Child Actors Who Were So Amazing In Their Debut Movie Roles

Being on a movie set is very daunting indeed but starring in a film in your debut role is super scary but the below stars did an amazing job though for many the stardom at too young an age was too much. Data compiled from Buzzfeed and other source.

Perhaps besides Macaulay Culkin, Mara Wilson is one of the best memorable youg faces on our screens (Pictured below). She rose to prominence as a child for playing Natalie Hillard in the film Mrs. Doubtfire

Ok, so here goes…

1. Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wil

Wallis was only 5 when she auditioned for the role — she actually lied about her age to audition, as they were looking for people ages 6 to 9. She ended up getting nominated for an Academy Award for the role and became the youngest Best Actress nominee in Oscars history. Since the film, she’s gone on to star in other movies like Annie and 12 Years a Slave.

2. Danny Lloyd as Danny in The Shining

Lloyd, who was 7 when the film came out and only 4 when he first began auditioning, largely retired from acting a couple years after appearing in the film, except for in projects related to his role in The Shining. Kubrick chose him because of his ability to concentrate — but he made sure Lloyd wouldn’t be traumatized by the experience, and Lloyd said he never knew during filming that he was in a horror film.

3. Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo in Jojo Rabbit

Director Taika Waititi had seen over 1,000 audition tapes by the time he saw Davis and was quickly impressed. Waititi said Davis — who thought he was auditioning for a film about Peter Rabbit — “is an incredibly sensitive and emotionally connected kid who cares deeply about people,” calling his attitude perfect for the role. Davis was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for his performance.

4. Brooklynn Prince as Moonee in The Florida Project

Prince had been in a straight-to-DVD film before this, but this was her first cinema-released role. She won the Critics Choice Movie Award for Best Young Performer for her performance alongside veteran actor Willem Dafoe. She has since appeared in a number of other movies and shows and voiced characters in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part and The Angry Birds Movie 2.

5. Anna Chlumsky as Vada in My Girl

Okay, so this one is kind of cheating cuz she had a bit role before this in a film, but since the role wasn’t even named (she’s listed as “School Child”), I’m counting this as her first role! Anna was utterly heartbreaking in the film, and she basically singlehandedly carried one of the saddest scenes in cinema history. She’s all grown up now and spent seven years starring on Veep, for which she received six Emmy nominations.

6. Tom Holland as Lucas in The Impossible

Holland was 14 when he began filming for the role. The Impossible was his first live-action role after voicing Shō in Arrietty. His performance was critically acclaimed, and he went on to a number of other starring roles — most famously, Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the MCU.

7. Rosario Dawson as Ruby in Kids

Rosario was discovered by photographer Larry Clark and writer Harmony Korine in the ’90s just sitting on her front steps — she was later cast as Ruby in Clark’s film Kids, which premiered when she was 16. The film was controversial but helped launch Dawson’s career. Today, she continues to star in critically acclaimed films and series, such as The Mandalorian.

8. Sean Astin as Mikey in The Goonies

This was Astin’s first non-made-for-TV movie role. He starred as Mikey, the lovable main character, and easily carried the film with charm and resolve. He would go on to appear in a number of other movies in the ’80s and ’90s — but his most famous role is probably as the even-more-lovable Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings film series.

9. Jerry O’Connell as Vern in Stand By Me

O’Connell appeared in commercials and TV shows prior to being cast as Vern in the critically acclaimed coming-of-age film Stand By Me, which was based on Stephen King’s The Body.  Over 300 boys had auditioned for the four main roles. Costar Wil Wheaton said the four main actors were cast because they were exactly like their characters, calling O’Connell “one of the funniest people I had ever seen in my life, either before or since.” O’Connell would go on to appear in dozens more TV and film projects, including Jerry Maguire and Scream 2.

10. Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie in True Grit

Hailee was 13 when she was cast in the role, for which she was nominated for an Oscar (becoming one of the youngest nominees ever). She’s continued to star in films and TV shows (most recently starring in Marvel’s Hawkeye and Apple TV’s Dickinson), and she’s also had a successful music career since then.

11. Mara Wilson as Natalie in Mrs. Doubtfire

Mara was 5 when she appeared as the youngest child in the comedy, playing the adorable Natalie. Not only was this Wilson’s first movie role, but it was also her first ever movie audition. She would go on to appear in a number of other films — most notably, as the beloved children’s character Matilda in Matilda — before retiring from acting at age 13, though she has since returned for roles in Broad City and BoJack Horseman.

12. Lina Leandersson as Eli in Let the Right One In

Leandersson, who was cast after an open audition, actually had her voice dubbed in the film because it was too high for her character — however, as the New York Times points out, the character didn’t have a lot of dialogue and was much more defined by her physicality. The New York Times also said, “In a performance devoid of sentimentality she perfectly captures the awful solitude of a creature who exists outside time.” Leandersson was nominated for numerous awards for her role, though she’s only appeared in two films since: The Arbiter and Broken Hill Blues.

13. Jared Gilman as Sam in Moonrise Kingdom…

Gilman was nominated for a Young Artist Award in 2013 for Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film for his role in the Wes Anderson film. The then-13-year-old held his own with veteran actors Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, and Frances McDormand. He has since appeared in two shorts and six more films, such as Elsa & Fred and It Takes Three.

14. …and Kara Hayward as Suzy in Moonrise Kingdom

Hayward was cast in the role at age 13 after attending an open call. She did no preparation for the audition, nor did she have any acting experience. However, she still delivered a similarly acclaimed performance and was also nominated for a Young Artist Award (Best Leading Young Actress in a Feature Film). She has since appeared in a number of other films, including Manchester by the Sea.

15. Peter Ostrum as Charlie in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Ostrum was discovered while performing at a children’s theater in sixth grade. After attending a few auditions, he was only given 10 days’ notice that he had gotten the part and had to temporarily relocate to Germany. The film became both acclaimed and beloved, but Ostrum never appeared on screen again, becoming a veterinarian instead. 

16. Harvey Spencer Stephens as Damien in The Omen

Stephens was nominated for a Golden Globe for his harrowing performance as the child antichrist in the horror film. He was only 5 at the time of its release. He did not appear in any of the film’s sequels, though he did have a cameo in its remake, and only appeared in one other film besides that.

17. Chosen Jacobs as Mike in It: Chapter 1

Chosen had appeared in a couple short films and a Hot Wheels commercial prior to being cast in It at age 14 (he would film at age 15). The film received critical praise calling the “kid-bonding” parts of the film the strongest, and saying that each character was “distinctly drawn, each with a fleshed-out backstory that explains why their fears make them so vulnerable to Pennywise’s attacks.” Jacobs has since appeared in the It sequel and shows like Hawaii Five-0 and Castle Rock.

18. Heather O’Rourke as Carol Anne in Poltergeist

O’Rourke’s performance in the three Poltergeist films was lauded — she was nominated for numerous Young Artist Awards for her work both on the films and in the plethora of TV series she appeared on (most notably, Happy Days and Webster). The rising star sadly died at age 12 after going into septic shock.

19. And finally, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar as Young Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire

This was the first film for many of the children in the cast, but Khedekar felt most like the breakout star in his portrayal of the youngest version of the main character, Jamal. Besides winning a Screen Actor’s Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture along with the rest of the cast, Ayush was also individually nominated for the 2008 British Independent Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer. He took a long break from acting but returned in recent years, and he is set to appear in the upcoming film Gandhi of the Month.


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Adam Regan
Adam Regan
Deputy Editor

Features and account management. 3 years media experience. Previously covered features for online and print editions.


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