Many of the 100 actors on Vulture’s 100 Most Valuable Stars list would have been there the year before and will be there again next year, but some of the more precariously situated stars ought to watch out, because there are ten insurgents coming who’d love nothing more than to take their spots. Some of these upwardly mobile actors are veterans mounting a comeback, while others are new faces who’ve risen in fame thanks to a plum franchise or an Oscar-courting role. But no matter where they’re coming from, expect a great deal of them to end up in the same place next year: on the 2013 edition of the Most Valuable Stars list.
Older brother Chris made the list this year, but expect to see both Hemsworths on it in 2013. Liam got a big bump from The Hunger Games that belies the size of his supporting role; more important, he’s a tall, handsome, masculine guy in his twenties who can act — a surprisingly rare thing in Hollywood today — and he’s picking up plenty of the roles for that type. The 22-year-old Aussie is also guaranteed plenty of press coverage from his real-life role as Miley Cyrus’s fiancé; the two met when Hemsworth won his first lead opposite her in The Last Song. He’s got the female demographic sewn up, then, but he’ll continue to build macho cred in The Expendables 2, and then he’s got leading man parts in Love and Honor, Empire State, the currently shooting Paranoia (opposite Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford), and the time-travel romance Timeless.
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/2012 Getty Images
Mara’s still a promising enigma, rightfully nominated for an Oscar for her blazing performance as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, with a terrific trilogy of films from modern auteurs coming after: She’s been working with Terrence Malick, Spike Jonze, and Steven Soderbergh. Largely unknown before her breakout role, save for a spiky two-scene performance in The Social Network and a swiftly brushed-under-the-rug lead in the Nightmare on Elm Street reboot, Mara aced a wide-net casting search for Dragon Tattoo, topping more famous names like Scarlett Johansson and Carey Mulligan. But who is she when she’s not Lisbeth, and will audiences recognize and respond to her out of makeup? On the Dragon Tattoo promotional tour, Mara worked a look that could be described as “polished goth” and definitely presented herself as a soul sister to Lisbeth; compare that to Jennifer Lawrence, who used every vivacious talk show appearance to draw a contrast between herself and grim Katniss Everdeen. By next year, though, we’ll know what other arrows Mara has in her quiver.
Photo: Larry Busacca/2012 Getty Images
After some time off from stardom, Farrell is back to make a play for the A-list in a major way. Yes, Fright Night didn’t quite work, but this year’s Total Recall remake is tracking big enough that the new Bourne got out of its way, and Farrell’s got promising projects lined up after that: He’s in the Mary Poppins project opposite Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, and he’ll also lead Martin McDonagh’s next film, Seven Psychopaths, and Dead Man Down with Noomi Rapace. Famously, Farrell was first thrust onto the A-list in the nineties before he’d had much time to prove himself — an act that robbed the audience of discovering him organically —but the time he’s spent in the supporting-actor salt mines since has deepened him as a performer. Hopefully his leading roles can retain some of the new magnetism he’s brought to scene-stealing turns in The Way Back and Horrible Bosses.
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After an Oscar nomination for An Education and plenty of acclaimed roles in smaller movies like Shame and Drive, Mulligan’s on the radar of every casting director in Hollywood, though her name still isn’t quite known by general audiences. Expect Baz Luhrmann’s huge The Great Gatsby, in which she plays the plum role of Daisy Buchanan, to change that. Mulligan’s got range, too: Though she’s played dewy and naive plenty of times, her full-frontal Shame role, where her character was a suicidal, sexually rapacious wreck, hints at a willingness to go bold and risky. In that film, she sang a famously sustained version of “New York, New York,” and she’ll break out those pipes again in the Coen brothers’ next film, a folk singer dramedy also starring Justin Timberlake and Oscar Isaac.
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Phoenix was out of the game for a long time while working on his celebrity-bursting experiment, I’m Not There, and the whole project could have done irrevocable harm to his career: For a character actor who’s mostly kept out of the tabloids since his brother River’s death, Phoenix sure seemed intent on stereotyping himself as a looney-tunes drug addict, and his secretly staged out-of-it Letterman performance eclipsed any acting role he’d ever been known for. And yet, directors seemed to appreciate the full-tilt commitment, and Phoenix has had plenty of offers for his movie comeback: Clint Eastwood wanted him for J. Edgar, while he was at one point marked for a supporting role in, uh, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Let’s just say that he wisely held off until Paul Thomas Anderson came calling with The Master, and based on the trailer and footage that’s screened so far, it looks like an immediately compelling, transformative performance. Spike Jonze has already given Phoenix the lead in his next movie, and we’d expect more to follow after this.
Photo: Michael Kovac
It’s been a slow and steady rise to critical adoration for Michelle Williams, who got her star started on TV’s Dawson’s Creek. Brokeback Mountain proved the first major turning point for Williams, as well as an enduring link to her late partner Heath Ledger. Oscar-nominated for that role, Williams has continued to ply her trade in indies — she took home two more Academy Award nominations for Blue Valentine and My Week With Marilyn, and she can currently be seen on demand in Take This Waltz — but has yet to make a major play for studio fare, aside from a supporting role as Leonardo DiCaprio’s doomed wife in Shutter Island. Now is the time in her career when Williams could use the extra eyeballs, since Marilyn made around $15 million but most of her other indie projects struggle to make even $5 million. Next year’s role as Glinda in Oz the Great and Powerful could change all that, as Williams has never taken part in a gigantic tentpole release before, but then again, Mila Kunis is that film’s putative female lead. After Oz, Williams has no project yet scheduled, and the next one she signs on to could signal her shift onto the Most Valuable Stars list.
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Will the three actors who topline The Hunger Games soon become our new Stewart-Pattinson-Lautner nexus of young franchise fame? If so, Hutcherson stands to benefit from it a whole lot: He’s famous and enormously appealing, but he’s shorter-statured than most leading men, and he hasn’t quite lined up the post-Games, pre–Catching Fire projects that Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth have. That said, the kid co=starred in two giant hits this year (Journey 2 made $325 million worldwide) and he’s got three more Hunger installments coming up, so his star is bound to rise.
Photo: JOE KLAMAR/2012 AFP
Move over, Winslet and Blanchett: We’ve got another chameleonic actress with serious star potential, and this time, she’s homegrown! Jessica Chastain broke through in a major way last year with the one-two punch of art-house hit The Tree of Life and genuine mainstream hit The Help, which earned her an Oscar nomination (an all-the-more impressive feat since she was up against her own co-star Octavia Spencer, who won). And if those two credits weren’t enough, well, you might have caught Chastain delivering solid supporting performances in a number of other 2011 films, including Take Shelter, The Debt, and Coriolanus. Her slate is just as packed this year, as the flame-haired actress will be seen in Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker follow-up, Zero Dark Thirty, and she endures that ascendant actress rite of passage — the buzzy full-frontal scene — for John Hillcoat’s upcoming Shia LaBeouf moonshine drama Lawless, which has her pitching woo at Tom Hardy. The key for Chastain, though, will be finding another movie big enough to take her to the next level; Iron Man 3 came calling for her earlier in the year, but she had to turn down the role owing to scheduling conflicts.
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Javier Bardem is a well-known, Oscar-winning, critically respected international star. He also very rarely stars in big studio movies, which is why he just missed out on making the list. That said, Bardem has recently shown that he has a newfound willingness to star in franchise material: He plays the villain in the next James Bond movie, Skyfall, and he’s attached to topline the Dark Tower franchise, provided Ron Howard can actually get it green-lit somewhere. Even if he can’t, expect someone else to take advantage of Bardem’s sudden interest in studio roles; in the meantime, he’s part of the big-name cast of Ridley Scott’s next film, The Counselor.
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Beloved by indie audiences yet usually stuck in co-starring or love interest roles when it comes to studio films like 13 Going on 30 or Just Like Heaven, Mark Ruffalo blossomed in the huge ensemble that was The Avengers, making his mark even before he transformed into a huge, green, motion-captured Hulk. And crucially, the actor — who has been trending upward since his Oscar-nominated The Kids Are All Right performance in 2010 — has a full slate of intriguing projects to come: He plays a sex addict opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in Thanks for Sharing, tangles with Steve Carell in Bennet Miller’s Foxcatcher, woos Keira Knightley in Can a Song Save Your Life, and pursues Jesse Eisenberg in Now You See Me. Still, the big gun Ruffalo’s waiting to fire is playing the lead in Ryan Murphy’s anticipated big-screen transfer The Normal Heart … provided Murphy can carve out the space to shoot it.
Photo: Jason Kempin/2012 Getty Images