2018 saw plenty of fresh faces stealing scenes and even starring in some of the year’s biggest hits.
Whether it’s Zazie Beetz going toe-to-toe with Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2, Noah Centineo winning hearts with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, or Brian Tyree Henry appearing in eight — yes, eight — projects this year alone, this list of breakout stars is filled with rising stars to watch. And that’s not even counting the cast of Crazy Rich Asians, which included newcomers Henry Golding and Awkwafina. Young stars Thomasin McKenzie, Geraline Viswanathan, and Isabela Moner also made their big screen debuts in dramas, comedies, and action films this year, proving their acting chops alongside their veteran co-stars.
Check out our list of this year’s 10 breakout stars below.
In the criminally under-seen film Leave No Trace, McKenzie stars as Tom, the teenage daughter of a war veteran (Ben Foster). They live in an Oregon park quietly but illegally. Even though they’re suited for life off the grid, when they are discovered and forced into society against their will, the cracks in their plan (and themselves) begin to show. Director Debra Granik captures lush scenery that perfectly reflects the rich inner landscape of McKenzie’s Tom. Her quiet strength, mirrored by the mighty oaks she often stands next to, heightens every moment and leads to a heartbreaking climax.
Other roles: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Astrid), Lucy Lewis Can’t Lose
Hollywood finally caught up to Awkwafina (real name: Nora Lum), whose hip hop song “My Vag” lit up on YouTube in 2012. Her sense of humor electrified two films this year, the first of which was Ocean’s 8, where she starred as street hustler Constance, whose fast-talking and faster hands make her the perfect addition to Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett’s team. In Crazy Rich Asians, she plays Peik Lin, who keeps designer duds in her trunk just in case a fancy party invitation derails her plan to “hang out at FedEx or something.”
Other Roles: Storks (Quail), Tawk
The role of lucky risk-taker Domino was a juicy one that had comic book lovers praying filmmakers would attempt it for the sequel. When they cast Beetz, fans of Atlanta knew that she could hold her own against the sharp-as-a-tack Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. Deftly handling stunts and wisecracks alongside him, Beetz left a memorable mark on superhero movies. Lucky for us, she has a three-picture deal with Fox, which makes the possibility of a spot in an X-Force or Deadpool 3 movie imminent.
Everyone and everything at the El Royale motel has a secret. Pullman plays desk clerk Lewis with a vague shiver, like a Chihuahua in the mountains without a sweater. During the film, he endures abuse from the guests, both literally while getting dragged around, and figuratively with requests for rooms in the wrong wing. When his secret is revealed, the film and his place in it take a turn that culminates in a surprising, poignant end. His other role as the capable, spirited Luke in The Strangers: Prey at Night has less nuance but no less excitement — plus one of the more memorable sequences of the year set to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
Netflix made huge strides in the romantic comedy game this year, with one of the most memorable entries being Lana Condor and Centineo’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. The role of Peter could have easily been the “cute and charming guy that’s been there all along” of many films past, but the springy script and Centineo’s bright-eyed performance make it one of the most swoon-worthy and surprising of the genre. Plus, it’s all the more fun to watch his and Condor’s publicity tour for the movie, an adorable act that they should definitely take on the road.
Erivo’s role in Widows as Belle, a scrappy, intelligent single mom, helped me research my way into knowing more about her accomplishments on Broadway (acknowledged by a 2016 Tony win). One of my few criticisms about the film was that it left me pining for more Erivo. I got my wish when Bad Times at the El Royale was released, and Erivo’s singing and double-crossing as Darlene was center stage and filled my tank, her sharp, complicated, grounded work in the film helping anchor a bonkers story. Hopefully my tank will remain full enough to coast into 2019, when she plays Harriet Tubman in Harriet.
Golding plays either the husband or the husband-to-be in both films, but he’s so much more than just a handsome accessory on women’s arms. Coming from the world of TV, hosting everything from variety shows to documentaries, Golding knows how to connect with audiences and pull them right in to whatever he’s inviting them to watch. As Nick, the son of an insanely wealthy family in Crazy Rich Asians, he deftly navigates between the two women at odds in his life. In A Simple Favor, his intriguing, secretive Sean heavily contributes to a story shrouded in mystery.
Both of these films are part of the modern wave of coming of age films, and Viswanathan represents everything they’re doing right. In Blockers as Kayla, the daughter of John Cena, she has the cunning and sex drive to rival that of any of the famous male cinematic horn dogs to come before her. Her turn as Becky in The Package is in the same neighborhood — she’s crush-worthy, but more than just eye candy for the main character. She’s persistent, inventive, and hilarious. With actresses like her seeing this kind of success early on in these kind of genre-bending films, it bodes well for the future of Hollywood.
Other Roles: Nippers of Dead Bird Bay, EMO the Musical (Jamali)
When your primary activity is wandering around a desert as a hostage or getting adopted by strangers, it could be easy to be a passenger in someone else’s journey. But when you’re as charismatic and interesting as Isabela Moner, you don’t need to worry. Both Isabel in Soldado and Lizzy in Instant Family are headstrong girls who stand 20 feet tall and hold their own against all the veterans alongside them. When you add in perfect amounts of vulnerability and toughness, you’ve got an actress worthy of Dora the Explorer, which is a movie I’m actually excited for now.
Henry is in eight projects this year alone; it’s impossible to ignore him at this point. While it’s hard to imagine him having a better year in terms of volume, if his current incredible work is any indication, he’s only going to get better and better as time goes on. Don’t sleep on this man. From his role as a corrupt politician in Widows to an ex-con in Beale Street, Henry can do anything believably, which means lots more opportunities to shatter audience’s expectations and bring new things to whatever form he chooses to participate in.
Other Roles: Atlanta (Alfred), White Boy Rick (Detective Jackson), Hotel Artemis (Honolulu), Family (Pete), Irreplaceable You (Benji), Vice Principals (Tavis Brown), Crown Heights (Clayton “Massup” Benton)