The Greatest Child Actors of All Time
Must-See Movies with the Best Child Performances of All Time
The Most Unforgettable Child Performances of All Time
Child Actors Who Proved to Be More Talented Beyond Their Years
Child Actors Who Are Famous and Talented for a Reason
An experience at the cinema is a memorable pastime around the world and there are always stand out features for favorite movies. Leave it to ridiculously talented child actors to break the mold and turn the film they’re starring in into a hit motion picture. Kids prove not only to be the most serious of professionals through and through, but their performances are so raw and authentic. If anyone can make you feel all the feels, it’s the innocence of a child that also must have an old soul.
Think of your favorite young stars and what made them perfect for their starring roles. In case you’re not much of a film buff, here are the best child actor performances of all time. Let’s take a look back in time when cinema productions were just in the making. If you can take a guess who America’s first sweetheart was, click next to reveal the answer.
Shirley Temple will forever be remembered as the curly haired girl with dimples who stole the hearts of millions. She was the first of her generation to make it big as a child actor and while she paved the way for future generations, she would also be the first to experience early retirement from her acting career. At the tender age of seven, Temple was signed to 20thCentury Fox and had 11 original stories written for her.
Her singing and dancing routines called for hours of rehearsals and such scenes were performed flawlessly in one shot. After overcoming several movie flops, Temple took a two year break to focus on school and retain what bit of her childhood she had left. Shortly after turning 22, she realized there was no future in Hollywood for her because of how she was typecast as a child entertainer. For a record success story, click next to reveal a prestigious award.
Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon
Tatum O’Neal made her acting debut in the 1973 film Paper Moon, starring alongside her father Ryan O’Neal. Her portrayal of newly orphaned Addie earned her critical acclaim and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Tatum still holds the record as the youngest person to ever win an Oscar. She had her ninth birthday during filming and received this famed distinction at age 10. Her performance and authentically dynamic on set chemistry with her father continued to rake in the dollars for the movie, which earned $13 million in movie rentals alone.
Tatum delivered her lines so candidly and showed off her spit fire character Addie to be the mastermind over adults as a young con artist. The move is a must-see to prove that Tatum truly earned praise from the Academy. It took exactly 30 years for the next record star to come along – click next to reveal the stunning details.
Anna Paquin in The Piano
At the tender age of 11, Anna Paquin won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the 1993 film The Piano. Without any previous acting experience, Anna beat out 5,000 other young actresses in auditions and moved audiences worldwide in her debut role as Helen, the daughter of Ada, a mute pianist played by Holly Hunter. Right after Anna gave her brief acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, which literally rendered her speechless, Holly took the stage to accept her Oscar for Best Actress.
Anna performed her role with a fluent Scottish accent and conveyed such emotional depth in her character, it is nearly impossible to believe that this was her first main role in a film. She still defends her title as second youngest actor to take home an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress. If you can think of a more dramatic role, click next to reveal some intense acting.
Linda Blair in The Exorcist
In 1973, the cult classic film The Exorcistquickly became one of the highest-grossing films in history and was the first horror film ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Linda Blair was only twelve years old when she took on the intense role of the demonically possessed Reagan MacNeil. Not only did she throttle the audience and strike such fear and distress into people of all ages, but she made her portrayal of a possessed girl so realistically convincing that to this day, viewer discretion is still advised.
Her performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but she lost to the even younger winner Tatum O’Neal. People were left so disturbed that Linda had to go on a press tour to convince the public she wasn’t really possessed, just a fine young actress. Click next for another young actress whose start fueled her whole career.
Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver
Before starring in the 1976 film Taxi Driver, Jodie first entered the spotlight in the television series based off the film Paper Moon. At the age of 14, she received her first nomination for Academy Award in the category for Best Supporting Actress. Jodie was only twelve when she landed the role as the teen prostitute Iris and commanded a dynamic chemistry from costar Robert De Niro. Initially, there were strong doubts about allowing Jodie to star in the film due to the strong adult content and she had to undergo psychological screening to get the green light.
Thanks to Jodie for pulling much more than her own weight in her fierce performance, Taxi Driverbecame a critically acclaimed film and won numerous awards. In addition to Jodie’s Academy Award nomination, the film picked up three more nominations. For an actor half her age, click next to reveal what young professional also got an Oscar nod.
Justin Henry in Kramer vs. Kramer
The 1979 drama film Kramer vs. Kramerinitiated the open dialogue addressing the well-being of children of divorced parents. The shades of raw emotions as a dad and son learn to live with each other after the mom walked out was organically conveyed by 8-year-old Justin Henry. With very little acting experience under his belt, his seemingly candid interaction with film dad Dustin Hoffman sold audiences on his honest and innocent portrayal of a son and dad dynamic.
The most emotionally charged scene between the two was when Justin had to portray and injury and ER trip. Justin became the youngest actor to receive an Academy Award nomination in any category, a record which he still defends today. The film was nominated for a total of 9 Academy Awards and took home five for the win, including Best Actor for Hoffman and Best Actress for Meryl Streep. Click next to reveal a young star calling the big shots.
Quinn Cummings in The Goodbye Girl
In 1977, 10-year-old Quinn Cummings joined costars Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason in her debut film The Goodbye Girl. Despite her young age and limited acting experience, Quinn mastered the persona of a quick-witted, smart-mouthed daughter to a single mom. Quinn held her own ground beautifully with the professional duo to support her on-screen mom more like a best friend. The fast line delivery of all actors created a modern feel for the challenges of relationships that made this romantic comedy appeal to audiences.
All three starring actors got Oscar nominations, with Dreyfuss taking the win for best actor. Despite what a natural talent Quinn seemed to have in her first film that was also a huge success, her acting career didn’t stretch past childhood; but it seemed that she wouldn’t have it any other way. For a moving performance, click next to reveal details out of this world.
Henry Thomas in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
No one trusted Steven Spielberg’s vision for the 1982 hit E.T.and anyone who didn’t get on board with the film soon terribly regretted it. The special effects team animated E.T.in such a realistic way for the time period, but it was Henry Thomas, who played Elliott, convincingly brought E.T. to life. As a fresh new face to the world of acting, Henry delivered such charged emotion and conveyed an innate connection to the befriended alien that audiences across the world felt a deep empathy for E.T.
Henry’s portrayal was influential on all his costars, including the adults, that everyone in theaters was convinced E.T. was more than just a character. While the acting is the most tangible aspect of the film, E.T. was nominated for 9 Academy Awards and took 4 Oscars home for the win. For another child star who has the power to make others believe, click next for a haunting performance.
Heather O’Rourke in Poltergeist
Heather O’Rourke’s life was changed by chance when she had lunch with her mother at MGM studios while her older sister was filming. At a chance meet, Steven Spielberg saw her and immediately offered her the role for Carol Anne inPoltergeist. She beat Drew Barrymore, who Spielberg found better suited for E.T. and she won casting over with her doll face and sweet, innocent demeanor. Heather was only five years old when she started filming in the cult classic horror film, but needed a stunt double to step in during graphic scenes.
Heather’s interactions with invisible entities conveyed the sense of chilling disturbances through her effortless line delivery. Poltergeistbecame such a hit, and was even nominated for three Oscars, that Heather went on to star in the following Poltergeisttrilogy films. Despite rumors that haunted props were used on set, Heather tragically passed away due to health complications at twelve years old. Click next for a harrowing story about the loss of innocence.
Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun
Although famous for his starring role in the Batmantrilogy, Christian Bale got an impressive start as a child actor. He made his debut in the television movie Anastasia,working alongside Amy Irving, who recommended Christian to then-husband Steven Spielberg for a future role. Christian was called in to audition and won the lead role over 4,000 other child actors. In the coming of age 1987 war film Empire of the Sun, Christian portrayed Jamie, a young boy from a wealthy British family who becomes a prisoner of war during World War II.
Christian was only 12 years old at the time of filming and gave a raw portrayal of a young boy lost in a war. Despite his lack of world experience, Christian didn’t fail to deliver an emotionally distraught account that the destruction of war has on countless victims fighting for survival. Click next for a mild battle in comparison.
Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone
America’s favorite kid made a second appearance under the spotlight as Kevin McCallister in the 1990 film Home Alone.He filmed with John Hughes for Uncle Buck, who went on to write the role of Kevin specifically for Macaulay. Director Chris Columbus held auditions anyway, since he didn’t want the reputation of being a pushover. Macaulay proved he was indeed a natural to star as Kevin and it catapulted his successful career as a child actor.
Macaulay was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and shot several more films before the Home Alonesequel. Despite his growing fame after playing smart-mouthed prankster Kevin, Macaulay had a rough childhood. While he was a millionaire by the age of ten, he had to take legal action to stop his parents from controlling his fortune. Before Macaulay quit acting, he was in a few other films – click next to learn about one of his costars.
Elijah Wood in The Good Son
While he will forever be remembered as Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Ringsfilm trilogy, Elijah Wood got an early start to his acting career in his childhood. His breakthrough role came when he starred in The Good Son alongside Macaulay Culkin. For a movie starring child actors, Elijah delivered a riveting performance as he stood up to the psychopathic character played by Macaulay Culkin.
Not only was Elijah able to hold his own ground, but didn’t allow Macaulay to push him around in terms of chemistry, despite playing a character who was being terrorized by his sadistic cousin. The attention Elijah commanded when delivering lines to convince his family of his cousin’s evil tendencies is what allowed the audience to connect with him and empathize with his character.For a young star who could fearlessly take on anything, click next for the impressive details.
Natalie Portman in The Professional
With a blossoming acting career in her adulthood, Natalie Portman made her debut in the 1994 film The Professional.Natalie was only twelve at the time of auditions and gave an impressively mature performance, regarding both the depth of the character portrayed and the adult content of the film. Natalie plays Mathilda, a school girl with behavioral problems, who ends up escaping to her hitman neighbor after she discovers her father murdered her whole family while she was out shopping.
Natalie isn’t fazed by anything brought on by her neighbor’s tough persona and proves to be resilient enough so he can train her in his skillsets. Natalie’s chemistry with her older costar is spot-on, but she rubs off on him effortlessly with her charm and carefree attitude she brought to the character. It’s no wonder the beginning of her acting career was a prediction of her greatness yet to come. Click next for another young girl who won’t flinch.
Kirstin Dunst in Interview with the Vampire
At the budding age of twelve, Kirstin Dunst got her breakthrough role inInterview with The Vampire as the young vampire Claudia. She shared the screen with A-list actors Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, who both played the older vampires responsible for Dunst’s character transformation as one of the undead. Kirsten was not only successful in portraying a captivating young vampire with such deadly innocence, beauty and poise, but she didn’t back down from her male costars.
She may have had mere months compared to their decades’ worth of on screen experience, but she did more than hold her own to convince the audience of their fantastical story. Critics credited Kirsten’s performance with bringing true creepiness to the film and it payed off with her nomination for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. Horror didn’t come in short supply through the 90’s – click next for a truly chilling performance that will make you believe in ghosts.
Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense
Night Shyamalan’s 1999 thriller The Sixth Sensebecame a blockbuster overnight and was the second highest-grossing film of the year. Haley Joel Osment was only 11 years old during filming and gave a critically acclaimed performance that is still remembered today. As an unwilling spirit medium, Haley carried such emotional depth in the portrayal of the distraught schoolboy, that he convinced everyone hauntings are real and absolutely horrific.
Haley also was praised for the subtle insight and effortless maturity he brought to his role, especially interactions with costar Bruce Willis, which fooled audiences until the very end. This secured Haley’s nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, making him the second youngest in the category. Isn’t not just that kids are creepy; when they have what it takes as talented actors, it sends chills up the spine. For another serious role, click next to reveal an actor wiser beyond her years.
Dakota Fanning in I Am Sam
The early 2000’s brought us another on screen sweetheart when Dakota Fanning made her acting debut. At the age of seven, she worked alongside tough guy Sean Penn in the 2001 film I Am Sam. While Penn took on a softer role as a mentally disabled single father, which gave him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, Dakota brought wisdom well beyond her years as his responsible daughter Lucy.
Dakota received well deserved praise for her performance, making her the youngest person to be nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award. Dakota’s authentic ability to convey rational desire gave her a serious reputation, but she still let her endearing personality shine through, which is ever infectious. Despite the character differences, Penn and Fanning fostered a chemistry that gave them profound emotional moments during meaningful developments in the storyline. For more drama, click next for an outstanding performance.
Saoirse Ronan in Atonement
In her early teen years, Saoirse Ronan gained recognition for her breakthough role as Briony in the 2007 film Atonement. Saoirse gave a compelling performance as a naïve and conflicted 13-year-old who commits a criminal act fueled by a blind jealousy that is barely understood by herself. She created such turmoil with her costars, which made for dramatic scenes in a riveting plot that would otherwise have been boring and ordinary.
Saoirse received nods with an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a 2010 invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Since then, she has a decade of solid performances in other successful films, such as her lead role in The Lovely Bonesand a supporting role in The Grand Budapest Hotel. They say that talent is more than a beauty contest. If you agree, click next for another sweetheart that will make you smile.
Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine
At the age of six, Abigail Breslin made her debut as daughter Bo in the science fiction horror film Signs. She was just getting started with her first taste of fame and continued to appear in a handful of films until her big break in 2006. Landing the role at age six, Abigail won strong praise for her next role, starring as Olive in Little Miss Sunshine. She delivered much appreciated congeniality in the dynamic of her dysfunctional cast family.
Abigail made it impossible for the audience to not fall in love with the underdog beauty pageant contestant, who took showmanship advice under the unorthodox training of her crass grandpa, played by Alan Arkin. It paid off in the end, with Arkin winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Abigail earned her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress. For the youngest nominee for Best Actress, click next for an epic performance.
Quevenzané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild
A breakthrough role requires a strong will and lots of gumption and that’s exactly what Quevenzané Wallis brought to her auditions when she was only five years old. Since the starring role of Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wildwas for girls six and older, Quevenzané lied about her age so she could be considered for the part and beat 4,000 other young actors. Her audition immediately convinced director Benh Zeitlin that she was the it-girl he’d been looking for.
The part was re-written specifically for her strong determination and he was particularly impressed by her narrating ability, loud screams and burps. The film made its premier at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival several years later. At age nine, Quevenzané is the youngest person ever to hold an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and also was the first person born in the 21stcentury to receive a nomination.