Yet another wild summer movie season is nearly in our rear-view mirror. Jurassic World set industry records across the board, and films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Inside Out predictably followed suit.
While those movies primarily relied on household names and established acting talent, many of the season’s biggest hits took a chance on the unknown—choosing to task unseasoned actors with carrying their films. They weren’t all successful, of course, but more than a few diamonds were gleaned from the rough. Let’s take a look at some (largely) unknown actors who left their mark on the cinematic history books of 2015.
A word of caution: more than a few SPOILERS lie ahead. Consider yourself warned. And be sure to stay tuned till the end to check out the honorable mentions that just missed out on our list. Without further ado, here are the 10 Rising Stars from the 2015 Summer Movie Season.
Jason Mitchell – Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton
Biopics are often sure-fire bets to garner attention at awards season, but few foresaw the commanding performance that Mitchell delivered in Straight Outta Compton. A monstrous hit with critics and audiences alike, the film has already quadrupled its $28 million budget, while simultaneously disproving preconceived notions of what makes a summer blockbuster.
Mitchell undoubtedly stole the show, perfectly mimicking the ill-fated rapper’s mannerisms while bringing Oscar-level gravitas to the role. The New Orleans native’s resume already featured small roles in films like Contraband and Broken City, but Compton is definitely his true breakthrough. Mitchell recently signed on to reunite with his Compton co-star Corey Hawkins (who portrayed Dr. Dre) in the 2017 King Kong epic, Kong: Skull Island. He might just bring a large new fan base along with him.
By then end of its run, director F. Gary Gray’s drama could very well go down as the best hip-hop-themed film of all time, and should lead to major success in the future for the 28 year old Mitchell.
Rebecca Ferguson – Ilsa Faust in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
The Mission: Impossible film franchise has consistently provided solid entertainment for nearly two decades now, and this summer’s latest entry may have been its finest yet. Another critical/commercial darling, Rogue Nation had a laundry list of highlights, perhaps none brighter than Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as undercover MI6 agent Ilsa Faust.
A scene-stealer of the highest caliber, Ferguson’s previous work includes an appearance in last summer’s Hercules as well as a Golden Globe nomination for her leading role in the BBC series The White Queen. The Swedish actress’ work in Rogue Nation is already paying dividends, as she was recently rumored to be on the shortlist for the female lead in Gambit. Ferguson’s future looks bright, whether she lands the role or not.
Though the Mission: Impossible films don’t have a great track record in returning their female characters back to fans—Michelle Monaghan made a brief appearance in Ghost Protocol after starring in M:I-3, but where was she in this one?—we here at Screen Rant are crossing our fingers in hopes that Ilsa Faust rejoins the team on its next adventure.
Amy Schumer – Amy in Trainwreck
Amy Schumer is one of the biggest names in comedy today. Her wildly popular show on Comedy Central (Inside Amy Schumer) just wrapped up its third season, and her biggest stand-up special to date (Amy Schumer: Live from the Apollo) is set to premiere on HBO later this year.
Schumer looks to have taken her career to the next level this summer with her starring turn in Trainwreck (which she also wrote). She’s appeared in a handful of independent films in the past, but Schumer took center stage in director Judd Apatow’s latest work—the funniest movie of the summer—and knocked it right out of the park.
It looks like Schumer is wasting no time reveling in her recent success, as Hollywood megastar and apparent BFF Jennifer Lawrence recently revealed that the pair are writing a comedy together. Jonathan Levine, the man behind 2013’s Warm Bodies and the upcoming holiday comedy The Night Before, is in line to direct the Schumer/Lawrence vehicle, which is shaping up to be one of the most promising films currently in development.
Shameik Moore – Malcolm Adekanbi in Dope
One of the very best films to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Dope, a crime comedy-drama from writer/director Rick Famuyiwa. The film features a few recognizable faces, like Zoe Kravitz (of X-Men: First Class fame), Blake Anderson (from Comedy Central’s Workaholics), and rapper A$AP Rocky, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Moore, who makes his feature film debut in this movie.
Moore showed no signs of his lacking experience, delivering an honest, charismatic, and flat-out electrifying performance as Malcolm, a geeky high school senior determined to follow his dream of attending Harvard University. The film’s vibrant energy (read our full review here) is exemplified by the 20 year old actor, whose star is definitely on the rise thanks to this phenomenal showing.
Moore will next be seen in 2016, starring in Baz Lahrmann’s Netflix drama, The Get Down. He’s set to play a character named Shaolin Fantastic, which is either the best or the worst name we’ve ever heard.
Cara Delivingne – Margo Roth Spiegelman in Paper Towns
After the 2014 adaptation of John Michael Green’s latest novel, The Fault in Our Stars, proved to be a rousing success at the box office ($307 million on a $12 million budget), expectations were sky-high for the adaptation of Green’s third novel, Paper Towns.
Though the movie failed to reach the critical/commercial heights of his predecessor, it was not without its charms. Rising above the film’s abundant use of stock characters (the social outcast falls in love with the “manic pixie dream girl,” or MPDG) and derivative plot points was Delivingne, who gave an admirably earnest performance as the free spirited Margo. The supermodel-turned-actress did a whole lot with her surprisingly-limited screen time, which is even more impressive given the largely-flat portrayal of her on-screen counterpart Quentin, played by Nat Wolff.
The 23 year old will be very busy over the coming months, as she is set to appear in no fewer than six films over the next year or so, a schedule highlighted by a role in next summer’s Suicide Squad. Keep an eye Delivingne; she’s going places.
Alicia Vikander – Gaby Teller in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Alicia Vikander is a name you should familiarize yourself with. The 26 year old Swedish actress has appeared in five films in the last year alone, and it doesn’t look like she plans to take a break anytime soon. Vikander has five more film roles in her immediate future, where she’ll share the screen with A-Listers like Bradley Cooper, Eddie Redmayne, and Michael Fassbender. Speaking of Fassbender, she recently turned down an opportunity to co-star alongside him a second time—in the Assassin’s Creed adaptation—in favor of a role in the next Bourne film, opposite Matt Damon. Suffice to say, Vikander could very well be a household name by this time next year.
Where is all this coming from, you ask? Though Vikander has been in the game for the better part of a decade now, she can largely attribute her increased acting profile to a pair of recent performances. Her true breakthrough came in Ex Machina, where she portrayed a highly-advanced artificial intelligence with hidden intentions. The film premiered in April to rave reviews, with Vikander’s performance receiving particular praise. And although The Man from U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t exactly wowed at the box office so far, Vikander and her costars gave underrated and entirely respectable efforts.
Abbey Lee – The Dag in Mad Max: Fury Road
If there’s one name here that you don’t recognize, this is probably it. The second former supermodel on this list, Lee made her feature film debut playing one of Immortan Joe’s “wives” in Fury Road. It’s hard to say that Lee truly made her mark on the film, as she played a fairly small role, but there’s no question that her career is about to take a serious upswing.
Lee is set to appear in two films next year: the first, Gods of Egypt, is the latest effort from Alex Proyas, who’s best known for directing The Crow and I, Robot. The 28 year old actress will co-star in the fantasy epic alongside big names like Gerard Butler and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Later in 2016, Lee will appear in a horror thriller from director Nicolas Winding Refn (of Drive fame) entitled The Neon Demon, where she’ll share the screen with Keanu Reeves and Elle Fanning.
Along with the aforementioned Rebecca Ferguson, Lee was also named as a front-runner for the female lead in Fox’s upcoming Gambit movie. The fact that she’s on the shortlist for such a high-profile film is a likely indicator that she’s on multiple other shortlists. It appears that Lee will be granted every opportunity to achieve mainstream success in the next few years. What she’ll do with that opportunity remains to be seen.
Thomas Mann – Greg Gaines in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
If Dope was a Sundance darling, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was its shining star, winning the festival’s Grand Jury Prize as well as its Audience Award (read: almost everyone loved this movie). Even with an outstanding trio of young actors leading this film, the emerging star of the show was undoubtedly Mann, who you may recognize from the 2012 comedy Project X. Thankfully, the 23 year old actor seems to be a bit choosier with his scripts these days.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl received its wide release the same weekend as the record-breaking Jurassic World, so it never really stood much of a chance at box office glory. But it’s certainly made it’s mark on the independent film world, as well as on Mann’s career.
Mann has a few projects in the pipeline, most notably Blood Father, an action thriller starring Mel Gibson. The young actor appears to have a bright future ahead of him, so be sure to keep an eye out for him.
Bel Powley – Minnie Goetze in The Diary of a Teenage Girl
The subject matter wasn’t for everyone, but there’s no denying that Powley did a wonderful job with her first leading movie role. The directorial debut for Marielle Heller, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a smart, incredibly well-handled film about the sexual awakening of a 15 year old girl. Powley (who’s actually 23) brilliantly navigates the choppy waters of adolescence with a brutal sense of unrelenting honesty. The British native more than holds her own performing alongside veteran costars like Kristen Wiig, Christopher Meloni, and Alexander Skarsgård, and should receive her share of attention come awards season.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl never really took off at the box office, as the comedy-drama’s extremely limited release began roughly a month ago now. Those hoping to see more of the young actress are in luck though, as she’s scheduled to appear in at least six more films over the next two years.
Blue the Velociraptor – Jurassic World
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard may have received top billing in what turned out to be the biggest movie of the year, but many, including Screen Rant’s Sandy Schaefer, felt that the true stars of Jurassic World were the dinosaurs themselves. The film’s main antagonist was the genetically-engineered hybrid Indominus Rex, and the most-welcomed returning character to the franchise was likely the Tyrannosaurus featured in that flat-out insane final fight scene—the same T. Rex from the original Jurassic Park, a fact confirmed by director Colin Trevorrow in an interview with the The LA Times’ Hero Complex.
But the real star of the show was Blue the Raptor, whose character arc rivaled and at times out-shined those of Howard’s Claire Dearing and Pratt’s Owen Grady. Blue’s personal connection to Grady (her “trainer” at the start of the film) was put to the test several times, with widely-varying outcomes. By the time the third act came around, her loyalties were unclear, giving what could have been a ludicrous final showdown an interesting twist and honest emotional weight.
Sign this badass up for the sequel—or any other film franchise she can be worked into, frankly—immediately. The possibilities are endless.
Phyllis Smith – Sadness in Inside Out: Primarily known as the soft-spoken Phyllis Lapin-Vance on NBC’s The Office, Smith was a revelation in her first voice acting role. Though Pixar has no plans for a sequel to Inside Out currently in place, you can count on another spectacularly sorrowful performance from Smith should the studio change its mind.
Michael Peña – Luis in Ant-Man: The 39 year old actor has made his presence felt in a ton of Hollywood hits (most recently American Hustle and Fury) but was an absolute scene-stealer in Marvel’s Ant-Man. Peña’s a bit too well-known to be included on this list, but his underrated and unique talent was on full display this summer.
Lily James – Ella in Cinderella: James’ portrayal of the fan-favorite Disney princess was simply wonderful, though the film’s April release forced its exclusion from this list. She’ll be seen later this year alongside Bradley Cooper in Burnt (the trailer to which you can check out here) and in next year’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Hugh Keays-Byrne – Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road: The 67 year old Australian proved to be a truly formidable foe for Max (Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Having played the principal antagonist in two Mad Max films to date, Keays-Bryne is unlikely to appear in any potential sequels, but chances are good that the actor will make an appearance in the documentary of George Miller’s canceled Justice League film, should the project get the official green-light from Warner Bros.
With another summer movie season nearly in the books, there was no shortage of rising talents on display. Who was your favorite breakout actor? What non-Jurassic-World-based movie would you like to see Blue the Raptor star in? Be sure to sound off in the comments below.
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