Top 10 Great Movie Performances by Kids

Script written by Matthew Thomas. They may not be mature but their performances sure were. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 great movie performances by kids. For this list, we’re looking at performances where the actors in question were under the age of 15 when the movie was filmed. That means you won’t be seeing Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” as he was 19, nor will you see River Phoenix in “Stand By Me,” as he was already 15. Special thanks to our user Andrew A. Dennison for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Matthew Thomas.

Top 10 Great Movie Performances by Kids


They may not be mature but their performances sure were. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we're counting down our picks for the top 10 great movie performances by kids.

For this list, we're looking at performances where the actors in question were under the age of 15 when the movie was filmed. That means you won't be seeing Leonardo DiCaprio's performance in “What's Eating Gilbert Grape” as he was 19, nor will you see River Phoenix in “Stand By Me,” as he was already 15.

#10: Macaulay Culkin
“Home Alone” (1990)

His early '90s turn as a child left home alone during the holidays and targeted by hapless robbers turned Macaulay Culkin into one of the biggest stars in the world. Though he gave fun and respected performances in other films like “The Good Son,” “My Girl” and “Uncle Buck,” no other movie role ever came close to pulling the focus from Kevin McCallister, which brought him to the game. Mischievous and fun, Kevin was having the adventure that kids everywhere thought looked incredible, and he also earned the hearts of the adults these kids dragged to the theater.

#9: Haley Joel Osment
“The Sixth Sense” (1999)

M. Night Shyamalan has become a punchline in a lot of Hollywood circles, but there was once a time when he was anointed by Newsweek as the next Spielberg. During that time, he seemed poised to rule Hollywood based on his early films, most notably “The Sixth Sense,” a supernatural thriller that could have failed if it weren't for a little boy. Seeing things that scare him but compelled to help those he sees, it was Haley Joel Osment - and not megastar Bruce Willis - that anchored this popular and respected film about a kid who could see dead people. Osment even earned a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his believable acting.

#8: Kirsten Dunst
“Interview with the Vampire” (1994)


As an unknown actress sharing the screen with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, it must have been a daunting task not to wilt under the pressure - but you'd never be able to tell if this was the case or not for Kirsten Dunst just by watching the film. Lighting up the screen whenever she appears, Kirsten's young vampire has a pitch perfect monstrous quality that plays off the leads perfectly. Utilizing her ability to come off as helpless, her character Claudia easily manipulates those around her to her will, which Dunst was able to bring to life so effectively that she nabbed herself a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

#7: Henry Thomas
“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)


“E.T.” is the beloved and timeless tale of a boy who befriends an alien trapped on our planet. At the time, the people behind the scenes found E.T. to be ugly, with even Steven Spielberg himself describing the alien face as something only a mother could love. However, it was the sci-fi-family film's storytelling and to a very, very large degree, the child actors he cast that gave the movie's characters the emotion we know the director for today. Case in point: when young actor Henry Thomas felt the sorrow of thinking his new friend had perished, audiences felt it too, and after watching the film time and time again, it's certain that “E.T.” never would have worked without him.

#6: Christian Bale
“Empire of the Sun” (1987)


Another actor taken under director Steven Spielberg's wing, Christian Bale's fearless performance as the lead in this coming-of-age war flick was the ultimate harbinger of things to come. Hinting at the depths of emotion that he would bring to the big screen in later decades, Bale played a schoolboy turned POW that captured the heart of viewers worldwide. Already bringing the intensity he would come to be known for to the role of an innocent allowed him to imbue the character and film with a complexity that few others could create.

#5: Linda Blair
“The Exorcist” (1973)


In most movies, audiences are overcome by the desire to protect children who are at risk. However, in this supernatural horror flick, the filmmakers managed to make a child truly terrifying. Propped up by an imaginative story, Linda Blair as Regan served as a lot of parents' and children's worst nightmares for many, many years thereafter. As a girl possessed by a demon, the range she showcased throughout “The Exorcist” was amazing, as she began the film as the picture of virtue and underwent a transformation that gave those unfamiliar with the plot an incredible shock.

#4: Natalie Portman
“Léon: The Professional” (1994)


When we are first introduced to Natalie Portman as Mathilda, she seems capable but unremarkable as a young girl whose life is tormented by a dysfunctional family. When that family is murdered, including her younger kind-hearted brother, she's overcome with sadness and the desire for vengeance, and Portman's character change allows the actress to give a performance for the ages. Forced to mature overnight, she becomes cold and callous in many ways - yet her affection for her current guide is undeniable and incredibly real.

#3: Anna Paquin
“The Piano” (1993)

Performing multiple roles in film and television today, it is at times easy to forget that it was Anna Paquin's debut performance in this romantic drama that really brought her to the game. Earning her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, her role as a young girl who acted as her mother's voice shone through as one of the best aspects of the film. Being able to stand out when sharing screen time with Sam Neill, Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunter is already an impressive feat. But add the fact that Paquin was 10 during filming and it's undoubtedly a turn to remember.

#2: Jodie Foster
“Taxi Driver” (1976)


Arguably the grittiest film on this list, this neo noir psychological thriller earned Jodie Foster not only an Oscar nomination for her performance as a teenage prostitute, but also the respect of viewers worldwide. Vulnerable yet wise beyond her years, Jodie's character serves as the breaking point for the fictional character of Travis Bickle as well as a real-life man who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Citing his desire to impress the young actress, stalker John Hinckley, Jr. shot at the president in 1981 - and if that isn't a testament to Foster's skill, then we don't know what is.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Abigail Breslin
“Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)
- Mary Badham
“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962)
- Quvenzhané Wallis
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012)
- Pierce Gagnon
“Looper” (2012)
- Chloë Grace Moretz
“Kick-Ass” (2010)
- Hailee Steinfeld
“True Grit” (2010)

#1: Tatum O'Neal
“Paper Moon” (1973)

To this day, she's youngest actor ever to be able to call herself an Academy Award winner in a competitive field thanks to what she brought to the big screen in this comedy drama. In fact, it could be said that Tatum O'Neal stole the spotlight from her co-star and real-life father Ryan. A con artist in training whom at times gains the upper hand on her teacher, she is an absolute delight to behold. Though many films depend on crafty and fun cons, “Paper Moon” instead relies on the budding relationship between the characters and actors, and obviously, O'Neal's performance was a major part of that.

Do you agree with our list? Which movie performance by kids do you think is the best? For more childish Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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