Starlet Watch

May 12, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Seven years ago, I wrote a piece for a now-defunct web magazine about five young female starlets who I thought had the potential to become major Hollywood stars. The only requirement placed on the article by the editor was that my choices had to be under 21. Looking back, it's interesting to reflect on my selections and see where I went right and wrong. Then I'll cap things off by picking the "next generation."

In 1998, I ranked them #1 through #5. The top spot was occupied by Anna Paquin, who had not only won an Oscar but was coming off success in a family friendly movie about geese. At age 16, she looked ready to take the movie industry by storm. Sadly, it never happened. In 2005, Paquin isn't forgotten, but she has been relegated to taking minor roles in lesser films. She probably has a future in acting, but likely as a character actress.

#2 was 17-year old Natalie Portman. At the time, she had impressed in Leon and stood out as the only truly good thing in Beautiful Girls. Since then, her career has gone through its ups and downs, but now appears to be straightened out. Paradoxically, appearing in Star Wars, one of the biggest franchises of all time, may have hurt her as an actress, although it has increased her name recognition.

In the #3 position was 16-year old Kirsten Dunst, whose stint in Interview with the Vampire brought her to everyone's attention. Years later, roles in Bring It On and the Spider-Man movies have turned her into an A-list star. She could be the next Julia Roberts, if there's going to be a next Julia Roberts.

#4 was Christina Ricci, who, at 18, was beginning to dabble in off-beat features in 1998. Seven years later, she has almost completely abandoned mainstream fare, but continues to make interesting movies. She'll never be a major Hollywood star, but she probably will have the most interesting career trajectory of any of these five actresses.

In the #5 position was my "dark horse" (no pun intended), Rosario Dawson. By age 19, she had raised eyebrows appearing in Kids and Spike Lee's He Got Game. Like Ricci, however, she has gravitated more towards independent movies. Her most recent foray into something with a big budget (Alexander) was an unmitigated disaster, although Dawson managed to escape relatively unscathed.

In 2005, the field doesn't appear as rich. I scanned through lists and lists of actresses and some I thought were under 21 turned out to be in their mid-20s. Of the five I came up with, two are pretty big stars already (so that might be considered cheating) and one is very young. I can't help but feeling that I'm missing an indie starlet with cross-over potential. I'm sure I'll get plenty of recommendations via e-mail. (Please: no TV actress suggestions, unless they have at least a handful of movies under their belts. It's extremely rare that a successful teen TV star becomes successful in the motion picture industry.)

#1: Scarlett Johansson. About as obvious as can be, but she is only 20. Ironically, I almost put her on the 1998 list - that's how blown away I was by her work in Manny & Lo. Johansson is about as sure a thing as there is. She doesn't appear likely to slow down and she is mixing mainstream movies with indie stuff. Expect her to earn an Oscar nomination within 2-3 years.

#2: Kiera Knightley. She's also 20, and also on her way up in Hollywood. I first noticed her in Bend It Like Beckham, but it was her most recent outing, The Jacket that convinced me that she has range.

#3: Emmy Rossum. This is based more on her few minutes in Mystic River than her lengthy turn in The Phantom of the Opera. I don't need to see any more of her to be convinced that she can act. Opera will help her career because it got her noticed. She's 18 and is probably only a few years away from becoming a well-known name.

#4: Evan Rachel Wood. Thirteen exhibited this actress' potential. The 17-year old was also impressive in the recent Upside of Anger. Like Rossum, she's one of only two moderately "obscure" names on this list. She's also the one most likely to turn to independent films, a la Ricci and Dawson.

#5: Dakota Fanning. This 11-year old girl has the biggest upside of all five choices (except perhaps Johansson). She's the best child actor to come along in years. But the key there is "child." It's difficult for someone so young to maintain visibilty through her teens and into her twenties. If she elects to go to college, she's toast. The lack of exposure will kill her career. If not, she may be one of the rare ones (Johansson, Dunst) who makes the transition. In another seven years, she'll still be eligible for the list, or she may be forgotten.

Tomorrow, to borrow from one science fiction show for another: "It's the end, but the moment has been prepared for."