The Flix List: Five Notable Breakout Performances of 2010

I’ve been having way too much fun making lists lately, but this post is a continuation of sort from my Year in Review post. As I was making the list, I thought about some of the notable performances I saw from actors who aren’t yet a household name, hence the term ‘breakout.’  Some of these actors might have been working quite a while and might’ve garnered a certain level of recognition for their past work, but because of the popularity/buzz surrounding their movie last year, their career is swiftly gaining momentum. It’s no coincidence that all of these actors have been in my best picks or honorable mentions, and their performances certainly are a large part of what made the films great.

Obviously I haven’t seen ALL movies that came out last year, so my list came from the twenty-nine movies that I did see (thus, don’t scold me that I don’t put Jennifer Lawrence on the list as I haven’t seen Winter’s Bone). Anyway, here we go:

  • Andrew Garfield
    When they announced he was going to be Spiderman, I had only seen the 27-year-old Brit in the Red Riding Trilogy trailer that showed him in a retro outfit, smoking and sporting a sideburn, not exactly the clean cut Peter Parker one’d imagine. Then I saw him in The Social Network as Zuckerberg’s scorned BFF and I no longer went “Andrew who?” His earnest and affecting performance as Eduardo is one of the most memorable things about the film. I’ve since seen him in Boy A, a small indie about a formerly imprisoned young boy struggling to build a second chance at life. Again, his performance is one of the best things about the film and one that proves this young man has range, so don’t expect him to be type cast as a young superhero. He’s already rumored to also star in Michael Mann’s biopic of Robert Capa (per SlashFilm).
  • Tom Hardy
    Ask any girl who’ve seen Inception and it’d be hard pressed to find one who didn’t remember Tom Hardy’s character. But y’know what, dudes remember him, too. My buddy Vince asked me the day after he saw Inception last month, ‘who’s that British guy in the movie?’ and almost at the same time, I got an email from a colleague saying how much she loved him in the same movie! 😀 Coincidence? I think not. Even among a stellar ensemble, Hardy really stood out. Just as he did in Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla as Handsome Bob. Trust me, even sharing a screen with Gerry Butler, the guy still made an impression on me (if you know me at all, y’know that’s quite a feat :D) A lot of people who’ve seen him in Bronson would also say this guy is super bad ass, gaining 42 pounds and muscles to play the notorious criminal.

    He’s in high demand right now, lining up nearly half a dozen films post Inception, including high profile ones such as Mad Max and The Dark Knight Rises.

  • Olivia Wilde
    TV watchers are probably already familiar with the lovely Wilde from her stint in The O.C., The Black Donellys, and most recently, House. But 2010 has really been her breakout year on the big screen. Even before the movie opens, geeks and average moviegoers alike have likely seen her splattered in every piece of marketing campaign for TRON: Legacy, sporting a sleek, black bob in skintight leather suit. Fortunately, she’s got an inherent likability and acting talent to go with her pretty face. She didn’t get to do much in The Next Three Days but with her more beefed-up role in Cowboys and Aliens out this Summer, her career is definitely on the up and up.
  • Aaron Johnson
    I saw two Aaron Johnson movies last year that couldn’t be more different from each other, Kick-Ass and Nowhere Boy. Yet Johnson was believable in both and showed tremendous versatility as well as screen presence. He’s also proven adept with accents, always a great asset for any actor. His American accent in Kick-Ass is so darn convincing you’d never know he hailed from England. Johnson’s not even old enough to drink but displays a certain maturity in the way he carries himself on screen (perhaps that’s why he’s married to Nowhere Boy‘s director Sam Taylor-Wood who’s more than twice his age). He’s rumored to star in Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Killer next, and I hope we’ll see more of him in leading roles in the future.
  • Hailee Steinfeld
    You may not know her real name, but you sure remember her if you’ve seen True Grit or at least the trailer. As I said in my Year in Review post, the fourteen-year old held her own alongside her much older and more experienced actor. Her delivery and conviction was so spot-on and nothing less than awe-inspiring that naturally won the hearts of critics everywhere. She’s been nominated for practically every film society award around the country, as well as the coveted Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor. Not bad at all considering this was her feature film debut!

Honorable Mentions: Armie Hammer in Social Network, Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass


Well that’s my list, folks. Which up and coming actor(s) caught your attention last year?

50 thoughts on “The Flix List: Five Notable Breakout Performances of 2010

    1. It’s Armie, Paolo, he’s not the Governator 😉 Well, I think he’s great but I stand by my pick of Garfield as I’m more familiar with his work as of now.

  1. Garfield was great this year in Social Network and Never Let Me Go, Wilde was surprisingly good in TRON, Steinfeld held her own like a pro, and hell yes for Tom Hardy. He really was that badass in Bronson and he is going to make a KILLER Mad Max. Big ups for John Hawkes and Jennifer Lawrence this year, too. That Hawkes is gonna win an Oscar any year now.

    1. Too funny, I just left you a comment milliseconds ago! I knew Lawrence would be in everyone’s breakout list, that’s why I had to mention her here. I’m so excited for the Mad Max reboot, Hardy & Charlize will rock it!

  2. These are great choices Ruth. I am hard pressed to think of another great one. I can think of several who were in waay too many movies (Liam Neeson, Mark Wahlberg, to name a few…) but new and great performers…I think you hit the nail on the head with these choices!

    1. Thanks Scarlet! Funny you mentioned Liam, I actually have a post in my draft about him. I agree that he and Wahlberg are way overworked though.

        1. He can…but not necessarily believably. His role as Zeus…horrible! However, that pretty much sums up Clash of the Titans anyways. I like Liam, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t want him turning out to be like Jean-Claude Van Damme or Wesley Snipes…..or Nicolas Cage for that matter!

  3. Nice list Ruth. I would add Emma Stone who broke out big with Easy A. Not sure why we’ve been hearing about Olivia Wilde “breaking out” for over a year now but she’s only played a handful of tidbit roles so far.

    1. Ah yes, she’s certainly on the up and up. I have yet to see Easy A though, but I can see why she’d be in a lot of people’s list.

      Wilde has been in various small roles before but she had a pretty big part in Tron that can be considered a career booster. Not to mention the Cowboys & Aliens trailer 🙂

  4. Ted S.

    I agree with every actors on your list there, but I’m still not sold on Tom Hardy yet. I know a lot people are in love with him but I’ll wait till he’s the main guy and see if he can carry a film. If the new Mad Max film ever gets off the ground, then we’ll find out soon. BTW, I do have a behind story on the new Mad Max film, at one point Mel Gibson signed on to return as Max before he went crazy, but then the project was put on hold. I’ll write an article for it once the film is officially green light.

    1. Well if he’s already making an impression even in bit parts, I have no doubt Hardy can carry a film. He’s got the title role in Bronson, and though it isn’t a blockbuster type of film, his performance did receive critical praise.

      Oh, I’d love to get the story on the original Mad Max. Btw, where did you hear that the project is in limbo? That’s a bummer, I’d love to see that movie.

        1. Yeah I know, so we know he’s able to transform himself physically a la Christian Bale, which is a good thing.

          Thanks for the link. Oh well, there’s a chance the actors might pull out of the project because of scheduling conflict. He’s a busy guy and Charlize is up for several projects including those Snow White adaptations.

    2. Vince

      I think the dude is just a natural ham – kinda funny to watch. Kinda like G. Butler but without the constant image of him yelling “Sparta!”

  5. I’ve been following Tom Hardy’s career for at least five years now, so he isn’t a breakthrough for me 🙂
    I think Justin Timberlake was a breakthrough since he showed amazing talent in SOCIAL NETWORK and also in the upcoming FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (he’s absolutely flawless in the trailer), and he also had great success in SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.
    And I know you don’t like her, but Gemma Arterton was mesmerizing both in TITANS and in PRINCE OF PERSIA.
    Luke Evans is also someone I’ve noticed last year. And Imogen Poots. Armie Hammer is also great.

    1. Well you’re a spy, of course you’re ahead of the pack, Dezzy 😀

      I didn’t pick Timberlake because he already IS a household name, and he’s been around for a while in the movies arena, too. Meh, Friends w/ Benefits isn’t a movie I’d ever get behind.

      Oh, Imogen Poots is a good one, I quite like her in Centurion, but not better than any in my top 5 though.

      Y’know, Armie Hammer better get a superhero role soon. That guy is huge! And he’s pretty funny so I can see him maybe as The Flash.

  6. I’ll definitely think differently of Mila Kunis after “Black Swan”, but I bet she’ll fade back to obscurity once that movie cools off a little. Also, the girl who played Knives in Scott Pilgrim, plus Mary Elizabeth Winstead (also Scott Pilgrim, soon to be in The Thing remake), are a pair I suspect could do big things.

    The kid who directed “Best Worst Movie” (and starred as a kid in “Troll 2”) is a director I’ll be keeping an eye on from here on out. That was a really heart-warming movie.

    1. I think a lot of people already know who Mila Kunis is even before Black Swan.

      I haven’t seen Pilgrim but I can see people liking her, she looked pretty good from the trailer (and looks so different from what she looks like in real life).

      Not sure who you’re referring to about the director. How old is he that you call him a kid?

      1. He’s 32, so I guess he’s not TOO young. He was the child “star” of Troll 2 (I say “star” because the movie is horrible, perhaps the worst ever). He grew up and directed a documentary about… Troll 2, specifically how it’s become a cult hit. I thought it was one of the better documentaries I’ve seen for quite awhile.

        1. Ah I see. That’s cool that he’s such a good sport about his own project and obviously has a good sense of humor about the whole thing.

  7. I was confused why you had left out Emma Stone, until I saw that you hadn’t seen her film yet. She’d definitely make your list if you did.

    Great choices esp. the first two. I haven’t seen Tron or True Grit, but I did see Kick Ass (and The Greatest) and sadly I’m still not sold on Aaron Johnson. Though in the latter, he had like 3 minutes of screentime.

    I’d pick Kieran Culkin after his work on Scott Pilgrim, but he’s not exactly an unknown or anything.

    1. Yep, I guess I should’ve mentioned her too. She was in Zombieland too, wasn’t she? Haven’t seen that one but my hubby liked it.

      If you see Nowhere Boy, then you might understand my fascination with him. I do really like him in Kick-Ass also.

      Well because of the Culkin name he’s not unknown, but I never actually see him act in anything.

  8. Julio Ibanez

    Great list! I have to agree with your choice of Andrew Garfield. I actually left “The Social Network” with a glimmer of hope for the new Spiderman reboot.

    Also, just saw “True Grit” today and was completely blown away by Hailee Steinfeld.

    1. Hi Julio, welcome to FC! Yes, I was indifferent about the Spidey reboot until they cast him and at the time I only saw him in Red Riding Hood trailer. But now that I’ve seen him in a couple of movies, I’m even more convinced of his talent.

      Hailee is phenomenal. Hope to see more from her in the future.

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  10. Nicely crafted list!

    I can definitely envision Andrew Garfield becoming a bona fide A-Lister in the near future. People continue to rave about his performance in The Social Network, and many consider his portrayal, the most riveting.

    Tom Hardy also has great potential. His character in Inception was badass. I also enjoyed his transformation for Bronson.

    I’ll be eagerly anticipating his role in The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan has an uncanny eye for inspiring great performances. Kind of a Coppola-esque skill.

    Cool blog and very informative!

    1. Hello Matt, welcome to FC and thanks for your kind comment! Glad you like the list, it was quite easy to compile as I already have the first 3 spot secured, but Hailee truly blew me away as I watched True Grit, so it was a no brainer to include her. I have not seen Bronson yet, only the trailer and stills, but yeah, what a transformation this guy had! Btw, what do you think of him as Bond somewhere down the line (maybe in 3-4 years), I suggested him for the role in this post:

      Yes, I’m eagerly anticipating TDKR as well, even though I’m not as enthused about Anne Hathaway casting. But generally Nolan has been great in casting his male actors.

      Thanks again and hope to see you around 😀

  11. I thought Garfield was fantastic in both The Social Network and Never Let Me Go, and I’m really looking forward to catching up with the Red Riding Trilogy. In most other years, he would’ve received an Oscar nomination.

  12. Russell

    Well, while I’m not surprised anyone on this list (except, maybe a little about Aaron Johnson), I’m surprised no one mentioned James Franco. After watching Danny Boyle’s 127 Hrs, if I’m to think of one actor who really impressed me in 2010 – It has to be Franco.

    And honory mention would go to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, thanks to Inception. (Am I the only one who thinks he looks a bit like the late Heath Ledger?) 🙂

    1. Hi Russell, welcome to FC! Well, Franco has been around for quite a while so even though he’s churned out some great performances this year, it’s not exactly a ‘breakthrough.’ The same argument for JGL. And yes, he does bear a resemblance to Heath… and curiously enough, he’ll be in The Dark Knight Rises playing a villain.

      1. Russell

        JGL playing a villain in Dark Knight Rising? Nice..

        Can’t imagine which role he would be playing though. With Bane (Tom Hardy, I can already imagine how perfect he would be) and Selina Kyle I thought the movie had enough villains. Maybe Falcone’s son (I forget the name, I need to go back to my ‘Long Halloween’ paperbacks), that would neatly tie up Selina Kyle angle too! 🙂

        Anne Hathway, I have to say that she wasn’t the first person I had imagined as cat-woman.. Mila Kunis or Natalie Portman would have been my choice. 🙂

        1. Yeah, I think the rumor is that he’ll be playing The Riddler.

          Glad you feel the same way about Hathaway as Catwoman, I just don’t think she’s suitable for such a role. But at the same time, I trust Nolan knows what he’s doing. Kunis might be a good choice but she’s not as bankable as Hathaway, yet. And Portman is pregnant now so obviously she can’t do this kind of physical role for a while.

          1. Yeah, hathaway wasn’t who i pictured for the role, but i am hoping she will surprise me.

            And speaking of Kunis, i’ve thought about putting her in my vampire academy cats in the lead role, mainly because the character in the books is described as somewhat exotic looking and i think Mila fits that. I just would prefer to see Black Swan before making that change

    1. Yeah, I believe so. Just wait until Cowboys & Aliens come out, that one will rival Iron Man in popularity.

      Ahah, yes I have a penchant for male BRITISH hunks… can’t you tell? 😉

    1. Glad to hear that, Julian. He’s so different from Kick-Ass which was the first film of his I saw. That guy will go places, no wonder he’s nominated for The Rising Star award at BAFTA this past Sunday (I mentioned it in today’s post).

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