10 Phenomenal Performances from Child Actors


A good movie is one that makes you feel something; one that stays with you for a long time. When a movie has a phenomenal performance from a child actor, it almost always raises it to another league. With so many children being children—fusing innocence, playfulness, charm, wit, and talent on the screen—it becomes impossible not to be captivated by their authenticity and pureness.



10 Sunny Pawar in Lion (2016)

Lion Movie
Transmission Films (Australia) Pictureworks (India)

Lion is a movie with a beautiful cause, and it was inspired by the book A Long Way Home written by Saroo Bierley and adapted into the screenplay by Luke Davies. It tells the true story of a five-year-old Indian boy who, due to a series of unfortunate events, gets lost on a train, ending up in a city different from his own with no way of going back home. Yet, he gets adopted by an Australian couple and when he grows up, his past haunts him and as a result, he decides to set out on a journey to seek out his lost family.

Sunny Pawar had never acted before and was selected from over 2000 children who had auditioned for the film. Luckily, this boy with outstanding talent was cast because he has successfully taken the breath of anyone who came across his performance.

Pawar started auditioning when he was five and by the time he started acting in the film, he was six. Although he was the youngest main character in the movie, performing alongside actors such as Nicole Kidman, he wholly owned the screen with his voice, his twinkly eyes, and his ability to use both his words and his silence in a way that can only deeply touch your heart.

Related: The 10 Most Dangerous Child Protagonists in Movies

9 Abigail Breslin in Definitely, Maybe. (2008)

Definitely Maybe
Universal Pictures

Definitely, Maybe was one of those movies with an impeccable cast. Everyone fits into the story’s narrative perfectly. Set in New York City, a father going through a divorce tries to explain to his daughter his past romantic relationships as he tries to make sense of his own feelings.

Through his storytelling, Maya learns that finding a compatible partner with whom you’re in love isn’t so simple, and as they delve deeper into a story that is like a puzzle to the both of them; they make a life-changing realization. Not only is the father-daughter portrayal relationship in this movie exceedingly charming, but Breslin really holds this movie together.

Her portrayal of the character’s curiosity, fairness, intelligence, and kindness was on point. She’s witty, emotional, wise, and when a character can make you feel all these things about them at once, you know they’ve completely owned their role. With incredible performances under her belt like Little Miss Sunshine, it is no surprise that Abigail holds a certain standard when it comes to the art of acting.

8 Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Love Actually (2003)

love Actually Sam
Universal Pictures

Love Actually is a timeless classic that will boost your mood every time you watch it. It’s a tale that follows the love lives of eight different individuals before Christmas; a story about love in all its forms that is very refreshing. One of the storylines is a father-son relationship where Daniel (Liam Neeson) and his son Sam (Brodie-Sangster) have endearing discussions about love, and life, and Sam manages to bring out such wisdom, and subtle charm from the character that will keep your eyes glued every time he’s on-screen.

With Sam being such a natural on screen, his performance came out as effortless. Although Love Actually is a movie loved by many for all it offers, many have specifically praised the father-son relationship that Brodie-Sangster and Neeson brought to life.

7 Freddie Highmore in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Movie
Warner Bros Pictures

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a movie adapted from Roald Dahl’s children’s book that was first published in 1964. It follows the story of five children who win a golden ticket after purchasing a chocolate bar that lets them into the world’s most exciting chocolate factory, owned by the most unusual candy-maker, Willy Wonka.

Freddie Highmore plays the role of a poor boy who wins one of the tickets to go see the factory. During the entire movie, you can’t help but root for him and his family due to his innocence, humbleness, kindness and loyalty he displays to his family. With his authentic, and memorable performance, Charlie’s character is adored by many.

6 Jaoquin Rapalini in the Lighthouse of the Orcas (2016)

The Lighthouse of The Orcas
Wanda Films

The Lighthouse of the Orcas is a Spanish-Argentinian movie based on the novel Agustín Corazón Abierto by Roberto Bubas. It explores the human-animal relationship and all its possibilities to soothe, connect, and heal another living creature.

Beautifully woven together, this movie tells the story of an autistic child (Tristan, played by Rapalini), whose mother (Lola), takes him to Patagonia in Argentina to meet (Beto), a man who has a special relationship with orcas. Despite people coming to Beto to see the orcas as a tourist experience, Lola hopes that Beto can help her child get closer to orcas—the only animals that seem to sooth his heart and mind.

This graceful and sensitive film delicately portrays the emotional connection that animals and humans can form. With almost no dialect for Tristan in the movie, the actor gives a poignant performance with his silence, facial expression, and body language, which makes his performance all the more phenomenal.

5 AnnaSophia Robb in Bridge to Terabithia (2007)

Bridge to Terabithia Movie
Buena Vista Pictures

Bridge to Terabithia is based on the novel of the same name, written by Katherine Paterson in 1997. The movie portrays the story of two middle school students, Jess (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie (Robb), who form a friendship full of magic and adventure. The two neighbors journey into the woods where they find an abandoned tree house on the other side of a river that they’ve crossed with a rope swing.

Upon their arrival in the other side, they imagine a new land called Terabithia, where they get lost in a world of fantasies that color their days and help them escape from their harsh, mundane reality. This movie is a beautiful take on the power of imagination and friendship. Hutcherson and Robb had outstanding chemistry, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the lead roles.

Robb’s performance was exceptionally well portrayed as she completely embodied the imaginative, curious, cheerful, and kind character from the book. Leslie’s performance was gripping, unique, and oozes strength of character throughout the whole movie. AnnaSofia Robb truly made this movie unforgettable.

Related: 10 Gut-Wrenching Movies That Are Too Sad to Rewatch

4 Jaden Smith in the Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

The Pursuit of Happiness Movie
Sony Pictures entertainment Motion Picture Group

The Pursuit of Happyness is based on a memoir written by Chris Garden that highlights his struggles as a homeless salesman with a young son who’s struggling to make ends meet and his unwavering determination to improve his family situation. The film was adapted in 2006 starring Will Smith as the main lead and Jaden Smith as Gardener’s son, Christopher.

This movie deals with heavy subjects and gloomy realities, but the younger Smith’s performance was so pure and innocent that it makes any of his appearances during the movie delightful. Despite his father’s struggle, Christopher is able to make the viewer at ease by his mere presence and connection to his father.

Smith and his son may have been acting, but it felt exactly the opposite; his chemistry with his father is so strong that it made it so natural and essential to the movie’s dramatic feel.

3 Salvatore Cascio in Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Cinema Paradiso Movie

The Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso is a compelling movie about the beauty of cinema. It tells the story of an Italian filmmaker from Sicily who recalls his warm childhood and the process through which he fell in love with the art of motion pictures.

The story is told in flashbacks where we see young Alfredo’s relationship with the projectionist at Cinema Paradiso and the many rich conversations that have shaped his dreams and who he has become. Alfredo’s role was played by three actors to realistically capture his journey of growing up.

Cascio was the first of the actors to portray Alfredo, which set the mood for the whole film. In this eye-opening movie about slowly discovering your passion, Alfredo’s excitement, cheekiness, and sense of wonder will make you think about your own childhood dreams and what makes your heart jump.

2 Jacob Trembley in Wonder (2017)

Wonder Movie

Based on the bestseller book written by Raquel Palacio, Wonder tells the story of August Pullman, a boy who has a facial abnormality that makes him an outcast among his peers. His parents homeschooled him up until 5th grade when they decided to enroll him in a private school to allow him to integrate better into society. However, the expected happens, he gets completely isolated and excluded from his classmates.

Yet, two students, Summer and Jack, genuinely like him for who he is and restore his faith in having friends. Kind-hearted, wise, and brave, Trembley gently portrays the hardships of being unwelcome, unaccepted, and true to who you are despite it, which is impossibly hard for a child who wants to fit in.

Auggie’s portrayal was heartwarming with Trembley using his voice, expressive eyes, and facial expressions to make the audience relate to Auggie. In an interview, the young actor shared that he is proud of the message the movie is trying to convey and that he felt very connected to Auggie’s character which made him put all his heart into the performance.

Related: 12 Child Actors Who Are Going to be the Best in Hollywood One Day

1 Mary Addler in Gifted (2017)

Gifted Movie
Searchlight Pictures

Gifted is the story of Frank, a single man trying to win custody of his niece, Mary, against his mother, Evelyn. Mary’s deceased mother, Diane was a math genius and this has prevented the girl from living a normal life due to her strict upbringing that was entirely centered around math.

Franks fears that Mary will live a stressful life that will rob her of her childhood, and from experiencing a normal life, due to his mother’s plans for her to continue Diane’s path. Due to his raging worries, he fights with all he has to save Mary, but Evelyn believes he is robbing Mary of her potential.

In this dance, a battle of which kind of life she will end up having, Addler gives a very powerful performance that makes you want the best for her. As her role unfolds, she shows the depth of her acting skills—going from witty, smart, sad, sarcastic, sweet, and honest effortlessly. Her ability to show a wide range of emotions through the difficult journey of the character she was embodying has made her acting skills truly stand out.

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