Despite the frequent cries of the online film community, cinema is far from dead. For every exposition packed, poor-characterisation led, CGI-filled tent pole misfire like The Mummy, we get something totally subversive like Dunkirk, for every Transformers: The Last Knight, there’s a Big Sick. The alternatives are there and the remedy to the mainstream sickness is available in big doses. In recent months, these alternatives have been propped up by stars that come out of nowhere; even the bigger releases have featured some unknowns who soon capture audience’s hearts. But who are these breakout performers who we’re sure to be hearing more from? Here are the new stars of 2017 who are sure to be on our screens for many years to come…
Notable roles: Logan
Much has been made of Logan, the R-rated final film of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine career showed us both a very different take on the clawed immortal and the superhero genre itself. Whilst Jackman gives an expectantly great performance, and Patrick Stewart as Professor X brings the goods, it is young Dafne Keen (Laura, AKA X-23) who shone the brightest. It’s a largely wordless performance from the young actress, the character essentially being the personification of Logan’s rage and aggression which he finds himself increasingly strained in expressing, but Keen is a dynamite; she’s wild, chaotic and downright ferocious. Even when she does get the chance to speak, Keen is an actress in total control, given that this is our first meeting with the character, it’s a real credit to her that we feel so attached to Laura by the end of the film. And it would be amiss to not mention her fantastic chemistry with both Jackman and Stewart, she seamlessly slots in alongside the two veterans as if she’s been along for the ride since day one. At only 12 years of age, expect big, big things for Keen in the future.
Notable roles: The Big Sick
Chances are you’d recognise Kumail Nanjiani by face and not name coming into 2017. The Pakistani-American stand up comedian, writer and actor has cropped up in a number of small roles in recent comedy films, including Central Intelligence, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Sex Tape, and has been a long running cast member of HBO comedy Silicon Valley, but Nanjiani hasn’t had his own vehicle in which he can fully show off his talents. Enter The Big Sick, the 2017 Sundance Film Festival smash hit, selling distribution rights for $12 million and earning rave reviews in the process, if you’re going by the hallowed Rotten Tomatoes, it’s currently the second best film of the whole year. Nanjiani serves as the film’s writer, star and inspiration, the film telling a slightly fictionalised version of how he met his now-wife Emily V. Gordon (who co-wrote the film). In all areas he excels. It’s a wonderfully charming film, balancing humour with emotion and Kumail is brilliant at his very own balancing act in a star making turn for the comedian. The Big Sick is the kind of film that could define a career, but for Nanjiani it’s both this and a springboard for greater things. He’ll be a comedy star within a few years, there’s no doubt about it.
Notable roles: Dunkirk, The Children Act
There was much speculation, anticipation and mystery heading into Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. With regards to the last aspect, the mystery of young Fionn Whitehead was one that many fans were curious to find out more about. Whitehead had been cast as the lead, a total unknown in his big screen debut. And what a debut to have! Dunkirk is arguably Christopher Nolan’s best film to date and Fionn Whitehead gives a stellar performance as Tommy, a young soldier right in the eye of the storm, fighting for his survival in the middle of a hellacious situation. Like Keen before him, it’s a largely silent performance in a largely silent film but Whitehead conveys the vulnerability and determination of Tommy in such a realistic and visceral way. With his next role in The Children Act, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, also receiving praise, Whitehead is the definition of an overnight sensation. In the tradition of the recent waves of strong jawed British actors breaking out (or what I like to call Operation Hiddle-batch), expect Whitehead to be consistently on our screens, both big and small, for a long time to come.
Notable roles: It
From Fionn to Finn and the first of the ridiculously lovable kid cast of Stranger Things to break out beyond everyone’s favourite Netflix show. Horror smash hit It boasts an excellent cast of newcomers, it’s hard to pick out a close runner-up given that they’re all equally fantastic, but Wolfhard pips them by a hair. Wolfhard’s Richie is the foul mouthed brash boy of the losers club but his potty mouthed antics are a riot, Wolfhard showing charisma beyond his years, yet conveying the sheer terror experienced whenever Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise dances his way into frame. It’s clear that at such an early stage of his career, Wolfhard is a confident actor and already seems to be carving himself an identity as a horror star, given his role in the aforementioned Netflix supernatural sensation. His name and face is already out there, and his voice given that his band Calpurnia have just landed themselves a record deal, the stage is set for Finn Wolfhard to step forth into the super-stardom that calls to him.
Notable roles: Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird
Like Nanjiani, Timothée Chalamet has been kicking around Hollywood in a number of supporting roles for several years now, notably appearing in Interstellar and Men, Women and Children. But, again like Nanjiani before him, it was this year’s Sundance hit Call Me By Your Name that has set the career of the young actor off with a rocket strapped to its back. Chalamet packs swagger and bravado into 17-year old Elio, as well as a heart wrenching vulnerability and innocence in a star making, career defining performance. Having already scored a whole host of acting nominations and wins, including a Golden Globe and an Independent Spirit Award, Chalamet is hotly tipped to saddle in among the Best Actor nominees at the upcoming Academy Awards alongside the likes of Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis. Whilst Call Me By Your Name has been a fierce beast throughout the year, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird has broken out late in the year and earned Chalamet even more plaudits for his supporting role alongside Saoirse Ronan. Were it not for Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird would likely be earning Chalamet all the love he currently has flying his way. With two huge roles under his belt in one year, Chalamet is the pure definition of breakout for 2017, a dynamic and triumphant performer for whom not even the sky is the limit.
Notable roles: The Florida Project
At least the other actors on this list were professionals… Yes, it’s true, The Florida Project‘s leading dynamo is non-professional “actress” Brooklynn Prince and she gives one of the year’s best and most affecting performances because of it. In purely just being herself throughout the film, Prince is incredibly endearing; a mischievous yet spunky child, Prince’s portrayal of Moonee is arguably the strongest child performance of 2017, so much so that young Prince is being mentioned among the Streeps and McDormands of this world in this year’s Best Actress race at the Academy Awards. Without Prince, The Florida Project would be much less affecting and accessible, but it is through her eyes that we witness this world, these characters and this situation, it is made all the more heartbreaking because of it. In the final moments of the film, Prince is able to wring out some serious emotion in a scene which would surely put a number of other, more experienced actresses to shame. Prince isn’t even 10-years old yet, just let that sink in.
Notable roles: Thor: Ragnarok
Like Nanjiani and Chalamet before her, Tessa Thompson is no stranger to Hollywood having appeared in a few roles in some big projects, you’d perhaps recognise her from Rocky franchise revival Creed, Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma, or HBO’s sci-fi-western Westworld. But as a leading lady, Thompson emerged from the star factory this autumn with Thor: Ragnarok and her role as Valkyrie. Such was the potency and resonance of Thompson’s badass performance that a female Avengers movie led by Valkyrie is being strongly touted as a very real possibility from Marvel. Thompson strolls into Ragnarok and holds her own alongside franchise stalwarts and stars Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, no mean feat given that they’re arguably two of the MCU’s strongest performers to date. Marvel have rarely made a bad casting choice, the only dubious decisions being those of the Thor trilogy, it took Thompson all of one movie to dispel any doubts around the Norse God’s movies. Out of all of the breakout stars listed here, it is Thompson who is the likely megastar in the making. Admit it, you’d love to see Valkyrie ride into battle as Queen Avenger.