetic, hilarious and thoroughly believable.

In a program that’s home to an all-around terrific ensemble (it was tough to leave Laverne Cox and Uzo Aduba off this list), Schilling is a terrific and capable anchor, as well as the show’s beating heart.

What’s Next: Sometime early next year, Schilling will star in the drama Stay, about a young woman rocked by an unexpected pregnancy during her romance with a disgraced professor (Aidan Quinn). She’ll also return for the second season of Orange is the New Black, which is set to premiere on Netflix in the first half of 2014.

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Tatiana Maslany - Orphan Black (BBC America)

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Why: This Canadian talent delivered the best performance of the year not once but four times on BBC America’s breakout sci-fi hit Orphan Black. The show follows street-smart hustler Sarah Manning after she witnesses a woman who looks exactly like her jumping in front of a train. The crazy, brilliant twists throughout the first season are far too delicious for me to spoil here, but Maslany is utterly magnificent in the leading role(s).

In addition to Sarah, she portrays soccer mom Alison Hendrix, brainiac Cosima Niehaus and deranged sociopath Helena. It’s truly dazzling to watch the actress embody each character with distinctive mannerisms and personalities, and Maslany has better chemistry with different versions of herself than any actor-actress pair on television.

Even when the clones are pretending to be each other, the beauty of Maslany’s performance is that we know each of her characters, and we can immediately distinguish between them based on tiny details elegantly communicated by the actress. Though Orphan Black often delves into hard sci-fi, Maslany’s stunning and emotional performance keeps the show both refreshingly grounded and spectacularly compelling.

What’s Next: Season 2 of Orphan Black hits BBC America next April. Maslany also stars alongside Richard Dreyfuss in dramedy Cas & Dylan, which hit screens in Canada this past September.

Lake Bell - In A World…

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Why: The triple-threat directed, wrote and starred in one of the year’s best comedies. As a director, Bell proved her skills behind the camera, keeping In A World…‘s plot (about a young woman performing voice-overs for movie trailers) zipping along with considerable energy and enthusiasm.

As protagonist Carol, Bell is utterly magnetic, expertly toeing the line between snarky self-awareness and cheerful peppiness. Finally, Bell’s razor-sharp screenplay makes a case for In A World… as one of the most strongly written comedies in recent years. The film didn’t get as much recognition as it should have, but no one can deny just how powerfully Bell broke onto the Hollywood scene this year.

What’s Next: Bell will appear in 2014 sports drama Million Dollar Arm, lend her voice to next year’s animated comedy Mr. Peabody & Sherman, star in a thriller called The Coup alongside Owen Wilson and Pierce Brosnan then take on the lead role in Man Up, a British comedy co-starring Simon Pegg.

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Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens - Spring Breakers

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Why: I’m grouping these two because, though they were both known before for roles in teen-targeted fare (Hudgens headlined all three of Disney Channel’s High School Musical films, while Benson stars in ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars), both actresses delivered stunning, star-making performances in Harmony Korine’s booze-soaked satire Spring Breakers.

Korine’s film is full of nightmarishly queasy titillations, as the group of girls at the film’s center delve into the shady criminal underworld of Miami, but it’s the acting from Hudgens and Benson that really sells Spring Breakers as something much more troubling and complex than Girls And Guns Gone Wild. Hudgens completely threw herself into the part of terrifyingly immoral ringleader Candy, while Benson turned in a truly demented performance as the deceptively wide-eyed Brit. Their scenes with James Franco’s gonzo gangster Alien are as darkly humorous as they are gripping. More than any other actresses this year, Hudgens and Benson broke out of the teen-star mold with startling force.

What’s Next: Hudgens will take on starring roles in coming-of-age drama Gimme Shelter (due in January) and the 2015 horror comedy Kitchen Sink, then voice a wild salmon in animated family film The Great Migration. Benson will also contribute her voice to The Great Migration while continuing to star on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars.

Jane Levy - Evil Dead

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Why: The Suburgatory star delivered a terrifying performance as heroin-addict-turned-possession-victim Mia in Fede Alvarez’s blood-soaked Evil Dead remake. Levy swung for the fences in her first leading role in a feature film and hit it out of the park, alternately breaking our hearts and making them jump out of our chests. It’s rare that an actress in a horror flick is capable of playing the petrified damsel and the vile antagonist (a gleefully depraved demon), but Levy does impressive work in both roles. Though the film was too gory for many to handle, Levy’s brilliant turn makes a strong case for her as one of horror’s next greats.

What’s NextSuburgatory returns for its third season on ABC this January, but the actress also has some big-screen projects in the works. Levy will take on supporting roles in comedy Frank and Cindy and drama About Alex, then she’ll star in psychological thriller In A Dark Place, as a governess hired by a strange British family to watch over a porcelain doll.

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Elizabeth Debicki - The Great Gatsby

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Why: As enigmatic, coquettish socialite Jordan Baker in Baz Luhrmann’s decadent take on The Great Gatsby, Debicki made one hell of a first impression. The Aussie newcomer fit in perfectly with the glamorous, glittery atmosphere of the film and nailed every one of her gorgeous, ruminative lines (“I like large parties… they’re so intimate,” she exclaims at one point). Debicki’s bold turn as Jordan won her praise from many critics and fans of Fitzgerald’s classic novel. Though the character often took a backseat to Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, Debicki’s performance was truly hypnotic.

What’s Next: Debicki has landed a role in Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the classic spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which already has Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Hugh Grant attached to star.

Brie Larson - Short Term 12

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Why: Larson had already built a small fan-base for herself with supporting roles in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and 21 Jump Street, but Short Term 12 marked Larson’s arrival as an overpoweringly strong, capable dramatic actress. As passionate foster-care supervisor Grace, Larson anchored an illuminating, moving gut-punch of a movie, showing off a truly staggering range. Grace was an incredibly difficult character to play, both emotionally and physically, but the actress succeeded wildly in the role, capturing Grace’s insecurities and strengths with unmistakable zeal and deep feeling.

What’s Next: The actress will star in musical rom-com Basmati Blues then play Mark Wahlberg’s love interest in crime drama The Gambler.

Thanks for taking a look at our list of the breakout stars of 2013! Did we leave anyone off who should have been considered, or were any of the actors or actresses we listed undeserving? Let us know your picks in the comments section! 

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  • Squash Fever

    Pacific Rim sucked more than gigli and the douche from SOA is the one of the worst actors in the history of film. Steven Seagal has more range than Charlie whats his face.

  • David Brown

    Chiwetel Ejiofor is so good in Serenity. Evil without being cliche.

  • just

    I love SOA but good damn did Charlie Hunnam suck terribly

  • Lourdes Meinhold

    I have always loved the YA novel “Z for Zachariah” since I was in 6th grade! And that was several decades ago…I always wondered who would star in the film adapation. Hopefully the makers of the film will stick with the original story as there are only 2 characters in the whole book….