Being successful in the acting world—especially in big-budget films and TV shows—is no easy feat, and actors have to pay their dues. But who’s to say that process can’t start when the actor is not even old enough to drive a car? There have been Oscar-winning performances from children who are barely in the double-digit age range, and there’s a whole new crop of talented young actors showing up in TV shows and movies, and they’re often placed in the starring role. So, Paste gathered this list 20 actors age 20 and under who we think will be gracing television and movie screens for years to come.
She was perfect as bratty know-it-all Violet in 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and starred alongside Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson and Dennis Hopper in 2008’s Sleepwalking. But her big-time breakthrough may just come with her portrayal of a rough-around-the edges street kid in the forthcoming Goodnight Moon. Robb is set to star in the film with Kate Bosworth, Leslie Mann and Greenberg’s Juno Temple—who was just one year too old to make this list.
Quite a bit different than this guy, the angelic-faced Kross made his Hollywood debut with a role opposite Winslet in The Reader. Kross delivered a stirring performance as Michael, Kate Winslet’s young lover who later discovers she has Nazi ties. His portrayal of first love found and lost was not overshadowed by his Academy Award-winning co-star.
At the ripe old age of seven, Fanning held her own against Academy-Award nominee Sean Penn in 2001’s I Am Sam. And she hasn’t slowed down since. The now 16-year-old actress has so far avoided the pitfalls of the child-to-adult actor transition moving from roles in War of the Worlds and Charlotte’s Web to a very grown-up portrayal of seminal rock goddess Cherie Currie in this year’s The Runaways.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse earned instant fame with his good nerd gone bad role as Fogell/McLovin in the 2007 hit Superbad. In the recently-released Kick-Ass, he still plays the nerdy guy, but his time with superhero flair.
By the time he was 13 years old, Freddie Highmore had worked with some of the film industry’s biggest names: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Kate Winslet, Tim Burton. Highmore and Depp first worked together on the 2004 film Finding Neverland, and Depp suggested Highmore play the titular character in 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which also featured AnnaSophia Robb).
Mark Indelicato won us over with his role as the fashion-obsessed, Lady Gaga-loving Justin on ABC’s recently-ended series Ugly Betty. Although Indelicato brought another element of humor to show—which ended earlier this year—he also won fans with his portrayal of a gay teenager dealing with aftermath of coming out to friends and family.
Australian actress Mia Wasikowska has proven her talent with turns in That Evening Sun and Alice in Wonderland; we here at Paste already dubbed her a soon-to-be leading lady.
ABC’s Modern Family, which Paste recently deemed one of the best sitcoms currently on TV, has quickly become one of the funniest shows on the air, thanks in large part to its cast. Rico Rodriguez, who plays the wise-beyond-his-years Manny, makes us laugh with his mature approach to life’s many issues.
Harry Potter fans know her and love her as brainy Hermoine Granger. Over the years—starting with 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone —Emma Watson has progressed from awkward child actor to a more self-assured on-screen presence. After wrapping up the final Potter movie, Watson enrolled at Brown University, where she’s finishing up her first year. She hasn’t given up acting though; the co-ed is taking part in a student-run production at the university.
Chloe Moretz’s recent roles have seen play mature-beyond-her-years characters. First, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s sister in (500) Days of Summer, she was the voice of reason in her brother’s romantic confusion. And in her breakout role, playing Hit-Girl in this year’s Kick-Ass, Moretz’s sailor mouth and penchant for murderous weapons was cloaked in mock-childlike innocence.
Dev Patel was thrust in the spotlight as the star of the 2008 multi-Academy Award winner Slumdog Millionaire. And, of course, he does a great Jai Ho. We have a feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot more of Patel in the future.
In 2008, Saoirse Ronan played the young Briony Tallis, whose actions throw several other peoples’ live into disarray in Atonement. Last year, Ronan continued in the dramatic vein, taking on the lead role of Susie Salmon in the eerie murder mystery The Lovely Bones. We’ll see her next in another serious role, in the 1940s war movie The Way Back with Colin Farrell.
At a dozen years of age, Dakota’s little sister has shared the screen with Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and has worked with Sofia Coppola on the forthcoming Somewhere. The younger Fanning has also reportedly signed onto the cast of the in-the-works Vivaldi biopic.
Just like Elle Fanning, Jaden Smith may have gotten a boost from his famous family members. Smith’s mom and dad—Jada Pinkett and Will—passed along their acting genes to their son, who appeared alongside his dad in The Pursuit of Happyness, and stars in the upcoming Karate Kid with Jackie Chan.
Logan Lerman’s debut role—as the title character in this year’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief showed that the 17-year-old actor is still green, but entertaining nonetheless. In his next role (in 3-D!), Lerman will work with Christoph Waltz and Milla Jovovich in The Three Musketeers.
With 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Daniel Radcliffe cemented himself in the role that has so far defined his career and will continue to embody Hogwart’s star wizard through the end of the Harry Potter series. Radcliffe ruffled feathers in 2008 when his starring role in the play Equus required him to do a full-frontal nude scene.
At just 12 years old, Spanish actress Ivana Baquero starred as Ofelia in Guillermo del Toro’s eerie fairytale-inspired Pan’s Labyrinth (which earned a spot on both our 50 Best Movies and 25 Most-Essential Foreign Films of the aughts lists).
Bobb’e J. Thompson
Like many of the other actors on this list, Bobb’e J. Thompson began his acting career with small parts on television shows—including working with Tracey Morgan on both The Tracey Morgan Show and 30 Rock. In 2008, Thompson played Ronnie in Role Models, matching Paul Rudd’s adult humor joke for joke.
Her famous aunt Julia may be the biggest star in the family, but Emma Roberts’ career is plugging along at a steady pace. The 19-year-old has several films in the works, including What’s Wrong with Virginia (with Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris) and the sequel to her 2007 Nancy Drew flick.
Haley Ramm and Twilight’s Ashley Greene’s Skateland premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, earning both young actresses positive attention. She also played the young Carine McCandless (the older Carine was played by Jena Malone) in 2007’s Into the Wild.