“Who is the next Leonardo DiCaprio?” That question has plagued Hollywood directors and casting agents for years now, though sometimes Leo’s name gets replaced by Jake Gyllenhaal or the late Heath Ledger’s, and on the gender flip-side, women like Anne Hathaway or Michelle Williams. The answer doesn’t seem to reside in Zac Efron or any of his peers, unfortunately, since no one from his teenybopper sect has been able to consistently open new movies to whopping box office profits.
And, truth be told, not many of the industry’s statesmen are instantly lighting up ticket booths at theaters, either. Just because George Clooney’s or Brad Pitt’s name is on a marquee, that doesn’t mean the actor’s respective movie is going to break any cash registers. So, as a result, the concern seems to be more about performances, and that’s something young Hollywood is definitely capable of handling.
This weekend, in fact, one of the game’s most promising youngsters, Chloë Moretz (Let Me In, Hugo) is set to hold her own next to a typically nutty Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s Gothic horror-comedy Dark Shadows. It’s Depp’s show, no doubt, but the 15-year-old Moretz makes the most of her limited screen time, giving us even more hope that she’s on the verge of an award-caliber future—she surely has the necessary potential, like all the up-and-coming thespians included on our list of The 25 Best Hollywood Actors Under 25.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
25. Daniel Radcliffe
Best projects: The Harry Potter movie series (2001 – 2011), The Woman in Black (2012)
Theater fiends have known for years now that Daniel Radcliffe is much more than Harry Potter, due to his acclaimed stretches in London’s Equus play and New York City’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying musical. But for those who’ve never paid to see live stage acting, Radcliffe’s post-Potter career was a big question mark after the release of last summer’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.
The answer arrived in January with The Woman in Black, an old-school dose of Victorian supernatural frights that opened to an impressive $20 million its opening weekend in the States. More importantly, though, The Woman in Black demonstrated to Harry Potter supporters that Radcliffe’s talents have darker complexities than had previously been seen. Next year’s heady Kill Your Darlings, which will find Radcliffe playing infamous Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, should add to that significantly.
24. John Boyega
Best projects: Attack the Block (2011)
OK, so we should confess something here: Putting John Boyega on this list is, shamelessly, a ploy to get more eyes on writer/director Joe Cornish’s stellar sci-fi flick Attack the Block, a 2011 favorite that still has yet to achieve the cult status it truly deserves.
What makes this entry a guiltless endeavor, though, is the fact that Boyega’s performance as the head alien-slayer, Moses, is legitimately brilliant; on the surface, Moses is a steely hoodlum, but Cornish’s script systematically reveals the character’s heart and intriguing intricacies as the E.T. invasion gains momentum, and Boyega, a first-time British-Nigerian actor, nails every scene in a superlative fashion.
23. Kaya Scodelario
Best projects: Skins (2007 – 2010, E4), Wuthering Heights (2011)
Hollywood executives love mining for fresh female talents from overseas markets, so it’s only a matter of time before Kaya Scodelario gets the call to pack her bags for Tinsel Town. Blessed with the kind of natural good looks that casting directors love, the British model/actress supports her physical prowess with some really fierce acting skills.
On the BAFTA Award-winning teen drama series Skins, which MTV disastrously tried to adapt for American audiences last year, Scodelario earned rave reviews as the show’s resident “bad girl” Effy Stonem, a troublemaker who ignited love triangles, had meaningless sex, and battled through psychotic episodes of depression.
As long as stateside filmmakers don’t abandon her edgier experience for soft-batch teen comedy roles, Scodelario could tear through Hollywood if given the opportunity.
22. Jack Gleeson
Best projects: Game of Thrones (2011 – Present, HBO)
The best way we can sum up Jack Gleeson’s impressive acting chops: We want to snuff the kid in the face whenever we see him. Well, to be more specific, his character on HBO’s Game of Thrones, the teenaged king Joffrey Baratheon, he of the many many douche faces, megalomaniacal actions, and all-around unpleasant demeanor.
Gleeson is so convincing as Joffrey that we, like all of his many servants and impoverished minions, would love to throw cow-pies at his mug, and whenever pint-sized badass Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) gives him the Charlie-Murphy-esque slap, we erupt in applause. But, again, that’s all due to the fact that the 19-year-old, real-life dude consistently delivers a ruthless and genuinely cold-blooded performance.
If Joffrey ever meets his maker, we’ll simultaneously clap at the character’s demise and mourn the loss of one of TV’s best pre-legal actors.
21. Tristan Wilds
Best projects: Half Nelson (2006), The Wire (2006 – 2008, HBO), 90210 (2008 – Present, The CW), Red Tails (2012)
Admittedly, the news that The Wire’s breakout star Tristan Wilds was heading from the mean streets of Baltimore to the sunny strips of Beverly Hills for The CW’s fancy-pants reboot 90210 was a bit of a shock. Yet, simply to see if Wilds has what it takes to groom a diverse career, we gave the teen soap opera a chance, and, wouldn’t you know it, he’s pretty damn good at playing a privileged nice guy.
Now if only Wilds could parlay his 90210 efforts into a bountiful movie career. This year’s much anticipated but quickly dissipated Tuskegee Airmen film, Red Tails, was a start, but it’s about time for Wilds to be given the chance to answer those “Where is Hollywood's next black leading man?” questions.
20. Zosia Mamet
Best projects: The Kids are All Right (2010), Parenthood (2010 – 2011, ABC), Mad Men (2010 – Present, AMC), Girls (2012, HBO)
Zosia Mamet’s keen eye for solid projects must run in her genes; after all, her mother is Academy Award-nominated actress Lindsay Crouse (recognized for 1984’s Places in My Heart), while her father, David Mamet, is only a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. One thing that neither parent can ever take credit for, though, is young Mamet’s aptitude for elevating minor TV show roles into characters you incessantly hope will pop back up for more screen time.
During the fourth season of AMC’s Mad Men, Mamet’s vibrant, spunky appearances as Life photo editor Joyce Ramsay enlightened major character Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) to a freer, pleasure-before-business lifestyle that continues to have ripple effects in the show’s current season.
And now, on HBO’s estrogen-powered Sunday night hit Girls, the button-cute actress amplifies her comedic sensibilities to hilarious, rapid-fire levels as the energetically naïve Shoshanna, “the least virgin-y virgin” around. Just wait until Girls executive producer Judd Apatow blesses Mamet with a role in one of his future big-screen comedies—we can definitely see her in a Bridesmaids-like ensemble, snatching scenes from her more recognizable colleagues.
19. Evan Ross
Best projects: ATL (2006), Life is Hot in Cracktown (2009), Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2012), 96 Minutes (2012)
It’s a shame that 96 Minutes, the independent drama about a carjacking that hit limited theaters late last month, didn’t make a louder impact than its brief here-today/gone-tomorrow theatrical presence. As the film’s lead, the underutilized Evan Ross gave audiences—albeit the scarce amount of folks who actually saw the film—a demonstration of Diana Ross’ son’s balance of vulnerability and explosiveness. It's a delicate back-and-forth that’s only really been seen in the 2009 indie flick Life is Hot in Cracktown. Casting directors need to recognize.
18. Kodi Smi-McPhee
Best projects: The Road (2009), Let Me In (2010), ParaNorman (2012)
For such a young kid, Kodi Smit-McPhee doesn’t show much fear. Just look at the two films he’s headlined so far. First was 2009’s The Road, the heavy and at times brutal look at a nameless father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Smit-McPhee) trekking through a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of cannibals and murderous thieves. A year later, he forged a tight-knit bond with an enigmatic little vampire (Chloë Moretz) in the decidedly grown-up horror film Let Me In.
The shared characteristic between those two genre standouts: an outstanding performance from Smit-McPhee. So who can blame him for lightening his workload up a bit in this summer’s animated romp ParaNorman, in which he voices a picked-on kid whose gift of speaking with the dead enables him to be the hero during a monster outbreak. It’s not like he hasn’t earned the chance to have some fun.
17. Kiernan Shipka
Best projects: Mad Men (2007- Present, AMC)
When one thinks of AMC’s Mad Men, several things come to mind, and they all revolve around adult themes and grown-up excellence. On a weekly basis, creator Matthew Weiner’s period drama showcases some of television’s best acting, highlighting talents like draping-ass Jon Hamm, John Slattery, and Elizabeth Moss as the performers tackle everything from workplace strife to domestic turmoil. Here’s the craziest thing about Mad Men, though: Its most formidable scene-swiper is only 12-years-old.
Over the last two seasons, fans have watched little Kiernan Shipka turn Sally Draper, daughter of Don (Hamm), into a complex, multi-layered girl on the verge of life’s harsh truths about adulthood. With every shocking sight she sees, or curious move toward maturity she makes, Shipka’s internalized anguish lends Mad Men significant heft.
16. Analeigh Tipton
Best projects: Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011), Damsels in Distress (2012)
The modeling world’s loss is most definitely movie lovers’ gain. In September 2008, wannabe runway walker Analeigh Tipton competed in the eleventh cycle of Tyra Banks’ reality competition America’s Next Top Model, and, props to her, she finished as the season’s second runner-up. But posing for fashion designers was never really what the Minneapolis native’s heart really desired.
Tipton fancied herself as an actress, a goal that’s already paying off in ever-growing dividends. Last year, she grabbed plenty of attention away from big deals like Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, and Emma Stone in the strong rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love. And just last month, Tipton charmed us even more in the highbrow teen comedy Damsels in Distress, once again proving that she’s as funny as she is beautiful.
We wouldn’t be surprised if she top-lines a sitcom somewhere down the line, a la Krysten Ritter’s long-overdue emergence into the spotlight via Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23.
15. Josh Hutcherson
Best projects: The Kids are All Right (2010), Detention (2012), The Hunger Games (2012)
The financial gains that come from starring in such a colossal blockbuster notwithstanding, Josh Hutcherson’s role in The Hunger Games is a rather thankless one: He’s ridiculed for his smaller stature, he’s quickly sidelined once the actual action begins, and he has to wear silly Running Man-esque outfits like the one seen above.
But give the 19-year-old heartthrob tons of kudos for making Peeta Mellark an easily sympathetic leading man. We already know whose back we’ll have in the impending Peeta-versus-Gale (Liam Hemsworth) debates, in terms of who should ultimately bag Hunger Games heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence).
14. Brie Larson
Best projects: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), Rampart (2011), 21 Jump Street (2012)
21 Jump Street, as anyone who caught this year’s funniest movie so far will admit, is the Channing Tatum show, an unexpected, comedic tour de force from the pin-up actor your girlfriend wishes you looked like. Yes, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, and Dave Franco were all also funny, but your boy C-Tates definitely walked away with the show.
But the reason why 21 Jump Street wasn’t a total sausage fest? Miss Brie Larson, who infused the high-concept comedy with levity and grace as Hill’s cool-chick love interest. Larson’s 21 Jump Street look nicely complemented January’s tense drama Rampart, the heart-attack-serious flick about a corrupt cop (played by Woody Harrelson) that benefited greatly from the actress’ emotional scenes as the destructive officer’s bitter daughter. That’s quite the 2012. And it’s only May.
13. Michael Angarano
Best projects: Almost Famous (2000), Lords of Dogtown (2005), Snow Angels (2007), Haywire (2011)
In some cases, all it takes for a young actor to instill long-lasting confidence is one terrific performance. For Michael Angarano, that moment of admirable panache came in David Gordon Green’s devastating 2007 drama Snow Angels; playing a small-town high school student experiencing first love concurrently as his old babysitter (Kate Beckinsale) deals with a suicidal ex-husband (Sam Rockwell), Angarano layers the film with a natural sense of kind-heartedness that offsets his co-stars’ prevailing darkness and proclivity for tragedy.
Neither last year’s misguided Red State nor January’s stylistically robust action pic Haywire provided him with roles good enough to repeat the Snow Angels effect, unfortunately, but he’s still young enough to find that next poignant one.
12. Kristen Stewart
Best projects: Panic Room (2002), Into the Wild (2007), Adventureland (2009), The Runaways (2010), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), On the Road (2012)
Don’t hate Kristen Stewart because she’s crafty enough to join a humongous movie franchise. The easy complaint against the awkward yet fascinating young actress is that she’s the face of the Twilight brand, better known as the pussy vampire series that keeps making buckets of cash despite its complete lack of quality. Watch any of Stewart’s uncomfortable interviews promoting the Twilight flicks, though, and you’ll quickly realize that she’s totally aware of what she’d doing.
Besides, all one needs to do is rent the underrated 2009 coming-of-age comedy Adventureland to see how great of an actress Stewart can be if put in a worthy project. Which, fortunately for us K-Stew supporters, both of her next movies seem to be: Snow White and the Huntsman, which looks superb, and On the Road, a Jack Kerouac adaptation that has the potential for critical lauding. With only one more Twilight sequel to go, it won’t be long until Stewart’s able to focus on movies of that caliber.
11. Logan Lerman
Best projects: The Patriot (2000), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Up until this point, Logan Lerman hasn’t done much to justify such a high placement on this countdown. In hopes of launching into teen actor mega-stardom through a pair of potential franchises, Percy Jackson and The Three Musketeers, the Beverly Hills native attached himself to a pair of underwhelming misfires that didn’t tap into his abilities.
Come this October, however, you’ll all see why we’ve given Lerman this look. As the lead in the terrific high school dramedy The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Lerman gives, yes, a performance worthy of awards consideration—even if it’s just a Teen Choice nod. He plays a freshman loner who’s grappling with mental demons while developing close friendships with a group of eccentric seniors.
Touching upon everything from drug use to suicide, The Perks of Being a Wallflower bravely approaches its heavy subject matter with honesty and force, and Lerman anchors the film with a revelatory turn. Expect big things from your man here.
10. Nicholas Hoult
Best projects: About a Boy (2002), A Single Man (2009), X-Men: First Class (2011)
So what if you don’t know Nicholas Hoult by name yet? The power players in Hollywood certainly do—why else do you think Bryan Singer (director of The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men movies) selected him to star in the hopeful 2013 blockbuster Jack the Giant Killer? The same reason why Matthew Vaughn cast Hoult to play Hank “Beast” McCoy in the superhero triumph X-Men: First Class.
The 22-year-old Englishman is that rare breed of young actor who exudes sophistication and maturity at all times, whether he’s in the aforementioned big-studio spectacles or smaller art-house fare like Tom Ford’s powerful 2009 drama A Single Man. If that’s enough to inspire jealousy, consider this: Hoult is also dating his X-Men: First Class co-star Jennifer Lawrence.
9. Chloë Moretz
Best projects: (500 Days of Summer) (2009), Kick-Ass (2010), Let Me In (2010), Hugo (2011), Dark Shadows (2012)
The fact that Chloë Moretz is only 15 years old never ceases to amaze us. In every one of her strong, commanding performances, the adolescent powerhouse carries herself with the gravitas of an accomplished actress three times her age, which leads us to believe that, assuming Moretz’s agent keeps her away from Lindsay Lohan at all costs, she’s got one hell of a fruitful career ahead of her.
And, thus far, Moretz has covered a wide range of genres. For horror heads, she gave haters no reason to bitch and moan in Let Me In, Cloverfield director Matt Reeves’ excellent vampire remake in which his young starlet broke hearts and chilled spines in equal measure. She’s even owned the superhero realm, stealing every scene in 2010’s Kick-Ass as the brutal body-dropper Hit Girl.
In Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, Moretz, unfortunately, doesn’t get a whole lot to do once Johnny Depp shows up and, unsurprisingly, takes over, but the flashes we do get of her show an actress who’s easing into more adult roles that don’t require costumes or gore effects.
Although, her next big look, the recently announced Carrie remake, should include plenty of the latter. Under any other circumstances, our Stephen-King-loving souls would loathe the idea of a new Carrie White, but Moretz is all the reassurance we need.
8. Juno Temple
Best projects: Notes on a Scandal (2006), Atonement (2007), St. Trinian’s (2007), Dirty Girl (2010), Greenberg (2010), Kaboom (2010), Killer Joe (2012), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
To say that Juno Temple doesn’t have many inhibitions as an actress would be putting it lightly. Since 2010, the petite English firecracker has shown no hesitation when it comes to disrobing for extremely edgy and confrontational projects. Take Kaboom, for instance, in which Temple plays a sex fiend who runs afoul of a bizarre cult. But that’s nothing compared to what she has in store for 2012.
In July, she’ll star in the NC-17-rated Killer Joe, a role that requires Temple to play an under-aged, frequently topless trailer park girl who’s sexually betrothed to a contract killer (a ferocious Matthew McConaughey); four months later, Temple will push her on-screen sexuality and daringness even further in the lesbian horror-romance Jack and Diane.
Through all of her nudity and taboo-smashing, Temple routinely gives multifaceted and haunting performances, a knack that should no doubt add sparks to her biggest film to date, a nondescript superhero sequel called The Dark Knight Rises—perhaps you’ve heard of it?
7. Emma Watson
Best projects: The Harry Potter movie series (2001 – 2011), My Week with Marilyn (2011), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Emma Watson is the kind of sprightly actress that even younger girls should confidently look up to, as opposed to the pre-25-year-old trainwrecks who spend more time on TMZ than they do on movie sets. After the whirlwind and enormous success of the Harry Potter franchise, the England native, by way of Paris, France, could’ve very well just skipped casting calls and partied it up with her Potter riches, but she’s too grounded and determined for all of that mess.
Instead, Watson has smartly picked the right project that should quickly make folks forget about her Hermione days. Last year, she co-starred in the awards darling My Week with Marilyn, and later this year she’ll win over even more hearts as the female lead in the first-rate high school flick The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
In Perks, Watson even throws a bone to young boys who’ve grown up alongside Hermione, donning a two-piece lingerie get-up during a Rocky Horror Picture Show tribute sequence. It’s OK, people—she’s 22. Hermione is officially a thing of the past.
6. Jennifer Lawrence
Best projects: Winter’s Bone (2010), Like Crazy (2011), X-Men: First Class (2011), The Hunger Games (2012)
An Academy Award nomination and a bank-breaking movie franchise both at the young age of 21? Not bad for an actress whose only visibility three years ago came from TBS’s redneck-approved sitcom The Bill Engvall Show.
It’s no wonder that Jennifer Lawrence has become such a hot commodity in Hollywood—she’s the total package. Gorgeous, men’s magazine looks? Check. Acting skills far superior to most of her peers? Indeed, as seen in Winter’s Bone, and, to a lesser degree, this year’s monster hit The Hunger Games.
And an agent to die for? Apparently so, since, aside from the guaranteed Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class sequels, Lawrence’s next big project is The Silver Linings Playbook, from Oscar-nominated director David O. Russell (The Fighter).
5. Anton Yelchin
Best projects: Hearts in Atlantis (2001), Alpha Dog (2006), Charlie Bartlett (2007), Star Trek (2009), Like Crazy (2011)
To be fair, Anton Yelchin has yet to give a bad performance, but we’d like to focus on one specific role here: His scholarly college student who embarks on a tumultuous long distance test of love with the magnificent Felicity Jones in last year’s Like Crazy.
More so than any of Yelchin’s glossier jobs, such as Star Trek and Fright Night, Like Crazy afforded the guy a chance to play an altogether likeable dude, a sympathetic and lovesick kid tussling with heartache, passion, and helplessness in the face of star-crossed romance. He’s a large part of the reason why Like Crazy should never be lumped into the mostly frivolous “romantic drama” category: It’s something much more special.
4. Saorise Ronan
Best projects: Atonement (2007), The Way Back (2010), Hanna (2011)
It’s been no mystery that Saoirse Ronan can act her ass off. Back in 2007, the young Irish performer earned an Academy Award nomination at the wee age of 12 for her work in the period drama Atonement, signaling the arrival of a formidable little actress.
It wasn’t until last year’s singular action gem Hanna, though, that we learned just how well-rounded Ronan is in front of the camera. Playing the titular teenage assassin-in-training gone rogue, the small yet imposing Ronan throws kicks and punches like a champion prize fighter and sells each of the mentally conflicted character’s emotions with dramatic weight—it’s a seesaw act worthy of comparison to Matt Damon in those Bourne flicks.
3. Ezra Miller
Best projects: Afterschool (2008), Another Happy Day (2011), We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Meet the emerging young actor who owns the most unique range of all this countdown’s inclusions. Later this year, when the teen drama The Perks of Being a Wallflower hits theaters, audiences will stand up and cheer for Miller’s turn as a rambunctious, party-starting high school senior whose homosexuality leads to heartbreak and bullying, yet art-house moviegoers will feel shock before the elation settles into their bones.
The reason: Miller is, at the moment, best known for his truly evil performance in the mega-downer We Need to Talk About Kevin, one of 2011’s best movies. He plays the titular Kevin, a bad seed who quietly rebels against his neglectful mother’s (Tilda Swinton) coldness by grabbing a bow-and-arrow and laying waste to several innocent victims, and that’s all we’re going to say about it here.
We Need to Talk About Kevin deserves your eyes, if for no other reason to see just how scary Miller can be before Wallflower completely subverts that reaction.
2. Evan Rachel Wood
Best projects: Thirteen (2003), The Wrestler (2008), True Blood (2009–2011, HBO), The Conspirator (2011), Mildred Pierce (2011, HBO), The Ides of March (2011)
In the 2008 indie hit The Wrestler, Hollywood’s (then) comeback kid Mickey Rourke basked in all of the critical praise and awards nominations, and rightfully so—his work as Randy “The Ram” remains one of the new millennium’s greatest male performances. But some of the credit goes to his young co-star Evan Rachel Wood, who went emotion-for-emotion with Rourke as the daughter who yearned for her daddy’s love but constantly faced disappointments.
It’s that same level of intensity and credibility that Wood later brought to the towering HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce, in which she more than held her own next to Kate force-of-nature Winslet; not to mention, her small yet crucial role in George Clooney’s well-acted political drama The Ides of March. She’s a pro when it comes to dramas, no doubt, but, frankly, we’re going to miss Wood’s sexy and provocative scenes in True Blood, since her character, queen vampire Sophie-Anne, was gunned down by Bill Compton’s armed forces.
1. Emma Stone
Best projects: Superbad (2007), Zombieland (2009), Easy A (2010), Friends with Benefits (2011), Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Didn’t think you’d see Emma Stone here, did you? It’s cool—we almost forgot to include her in the initial, longer list ourselves. Because, if you think about it, Stone seems much older than 23, thanks to her seasoned performances and camera-dominating appearances on talk shows.
And to think, Stone’s run straight onto the A-list began with Jonah Hill trying desperately to have sex with her in 2007’s Superbad. Since then, Stone has wonderfully flexed her comedic muscles in Zombieland, Easy A, and Crazy, Stupid, Love., three superb mainstream victories that more than make up for the inferior (yes, that’s right) The Help. Yet, who can hate on The Help after its awards season domination? It's just another victory for Stone.
This summer, she’s going blonde for The Amazing Spider-Man, checking into her first major blockbuster to play long-established Marvel Comics love interest Gwen Stacy. Unlike every other female lead in recent superhero flicks, though, Stone will no doubt justify the character’s existence beyond superficial purposes.