It may be hard to pick an outstanding child actor from the countless talents that seem to pop up these days, but believe it or not, there have been a handful of standouts throughout film history. Not all the kids on this list have grown to develop successful careers in Hollywood, but they managed to create memorable performances back in the day. So without any further ado, here is ExploreTalent’s top picks for best child actor performances in cinematic history.
5 Outstanding Child Actor Performances
5. Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver (1976)
When Jodie Foster was just 14, she portrayed a child prostitute in the neo-noir crime film Taxi Driver opposite Robert DeNiro. This performance can be credited as Foster’s breakthrough role, and it definitely cemented her place in Hollywood despite her controversial character.
Foster was so exceptional in the film, it garnered the actress her very first Oscar nomination for the Best Supporting Actress award. Over the years, Foster has not only developed a successful career as an actress, but she has already quite the reputation behind the camera as well.
4. Mara Wilson, Matilda (1996)
Mara Wilson was a name synonymous to every nineties kid’s childhood days. She starred in Miracle on 34th Street, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the movie that cemented her name in the map, Matilda. The film is actually an adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel of the same name, which centers around Matilda, a young girl with telekinesis.
Wilson plays the titular character with so much charm, a lot of critics pointed out that her performance was one of the best parts of the film. She may have quit the acting business, but Wilson’s career as a child actor is definitely one that won’t be forgotten.
3. Macaulay Culkin, Home Alone (1990)
No list of memorable child actor performances will be complete without mentioning Macaulay Culkin. His stunned expression in the film Home Alone has been marked as one of the most memorable scenes in movie history.
Culkin played Kevin in the family friendly film, which later spanned a sequel called Home Alone: Lost in New York. On both occasions, Culkin managed to deliver the most memorable child actor performances of all time.
2. Dakota Fanning, I Am Sam (2001)
After the likes of Culkin and Wilson bowed out of the spotlight, it was time for a new generation of child actors. One of the most talented that emerged from the bunch was Dakota Fanning. Fanning was only eight years old when I Am Sam was released, but she already gained a lot of praise of critics for her portrayal as Sean Penn‘s daughter. The role even went on to earn the young actress her very first Screen Actors Guild nomination, making her the youngest nominee in history.
1. Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
At age 9, Quvenzhané Wallis became the youngest actress to ever earn an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, and this talented child actor didn’t even have any acting experience prior to her amazing feat. The honor was given after critics were blown away by the then 6-year-old’s performance in the fantasy drama Beasts of the Southern Wild.
As Hushpuppy, Wallis brings to life a fierce, young girl who sets forth on an emotionally charged journey, and everyone agrees that her onscreen presence is on par with even the most seasoned actors in Hollywood.