It was tough picking 10 breakout stars compared to years past, highlighting the continuing fracturing of the media entertainment landscape and how much tougher it is to capture everyone’s attention as a performer. But what stars lack in zeitgeist-smashing power these days has been made up with diversity and more complex roles, and the following actors have risen to that occasion this year and appear primed to continue into the future. Who would you add to the list?
Millie Bobby Brown
has made stars out of its young cast (seriously, people revere a character whose function was to look like sad downer Molly Ringwald), but this year’s prize has to go to Brown. Her explosive sensitivity in portraying mystery girl Elle, along with viral videos from Emmy performances and her rapping Nicki Minaj, has her charming audiences on TV, streaming, and online.
McKinnon is still firmly entrenched within but comedy fans abroad are already picturing the kind of career she’ll have when she eventually leaves. Say what you want about this year’s Saturday Night Live remake, most were able to agree that her confidently brash Holtzmann character was the best part. And on the SNL front, her Hilary Clinton impression (in tandem with Alec Baldwin’s Trump) maintains the show’s reputation as a comedic political needler.
Celebrity is a different beast these days. With voracious, leak-seeking fans and 24/7 access to stars through social media, simply getting the big role (and this is we’re talking about) is enough to keep you in the spotlight for years until the actual movie comes out. With his casting in a key Han Solo Star Wars origin story, Ehrenreich has been given the spotlight for the next two years.
The same goes for Glover, who seemingly hits breakout status every few years, what with emerging top of the class from Derrick Comedy to . But this is Glover’s true breakout year for realsies: not only will he be playing Lando Calrissian opposite Ehrenreich’s Solo, but his new TV show Community is one he can truly claim to be his own, not to mention boast it’s the Atlanta best-reviewed show of Fall 2016.
Call it fate, call it karma, but Bunbury’s baseball show happened to come out the same time the Cubs and Indians are playing in the most interesting World Series in years. Bunbury has drawn heaps of critical praise for her Certified Fresh show , where she depicts the first woman to ever play in the Major Leagues.
Ahmed was the necessary nebbish foil to Jake Gyllenhaal’s calculated sociopathy in , and he plays a more regular dude in HBO’s Nightcrawler . Witnessing his gradual transformation from The Night Of Nightcrawler to the end of Night Of, turning into a jaded tough guy after spending months in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, is stunning. See him next in December’s .
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
This may be the year where YouTube stars crossing over to mainstream is no longer a big story, but the new normal. Rae started out by creating webseries Awkward Black Girl, highlighting the daily joys and tribulations people of color face, before being scooped up by HBO to produce a frank show of contemporary black women issues. It’s the second best-reviewed TV show of fall, behind .
We haven’t seen Marvel Studios‘ standalone take on Spider-Man yet, but Holland passed the audition with flying colors when the world was watching. One of the biggest questions going into this year was how ol’ Petey Parker would fit in this grudge match of established superheroes. The answer: Holland brought his innocent enthusiasm with a rebellious touch to make us look forward to a Spider-Man movie once again.
Captain America: Civil War
Untrained actors cast in lead movie roles make for some splashy headlines (e.g. , Boyhood , Beasts of the Southern Wild ) and this year’s Cinderella story is Sasha Lane of Tangerine . Lane was discovered by director Andrea Arnold while she was partying on spring break and channels her raggedy free spirit into Honey’s sprawling coming-of-age road story.
The kid from makes good this year after toiling away in Road to Perdition 7th Heaven bit parts in movies for years. He’s the new Clark Kent/Superman in , molded in a more classical mode, and turns the character once more into a beacon of hope after the Supergirl other dour live-action interpretation of recent years.