It was only a couple of years ago that names like Oscar Isaac, Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, and Alicia Vikander weren’t known to most of the public. Now, each has found the spotlight through award-winning films and franchise fare, ensuring their status as A-List stars. A pattern of indie work leading to super-sized roles for young, talented actors has become an industry standard. Andrew Garfield, Miles Teller, and Jesse Eisenberg — all started small and have since taken their place among the slew of comic book heroes. The latest kid wonder bound for glory is Tom Holland, first making a splash in The Impossible, now appearing in Captain America: Civil War, and will next star in his very own iteration of the web-slinger’s story, Spider-Man: Homecoming.
The incredible pool of talent working today could lend itself to an even longer list of stars on the rise, from indie regulars to those already cued up for fame with big budget films in the pipeline for this year or next. But, all of these actors have shown a consistent and exciting body of work that seems to destine them for great things. Here are 20 Rising Stars Ready for Their Big Break.
21 JACK O'CONNELL
The build to O’Connell’s burst into the Hollywood scene has been a slow, but steady one. He turned heads internationally with the star-producing series Skins, as the deranged yet somehow heroic Cook. From there, his intense performances as a prison inmate in Starred Up and as a soldier on the run in ’71 grabbed the attention of a breakout director looking to make her own mark, Angelina Jolie. O’Connell nabbed the coveted role in Jolie’s adaptation of Unbroken, a true and astounding World War II story. It seemed as if O’Connell has finally hit the big time.
Unfortunately, Unbroken underperformed and was entirely dismissed by the Oscars, and O’Connell faded for a couple of years. But, with that much talent, he was always going to rebound. On top of starring with Julia Roberts and George Clooney in next week’s release of Money Monster, he’ll find himself in further strong acting company with Rosamund Pike, Mia Wasikowska, and Jason Clarke in HHhH. O’Connell may still be searching for the right vehicle, but there’s no doubt he’s got the chops to make a stunning career.
20 OLIVIA COOKE
One of last year’s talent jackpots was the Sundance hit, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Co-stars Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler both put in moving, comedic turns and have seen big opportunities arise in their careers since the film’s debut. But it was the titular “Dying Girl,” Olivia Cooke, who provided the real emotional crux of the film, and her touching performance is now paying big dividends.
It’s not often that starting out with horror films like The Quiet Ones and Ouija will lead to receiving deeper and more challenging roles, but Cooke got a real chance to shine in Me and Earl. Cooke’s honest portrayal of a teen with cancer caught the eye of Steven Spielberg and landed her the female lead in the massive adaptation of the best-selling book, Ready Player One. The futuristic adventure film is sure to be heavily marketed and hopefully successful, pushing Cooke upwards and onwards.
19 ALDEN EHRENREICH
Even if you aren’t the one to cause it, being on board when a franchise runs into the ground is never good for an actor’s career. One of the many doomed young adult series that tried to ride the coattails of Twilight and The Hunger Games, Beautiful Creatures failed to capture the interest or spending money of its tween audience. It may have taken a couple of years, but Alden Ehrenreich seems to be recovering well and back on his way towards stardom.
Despite Hail, Caesar! being filled with many more famous faces than his, the 26 year old was undoubtedly the belle of the ball. His sincere and charming turn as Hobie put him back on the map and back in the casting room. After a competitive process, Ehrenreich was only just announced to have won the role of a young Han Solo in a new Star Wars film. He’ll soon be joining the ranks of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega as members of the select Star Wars family that is perhaps the most recognizable in the world.
18 GUGU MBATHA-RAW
Gugu Mbatha-Raw received notice from reviewers and the industry for her role as a black woman tackling racism and prejudice in the thoroughly white society of 18th century England in Belle. Her clear ability to flawlessly handle the pressures of a central role landed Mbatha-Raw another chance to show her leading lady chops in the poorly attended but well liked story of a public icon drowning her lifestyle in Beyond the Lights.
Industry insiders must have caught a screening though because since then, Mbatha-Raw has found herself to be a hot commodity as a player in Jupiter Ascending, Concussion, and this summer’s Free State of Jones. These roles and her slated appearances in God Particle, Beauty and the Beast, and Miss Sloane will make her a familiar face in quick order. Hopefully, next on the agenda will be a lead part that gives her sufficient material to sink her teeth into.
17 WILL POULTER
It takes quite a talent to not only survive on the notoriously punishing set of The Revenant, but also to go toe to toe with the likes of Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio. But Will Poulter went on quite a journey to get there. He found himself in the franchise world early on with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the film that brought the series to a grinding halt. He’s jumped from mainstream comedies like We Are the Millers, to indie dramas like Glassland, back around to the world of major money movies with a role in The Maze Runner.
After his surprising and strong trek through The Revenant, Poulter seems to have gotten a taste for A-List co-stars. He’ll be appearing alongside Brad Pitt and whole gang of young up-and-comers in War Machine. There were also rumors of Poulter taking on a film adaptation of It, but even if those plans fall through, Poulter is sure to be in high demand after his hot 2015.
16 SOFIA BOUTELLA
Sofia Boutella sliced her way onto the scene as the deadly Gazelle in the breakout hit Kingsman: The Secret Service last year. The film’s success was a boon for Boutella, who was almost immediately cast in the latest Star Trek installment, Star Trek Beyond. Although Star Trek Beyond already has some bad buzz surrounding it, that hasn’t slowed Boutella down.
The former dancer is set to appear alongside the enviable cast of Charlize Theron and James McAvoy in the Cold War drama The Coldest City. After that, she’ll work with heavy hitter Tom Cruise in The Mummy reboot, with Boutella supposedly playing the title character. With such prominent co-stars and some epic action flicks on the way, Boutella is likely to become a very in demand actress.
15 TYE SHERIDAN
Tye Sheridan has a resume stuffed with amazing performances, a feat made even more extraordinary when you consider he’s only 19 years old. Terrence Malick’s best-picture-nominated film The Tree of Life served as Sheridan’s introduction to the business. From there he was part of the critical smash that helped relaunch Matthew McConaughey’s career, Mud. Other indie films that he's taken part in have had him working with Nicolas Cage, John Travolta, Ewan McGregor, Charlize Theron, and a range of other young talents.
It’s no wonder that when the time came to cast an essential X-Men character, Cyclops, the studio was confident to hire Sheridan, as experienced professionals are rare at that age. If X-Men: Apocalypse didn’t already signal Sheridan’s ascent to the big leagues, being cast as the lead in Steven Spielberg’s surefire hit, Ready Player One (alongside the aforementioned Cooke), certainly does.
14 GINA RODRIGUEZ
People tend to notice when actors from freshman series go home with Golden Globes, especially when they beat out comedic titan Julia Louis-Dreyfus and pop culture maven Lena Dunham. Since her Best Actress win, Rodriguez has launched her career off of that award-winning and endearing role on Jane the Virgin.
As is common with actors who gain attention from TV roles, Rodriguez’s first order of business was to line up some film prospects. Rodriguez can be seen in this fall’s Mark Wahlberg oil rig drama Deepwater Horizon. But, her big step into the movie world will be in Alex Garland’s follow up to Ex Machina, entitled Annihilation. She’ll be joined by an all-star cast in that one, including the likes of Oscar Isaac and Natalie Portman. After the breathtaking success of Garland's directorial debut, Annihilation is sure to be on everyone’s must-see list.
13 COREY HAWKINS
Straight Outta Compton’s opening weekend blew everyone’s expectations out of the water when it came in with $60 million, and powerhouse performances from Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. kept audiences rushing to buy tickets for weeks to come. Although the Academy largely overlooked the film, its stars have not gone unnoticed.
Corey Hawkins in particular seems to have made a large impact; he’s been cast as the lead in 24: Legacy, a reboot of the popular Kiefer Sutherland series, 24. As one of the biggest young stars on the small screen (he also has a recurring role on a little show called The Walking Dead), Hawkins will also be seen in Kong: Skull Island alongside his Compton castmate, Mitchell, and a slew of top talent. Kong: Skull Island is still shrouded in some mystery, but with a cast including Hawkins, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, and Samuel L. Jackson, it seems likely that it will be another springboard for Hawkins’ career.
12 MAIKA MONROE
The indie horror film, It Follows, was praised by both critics and fans upon its release early last year. It earned $14 million in theaters, a respectable box office for a small film, to go along with a stunning 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Monroe, the movie’s protagonist, is cashing in on all that positive press, and she's parlayed the film’s success into some valuable roles for herself.
Monroe’s biggest opportunity garnered from the little indie that could is her spot in the long-awaited sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence. Not content to rest on her laurels though, she has several other films lined up with some incredible actors as her co-stars. Hot Summer Nights will see her play against Emory Cohen, a star on the rise himself since he charmed Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn. Next, she’ll work with Liam Neeson and Diane Lane in the story of the real “Deep Throat” entitled Felt. Monroe seems to have a knack for taking advantage of the spotlight, and will no doubt have even more credits to her name soon.
11 RAMI MALEK
An actor can wait their entire career for a role that really hits the zeitgeist. Rami Malek was snapping up film roles in big budget fare like Night at the Museum and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 as well as loading up on indie work like Short Term 12 and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints before he landed the part that would change his life.
Malek had a significant TV resume before he started on Mr. Robot, but his performance in the conspiracy hacker drama was unlike anything small screen audiences had seen before. Malek quickly makes the socially awkward, deeply unhappy, mentally unstable Elliot a character that everyone wants to root for, which is not an insignificant feat. With the buzz surrounding the show and Malek, it seems it’s only a matter of time before he’s cast in a major franchise or film.
10 RILEY KEOUGH
As the granddaughter of Elvis Presley, it’s not surprising that Riley Keough would have her first film role be in a music biopic like The Runaways. What is surprising is that until recently, she’s stayed relatively out of the spotlight and worked on independent films like The Good Doctor, Jack & Diane, and Dixieland. Even Magic Mike wasn’t predicted to be as successful as it was.
But, last year, Keough took a step into the big budget world with a role in Mad Max: Fury Road as one of Immortan Joe’s wives, Capable. While it seems like Keough isn’t giving up the indie world, she is garnering a lot more attention for her latest role in Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience. She’ll also be working with some big names like Rooney Mara and Robert Redford in the science fiction romance The Discovery, due out next year.
9 NATE PARKER
Nate Parker was the darling of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film he directed, produced, and starred in, Birth of a Nation, was at the center of a heated bidding war after it screened to an exuberant audience. The film found its distribution home with Fox Searchlight, the studio that brought 12 Years a Slave all the way to best picture glory. And, based on the early excitement, Nate Parker and his feature directing debut, will definitely be making a play for some big Oscar gold.
Parker had already built up a strong acting portfolio, including his memorable role in the 2007 drama, The Great Debaters. It seems that Birth of Nation will add to that list, as well as making him a top young director to watch. A gigantic awards campaign is essentially a guarantee for Birth of a Nation, and will also be a great platform for Parker to launch his career in whatever direction he would like.
8 LOLA KIRKE
Although you may have first seen her in Gone Girl, Lola Kirke’s true coming out party was Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America. In it, Greta Gerwig is Kirke’s haphazard guide of New York City, leading the naïve Kirke down some weird, winding roads in traditional Baumbach fashion. Kirke’s natural acting style is the perfect compliment to zany and effusive Gerwig, and it's found her a home on television as well. Recently, Kirke has been praised for her work in the Amazon’s Golden Globe winning series, Mozart in the Jungle, and she’s lined up quite the following act.
On top of multiple indie films hitting the circuit in the next year or two, Kirke will go toe to toe with Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, and Jesse Plemons in the thriller Mena. Her sister, Jemima Kirke of Girls, has yet to aim for bigger budget movies, but Lola may be receiving some serious offers soon.
7 JASON MITCHELL
Corey Hawkins isn’t the only one making waves after Straight Outta Compton’s impressive debut. Jason Mitchell’s portrayal of Eazy-E threw some of the hardest emotional punches in Compton and was an all-around unforgettable performance. Mitchell’s acting chops were on full display, and Hollywood has come calling.
Aside from his recent comedic work in Key and Peele’s Keanu, Mitchell will also be joining the casts of some potentially award-worthy dramas. Mudbound will see him work with Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, and Jason Clarke in a World War II book adaptation. The 29 year old has also joined the cast of the Barack Obama biopic, Barry. In a smart tactical move, Mitchell appears to be balancing these serious roles with some popcorn fun with a role in Kong: Skull Island.
6 TATIANA MASLANY
For a time, it seemed that no one could stop talking about Tatiana Maslany. Her complex and ingenious work on Orphan Black had fans, and eventually critics, marveling at her masterful skills as an actor. She beautifully embodies several clone characters with markedly different natures, maintaining genuine performances while dealing with the intricacies of filming a show where she accounts for most of her co-stars. With such a diverse portfolio of character work, one would assume that every studio in town would be calling her up.
For a while, that appeared not to be the case, as she pursued more independent films like Woman in Gold and Two Lovers and a Bear. More recently however, things have started to pick up for the talented Maslany, as she was a top contender for the lead in Rogue One before getting beaten out by Felicity Jones. Who knows if she’ll end up in the Star Wars universe eventually, but with a starring role in the Boston marathon bombing film Stronger, alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, it’s safe to say that Maslany will only continue to produce noteworthy and high-quality work.
5 JESSE PLEMONS
Friday Night Lights has brought the industry many young talents, including the likes of Taylor Kitsch and Michael B. Jordan. And while Jesse Plemons hasn’t quite rocketed to fame like them, he’s got the same sort of talent that can take him all the way in this industry. In the meantime, Plemons has found no shortage of TV series and films in which he can continue his ever-impressive work. From hit show Breaking Bad, to blockbuster Battleship, to indie flick The Homesman, his enviable range of performances has caught the right people’s attention.
Last year saw Plemons star in the highly-lauded second season of Fargo as well as the Johnny Depp Boston crime story, Black Mass. But, that looks to be nothing compared to what he has coming up. His movie Other People revved up a lot of buzz at Sundance, and he’ll be stacking up the big-time co-stars in Hostiles with Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike and Mena with Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, and the previously mentioned Ms. Kirke. He may not have been the first one out of the gate, but Plemons is making up for lost ground now. Keep an eye on this kid.
4 TEYONAH PARRIS
Tessa Thompson came out of Dear White People and started landing huge roles in films like Creed and Thor: Ragnarok. Her Dear White People co-star, Teyonah Parris, has yet to line up any superhero stunts, but she’s been busy taking on lead after lead in the indie world. In Chi-Raq, Parris was Spike Lee’s Lysistrata in a modern retelling of Aristophanes’ play. Soon, she’ll play the eponymous Miki Howard in the singer’s biopic, The Miki Howard Story.
And, just announced out of the Cannes film festival, she’ll fill another leading role in Buffalo Solider Girl as a woman impersonating a man following the Civil War. With such a healthy body of work, especially in leading roles, Teyonah is bound to be picked up for more mainstream fare in the future.
3 STEPHAN JAMES
A starring role in a biopic about a legendary historical figure has been the ticket to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for more than one actor in recent years. And Stephan James’ performance as Jesse Owens, the American Olympian fighting racism and the Nazi agenda on the brink of World War II, certainly has more than a hint of heroism in it. Race was a showcase of all that James has to offer in the acting arena, and it’s quite a significant demonstration of talent. Even though the box office return was a bit on the weak end of things, there’s no ignoring the ferocity the 22 year old brings to the screen.
Despite a lengthy list of television work, Selma was the first time many people had a chance to see James in action. As the Civil Rights Activist John Lewis, James more than held his own in a talented ensemble of actors. That role and his strong work in Race are sure to keep the interesting parts heading his way. Perhaps even in the MCU?
2 Jack Reynor
Jack Reynor may be best known for Transformers: Age of Extinction, but his recent work suggests that he might like to change that. Likely not seen by many, Reynor pulls off Shakespearean dialogue and an impressive Scottish accent in Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard’s recent MacBeth. Last month’s Sing Street saw him as a burnout exploring the trials and joys of brotherhood in a fresh and delightful way.
His new bent towards indie films has landed him in the room with some skilled actors for his upcoming films. He’ll work with Rosamund Pike, Mia Wasikowska, Jason Clarke, and Jack O’Connell in HHhH, then jump over to Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire with Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, and Armie Hammer, and tackle The Secret Scripture with Rooney Mara, Theo James, and Eric Bana after that. Reynor will perhaps be able to prove that you don’t need to pull a Shia LaBeouf to still have a career after a Transformers film.
1 HONORABLE MENTIONS
Who are your favorite rising star actors? Which actors do you think will be the next hot thing in Hollywood? Tell us in the comments!