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Monday, April 4, 2011


As I'm sure you've all noticed that I have a little bit of an affinity towards making "favorites" lists, and I've broken down another for you all. This one's delving into my favorite performances by child actors. To make this list, an actor or actress had to be eighteen or younger at the time of the film's theatrical release. The age range on this list goes from a low of six years old all the way to seventeen years old. I've given my reasoning behind each pick, so hopefully that'll give a little more insight into my decisions. I hope you all enjoy this list!

25. Lydia Deetz
Played by: Winona Ryder
Beetle Juice (1988)
Age at Release: 16

Lydia is the only person in her family that's able to see a married pair of recently-deceased ghosts (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis), but that doesn't even begin to scare her off. Instead, she befriends the couple and helps them re-gain part of what was once rightfully theirs: their home. It's a little strange to see Ryder as such a young individual, but she brings a legitimate level of sass to the role, and that makes her character all the more charmingly hilarious despite her obsession with death.


24. Enola
Played by: Tina Majorino
Waterworld (1995)
Age at Release: 10

Like the inclusion of the Mariner (Kevin Costner) on my favorite movie heroes post, I'm sure the use of Waterworld here will also spark some debate and criticism. It would take Majorino another nine years to return to the public's collective consciousness (she starred in the 2004 film, Napoleon Dynamite), but she does very well in a big-budget flick like Waterworld. Having to stand next to the likes of Costner and Dennis Hopper is no small assignment, but she holds her own against these two acting giants.


23. Toby
Played by: Ed Sanders
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Age at Release: 14

When you've got a film that stars the likes of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen, you'd be hard-pressed to make any time for an unknown child actor, but Ed Sanders demands the forefront of the stage every time he steps on-screen. He gives little bits and pieces of his vocal chops early in the film, but he completely blew me away with his near-solo ("Not While I'm Around") - it's the first thing I think of when I think of him in this film. I just hope to see more of him in the future.


22. Kenny
Played by: Cody Lightning
Manic (2003)
Age at Release: 16

When you've got a name like Cody Lightning, I would think that a lot might be expected of you, especially in the acting world. In Manic, he doesn't really give much of a spark (pun intended) to his character Kenny; instead, he draws it back and portrays a severely-depressed and traumatized teenager. It's hard not to fall in love with him from the first instant you see him - he's just that good.


21. Carol Anne Freeling
Played by: Heather O'Rourke
Poltergeist (1982)
Age at Release: 6

I'd have to place Heather O'Rourke on the short-list for the "Creepiest Movie Child" award, considering her portrayal of Carol Anne in the family-friendly horror movie, Poltergeist. Something about her appearance and her voice has stuck with me since I saw the film, and the words "They're here" ring in the collective subconscious of many a soul. Sadly, this delightful young actress was taken from this world only a few years after the release of this film; she is sorely missed.


20. Mattie Ross
Played by: Hailee Steinfeld
True Grit (2010)
Age at Release: 13

Stepping into Kim Darby's shoes couldn't have been easy, especially as your first on-screen role, but Steinfeld found a way to power through her performance as the tough-as-nails Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers' remake of True Grit. I'm not the only one who took notice - she garnered an Academy Award nomination for her effort, and I personally had picked her to win the Oscar. She eventually lost the race, but I think we can all expect fantastic things from this one in the future.


19. Hermione Granger
Played by: Emma Watson
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Age at Release: 11

I had my pick of the litter when choosing a young star from the Harry Potter franchise, but the sass and screen presence that Emma Watson brings to the screen is unmatched by anyone else in the series. I feel as though her character lost a little bit of that likability as the franchise continued onward, but she's so good in the first film that she's worth mentioning here.


18. Rebecca 'Newt' Jorden
Played by: Carrie Henn
Aliens (1986)
Age at Release: 10

It took me a while to kick back and watch the sequel to Alien, and although I didn't nearly like this one as much as the first, there's definitely some strong points, one of which is Newt. She brings a fresh dose of much-needed comedy to a rather serious sci-fi action flick, all the while remaining a little mysterious and very creepy. Some of her lines will echo with you for a while, but just remember: "They mostly come at night... mostly."


17. Juliet
Played by: Claire Danes
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Age at Release: 17

It's hard to imagine that Claire Danes was only seventeen when she went around chasing her own Romeo (in the form of Leonardo DiCaprio), but it's the truth. She exudes such an adult aura throughout the film that you forget that she's really still just a child. But that doesn't take away from her fantastic performance. It's easily one of her best to date.


16. Olive Hoover
Played by: Abigail Breslin
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Age at Release: 10

You know you've got something special when a ten-year-old is landing an Academy Award nomination. Olive is just a little girl who isn't necessarily "beautiful" but beauty pageant standards, but she easily makes up for it with her spirit, her persistence and her undeniable love. Abigail Breslin is a true revelation in the role that put her on the map.


15. Sheryl Yoast
Played by: Hayden Panettiere
Remember the Titans (2000)
Age at Release: 11

I know that Miss Panettiere has grown up into an incredibly beautiful young woman, but whenever I hear her name, I can't help but think about that sassy, football-loving tomboy in Remember the Titans (one of my personal favorite films, by the way). She kept everyone on her toes, and when you can match wits with the likes of Denzel Washington, you know you're doing something right.


14. Mindy Macready / Hit-Girl
Played by: Chloë Grace Moretz
Kick-Ass (2010)
Age at Release: 13

There probably hasn't been another child actor so profane and bad-ass as Chloe Moretz's character in Kick-Ass, so she definitely needed to find a place on this particular list. It takes a little while to get used to her personality, but once it all sinks in, Hit-Girl takes the audience on a fast-paced, foul-mouthed ride.


13. Lawrence 'Chunk' Cohen
Played by: Jeff Cohen
The Goonies (1985)
Age at Release: 10

Like the Harry Potter films, The Goonies also presented a slew of potential finalists for this particular list. However, I simply could not choose anyone over the lovable Chunk, if only for his magnificent Truffle Shuffle (partially pictured above). He's a little bit on the lame side, but he has a huge heart - and a huge appetite, for that matter - that helps his group of friends succeed in their quest towards finding One-Eyed Willie's treasure.


12. Cole Sear
Played by: Haley Joel Osment
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Age at Release: 11

Another brilliant performance, another Academy Award nomination. No, Osment didn't take home the statuette, but he was up against the likes of Jude Law, Tom Cruise and eventual winner Michael Caine. His ever-creepy portrayal of a boy who sees dead people has lasted in my mind, and some of his lines - such as the aforementioned reference to seeing dead people - should live on in the public consciousness for quite a while.


11. Ray Boyd
Played by: Jonathan Lipnicki
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Age at Release: 6

I know that he hasn't really been in very good films since his role in Jerry Maguire, but seriously, Jonathan Lipnicki is like the cutest little kid I've ever seen. I mean, he's smart and he's funny... What's not to love about little Ray? I can guarantee you'll fall in love with him from the second he comes on-screen. Guaranteed.


10. Billy Maplewood
Played by: Rufus Read
Happiness (1998)
Age at Release: Unknown

I actually couldn't find any real information on Rufus Read, including his age at the time of this film's release. He only has one other credited feature film role (2000's Double Parked), which looks to be rather... okay, at best. But Read is damn-near brilliant in Todd Solondz's rather disturbing comedy. He portrays a young boy striving to gain his pedophile father's attention which, as you can imagine, ultimately proves a little too difficult.

9. Ronnie
Played by: Bobb'e J. Thompson
Role Models (2008)
Age at Release: 12

I know I already talked about one child star who turned up the profanity for her role, but Role Models's Ronnie uses it a tad more effectively and maintains that childish charm about him. He's not as over-the-top as the aforementioned Hit-Girl, but his comedic timing allows him to stand toe-to-toe with comic icons Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott. Kudos, Mr. Thompson.


8. Cherie Currie
Played by: Dakota Fanning
The Runaways (2010)
Age at Release: 16

There's no way that Dakota Fanning wasn't going to make it onto this list at some point - it was more a matter of choosing which role I should feature. Before 2010, I would have had a tough time choosing, but after her knockout role as Cherie Currie, there's absolutely no question in my mind. She provided her own vocals for the film, just adding to her overall list of talents. Watch for Oscars nods in the future for this one.


7. Dorothy Gale
Played by: Judy Garland
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Age at Release: 17

I know what you're thinking: Judy Garland was only seventeen in The Wizard of Oz? I know she's supposed to be playing something close to that age in the film, but I always assumed she was little bit older. The fact that she was so young when she portrayed such an iconic role (and landed atop my list of favorite cinematic songs) makes her all the more impressive in my book.


6. Paikea
Played by: Keisha Castle-Hughes
Whale Rider (2003)
Age at Release: 13

As far as childhood Academy Award nominees go, there's really none better than Keisha Castle-Hughes, who scored a Best Actress nomination for her role in the independent film, Whale Rider. Of all the Oscar nominees on this list, she's the only one who managed to nab one for a leading role, and she definitely deserved it. The weight of the film is placed upon her shoulders, and Castle-Hughes responded to the challenge and delivered a subtly brilliant performance that everyone should see at some point in their life.


5. Eli
Played by: Lina Leandersson
Let the Right One In (2008)
Age at Release: 13

If you want to talk about being blown away by a character, you need not look further than the Swedish vampire flick, Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in). Of our two main leads, Leandersson truly steals the show, bringing a very quiet performance to the screen that goes against every other portrayal of a vampire I've ever seen. Perhaps that's what makes her so good in the film - she had the ability to take a character that breaks stereotypes and make it brutally beautiful.


4. John Connor
Played by: Edward Furlong
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Age at Release: 13

How could I ever leave John Connor off this list? In his first ever screen role, Edward Furlong stood alongside the likes of Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger and proved that he was a force with which to be reckoned. I've only seen him in two other films since - 1998's American History X and 2011's The Green Hornet - but his role in the Terminator saga will always hold true as my favorite Furlong appearance.


3. Wan 'Short Round' Li
Played by: Jonathan Ke Quan
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Age at Release: 12

In terms of outright comedy, you'd be hard-pressed to find a young actor who's funnier than Jonathan Ke Quan's "Short Round" in the second installment of the Indiana Jones franchise. In his first ever role - this seems to be slightly recurring, at the moment - he partners with Harrison Ford, arguably one of the biggest film stars in history, and keeps him honest throughout. That's tough to do as an adult actor, but for a rookie child actor to come in and do it so seemingly seamlessly is all the more impressive.


2. Phoebe Lichten
Played by: Elle Fanning
Phoebe in Wonderland (2009)
Age at Release: 10

For those of you who didn't already know, Dakota Fanning has a younger sister named Elle who just might be a better overall actress. The reason I would even go out on that limb is because of her performance in Phoebe in Wonderland, where she portrays a little girl who suffers from a type of Tourette syndrome. At her very worst, she's fantastic in the role, and she even reaches brilliance in a number of scenes. I was completely blown away by Elle's disappearance into the character - it's rare to see a child actor go that far into a role, but she completely nailed it.


1. Antoine Doinel
Played by: Jean-Pierre Léaud
The 400 Blows (1959)
Age at Release: 15

When a film ranks as highly as The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coup) does on my list of greatest films of all time (it currently sits at #4), then there must be some reason for its incredible ranking. The movie has a brilliant screenplay, but none of it would matter if our lead didn't deliver. Considering our lead is a young teenager, I'm sure you could think of numerous causes of concern. However, Jean-Pierre Léaud, in only his second on-screen role, delivers the most brilliant performance by a child actor I've ever seen. It's subtle but truly inspiring. The fact that a few of his scenes were actually ad-libbed on the spot makes it all the more impressive. Léaud would go on to portray Antoine Doinel five more times, but I doubt he ever reached the level of brilliance he did the first time around.

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