Young actors are not usually known for their award-winning performances but there are several iconic young actors who stole the show despite their age. Whether as protagonists or side characters, young actors have the unique opportunity to portray several underrepresented types of characters — specifically young or childish characters — that are unavailable to older actors.
Some of the current biggest stars and actors in Hollywood had early starts to their acting careers, but some moved on to other professions after their time in the spotlight. Regardless of how or where they got their start, there are several iconic cinematic performances from young actors who managed to surpass expectations and outshine even their adult costars.
10 Lewis MacDougall Captured The Grief Of Children Dealing With Loss
A Monster Calls (2016)
A Monster Calls is a powerful and heartbreaking film about the impact of death in a child’s life, and the importance of emotional honesty. The film’s protagonist, Conor O’Malley, is forced to confront tragedy at an early age when his mother contracts cancer. He is confronted by a large “monster” and told three tales that thematically reflect Conor’s own emotional journey throughout the film.
Lewis MacDougall’s portrayal of Conor and his story is overwhelmingly powerful and heartbreaking. The subject of A Monster Calls is incredibly delicate and sensitive, but his performance manages to convey all the right emotions and reflects the vulnerability of real-life children in similar situations.
9 River Phoenix Perfectly Portrayed Boyhood & Childhood Friendships
Stand By Me (1986)
Based on Stephen King’s novel “The Body”, Stand By Me is a charming and compelling coming-of-age story about four small-town friends searching for the body of a missing boy. The film does a fantastic job of capturing the unique perspective of boyhood, and how friendships in that particular stage of life are both an independent and universal experience.
All four boys provide incredible performances during Stand By Me, but River Phoenix’s portrayal of Chris Chambers takes the stage. His character is the pseudo-leader of the group, but struggles with his home life and imagining a future for himself. He and his co-star, Wil Wheaton, have fantastic chemistry, and their performances take the film’s stellar script to even bigger heights.
8 Asa Butterfield Reflected Ender’s Emotional Journey Through A Powerful Performance
Ender’s Game (2013)
Ender’s Game, based on the book and series by Orson Scott Card, is a unique sci-fi film about an intergalactic war between humans and an insectoid alien race. To proactively prevent the aliens from returning to Earth and destroying it, the most intelligent and promising children are tested and recruited into the military to pilot ships, command fleets, and save the world.
The protagonist, Ender, struggles with the moral implications of his duties throughout the film, finding himself isolated and abused for his opinions. Asa Butterfield’s captivating performance reflects Ender’s complicated emotions and brings a powerful perspective to the topic of war itself.
7 Millicent Simmonds Brought Her Own Life Experiences To The Role
A Quiet Place (2018)
A Quiet Place redefined apocalyptic horror with its unique premise and outstanding performances by John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, and Noah Jupe, but one of the film’s most iconic characters, Regan, took the spotlight. In a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing, Regan’s deafness became a significant obstacle to overcome, but also the reason for her and her family’s survival.
Millicent Simmonds, who is also deaf, brought a phenomenal performance to the screen in her portrayal of Regan. The success of the film’s atmosphere relied heavily on her interpretation of the character, based on her own real-life experiences. Millicent and her family had a hand in the script itself and were consulted at various stages about their own lives.
6 Jack Dylan Grazer Was The Most Entertaining Actor On Screen
Stephen King’s popular horror novel “It” has been adapted to the screen several times, but its most recent version, It and It: Chapter Two, had some fantastic performances throughout. Of the 2017 film’s phenomenal child actors who all brought something unique to the characters, Jack Dylan Grazer’s portrayal of Eddie was its best.
Eddie’s character — an anxious kid with an overprotective mother — was brought to life by Grazer’s energetic and hilarious performance. His character is easily one of the most entertaining to watch, and the dynamic between him and his co-stars led to the widespread success of the film as a whole.
5 Haley Joel Osment Brought Life To The Boy Who Could See Ghosts
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Haley Joel Osment’s performance in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense earned several awards and solidified Haley as one of the most prolific young actors of his time. His iconic line, “I see dead people,” is arguably more famous than the film itself, and his portrayal of his character, Cole Sear, is unique and memorable.
Cole’s strange ability to speak to ghosts isolates him from others but allows him to help lost souls find peace in the afterlife. His journey of acceptance throughout the film is heartwarming and emotional, and Haley’s interpretation of Cole’s unique personality is iconic to Shyamalan’s famous film.
4 Emma Watson Made The Character Hermione Her Own
Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
While nearly every performance from the early Harry Potter films is worth mentioning, Emma Watson’s portrayal of Hermione Granger is arguably the series’ best casting and performance. Throughout all eight films, Watson embodied all the best parts of Hermione’s iconic personality, including her intelligence, her wit, and her passion.
Alongside Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, Emma Watson brought a stellar performance and interpretation of the beloved book character to the big screen. Watson made the character her own, and although she’s performed well in several other iconic roles since her childhood debut, her impact on the Harry Potter franchise remains one of its most prolific.
3 Alan Kim’s Performance Was Adorable & Captivating
Alan Kim was seven years old when he was cast for the award-winning film Minari and eight when he won the 2021 Critics’ Choice Award for Best Young Actor/Actress. His portrayal of David Yi, a young Korean-American boy living in rural Arkansas, is captivating and powerful, especially considering that the film is an auto-biographical interpretation of Lee Isaac Chung’s own upbringing.
Throughout Minari, David and his family struggle to adapt to the rural American culture. Alan Kim brings adorable innocence to his character, and while the adult performances were beyond incredible, Alan’s presence on screen was one of the most enjoyable and iconic parts of the film.
2 Riley Griffiths Made His Supporting Role Iconic & Memorable
Super 8 (2011)
While most well-known child actors are usually protagonists or main characters, there are a few that stand out even in supporting roles. Riley Griffiths’ portrayal of Charles Kaznyk in Spielberg’s film Super 8 is entertaining and enjoyable, and perfectly captures the over-the-top perspective of childhood and adolescence.
Griffiths’ character, Riley, is the talkative and bossy director of a group of young filmmakers, who find themselves at the center of a government conspiracy after witnessing a sabotaged train wreck. Utilizing a phenomenal script, Griffiths brought life and humor to the film and created an enjoyable character that was easily one of the most entertaining performances on screen.
1 Mackenzie Foy Was The Heart & Soul Of Murph’s Character
Murph, Cooper’s genius daughter from Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, plays a large role in the fate of the world and the survival of humanity during the film. While much of her role is performed by her adult actress Jessica Chastain, her child actress Mackenzie Foy brought incredible personality and emotion to the character during her time on screen.
It’s because of Murph that Cooper is able to succeed in saving humanity during Interstellar. His love for and bond with his daughter is strong enough to transcend space and time, allowing him to contact her in a metaphysical way. Foy’s portrayal of Murph, of her emotions and pain and vulnerabilities, gave life to the character and to the film as a whole.