Some of my favorite child actors, like Thora Birch and Macaulay Culkin, didn’t manage to have a lot of success as adults. This debunks the idea that success starts at a young age. Not everyone can be as lucky as Leonardo DiCaprio, who picks his projects and the directors he wants to work with. To be honest, there aren’t a whole lot of child actors who became adult A-list stars. Some peaked way before they even hit puberty.
But among those child actors who made us laugh and cry, there’s a few who did make it in the biz. They gave outstanding performances as kids, and continue to dazzle us with their talents today. Here’s a list of eight great kid performances by actors who are still working in Hollywood.
Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver
Jodie Foster was only 12-years-old when she co-starred in one of the best movies ever made. In Taxi Driver, she played Iris, a child prostitute living in New York City. The idea of a young girl out on the streets, selling herself for dough is extremely disturbing and uncomfortable, but Foster was brilliant in the role. She even received her first Oscar nomination for the part.
Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun
Christian Bale gave an unforgettable performance in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun. In said film, he played an English school boy who became a prisoner of war in China. This Spielberg movie did garner a lot of attention for an extremely young actor, but with very good reason. Bale’s character goes through an amazing arc in the film, enduring hunger, abandonment, bombings and death. It’s no wonder he went on to play a superhero as an adult.
Kirsten Dunst in Interview with a Vampire
Interview with a Vampire was star-studded with actors like Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas. But it was the unknown Kirsten Dunst who would be remembered once the credits rolled. Dunst was only 11-years-old when she played the part of the stone-cold child vampire. Her performance was creepy yet exciting. And no other child has been able to play vampire like she did.
Natalie Portman in The Professional
Before Chloe Moretz gunned down a room full of grown men in Kick-Ass, Natalie Portman played a total badass in The Professional. Portman poured her heart and soul into this piece of work, playing Mathilda, a young assassin on a mission of vengeance. The movie is violent and the relationship between her and her mentor (played by Jean Reno) is strange. But it pays to watch Portman act the hell out of this one, and in her very first acting gig!
Winona Ryder in Bettlejuice
Tim Burton went ahead and cast Winona Ryder as the Gothic Lydia in his comedy horror movie Bettlejuice back in 1988. Not only did Ryder give a great, subtle performance, but she made the character iconic. Lydia is a signature character of Burton’s early style, and that’s partly thanks to Ryder’s execution of the role. She was a fantastic loner.
Jamie Bell in Billy Elliot
I was so reluctant to watch Billy Elliot at first. The plot just didn’t sound very appealing, and believe it or not, I kind of thought it would be a goofy comedy. I mean have you seen the posters? But boy was I wrong. Once I caught a glimpse of Jamie Bell’s captivating performance, I hated myself for not watching the movie sooner. He made me feel and fall for the character. Bell was only 15-year-old when he played a ballet dancing miner’s son. He was nominated for several awards and won the BAFTA for best actor, as deserved.
Michelle Trachtenberg in Harriet The Spy
Harriet The Spy is not a classic. But I remember Michelle Trachtenberg’s Harriet with such fondness that I couldn’t exclude her from the list. Her character reminded me of Matilda. She was so smart and cool. I wanted to be exactly like her. I even went through a brief phase where I carried binoculars around my neck. In my opinion though, Trachtenberg has yet to peak as an actor. She’s had a steady career for the past few years, thanks to Gossip Girl, but now that that’s over, she needs to land something memorable or she’ll fade like the rest of ‘em.
Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby
Jodie Foster wasn’t the only child actor to play a prostitute at an untimely age. The beautiful Brooke Shields also played one at 12-years-old in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby in 1978. Her performance was both impressive and shocking. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the film at the time of its release, both for its depiction of child prostitution and the nude shots of young Shields. Her role in the movie was much bigger than Foster’s in Taxi Driver, but she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it. Yes, perhaps (and most likely) Pretty Baby was used as a vehicle to expose Shield’s beauty, but she was brave to go as far as she did at such a premature age.