The way Hollywood operates these days, there’s less focus on big stars than a recognizable brand. With every big blockbuster being a reboot, a sequel, or an adaptation, it’s clear that tentpole-seeking movie studios would rather pay big for an existing intellectual property than greenlight something just because it has a good cast.
But the good news is that with VOD and online distribution, indie movies are still being made and new, exciting actors are still being discovered every day. And while some audiences may prefer a CGI robot as a lead character, there’s nothing quite like an actor at the top of their game filling every frame of a film with a commanding performance that makes you look on in awe.
Whether they’re playing their part in a big-budget studio movie or carrying an indie on their shoulders, there are some actors that shine in every part, no matter how big or small. Pick up a casting wish-list for any film in Hollywood right now and you’ll likely find at least one of the below names on it, because these are the actors that make exciting choices, work in different genres, and play wildly different characters every time they get in front of the camera. And while this is in no way meant to be a comprehensive list, we’ve decided to focus on people who – with one or two exceptions – are not yet household names. But we know their names, we’d watch anything they’re in, and now you’re about to know their names too. This is Screen Rant’s list of the 10 Most Exciting Actors Working Right Now.
12 Paul Dano
Paul Dano is the definition of “that guy from that thing;” he’s in so many great films and yet many people still don’t know who he is. After being silently spectacular since he was a child actor, Dano brought fireworks to his roles in There Will Be Blood, Ruby Sparks, Prisoners, and 12 Years A Slave. There was something about Dano’s face that made him get punched in it with nearly every role, often playing a villain in the most atypical Hollywood fashion; quietly.
With last year’s Love & Mercy, Dano was set to break out in a huge way, but he was tragically passed over for an Oscar nomination in what may have been the awards season’s biggest snub. Awards recognition aside, Dano’s portrayal of Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy was his step from supporting bad guy to complicated leading man, and he made it his own. After following that role up with this year’s miniseries War and Peace, Dano is set to take the next step onto our screens and make everyone take notice. Never one to give the same performance twice, Dano’s sheer willingness to shed personalities and mannerisms for every new role is exactly what makes him so compelling, and that’s why we’d watch him in anything he’s in.
11 Dane DeHaan
If there’s a downside to The Amazing Spider-Man series being canceled, it’s that we’ll never get to see Dane DeHaan as a true supervillain. While the insanely talented DeHaan was the best part of the underwhelming Amazing Spider-Man 2 in his role as Harry Osborne, he only got a few minutes of convoluted screen time as The Green Goblin, and things were all set for him to come back for the sequel until those plans got scrapped.
But as much as we’d love to see DeHaan bring his intensity to a superhero film, we have nothing but high hopes for any film he’s in, as DeHaan has been the best part many a fantastic film for a few years running. With standout roles in the TV series In Treatment, as well as Chronicle, Place Beyond the Pines, Kill Your Darlings and Life After Beth, DeHaan provides a weighty presence to every role he’s in, filling the shoes of every character; from quiet outsiders to larger-than-life personalities. He’s the closest thing we have to a new Leonardo DiCaprio, and we’d say it’ll take him less Oscar nominations than Leo to finally get a win.
10 Michael Fassbender
Does no one know who Michael Fassbender is? Is that why Steve Jobs performed so poorly? Chances are if you’re on Screen Rant you’re more than familiar with Fassbender, but apparently no one else is. What do we need to do to get the word out on Michael Fassbender?
While he’s perhaps most known for his role as Magneto in the new X-Men timeline, Fassbender got his real start in HBO’s Band of Brothers, and has since turned in great performances in Inglourious Basterds, Shame, 12 Years a Slave, and less known indies Frank and Slow West. Coming from that traditional UK/European acting school of always being angry and naked, Fassbender is slowly becoming the new Christian Bale, and after another role like he had in Steve Jobs, it’ll soon be difficult to not know his name.
9 Domhnall Gleeson
Domhnall Gleeson must share something with his character in About Time; an ability to travel back in time. It’s the only thing that could explain how he has the ability to be in nearly everything worth seeing in one particular year. For example, in 2015 alone he was in four of the best films of the year, and not just in supporting roles, he had a huge part in each of these: Ex Machina, Brooklyn, The Force Awakens, and The Revenant each had a heavy dose of Domhnall Gleeson, and he was fantastic in all of them.
Whether he’s playing someone British, Irish, American, or from whatever planet General Hux was born, Domhnall Gleeson is a captivating actor – and one of the few exports from the British Isles who actually looks like he’s having a good time. While he’s had his share of deeply dark and moving performances, Gleeson can also play the love-interest and guy-trying-his-best with a fresh take unlike anyone else.
8 Jake Gyllenhaal
There’s no reason Gyllenhaal shouldn’t be the most A-listiest A-list actor in the world. But for some reason he isn’t. And if decades of fantastic –even Oscar nominated – work wasn’t enough to propel Gyllenhaal to the top of the A-list, then the last few years surely should have done it. From Source Code to End of Watch to Prisoners and culminating in Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal had an amazing few years where he picked every role right and absolutely brought his all to every film he was in.
Always spectacular – whether it be as a romantic lead, a meek pushover, a loud-mouth fast-talking explosive con-artist – Gyllenhaal has perhaps more range than anyone on this list, and there’s no doubt that he’s one of the best actors working today. The only question that remains is when will Jake Gyllenhaal get the credit he deserves for being so consistently outstanding? And also, if there were another question remaining, it would be why aren’t more people always talking about the Gyllenhaal-starring Zodiac, one of the best films in decades?
7 Oscar Isaac
If anyone’s trying to take Domhnall Gleeson’s award for “most movies at a time” it’s his Star Wars and Ex-Machina co-star Oscar Isaac. Coming off a huge couple of years where he starred in Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year, the HBO miniseries Show Me A Hero, and the aforementioned two Domhnall Gleeson films, Oscar Isaac is every bit as fantastic as he is busy.
While we could debate the underratedness of Inside Llewyn Davis all day, Isaac’s choices when it comes to roles are so exciting that we can’t help watching everything he’s in; even if it’s hard to recognize him. A true chameleon, Isaac has the ability to change his appearance and personality with each new character, and if you were to look at him from Llewyn Davis to Ex Machina you’d be sure you’re seeing a different person. All this isn’t to mention that he can sing the hell out of a folk song, and we couldn’t be more excited for his upcoming villainous turn in X Men: Apocalypse.
6 Logan Lerman
Logan Lerman isn’t the teenage heartthrob you’d have pegged him for in 2011. With such a selected filmography, it’s astounding to consider the amount of films that Lerman has absolutely nailed, showing a new facet of his talent with each one and rising above the Young Adult material on display in the Percy Jackson films.
After his leading role in The Perks of Being a Wallflower – a film that’s destined to become a classic, along with his performance – Lerman made a series of smart film choices, moving to a supporting role in the sweet and charming Stuck in Love, and another with the weird, challenging, and ultimately memorable Noah. After proving he can play both indie roles and large-scale epics, Lerman stunned with his turn in Fury, out-acting Brad Pitt and everyone else in the deeply underrated WWII film. Next up Lerman is set to topline Indignation, the film based on the excellent Phillip Roth novel that has earned rave reviews at this year’s Sundance. With such a stellar record under his belt, watching a Logan Lerman movie is just about the safest bet you can make.
5 Michael B. Jordan
The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, Fruitvale Station, and Creed are more than enough to give Michael B. Jordan a pass for the mediocrity of Fantastic Four. In fact, let’s not even bring up Fantastic Four, since the only Michael B. Jordan movie directed by Josh Trank that you need to remember is Chronicle. So let’s just say Fantastic Four was an anomaly and give everyone involved another shot; not at a Fantastic Four movie though, but at, like, anything else.
Michael B. Jordan knows how to get to your emotions, and he can always do it in surprising ways. Often playing a misunderstood delinquent, Jordan’s career has seen him play heroic characters overcome all odds on their way to making everyone feel serious feelings; and he manages to bring something new to the roles every time. But with the striking physicality he brought to Creed late last year, elevating it far above a typical boxing film, Jordan proved that there’s untapped potential alongside his already sharpened acting skillset, and we can’t to watch him try it out with whatever role he chooses next.
4 Michael Pitt
If you’ve never watched a television show and thought to yourself “this is chillingly good acting,” you’ve clearly never watched Hannibal. In a show so packed with great performances and sickeningly deplorable characters, Michael Pitt outshone a serial-killer cannibal by a wide margin, often inducing nightmare generating fear with a simple line or two.
As if his Emmy-worthy performance on Hannibal wasn’t enough to get him on this list, Michael Pitt has been delivering memorable roles for a while now, going back to before his breakout role in the indie film The Dreamers in 2003 to Funny Games in 2007 and as recently as his exceptional leading role in the wildly original I Origins. Pitt is perhaps the most unpredictable actor on this list, with things as subtle as his vocal pitch changing when delivering a line able to shock and make every choice he makes an exciting one. While we’re not assuming Pitt will ever go down a conventional route and become a superhero or action-star anytime soon, if you’ve seen even a minute of a Michael Pitt performance you should know to never try to guess what he’s going to do next.
3 Daniel Radcliffe
The most household name on this list, Daniel Radcliffe is perhaps best known for his worst role; Harry Potter. And while we’re not saying that the Harry Potter series is bad – it’s probably the best film series in modern history – it’s safe to say that Radcliffe and company’s acting didn’t really pick up until a few films in. But since then, Daniel Radcliffe has proven himself to be fantastic actor who has a penchant for exciting and original roles since growing up in front of the world as Potter, although sadly many of these roles haven’t been widely seen.
Taking a look back through Radcliffe’s post-Potter filmography, every year contains a new highlight. The Woman in Black was a fresh take on a classic horror story, Kill Your Darlings paired him with Dane DeHaan for spectacular results, Horns was an endlessly fun and atmospheric genre film, A Young Doctor’s Notebook is a delightfully strange comedy series co-starring Jon Hamm, and his best film, What If (called The F Word in the rest of the world), showed off his charm and sense of humor in a role tailor made for him. While only those of us who have seen all of his above roles no longer see him as The Boy Who Lived, we have no doubt that Radcliffe will outgrow his Potter image and become known for even more iconic roles in the future.
2 Michael Shannon
Why didn’t 99 Homes get seen by more people? Starring Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield, the 2015 film was like The Big Short but wrapped in even more spectacular acting, stripped of some of that strange comedy, and mixed with the personal and heartbreaking stories that The Big Short was missing. It was a complete package, but as has been the case with many films Michael Shannon is in, Michael Shannon was the clear stand-out.
While Shannon has been acting since the early '90s, it seems that his time in the spotlight is just getting started. Often the villain, Shannon has made viewers’ blood run cold in Boardwalk Empire, Mud, The Iceman, and gained widespread recognition with Man of Steel, but perhaps his best role was in 2011’s Take Shelter. Haunting, meditative, explosive, and deeply symbolic, Shannon’s role in Take Shelter proved he could play more than the scumbag villain, and as he gets more choice in the roles he’s offered, we can’t wait to see Shannon tackle different characters that challenge our perceptions of him and what he’s truly capable of.
1 Miles Teller
Miles Teller may be a boring choice here, if only because it’s already generally accepted that he’s an Oscar-caliber actor. With his roles in Rabbit Hole and The Spectacular Now, Teller showed off an emotionally scarred swagger that he catapulted to greater heights in the unfortunately underseen indie comedy Two Night Stand. Always funny with a touch of sadness and a dark undertone, Teller has the ability to make any character his own, which is why, like Michael B. Jordan, we’re glossing right over Fantastic Four again.
With Whiplash, Teller took all the skills he’d been showing off in past movies and turned up the intensity to 100. Starting slow and quiet, Teller played off his own looks and presumed attitude to portray a character that eventually burst into a crescendo of blood, sweat, emotion, and drumming. He showed audiences that he’s leading-man material, and that he’s not afraid to literally bleed for his work. Like the greatest actors of any generation, Teller has the ability to convey so much with so little, and that just makes it all the more exciting when he goes big and has a chance to really show off.
Which of the above actors do you count as your favorites? Are there any that you think deserve a spot on this list? Let us know in the comments below!