Best/Worst: Child Actors
Few things can kill one’s affection for a film quicker than a horrible child actor. Having children in films is a hard thing to pull off and more often than not it just simply doesn’t work. And when you hate the kid in a film it’s exceedingly hard to like the film as a whole.
Therefore, I present to you the Best / Worst child actors in cinema history (of course limited to films I’ve seen).
Just to clarify: I love children, just not that way.
The Spy Next Door is one of the absolute worst mainstream films of the last few years and as family films of that irk are want to do it included a bunch of terrible, annoying kids. These three collectively personify the clichéd horrible movie kid perfectly. While they might not be as fantastically awful as later entries on the list, they’re still gut wrenchingly bad.
She was a video blogger before YouTube even existed. Despite the gap in years she was just as annoying as today’s internet “stars”. Her shrieking voice doing nothing to make her the least bit likable, wearing you down to the point that you desperately want the film’s terribly CGI-ed monkey space creature to turn on her and murder the little brat. She did go on to make up for it though.
About as charming and likable as a wet piece of plywood slathered in anti-charisma cream. I’d say more but I might break my keyboard out of nerd-rage.
2. Mike Weinberg as Kevin McAllister in Home Alone 4 (Age 9)
There’s probably not a series out there with such a polarized set of child actors (more on that later). While Home Alone 3‘s main protagonist was only annoying, this kid takes it all the way up to eleven. You actively want the burglars to get their hands on him so the could beat the bad out of him. To rub even more salt in the wound, he’s supposed to be playing Kevin from the first two films. Thankfully, judging from young Mr. Weinberg’s IMDb profile he has seemingly retired from acting.
1. Noah Ringer in The Last Airbender (Age 13)
What is there left to say about this film and Ringer’s so-called “performance”? It’s more wooden than most forests and grates the nerves of the viewer so effectively it could be classified as a weaponized suicide inducer. The zenith of awful child acting and the nadir of good acting. That along with getting the audience to loath every single character is an achievement in and of itself on the part of Mr. Shamalyan.
Stare into those eyes for just one second and tell me that you aren’t terrified. Now add projectile vomit, satanic dialog, a 360 degree head spin and pleas for a priest to violate her to the mix. To this day it remains horrifying and disgusting, a testament to the performance. Poor Linda wasn’t even allowed to see the finished film for years. Maybe that was for the best.
After The Sixth Sense Osment career skyrocketed (and quickly plummeted , but that’s not important) and rightly so. He completely sells you on the emotional and psychological turbulence that Cole goes through in film. He’s a scared kid and you better believe it. Osment is pretty much the antithesis of Noah Ringer, which brings up the question: Was Shamalyan ever good?
Home Alone is a modern-day classic, a thoroughly enjoyable film. A staple of Holiday film viewing that holds up. Now imagine that with Home Alone 4′s Mike Weinberg in the role of Kevin? With that in mind it’s obvious that the reason the film works is Culkin. He dominates the screen-time and pulls off a great performance. His comedic timing is spot-on, complimented by great delivery. He’s resourceful, clever and above all, likable.
One of the key elements to Ripley character development in Aliens is this little girl, Newt, played by young Ms. Henn. She’s clearly a badass as she survived for days alone in the base camp on LV-426, a place overrun by Xenomorphs that have no problem with slicing and dicing battled hardened space marines. There’s a primal innocence to her but what really makes the performance is her stone cold dead pan delivery of morbid dialog. She infuses the lines with dread and horror, and a pinch of humor as well, that not many fully grown adults can do effectively. For that, she gets her seat in the upper echelon of child acting.
Super 8 is a fantastic love letter to the Spielberg films of old, films that almost always included children so it’s appropriate that it features some of the best example of the fabled child actor phenomenon. While the entire cast is very strong (it would’ve been easy to fill the Best part of the list with them), one performance stands out. Elle shows that she’s a superior actress to her sister, Dakota, with a compelling and scene stealing turn. Her confession to the film’s main protagonist is so raw and emotional that it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. She’s simply pitch perfect, a paragon of child acting and the standard by which all other children must be judged.
Dishonorable Mentions: Alex D. Linz (Home Alone 3), Noah Ringer (Cowboys & Aliens), Hayden Christensen (Star Wars Episode II & III)(He whined like a little child, that’s for sure) and many many more (most of whom have had they’re names and faces mentally blocked).
Honorable Mentions: Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Saoirse Ronan (Hanna), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Dakota Fanning (Man on Fire) and the Cast of Stand By Me.
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